Italian food. One might wonder- so what do real Italians really eat? Surely not pasta every day. Americans don’t eat hamburgers every day and Germans don’t eat Bratwurst every day….right? But yes, based on my short experience in Calabria, seeing the pasta aisleS–second only to the wine aisle– in the supermarket, and conversations with Sara, I think the generalization could be made that Italians eat pasta– if not every day–almost every day.
Well, whether I am adding to a tired stereotype or not, at least I got to eat pasta every day while I was there…and I loved it! The wonderful thing about authentic Italian cooking, which, thanks to Sara and Dani’s family, who are excellent cooks, is that there is a lot of variety within the wide world of pasta. Different sauces, meats, fish, and the certain type of pasta which must be paired with them.
If you aren’t able to finagle being adopted by an Italian family with a beach house for a week, here are some suggestions for you to recreate the experience at home.
First start out with a fresh salad.
Tear the lettuce into a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and squeeze a fresh lemon over that. Toss. They had the tomatoes on the side, again with olive oil, pepper and salt. I would probably combine them, but I thought it was interesting how they had them separately.
Next, some sort of pasta dish. Use some ripe tomatoes (if you have to use canned, look for San Marzano). Sara says that if you have fresh tomatoes, put them through a food mill. I don’t have one (although I’d like one) but of course you can just chop them and remove the seeds if you want and put them in a pot. The first pasta dish we had was the fresh tomatoes cooked down with a big chunk of veal, which had broken apart into little pieces in the sauce and also gave it a great flavor. Another version I really liked was with zucchini.
If it is lunch, then that is probably your main course. Follow up the pasta dish with a big slice of cheese and some fruit, and you are done.
Almost every day after we finished our pasta dish, Dani’s dad would take out this hunk of cheese out of the refrigerator, cut off large wedges with a knife and pass them around. It was a softer cheese- it possibly may have been Provolone or something similar. I think there often was a crusty loaf of ciabatta we would break pieces off of as well.
If you are having dinner, then there may be a meat or fish course usually in addition to to the pasta. Here is a description of one of my favorites we had on the grill:
Take some thinly sliced meat (not sure exactly what cut it was- maybe Sara can comment?) and marinate that in olive oil, sliced garlic and cilantro as shown.
Then you must glamourously grate some parmesan into a dish of breadcrumbs, add salt and pepper. Coat the meat on both sides with this mixture before grilling.
If Dani is not there too cook this meat for you perfectly, it is a shame…but hopefully you can manage on your own.
By the way….did I mention that you will probably be eating this meal between 10 and 11 PM? And after the meal all the kids will go play in the street (full clothing optional?) until well past midnight?
But I digress….back to the food.
Another dish I liked were these fresh little fish wrapped in foil and baked.
Sara tok the fish, slit them down the center and placed cherry tomatoes, coarsely chopped garlic and flat Italian parsley in the middle, and then drizzled them with olive oil. (If you haven’t noticed by now, olive oil IS a major part of Italian cooking).
Add a big smile for the camera, and then wrap them up in foil to be grilled. Or were they baked?? Sara, you will have to remind me.
What Fiona ate was a big topic of conversation, apparently. Sara said that at one point one of the moms was extremely concerned with “HOW OFTEN DOES THE BABY GET PASTA?” Evidently it is very important to make sure that the baby gets a lot of pasta. And she did.
One thing Fiona really loved that surprised me were mussels.
Perhaps it was the whole experience of opening the mussel, pulling it out and/or cramming the shell against her face to get it out that was fun for her. Whatever it was, the whole experience took great concentration.
It never ceases to amaze me what things Fiona will eat- especially when we are traveling around.
Speaking of amazing things found whilst traveling, check out this Italian baby food I just had to buy when I saw it at the supermarket:
If you can’t tell from the cute little picture of the bunny on the front, Coniglio means rabbit. Yes, I tried to feed Fiona this cute little bunny for lunch. She didn’t like it– until I mixed it in with a bit of pasta (a suggestion from an Italian mom- note above conversation topic) and then she deigned to eat most of it. If you think eating bunny is a bit much, what about this one?
Ah, the little lamb. After the mediocre experience with the bunny, I didn’t give this to Fiona while in Italy, but took it home and had it in our pantry, figuring I would try mixing it into something so it wouldn’t be a total waste. To my surprise, last week Fiona grabbed it off the shelf, handed it to me and demanded that I open it for her. She then proceeded to eat both bottles very happily. What Fiona doesn’t know, is that I am saving the best for last. Both for her and to end this post on. Buon appetito!