Monthly Archives: May 2014

Who is considered to be the most influential figure in Italian cuisine?

marcella

Though a subjective question, I think most would agree…Marcella Hazan.

Marcella Hazan is often referred to as the Julia Child of Italian cuisine. Just like Julia did for French cooking, Marcella introduced America and Great Britain to the traditional Italian ways of cooking. Their similarities don’t stop there. Both began cooking as adults after marriage had them living in countries that were not their own. Marcella was born in Italy, and it wasn’t until she moved to the U.S. in her thirties, that she began to cook, drawing from her memories the flavors she grew up with.

Without classic training, Hazan began her career teaching small groups of Americans the techniques of traditional Italian cooking in her New York apartment. Shortly thereafter, she opened her own school, The School of Classic Italian Cooking. While the school was a success, it is her cookbooks that made her famous. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is an absolute must have for anyone interested in Italian cooking. It is actually a compilation of Hazan’s first two books (The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking).

hazanbook.jpg

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is much more than a cookbook. It is a handbook to achieving classic Italian flavors from high quality, everyday ingredients. Hazan’s recipes and techniques are many times very basic, yet inventive. One of her most famous recipes from the book is a simple tomato sauce that contains just four ingredients: tomatoes, butter, two halves of a peeled onion, and salt. Simmer for about 45 minutes, toss out the onion, and you end up with a surprisingly rich and flavorful sauce. The book is considered by most to be one of the most important cookbooks of all time.

Sadly, Marcella Hazan passed away last September at the age of 89, but her legend surely lives on. Many of the great chefs of Italian cuisine have been largely inspired by Hazan; Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich, to name just a couple.

Is it true that eggplant parmigiana did not originate in Parma?

image source - flickr.com/photos/anotherpintplease
image source – flickr.com/photos/anotherpintplease

Yes. In fact, the traditional recipe does not even include Parmigiano Reggiano.

Eggplant parmigiana, or eggplant parmesan as we know it here in America, is a bit different from its traditional preparation which hails from southern Italy. So why isn’t it called eggplant Siciliana or eggplant Calabrese? Well, the original name was eggplant parmiciana, not parmigiana. Parmiciana is a word of Sicilian dialect that means strips of wood used to make window shutters. In the original preparation, sliced eggplant is layered on top of each other in the same fashion.

So, how does the original preparation differ? In addition to not including Parmigiano Reggiano, there are no bread crumbs, as is often seen in modern interpretations. Only soft cheeses are used, like mozzarella or tuma, a tangy ewes-milk cheese from Sicily.

Is there much of a difference between bologna and mortadella?

image source - flickr.com/photos/turismoemiliaromagna
image source – flickr.com/photos/turismoemiliaromagna

Absolutely.

As Americans, we all know bologna (or baloney). What some may not know is that this typically cheap lunch meat was inspired by the delicately delicious mortadella. Mortadella is a pork sausage that originates from…you guessed it…Bologna, which is in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.

Mortadella is made from ground pork, hard pork fat (usually coming from the neck), black pepper, and many times, pistachio or myrtle berries. Like many other Italian foods, there are strict rules that must be followed during production for a Mortadella from Bologna to receive the IGP stamp (a mark of quality given to foods specific to a region of Italy). There is no allowance for cutting corners.

Boloney, on the other hand, can be made with a variety of things. In most cases, beef and pork are used, but not always the choicest cuts. It is not uncommon for scraps, end pieces, and organs to be included. Some brands might even use a synthetic casing containing collagen or a little plastic…yuck.

Tasting the two next to each other is the easiest way to understand the differences. Mortadella practically melts in your mouth, while bologna…well, you get it.