Cafe Napoli’s Chef Fortunato Pietoso will be showcasing his favorite Italian dishes Wednesday, October 11th from 5-9 PM.
Some people say “gelato” is the Italian word for “ice cream.” Don’t believe them, cautions Gabriele Poli, founder of the Gelato Festival, a yummy competition that named its 2017 European champion last weekend in Florence, Italy — and is about to come to the United States for the first time.
There are technical differences between the two treats: Gelato typically has about half the fat of ice cream and is made with less air, a process that intensifies the flavor, Poli explains. But more important than such details is gelato’s historical significance: It brought together ice, dairy and sugar for a treat that would become world famous.
It dates back to the Renaissance, an important period in European history when there were many advances in art, architecture, science . . . and dessert.
As legend has it, says historian Zeffiro Ciuffoletti (pronounced choo-fo-LET-ti), the inventor was a smart guy named Bernardo Buontalenti (bwohn-tah-LEN-ti, a name that means “good talents”). He worked for the powerful Medici family, and in 1559, he
was put in charge of throwing a big party for important visitors from Spain. To wow them, he unveiled a recipe unlike anything they had tasted. Rich people couldn’t get enough of the stuff, Ciuffoletti says. When sugar and ice become widely affordable a few hundred years later, gelato became a food everybody could enjoy.
That includes Poli, a self-described “gelato addict,” whose mission since launching the festival in 2010 has been to help people get to know gelato. In addition to tasting different flavors and talking to chefs, attendees are invited to stare through the windows of the Buontalenti Lab, a truck equipped with blast freezers, turbomixers and other machines that help create something lickable.
“The coolest thing is this: All of the gelato you can taste at the festival is made in the truck,” Poli says.
And all of it is something you’ve never tried before.
“The flavor needs to make people dream,” adds Poli, who believes each cone at the festival should contain a story.
These tasty tales were on display a few days ago as 16 competing chefs — each a winner from a series of preliminary competitions held across Europe — served up their creations on a hilltop overlooking central Florence.
“This is a fusion of two cultures, the best of Italy and the Middle East. Tell me what you think,” was Akash Vaghela’s (va-GEH-lah) pitch for Creme dela Baklava, topped with pieces of flaky pastry and a dash of crushed pistachios.
Before handing over a cone, Carmelo Pannocchietti (pahn-o-KEE-eh-ti) gave his ricotta cheese concoction a citrusy spritz from a perfume bottle. Why? It’s his expression of gelato as a woman, he explained.
Leaning over the counter, David Equi shared that he had handpicked the raspberries for his sorbet in Scotland. (Sorbet counts because it’s made like gelato, only with water instead of dairy.)
Massimiliano Scotti of Vigevano, Italy, who won first place, locked eyes with each person who approached him, and promised his simple blend of milk, honey and rice was how gelato is meant to be.
Washington, D.C., resident Jacqueline Poliscastro, one of some 50,000 people attending the festival, was gobbling it all up.
“Having the world’s best in the place where it started is bucket list for me,” she said between licks of a lemon-curd flavor. She and her husband, Mike McCarthy, planned their entire Italian vacation around the festival.
With fans like that, no wonder Gelato Festival America kicks off in Boulder, Colorado, on September 29, before bouncing to three other Western cities. Next year, Poli says, the plan is to bring competitions to eight more spots, including one near Washington.
“There is a big need for this,” he adds, noting that Americans consume more frozen desserts than anyone else in the world and insisting that more of it should be gelato.
Poliscastro’s tip for first-time festivalgoers: Pace yourself.
“It’s harder than I thought to finish all of these,” she said. And then she lined up for another cone.
Victoria Jordan Rodriguez of the James Beard Foundation, who served on the expert panel in Florence, suggests swirling your spoon around the cup to check consistency. “It shouldn’t be too hard, or too stretchy,” she says. And chunks of ice are a no-no. As for flavor, her advice is to consider the balance and freshness of the ingredients.
Gelato Festival America’s first stop is in Boulder, Colorado, September 29 to October 1. Ticket pricing and other details are available at gelatofestivalamerica.com.
Washingtonians can root for Gianluigi Dellaccio (jon-lu-EE-gee dell-AH-cho) — an experienced gelato competitor — whose Dolci Gelati has cafes in Shaw, Takoma Park and Old Town Alexandria.
