Tag Archives: Italian Food Rules

Italian Food Rule – No Doggy Bags!

History of a Food Rule

Some of the best stories are those that start in the same place where they end. The more things change the more they stay the same. The Italian Food Rule: No Doggy Bags! has strange antecedents because according to some the doggy bag’s first appearance was in the 6th century BC … in Rome.

Apparently, when invited to a banquet at the neighbor’s villa the ancient Roman would bring a napkin or two. It was a compliment to the host to take some of the dinner home wrapped up in your napkin.

Wrap it up in a napkin and take it home
Ancient Romans wrapped part of dinner up in a napkin to take home

But perhaps with the fall of the empire the custom fell into disfavor. During the Middle Ages, the leftovers went first to the kitchen staff, then to the lower order of servants, and then out the backdoor to the beggars in the courtyard.

Why don’t Italians ask for doggy bags?

In modern times, there seem to be three reasons that Italians don’t ask for a take-out container. (The term doggy bag or doggie bag is an Americanism that entered the European lexicon mostly to complain about the practice.)

First, Italian food is made to order, to be eaten as the chef envisioned it, immediately as the dish arrives on the table. It is not to be eaten at another temperature (cold pizza), in another form (bistecca alla fiorentina sliced in a sandwich), or mixed together (pasta alla carbonara with a chunk off a veal chop resting on top).

Thanks for the doggy bag!

Second, servings in Italian restaurants tend to be of the appropriate size so that the diner does not get too full by eating everything on the plate. A light eater does not order an antipasto, a primo, a secondo, and a dolce – one or two courses is enough.

Third, Italians look at food left on the plate as scraps, not leftovers. There’s a difference. It’s not good manners to ask to take home kitchen scraps.

For 60 years Americans have requested doggy bags

Some say the term “doggy bag” came into being because embarrassed Americans wanted to hide their real purpose in requesting a container for leftovers. (Emily Post certainly frowned on the practice.) But the Smithsonian blog Food & Think claims that the first doggy bags were for the benefit of dogs during the 1940s when rationing had an adverse impact on pet diets. One Seattle restaurant offered a waxed paper bag labeled “Bones for Bowser.”

By the 1970s, the practice of doggy bags for late night snacks for human consumption became more accepted, first at restaurants that already offered take-out or delivery (pizza joints and Chinese restaurants). Then even elegant places would oblige when asked. (Remember the aluminum foil swan you got on prom night when you didn’t want to burst a seam on your fancy dress?)

Swans make take-away so so special
Swans make take-away so so special

Today, there are a few reasons why Americans whole-heartedly adhere to the doggy bag ideal.

First, most restaurants in the United States believe that their customers do not think they are getting good value for their dollar if the serving size is not at least twice the size of what a normal person can eat at a sitting. In other words, the customer expects to get one or two extra meals out of an evening at a restaurant.

Two, as American-born, London-based broadcaster Charlie Wolff, in the BBC magazine article, Doggy bag: Why are the British too embarrassed to ask?, explained “We Americans don’t have the airs and graces of Europeans. Americans are a bit more of the people, more pedestrian. There’s nothing embarrassing about asking for a doggy bag. We don’t want to see waste. There’s a sense of working hard for your money and wanting value for your dollar.” His mother used to make an omelette with the remains of meals from their favourite Chinese restaurant. She also used to bring any uneaten bread rolls home. “We were upper middle class. My parents came through the Depression and I’m sure that had a bearing even when they became successful.”

Third, Americans are the first to start recycling their waste and in the same way they look at leftover food as a product to be recycled in future meals.

Which brings us back to Rome…

Un Doggy Bag, per favore?

The Italian Food Rule: No Doggy Bags is starting to crumble. Some say that Michelle Obama is to blame. In 2009, Michelle was in Rome during the G8. This news item was widely-reported: “The Coldiretti Society of Italian Farmers heartily praised Michelle Obama for her progressive use of the doggy bag during the recent family’s stay in Rome.”  Michelle, together with her two daughters, dined at the ´I Maccheroni´ restaurant near the Pantheon. The family ordered three pasta dishes – carbonara, amatriciana and bolognese – but the meal turned out to be too hearty for the three Obama girls. And so Michelle asked the waiter to pack the leftovers into a bag to take home.

Michelle made a splash with her request for a doggy bag
Michelle made a splash with her request for a doggy bag

The First Lady’s effort to make sure the food did not go to waste was widely understood as a public encouragement to save more and waste less. The Coldiretti stated, “It’s an important move against an epidemic in developed countries today – more that 30% of all the food product we buy are discarded without ever having been used.”

By 2010, a non-profit group that works with homeless people in Milan, Cena dell’Amicizia, began a project called “Il buono che avanza,” (“The good things left over”). Restaurants in the Milan area can voluntarily take part, whereupon they are provided with doggy bags and a sticker by the non-profit. “The idea is to fight the idea of a throw-away, consumerist society where waste is normal and recycling (even of food) is looked down upon,” claimed Cena dell’Amicizia.

