Let us start with a Certain Franchise Chain of So-Called Italian Restaurants in The United States. Let's call them "The Garden of Olives." It claims, in its television ads, to send its recipe cooks to Italy to learn Italian cuisine from professional native chefs, and that they bring back native recipes for use in their restaurants. I can tell you, I've never heard of most of their recipes, and I am speaking from 20-plus years of Italian living, in Italy. Believe me, there is no such thing as Soffitelli in true Italian cookery. It is a contrivance. In fact, heavy cream sauces are more of a French peculiarity than an Italian one--Alfredo sauce is, after all, American. True Italians prefer light sauces, sparingly used, tomato-based, rather more watery--unless they are classified as a ragȏut (ragù, in Italy). We also do not use heavy dressings on our salads, even vinaigrette blends; you are more likely to have bottles of olive oil and wine vinegar placed before you, or a wedge of lemon, and salt and pepper shakers. Don't get me wrong, I like The O.G. But don't be fooled--it's about as Italian as mac & cheese.
Italians cannot even take credit for modern pizza: it was invented in Naples, Italy, but perfected to the pies we love today in New York City.
Adding "-illi" or "-oni" or "-elli" to a recipe name does not automatically make it Italian. The best way to authenticate Italian food is to study what real Italians eat every day.
Unfortunately, this rules out Italian-Americans. Truth be told, most Italian-Americans are of Sicilian extraction, and though they seem to have a taste for heavy, rich sauces, the abundance of cheese, and baked pasta dishes, even true Sicilians don't eat those things. Perhaps there are some who still swear by their great-grandmother's 8-hour slow-cooked Chianti meat sauce. If one were to travel to Sicily, perhaps the most surprising thing would be how much they rely on fresh fish, their fragrant lemon and citron groves, and their rich olives for oil and fruit.
Enough with dispelling myths, for now. On to the GOOD stuff--the food!
Recent offerings from our kitchen...
Vegetarian Salsa Verde Chili (Chilli):
We recently discovered Salsa Verde--a most amazingly fresh, piquant and tangy version of the famous Mexican sauce, seemingly milder but bursting with grassy, spicy flavor. Our bean-y, onion-and-garlic saturated vegetarian chili benefits from its addition, and the fresh corn adds the usual sweet bite!
String Beans & Shrimp Sauté with Cannellini:
Stir-fried in olive oil, parsley, and lemon juice, this is such an easy recipe, and delicious if you keep the string beans slightly undercooked and snappy!
Steamed White Asparagus:
I was suspicious of white asparagus, but we tried them the "usual way," with salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar, and they are a full-bodied, delightfully sweet version of the original. Oh, they are good!
Lentil Soup...Paola's Way:
Totally vegetarian, as well--which is shocking, considering the decidedly smoked-meat flavor of this hearty soup! I say hearty, but it is surprisingly light and delicious over crusty bread (the French way). You can see we've added carrots, onions, garlic and stewed tomatoes to the broth. Red Lentils alone make this taste as if we'd added bacon to it--which we haven't! Good for winter or summer, really, and indigestion-proof.
PLEASE READ ON: I want to take a moment here to address a serious problem which needs worldwide attention. A vast number of people are living without clean, fresh water to drink or with which to clean themselves. Women and children in certain parts of Africa have to travel MILES to draw water from dirty, choleric rivers or wells. You can help: go to www.GianpaolaStinger.com , Paola's art site, and 50% of profits made from any artwork sold between March 15 and June 30 will be donated to WATER.ORG. This magnificent organization directly helps poor countries by building wells and proper sanitation systems, so that clean water is available to everyone. I was astonished to learn that a child dies of water-borne disease every 20 seconds. It is an unacceptable statistic, and can be prevented. Take action if you can! Thank you.