In the highly readable and entertaining Delizia, John Dickie explodes the myth of good solid Italian country cuisine: the slow simmered sauce, the rustic bread sopping up extra extra virgin oil etc etc etc. All the clichés of Italian peasant cooking are paraded out and deflated.
And he also destroys the myth of the Italian momma slaving over a hot stove 24/7 – though he admits it still happens, more and more Italians turn to ready made or quick to prepare pre-packaged foods. Gone are the days when the lady of the household would spend an hour laboriously stirring stock into the rice spoonful by spoonful to turn out a creamy risotto. Perhaps for a special dinner yes but why would you spend that time when there are perfectly good prepackaged versions available for every day meals.
As an example the nice people at Gallo (since 1856) make several types of quick risotto that only take about 12 minutes to cook and they guarantee have less than 2% fat. One of those variaties – the Milanese, Shrimp or Asparagas are big favorites – appears on our dinner table at least once a week and is so good I’ve even served it – jazzed up – to company.
However, and you knew there had to be a however, even the prepackaged people take for granted that you must have watched your Nonni,Zie and Mama while they worked in the kitchen. The cooking instruction, though colourful, often lack the precision that we expect in North America. This is a direct translation from the box at the left:
Pour two glasses of cold water into a pan for every glass of rice.
Stir and bring to a boil.
When water has come to a boil cook for 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When the liquid has been completely absorbed, take off heat and stir in a string of olive oil or a nut of butter.
Add grated parmigiana to taste.
To the North American eye this is totally unacceptable. How much is a glass? What size glass? We have five or six types in the cupboard. A wine glass? A juice glass? What heat? High, low, medium? How much oil is a string? Are we talking rope? Yarn? Thread? And what type of nut? Peanut? Walnut? Hazelnut?
I’ve been assured that these are foolish and frivolous questions. A glass is a glass and a nut is a nut. Use your judgement – do it the way your Nonna did and if she didn’t do it then make a few mistakes, clean a few pots with rice glued firmly to the bottom, waift the smell of burnt rice out of the kitchen with a towel, you’ll catch on.
Oh and they give you suggestions on how to personalize it a bit too:
To finish it off just add:
Mixed mushrooms sauted in a pan with sliced onions
Strips of red pepper sauted in a pan
Pitted black olives and minced rosemary
In what quantities? Don’t ask! Just do what your Nonna did!
29 luglio – Santa Marta di Betania