Logo for Milan's take-away campaign
Logo for Milan’s take-away campaign

In the Piemonte region there is a movement, not so much for waste, but to prevent drunk driving, to provide take-away bags, called buta stupa (“corked bottle” in Piedmontese dialect), for leftover wine.

What about the rest of Europe?

Even the Brits are coming around (although no news from the French). Last year, The Too Good To Waste campaign was introduced to reduce the amount of food waste in restaurants. The average London restaurant produces 21 tons of food waste every year, research by the Sustainable Restaurant Association found. That’s the equivalent to the weight of three double-decker buses. Too Good To Waste is encouraging diners to be “lovers, not leavers” and ask for their leftovers to go. They, too, have created a distinctive take-away cartoon for the crusade.

Too Good To Waste - Britain's crusade
Too Good To Waste – Britain’s crusade

It seems Italy and Britain are not alone in trying to break the Food Rule: No Doggy Bags; in Sweden (also in 2011, a magic year for doggy bags) a campaign was started to prevent waste in restaurants. Among other things, the promoters convinced the rapper Dogge Doggelito from the The Latin Kings, one of Sweden’s first hip hop groups, to participate in their doggy bag promotional film. In the film, Doggelito overhears a couple quarrel about something the man finds embarrassing, and takes for granted that she wants his autograph – when in fact it’s a doggy bag she wants.

Sweden's doggy bag campaign
Sweden’s doggy bag campaign

Tuscany will not violate the Food Rule

From all appearances, Florence and Tuscany will hold tight to the Italian Food Rule: No Doggy Bags! Florentines may be willing to recycle their trash, but leftovers do not constitute food in a region that prides itself in a cuisine that has not seen change in centuries and is not ready for reheating in the microwave oven. As a baby step, Tuscany may agree to follow the national Associazione Italiana Sommeliers, which is promoting Portami Via, a move to provide take-away bags for leftover wine.

Tuscany may support doggy bags for vino
Tuscany may support doggy bags for vino

 

Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Italian Food Rules: The Book

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

 

Italian Food Rule – No Meatballs On Top of Spaghetti

“Mamma, mia, thatsa spicy meatball,” the red-faced “Italian” man said each time his stereotypical wife plunked down a steaming plate of spaghetti and meatballs … until the antacid commercial hit its punchline.

Mamma, mia, thatsa spicy meatball! 1969
“Mamma, mia, thatsa spicy meatball!” 1969

“Spaghetti and meatballs, now that’s Italian!” is found in the script of many a b-movie.

Even Lady and the Tramp have their first kiss over spaghetti and meatballs served up by Tony, the mustachioed Italian singing cook in 1955.

The most famous kiss over spaghetti and meatballs
The most famous kiss over spaghetti and meatballs

Now, it’s time for the Italian Food Rule:  Spaghetti is not served topped by meatballs in sauce. Do not order “spaghetti and meatballs” in Italy!  At the very least, your waiter will laugh at you. (A sighting of “spaghetti with meatballs” on a menu found anywhere in Italy means that you are eating in a tourist trap.) If pasta and meatballs are served in the same meal, the two ingredients will be served separately – the spaghetti as a primi and the meatball(s) (polpettone or polpette) as a secondo.

Spaghetti with meatballs is not an authentic Italian dish. Like tiny bowls of olive oil set out for for dunking bread (another Food Rule for another day) spaghetti served with “red sauce” and topped with meatballs is an American creation. The pasta recipe probably made its first appearance in New York or New Jersy in the late 1800s.

Spaghetti with meatballs is an American favorite, not an Italian tradition
Spaghetti with meatballs is an American favorite, not an Italian tradition

The concoction is an American adaptation developed most likely as a reaction to the socio-economic conditions experienced by a wave of Italian immigrants who arrived at the turn of the 20th century. These Italians, predominantly from the regions of Sicily and around Naples, had been through the unification of Italy (1861) and World War I (1918). They left Italy poor and started lives in America poor. Meat was costly. For special occasions, when meat was served, the portions were small – too embarrassing to sit alone on the plate. But as a topping for cheap pasta and thin tomato sauce, meatballs the size of walnuts made the platter a celebration.

The meatballs eventually took over
The meatballs eventually took over

Of course, with prosperity came exageration. The platter of pasta was the same size, but the sauce became thicker, drowning the spaghetti, and the meatballs grew to the size of a kid’s fist.

The Italian-American spaghetti and meatball myth always invokes grandma’s recipe (ricetta della Nonna). In this tale, Nonna stands in her tiny kitchen, wearing a snowy-white apron around the barrel of her tummy, but showing off her still-shapely legs, waving a saucy spoon in her hand.

But the elegant Marcella Hazan, well into her 80’s, will tell all who hang on her every word about authentic Italian cooking, that the Italian Food Rule mandates: no meatballs on spaghetti. See herehere and here. She will give you a fine recipe for pasta with a meat sauce (ragu), but outlaws untidy balls of meat that roll down a heap of over-cooked spaghetti.

