I shocked a friend last week by telling her that creamy Fettuccine Alfredo wasn’t really Italian. I had to point out that I don’t eat it every week (or at all actually!). It’s an Americanized version of an old Roman dish and it exemplifies just how much Italian food has changed through time and cultures. While she was taken aback, I was able to offer her more proof of “non-Italian, Italian” dishes. Recently, Panoram Italia, an Italian-Canadian publication, created an issue all about the Italian-Canadian diet: what’s typical, what’s changed, and how it differs from food in Italy. I had the opportunity to contribute the article “The Italian Paradox: Myths and reality about the Italian diet” to the magazine.
What I loved about writing this article was the opportunity to not only talk to people who had experience eating “Italian” in Italy and Canada and could describe the differences well, but also the opportunity to dive into scientific articles about why the Italian diet is healthy (or not, in some cases). In the end, I was able to see how the Italian diet has changed both in Italy and in Canada and I have a better sense myself of how I want change the way I eat. For me, it means more vegetables though that will get easier as the summer approaches and I get to plant my garden.
Here’s a snippet of the article, and you can continue on to Panoram Italia to read more….
Amazon.com offers 5,198 books about the Mediterranean diet. 118 of those books focus on Italian cooking and nearly all have a picture of olive oil on the cover.
It’s easy to see why there is such a demand for insight into what and how Italians eat: study after study shows Italians are healthier and live longer. Though Italians smoke more than other Europeans and spend less on healthcare, they have healthier weights and less diseases. And Italy is one of the top 10 countries in the world with the longest human longevity.
But go to an Italian chain restaurant in North America and you’ll be served heaping amounts of pasta coated with cheese, a far cry from what is considered “healthy.” Movie and TV images of traditional Italian Sunday meals suggest big portions of meat, a lot of wine and opulent desserts are the norm. How do pizza and pasta translate into a healthy diet?
“That’s not representative of Italian meals,” says Susan McKenna Grant, author of Piano, Piano, Pieno: Authentic Food from a Tuscan Farm and owner/chef of La Petraia restaurant in Sienna. “[Italians eat] less junk food, less soda, less sugar, do more natural exercise like walking and have a better understanding of what good food is,” she says. She also confirms that olive oil is one of the best foods Italians consume. Fresh vegetables, and plenty of them, are the stars of meals, not just pasta.
A 1995 study of the Mediterranean diet “Italian Style” confirmed that Italians preferred a plant-based, low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. This means a high intake of vegetables, beans, fruit and cereals; medium-to-high intake of fish and unsaturated fats (that’s where the olive oil comes in); and low intake of meats, saturated fats and dairy products. The study also tracked the physiological effects of this food and found the benefits abound. For example, tomatoes, broccoli, wine, unprocessed olive oil, garlic and certain spices offer antioxidant effects. The high intake of plant-based meals also provided protective roles for health. Spanish research published in Food Chemistry magazine found that tomato sauce – the olive oil, tomatoes and garlic cooked together particularly – is loaded with compounds that have been linked to the reduction of tumours and cardiovascular diseases.
As with many holidays, the demand for traditional recipes is high this time of the year. My post last week about Easter Ciambelle got a great response and my Easter Bread recipe from last year is also still very popular. This year, it was featured on news websites and newspapers all over Canada and the US as part of an interview I did on traditional Easter breads. But with these two recipes I’ve only scratched the surface of what Italian households might be prepping this weekend.
Still considering your Easter menu? I’ve rounded up some traditional Italian Easter recipes from around the web for you to try out. Did I miss a favourite recipe from your family – let me know in the comments and we can share it here next year.
Have fun baking and cooking up a storm! Happy Easter / Buona Pasqua everyone!