Another local is Thomas Marinucci, of Fairfax, Virginia, who recently completed his studies at Carpigiani Gelato University. (He attended in Bologna, Italy, but the school also has a new American campus near Chicago, Illinois.) He hasn’t established a location yet, so the festival is the only place to try his Strawberry Cheesecake Crunch.
Just as in Europe, judging for the festival will be divided 50/50 between a panel of experts and the public. What’s new in Boulder is the introduction of an all-kids jury, which will award a prize to its favorite.
After Colorado, the Gelato Festival will head to Santa Barbara, California, October 20-22. The final two competitions will be in Arizona: in Scottsdale, October 27-29, and Tucson, November 3-5.
I often ask friends about their favourite cuisine, and it’s surprising how many of them immediately answer: “Italian.”
I, too, am very partial to good Italian food, and often gravitate towards an Italian restaurant in a town where I’m not familiar with the foodie scene. For a relatively small country, the variety of recipes and styles is amazing.
From one town to the next, and from one valley to the next, there is a different spin on even very familiar dishes like Bolognese sauce and pasta Carbonara.
Millions around the world assume that Italian food is all about pizza and pasta, and stay stuck in this much-trodden culinary rut. And it’s true that most Italian restaurants catering to tourists in their own country, or to diners abroad, tend to stick to safe dishes familiar to the foreign palate.
I learned the basics from an Italian friend years ago, and then went on to expand my repertoire. What I like about Italian cooking is its simplicity and its use of fresh ingredients. Olive oil is central to most dishes, especially in the south.
In Sicily, if some household has neither wine nor olive oil, neighbours will wonder what’s wrong with them. Giorgio Locatelli, owner of the Michelin-starred Locanda Locatelli, star of TV cooking programmes, and author of several cookbooks, is an expert on olives, and claims that Sicily produces the best ones.
He uses them and the oil they provide in many of his recipes. In his recent book Made in Sicily, he writes: “Italian food is much more than just pizza and pasta.”
“When you take away the twigs and leaves and press the olives into paste you have to separate the olive oil and water, which is done in a centrifuge which pulls the oil to the top. And that is it. The first, cold pressing is what gives you virgin oil, and provided it has an oleic acidity of less than one percent, it can be labelled extra virgin oil which is the very best quality.”
“If an oil is just labelled olive oil, it will be a blend of virgin oil and inferior oil that has been refined in some way, or the oil will have been extracted using a faster process which involves heating…”
However, when Locatelli deep-fries something, he uses vegetable oil as olive oil has a lower smoking point, and its chemical composition is transformed into a less beneficial cooking medium at very high heat.
One trick I have learned from Locatelli is to reserve half a cup of the water I have boiled the pasta in, and later pour it into the finished dish when you are tossing the sauce with the pasta.
Here’s a recipe for Truck Drivers’ Pasta that is quick, simple and filling:
For 400g of spaghetti, you’ll need 450g of chopped ripe tomatoes, two tablespoon of Extra Virgin Olive Oil; two garlic cloves, finely chopped; 10 basil leaves, finely chopped; five mint leaves, finely chopped; salt and freshly ground pepper to taste; and 80g of freshly grated Parmigianino cheese.
Put the chopped tomatoes into a bowl with the oil, chopped garlic and herbs, plus salt and pepper to taste, and leave to infuse for an hour.
Bring a pan of water to a rolling boil, add salt, and lower the pasta in gently. Cook until al dente, or just cooked, and drain, reserving a little of the water. Add the tomatoes, the cheese and toss well, using some of the reserved water from the pasta. Serve in warm, deep plates.
This easy but elegant dish showcases Italian cuisine in all its simplicity. As long as you have good quality tomatoes, you can’t really go wrong. By all means use canned tomatoes if you can’t get good fresh ones.
Published in Dawn, EOS, September 10th, 2017
Archaeologists have now found traces of wine believed to be over 4,000 years old; it is thought that this is now the oldest evidence of wine in Italy. The residue of this ancient tipple was uncovered in a large, storage jar dating back to the Copper Age which was discovered in a cave in Monte Kronio, just off the coast of Sicily.