Spaghetti and ragu is a traditional Italian recipe
Spaghetti and ragu is a traditional Italian recipe says Marcella Hazan

In the 1930s, the Nonna gave way to jolly Chef Boyardee (Ettore Boiardi, who left Piacenza in 1915 at age 17 to land a job in the kitchen at the Plaza Hotel in NYC. By 1928, he had invented a meatball-making machine.).

Ettore Boiardi takes over the hearts and minds of American school children
Ettore Boiardi takes over the hearts and minds of American school children

Like Tony in the Lady and the Tramp, Ettore (soon known as Hector) liked the spicy meatballs and he put them in a can with spaghetti, ready to be opened at every American kid’s lunch.  And so this song (sung even on Sesame Street) was heard around scout campfires from sea to shining sea:

On top of spaghetti, 
All covered with cheese,
I lost my poor meatball, 
When somebody sneezed.

It rolled off the table,
And on to the floor,
And then my poor meatball,
Rolled out of the door.

It rolled in the garden,
And under a bush,
And then my poor meatball,
Was nothing but mush.

The mush was as tasty
As tasty could be,
And then the next summer, 
It grew into a tree.

The tree was all covered,
All covered with moss,
And on it grew meatballs,
And tomato sauce.

So if you eat spaghetti,
All covered with cheese,
Hold on to your meatball,
Whenever you sneeze.

This quintessential American song should be proof enough that spaghetti and meatballs would never find its way to a traditional Italian table, and thus, ranks very high in the list of Italian Food Rules.

Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Italian Food Rules: The Book

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

Mangia! Mangia! – Cioccolata Calda, Florentine Hot Chocolate

Winter is the season for hot chocolate, preferably with whipped cream. To me, the most perfect hot chocolate in the world was served at Café Angelina in Paris in 1977. (I tasted it again in 1996, but although it was still fabulous, it wasn’t perfect (that may have had something to do with the guy eating steak tartare, topped with a raw egg, at the next table).)

The perfect hot chocolate served your way at Cafe Angelina in Paris
The perfect hot chocolate served your way at Café Angelina in Paris

Hot chocolate at Café Angelina is an event. A polite uniformed waiter arrives with a silver tray. On the tray is a silver dessert spoon, a small china pitcher of hot aromatic chocolate, a bowl of barely sweetened whipped cream heaped high, and a small china cup. He offers a snowy white napkin and proceeds to pour a mere half a cup of thick hot chocolate – the aroma intensifies – the choice of how much whipped cream to add is left up to you.

Hot cocoa 1950's style
Hot cocoa 1950's style

During my childhood, hot chocolate was hot cocoa, which meant a packet of Swiss Miss mixed in hot water or on special occasions a spoonful of Hershey’s Cocoa mixed in hot milk or on very special occasions my mother would cook up a secret recipe of chocolate and milk in a pan on the stove and add marshmallows to the steaming cup of ambrosia.

Now I get my hot chocolate (cioccolata calda) fix in Florence. I have a choice of places. Probably the best cioccolata calda is created by Leonardo Vestri at the Vestri Chocolate Shop at Borgo degli Albizi 11r, but it is served in a plastic cup. This is more a place to go to get a premium hit of hot liquid gold to feed an addiction than an elegant place for a holiday chat with friends .

Rivoire has been famous for hot chocolate for decades
Rivoire has been famous for hot chocolate for decades

For a more formal hot chocolate experience, the most famous place in Florence is Rivoire. Here an efficient, but surly, waiter will plunk down on your table a small ceramic cup of incredibly good hot thick chocolate topped (your choice when ordering) with semi-sweet whipped cream. You will also get a couple of tiny paper napkins and a couple of unnecessary paper packets of sugar.

Hot chocolate with whipped cream at Rivoire
Hot chocolate with whipped cream at Rivoire

If you are sitting outside at Rivoire you will have a quintessential Florentine view of the Palazzo Vecchio, the statues of David and Neptune, and the passeggiata of a million Italian families mixed with a few Chinese tour groups.

Ciccolata Calda thick and rich at Rivoire
Ciccolata Calda thick and rich at Rivoire

If you are seated inside, you are warmer and may catch a sight of a regular client – a pretty English Bulldog dolled up in her winter fur collar. Ask her how she likes her hot chocolate — with or without whipped cream.

Styling bulldog at Rivoire
Styling bulldog at Rivoire

If you are sitting at a table at Rivoire sipping cioccolata calda you are paying a premium. Remember to sit at a table in Italy is to be “renting” the table, so you should plan to stay awhile to make the price of your hot chocolate worthwhile. Better idea – stand at the elegant bar at Rivoire and for a third the price you will get the same taste treat with equally abrupt service, minus the napkin scraps and sugar packets.

With whipped cream or without - just give me a taste!
With whipped cream or without - just give me a taste!

