Italian Food, Italian Culture

October 24, 2017

Food is the heart of the Italian society as far as I can tell. It was true in our family and it is true in the families of the people I know in Italy.

My mother was happiest when she was cooking and feeding us. She loved to cook and adored it when we ate her food.

Mom loved her kitchen. And she was always there, cooking up a storm. Giving us food was her way to give us love.

She taught us all how to cook some things. Most of it was Italian cooking. We watched her make her meat sauce, smelled it cooking all day long, stole bowlfuls of it and ate it like soup. And dipped Italian bread into it.

Our grandmother made the desserts. And our great-grandmother Orphelia cooked for her entire family. I learned so much from them all.

Food is love. Food is family. Food is shared as a family and we shared our days over pasta,

or arrosto, roast beef or anything Mom made.

Soon my Ricci grandmother, my Del Fiacco great-grandmother, and my Rossi grandmother all passed. With them gone, so much was also lost. But my mom was the keeper of the recipes and the holder of our hearts.  When she passed on, all six of us children tried to recreate her Italian masterpieces, and keep the family culture and love together.

Here in Liguria, and in all of Italy, there are so many more Italian recipes to learn and to share. One of the first new foods I have made that was not from our Abruzzo and Campania roots, was Risotto. I read a story about how to make risotto, how the older Italian women made it. They said it was important to always use the same pan and the good riso, rice.

How to make risotto in the traditional way.

Heat your pan on medium heat.

Add Extra Virgin Olive Oil to cover the bottom.

Next add good, chopped onions. Cook them until they are clear, constantly stirring.

Next, add your rice to toast it. Always stir the rice in the same direction—always! That is what they said.

After toasting it, add some warm, chicken or vegetable broth. Keep stirring until it is absorbed and add more.

Add chopped vegetables of your choice and meat if you like. But keep stirring.

Each time the liquid is absorbed, add more. Use some White Wine as well as the broth. And pour yourself a glass of the wine to drink as you stir and stir and stir.

The process will go on for about 15 minutes. You keep stirring in the same direction so you won’t spoil

the Risotto. (And I think it is so it is all cooked at the same time.).

When the rice quits absorbing the wine and the broth, it is done.

Before serving, grate fresh Parmigiano Reggiano—none of that cheap stuff.

Next, dish out your risotto and sprinkle the cheese on top. Serve your guests wine and Risotto. Watch them enjoy every bite, laugh and talk and share their cooking stories. Keep the wine flowing too.

I am not certain that the old Italian wives’ tales of using the same pan and stirring the same direction is necessary. But I have accepted that it is necessary to have a glass of the vino bianco, white wine, for strength to stir and stir and stir.

Several people have asked me for recipes of Risotto, zuppa and sugo.  Unfortunately, I really do not have recipes. I cook by taste and smell as my mother did, as many Nonne italiane, Italian grandmothers, do.

Here is my most recent Sauce, Sugo. (Sugo, sauce, can be frozen and still taste great when thawed.)

Heat olive oil in the bottom of your biggest, deepest saucepan, or in a fry pan.

Add chopped garlic, assorted mushrooms, and peppers (if you like) or other vegetables for flavor.

Sautee, add fresh chopped parsley and stir.

When it is all cooked, (if using a fry pan, you must now transfer it to a deeper, saucepan.) add your tomatoes, both blended and chopped, canned tomatoes from Italy. (I used four bottles of the Mutti plus a can of chopped tomatoes.)

Stir it in and bring it to a bubbly boil while stirring. Lower the heat but try to keep it at a slow boil. Stir occasionally.

Add fresh, chopped basil, salt, pepper and Sicilian oregano to taste. (That is the only oregano I have liked.) Your kitchen will begin to smell like an Italian home.

(This is the messy stage.) Keep cooking it until it cooks down, thickens and the flavors are blended. Taste it while cooking and add more of the parsley, basil, oregano, salt and pepper as needed.  

Cook it for at least an hour and preferably longer.

Boil some pasta and, when done, add it to a bowl. You can add some of the pasta water to the sauce if you like.

Next, top with the Sugo.

Add freshly ground Parmigiano Reggiano, pour a glass of red wine and enjoy.

It is always best to eat with friends. But when I eat my freshly made Italian food alone, I am never really alone. I am there with the memories of the women who influenced me all my life, with the old Italian woman who told me how to make Risotto, with my cousins in Italy and in the USA. And it fills me with love and good food too.

If you would like to learn how to cook the way Italians do, I am an amateur. However, I can connect you with people all over Italy who are true Italian chefs and rustic cooks. Let me know when you want to visit here and I can set it up. I will be waiting to hear from you. I may even go with you!

Andiamo! Let’s go!

Ciao for now!

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