Winning over Italy

A "heel to toe" look at Italy by C.C. Winning


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BUON PRANZO

It has become a ritual.  Every morning.

I stumble down, half-asleep, from our upstairs balcony and step as silently as possible into the kitchen to turn on the stove to make my espresso.  No luck!  My mother-in-law, ears like a hawk, ambushes me.  “What do you want for lunch?”

Lunch!!?  I haven’t even had my coffee, never mind breakfast, and she asks me what I want for lunch!  My head and my stomach won’t start communicating with each other for at least another hour!  Good grief,  It’s Sunday morning and I’m still not sure why I’m up this early.

I should be prepared for this by now.  One day, I’m going to prepare a menu the evening before.  “Mmmm” I’ll pretend.  “let me think.  How about fried “alici” followed by chicken cacciatora with roasted peppers and carrots?…..oh and maybe some tiramisù for dessert.” That’ll soon put a stop to it!  I never do and probably never will.

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It’s then I remember why I’m up early.  I have to meet some people for aperitivo (some rather filling arancini, potato croquettes and a glass of prosecco) at Cameron’s Cafè* to discuss a quote for some finishing work we have to do on the house.

“Ciao Charles.  You look tired.”

“Yea we got some complimentary tickets for a club last night, down near the beach, so it was a late night.”  (this has a bearing later if you stay with me here)

We chew the necessary cud before getting down to business, it’s always polite.

“So.” They ask.  “What are you having for lunch?  Marco here is having Lasagne, what about you?”

“Oh, I think we’re having pasta con sugo (spaghetti bolognese) and frittelle of courgette flowers”.  “Buone.”  They approve.  “Courgette flowers are in season now.”

We continue to talk about the best way to cook these for a while before we turn to the project…..

Later, business done and start-date approved, we shake hands and kiss cheeks.  “Buon pranzo” (have a good lunch) we say, as is the custom.  I’m feeling a little full already.

It’s on the way back in the car that I begin to think about this.  How much is a cultural identity defined by our small talk?  In some parts of the world it’s the weather, in others the latest sports results but here in Calabria it is most definitely….food.  Even in Rome!  The only time I’ve ever caught a taxi in Italy was in Rome and within a second or two of climbing into the vehicle the question was…”where are you eating this evening?”  If a taxi driver’s opening gambit isn’t the cultural compass of a nation then I don’t what is.

As I write this post I’ve just woken from a nice siesta.  Not, as some would think because of the hot weather but, as winter siestas bear witness, LUNCH!  The Italians are fiercely proud of their cuisine, quite justifiably in my humble opinion.  But why… is the really interesting question.

Suggest a nice French Chablis and they’ll scoff.  Present aubergines at the table in December and they’ll know they’re not fresh.  Strawberries in July are not something you’d use and even the tomato sauce we use for our pasta in January is prepared, jarred and sealed the previous September, for natural preservation….no additives, well except for the fresh basil.  Supermarket fruit and vegetables are greeted with healthy suspicion.

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As standard bearers of real food, the Italians still have numerous private fruit-and-vegetable shops, butchers, and fishmongers on the high street……the supermarket exists but can’t compete, at least not when it comes to freshness…….We don’t even pay more.  Our nearest city is Reggio Calabria and even with a population of over 200,000 there’s only one McDonalds.  Bromley has at least six similar “restaurants” just in one street.  The most wonderful thing however, is the non-homogenised regional menu.  Let me take you in a helicopter and drop you blindfolded into any region in Italy and by food alone you can identify your location.  Where else in an increasingly corporate Europe could you do this!

PS. Remember the nightclub I mentioned?  It’s a sign of getting older when you go late-night clubbing and the only pill you’re likely to pop is one for indigestion!!!  Food again!

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*See previous post about Cameron’s Café

For some serious recipes please check out:

http://www.mariintkitchen.blogspot.it