No wonder ITALIANS like to EAT
Italian food isn’t all spaghetti. It’s spiced sausage and tangy cheese, piping-hot pizza oozing with black olives and anchovies, fragrant tomato sauces, desserts drenched in rum and cream, soups thick with meat and macaroni. And best of all—there’s plenty of it
ONCE UPON A TIME, when Joe DiMaggio was still married to Marilyn Monroe, newspapermen were dispatched to Tokyo to report to the breathless world on the honeymoon appearances of the happy pair.
They had no trouble finding the bride, who was conscientiously combining business with pleasure singing torch songs to U. S. soldiers in Japan. They did have trouble finding the groom. Finally Joe turned up tired but jubilant and explained where he’d been.
“I found a little place where they make the most terrific pizza!” he said.
Gourmets might not be too surprised that a bubbling hot Italian tomato-and-anchovy pie
should draw a man from the side of a woman, even a woman like the seductive Marilyn. Some Italian food addicts go so far as to maintain that if Ulysses had sailed between two islands long ago, one of them inhabited by sirens and the other basking under a mound of steaming ravioli, the songs of the sirens would have fallen on deaf ears. They call Italian food “Mediterranean cooking at its best” and claim that it’s probably the only food in the world that can simultaneously stimulate and satisfy the appetite.
Italian chefs have always been sought after by wealthy families and expensive hotels, but today Italian cooking is undergoing a renaissance on this continent among ordinary middle-class families.
One reason is that an estimated 100,000 New Canadians from Italy have poured into Canada in the past five years to join the 140,000 ItalianCanadians already living here. With them comes increased demand for such Italian delicacies as hot spiced farmers’ sausage, Parmesan and Romano cheeses, black olives, anchovies, broccoli, green peppers, herbs and dark-roasted Italian coffee. Anglo-Saxon housewives living in large industrial cities like Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton, Windsor and Sault Ste. Marie, where most of our new Italian immigrants are settling, are finding on the shelves of their neighborhood supermarket such unfamiliar
food as canned ravioli, green noodles and crusty Italian bread.
Visitors taking in the Canadian National Exhibition last fall were surpised to find, wedged in between the traditional hot-dog and hamburger stands, small pizzerias where aproned chefs baked spicy squares of Joe DiMaggio’s favorite dish, hot pizza (pronounced peet-sa).
A second reason for the growing popularity of Italian food is that it appeals to both men and women.
For women, Italian food spells romance with a capital R. It is a scene straight out of a dozen Hollywood movies. There’s a man and a girl, and they’re sitting in a dimly lit Italian restaurant eating spaghetti, at a table covered with a red checked cloth. There’s a wicker basket of crisp white bread in front of them, and they’re drinking wine from a wicker-covered bottle. They sip their Chianti, and gaze into each other’s eyes. It is all very beautiful. For many women, such intimate little scenes are dreamily reminiscent of their own courtship, and Italian food holds a special little place in their heart.
Men are more likely to love Italian food because of its robust flavor and generous servings. Once a man has discovered Italian food, there’s usually no stopping him. Forsaken is the charcoal pit where he smoked steaks to a frazzle all summer. It’s autumn now, a new season is here, and he is determined to emulate an Italian chef.
“Come on over Saturday night,” wives phone their girl friends, “George is going to cook spaghetti.”
And sure enough, come Saturday night, there’s George out in the kitchen, Continued on page 23
Continued on page 23
No Wonder Italians Like to Eat
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 17
a tea towel pinned over his trousers, operating in a fine aroma of mixed garlic and tomatoes and green peppers and Worcestershire sauce and onions and meat balls and sherry and chutney and bouillon cubes and ketchup and half a dozen different herbs and spices that he had to shop for downtown because all his wife had in the house was parsley.
An Italian probably wouldn’t recognize as his native food the mess George is concocting but chances are George’s guests are of other nationalities and they think it’s grand. If George has been very careful and has managed not to drop a whole bottle of anything into the pos, it’s possible that even his wife may compliment him on his cooking— a mistake that will cost her a repeat performance with another group of friends the following Saturday night.
