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Most visitors to Italy take pictures of the cathedrals and monuments, fountains, villas, ancient Etruscan and Roman ruins, piazzas, museums, monasteries and abbeys - the inspiring landscapes, vineyards, mountains, rivers and lakes - the Vespas, Smart Cars, Ferrari's and fashions.
Equally captivated by Italian foodbut much more artistic than I, the paintings of the Milanese artistGiuseppe Arcimboldo arrangefruits, vegetables and flowersin unconventionalways. On either side of these comments and
Pasta is often il primo( the first plate/course) served in a traditional Italian meal.My "Italian education" on pasta began when I was a young bride and my husband's grandmother "nonna" taught me to cook. It continued throughout the years and was refined by cooking with my Italian family and friends whenever I traveled to Italy.
. The rougher the outside of the pasta the better the quality of the pasta. Why? because sauces will adhere better giving a more uniform and consistently delicious flavor to each bite.
Artisan pasta makers seek to preserve the traditional ways of making pasta byusing perforated bronze plates that mold the pasta andby allowing for slow drying times.Dried pasta has always been more typical of Southern Italy because it keeps well in the hotter, drier climate of the south.
), often made with eggs and often served with creamy sauces, has been more characteristic of theNorthespecially in the regionof Emilia Romagna where you can sample some of Italy's finest pasta.
A high quality pasta is a roughly textured pasta. Short, thicker pastas like grooved penne or rigatoni are better with a full, meaty sauce while long, thinner pasta like spaghetti are best served with smoother sauces using oil.
My friend Luigi, whohas a doctorate in agronomy, gave me this short course on the different types of dried pasta.Gragnano pasta is his top pick but it is difficult to get outside of Italy.
This is a recipe for mia Nonna's spaghetti and meatballs with tomato sauce.The recipe is deceptively simple as is all traditional Italian cooking. The secret is to use quality ingredients similar to what they would use in
and allow the sauce to slowly cook just below a simmer. Nonna told me that the sauce is done when there is a dark layer on top. That layer represents all the flavors coming together to make a delicious sauce.
Nonna used bread soaked inmilk when she first started making this recipe but later followed the Italian-American style of making meatballs using a small amount of dried breadcrumbs and more meat because living in American meat was more plentiful. This resulted in a more meaty but heavier meatball.
She did use canned tomatoes for the sauceand preferred Italian brandsbecause of the taste. Today I use San Marzano andwhen I'm in a hurry I useTrader Giotto's (Trader Joes) Tuscana Marinara Sauce.
can turn out badly if not cooked properly. You need a large pot and plenty of water to make pasta(6 - 7qts for 1 lb of pasta). Salt the water once it comes to the boil (about 1 T of salt to the above amount of water).When thewater returns to the boil, add the pasta and follow directions on the package for time of preparation. Stir the pasta with a pasta forkafter you add it to the boiling water and occasionally while it's cooking. DON'T ADD OIL. Oil prevents the sauce from sticking to the pasta which is essential. Italian's prefer their pasta slightly undercooked (al dente). It will finish cooking when sauced - that is the pasta is tossed with a small amount ofthe sauce before plating and then a large scoop of sauce is placed on top with the remaining sauce served on the side. That is how mia nonna did it!
Drain pasta well so it will not dilute the sauce. Italians regard sauce as a "seasoning" rather than serving the pasta drowning in the sauce as some American-Italian restaurants do. The exception to this is lasagnawhich should be prepared with plenty of bechamel and a fruity sauce almost like a sandwich with more filling than bread. Drained pasta should have a shiny finish. If the pasta looks "floury" then it is overcooked and there is nothing tobe done with that. And
Italians don't rinse their pasta in cold water after cooking.Rinsing the pasta gets rid of the natural starch. Splashing a little of the pasta waterover the pastawhen plating and adding the saucewill help blendthe pastawith the sauce.
has called pesto "the most seductive of all sauces for pasta" because a classic Ligurian basil pesto bursts with an earthy freshness that once tasted makesyouwant more.Like afine wine,a classic Italian basil pesto is a rarity. There are many pretenders on the shelves of most American grocery stores but an authentic Ligurian pestois hard to find.Trofie pastais the legendary accompaniment to basil pesto. For a recommended
Sunday mealswith my family often included chickenserved withpolenta.There was a special potNonnaused to cook polenta, there was a special spoon (stick)Nonna used to stir the polenta and there was a special boardNonna used to serve the polenta which she then covered with a white tea towel to keep warm. As you can see, polenta had a prominent place at our family table.
