We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Tried a good Italian restaurant the other day, and I decided to see what they could do with a simple Braciola - Braciole - (made with flank steak in this case) with a Barolo sauce.
Readers know that I am an obnoxious Italian food snob, but it's not my fault. I never ate Italian growing up, so I never heard of spaghetti and meatballs. Between Mrs. BD's cooking, and many trips to Italia, the two things often thought of as Italian in the US that I can do without are tomato sauce (this good place had no tomato sauces on the menu), and pasta (mostly, with rare exceptions for clam or porcini, or near-starvation with nothing else in the pantry). Another tip: never order a pizza in Italy. Terrible stuff. Only Americans know how to make good pizzas. Furthermore, you can get a better bruschetta in America than the lame, stingy ones you get in Italy.
Italian red wine sauces for meat are simple: briefly sautee a glass of good wine, a hunk of butter, salt, and a little flour to thicken. In Sicily, they add some raisins to it and a little sugar. That is pleasant.
They served the Braciola on a bed of soft, creamy polenta with a splash of oil on it. I think there was a touch of parmesan in the polenta. These are the simplest of foods. For me, that's Italian cooking. You cook that Braciola until it almost falls apart.
At our house, we make polenta as a primi, firm and knife-cuttable with a sauce on top - black truffle or Porcini - but this saucy polenta was a good choice by the chef. Soft polenta. My chef friend disparages firm polenta, but I think it's fine for the right purpose and it's real Italian - thanks to the American Indians who genetically-engineered corn (maize, to you in Yorba Linda Europe).
Like Italian potatoes, tomatoes, squash, polenta (corn meal) were all recent imported products from the New World, and their risotto from Asia. Pasta? It's a topic of debate.
Feel free to tell me how much you like spaghetti and meatballs, and soggy penne with red sauce!
When my mother, Elizabeth, was 7 her French/Italian mother took the 5 children from NYC to her hometown in the Alps near Grenoble; they stayed for a year & went to school. My mother embarassed the family when in school the teacher asked the children about uses for ficelle (string) - my mother said "oh, to cut the polenta" - polenta was poor peasant food (which is what they were!) --
Wait. If the pastas and tomato sauces aren't real Italian ("two things often thought of as Italian in the US"), then, umm, like pizza, they must be the best of what the Italian immigrants kept of the old country here in the new, and made even better.
Seems like a fair trade, except the USA got the better deal. We gave 'em grits, they gave us spaghetti, the Prince of pastas, and then we taught 'em how to do it better.
Italian food is really difficult to generalize about, as each region has its own cuisine, with some degree of overlap. Veneto is nothing like Tuscany, or Lazio like Puglia, and the northern regions are very distinct. Emilio-Romagna probably has the best food of all. What Americans know as Italian is mostly from the south, Campania and Abruzzo, or perhaps peasant Sicily. Even then they adapted by substituting ingredients more readily available in America, and the cooking changed accordingly.
It's all good, and certainly not worth getting bent out of shape about being authenticer than thou, as many foodies do. Oh, yeah, Naples pizza is not to be scoffed at.
And good Italian-American cooking such as you might find in New York or Philadelphia is yummy stuff, in its own style.
I'm with Seppo here. My neighborhood in CT is populated by the descendants of people from south of Naples and, of course, Sicily. No one had the money to have meat more than once per week in the 30's and 40's, so macaroni it was. (Pasta??) I've mentioned it before, but our little strip mall pizza parlor exports frozen product to Calabria.
It's nice to have those pinkie-finger-in-the-air tastes for the northern food (and the southern folks like it too), but only the "English" cook that around here. I'm Irish, but my neighbor converted my name to an Italian sounding one years ago.
Best Italian meal in the States? Probably the lunches we used to have in a corner store in Bridgeport, PA. The owner and his wife used to custom cook for us what they felt like serving that day, and he would join us after for a little (holds thumb 1 cm away from index finger) . . . The smartest man in his village finished high school, so they made him the mayor!
Best Italian food I've ever had - a little place in a shopping mall in a suburb of Orlando. Tomato sauce on the menu for a few dishes but that's just for the spaghetti and meatballs folk. Menu and specials vary based upon what they were able to find that morning. They comp the wine half the time. Dinner for two? Appetizer, salad, entree, dessert - $30-$40. A small place with a superb cook is what I look for. Same thing in NYC? - get out your platinum card. The pizza sucks.
Absolutely nothing against spaghetti and meatballs. It's just that I make it better than at home than I've ever had in a restaurant.
Yes, Italian foods are highly regional. The red sauce is Neapolitan cooking and became widespread in the US due to the numbers of immigrants from that area.
Sicilan food doesn't have red sauce. Sicilian food specializes in fish, and it's great. I read somewhere that Sicilian immigrants took up Neapolitan cooking in the US because it was more affordable. Veal Marsala is also a Sicilian dish.