Italian Easter Breads
Italian Easter Bread (from The Italian Dish)
Easter Dove Bread / La Colomba di Pascua (from Mother Earth)
Easter Bread Dolls / Pupi Con L’uova (from Mangia Bene Pasta)
Sweet Italian Easter Bread (from Laura in the Kitchen)
Easter Sunday Lamb
Roman Grilled Lamb Chops (from Delallo)
Easter Lamb with Peas (from Academia Barilla)
Basil Stuffed Lamb Roast (from Mangia Bene Pasta)
Italian Easter Leg of Lamb (from The Dolce Vita Diaries)
Torta di Pasqua (from BBC Food)
Easter Meat Pie (from Mamma’s Italian Recipes)
Stuffed Pizza / Pizza Chena (from Food.com)
Italian Easter Pie / Torta Pasqualina (from The Italian Dish)
Easter Grain Cake / La Pastiera (from Marcellina in Cucina)
Easter Wheat Pie (from Foodista)
Campania Ricotta Easter Pie (from Italy Revisited)
Easter cookie wreaths / knots / baskets (from Judy’s Culinaria)
My grandfather’s process for making bread, or my favourite breadsticks, taralli, had one crucial step: get up early. When the sky was still dark blue, if not black, the dough would be formed and he could get in breakfast, a check in on the garden and maybe a nap while waiting for it to rise.
When my family and I insisted that we learn how to make taralli from him – and that meant really measuring out the ingredients and writing down the steps that were all in his head – he said “no.” I’d never be able to get up early enough he told me. We would start too late and the whole day would be lost. I made him promise to at least do the recipe on a Saturday, which he agreed to (and kept that promise, he was liable to just pick any day he felt like), and I did my best to surprise him by arriving on time. Even on time, we knocked on the door, our eyelids still heavy, and he was already done his second coffee for the day. Evidently, we were already behind.
As much as I may have surprised him by my dedication to get up early, when he took us down to the basement kitchen to start the process, we got our own surprise. We insisted on measuring the ingredients, not once but twice to be sure. If he said a “handful of fennel seeds” we made him fill his hand full then pour it into a measuring cup. When we asked how much flour, he said proudly that he does measure the flour. He pulled out his measuring cup. He used an empty margarine container to scoop out the flour! My mother and I looked at each other, each with the immediate thought: how many cups in a margarine container? And so the measuring, and re-measuring continued.
I get so many emails from readers saying how thrilled they are to see old recipes here on the blog and those still searching for recipes or trying to translate them from the Italian they remember. Nonno or Nonna might still be able to tell you a recipe or you may have inherited the scribbled, stained notebook from a kitchen. Either way you’ll most likely hear one of these:
un pizzico / a pinch
circa… / around…
nu pugnu / a handful
quanto ne prende / whatever it takes
Four days before Christmas, I found myself in my cold, dark basement counting jars of food. We had just lost power and it was clear it was going to be out for days. While it’s not the way I wanted to start my Christmas holidays, it was time to take stock of how much preserving we’d done throughout the year. I was never happier to count mason jars.
In 2012, I wrote a post all about why I love keeping up the traditional methods of preserving food, including knowing where you food is coming from and making your food go farther for your money and your effort. I wrote:
“This year, we’re trying out some preserving methods we’ve done before (like sausages and tomatoes) and stretching our muscles on the lesser-used methods like potato and meat sausages, green tomatoes, crushed olives and more.”
Thanks to writing for my blog, and a family that enjoys these projects, I got to try and document these preserving methods. We also preserve food by batch cooking meals like lasagna or eggplant parmesan and freezing them for use later. And they came in handy! The blackout caused by a massive ice storm lasted for four days in my neighbourhood. With temperatures at -10 degrees Celsius and below, the house dark and our phone service even lost, we were in urban survival mode.
We took a drive to where there was power and found lineups for gas, stores our of wood, salt and shovels, and restaurants either closed or having hired security at the door to monitor the crowds scrambling to get food. Turns out it was safer at home in the cold. While others were lining up for Big Macs, we took a flashlight to the shelves in the basement, our makeshift “cantina”, to wrangle up our food. Meals meant cracking open our mason jars and getting out a sharp knife. We had olives and sundried tomatoes with taralli and slices of sopprasatta and cheese. We also had preserved eggplant and pestos spread on bread. Sausages from the freezer were wrapped in foil and thrown into the fireplace for a quick cook. We even cooked lasagna (also from the freezer) on the barbecue.
House lights and the hum of furnances finally woke up our neighbourhood on Christmas Eve. Relieved, we quickly got to work getting our Christmas Eve meal of seafood on the table and we counted our blessings to be in a warm house with all of our family.For others, including my parents, it would be almost another 48 hours before power came back on in their house.