Tuscan Traveler is now on a mission to find the most luscious cioccolata calda in the best ambience for the proper price in Florence. If you have any ideas that would assist in the endeavor, please add a comment.

Not dressed for Rivoire
Not dressed for Rivoire

Italian Food Rule – No Gaudy Dressing, Keep Salad Simple

To dress a salad in Italy is simplicity itself: bring a bowl of salad greens (preferably one to three varieties of radicchio tossed together – that’s all) to the table, add some of the best extra-virgin olive oil available, a small splash of red-wine vinegar or lemon juice, a generous sprinkle of salt and a bit of pepper; toss again and serve on a salad plate (don’t infect the leafy greens with left-over pasta sauce or juice from the ossobuco.)

Fresh greens are all a salad needs
Fresh greens are all a salad needs

The only debate is whether inexpensive balsamic vinegar (not the traditional DOP stuff from Modena) is an acceptable substitute for red-wine vinegar. Purists would say emphatically “No” but the number of Florentine neighborhood restaurants that bring the sweeter version of vinegar to the table seems to argue for, at least, an acceptable option to the Food Rule.

Add a bit of good olive oil and red-wine vinegar
Add a bit of good olive oil and red-wine vinegar

Italian Dressing, known and loved in the United States (as well as Canada, the U.K and most of the British colonies), is a vinaigrette-type salad dressing, consisting of water, vinegar or lemon juice, vegetable oil, chopped bell peppers, usually sugar or corn syrup, and various herbs and spices including oregano, garlic, fennel, dill and salt. Onion and garlic is often added to intensify the dressing’s flavor. Usually it is bought bottled or prepared by mixing oil and vinegar with a packaged flavoring mix consisting of dehydrated vegetables and herbs.

Zesty dry Italian salad dressing flakes
Zesty dry Italian salad dressing flakes

North American-style Italian dressing, and especially Creamy Italian, which consists of the same ingredients, but with buttermilk or mayonnaise added to make it creamy, is not acceptable to the Italian palate. (“Che schifo” or Che esagerazione!” says Francesca.) Don’t ask for it in a restaurant in Italy or particularly from the cook in an Italian home.

At home in many American refrigerators
At home in many American refrigerators

Needless to say, you will also not find the following dressings in any Italian kitchen: Thousand Island, Ranch, Blue Cheese, Russian, Louis, Honey Dijon, French, Ginger Honey, and, perhaps surprising, Caesar Dressing

Caesar Dressing is much more American than Italian. The most reliable story of its origins reports that Caesar Cardini created the salad and its dressing in Mexico.

Caesar Salad with Caesar Dressing croutons and Parmesan cheese
Caesar Salad with Caesar Dressing croutons and Parmesan cheese

Caesar (born Cesare) came from near Lago Maggiore. He and his brother Alex emigrated to the U.S. after World War I. The Cardini’s lived in San Diego, but operated a restaurant in Tijuana to circumvent Prohibition. According to Caesar’s daughter Rosa, on July 4th 1924 the salad was created on a busy weekend at Caesar’s Restaurant. It is said that Caesar was short of supplies and didn’t want to disappoint the customers so he concocted this salad with what was on hand: romaine lettuce and croutons dressed with parmesan cheese (another Food Rule, coming soon), lemon juice, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and black pepper. To add a bit of flair, he prepared it at the table.

That last bit was the only thing truly Italian about Caesar Salad – a salad should be dressed at the table or right before it comes to the table – the greens should never sit soaking in the olive oil and vinegar.

Radicchio with a bit of frisee greens
Radicchio with a bit of frisee greens

Try being Italian for awhile – leave the salad dressing bottles in the fridge and simply add a bit of olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to some fresh leafy salad greens. You may be surprised by what you taste for the very first time.

Italian Food Rule – Do Not Eat or Drink While Walking

Although I’ve learned to never say never – Italians never eat while they’re walking or standing. They have no culture of snacking on the types of food that Americans are frequently noshing on as they hurry from place to place – no Big Gulps, Grande Lattes with extra foam, bags of Cool Ranch Doritos, Walking Tacos , Big Macs, or even, a panino con mortadella. (Yes, there are Big Macs in Italy, but they are being eaten – slowly – while at the table provided, not on the run.)

No one looks good eating or drinking while walking
No one looks good eating or drinking while walking

This aversion to eating and drinking while walking (“Che schifo!” says Florentine Francesca) is ingrained from a young age, perhaps by a mother who values spotless clothes on her off-spring. More likely, by a mother who wants her family at the table on time and hungry, not missing in action or stuffed with chips before the meal even begins.

Che schifo!
Che schifo!

But more to the point, eating is still very closely linked to the national heritage of consuming good food for pleasure. Even in today’s busy world, over 70 per cent of Italians eat meals they have prepared at home; the favorite place to eat both lunch and dinner is in the home, with almost 70 per cent eating at the family table. In the U.S., by contrast, we eat our meals (a) standing up in our kitchens, (b) in front of Jersey Shore, CSI or the PBS NewsHour, (c) at our desk while catching up on emails, (d) in our cars, or (e) walking down a city block between appointments.

