Friday, 8 April 2016

Family, Food and Etiquette

Something that I feel particularly proud of being an Italian is the way we connect with our families. Yes, we are very family loving community. We love to go out together and prepare large sharing platter. I feel it brings us all emotionally closer. 

Only the other day we were in one of the beaches at the Turkish staircase (ScaladeiTurchi). This is a natural feature of brilliant white (unusually white!) rock eroded into giant steps by the sea. It looks like marble, feels like chalk. If you like hiking, then this is the place. Also, it is one of the few things you can see in Sicily without having to pay for.

One of my paternal uncles owns a sprawling beach house close by. He is also our favourite chef who can whip up delicacies in a jiffy.

The meal began with a large sharing platter placed in the middle of the table and filled with cold cuts, marinated vegetables, olives, rustic country breads and a selection of Italian cheeses. The Primo course included an impressive choice of homemade pastas with a tasty selection of sauces. The highlight of his culinary splendour was of course reinventing the wheel by scooping out a hollow within a large wheel of Parmesan cheese to create a shallow bowl for blending and mixing his delicious risotto, which will be further enhanced by the rich flavour of the cheese.

I can’t write any more. Revisiting my favourite chef and his delicacies also makes me feel hungry. But before signing off, here is some Italian etiquette which my uncle taught me when I was a kid. As the adage goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Cheers!

No bread should be eaten together with pasta. Bread is only allowed near a pasta dish to do a good old fashioned scarpetta, that is, to wipe the sauce off the plate and savour every last bit of it. 

  • Have mineral water and/or wine with your meal. Forget sodas or milk unless you are a teenager or small child. Only, if you are eating pizza at lunch time, sodas might be ok.
  • Coffee may be drunk with fruit or desert but never with main meal. In addition, traditionally coffees with milk (cappuccinos and lattes) are for breakfast. Lunch and dinner are followed by espressos, or, at most an espresso macchiato.  
  •  Cinnamon does not go on cappuccinos or lattes. Chocolate/cocoa or whipped cream does. 
  •  For salad dressing, we Italians, use olive oil and vinegar only. So do not expect ranch, thousand island or, worse yet ‘Italian’ salad dressing. Grated Parmesan is never used on lettuce. 
  • Never use a knife when eating pasta, unless it is lasagna. Your fork is sufficient; using a knife is a huge insult as it implies that the pasta is so badly cooked that you can only cut through it with a knife.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Italy - the face of many seas

Being a true blue Italian and a Piscean, I treasure the water that surrounds us. Including islands, Italy has a coastline of 7,600 kilometres. It is flirted by so many seas -  Adriatic SeaIonian SeaTyrrhenian SeaLigurian SeaSea of Sardinia and Strait of Sicily. I wonder how many countries can boast about the pleasure of so many seas. I have a particular fascination for the sea. Unlike lakes or rivers, a sea is defined by its vastness. The expansiveness of the sea deeply attracts me. When I am particularly depressed about something or somebody, I just have to go to the sea and look at it. The gentle waves, the flickering sun light or the silvery moon light brings sparkle as much on to the crest of the waves of the crystal clear water as to the corridors of my confused mind. It energises me and yet calms my mind. Something that tells me all will be well. 

Take Tuscany. It is known for rolling hills. It also has a beach scene with sandy white shores and quaint seaside villages. In western Tuscany, Maremma with its ancient root and beauty lends a feel of timelessness. Long beaches, blue sea, black rock, hills covered with woods, marshes and flat lands gives a diverse spread as much in colour as in topography. You can’t miss the thermal baths or the acquacotta soup. There are water sports too like sailing, windsurfing, scuba diving… you name it, and we have it. You must have heard about our wild Carnival Festival.

Yes, sea for me is as much of stillness as of surfing. My fascination for the sea also extends to the beach. How I wish we have libraries out here like the way Dubai municipality is planning.
Though Venice is surrounded entirely by water, but there are few beaches in the city. I love to read William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice in one of those thatched beach huts. I feel so empowered as I read about Portia. I have read it so many times but I still feel good every time I pick up the book. Shakespeare made women intellectually so illuminating.

Termed ‘One of the best places in the world’, beaches around Sicily range from sandy white shores to exotic black sands. The journey to the beach is part of the fun as beachgoers climb aboard a funicular or cable car for a quick ride down to the beach.

By the way, don’t forget the coves. One of them where I often frequent is known as “Grotto of Arpaia”. Protected by a steep cliff, the little grotto can only be reached by boat. It has therefore preserved its natural environment and the clean water which had put a spell on the British poet Lord George Byron who spent many an afternoon admiring the blue sea; the foamy waves impacting against the rocks and listening to the quiet sound of the sea life. It is the perfect place for snorkeling and for a boat trip with a final splash in some crystalline like waters…. 

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Food for thought

The flavour of every country is perhaps most reflected through its food. Despite the changing times, frenetic pace, Italians still love to relish their food, be it at home or restaurant. Food and wine pairing are part of their culture. So they prefer white wine with fish and red wine with meat. Each Italian will even tell you their family way to dish up, using recipes often passed through generations. Often the extended families would turn up over an elaborate family meal.

Culinary delights are indeed soul curry.  But as one recent Archie Calendar advertisement goes, cupcake is happiness with an icing.

Of course, my happiness lies in thin-crust pizza which anyway is born here in Italy. With it, I need my Neapolitan flip coffee pot. Yes, I know, it was more popular in the last century, but I guess, I got the taste buds from my grandfather who still insists for it. Unlike a Moka Express, a Napoletana does not use the pressure of steam to force the water through the coffee, depending instead on gravity.

For an ideal winter dinner, fish appetizers, yes, that ubiquitous, fundamental part of every serious Italian meal, will involve canapés with various kinds of pâté (olives, artichokes, eggplants, etc.), seafood salad, artichokes hearts and other vegetables preserved in oil (best if homemade), toasted bread with butter and anchovies. Did I forget peppered mussels and fried cod to mention?

By the way, has anyone heard of a dish called Farinacci? This is prepared at Christmas time by making pasta and then rolling them up with tomato paste and cheese. I Love Farinacci and would usher the New Year with it as well.  Then there is Panelle. This is Sicilian fritters made from gram flour and other ingredients. They are a popular street food in Palermo, a city as much noted for its history and culture, as for its architecture and gastronomy. Panelle are often eaten between slices of bread or on a roll, like a sandwich. Panelle are believed to be of Arabic origin. This also reflects the adaptive ways of Italian palate.