Tuesday, 24 January 2012

You Know You're Italian When...

When did grocery shopping get so complicated?  I remember the days when I’d go to one store, pick up everything that was on my list, come home...realize I had forgotten a few items...add them to my list for next week and put everything away while the kids helped and snacked on all the best goods.

Now it goes more like this:  drive to the store but while the rapini looks pretty good, the peppers and eggplants are disappointing. Too mushy. Hmmm...what to do? Buy the rapini and a few other things.  Drive to another store for some firm and amazing peppers only to discover the eggplants are musha-musha over there too. What is going on?  It’s January that's what. Soooo…it’s on to store number three for the melanzane while nursing a headache. If they’re not primo over there, I’m not buying them this week which gets me thinking about being Italian, or European, or just a Foodie who is so particular about veggies that are firm and flawless you’d think I was shopping for diamonds. 

And so, another list comes to mind as I drive home. I'm on a roll now so instead of cooking dinner, I focus on my list of You know You're Italian when and take my last emergency-backup lasagna out of the freezer for tonight's dinner.  Must make a couple of backup replacements for the freezer this weekend!  You never know when the next emergency will strike. So here goes. 

You know you're Italian (or a Foodie) when...

1. The size of the cantina might stop you from buying a house.
2. Family members check out the cantina before you sign the papers.
3. The brand of tomato paste you buy can be an issue.
4. Whether or not you buy tomato paste at all can be an issue.
5. You’ve had countless conversations about which pasta doesn’t stick when you cook it (with or without oil... another cause for discussion), how many packages of meat are left in the freezer, and how much money to put in the envelope.
6.     Someone in your family works in the food business.  No worries. If they work in contracting or hairdressing, they’ll know someone in the food business.
7.     You can have your hands on a Pizzelle Iron in one or two phone calls.
8.     Picnic is another way to say Family Reunion.
9.     You’ve driven up to an hour to pick up cheese, meat or porchetta.
10. You’ve gone as a group.
11. You’ve done this more than once.
12. You’ll do it again. 
13. At least one person you know owns a 40-year-old stove that sparkles like it just came off the assembly line. 
14. You recall hearing “Quanto arriviamo a casa facciamo i conti” of days gone by and know it has nothing to do with math.  Your parents most likely said it to you after you ate more than your fair share of cannoli at Zia’s house. 
15.  When you visit your parents or aunts and uncles, you sit at the table, even though it’s not lunch time. It’s not dinner time either. But there's food on the table.
16.   Summer camp involved dusting and vacuuming the house for your mom or cleaning out the garage.  Then you made pizza or biscotti. Or both.
17.  Your parents’ idea of downsizing is giving away only one of their pasta machines.
18.  Your parents’ freezer is packed to the brim with food even though they’re empty nesters. They never know when they"ll have to feed a crowd at a moment's notice.
19.  Your kids started peeling garlic to help with dinner when they were three.
20.  Going to the grocery store for eggplants only to find them mushy all over town can drive you more than a little crazy. But you know you'll do it again.

Enjoy your grocery shopping this week.  May the first store you visit stock everything to perfection so you don't have resort to your emergency back-up plan. I can't wait to see the Farmer's Market again this summer.  How about you?

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Happy New Year

I hope you had many heart-warming gatherings over the holiday season.  Or was it the type of Christmas that reminded you of boots?  As in I parenti sono come gli stivali…piu vanno stretti e piu fanno male. Rhyming translation: Family is like a pair of boots, the tighter they are, the more of a pain in your hootch. I’ve known both varieties of Christmas but Grazie a Gesu Bambino this last holiday season was a good one. Not every family gathering can be rapturous and for this, it's good to remember this simple recipe:

~ Start with 2 cups of patience, add a tablespoon of laughter, a teaspoon of thoughtfulness and a pinch of understanding.  Mix all together and serve to everyone you meet. ~ Of course, if this dish doesn't work out, it's always good to keep a couple of firm pillows handy so you can punch the living stress out of your system!

Thank you to the Secret Santa who gave me the pasta buttons you see above. A sweet surprise that's most appreciated. I love them.

December is the warmest month but come January, I feel so much ambivalence. No matter how much thought has gone into finding toe-insulating boots, it's hard to imagine any creature but Caribou is happy to tread outside these days. Mannaggia al'America. Though we have had a mild winter so far—che pasa?  Is it El Nino or are we just warming up the planet by all that extra pasta we’re cooking this time of year? 

I'm working hard to maintain an Attitude of Gratitude and counting on my kitchen comforts to see me through the next eight weeks. Comforts that feel like old friends. Can you relate to this? For example, has your favorite scolapasta ever broken its base?  Two minutes of silence are in order.  Oh no!  Not the scolapasta!  It’s like losing a best friend. It deserves a proper burial for all the al-dente joy it has given us.  True blue scolapasta, I release you to Cucina Heaven.  You will be missed. And now since we go on living, we need to find another just like you. Strong and dependable. 

Where to begin?  It needs to have a base that’s precision leveled, no rough edges, and easy enough to handle with one hand.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent as much time shopping for a scolapasta as you have for the perfect pair of shoes.  And you know how long that takes. There are some things I will pay more for and a scolapasta is one of them.  Here are a few other kitchen favorites. 

My oil and vinegar bottles...extra virgin olive oil and two for basic vinegars: red wine and balsamic.

My peperoncino bowl. Well loved by all the cooks in the family.

Mr. BBQ's stack of books that reminds summer is on its way.
No this isn't all of them. He has more.

Since we're stuck indoors most nights, it's TV with channel surfing being our favorite show.  How will we make it through these grey and dreary months?  If I get through last season's episodes of Desperate Housewives, there are two Italian movies I'd like to see before spring arrives. One is La Dolce Vita. I'm not a big fan of Fellini but I've heard it's very good. The other is Mediterraneo directed by Gabriele Salvatores, an Academy Award winner I longed to see years ago when it was released. If you've already viewed them, and you're considering something other than channel surfing, I recommend these three: Stanno Tutti Bene, a bittersweet and memorable story starring Marcello Mastroianni, Johnny Stecchino, a hilarious ride with Roberto Benigni and Nicoletta Braschi and Cinema Paradiso, great nostalgia with Philippe Noiret.

I have no recipes to share with you this time. The careful boxing up and storing of Christmas memories has gobbled up most of my energy. Instead of cooking interesting dinners, I've been wishing Tomie dePaolo's Strega Nona and her magic pasta pot would visit my kitchen. I did spend time browsing through some of my favorite cookbooks on the weekend, however, in case Strega Nona is a no-show. I found inspiration in Chef Pasquale's words: "The chef is like a composer, creating new recipes and adapting old ones to express the individuality that is found in each of us." Which is a very nice way to say: Moms create new recipes to express the lack of time they had to shop for groceries and to ease the panic they feel when dinner hour is almost upon them and there's nothing for the table. The holidays are over and we're slowly getting back to our hectic schedule. See you next week!