Tomato Sauce with Butter: Thinking About Marcella Hazan, My Nonna in Spirit

My little brother took his first breath on a cold day in February, when doctors still made house visits and new mothers still spent days in the hospital. And that was good, as far as I was concerned, for during those 4 or 5 days that my mother lay exhausted in the maternity ward, I…

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No, Sir, I Did Not Love Brussels Sprouts: A Tale of Loathing

One fall day about a year ago, struck by the guilty feeling that hits after baking a particularly wicked and sinfully rich chocolate cake, I vowed for the sake of health and all that’s dear to me to cook more vegetables. But not just any vegetables. No, I wanted to cook those that rarely, if…

The Zen of Artichokes

I love autumn. If it’s not the leaves and all the color, then I find poignancy in the drying and dying weeds littering the ground. They embody survival to me. One plant I particularly love is a thistle-like plant, filled with tiny seeds attached to billowy white parachutes. The least puff of wind forces the…

Unquenchable: Natalie MacLean’s Terrific New Book on Wine

If, like me - overwhelmed by the hundreds of possible choices in front of you at the grocery store or local wine shop - you’ve ever stood in front of the endless shelves of stunning wine bottles and felt like just closing your eyes and grabbing a bottle, any bottle (preferably one on the lower…

Lemons – Tiny Cathedrals of Gold

Lemons, their pitted, nay, prehistoric, skins secreting golden oil, Shielding sourness, evoking memories of a grandmother's kitchen, A grandfather's garden. Born in the East, fruitful India, A kiss of cold, albeit fleeting, spawns the yellow Immortalized  in stone, paint, and clay. A fruit reverenced, Blossoming from mountain and lake, Urging cooks to slice, pierce, and…

Seduced by Spaghetti

Continued from Still Mi Amore --- Wild Abandonment Among the Tomatoes and Zucchini: Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself? ~~ Henry David Thoreau ~~ Only when I studied the culinary heritage of Catholicism did I pay deeper attention to Italian food. The saints’ days…

Still Mi Amore — Wild Abandonment Among the Tomatoes and Zucchini

A market is three women and a goose. ~~ Italian proverb ~~ I know that for many Italian women my nostalgic idea of Italian cooking would seem foreign, as alien as if I zoomed in from another planet. Louise DeSalvo makes that clear in her book Crazy in the Kitchen: Foods, Feuds, and Forgiveness in…

The Pull of Italy: An Explanation of, or at Least a Discourse on, an Obsession

Just what is it about Italy? The sheer, sheer beauty? Or ... The turbulent history The grottoed mushroom-rank earth The Latin-infused language The ancientness The glimmering light The icy green water of northern lakes The needle-like cypress trees The deep phosphorescent colors of art The blue of the sea The dark wood floors and terra…

Thomas Jefferson and His Magic “Maccaroni” Machine

Thomas Jefferson, rightly or wrongly credited with first bringing pasta to the tables of Americans, drew a picture of  a pasta-making machine. This drawing, now in the Library of Congress, resulted from a trip to Italy taken by Jefferson in 1787. Don't forget that "macaroni" served as a generic name for pasta and doesn't necessarily…

Pandolce: From Liguria with Love, Thanks to Laura Schenone

Laura Schenone, author of the soulful The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken and the scholarly (and prize-winning) A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove, traveled back to Liguria for Christmas in 2007. From that trip came her perpetual Christmas gift to all of us, Pandolce. In an article in the December 2008 issue of SAVEUR…

The Feat of Feasting

One cannot both feast and become rich. Ashanti Proverb “Feasting,” for all practical purposes, appears to be the antonym of “hunger.” And yet, feasting is rife (ripe?) with teeming contradictions and ritualistic conventions. For some, feasting implies hunger. Ambrose Bierce defined feasting in a rather limiting manner in his irreverent Devil’s Dictionary: FEAST, n. A…

Hunger is the Best Sauce

A hungry people listens not to reason, nor cares for justice, nor is bent by any prayers. [Lat., Nec rationem patitur, nec aequitate mitigatur nec ulla prece flectitur, populus esuriens.] De Brevitate Vitoe (XVIII), Seneca (Lucius Annaeus Seneca) Chronic hunger is something that most of us in the United States will never really know.* Yet…

