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Chapter 34 the cooking of italy

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Chapter 34 the cooking of italy

  1. 1. CHAPTER 34: THE COOKING OF ITALY It would probably occur to very few people to regard Italian cooking as the source of every other western cuisine. Nevertheless, that is precisely what it is. The cooking of the Italian peninsula was the first fully developed cuisine in Europe. Its originators, the ancient Romans found inspiration in Asia Minor and Greece, besides drawing on many resources and ingredients that were home grown. Combining all these, it was possible for the Italians to teach the French the art of good cooking and.…… eating!. In fact the Larousse Gastronomique, the bible of French cooking goes on record to state `Italian cooking can be considered a veritable mother cuisine’. It was in 1533 that Catherine de Medici journeyed from Florence to Paris for her marriage to Henry II. Both Catherine and her cousin Marie di Medici who later became queen of Henry IV in 1600, brought teams of expert cooks to France with them. These culinary aristocrats possessed and delivered to France the most sophisticated cookery. They knew the art of modern pastry making as well as desserts, ice cream and cakes. Medici cooks also prepared for the first time outside Italy, exotic vegetables such as asparagus and artichokes as well as broccoli and the tiny peas that the French took as their own and which the world now knows as petits pois. The `mother cuisine’ of Italy also assimilated many products of the `new’ world. It is hard to think of Italian cuisine without the tomato, but till 1554, no European had even set eyes on it. It was imported into Italy from Mexico where it was known as Pomo d’oro (golden apples). The pimento or red pepper, so important in Italian cooking today was also a find of the conquests. So was the potato, sent back to Europe in1540. Italy was the first to exploit corn, a grain used in the making of polenta. Turkey was brought back from America. By the end of the 16th Century, the Italian list of food resources was complete and Italy’s cooking techniques and eating habits had crystallized into the form we know today. THE MODERN CUISINE To many a non-Italian, the cooking of Italy means pasta, pasta and more pasta. Even within this category, there is an astonishing variety. Actually,
  2. 2. Italian fare can be lively and interesting. It ranges from rich and hearty soups through a dazzling antipasti, meat, fish and vegetable dishes to a profusion of cheeses, cakes and ice creams. Far from being identical though, the cooking of modern Italy varies from the North to the South. On the basis of the styles of cooking, the whole country can be divided into two separate territories: the north and the south. The North is fertile, populous, industrialized and affluent. The South is parched, dry, sparsely inhabited, historically poor and mainly agricultural. As a consequence, the north cooks in butter, whereas the south cooks in olive oil (its cheaper to grow an olive tree than to maintain a cow!!). Flat, stuffed pastas made with egg are preferred in the North, while in the South, dry tubular pastas are common. PASTA No doubt, most non-Italians if asked to name pastas would come up with spaghetti and macaroni and perhaps ravioli and cannelloni. These are not many from a list which includes: Agnolotti, amorini, bucatini, caneloni, capellini, capaletti, cavatoni, conchiglie, ditali, ditalini, farfale, farfalette, fedelini, fettucca, fettucelle, fettucine, fritelle, fussili, lasagne, linguine di passero, lumache, macheroni, mafalde, malfati, manicotti, margherite,maruzelle, mezani,moscaccioli, papardelle,passatelli, pastine, penne, pennoni, perciatelli, riceiolini, rigati, rigatoni, spaghetti, spaghetini, spiedini, stelline, stivaletti,tagliarini, tagliatelli, taglio, tagliolini,tonarelli, tonnellini, tortelli, tortelini, torteloni, trenette, tripolini, tubettini, tufoli, and ziti. Phew!!! This list reveals almost as much of the Italian language as it does the varieties of pastas. Most names describe the shape, origin or the filling it contains. At times they are in local dialects and at times even nicknames are used as description. Some of those which are transalatable include agnolotti (little lambs), amorini (little cupids), canneloni (big pipes), conchiglie (conch shells), farfalle(butterflies), fusilli (spindles), lingue de passero (sparrows tongues), riceiolini (little curls), stivaletti (little boots) and vermicelli (little worms) .
  3. 3. Pastas can be cooked in a variety of ways including boiling, baking and frying. Besides the above exhaustive list, there is another doughy variety of pasta called gnoochi. These are small dumplings made of flour, potato or semolina or at times a mixture of these. There are also a whole range of sauces that go with pastas. The basic ones include Besciamella (white), Ragu Bolognese (red meat sauce) and Pesto (green). There are derivatives of these sauces like arabiata, al fredo and saffron. After pasta, the sea is Italy’s most important source of food. Being a narrow country, every Italian province has a coastline of its own. No region is very far away from the sea and in the North, there are an abundance of lakes which provide fresh water fish. Italy is bounded by the Adriatic, the Ionian, the Ligurian, the Mediterranean and the Tyrrhenian seas which yield millions of tons of fish every year. The catch includes varieties such as red mullet, bass, sole, anchovy, sardines, mackeral, tuna, eel and crustraceans such as oysters, clams, crayfish, mussels, shrimp and the famous scampi. Squid, cuttlefish and octopus are other varieties, not very popular outside Italy! While pasta and fish may be the staple diet of most Italians, the greater glories of Italian cuisine lies in its fruit and vegetables. The high quality of fruits and vegetables is attributed to a variety of reasons: the sea mists that carry salts and