- The king of American food is the hamburger. You can find them in Italy but not as frequently and they definitely don’t taste the same.
- Americans talk with their mouths full. Eating in Italy is all about enjoying your food with proper digestion. Nothing is so important that it can’t wait to be said and nothing gained by not waiting.
- Americans eat way too much meat. Italians consume very little red meat. A small plate of some pasta followed by a small piece of chicken or fish with vegetables is typical to eat.
- The American view of eating “Italian” with heaping plates of spaghetti and meatballs swimming in red sauce is a caricaturized version of the Italian table. A typical Italian meal is a small plate of pasta and a small piece of protein. Like all traditional cultures Italians do celebrate special occasions with abundance but on a daily basis Italians prefer to eat small portions.
- Americans eat very fast. Italians eat at a leisurely pace and are better for it. Not only does eating slowly and mindfully help you eat less, it enhances the pleasure of the dining experience.
- Italians view dining as an experience. Planning, shopping, the preparation and cooking of the meal are as important as sitting down to eat.
- Italians find the size of a cup of coffee in America “too large” with way too many menu options.
- Store bought salad dressings are superfluous when you have good olive oil and balsamic.
In case you’re wondering what American food tempted our Italian cousin’s palate the most well it was . . . Amish Fried Chicken and Country Ham, our hometown Donuts and Buffalo Wings!
Time to pick our favorite Italian wines for Christmastime entertaining. Experts agree there is no better wine for the holidays
than Cabernet Sauvignon, that spicy, dark-fruited lingering red we all love to pair with meat. After all grand cuts of meat are what the holiday table is all about. We want that intense garnet color and incensual aroma in our glass reflecting the glistening lights and complementing the sugar and spice that are symbolic of our holiday meals. I could find a formidable match with an Amarone, Barolo, Barbaresco or Brunello from Montalcino. A Vino Nobile or Rosso from Montepulciano, a Chianti Classico, or a complex Sicilian but sometimes a robust red can weigh you down so we’re looking for a lighter version of a traditional Italian red.
I’m choosing a Lagrein (pronounced la-GRINE) from Italy’s Alto Adige (Sudtirol) just because I happen to love the region and well it’s the most Christmasy part of Italy. Surrounded by the Alps and the Dolomites there is a fairytale-like atmosphere that makes the days of Advent very special. Lagrein wine is dense and dark purple/ruby in color with aromas of black raspberries and plums, cinnamon and nutmeg with flavors of cranberries and some leathery notes. Sounds like Christmas to me. It’s a relative of Trentino’s Teroldego (which I like) so I think I’ll invite it to join us at the holiday table. Who would you like to invite?
Italian cookbook authors like Hazan, Bastianich and Batali have given us great insight into the ingredients and techniques that make Italian cooking one of the world’s most favorite cuisines. So when I see a post about a recipe that uses one of Italy’s most iconic ingredients, pasta, and labels it “just about the most revolting dish ever devised” I’m compelled to take a second look. According to an article published in The Guardian, the revered and infamous English food writer Elizabeth David who strongly influenced post WWII British cooking through a series of articles and a subsequent book on pleasures of Mediterranean food, found a recipe for an Italian salad in the book Ulster Fare, published in 1945 by the Belfast Women’s Institute Club that made her cringe.
Known for her candid comments (the mid-century equivalent of Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain) David labeled the recipe “just about the most revolting dish ever devised”. Also known as the “world’s worst pasta salad” it is a hodgepodge of misplaced ingredients and missteps (did they mean peas instead of pears?) that make it a culinary malfunction. The Guardian writes about it under the title “Do not try this at home”. Some might disagree as to the labeling of the dish as the worst ever blaming the proofreader for the ingredient error. But if Italian sensibility and taste were taken into account it still is a painful misuse of pasta.
1 pint cold cooked macaroni
½ pint cooked or tinned pears
½ pint grated raw carrot
French dressing to moisten
2 heaped tablespoons minced onion
½ pint cooked or minced string beans
Mix the chopped macaroni and vegetables; moisten with French dressing, ﬂavouring with garlic if liked. Serve on a dish lined with lettuce leaves. Decorate with mayonnaise and minced pimento or chives.
Techniques to help Americans change their eating habits and lead a healthier lifestyle are always in the news. The most recent being the concept of mindfulness, using a common meditation technique as a nutritional tool that you can use to manage portions, pay attention to choices and just slow down a bit. Mindful eating or the concept of sitting down at the table in a relaxed and convivial manner to enjoy the unfolding sequence of a meal has always been part of the Italian lifestyle. For most of us this style of eating is a lost art. Finding it again has the potential to improve the quality of our lives and a greater appreciation for what we eat.