No Thanks to Marco Polo: An Encyclopedia of Italy’s Pasta Shapes

Marco Polo returned to Italy from his Chinese travels in 1296. The myth, legend, what have you, credits him with introducing pasta into Italy’s culinary repertoire. But Marco Polo did NOT bring pasta to Italy. And 73-year-old Italian author Oretta Zanini de Vita wants you to know that, immediately, upfront and center. Zanini de Vita…

Saints, Souls, and Haints: Honey Cakes

Some interesting comments from 1845 about All Souls' Day, by Charles Knight in Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (!), Volume 14, p. 441: To do a Tarentella as it ought to be done requires room, and although the palaces of the nobility and gentry be large (in ninety cases…

Coming Up: New Food Memoirs & Other Treats

Food memoirs form just one of many research items on the list of materials used by culinary historians. In rounding out the larger picture of just what was going on in a specific time in history and related to the life of a specific individual, food memoirs cannot be beat. The following memoirs and other…

The Man Who Drew Too Much

As a writer for Gourmet magazine in its early years, illustrator and engraver Samuel Chamberlain introduced Americans to European food, mostly French. According to Nathalie Jordi,* his columns about his French cook Clémentine** --- who cooked in the Chamberlain kitchen in Marblehead, Massachusetts --- subtly reinforced Gourmet’s original image as a magazine intent upon luring…

Elizabeth Romer’s Chronicle of Tuscan Agriculture

Contemplating the impact of Food Network's publishing juggernaut on the current food scene in America, I find myself turning backwards, to some of the "earlier" writers on food in Italy. Many of these people, like Elizabeth Romer in The Tuscan Year: Life and Food in an Italian Valley (1985), wrote of day-to-day practices, of times…

The Hermetic Lady in the Palazzo: Marlena de Blasi

Cookbook author and memoirist Marlena de Blasi does not seek the limelight, preferring instead to write her books in the shadows. The shadows, that is, of the great stone monuments of Italy, first San Marco in Venice and now a sixteenth-century palazzo in Orvieto in Umbria. De Blasi’s body of work includes A Taste of…

Old News: Le Ricette per Cucina Raccolte dal Principe Don Paolo Borghese

Le Ricette per Cucina Raccolte dal Principe Don Paolo Borghese (Recipes  from the Collection of Prince Don Paolo Borghese), a new cookbook published by the Ferragamo family of Italian shoe fame, sounds scrumptious. The eighteenth-century recipes come from family archives. According to the Vogue UK Website, the book will be available worldwide in September 2009…

At the Tables of the Monks: In the Beginning (Part II)

You’d never know a hermit started it all. St. Benedict of Norcia (ca. 480-547 A.D.), called the Father of Western Monasticism and the Patron of Europe, never intended to form a religious order. He just wanted to get away from it all, “all” in this case being Rome, where his noble Umbrian family sent him…

At the Tables of the Monks: Part I

The hood does not make a monk. William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure Contemplating a National Geographic article from February 2009 on the mummies of priests and other religious persons in Sicily, it’s easy to start wondering just how and what monks ate. Citing research on the skeletal material indicated that unlike most of the population…

Fish: Garum and Beyond

O le bi oju eja ti ehin ko le iwe. (Yoruba) : It is as hard as the eye of a (smoked) fish, which the teeth cannot break. [N.B. -- Applicable to any difficult matter.] (from Wit and Wisdom from West Africa, Richard Francis Burton) Most people who live to eat (definition: the food-obsessed) might…

The Pope and the Porcupine

When it's soft, eat the stone and throw the porcupine out. Old saying about tough meat. Chef Bartolomeo Scappi (1500-1577) cooked for two popes (Pius V, for one), as well as for several cardinals. Fortunately for posterity, he also wrote a fat, hands-on tome about  cooking and serving food in Renaissance Italy. Terence Scully's invaluable…

Life, Love, and Lost Raviolis

The food memoir seemingly pops out everywhere these days. It's the hot new genre in writing.  Some authors coin a phrase and tell a story better than others. Most bog down the reader right away, with dramatic and overwritten accounts of trauma suffered in the kitchen or in love,  unwrapping personal anecdotes best kept tightly…

Cooking in Italy

Instead of forking out thousands of lire for a cooking class in Italy, take a look at these videos. Buon appetito! Cooking  Sicilian  with Mamma Agata Amalfi Coast with Mamma Agata (Looks like somebody got into the wine a bit early on) Lezione di cucina dl ristorante La Finestra a Padova (Italian Cooking Class at…