Major violation of an Italian Food Rule
Major violation of an Italian Food Rule

Whereas the Italians wish to spend up to two hours over lunch, we bolt down our food in the time it would take them to savor a crostino spread with duck liver. The Italian secret to avoiding obesity is to sit down with friends or family for a meal, and to eat three times a day at regular intervals; eating slowly, enjoying both the food and the company.

In Italy, a meal is a very particular moment, in which you share pleasure, the food as well as the conversation. From an American point of view, food is usually just fuel to give energy and drink is to add the caffeinated turbo-charge.

Of course, Italian food is real food – prepared in the kitchen, with time taken to choose, buy and prepare meals. In other words, there is space for food in the daily routine. Eating in Italy is a social activity. There are several courses, but they are small with plenty of time between dishes for the physiological feedback to kick in as the brain tells the stomach enough is enough.

Gotta stand? Use the shelves for your drink.
Gotta stand? Use the shelves for your drink.

Even when Italians are forced to stand while eating, like at my favorite panino place, I Due Fratellini, a small hole in the wall (literally) where the best sandwiches in Florence are made, it is done with style. There are two sets of numbered shelves so you can set your glass of wine down as you take the six bites that will finish the minimalist panino made with a maximum of three of the finest ingredients inside a warm crunchy bread roll.

Only in your dreams
Only in your dreams

So what about gelato? Yes, it is an exception to the Italian Food Rule – No eating while walking. Italians walk while licking a small (2.50 € or less) cone – a cone, not a cup – of gelato. If you order a medium or large cone you are not Italian. If you are eating gelato out of a cup, you should be sitting in the gelateria or on a nearby bench. It’s complicated.

In conclusion, while Americans are speed-eating, gulping down a 550 calorie lunch solely consisting of a Starbucks Venti Dulce de Leche Blended Creme Frappuccino (“Che esagerazione!” says Francesca) before the light turns green and it’s okay to cross, the Italians are taking small mouthfuls, resting their cutlery between bites, discussing the food – because it is worthy of discussion.

Italian Food Rules – Bread Is Not Better With Butter

“Where’s the butter for the bread?” asks a tourist from Chicago. “Can we get some butter out here?” asks a lady from Atlanta. “Perché?” queries the waiter.

Perché? indeed. In Italy, bread is not better with butter.

Butter from Reggio Emilia rarely found on the table
Butter from Reggio Emilia rarely found on the table

Butter never meets bread in Italy. except for a breakfast of a slice of toast with butter and marmellata or an after-school snack of bread and butter and Nutella.

At lunch or dinner, Italians wouldn’t think of slathering butter on the bread from the basket on the table. (They don’t dunk it in oil either, but that is the subject of a separate Food Rule.)

In fact, bread is served with the meal solely for the purpose of acting as the scarpetta – the little shoe – “fare la scarpetta” or use a little shoe of bread to scoop up the lasts remnents of sauce on the plate. A comprehensive discussion of “Scarpetta si, scarpetta no …” can be found on the Dellano website, saving you from the pitfalls of proper and polite public bread use.

Not Table-Ready
Not Table-Ready

To ask for butter in a restaurant, or many family homes, puts the host in a quandary. The kitchen may have a quarter kilo or more of butter, but it isn’t table-worthy. No cute pats or butter dishes.

Marcella Hazen adds a historical note: “Olive oil is all around the Appenine and at the heel of the boot so it is used all over but much more in the south because they don’t have cows so they don’t have milk, butter, and cream.”

Burrini or Butirro - Butter as a hidden surprise
Burrino or Butirro - Butter as a hidden surprise

Hazen may have forgotten about burrino (aka butirro) a cheese from the southern regions of Basilicata and Calabria that has a core of butter, served as a first dish with warm bread. The butter was historically stored in the cheese to preserve it before refrigeration.

Ginger at allrecipes.com sort of got the idea when she submitted a recipe for “Italian Butter”, but then she broke about five Food Rules with her ingredients: red pepper flakes, black pepper, oregano, rosemary, basil, parsley, garlic powder, minced garlic, salt, and extr virgin olive oil. One of Ginger’s reviewers, Ashlie H., broke a few more rules: “An incredible recipe! I mix it with olive oil and balsamic vinegar over finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese. We eat it until our bread is gone!”

Italian Butter
Italian Butter

And then there was the “Murder by Butter” case from Sicily, reported in Corriere della Sera, last February. Maybe this is why butter is not found on most tables in Italy.

When you visit Italy, give up bread and butter for the duration of your stay – you and your waistline will appreciate it – and think how good it will taste when you get home.

Italian Food Rules – No Pizza for Lunch

Mangiare la pizza prima delle nove mi fa tristeza,” asserts my friend Teresa, echoing Italians everywhere – “To eat pizza before 9pm makes me sad.”