other minerals across the land, the use of natural rather than artificial fertilizers, the vagaries of the soil and climate and of course the know how and fine Italian hand! The vast repertory of herbs has also contributed to the fineness of Italian food. No Italian kitchen is without fresh or dried bunches of parsley, oregano, rosemary, wild marjoram, sweet basil, sage, tarragon, bay leaves, mint, fennel seeds and juniper berries to mention but a few. Spices such as cloves and coriander; flavorings such as saffron, garlic, shallots, lemon juice, vinegar, olives and celery form a wide spectrum of enhancers to choose from. In this list the olive has a special place. Some of the best olive oil comes from Italy. Lucca in Tuscany and Sasaria in Sardania produce the best extra virgin olive oil. Italy is also Europe’s largest producer of rice and its per acre production is rarely matched anywhere in the world! ARBORIO is a top quality rice used in the preparation of Risotto. This comes from the Piedmont region which also produces some of the finest quality of white truffles.
  4. 4. Although Italians are not ordinarily great meat eaters, it is not true that Italy doesn’t have good meat. Italian veal, pork and even beef are very good. However, moist Italians prefer veal and chicken. Processed pork in the form of Parma Ham, Bologna Sausage and Mortadella are all popular. Duck, Geese and Turkey are also prepared in a number of ways. Italy also has a fair amount of good quality cheese. Although they do not compare with the variety available in France, cheeses such as Parmesan, Gorgonzola, Mozzarella and ricotta are now world famous. Italian ice cream is perhaps the best in the world. It comes in two basic varieties: Gelati and Granita. The gelati is milk based whereas the granita is sherbet like made of a thin powdery ice flavored with lemon, coffee, liqueur etc. Tiramisiu (which literally means pick me up) is another popular Italian dessert. The Sicilian dessert Cassata surprisingly, is made from a base of sponge cake layered with cream cheese flavored with sugar and tutti frutti and coated with chocolate. Zabaione or Zabaglione is a thick custard like dessert which is made of a thick egg and sugar mixture and flavored with Marsala wine Inspite of this rich heritage and tremendous variety, most of the average Italians prefer a simple meal. Lunch is the main meal of the day. Italian cooking has kept in touch with the requirements of a changing modern world. It is simple, adaptable and inexpensive. Moreover, Italy has not succumbed to modern techniques in food processing(using harmones in meat processing and chemical fertilizers in crop production). Italy is still wedded to old fashioned methods.
  5. 5. THE REGIONS OF ITALY Culinary wise, Italy has been divided into various regions. Each region has its own history and its own distinctive methods of preparing food. These diverse styles give extraordinary variety to the national cuisine. The main regions include: Rome Florence and Tuscany Bologna, Venice and the North East Genoa and Liguria Milan and Lombardy Turin and Piedmont Naples and the South & The Islands of Sicily and Sardinia Each region was formerly a separate state and the boundaries have been subject to constant change. Yet each region tends to remain stubbornly individualistic. Even today, food that is considered Italian in one region is said to be foreign in another! However, most Italian restaurants abroad are Neapolitan as it was from the relatively impoverished South that most immigrants came from, bringing with them their regional cuisine. In the broadest terms, the dominant city in the North is Bologna, while it is Naples in the South. However, some regions refuse to align themselves with either. For example, Rome, historically the headquarters of the Catholic Church has attracted cultural and culinary contributions from across the globe. Florence enjoys a special status, tracing its origins to their leadership during the Renaissance. Sicily and Sardania are special cases as they are influenced and dependant on the sea. One of the most famous culinary exports from Italy has been the pizza. Famous all over the world, it is one of the most popular fast food and spawned legions of takeaways and home delivery chain stores across the world. The original pizza came from Naples (and not America) and was first cooked in wood fired ovens (al forno). Traditionally, it consisted of a base of bread dough, topped with a thick tomato sauce, flavored with basil and oregano, drizzled with olive oil and topped with grated mozzarella. This cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo has a special texture, so
  6. 6. distinctive in a pizza. From this basic pizza came a variety with other flavors and topping. Italy is more famous for its quantity rather than its quality of wine. Italy is the largest producer of wine in Europe. Some of its wines are world famous. The distinctive Ruffino, Lacrimae Christi & Est Est Est are still very popular. Cappuccino is another specialty which originated from the town of Padua, near Genoa and gets its name from the color of the robes of the capuchin monks. Another coffee special favored by the local Paduans is Caffe alla Borgia, coffee laced with apricot brandy and cinnamon. vernon coelho ihm Mumbai 2008-09
  7. 7. distinctive in a pizza. From this basic pizza came a variety with other flavors and topping. Italy is more famous for its quantity rather than its quality of wine. Italy is the largest producer of wine in Europe. Some of its wines are world famous. The distinctive Ruffino, Lacrimae Christi & Est Est Est are still very popular. Cappuccino is another specialty which originated from the town of Padua, near Genoa and gets its name from the color of the robes of the capuchin monks. Another coffee special favored by the local Paduans is Caffe alla Borgia, coffee laced with apricot brandy and cinnamon. vernon coelho ihm Mumbai 2008-09

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