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Eating Italian

by:Rachel

I’ve always been fond of “Italian” food. After all, spaghetti is derived from Italy though we’re hardly eating the same quality of the dish that the Italians are enjoying. Spaghetti with ground beef and tomato sauce was my favourite dish as a child. My sister’s favourite dish was macaroni and cheese (another example of Americanized “Italian” food), and my brother’s was grilled cheese. As a boy, he actually asked my mum if she’d give him the recipe when he grew up! But back to Italian: everything I ate growing up that was considered Italian, I enjoyed.
As a child, or even a teenager, I never expected to experience the real thing in the place of its birth. But as an independent and semi-naïve nineteen-year old, I found myself going to the vibrant country itself—to live! My college acquaintance-turned friend, Brianna, accompanied me and we began our adventures in the large town of Campobasso tucked into the steep hills of the interior province of Molise. And it was here that my taste buds were introduced to the glorious wonder of real Italian food. I’ve never been the same.:-)
In America we have whole aisles in our grocery stores devoted to—cereal. Probably the majority of North Americans eat cold cereal with milk for breakfast. Not so in Italy. They have an entire aisle devoted to wines, liquors, and alcohol of all sorts; another entire aisle is devoted to pasta (cereal gets a space on the shelf of about three feet by three feet). Never did I know that there were so many varieties of pasta noodles and that it actually made any difference. You didn’t go out to a restaurant and order pasta; you went to a restaurant and ordered farfalle, or rigatoni, or linguini, or spaghetti, or rotini; the list goes on. We also feasted on the homemade potato noodles known as gnocchi, and the homemade short, concave pasta noodles of the Molise region made entirely by hand—fabulous. More marvelous than the pasta was the sauce they made for it. I don’t even have words to describe the texture or the rich, succulent flavour that caused us to continually marvel. It was smooth with a subtle texture hinting at freshness; the flavour was rich and hearty with suggestions of meat, cheese, tomato, and herbs all perfectly blended together so that one could not attempt to isolate any of them from their counterparts. It was perfect. Brianna and I tried to get the recipe for this sauce in our last week in Italy, but it was hopelessly beyond us. We didn’t understand the woman’s English or Italian well enough to decipher the Italian secret. I haven’t had such delicious sauce since then though I have had some that are definitely delicious.
Now I live in India and I want to eat Italian. During the first couple months, having the simple Indian foods that are made of dhal and curries was fine. But after awhile it became tiring, and then tedious. I longed for some variety outside of the Indian spices and lentils. When we were in England we brought a 3 kilogram bag of pasta, excuse me, rotini, back with us in our luggage along with a jar of spaghetti sauce. Did we ever enjoy the change! Since then I have found spaghetti noodles here for a relatively reasonable price and we have enjoyed many pasta nights. However, the spaghetti sauce here is extremely expensive—three times what it might cost in the States; it is too much for us to consider purchasing more than very occasionally. It was time to embark on a new cooking adventure!

tomato sauceOne of my jars of homemade spaghetti sauce

Taking Aria with me, we made our way down the block, through a field, past a mechanics’ shop and across a busy street to the vegetable stand. The stand is run by a Muslim man who is usually sleeping soundly beside his baskets of fresh vegetables, curled up in what looks to be an uncomfortable position. He always wakes with a start and is ready to help as soon as he realizes someone is there. I love getting my vegetables from him as I can choose each piece I want unlike the grocery store where they are all pre-bagged. I carefully selected tomato after tomato until I had a hefty bag-full, paid my 40 rupees (less than a dollar) and headed back to let my creative juices flow. While Aria napped, I peeled and seeded tomatoes and then made a sauce including garlic, onion, olive oil, tomato, dried basil and oregano, a tad of sea salt, a pinch of sugar, and some cheddar cheese. The whole process took me most of the day (Aria had to have attention too!) and two minor disasters of tomato juices dousing the wall and floor when the lid came off the food processor; but by four o’clock I had three sealed jars plus of delightful looking, and tasting, tomato sauce made entirely from scratch. What a feeling of satisfaction! We have been able to savour the delicious fruit of my labour—well worth the effort spent.

3 Responses to “Eating Italian”

  1. Jessica
    August 30th, 2006 07:54
    1

    wow! that sounds fantastic… and a lot of work! darn it, you’ve made me hungry for macaroni and cheese (the real thing, though, not the boxed stuff!). we’ll have to do that when you come visit- not long now, just over a month. love you.
    p.s. great apron!

  2. Rachel
    August 30th, 2006 08:35
    2

    Thanks–it’s my favourite apron ever–inspires creativity; good thing I was wearing it too or my clothes would have been thoroughly splattered with tomato juices. We’ll have to make some homemade mac n’ cheese for sure. The best box stuff (which I LOVE to eat) is Annie’s organic–so tasty.

  3. nona
    September 11th, 2006 10:56
    3

    oh how you would have loved Sarah Colasante’s Italian kitchen. Aria’s great grandma and all of her six daughters created the most wonderful dishes. All pasta handmade and run through a machine or cut by hand as the dish required.Homemade wine made by my grandfather with his own grapes. How blessed I was to grow up savoring the tastes of Italy in my tiny town of Altoona, Pa.
    What a blessing for Aria, that she has a mother with the cooking heart of an Italian.And what a fascinating coincidence that you found your love of Italian cuisine in the very small town that Aria’s ancestors came from.

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