I love to cook, but i’m not a chef. I’m a foodie…
At home, in Italy, everything used to be cooked from scratch, and my sister and I have been watching, learning and helping since we were children.
The very first thing I cooked on my own was a bowl of pop-corn. I must have been not older than 6. I do remember it was the year of the freakishly miraculous courgette harvest and all the grown-ups were busy in the large vegetable garden at the back of the house, or somewhere else. So I was able to sneak into the kitchenette and make it just the way I saw Uncle F. making it, pressing the lid down with a purple woollen knitted potholder, and thrilling at every single pop until it went silent.
“Aunty M.! Look! I’m doing “the Ladies!”; that is what we called pop-corn in our local dialect.
Cooking is a serious thing in my family. One way or another, moving back along my mother’s line, we are all into cooking… with the only exception of Great Aunt V., as according to my Aunt M. you could have knocked a fork into her borlotti bean soup and lifted it upside-down. But the great “forefather” was Grandma G.: tireless, uncompromising, totally devoted to her family. She simply loved good food, and having gone through the difficulties of two world wars and the hardship that followed, her cooking was rich and frank, and butter, oil and lard were used without any embarrassment. I will always remember the contentment on her face when, sitting at the table, she used to frame the dish she had just cooked between her opened hands, staring at it for just one second before picking up the cutlery. She used to hide a milk cream carton in her pinny’s pocket, quickly squirting a splash of it into the saucepan when my mother wasn’t watching.
Grandma G. regularly bought her favorite cooking magazine “La Cucina Italiana”: a pillar of italian culinary publishing. We still have so many of them! She didn’t really need them: she knew a lot already. But I believe she liked that magazine because it was written for teaching people, not simply for alluring them with claims like “quick” or “easy“. Also, you never know where a good new hint can come from. She believed in sharing, so the hair dresser shop was her media at a time when the internet was yet to come. Uncle S., her son and great amateur chef himself, was’t happy about that. Not at all. So he started missing out key ingredients when he talked about his recipes with us (he admitted it) and sometimes – I suspect – even deliberately mixing up recipes!
Points of reference
So, everything I know, I owe to somebody else’s generosity: Grandma G., aunts, uncles and my mother. Obviously, like everybody, I enjoy to leaf through books by famous chefs and confectioners: Italian, French and English as well. I have my copy of “Larousse Gastronomique” and the internet is always handy, obviously.
But most of all I cherish some books of italian cooking which treasure the authentic local tradition of my country. Books that gather the heritage of people who were able to make dozens of different dishes using just the same humble but genuine ingredients, at times using the leftovers from the days before, because nothing would have gone wasted. Some of them are proper recipe books, others are collections of folklore, anecdotes, and even poems – a collation of almost lost knowledge.
Now it is my time – and my joy – to share this with you all.