Upon inspection, the residue highlighted traces of tartaric acid and sodium salt, both of which occur in grapes during the winemaking process. Researchers have stated that it’s difficult to determine the composition of many examples of residue because it would require the discovered pottery to be intact. However, on this occasion, researchers had luckily found the ancient jar in great condition.
It was previously believed that wine growing and production had started around 1300 to 1100 years ago in the Bronze Age, however, this new discovery could prove that it was around much earlier than this, and this significant discovery could show a whole new perspective on ancient civilisation in Italy. The next quest now for researchers is whether the wine residue they discovered was white or red.
This discovery is perhaps one of the most important in recent Italian history, particularly as wine is a fundamental part of the Italian culture. Each region will boast a range of types, and depending on which region you are in, the wine will be produced following different traditional methods.
Although the Italians were not the first to invent wine, they are arguably the most passionate about it. Its origins actually derive from ancient Mesopotamia in 4000 BC. The Greeks then brought the wine-making craft to southern Italy, and the Etruscans introduced it to the central parts of the country. However, it was the Romans who took the art of wine-making and refined it. In the Roman Age, there were 20 regions who produced wine, with the most popular choice, surprisingly, being white.
Experimentation of wine was a big part of the wine-making process for the Roman wine-makers who added various spices to wine and produced samples with much higher alcohol content than what we are used to in the present day. The Romans were even the first to age the wine to achieve a better taste. Upon the realisation of the ageing process, Romans would age their wines for between 10 to 25 years in wooden barrels or glass bottles with cork tops.
The Romans believed that wine was a necessary part of daily life, and the drink became important for international trade with neighbouring countries. The drink was also talked about in numerous writings from such renowned authors like Virgil. Romans placed such an importance on wine that there was a God in its honour, Bacchus.
The popularity of wine, amongst both the most privileged to the peasants, thrived and died with the Roman Empire. It wasn’t until the Renaissance era, the age of genius, that the taste for wine revived and became a staple of Italian culture. The Renaissance era can be defined as the rebirth of Italy, and it was at this point in Italian history that culture and traditions were redefined. As the trade increased, there was an abundance of wine being produced across numerous Italian regions, with each region using their own produce as a way of trading with their neighbouring regions. Families established their produce and their reputation in this period, some of which are still renowned today.
From the Renaissance period to this very day, Italian wine is considered the best in the world. This is not only down to the Italian’s strong historical ties to the drink, but their innate passion for it. So, why not settle in your Sicily holiday villas with a glass of fine local wine to celebrate this fundamental element of Italian culture during your stay?
By Ginger Wodele
Ginger Wodele is a senior at Southwest High School in Minnesota and will go on to college in 2019 with interests in international development and medicine.
When presented with the prompt of “The Future of Food” for the 2017 EF Global Leadership Summit, I felt overwhelmed. There are so many issues within our current system, how can we approach all of these individual challenges in a way that completely reforms our way of thinking and, like Summit keynote speaker Raj Patel says, “change everything?” I was able to condense my hundreds of questions into one overarching thought: How can we feed our world in a healthy and sustainable way? I hoped to find my answer during my travels before the Summit in Italy, a country that certainly seems to place a high value upon food. I was not disappointed.
In Italy, food is a way of life. Food is culture, family, community, love and health. The amount of value people place upon food here is greater than I ever could have imagined. People truly love what they make, and they take pride in dishes that sometimes include the cheapest and simplest ingredients. This admirable aspect of Italian culture ultimately influences the effective ways they produce their food.
I had the opportunity to ask world-renowned chef and traveler Anthony Bourdain and food activist and author Raj Patel their thoughts on the relationship between Italian culture and food. They both unanimously confirmed my belief that yes, cultures that put more value on their cuisine model much stronger behaviors of a more effective food system. Dr. Patel spoke on the “Respect, love, and joy of eating,” an attitude that transforms the way a society deals with food. The more value and pride that a society places upon something, the more importance they will put on a system that supports and sustains it.
Italians would never think to give you something to eat that they weren’t proud of, in particular anything that might make you sick. I asked Eugenio Gargiulo, an owner of a small family-run lemon grove in Sorrento called La Masseria, to explain why he didn’t use pesticides in his crops. (As it stands, pesticides are cheaper, more efficient, and could cut his labor time almost in half.) When I asked him why he doesn’t use them, he almost scoffed, and explained it to me simply, “We care about the families and the people eating our food. We would never want to harm their health with the use of these pesticides.”