If George’s wife is wise, she may save her kitchen and her stomach yet by learning to cook a good Italian dinner herself But first she may need a whole new approach to cooking. For instance, 'she msy have to get rid of the idea that things cooked in olive oil are greasy. Italian grocery stores sell three or four different strengths of olive oil, and all of them, properly used, are extremely digestible. A dish like veal cutlets can emerge from an olive-oil bath crisp and dry and delicious.
She will have to find room on her herb shelf for oregano (pronounced o-reg-ano), basil, rosemary and anisette, and in her cheese compartment for three or four kinds of cheese she never heard of. There will be more cans of tomatoes in her cupboard than ever before, and stranger shapes of macaroni than she knew existed. Tf she becomes an enthusiast, she will discover the virtues of slow cooking, and cooking with wine, and cooking some dishes the flay before so that they can “set” all night and integrate the flavors.
She may even end up as crazy as I am about Italian food.
I learned my first authentic fact about Italian cooking—namely, that it’s regional when I approached Rosina Samarillo, the handsome, darkeyed Italian girl who prepared the banquet of Italian foods pictured with this article.
Rosina is a waitress at Angelo’s, a comfortable old red-brick restaurant on Chestnut Street in downtown Toronto, where more Italians live than in any other Canadian city except Montreal. Deft and sure in her movements, immaculate in her black uniform and starched white apron, Rosina is a colorful personality with a dignity all her own. She has pronounced opinions on food and how to cook it. And she seemed an ideal person to ask to prepare a table of typical Italian dishes for Maclean’s to photograph.
But when I sat down with Rosina to decide just what dishes we should include, she said, “Well, of course I’m from Rome.”
She had to repeat this three or four times, and finally explain herself, before I could make out what she meant. It emerged that when she said she was from Rome, Rosina was reminding me that she wasn’t from Milan or Genoa or Palermo. In other words, one might expect a girl from Rome to prepare a few home-town specialties like carciofi alia Roma (artichokes with herbs) or gnocchi (semolina dumplings) but one could hardly ask her to toss off casually such rival delicacies as risotto alia Milanese (short-grained rice simmered
in chicken broth and saffron) or lumache alia Genovese (snails washed in sea water and herbs) or caponato alia Siciliana (diced eggplant with capers and pine nuts).
Southern Italy loves its macaroni and tomatoes; northern Italy prefers rice and anchovies, and other districts have their own regional favorites and individual cooking ways. In Sicily macaroni is thick; sauces are robust wit h plenty of oil and garlic and herbs; eggplant is popular and fish takes the place of meat, which must be imported from the mainland and is expensive. In Naples food is spicy and thick and fragrant, but Rome likes its sauces thinner and its spaghetti chewier.
As you travel north in Italy the food changes and becomes more delicate, more like French cooking. Butter takes the place of oil, chili peppers and garlic are used sparingly, and strong herbs like oregano change to milder ones like basil. In Genoa, parsley and walnuts and sheep’s-milk cheese and clams are widely used, but Turin is known for a simple and superb boiled dinner. Tuscany favors dishes like prosciutto (Italian ham) and melons. Bologna is.reputed to be a gourmet’s paradise, with its tagliatelli and lasagne (baked wide noodles with cheese stuffing). The Milanese people love their risottos— those mouth - watering rice dishes cooked with shrimp, or chicken livers,
or vegetables, or frogs’ legs, or sweetbreads, or mussels, or squid, or truffles.
In Canada, of course, the Italian menu is not nearly so varied. Some food items, like fresh clams and fresh tuna, are hard to get over here. Other things, like anchovies, olives and artichokes, are too expensive for frequent buying.
And so Rosina chose to prepare for us a collection of universally popular Italian food as it is served in this country—dishes based on Italian ham and spiced sausage, cheeses, beans, macaroni, tomatoes, green vegetables, veal and chicken, bread and imported red wine.
How to Cook a Pound of Pasta
There’s an old Italian proverb, “First God, then pasta!" and it’s true that pasta, the Italian word for the whole macaroni family, holds the place of honor in the Italian cuisine and on Rosina’s table.
