In Case You Missed It
Boulderganic Fall 2009
Student Guide 2009
Boulder Weekly Sweet 16 Anniversary
Summer Scene 2009
Best of Boulder 2009
Annual Manual 2009
Newspaper of the Future
Kids Camp Guide 2009
Wedding Marketplace 09
Student Guide 2008
Best of Boulder 2008
Annual Manual 2008
Join Our Mailing List
|August 28-September 3, 2008
• Simple satisfaction
Boulder’s Parkway Café provides down-home comfort chow
by Clay Fong
• Food Bites
Food happenings around town
Eat, drink and be real Italian
In defense of food and civility, a home cook spreads the gospel of cucina
by Karen Klages
She wore a moose apron and purple Chanel glasses. She talked lovingly to the veal roast and admitted to inflicting suffering upon the Carnaroli rice for the sake of a good risotto.
And quite frankly, with further revelations of a no-perfume, no-husband, no-wine drinking, no-idle chatting policy in her kitchen, she hardly seemed a gatekeeper of civility.
But then again, this is Italy.
There is beauty in the absurd, fine art on the ceilings, trained truffle dogs and a network that has formed of women like Ornella Marcante of Milan, who are determined to preserve an often overlooked, underappreciated and, many believe, disappearing form of Italian culture: the culture of real Italian food.
“I am deeply convinced that one of the best things we have in Italy is our cooking,” says Marcante, 48, married, with four children. “Italy is one of the few places in the world that you move 10, 20 miles and you eat something completely different.”
She goes on: “We have such an enormous tradition about the food and we have to absolutely preserve it.”
The Italian Parliament seems to agree. It is trying to protect the Mediterranean diet, citing it as an “intangible heritage,” by reaching out to UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization, to recognize it as such.
But there’s a preservation movement burgeoning even closer to the kitchen. Called Home Food, this 4-year-old cultural organization collaborates with the University of Bologna in the belief that “good typical food” and civility go hand in hand.
It also believes “good typical food” is disappearing in Italy. Hence, its mission to preserve and promote authentic Italian fare: the traditional recipes, the painstaking methods of preparation, the hug-and-kiss-on-each-cheek delivery.
That’s a different animal from the international Slow Food movement, which also has roots in Italy and is albeit sympathetic.
While Slow Food (now a global organization with nearly 30 years under its belt) focuses on eating local foods for reasons of defending biodiversity and holds organized meals, tastings and fairs to spread the word, Home Food is purely Italian. And it focuses on eating locally and heartily in defense of nothing more than good ol’ Italian tradition.
Home Food’s emissaries are as tradition-bent as it gets — Italian mamas and grandmas along with a handful of men.
Collectively, they’re called cesarine. Marcante is one of them, but there are some 300 cesarine (and cesarini, the male version) in Home Food’s network, scattered across Italy from Sicily in the south to Lombardy in the north.
And they are ready to cook for you.
Through Home Food (and its handy website), anyone and notably, travelers to Italy, can book a dinner reservation in the home of a cesarina.
You eat with your cesarina and her family. You drink wine, share stories, down an espresso and sometime during the course of the meal, feel how food can be culture and civility.
“Eating traditional, local foods is an experience that brings satisfaction to the palate but above all is enrichment for the soul,” says Italian sociologist Egeria Di Nallo in an e-mail.
A professor at the University of Bologna, Di Nallo founded Home Food four years ago after being struck by how expedient and global Italian food had become both in restaurants and on the home front.
And that, she found civility-shaking.
“Those foods are symbol and metaphor for a traditional way of staying together,” says Di Nallo, “according to a cultural heritage that we are risking to lose.”
She goes on: “Home cooks hold the key to our Italian heritage. So our goal is to access that wisdom, keep it alive and share it.”
Doing the sharing this afternoon is cesarina Marcante, a robust, take-charge kind of woman who welcomes visitors into the family’s sprawling, turn-of-the-century apartment in the center of Milan. She left her job in the financial sector some 15 years ago to embrace motherhood — and her kitchen.
Her credentials as a serious home cook are ample.
Marcante cooks in a big way every day, twice a day. Lunch is still the big-deal, traditional Italian, sit-down affair in her home (at least for the kids).
And on Mondays, she may not surface from her stainless-steel laboratory till mid-afternoon. It’s her whirlwind food-prep day. She bakes bread for the week on Monday; makes her own garlic-infused olive oil; whips up batches of chicken and beef stock, which she will use in various incarnations all week long; and boils the alcohol out of enough vino to turn it into a seven-day supply of cooking wine.
Marcante got her devotion, not to mention “all the secrets and recipes,” from her paternal grandmother, who was “magic in the kitchen,” Marcante says.
We’re dining on some of that magic today.
Marcante’s menu, blessed by the folks at Home Food for its authenticity as traditional Northern Italian fare, goes like this:
To start: grilled polenta served on crostini with a selection of local Northern Italian cheeses. Focaccia.
First course: a lovely, creamy and very golden saffron risotto (aka risotto alla milanese).
Followed by: veal in fricando, a veal rump cooked long and low in its own juices with an earthy, carrot-driven sauce that is at once robust and delicate. It’s served alongside sweet and sour onions and steamed local vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus) topped with a puddinglike saffron sauce.
Two kinds of wine: Marcante’s favorite utility wine, a pinot noir, Tenuta Mazzolino Pinot Nero from Oltrepo Pavese, which is in the region of Lombardy. And her star attraction, a Lombarian sparkling wine, Castel Faglia Terre di Franciacorta Noir.
And yes, of course, there was dessert: a velvety mascarpone cream the color of lemon custard, served with Italian cookies.
And yes, of course, those cookies were homemade, from scratch. Polenta, focaccia, too.
With such devotion come quirks.
“I always talk with the food when I cook,” says Marcante. “The food feels your interest.”
And then there’s her scent-sitivity.
She doesn’t allow her teenage son, the one heavy on the cologne, near the kitchen when she’s cooking. And she frowns on the convivial partaking of wine in the kitchen as well, again lest they should interrupt her olfactory sense.
Most of her quirks, though, aren’t personality ticks but rather nods to the tenets of a serious, traditional home cook.
For instance, Marcante cooks with butter, not olive oil, because the former is typical of the Lombardy region. There is no olive oil production in this part of northern Italy.
She owns “five or six” food processors but wouldn’t use a one of them on the onion. Machinery (versus chopping by hand) will change the temperature of the onion, she says, and cause its good juices to escape.
And never will her Milanese risotto be made with a mere chicken broth. It must contain a “gravy” that is roughly 40 percent chicken stock, 60 percent beef to get the right tenor.
And never ever would she drown the carnaroli rice in a saucepan full of those stocks. She adds the liquid one slow ladle at a time, just before the rice hits the moment of burn.
“My grandmother used to say, ‘The rice must suffer,’“ Marcante explains. That’s how you get a meaningful risotto.
And that’s how you begin to get a culture of food. The passion for it becomes an ingestive tonic.
“Around the table, everything changes,” Marcante explains. “People feel better, more friendly, more open. And even in the family if there are problems, when we sit down at the table and we try to solve them in front of the dish of pasta, it’s different. It’s easier.”
back to top