Instead, in order to fight off pests, Eugenio uses a solution made of copper and lime, which is sprayed by hand on all of the products at his farm. This completely natural practice, Eugenio explained, requires much more labor than the use of pesticides, but the farm’s commitment to all-natural, healthy, and safe products makes the extra effort worthwhile. Why would they want to poison their customers with harmful pesticides? The idea is ridiculous to this Italian family, who truly cares about what you think of their food, because they see it as a representation of themselves, their culture and their country.
Food brings people together in Italy. Food here is not a chore or a quick bite between activities during the day. Mealtime is for laughing and enjoying company, not for scarfing down a drive through meal in a few seconds while checking your email and running off to the next thing. Food should always be appreciated to its fullest extent, as it’s the way to show respect for those who provided you with that meal. We learned from our tour guide Eleanora that many Italian cities have nearly two-hour breaks for lunch, enough time to go home and cook a proper meal that doesn’t need to be rushed.
Trying our best to practice this foreign concept, we took our time eating at meals, and instead of focusing on filling our stomachs as fast as we could, we took bites between the exchanges of stories. Through our adaption of this approach, it was clear to us that food is for family, a time where you can sit down with those you love and talk over a healthy and delicious home cooked meal.
Taking these things I learned from my tour of Italy into the Summit, I was excited to see how other students would incorporate the values and best food practices they discovered in Italian culture into their experience at the Summit. I ended up seeing a great connection between those aspects of Italian culture that value food and the innovative ideas students came up with to solve issues within the food system. Student projects incorporated and addressed issues such as the fast food industry, obesity, and pesticide use. These projects all contained solutions that embodied core values already practiced in Italy. Even winning team member Francesca Edralin attributed her team’s success to some of the things they had seen within Italian culture: “Traveling to a country so rich in food and culture as well as hearing well-traveled keynote speakers like Anthony Bourdain and Raj Patel have opened my eyes to a common theme: people are proud of what they grow.”
How might we practice these ideals at home, valuing food like the Italians? Although simple changes, some of these things aren’t inherently taught to us, and will require thought in execution. Here’s a good place to start:
- Know where your food comes from. As Eugenio said, in Italy it is simply wrong to be selling people products that could potentially harm their health through the use of chemicals or toxic pesticides in the growth process. However, here we aren’t so lucky to have all of our farmers, producers, and vendors looking out for us like this. This is why we must take it upon ourselves to be educated about where our food comes from and how it’s made. By doing this we can ensure that we’re eating healthy, whole foods, while at the same time supporting local farms like Eugenio’s that promote a healthier system of food.
- Embrace mealtime. In Italy, mealtime means family and community. It means smiles and laughter and four-course meals that leave you sitting at the dinner table for hours, immersed in the company around you. Clock some hours at your local farmer’s market, talk to the people selling you your food, maybe even ask for some recipes. Let yourself be immersed in meals, from start to finish, and embrace everything that comes along with it.
- Be proud of what you make. Everywhere I went during my travels I noticed how much pride people had in the food they cooked and served for us. Restaurant owners anxiously watching our facial expressions as we cut into a Caprese salad, telling us that the tomatoes were just picked today, and eagerly asking us if we liked it. People care in Italy. Can you imagine sitting at a McDonalds and an employee watching you take a bite of your cheeseburger, anxiously asking you if you liked it? Of course not. Because when you prepare the food from scratch, using ingredients you are proud of, you find a joy in food that never would have occurred through a frozen meat patty and a slab of neon yellow processed cheese. Food is sacred in Italy, and it should be treated that way in all parts of the world.
So, again I might ask, how can we feed our world in a healthy and sustainable way? Maybe it’s taking a few tips from the Italians, and really learning to value what we eat and how we grow it. Maybe the future of food is rooted in simpler, more thoughtful practices. And when I arrived home in Minneapolis, greeted by my friends and family after a long day of travel, all I wanted to do was share with them all that I had learned. I found myself applying these simple changes into my life at home, and noticing that they really did make a difference. It wasn’t hard to convince my friends either: grabbing some Chipotle between activities and scarfing it down at red lights could never and will never compare to a picnic by the lake, filled with fresh fruits, sun, and good company.
