For the past month I have been knee-deep in books about Italy and, more importantly, Italian food…and by extension, European food in general…and I am reminded of our trip to France and Italy last February. Never before had we eaten such incredible cuisine and I’ve been to some of the finest restaurants in San Francisco, New York, Miami, and the Caribbean. Every single meal, right down to the pizza we grabbed outside the Colosseum in Rome from a “roach coach”, was sublime, the flavors married to perfection. Not one spice was out of place.
Dining in Italy is an especially lengthy experience and one that shouldn’t be missed. 2 – 3 hour dinners are the norm and anything less is uncivilized. Eating is a time of enjoyment and conversation, a coming together over plates of antipasti, insalate (salad) with in-season greens and vegetables , pastas with delicate sauces, local lamb, and freshly-grated parmigiano, entrees of braised beef or grilled swordfish, and dolci (desserts) wrapped in the famous Italian mascarpone cheese. Most importantly, every chef goes to the local market to buy only the freshest ingredients for the day’s menu.
And then we have American “cuisine” (and I use the term loosely), where we want it fast and cheap and preferably able to be eaten in our cars while we rush to a meeting or dance lesson or soccer match. We deep-fry, salt, and smother whatever we’re eating, usually out of season, and call it “food”. We expect strawberries in January, lamb in the spring, and asparagus in November without giving any thought about from where it came, how far it traveled, and if we really need it. Oh, sure, the recipe calls for that ingredient, but have we thought about why we’re cooking that particular dish at that time of year?
Isn’t there a delicious sweetness to the anticipation of the first strawberries of the season when the fruit is picked at its peak of ripeness and the juices run down our chin, or to the fall pork from the pig that’s been raised in the woods with autumn acorns falling in its path?
Instead we have settled for dietary substitutes: “spread” instead of butter, Cool-Whip instead of real whipped cream, and artificially flavored everything. When did “imitation” anything find its way into our gastronomic lexicon? More importantly, why?
I, too, have been guilty of cooking out of season and have used imitation, pre-packaged food to feed my children, but not anymore. There’s no reason for it! And I’ll certainly walk out of the next restaurant that serves me butter and sour cream substitutes like the one I was in today.
I will only serve vegetables that are in season or that I have canned or frozen while they are fresh. I am in control of my food and I know where it’s grown; if it’s not grown on our own land, I know the local farmer who did raise it. It’s so easy, and yet we’ve succumbed to the siren song of cheaper, faster, bigger; succumbed to the box meals off the shelf and the easy pickings of supermarket heaven. The picture accompanying this rant is from the Rialto Mercato (Rialto Market) in Venice where fishmongers set up their freshly-caught fish, spiny crabs, and black squids and the farmers showcase their heirloom cauliflowers, hot peppers, and extraordinary lettuces. Nothing less will do for either the vendor or the shopper.
Why shouldn’t it be so for we Americans?
Original Post: Dazi Acres
Note: Dazi Acres is the home, online and off, for our former contributor, Snarky Basterd.