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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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…

The Curse of Corn: Poverty and Politics and Pellagra

Dr. Joseph Goldberger stands watching the children eating. He's about to prove his hunch that pellagra occurred in the face of nutritional deprivation. He devoted years to discovering what caused the curse of corn, pellagra. Although the fat cats in the South of the time, and we’re talking early 20th-century here, didn’t want to spend…

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…

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…

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…

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…

When Life Gives You Lemons, Dream of Sorrento

Lemons --- the smell of them teases out dreams of sunny days and slower ways, of light twisting through splintery pergolas hung heavy with purple wisteria. And, of course, bees buzzing above the wine glasses and darting through clumps of flowering thyme on the ground below. Lemons --- the sight of them conjures up visions…

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…

What Mummies Tell Us about Food

As we all know, or suspect anyway, mummies provide an amazing treasure trove of information about life (and death) in the past. Talk about primary sources, so beloved of historians! As A. A. Gill wrote in an article about the Palermo mummies in the February 2009 issue of National Geographic magazine: An enormous amount can…

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…

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…

St. Joseph’s Day

St. Joseph's Day (March 19) always enthralls me because of the elaborate "tables" that Italian women created in honor of Saint Joseph. In many ways, these "tables" remind me of Mexican Day of the Dead altars. Here's a link that takes you to a site with first-person accounts of the feast-day celebration and customs.

The Garden of Bartolomeo Vanzetti

Sometimes I close my eyes and just remember, remember being in ___ [name of place] and then it was just (pause) sit at the table, and I got a lot of brothers and sisters, you know. My dad’s there and I just sit at the table and it’s like, eat and laugh and talk and…