When he says pasta, of course, an Italian isn’t talking about the soft white stick of starch that most Canadians cook to a mush and call macaroni. He wouldn’t swallow that at the point of a gun.
Real Italian macaroni is made of granular meal ground from the heart of amber durum wheat. If it isn’t so described on the package, it isn’t the
real thing. It is lower in starch than other kinds of macaroni, and higher in protein. In southern Italy, housewives and restaurant chefs usually make their own pasta and hang it outdoors to dry in the sun and sea air. On this continent it is dried by circulating purified air in thermostatic-controlled chambers, and packaged in airtight boxes. No wonder many Italians complain that pasta doesn’t taste the same over here, and buy the imported kind.
Johnny Lombardi, a Canadian musician who came home wounded from the war to open one of Toronto’s largest Italian retail grocery stores, says that the proper way to cook a pound of pasta is to toss it into a large pot containing at least six quarts of boiling water and a tablespoon of salt , and let it swirl about until it is nice and chewy. It shouldn’t taste raw, but it shouldn’t be mushy. Somewhere between ten and fifteen minutes should do the trick. There must he enough water so that the pasta can move about and doesn’t stick.
When the pasta is cooked, Lombardi moves the pot off the burner to the back of the stove, tosses in t wo cups of cold water, and allows it to stand for a couple of minutes while the pasta contracts and regains its shape. Then he drains it carefully, forks it on individual plates or bowls, and spoons a small quantity of his favorite sauce over it. He passes a bowl of grated Parmesan cheese -and there you have macaroni aI dente as the Italians call it (literally “macaroni to the tooth”) that, is, chewy.
One of the strangest things about pasta is that although more than a hundred different sizes and shapes of the stuff are made from the same paste, they all taste different.
Johnny Belli, Rosina’s boss at Angelo’s, told me, “Maybe it’s mind over matter, but I swear they don’t taste the same. I’ll tell my wife, T had spaghetti yesterday, so give me the shells today’ and it never occurs to me that I’m eating the same stuff.”
A good Italian grocery will stock about fifty kinds of pasta, ranging all the way from big chunky rigatoni, which the Italian housewife stuffs with meat, down to tiny granular pastina, which she stirs into broth or boils to a porridge for the baby. Fascinating shapes have fascinating names: there’s amorini (cupids), farfalli (butterflies), stel/ini. (little stars), tirabacchi (kiss catchers), mostaccioli (little moustaches) and fidilini (faithful ones).
Noodles are made by adding egg to the basic pasta dough, and green noodles indicate the presence of dehydrated spinach. Macaroni is an over-all name for the whole pasta family, although there is also a specific kind of pasta called “macaroni”~ -the familiar long strip of dough about an eighth of an inch wide, with a hole down the centre. The most popular kind of pasta is the narrower strip called “spaghetti.”
Nobody knows for sure who invented pasta but as Rosina Samarillo says, “It doesn’t really matter who invented it. We Italians invented the sauces that go on it.”
She is baffled bv the large amount of sauce that Canadians like to pour over their spaghetti, and even more baffled by the things they like in their sauce. She can understand a person liking a plain tomato sauce on his pasta, or a tomato and mushroom sauce, or even a tomato and chicken and green pepper sauce (although she’d never choose it for herself). But she can’t imagine going any further than that.
“Canadians throw everything but the kitchen sink into their sauce when they make it at home,” she says. “All the flavors don’t mix, and it ends up
tasting like nothing. A sauce like that isn’t an Italian sauce. The keynote of good Italian food is simplicity and you should put just enough sauce on your food to give it flavor and make it a bit moist. Canadians like their spaghetti floating around in a bowl of sauce. I can’t understand that.”
A good tomato sauce should simmer away on the stove for at least an hour, and preferably more. Many Italian restaurants leave big pots of sauce bubbling on the back of the stove all night, for really cooked-in flavor. Rosina says that the metallic taste in many people’s homemade sauce is due to too much concentrated tomato paste, not enough water, and insufficient cooking. When mushrooms are called for, Rosina simmers them first in a hit of water, then throws out the wafer and adds the mushrooms to the sauce: she says this gets rid of their faintly hitter taste. Ground meat is braised with the lid on the pan (to keep in the flavor) before it is added to the other ingredients.