We believe that “mindful eating” really is an extension of the traditional Italian concept of eating in courses and by its nature fosters portion control starting with the antipasto or pinzimonio of fresh vegetables dipped in extra virgin olive oil – a little something before the meal to control your appetite. Next, the primo piatto or first course with a small portion of pasta or risotto followed by the secondo piatto, a protein (beef, pork, fish, chicken, rabbit) once again generally a right-sized portion served with a contorno, vegetable side. A small green salad simply dressed with a vinaigrette is often served at the end of the meal to improve digestion.
Food placement or how we eat our meals is heavily based on cultural habits and the Italian style of eating in a certain sequence tends to make you pay more attention to your food as each course is an event. The “Italian model” is a mindful approach to how you eat your meals and following it may surprise you how your portion sizes and choices change when you simply become more aware of what you’re eating.
Like Brutus in the Roman Forum on that fateful Ides of March the ubiquitous Caesar Salad came out of the least expected place. Not a traditional Italian dish never to be found on any true restaurant menu in Italy, its name often associates it with Italian cuisine.
The salad was originally created in 1924 by Caesar Cardini at his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico. Cardini immigrated to California from Italy’s Lake Region after World War I. Cardini relocated his San Diego restaurant to Tijuana when Prohibition left a gap in the cocktail dining crowd.
Gastromythology tells the story that the salad was created on a busy summer weekend at Caesar’s restaurant with what was on hand and tossed at the table for effect. Popularized by celebrity diners traveling across the border (Clark Gable and Jean Harlow where said to enjoy it) Cardini’s Caesar Salad became a signature dish and was once voted by the International Society of Epicures in Paris
as the “greatest recipe to originate from the Americas in fifty years.”
So the salad of Caesar gets its drama not from the Roman forum but from the streets of Tijuana via an Italian immigrant with Italian sprezzatura. Over the years the recipe has evolved into many adaptations.
Here is one.
Caesar Salad Skewers
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 (2 ounce) tin anchovies, drained
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 heart of romaine, trimmed and cut crosswise into 1-inch strips
16 cherry tomatoes
Freshly ground pepper
For the dip. In a blender, combine the mayonnaise, 1 cup of cheese, lemon juice, anchovies, mustard, vinegar, garlic and Worcestershire sauce. Blend on high until thick and creamy, about 20 seconds. Place the dip in a bowl and top with the remaining 1 tablespoon of cheese.
Divide the romaine strips evenly among 16 skewers and thread them onto the skewers through their center rib, keeping them close to the tip. Top each skewer with a cherry tomato, garnish with pepper and top with a crouton. Serve with the Caesar dressing dip.
I surely have more than 11 but here is my Italy in 30 Seconds List.
- Tagliatelle and ragu’ from Bologna
- Panzerotti from Milano
- Wild boar ragu -pappardelle al cinghiale ragu’ with a glass of Brunello from Montalcino
- Shopping at Santa Maria Novella Farmacia in Florence
- Pizza al taglio in Rome
- Bistecca alla fiorentina a/k/a the Tuscan T-bone with a glass of Chianti Classico Riserva
- A glass of Sagrantino wine from Montefalco in Umbria
- Cioccolata Calda – hot Italian Drinking Chocolate in almost any piazza in Italy
- A dip at an Italian terme (hot spring)
- Cappellacci di zucca and glass of sweet Albana di Romagna wine to end a meal in Ferrara
- A glass of Vin Santo with cantucci in Tuscany
Easter in Italy is a celebration of food and tradition. One inedible food memory for Italians and Italian-Americans who grew up celebrating Old World food traditions is Pizza rustica (Italian Easter Pie), a luscious and filling pastry stuffed with meats and cheeses. Mixed in with assorted Italian meats (sausage, pepperoni, salami or prosciutto) and hard-boiled eggs is a special type of cheese only made during this time of the year. A unique ingredient, basket cheese is made from pasteurized cow’s milk and rennet, an enzyme that causes milk to become cheese by separating it into the solid curds and liquid whey. Basket cheese gets its name from the plastic basket in which it is formed and the indentations that give it a distinctive name and look.
Meant to be eaten seasonally, after the Good Friday fast, basket cheese is part of the tradition and ritual of an Italian Easter.