Essays about life in Italy, traveling in Italy, and more
"Go into the kitchen and see what else is coming," whispers Mike as we are beginning to feel full. We have been eating antipasti for the past half hour and there seems to be no end in sight of the steady stream of platters that keep coming from Elda's kitchen. We are celebrating her husband's return to good health, following a successful by-pass surgery. I am going to need by-pass surgery if these antipasti do not stop reproducing themselves, like the loaves and the fishes. We have lost track of the number but surely, she has prepared every known antipasto in Italy and every possible variation. Of course, Mario, bless his heart, only gets to sample the heart-healthy tidbits that she has prepared especially for him, while the rest of us low-crawl down the road to a coronary.
I head toward the kitchen with what is a sincere offer of help and a mission to gain some hard facts about the rest of the meal. I am shooed away good-naturedly but not without noticing additional morsels being arranged on platters, several pots bubbling on top of the stove and at least one casserole being put in the oven. As I return to the terrace, I make eye contact with my husband. With a gesture I hope no one notices, I give him the warning "pace yourself - there is more to come!" Another round of bruschetta with pomodori, with olives, with funghi... focaccia with pomodori, with olives, with funghi, with salami... prosciutto and shaved parmesan on a bed of rucola, marinated eggplant ... I slump back in my chair, wondering if Elda would notice if I just slipped underneath the table before she brings the second course – two different pastas. I look from side to side. There are 18 of us, all neighbors, at the table she has set up on her terrace. She has prepared enough food for half the citizens of Umbertide! Mike, a hearty eater, can still go another round so he waits with anticipation to see what yummy pastas she has prepared. Linquini with salmon and the spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce. I take a few bites and then lead my fork through a slow waltz around my plate, refusing to lift it anywhere near my mouth.
In the meantime, Maria ups and leaves to go home (It was just too, too. "Essagerato, troppo!" is how she summed up the extravaganza the following day, shaking her head. Exaggerated, too much!) Carmelita, skinny-minny that she is, runs around the table encouraging everyone to eat up, hardly taking a bite herself. She no doubt saw to it personally that I ate her share.
Food in Italy does take on a life of its own. It is used to celebrate, to console, to show and share love and to spread happiness. Elda could not be happier than she is today. I fold my napkin in a gesture of defeat and remove myself from the table as the veal cutlets and grilled fish are brought on. And the finale – cake and ice cream. Elda, bless her heart, has outdone herself. Mario, bless his heart, ate fresh fruit instead of the cake. As for me, I just pray that the good Lord bless my heart. Literally.
And how do I know there were twenty-five antipasti? Bernadette, Mike and I together made a list the following day of every one that we could remember.
The name bruschetta comes from bruscare, which means "to roast over coals."
12 slices Italian whole-wheat bread, 1 ½ inches thick, 3 to 4 inches wide
Preheat the broiler. Toast the bread on both sides to a golden brown under the hot broiler. Rub one side of the toast while still hot with garlic. Put the toast on a platter, garlic-rubbed side facing up, and pour a thin stream of olive oil over it. Add a sprinkling of salt and freshly ground pepper. This serves 6 people.
Bruschette with White Bean Puree
1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the onion and minced garlic. Cook over low heat until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the beans and salt to taste. Cook over low heat until beans absorb the onion flavor, approximately 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Blend in a food processor or blender until the bean mixture is a smooth puree (add reserved bean liquid if needed). Set aside.
Remove the stems from washed spinach, roll up the leaves and cut into thin strips. Add a little more oil to skillet in which beans were cooked and cook over moderate heat until the greens wilt and are tender. Remove from pan and set aside.
Grill the bread slices until golden, then rub with garlic cloves and drizzle with olive oil. Spread the white bean mixture on slices and top with cooked spinach.
Bruschette with Tomatoes & Basil - For a Crowd
1 kilo of fresh plum tomatoes (just under 2.25 pounds), peeled, seeded and chopped coarse
1 1/2 tsp. of fresh oregano
In a colander sprinkle the tomatoes with salt, let them drain for 30 minutes and transfer them to a bowl. In a small skillet cook the garlic with the oregano in olive oil over moderately low heat for 3 minutes and let the mixture cool. Stir in the basil, the salt and pepper to taste and toss the mixture gently with the tomatoes. Spread the mixture on toasted rounds of French bread or slices of country bread.
Tomatoes Stuffed with Tuna and Capers
6 large, ripe, round tomatoes
Slice off the tops of the tomatoes. Remove all the seeds and some of the dividing walls, leaving just three or four large sections. Salt lightly and put the tomatoes open end down on a platter, allowing their liquid to drain off.
In a bowl, mash the tuna to a pulp with a fork and add the mayonnaise, mustard and the capers. Mix with a fork to a uniform consistency. Add more salt if needed.
Shake off the excess liquid from the tomatoes. Stuff them with the tuna mixture. Seal the tops with the remaining mayonnaise, and garnish with olive slice, capers, or parsley leaves. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. Serves 6.
Fried Zucchini Flowers
20 zucchine flowers
It is best to pick zucchini flowers in the morning when they are open. Gather about 20 flowers, leaving four-inch stems. Do not wash. Mix flour with 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder and enough cold water to form a pancake-like batter, creamy and dense. Let it sit for 10 minutes and re-stir. In a deep frying pan 10 inches in diameter, heat a quart of sunflower oil to boiling. The oil must be deep enough so that the frying flowers don’t touch the bottom of the pan. Holding and turning the stem, coat a flower well in the batter. Place the flower into the boiling oil; working quickly, take up the next flower and repeat. When one-third of the flowers are in the oil, stop coating and watch the frying flowers closely as they cook very quickly. As each one becomes a light golden color, turn it over in the oil once with tongs and finish frying the other side. The flour coating should become a golden color and crispy but not hard.
Remove the flowers one by one from the oil and drain on a paper towel. Place them on a plate, sprinkle lightly with salt and serve the first round immediately.
Continue the process until all are cooked.
About the Author
© Ginda Simpson, 2010
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