Polenta is made from atype of cornmeal (coarse or fine)that is cookedin water to make a kind of porridge. The regions of northern Italyespeciallythe Veneto where Nonnacame from, were large producers of corn and so polenta became acommon food often eaten by peasants who served italone or with cheese (Parmesan, Fontina)or milk. Polenta is adaptable to almost any additions and today is often seen on the menus of
Cooking polenta is hard work. The resulting mixture should be of asmooth consistency, free of lumps. This take some dedicationand anywhere from 30-45 minutes of constant stirring with the polenta stick a wooden stirring called a mescola.
The traditional way of making polenta is over a charcoal fire in a deep copper pot. The cooked polenta is thenturned out of the potonto awooden board or platter and smoothed over with a wet knife. Hot polenta was traditionally cut with a taunt piece of string but once cooled it can be cut with a knife.
If you want your polenta to look like this classic picture don't use thequick cookingtype.It never seems to have the richness, consistency and flavor that you get from cooking polenta low and slow. Alsotake carewhen cooking polenta, stirring constantly so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan ( you might try to convince someone to help you with this) and avoiding the hot polenta that periodically spurts out of the saucepan. Mia nonna told me that the polenta is done when it starts to pull away (lift) from the sides and encrusted bottomof the pan. This means that it's ready to pour out on the board or platter.
While visiting Bergamo, my cousin Lidia told me I must try the tiny little bird cakes known as polenta e osei. The cake commemorates a local custom that is no longer practiced but one of which I was familiar from the stories Nonna had told me when I was younger. Nonna said that when she was a girl she and her family would travel to the hillswith nets that they would stretch across the hilltops.Tiny songbirds uccelliwould fly into the nets and become entangled. Nonna and her sisters would catch the birds, break their necks and then grill the songbirds and serve them over polenta (remember most peasant families didn't have access to meat).
The hunting of songbirds is now outlawed in Italy but the centuries old custom is commemorated by the making ofpolenta e oseiremembering a time when meat was scarce and tiny little songbirds fed your family.
In a large saucepan bring 6 cups of salted water to boil.Slowlypour 2 cups polenta into the boiling waterin a thin, steady stream, stirring continuously with the polenta stick (wooden spoon).Continue stirring until done ( about 40 minutes) or when the polenta starts pulling away from the sides of the pan. Pour the cookedpolenta onto a board (or serving platter)and cover with a white cloth to keep warm. This recipe serves 4-6 people.
once or twice a year! On the contrary. Although an after dinner dessert is most often fresh fruit or pears and pecorino, Italians love sweets and confections and treat them with the utmost concern. Just visit an Italian confectionery to experience the attention to detail and design that is typically Italian.
Traveling down the road in Italytasting the varieties of sausages and salami is a little like following the yellow brick road to Oz. You will be tempted to try just about everything and end up saying .. . . OH MY! Every region of Italy has it's own distinctive types of
The pale, rosy colored salame from Milano is made from meat that is ground very fine with a close grained texture and even fat distribution while Tuscan salame is a deep red wine color with large pieces of fat, studded with black peppercorns.
My Italian friends and family specify that Salame di Felino should be cut at a 60 angle nothicker than a grain of pepper contained in the salame itself. According to them this keeps the salame intact and makes for a nice presentation as an antipasto.
. These shops are a good alternative to a sit down lunch or when you're on the road . Some salumeria even sell bread (pane) and nowyou have the makings for a fresh panino (sandwich). This is easy meal especially good when
There are literally hundreds of different types of curedmeats, sausages and salami to be found all over Italy.Ialways try to order an antipasti that includes a selection of thinly sliced (affettati) meats typical of the region. When I'm in
Well . . . that is like being asked which of your children do you like best! Every cheese has it's unique flavor and appeal.For taste, availability and application my favorites are Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Toscano, Gorgonzola from Lombardia and fresh mozzarella.
Cheese Facts . . . coming soon
Here's a great alternative to grating Parmigiano Reggiano cheese to serve with your pasta or risotto. Although Parmiagiano Reggiano is the undisputed "king of cheese" Grana Padano is no slouch. Both cheeses have a long and illustrious history being made in the same traditional manner for nearly a 1,000 years. Both are madeusing cows milk produced exclusively within a defined zone of production. Like fine wine, the production of both cheeses is rigidly protected by Italian law and because of this they are designated by the European Union as original and authentic (DOP)products stamped with a certificate of origin guaranteed by the Italian government. Yes, the Italians take their food very seriously!
Both cheeses are better shaved rather than grated butthere are some with a built in grater that also stores the cheese and is so convenient. You can enjoy the superior taste and delicately salty flavor of a true Italian hard cheese from Emilia Romagna instead of shaking a poor imitation Parmesan from a green can.
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