But these are only Rosina’s preferences. Every Italian family has its own special cooking habits.
Madame Nuti, attractive blond wife of Italian consul for Ontario and Manitoba, Gianpiero Nuti, makes a plain tomato sauce with light olive oil, fresh tomatoes, basil, pepper and salt. She uses no concentrated tomato paste, and garlic sparingly or not at all. When canned tomatoes are called for, she uses plum-peeled tomatoes, Italian style, which are put up in large cans with a sprig of bayleaf, and taste sweeter than most canned tomatoes.
An Italian friend of mine invited me to dinner not long ago and served me spaghetti with a flavorful meat sauce. She told me that a couple of hours before I arrived she had browned a chopped onion, a clove of garlic, and half a pound of chopped lean meat (she used beef but she said pork would have done as well ) in two tablespoons of olive oil for about ten minutes. Then she added a can of tomato paste, stirred it around a couple of times, and simmered it three minutes more, after which she salted and peppered it, and emptied a large can of tomatoes into the pan. She covered it, and left it to cook on a low heat for an hour. Then she took the cover off and left it to simmer for thirty minutes longer. Its truly unusual flavor came from the fact that just before she brought it to the table, she stirred half a pound of r¿cotta (Italian cottage cheese) into it. It was delicious, and there was more than enough sauce for a pound of anybody’s favorite kind of pasta.
Speaking of sauces, it’s a great mistake to think that they’re all made of tomatoes, and that if you don’t like tomatoes you won’t like Italian food.
There’s a white clam sauce of Naples, a green sauce of Genoa (with herbs ground into the pasta dough), a delicate bechamel sauce (milk, butter and flour to thicken) that introduces the Italian child to macaroni, and a good familystyle sauce made of ground meat and gravy. Strong stomachs relish a strong garlic-and-anchovy sauce, and weak ones are pampered by medium-sized servings of spaghetti a I burro e parmigiano— with butter and mild cheese.
For a healthy Italian, of course, eating a medium-sized serving of good Italian food is just about impossible. It tastes too good. Gigli and Caruso were traditionally big eaters, and today’s singing favorite, Mario Lanza, is making a valiant attempt to get his weight down below two hundred and fifty pounds.
Henry Madott, of Pasquale Brothers, food wholesalers, says that Italian food gives a man the energy to work hard all day; that it’s only when he stops
working, and keeps on eating, that he gets fat. Holidaying in Italy last year, Madott put on ten pounds in two or three weeks, but he lost them when he came back to work.
Canadian food habits astound some Italians. For instance Mme. Nuti, who recently arrived in this country, confides that when she goes out to Canadian restaurants and sees what our men eat for dinner (“a little chop or two, with some boiled vegetables and a tiny piece of pie”) she is amazed. She doesn’t see how they keep alive.
After Antipasto Comes Soup
For Italians, a full-course dinner begins with antipasto (literally “before the meal”). Tt may be an elaborate assortment of olives, cheese, mushrooms, pepperoni, sardines, anchovies, celery and radishes and hard-boiled eggs, or it may be one or two simple raw vegetables sprinkled with salt. In any case, it is designed to stimulate the appetite for what is still to come.
After antipasto, comes the soup -maybe a thick soup like minestrone, full of beans and meat and macaroni; maybe a thin soup like stracciatella, in which egg yolk is dripped into consomme. If the soup is thin, it will be followed by the pasta or rice dish (perhaps something simple like macaroni with four kinds of cheese, perhaps something elaborate like rice with sweetbreads).
This is followed by the meat dish. Favorite Italian meats are chicken, veal, spiced sausage and boiled beef, but the frugal Italian housewife also uses a wide assortment of animal organs like heart, liver and lungs, which she flavors with herbs and tomatoes.
Along with their meat course Italians serve green vegetables, preferring broccoli, spinach, asparagus, or perhaps a plain lettuce salad with a couple of anchovies tossed in for flavor. Yellow vegetables like carrots and turnips play
little part in Italian cuisine. During the winter, many Italian housewives in our larger Canadian cities travel downtown to market to buy fresh California greens, imported largely because of the Italian demand for them. In summer, they usually manage to stake out a bit of ground behind their house for a vegetable garden, and grow their own.