“First we eat, then we do everything else.”
That is what my favorite food writer, M.F.K. Fisher, used to say.
I couldn’t agree more. Food plays such a central part in our lives.
And Italian food? Well that is the best food of all.
I have rounded up my favorite quotes about Rome, but what I really love is talking about food. Apparently, I am not the only one.
From antipasti, to pasta and pizza, Italian dishes have inspired and nourished countless fans.
Here are the best quotes about Italian food:
“Everything you see I owe to pasta.”
-Sophia Loren, Actress
“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.”
-Federico Fellini, Director
“The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.”
-George Miller, Director
“In the 20th century, the French managed to get a death on the myth that they produce the world’s best food. The hype has been carefully orchestrated, and despite the fact that the most popular food in the last quarter has undoubtedly been Italian, the French have managed to maintain that mental grip.”
-Clarissa Dickson Wright, English Chef and Author
“You can do irrefutably impossible things with the right amount of planning and support from intelligent and hardworking people and pizza.”
-Scott M. Gimple, Writer
“They eat the dainty food of famous chefs with the same pleasure with which they devour gross peasant dishes, mostly composed of garlic and tomatoes, or fisherman’s octopus and shrimps, fried in heavily scented olive oil on a little deserted beach.”
-Luigi Barzini, Author of The Italians (1964)
-Anna Quindlen, Author and Journalist
“In heaven, after antipasti, the first course will be pasta.”
-Steve Albini, Singer Songwriter
“You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”
-Yogi Berra, Baseball legend
“If your mother cooks Italian food, why should you go to a restaurant?”
-Martin Scorsese, Director
“I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food.”
-W.C. Fields, Actor and Comedian
The espresso shot: the base of every non-filter coffee. The purest form of the drink. And the key to understanding Italy’s coffee culture.
In giving us the espresso, Italy is the progenitor of both the second and third wave. She redefined what coffee meant.
Yet drinking coffee in Italy is different to in the rest of the world: specialty has struggled to take hold and big chain cafés have failed to gain a foothold. And to understand why, we need to look at how the modern espresso came into being – and how that shaped Italy’s culture and identity.
The Espresso Machine: A Coffee Groundbreaker
Around 1901, thanks to the innovations of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, the first version of espresso came into being – although the machine that created it certainly didn’t look like a La Marzocco.
The original concept of an espresso was something that could be prepared quickly; translated literally, “espresso” means express. Luigi Bezzara, a Milanese inventor, registered a patent for a machine with recognisable groupheads onto which portafilters with compressed coffee could be clamped. This was the first time coffee had been prepared expressly for the customer.
By 1905, the patent had been purchased by Desidero Pavoni, who put into production the first commercial espresso machine: the Ideale.
The very first commercial espresso machine by La Pavoni.
It still bore little relation to our modern machines; the Ideale groupheads reached temps of up to 140°C, at a much lower 1.5 bar of pressure than our modern-day 9-bar machines. And its shots, extracted in 45 seconds, had a consistency and taste that resembles modern filter coffee more closely than modern espressos.
The Faema E61 Legend: Modern espresso machines look very different to the first models.
An Early Espresso Culture
As a result of these new machines, the term “espresso” first entered the Italian lexicon around 1920, in Alfredo Panzini’s Italian dictionary: “Caffè espresso, made using a pressurised machine or a filter, now commonplace.”
Panzini remarked that nineteenth-century coffee houses were tranquil places; by the 1935 edition, he noted that they had rapidly become bars for workers. As the strength of the brew grew, evidently this encouraged working men to frequent them in search of that strong caffeine hit.
In 1938, the first record of the word “barista” emerged (no, it wasn’t invented in the ‘90s by Starbucks). Before that time, the term “barman” appears to have been the fashionable word. However, with the success of Mussolini and the Fascist movement came a nationalist campaign to “Italianise” common words. Barman, considered too American, was substituted for barista, a more Italian-sounding word. In that way, espresso was further entwined with the Italian identity.
Barman or Barista? In Bar Termini, Soho.
