Despite how many poets, philosophers, writers, songsters, fortunetellers and dramatists have tried, no one has been able to define love. Everyone knows when it happens to them. Sometimes one falls in love with another person. Sometimes a pet or a place. For me it was Italy. I was lost the minute we crossed the border from Austria forty odd years ago. I have been delighted to stay lost in that incredible place, its history, art, food, music and way of looking at and indulging in life itself.
The Slow Food Movement is an Italian born organization built in the late 1980s on a public outcry against the opening of a McDonald’s at the foot of Rome’s Spanish Steps. Slow Food’s mission is to reawaken the world to the value and pleasure of local food, locally prepared, and eaten with satisfaction, preferably at a table of family and friends. At least a decade earlier, America’s own Alice Waters began in California with small community gardens and using frequently simple preparations, developed a world-class cuisine. Those efforts and others spawned many more. More importantly they created a better awareness of food, taste and pleasure. As one saying has it, “A good idea has many fathers.”
I have been sufficiently fortunate to wander the Italian peninsula many times, un-disappointed. As I sat recently enjoying lunch in a Bologna piazza, I wondered why everything in Italy tastes so good. I think it may be because they don’t feel the need to do anything other than use fresh ingredients and handle them with a deceptively simple, light hand. A lifetime’s habit of discerning taste is more important than any recipe. A drizzle of honey on a ripe fig needs no other embellishment.
October is a wonderful time to visit Italy. The summer crowds are gone. Restaurants are literally having a field day. It is porcini, chestnut, pumpkin and truffle season. In Bologna, the farmers are still bringing their produce to the open-air markets in dozens of piazzas about every third day. Tortellini and ravioli are being stuffed with mashed pumpkin. Late blooming zucchini flowers are being stuffed with sweet fresh ricotta and lightly baked. Young artichokes are layered into lasagnas instead of meats. Everyone is trying to consume as much of the new harvest while it is possible.
You’ve probably seen in some of our recipes the term “good green olive oil”. Whatever the labels claim, I prefer the extra virgin (I would really love someone to explain this self-defeating term to me) that is green, the same color as the olives that made it. When the oil is green, you can still taste the fruit in it. Ever wonder why some bottlers put their oil in green glass bottles?
The lunch I mentioned earlier is one I can’t wait to try and reproduce when I get home. It was thick slices of pumpkin roasted in a bit of olive oil and sprigs of rosemary. Then it was served with a small ball of Burrata, an extra creamy mozzarella that makes a sack of itself to hold the creamiest part. Try it yourself and let us know your results.