Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Welcome to Novellino Cucina
In 2007 my husband and I were lucky enough to travel to Italy. We ate fried zucchini flowers in the Jewish Ghetto, let pistachio gelato drip from our fingers while wandering past the Vatican, sat down to the best mushroom ravioli ever in the middle of nowhere after escaping chaotic Pisa, munched on salami, cheese and crusty bread while reposing on the Vernazza pier, lingered over salt-crusted fish in Riomaggiore, drank numerous bottles of Italian wine and downed untold volumes of espresso and cappuccino. And oh how could I forget the night we polished off an entire bottle of limoncello. Thank goodness we were on foot.
Given that this is a food blog you might think my favorite Italian memory would be of the food; whether the taste or aroma or combination of the two. But you’d be wrong. My absolute fondest memory is of the clinking of dishes. No matter where we were, city or country, and no matter the time, early morning or late night, there was always the gorgeous tink tink of glassware. This sound epitomizes everything that is right about the Italian way of life and all that is, perhaps, not so right with my American life.
“To go” didn’t seem to exist in Italy. Espresso was drunk in the cafe from a porcelain demitasse cup. People didn’t wolf down Taco Grandes while driving the expressway. They didn't scarf a peanut butter sandwich while themselves sandwiched between appointments. Shops actually closed for lunch. Life slowed down at mealtimes. Eating was leisurely.
Italians take the time to taste their food. All too often in America we eat but forget to experience the taste, texture and aroma. It seems we eat to live while Italians live to eat.
Don’t get me wrong. McDonald’s exists in Italy too. But these imported fast food restaurants aren’t for Italians. They are for Americans who simply can not live without their standard fare.
Which reminds me of another story ... while in Corniglia (which required an arduous climb up 33 flights of stairs) we were accosted by a fellow American.
“Howdy Folks,” he greeted as we huffed and puffed past.
“Hello,” we responded and attempted to continue on our way.
“Hey!” he shouted, “You American?”
“Yes,” we whispered under our breaths (we were hoping to be mistaken for Canadians).
“You been to the Olive Garden School yet? If you see nothing else you gotta see the Olive Garden School!”
“Thanks for the tip,” we said not wanting to be rude and quickly scurried off.
Let me tell you this right now. We did not travel all the way to Italy to go to the Olive Garden. Uh-uh. No way. Needless to say we skipped that part of the tour.
Shortly after coming home from our trip I happened across a garage sale. At this sale was an Italian cookbook Regional Italian Cuisine; More than 200 authentic recipes and cooking techniques from every region in Italy. For a mere $3.00 how could I not bring it home? The volume was promptly placed with our other cookbooks and promptly forgotten.
But a series of recent events has led to the unearthing of this text. First I’ve been reading a lot of food related books lately. Notably Julie and Julia by Julie Powell and A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. It seems I’ve had cooking on my mind.
Then last weekend there was a knock on our door. Sleepy-eyed I answered in my pajamas. It was my neighbor bearing a tray with homemade cappuccino complete with porcelain cups. This guy is awesome. Not only does he make espresso on par with any Italian barista but he also roasts his own beans (hey get your own neighbor - this one’s mine!).
Now I’d also recently read a post by a blogger friend, Molly, from a Foothill Home Companion who reminded me to never return an empty container. Ah, I thought, I’ll make biscotti to return in the cups. And out came the Italian cookbook.
As I was flipping through the pages I realized there were a lot of recipes I’d like to try and a lot of things I’d never made. I also really began to miss Italy and our brief respite from this harried life. Well, I thought, since I can’t afford to go back to Italy maybe I can bring Italy home. And on the spot I decided to cook my way through this book Julie and Julia style.
My husband and I have subsequently been to the fish monger in search of Red Mullet (the search is still on) and right now a batch of almond biscotti are cooling in my kitchen. One recipe down, 199 to go. Welcome to Novellino Cucina ... the Rookie Kitchen.