Refining the Modern Espresso Machine
In the ‘30s and ‘40s, Italian coffee consumption declined (at first due to restrictive policies on importation, and then due to wartime scarcity), yet the Ideale espresso machine saw several improvements by big coffee names, such as Francisco Illy and Achille Gaggia.
Then in 1947, the next great development was made: Gaggia’s hand-pumped machine. With these machines, far more pressure could be exerted over the coffee puck, meaning that essential oils and colloids were squeezed through. The result? Crema, an essential part of the modern espresso.
By 1948, Gaggia’s invention had been bought by Ernesto Valente, head of Faema, a company whose machines are synonymous with cafés to this day. Gaggia and Valente fundamentally disagreed on the market for these high-pressure machines. Gaggia saw his invention as a luxury item, to be enjoyed in high-end establishments only. Valente, however, had other ideas; he worked to produce cheaper machines. And then, in 1961, he released the now world-renowned Faema E61.
The Faema E61 is the father of modern espresso. It was the first semi-automatic machine that required no elbow grease yet allowed the barista to manage the parameters of extraction. The internal boiler was set horizontally instead of vertically, instantly converting the café bar into a social space where customer and barista could chat while espresso shot was pulled. And the explosion of neighbourhood espresso bars and cafés in Italy was phenomenal.
The Faema E61 Legend, a homage to the original E61, in Bar Termini, Soho.
Italian Caffeine Culture Today
The Italian coffee culture created in the ‘40s remains fairly consistent to this day, despite increasing levels of globalisation. Italians go to their local café, order an espresso (refusing to pay a high price for it), and then head to their next appointment.
Unwashed Brazilian naturals have dominated the roasting scene for decades and, by 1990, 44% of coffee imports were Robusta. High-quality service and rapport with proprietors have always been considered important, perhaps more so than the coffee profile, allowing brands to maximise on their reputation. Even today, the top four roasters (such as Lavazza and Illy) dominate, having a 75% market share.
For many of us, drinking espresso means tasting excellent coffees with a complex flavour profile, often unobscured by milk or sugar. But for a lot of Italians, it may conjure up fond memories sitting on the small neighbourhood piazza, sipping a cafe latte on a hazy afternoon in southern Italy. Or walking into a neighbourhood bar, grabbing an adrenaline-pumping, robusta-lined shot before heading to work on a cool morning in central Milano. That sense of place, of localness, is an important part of the Italian espresso.
Marco Arrigo, Head of Quality at Illy and proprietor of Bar Termini in Soho.
Italy’s Relationship with a Global Coffee Culture
Yet while Italian coffee culture remains unaffected by globalisation, it’s safe to say that global coffee culture has been very affected by Italian coffees. The exportation of the espresso has been an astonishing success: from Seattle to Sydney, this Italian-style extraction forms the basis of the majority of coffee drinks.
Yet that doesn’t mean that all these espresso-based coffees are strictly Italian. In fact, the variations are enormous. Take an American cappuccino: compared to its Italian equivalent, it often contains double the quantity of milk but the same amount of coffee.
Italy is aware of this distortion of what they perceive to be almost a national drink – and attempts have been made to reappropriate the concept. At one point, the Italian government appealed to the World Trade Organisation in an attempt to restrict the use of the phrase “Italian espresso”. There have also been several attempts in US courts to restrict the term to coffee made by Italian roasting companies. And the Italian Parliament now sends inspectors around the world to “certify” whether coffee produced in various locations matches Italian quality standards.
These attempts to control the concept, while understandable (just imagine how much money there is to be earned by controlling the intellectual property of an espresso!), have all failed. Simply, while Italy invented the first modern espresso machine, they have been found to not have enough cultural hegemony over coffee; it is a beverage that exists all over the world in many different formats. Or put it this way: espresso may be a crucial part of Italian culture, but an Italian heritage is not a crucial part of an espresso.
These attempts do, however, show a fiercely proud and defensive attitude from Italians for their coffee. The failure of big café brands and specialty coffee alike to penetrate the Italian scene comes down to an ironclad, decades-old coffee culture: one that values sociability, service, and affordability above all.
Thanks to Jonathan Morris whose extensive academic research provided the necessary information for this article. In addition, thanks to MULMAR for kindly organizing the “The Coffee Machine That Changed The World – Masterclass” event at Bar Termini, London.
Written by E. Greaves.
Perfect Daily Grind.