I’m proud of my heritage and its appreciation for food. I understand now, more than ever, why it is important. So lessons from this harsh (pioneer) Christmas were learned. I have neighbours and relatives that are stocking up now for the next emergency (we need to get some firewood too!). What about you? Ready to try some preserving this year? Here’s some recipes from the last two years to get you started:
The end of December marks the second anniversary of An Italian-Canadian Life. When I started the blog, I committed to evaluating its’ success every year. I’ve had another great year of fun on the blog and judging by the comments and emails I get from readers, I think it should continue. You tell me you love the recipes, the memories and the opportunity to build community. Also, this year the blog:
- received a Canolo Award as an Authentic Italian Food Blogger
- was featured on CHIN Radio
- had recipes featured on Foodgawker and TasteSpotting
- was able to hold a few contests (and there’s still another coming up!) and be a judge for other online contests
- had some amazing guest bloggers share their writing and photos with us.
But what matters most are the posts that resonate with readers and friends. So here’s a look back at the top five posts, based on views, that were published in 2013. Not surprisingly, recipes are the most popular posts, though posts about Italian culture and traditions aren’t far behind. If you have any requests for posts in 2014, let me know in the comments!
Top 5 posts of 2013
Ciambella (or chiambella) is a word used for pretty much anything round with a hole in the middle really, even cakes appear with this name. However, this is a bread that is a crunchy-on-the-outside, chewy-in-the-middle, great-for-dipping-or-with-cheese kind of bread that I always like to have in the house. My mother started making this bread after getting the recipe from a friend and it’s become one of my family favourites.
Cookies made in a roll or log shape are common among old-fashioned Italian cookie recipes. I’ve had variations of this cookie but in this recipe I mixed two of my favourite things together. My mother makes this log roll with lemon pie filling in the middle and it tastes divine! I used her dough recipe and substituted the lemon filling for Nutella and it is a great alternative. The orange flavouring of the dough mixes well with the chocolate and is a play on the classic bread and Nutella snack.
Not all desserts are meant to be tooth-achingly sweet. And old Italian recipes are prime examples of slightly sweet treats that meet the sweet tooth craving without going clowingly over the edge. As a matter of necessity of course, many of the old recipes are sweetened by nothing more than grape must or honey, like this family favourite is. Mostaccioli were made by my grandmother and great aunts regularly and while they look like biscotti, they are soft and moist as they don’t go through the second baking process.
Limoncello has long been produced in southern Italy and, in fact, is the second-most popular liqueur in Italy. It’s made by steeping lemon zest in alcohol and mixing in a simple syrup. You can use this method to make a number of different types of liqueurs (hazelnut, coffee, orange, etc.) as long as you get your quantities and steeping times just right. Limoncello offers a smooth, sweet lemon taste, without any of the usual bitterness associated with lemons.
This recipe comes from my husband’s family. He fondly remembers eating these as a kid on family road trips. They would pack the sausages, straight from the freezer, into tin foil and place them in the back windshield of the car to warm up in the summer sun as they drove to their destination. The recipe itself is typical of southern Italian cooking, and Italian austerity measures, as it uses potatoes as a filler for meat (which there wasn’t a lot of years ago).
(above: a scene from the movie Big Night, where the timpano is revealed)
Happy #pastatuesday! If you haven’t joined us for a #pastatuesday yet, this is our fourth week of sharing pasta tips, dishes, photos, recipes, ideas and more on Twitter, all to do with pasta! To celebrate our fourth week, I’m running a little pasta contest.
I got the contest idea from a movie I watched only fairly recently: Big Night. Many people will be shocked to know that I only learned about the existence of this movie just last year from a family friend, who, after reading this blog, told me I needed to see it. For a really popular movie about Italian food, it isn’t the easiest to find at a decent price. It hasn’t been rereleased since the first VHS copies were sold so getting a copy is pretty steep. I prevailed, watched and was wowed.
Big Night is about two immigrant Italian brothers whose restaurant in New Jersey is failing. In an attempt to save this restaurant, they host an over-the-top dinner with their last bit of money to show a few VIPs the beauty of their food. The brothers stay true to traditional Italian food, refusing to “Amercianize”, and put on a plate-after-plate extravaganza. The meal culminates with the timpano, a pasta dish shaped as a drum. Wrapped in sheets of pasta, the “drum” holds meat, eggs, sauce, pasta and more. Once removed from the oven, the brother tap on the drum/timpano to ensure it is done. It’s a great movie. I had never heard of a timpano!