The Italian Food Rule: No pizza for lunch.

In the U.S. pizza is eaten at any time of the day – even cold for breakfast in dorm rooms on every college campus. Italians refuse to eat food served any which way, at any time of day or night.

The reasoning behind this Food Rule is exact: Pizza is to be eaten at a pizzeria at night because: 1) pizza must be made to order (no frozen pizza); 2) pizza must be eaten immediately after it comes out of the pizza oven (no take out); 3) pizza must be made by an expert – not a generic cook – a pizzaiolo (preferably born in Naples), who 4) is using a wood-burning pizza oven.

The pizzaiolo slides a pizza into the wood-burning oven
The pizzaiolo slides a pizza into the wood-burning oven

A wood-burning pizza oven takes a long time to get to the proper temperature (485º C or 905º F), so it will not produce the perfect pizza before 8:30 or 9 in the evening and it is usually considered a waste of time and energy (as well as a violation of the Food Rule) to fire it up for lunch. Pizzerias stay open until midnight or later, so a pizzaiolo gets in a full shift of work from prep at 7pm to clean up at 1am.

Another reason for the Food Rule is that pizza, unlike pasta, is considered a social food – a food for lovers and friends, not family. Pasta is associated with home and Mom’s cooking. Traditionally, Italians were expected home for lunch for Mom’s pasta. After Mom started working outside the home, the pasta meal moved to dinner – everyone was still expected to have their feet under her table at 7pm and pasta was served more times than not.

Pizza is a for lovers and friends
Pizza is for lovers and friends

Since the perfect pizza can’t be made at home (no kitchen oven reaches 485º C and most of the private wood-burning pizza ovens built in Italy are installed on the request of foreigners who want a “true Italian experience” at their vacation villa or Tuscan farm house), it becomes a social event. Pizzerias provide an upbeat, carefree, casual environment (no worries about getting tomato sauce on Mom’s favorite tablecloth). If there is a wood-burning pizza oven, it is usually on display, as is the pizzaiolo, adding to the festive atmosphere.

Americans are frequently disappointed with the pizza they eat in Italy. Of course, this is mainly because they ignore the Italian Food Rule: No pizza for lunch. But it is also because they expect Italian pizza to be like the pizza in Chicago, heaped high with everything. Perhaps generic pizza is more of an American fast food than a traditional part of Italian cuisine. Whereas, Italians have eaten pasta since the 12th century, pizza is relatively new on the scene.

History of Italian Pizza & How it Was Introduced to the World

Some say pizza was created in Italy in the late 19th century because of the tale of the queen and the pizza. But the pizzeria that served the queen tells this story:

Queen Margherita - famous because of a pizza
Queen Margherita - famous because of a pizza

“In 1780, the pizzeria Pietro e basta così (which means “Peter and that’s enough”) started its activity in Salita S.Anna di Palazzo near P.zza del Plebiscito. Its pizza, already extremely favored by the Neapolitans, soon became famous and appreciated in the whole city.

For this reason a century later, in 1889, the pizzaiolo of that pizzeria, now called Pizzeria Brandi, Raffaele Esposito, was invited at Court along with his wife Maria Giovanna Brandi. He baked three different pizzas for King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy. The Queen’s favorite was a pizza evoking the colors of the Italian flag – green (basil leaves), white (mozzarella), and red (tomatoes). This combination was named Pizza Margherita in her honor.”

Just over 150 years ago, Italy was a land of city states – Florentines did not eat what Romans ate and Venetians did not eat like the Sicilians. Pizza was strictly a food of Naples. But as World War One loomed, Italians from Naples emigrated to the U.S. In 1905, the first Italian pizzeria opened in New York and the fad spread much faster in the states and the rest of the world than it did in Italy.

Only with World War II did pizza become a dish made throughout Italy, this time sought by American soldiers as they made their way from Sicily through Naples to Milan and Venice. The pizza craze was also spread in Italy by the migration of southerners looking for jobs in the north after the war and was made trendy by the popular croonings of Italian-Americans Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin: “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie … that’s amore.” (Turn up the sound on Pizzeria Da Michele’s website.)

Pizza Margherita was named for a queen
Pizza Margherita was named for a queen

Rules for Making Perfect Pizza

The uneven nature of pizza quality throughout Italy, of course, led to new Food Rules. Purists, like the famous pizzeria Da Michele in Naples consider there to be only two true pizzas – the Marinara and the Margherita and that is all they serve. The Marinara has a topping of tomato, oregano, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and usually basil. The Margherita, is simply tomato sauce, mozzarella di bufala, fresh basil, and extra virgin olive oil. In Florence, Enzo, the pizzaiolo at Osteria Cafe Italiano serves three – Marinara, Margherita and Napoli (with capers and anchovies).

Due to the large number of pizzerias in Naples, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza Association) was founded in 1984 to certify the pizzerias using the proper ancient artisan traditions of authentic pizza. They have illuminated signs outside of pizzerias that follow their methods so Neapolitans know where to go for pizza verace.

