Read an Excerpt
"I came from a country where food is the topic of all conversation: while seated at lunch we seriously discuss what we will have for dinner that night. Una bella mangiata, il giornale, un espresso, sigarette, una discussione politica, una bella donna accanto. (A good meal, the newspaper, an espresso, cigarettes, a political discussion, and a beautiful woman at my side.) This is an old Italian philosophical saying that still holds after many centuries, of change."
--Alfredo Viazzi's Cucina e nostalgia
(New York: Random House, 1979)
A famous author was asked where she likes to go when she travels. She replied, "Italy. I often think, 'While there is Italy, why go anywhere else?' "
I know just what she meant because for the last twenty-five years I, too, have found myself repeatedly drawn to Italy. I love the various regions of Italy, each one different from the others.
I love the Italian people, too. Although they are a disparate lot, descended from the Romans, Greeks, Arabs, French, Spanish, Normans, Germans, and others who came, saw, conquered, and remained in this beautiful land, Italians are proud of their country, its history and traditions. They are unfailingly warm and friendly, even kind and patient with visitors who fracture their melodic and colorful language.
I love Italian architecture and art, from the ruins of ancient Rome to the moving sculptures and paintings of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. I never tire of hearing the operas of Verdi, Puccini, Rossini, and other Italian composers, especially when, performed in the great opera houses of Milan or Naples, or in the outdoor arenas of Verona andRome.
Most of all, I love Italian food.
My love affair with Italy began in 1970 when my husband and I got married and honeymooned in Italy. Our first stop was Rome. Charles was studying for his doctorate degree in sixth-century Byzantine-Sicilian relations and wanted to visit every church, library, ruin, museum, and monument. While I, too, found them fascinating, my attention span was shorter. I would wander off to check out the menu posted in the window of a promising-looking trattoria or browse in the market stalls and food shops, photographing the mushrooms and gazing longingly at the fresh seafood recently plucked from the Mediterranean.
Somehow Charles and I managed to compromise. It was not long before he was skipping some of the historic landmarks to help me seek out authentic restaurants serving home-style food, the best bakeries, the renowned winemakers, and off-the-beaten-track cheese factories. He developed a particular interest in Italian wines and has since become an expert in the different varieties, styles, and vintages. This, of course, complemented my interest in food, and together, we set out to expand further our gastronomic research. We spent the time between our vacations learning to speak Italian, planning our next trips, and cooking and sharing great Italian meals accompanied by the finest Italian wines we could afford. Our friends and families thought our passion for Italy and all things Italian would eventually pass, or at least fade, but it never has. We try to visit Italy at least twice a year, and with each of our visits, we find out something new and fascinating about Italy's people, their food, wine, history, and culture.
Linguine with Shrimp Sauce
(Linguine al gamberi)
Fresh celery leaves add a bright, fresh taste and a few chopped stems a bit of crunch to this quick pasta. Everything gets tossed together briefly in the skillet until the flavors of the sauce are absorbed by the linguine. The entire dish takes less than thirty minutes to prepare.
Prepare this dish only when tomatoes are in season. Canned tomatoes will make the flavor and consistency heavy.
1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/3 cup olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 to 5 ripe plum tomatoes, diced (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup capers, drained and chopped if large
1 pound linguine or spaghetti
1/2 cup chopped celery leaves, with some stems
1 Bring a large pot of cold water to a boil. Pat the shrimp pieces dry.
2 In a skillet large enough to hold all of the ingredients, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shrimp, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the shrimp are lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and capers. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
3 Add salt and the linguine to the water. Cook, stirring frequently, until the linguine is al dente, tender yet firm to the bite. Drain, reserving some of the cooking water. Add the linguine and celery leaves to the shrimp mixture.
4 Toss for 1 minute, adding some of the cooking water if needed. Serve immediately.
Chicken in the Pot with Red Wine
(Pollo al tegame)
While exploring Treviso, an old city with a medieval center, frescoed houses, and canals instead of streets, we stayed nearby at the Villa Condulmer. Once a private home, the sprawling villa has been converted into a comfortable hotel with a swimming pool, tennis courts, and two golf courses. When the concierge learned that we were Americans, he proudly showed us his autographed photo of President and Mrs. Reagan, who stayed at the hotel. For lunch the chef prepared this chicken cooked in red wine with raisins and pine nuts. I serve it with Fennel Mashed Potatoes (page 305).
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces (about 3 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled
6 fresh sage leaves
Crushed red pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons raisins
2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 Rinse the chicken pieces and pat them dry. Trim off the wing tips.
2 In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the chicken pieces, garlic, sage, and red pepper. Cook until the chicken is browned on all sides, about 15 minutes. Tip the pan and spoon off the excess fat. Sprinkle the chicken with salt. Add the wine and cook for 1 minute, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add the broth, raisins, and pine nuts.
3 Cover and cook, turning the chicken occasionally for about 20 minutes, or until the chicken is very tender and the juices reduced and slightly thickened. Add a little more broth or water if necessary to keep the chicken moist. If there is too much liquid, remove the chicken and reduce it over high heat.
4 Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately.
(Torta ripiene de mele)
This apple pie from the Alto Adige is called a torte, but it's more like a double crust tart than a cake. Precooking the apples concentrates the juices and keeps the crust from getting soggy.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (l 1/4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits
1 large egg, at room temperature
3 to 4 tablespoons cold milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into l-inch chunks (about 2 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Confectioners' sugar, in a shaker
1 To make the dough, in a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. With a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a small bowl, beat the egg, 3 tablespoons of the milk, and the vanilla until blended. Stir the liquid into the flour mixture just until a dough forms. Add the remaining tablespoon of milk if needed. Gather the dough into a ball. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, one twice as large as the other. Shape each piece into a flat disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.
2 To make the filling, in a large saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the apples and sugar. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, or until the apples release their juices. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest. Set aside and let cool completely.
3 Preheat the oven to 350°F.
4 On a lightly floured surface, roll out the larger piece of dough to an 11-inch circle. Press the dough into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Trim off all but a 1/2-inch border of the dough. Fold the border against the inside of the pan and press it into place, building it up slightly above the rim. Spread the apple filling in the pan.
5 Roll out the remaining piece of dough to a 10-inch circle. Place it over the filling. Pinch the top and bottom layers of dough together to seal around the edge of the pan. Trim off the excess dough. Brush the top of the torte with the egg yolk mixture. Cut 6 to 8 small slits in the surface to allow steam to escape. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until golden brown.
6 Cool the torte on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove the rim by placing the pan on a coffee can or similar tall object and sliding the rim down. Place the torte on the rack to cool completely.
7 Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar and serve. Cover with foil or plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.