In Toronto, Rosina’s mother keeps a large vegetable garden and also grows her own fresh herbs like garlic, rosemary and sweet basil with three different sizes of leaf. She told me she started her herb garden with seeds she brought over to this country from Italy as a girl, and that many New Canadians are doing the same thing today.
Most Italians admit that they find our Canadian-cooked vegetables flavorless. They prepare hot greens by cooking them briefly in salted water and then braising them lightly in hot olive oil, with or without a clove of garlic mashed in. The oil becomes absorbed and the vegetable emerges far less greasy than if it were covered with butter. Many Italians make a tasty bedtime snack of whatever cold cooked greens they can find in the icebox, sandwiched in crisp Italian bread or maybe in a couple of slices of fried polenta (commeal mush).
Another Italian method of cooking greens like cauliflower, broccoli or asparagus is to boil them first and then dip them in a batter of two eggs, parsley and grated Parmesan cheese, after which they are deep-fried in hot, but not smoking, olive or vegetable oil.
One of the most agonizing sights facing anyone with a weight problem is a large tray of Italian desserts, drenched in rum and cream and custard and sherry. However, the average Italian both here and in Italy saves his fancy desserts for weddings, feast days and Sundays, and makes his weekday desserts of fresh fruit and cheese the natural accompaniment of a large dish
of pasta. Then a small cup of café espresso (a special dark-roast coffee made in an inverted drip pot and an aid to digestion) and another meal is over.
Except that we have been ignoring the most important part of any Italian meal—wine.
In Italy, wines are plentiful, regional, inexpensive and a natural part of every meal. Even the poorest peasant usually has a cheap bottle of the local vintage. Babies drink wine mixed with water. Housewives make wine from their own grapes. Waiters slap down a carafe of wine on the table in Italy the way waitresses bang down a glass of tap water in this country. Wine is drunk from start to finish of a meal as a natural accompaniment to food.
In this country, things are different. It’s more trouble over here to get a bottle of wine from the liquor store or the wine shop and far more expensive. Some Italian families in Canada don’t see wine from one year to another. Although the odd Italian restaurant has been able to acquire a liquor license, many others have not, and many a potential restaurant owner is dispirited by the thought of having to serve first-rate Italian specialties like lasagne (baked noodles with cheese) or chicken cacciatora or veal scallopino without even a mild vermouth to start off the meal or a bottle of Chianti to wash it down.
If a man’s home is his castle, however, Italian-Canadians are not too badly off in this country. According to Madott of Pasquale’s, an Italian housewife shops for basic provisions once a week and is able to spend about $25 at a time, not including wines, vegetables or fruit. She will likely telephone her order for two or three pounds of grated Romano cheese, a dozen large tins of tomato paste, a dozen cans of plumpeeled tomatoes, a twenty-pound case of spaghetti and a gallon of her favorite olive oil for cooking purposes. She will not forget to buy some Roman beans for soup, a couple of pounds of black olives, a salami Genoa style (no garlic, but whole black peppers), a capocolo, (a variety of pork roll), a couple of large tins of anchovies and maybe a thick slice of Gorgonzola or Bel Paese cheese.
“Of course not everybody can afford to eat like that,” Madott says. “Especially not some of our New Canadians who haven’t really got a foothold here yet. But the beauty of Italian food is that it can be simple or elaborate, rich or poor. A family without much money will come in here and buy a couple of pounds of pasta and a little cheese, and they’ll eat that and nothing else at every meal. A family with a lot of money can buy expensive cuts of meat like steaks and roasts, and they’ll have plenty of chickens, and fresh fruit and greens and anchovies and olives and even asti spumante, our Italian champagne. Italian food is pretty well what you make it.”
What most of us make it is that old familiar love sceneso familiar that any photographer seeking to picture two young people in love has only to set them down in a little Italian restaurant and prop up his camera, and we get the idea.
To practically all of us, Italian food is a synonym for romance. ★
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