A tavola! is the call that brings everybody to the table, a place where Italians like to linger. A tavola non s’invecchia, my father liked to say. Literally: “one doesn’t grow old at the table,” meaning that we should take our time to eat, enjoying the company and the conversation, which are also nourishing.
Growing up, the main meal of my day was lunch, il pranzo, prepared by my mother for our family of four. We followed the traditional structure: primo (pasta, rice, or soup), secondo (a meat, fish or egg dish), contorno (side dish), and frutta. The Sunday lunch – il pranzo della domenica – was richer than the weekday ones and included dessert (dolce).
On Sunday morning, my mother would make a pot of ragù di carne, tomato and meat sauce. She would use some of it to dress her handmade egg pasta (usually tagliatelle) for lunch and the rest during the week. The smell wafting from the kitchen changed as ingredients were added in sequence. First came the soffritto, the traditional mix of minced onion, carrot and celery (cipolla, carota e sedano) gently cooked in olive oil (also used as a base for other dishes).
Zanini De Vita writes that this pasta shape is typical of Molise, the small southern Italian region sandwiched between Abruzzo and Puglia. She describes it as “rather open strascinati, whose curvature varies with the thickness of the pasta sheet.” It is made by dragging (trascinare) on a wooden board with two fingers a small rectangle of rolled dough. I couldn’t find a photo or image of cuzzetielle, so what you see here is my rendition based on the description I read.
On New Year’s Eve a steaming pot of lentils with sausages and slices of cotechino was always on the dinner menu at home in Perugia. In preparing this festive comfort dish with the aromatic smell and strong flavor of cured pork meat, my mother followed a tradition meant to bring prosperity, as the lentils have come to symbolize coins. As a child, I didn’t know that the lentils we ate were quite special.
Umbria, the region in the heart of Italy of which Perugia is the capital city, is renowned for the cultivation of various legumes: the lentils from Castello di Norcia I ate as a child, lentils from the Altopiano di Colfiorito, cicerchia beans and others. (more…)
Orecchiette, strascinati, cavatelli. The musicality of the Italian language is displayed not only in inherently lyrical expressions, like poems and songs, but also in the names of everyday things, like pasta. Scorze d’amelle, scorze di nocelle. Simply saying these names tickles the imagination.
When I want to learn more about a pasta shape, my reference is the “Encyclopedia of Pasta” by Oretta Zanini De Vita. The book contains entries for 310 types of pasta. Each type is identified by a main name, and when applicable, alternative names. The same pasta shape can have different names in different regions, or different towns. Various sizes of the same shape may have different names. Sometimes the same name refers to two different types of pasta. Such proliferation can be a bit intimidating, if not maddening, for the visitor – or the writer trying to inform her readers. (more…)