Pasta is the queen.
As we were walking through our neighborhood the other night, we came upon this display in a kitchen store. I love it! Obviously, her hair is spaghetti, her skirt is made of penne pasta, the belt is coils of angel hair pasta, and her bracelet is red chili peppers.
In Italy, every region has their own pasta specialty. I found the one constant spice is red chili flakes or red chili pepper pods. Garlic, of course, is a frequent ingredient in pasta dishes, but it is not in every dish. Some pasta sauces are so delicate that garlic would overwhelm the flavor. Other bolder dishes demand many cloves of this pungent ingredient.
I started asking different local people about a particular pasta dish that is ubiquitous in Rome, a simple pasta sauce called Amatriciana. Sometimes that is spelled with 2 m’s. The spelling of the word was only the beginning of the controversy surrounding this sauce.
The first controversy I encountered was the origin of the dish. While Roman restaurants say that this is a Roman specialty, the dish actually originated in the town of Amatrici, in northern Lazio area, Lazio is the region that includes Rome, but Amatrici is a small city in central Italy in the Appenines mountain range. People of Amatrici do not take kindly to Romans referring to this as a “Roman specialty.
Then I found more controversies. Really, now, would we fight over whether to use garlic, onion, or leave them out or will we become angry If the chef tops the pasta with Parmigiano cheese versus Pecorino? Apparently, Amatricians would.
I became very careful, after that, about asking questions concerning specialties. I did find, however, that almost every Italian will be willing to beat me about the head and shoulders if I mentioned Alfredo sauce. “Non Italiano”, was the universal reply, usually accompanied by a sneer and a glare. Alfredo sauce was apparently a culinary creation of a Roman chef, named Alfredo, naturally, created by him to impress some Hollywood movie stars many years ago, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. These two enjoyed the dish so much that they presented Chef Alfredo with a golden fork and spoon.
The closest one can get to having Alfredo sauce in Italy is pasta carbonara, spaghetti mixed with diced pancetta, raw egg beaten into the sauce , then lots of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese mixed into the pasta.
When we were in Sorrento, seafood ruled the menu, and rightfully so.
At Ristorante Delfino, I had a pasta called calamarata, as it looks like calamari rings, with shrimp, clams, zucchini, cherry tomatoes in a slightly spicy clear sauce. Frank was enjoying spaghetti alla vongole, spaghetti with clams. All sorts of seafood abound on the menus on the coast. They are so delicious, so fresh, right from the sea, and prepared by a talented chef. Antonio, at Delfino’s, is one of the best chefs in this area.
Today, we are in Florence, encountering an unsuspected rainy day, so Chef Dolly decided it was a good day to make soup. I have made many meals in this kitchen over the years, and I am in heaven having the opportunity to cook here once again.
One of the things I love about shopping for food here is that I can go to the supermarket, go to the produce department, pick up a packet of soup mix. This container will have 2 carrots, 3 or 4 stalks of celery, one or 2 small onions and some parsley, for a cost of about [euro]1. That is the starter for my soup. I then add some chicken, fennel, zucchini. At the end, I add tortellini. Now I have a marvelous soup, a perfect lunch dish for a rainy afternoon.
While we waited for the soup to finish cooking, we had a little appetizer. Frank had gone to the store, brought home a fresh baquette, still warm from the oven, and a bottle of Chianti. We had cheese, prosciutto and olives to round out the aperitivo. (An aside here: the Chianti was on sale for [euro]6. The bread cost less than [euro]1. Good wine and bread are so inexpensive here. Right now, the currency exchange rate is $1 = [euro]. 90. [euro]6 was about $6.60 )
In a future blog post, I will continue with foods of the different regions, as well as the many controversies over food preparation. Italians are very food oriented and proud of their regional specialties, so I must be sure to get my facts straight. I will try to do that as I eat my way through Italy.
Ciao for now,
By Dolly Goolsby – Full Story at Dolly Travels
Italy Gay Travel Resources