A thin layer of perfect sauce is all that is needed
A thin layer of perfect sauce is all that is needed

The association set out very specific rules that must be followed to create an authentic Neapolitan pizza, including using ‘00’ flour (highly refined Italian flour), San Marzano tomatoes (grown in volcanic soil surrounding Mount Vesuvius – less acidic and slightly sweeter than other tomatoes), and Mozzarella di Bufala or Fior-di-Latte (fresh mozzarella made with milk from either water buffalo or cows).

The dough must be hand-kneaded by the  pizzaiolo and must not be rolled with a pin or prepared by any mechanical means, the pizza must not exceed 35 centimeters in diameter or be more than a third of a centimeter thick at the center. The sauce is spooned on and spread with the back of the spoon into a thin layer. Other ingredients are not piled on, but are scattered in a haphazard way. The pizza must be baked in a wood-fired, domed oven at 900°F for no more than 60 to 90 seconds.

Eccola! The perfect Margherita pizza – the crust is thin, dry and golden at the center; the edge is thicker, breadier and slightly scorched; the sauce is bubbling, but does not pool in the center; the cheese is melted and strings out as the slice is lifted (though some claim another Food Rule – pizza is to be eaten with a knife and fork); the two or three green leaves of basil are whole and only slightly cooked; and finally, a swirl of fresh extra virgin olive oil is added as an accent before the pizzaiolo releases it to the table.

Pizza Marinara - garlic and sauce, but no cheese
Pizza Marinara - garlic and sauce, but no cheese

Other Italian Food Rules for Pizza:

One pizza per person.

Drink beer or acqua frizzante with pizza

Leftover pizza is left, not taken home.

Do not ask for grated Parmesan for pizza.

Hot chili pepper (peperoncino) in oil or as powdered flakes is an accepted condiment.

Pizza may be eaten by the slice, usually while standing, at lunch.

It is sad to eat pizza alone.

Can you think of other Italian Pizza Food Rules?

Flying pizza dough
Flying pizza dough

Short List of Great Pizzerias:

Best pizza in Naples:

Pizzeria Da Michele

Pizzeria Brandi (formerly Pietro e basta cosi)

Best pizza in Florence:

Pizzeria Osteria Café Italiano

Munaciello

Best pizza in Rome:

bir & fud

Pizzeria Da Remo

What are your favorite pizzerias in Italy?


Mangia! Mangia! – Gelato Crostini Anyone?

One of the highlights of this summer was an invitation to spend two days at Carpigiani Gelato University, located just outside Bologna, on the historic Via Emilia, between Lavino di Mezzo and Anzola dell’Emilia.

48 hours of just thinking about gelato and, of course, tasting flavor after flavor of sorbet, semifreddo, granita, frozen yogurt, soft-serve, as well as, traditional Italian gelato.

Gelato Maestro Luigi Perrucci
Gelato Maestro Luigi Perrucci

At the Gelato Lab, Carpigiani’s freestanding high-tech gelateria, two brand new flavors of gelato were introduced to the world on July 20 during the presentation of the 2011 Gelato Pioneers (more about this later).

The two fascinating flavors were created by Gelato Maestro Luigi Perrucci in the Gelato Lab’s research and experimentation kitchen, using the most innovative of Carpigiani’s gelato and soft-serve machines.

Mortadella Gelato Crostini
Mortadella Gelato Crostini

The crowd cheered as a tray of Mortadella Gelato “crostini” was presented. Mortadella is one of Bologna’s most famous foods, dating back five hundred years. Maestro Luigi chose to serve his mortadella gelato on a small round slice of bread and top it with a shaving of Parmesan cheese, a squiggle of balsamic vinegar and bit of shredded lettuce.

Made with a sorbet base, the pink gelato offered a true mortadella flavor without any fatty mouthfeel or aftertaste. The bread, balsamic, Parmesan and lettuce made it the perfect sandwich, albeit an icy cold one.

Balsamic Vinegar Gelato came from the soft serve machine
Balsamic Gelato from the soft serve machine

For dessert, Maestro Luigi offered a Balsamic Vinegar Soft Serve Gelato. Of the palest purple in color, made with a milk and egg base, the delightful swirl of gelato was sweet with a slight tangy aftertaste.

Balsamic vinegar is not vinegar per se. It begins with late-harvest grapes (usually white Trebbiano) grown near Modena. Traditional balsamic vinegar is thick and sweet and very very expensive.

Balsamic Vinegar Soft Serve
Balsamic Vinegar Soft Serve

Carpigiani is known for pushing the envelop of the tradition Italian gelato experience. The company seeks to bring Italian gelato to the whole world. Mortadella gelato may not find its way into any gelateria on a regular basis (except for perhaps Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco and on the Food Channel’s Iron Chef), but the balsamic vinegar soft serve is a keeper.

