I may not have mentioned it but I have lost weight over the past year – in fact my good dark suit and tuxedo now look like they were made for my big brother. Now some of that may have to do with a gluten intolerance and a cut back on wine consumption but a good deal has to do with a generally healthy diet. Its not that I’m not eating some junk food – believe me I need my potato chip fix at least once every few days – just that at meal time I am having healthy balanced meals.
Italian i.e. Mediterranean cooking is amongst the healthiest in the world with lots of vegetables, grains, fruit, fish and small quantities of meat or poultry. Most of our vegetables and fruit come from a greengrocer stand down the street – owned by Italians but run by two very friendly Sri Lankin guys. We shop there almost every day for our evening meals and produce is fresh and seasonal. And because we are regulars we get the better stuff that is hidden under the counter for the “good” customers. Our meat we get from our two local supermarket butchers and from Armando, a butcher around the corner from the office. Armando is known as the Bulgari of Butchers – his prices are steep but I don’t recall ever getting a bad cut from him and for company dinners and special occasions his is the marcelleria of choice.
The local supermarkets – small by North American standards – all have butchers and the cuts, if not of Bulgari standards, are good if expensive. That is one of the reasons that only small quantities of meat or poultry are bought by most Italians. That and the fact that most apartment kitchens are not big – often people only have small refrigerators, stove tops cookers and small toaster style ovens – scallops of meat or poultry are big sellers. Though our kitchen is bigger than most we very seldom use our big gas oven – most of our cooking is done on the stove top or in a really great little electric oven we bought from a colleague who was leaving.
One of the problems with buying meat here is that I am not all that familiar – even after two years – with the various names for cuts or what they are intended for. Normally the butcher and the other customers will be more than happy to tell you exactly how to cook what you have bought – though on occasion that has led to a heated discussion between two nonni as to who’s method is the right one. Often the instructions are simple – a bit of olive oil in a frying pan and cook until done! Or in the oven at 160c until it is cooked, maybe a splash of wine or a touch of cream but nothing very fancy.
And often the simplest thing is given a little twist which gives it a visual appeal – Bella Figura is important in most things here. Take as an example the stuffed hamburgers we had the other evening. Did I say stuffed hamburgers? No these were stuffed hamburgers posing as the popular lunch time sandwiches known as tramezzini.
A tramezzino is white tea sandwich bread cut in a large triangle with a, not overly generous in most cafes, filling of tuna or egg or ham and mozzarella etc. In this case the bread was replaced by two slices (about 1/4 inch) of seasoned minced veal and a filling of cooked ham, mozzarella and rocket lettuce. A splash of olive oil in the pan, we get ours from a colleague’s mother’s olive grove in Sicily, 8 minutes on one side, five or so on the other. And eccola! Ham and Cheese on Veal!
With some rosemary potatoes and a small salad it made for a very nice supper. And probably a drizzle of fresh tomato sauce and a side order of hand cut french fries could make it look like a good old fashioned grilled ham and cheese with ketchup.
16 febbraio – Santa Giuliana di Nicomedia