Italian Food Rules – No Cappuccino After 10am

“Italians, it so happens, spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about digestion. The predilection towards a before-dinner drink-known as an aperitivo – is due in large part because Italians believe a drink such as Campari and soda “opens the stomach.” If you launch into your bruschetta – followed by pasta, followed by grilled fish, followed by panna cotta – without first awakening the digestive tract with an aperitivo, you’re just asking for trouble.” (The Daily Traveler for Condé Nast)

Cappuccino Classico
Cappuccino Classico

To sip a cappuccino after lunch is a direct and major violation of an Italian Food Rule. Italians believe the fresh whole milk that makes up over half of the contents of this drink plays havoc with digestion. To order a cappuccino after 10am, unless you are breakfasting after said hour, is seen as suspect behavior worthy of at least a slight frown, advancing to a worried shake of the head, and can escalate to outright ridicule.

Francesca, my guide to all of the pitfalls that lead to violations of Italian Food Rules, once had a hilarious exchange with a waiter after two German tourists at a nearby table unwittingly ordered cappuccini after dinner. Scornfully, she wondered if they were going to order breakfast for dessert.

Origins of Cappuccino

Most believe that cappuccino was named after the light brown hoods worn by a hard-core, split-away order of Franciscan monks, founded in the early 16th century – the Capuchin monks, or Cappuccini. The word cappuccio means “hood” in Italian, and the “ino” ending is a diminutive. Thus, cappuccino means “little hood.”

Cappuccino - the Italian breakfast
Cappuccino – the Italian breakfast

Others credit Capuchin monk Marco D’Aviano with the invention of the drink, allegedly after he discovered a sack of coffee captured from the Ottomans during the battle of Vienna in 1683. (D’Aviano was beatified in 2003 for his missionary work and miraculous power of healing.)

In reality, the popular coffee, topped with foamed milk, dates back to the early 20th century, but the name wasn’t associated with the beverage until just before 1950.

Cappuccino – Breakfast of Italians

Fresh Milk & Espresso = Cappuccino
Fresh Milk & Espresso = Cappuccino

To the Italians, milk is almost a meal in itself. So having a cappuccino at the neighborhood bar in the morning on the way to work or school requires no other food to be considered a complete breakfast. (A small pastry may be included, but not always.)

 

Cappuccino is more milk than coffee, so it is full of calories. Perhaps the reasoning is that slender Italians (the ones that don’t order the pastry) are more likely to burn off the calories through the day. Drunk later, those pesky calories stay on the hips

Some say that cappuccino is best in the morning because the milk has lactose (a sugar) and the body absorbs the lactose and milk fat quickly, so the carbohydrate energy is available immediately before the caffeine stimulant kicks in.

Food Rule – No Cappuccino after Meals

The real reason behind the Food Rule, however, is that Italians are firmly convinced that drinking milk after any meal will mess up the ability to digest food properly. So having a cappuccino at any time after lunch, or after dinner, in Italy is unthinkable.

Tourists, therefore, shouldn’t be shocked when the waiter refuses to grant their cappuccino requests “for your own health.”

Capuccino Valentine
Cappuccino Valentine

For further reading:

Best Writing about Italian Coffee

How to Order an Italian Coffee in Italy

Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Italian Food Rules: The Book

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

Books, Books, Books – Secrets of My Tuscan Kitchen by Judy Witts

Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen
Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen

CONGRATULATIONS!!!

JUDY WITTS has published the 2,000th copy of her new cookbook SECRETS FROM MY TUSCAN KITCHEN.

To celebrate 25 years in Italy, Judy Witts Francini of Divina Cucina self-published the collection of recipes she used for the past 20 years at her cooking school in Florence and wrote about in her blog Over a Tuscan Stove.

The cookbook started out as a handwritten, spiral-bound, photocopied edition that she gave to her students.

In 2008, she took the time to recreate it as a more permanent collection and developed a blog to go with it.

There are almost one hundred of Judy’s favorite recipes, perfected in her classes and her home kitchen, in the pages of Secets From My Tuscan Kitchen .

To order an autographed copy, you can use the link online.

Secrets From My Tuscan Kitchen is available also at these Tuscan bookstores, vendors and restaurants:

Florence:

 

Paperback Exchange– Via delle Oche 4r.  Paperback Exchange is also Tuscan Traveler’s favorite bookshop in Florence.

In the Central Market at Conti, the Conti family stand for olive oil, fruits,vegetables, balsamic vinegar, and more.

Judy's food photos ready for her next book
Judy’s food photos ready for her next book

Near the market at Casa del Vino, a wine bar that specializes in small select wineries.

Osteria Pepo on Via Rosina

Uffizi Gallery Bookshop

Panzano in Chianti:

Enoteca Baldi in the main piazza, specializing in wine from the Chianti Classico region

 

Siena at:

BookShop Siena,  Pian dei Mantellini, 34

Liberia Senese, Via della Citta’ 62/66

What might Judy be up to NEXT????

 

Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Italian Food Rules: The Book

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook