■ Mar 10, 04:32 PM by James Martin
You have to be bold to label your work The Sardinia Cookbook. Bold like a Sardinian, Viktorija Todorosvska takes on the difficult work of making sense out of the cuisine of the enigmatic island—and does a very good job of it.
I’ve spent five seasons doing archaeological work on the island, and I’ve read a lot of utter nonsense about the food. Combing the introduction finely as a man looking for lice in the hair of a wild man hugging a ticking time bomb, I have to say the woman has done her homework.
But that’s probably not enough, so we went ahead and tested a recipe. Chicken with capers. Delicious, even with the industrial crap American chicken we had to put up with. There are a lot of capers sticking out of those stone walls and towers that dot the Sardinian lanscape—and they add zap to lots of things. So we’re talking local food here.
Oh, and the cooking times were spot on.
So, yeah, it’s a short review because I really can’t find anything to bitch about. The only thing wrong (with any authentic cookbook, really) is that you can’t get some of the things you want to eat most, like the suckling pig so you can have myrtle-flavored porcheddu. Or the Sardinian lamb, or the bue rosso, the red bull. But you can go to Sardinia and have them. And if you go with our Sardinia Inside Out app (iOS | Android) , you can eat them in the best places.
To buy the cookbook from Amazon:
The Sardinian Cookbook: The Cooking and Culture of a Mediterranean Island
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■ Mar 3, 04:57 PM by James Martin
Why do we always do it? Why do we come up with a weird recipe and then attribute it to people who wouldn’t cook such a thing in a million years even if you bribed them with fist-loads of almost worthless US dollars? Italian salad dressing always comes to mind. After you read all the chemical crap and odd seasonings listed on the side of the bottle it’s darn easy to say, “no Italian would ever put this crap into his or her mouth.”
But then, how about “Catfish Tuscany?” Doesn’t the thought stick in the side of your noggin like a stone thrown by an idiot? Here it is in pixels: Catfish Tuscany Recipe
It’s like a bunch of Cajun Tuscans went down to the “pond” where the catfish lie in the shadows reading Dante and the good ol’ ragazzi reach in and grab a pesce gatto or two. Then they cook them up. In a “Parmesan crust.”
“It looks and tastes like heaven and takes just 20 minutes to prepare.”
You tasted heaven lately? “Tastes like catfish,” said nobody ever.
It turns out that many people slather that Italian dressing crap I was speaking of earlier on their farmed bottom feeders and call it something clever like “Catfish Italian Style.” That’s precious. Italy is turning over in its economic grave, I’m sure.
I mean, why not just make up a dish and call it something like “Anne Marie Sweden’s Catfish” or the like? Then we don’t have to make fun of you inventing a dish with fish and cheese and calling it after people who are loath to combine fish and cheese. Yes, occasionally, in a Chianti-induced haze, Italians will combine the two, but you have to know the culinary arts to deviate from the norm with any chance of success—and while a really rank catfish may stand up to a Parmesan crust, I’d not bet money on Tuscans liking it one bit.
But go ahead and have your fun deceiving people by tagging everything Tuscan. Soon we will recognize when we see the word “Tuscany” we are being deceived. I realized it 20 years ago. Go to a Tuscan restaurant in the US? Not a chance.
■ Jan 3, 12:41 PM by James Martin
It has always occurred to me that those of us in the US are quite likely to misinterpret the whole idea of the cooking of the poor—or at least the semi poor, and not just because writers tend to over-glorify the concept that basic food is better and only the poor had the time and the cleverness to deal with the offal and the tougher cuts.
After all, it’s not like marginally poor people of Italy always ate the cheapest and most icky food. There was a variety of foodstuffs that popped out of the rural countryside available for free. The most conniving, resourceful, and energetic of foraging family members were (are) often able to forage foodstuffs like truffles and porcini that aren’t considered cheap crap food at all. Sure, they likely sold some or all of their hauls in order to purchase a greater quantity of calories—survival food—but they had access to wonderful flavors that even the rural poor in the US can’t come close to procuring. The fifth quarter of the beast was cheap back then. Try buying tongue or tripe at Safeway these days. You might was well get filet mignon.
I had expected a recent article in Popular Archaeology to reinforce this idea that the marginal poor could fare decently—and it did. Sort of. After all, researches found that the “non-elites” were eating better than they expected, even eating exotic imported food like giraffe.
A drain from a central property revealed a richer variety of foods as well as imports from outside Italy, such as shellfish, sea urchin and even delicacies including the butchered leg joint of a giraffe.
“That the bone represents the height of exotic food is underscored by the fact that this is thought to be the only giraffe bone ever recorded from an archaeological excavation in Roman Italy,” says Ellis. “How part of the animal, butchered, came to be a kitchen scrap in a seemingly standard Pompeian restaurant not only speaks to long-distance trade in exotic and wild animals, but also something of the richness, variety and range of a non-elite diet.”
Of course, calling everyone who isn’t filthy rich “non-elites” paints the scene with an extraordinarily wide brush. Given the data as presented it’s not likely that the homeless poor were bellying up to the bar and gnawing on a roasted giraffe washed down with Barolo.
That’s the problem with popular archaeology (not the magazine, but archaeology that captures the public imagination); funded study usually reflects the concerns of… us.
As government produces bad policy aimed at creating an endless supply of cheap labor and the industrial crap food industry labors to supply it with cheap and inoffensive (read tasteless) fuel, we immediately focus our looking glasses on the past. When toilets came inside the house, we looked for toilets in places like Knossos on the island of Crete. And we found them, of course. You always find what you want to find. Even if they were embalming drains.
Then space travel became possible and suddenly we’re all intently reading the pseudo-archaeology spewing from von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods.
So, it’s always like that: è sempre così. So let’s just know that we’re grasping at straws here. The ancients ate quite well at times, maybe better than USians do today, and certainly, if bad governance continues, way better than we will be able to eat in the future.
Perhaps it is time to gather some knowledge of foraging. Then you can at least be useful when you join those preservers of knowledge that pop up in wanting times, that blast from the medieval past: the Monastery.
Popular These Days
■ Dec 22, 09:51 AM by James Martin
I’ve always wondered why Americans with a plethora of specialized, mechanical monsters in their kitchens always seem to think cooking is such a difficult thing. Maybe it’s all the Cuisinarty, “labor saving” crap that’s the problem.
Simplicity. You make pasta with your hands, you squeeze a tiny ball of it between cutting board and thumb and you’ve got the perfect orecchiette. A straight piece of what looks like coat hanger is all you need for maccheroni.
And notice that in the poor south, you didn’t even need eggs for the pasta. This isn’t a rich cuisine; there is nowhere that rich egg pasta fits in.
Below is a video that shows a woman making simple pasta in less time than it would take to get into the SUV and go to the supermarket to buy a package.
Watch. Then get cooking right. Contribute the machines to someone who needs an anchor for a small boat. The kitchen curmudgeon has spoken.
■ Nov 12, 11:14 AM by James Martin
Today we are preparing to leave the Lunigiana for our other home in California. We took our last Tuscan pizza napoletana out onto the terrace so we could overlook Enrico’s sorry orto or vegetable garden. It’s a soggy mess. The orto I mean. We were glad when he planted plenty of leeks, but now they’ve rotted from the constant, heavy rains.
But with death comes resurrection—of a sort. The year’s good news came when the bridge over the river in nearby Serricciolo, the Ponte di Serriciolo was finally replaced by a brand new bridge—with walkways!
The bridge was open a couple of months ago. The walkways? Well, that took a couple of months. It was hard to figure. They were out there every day, puttering around with big equipment. But the walkways were always closed.
The thing is, the walkways go nowhere. Yes, you can walk across the bridge but on the other side the road narrows. A reasonably sane person can go no further. I define a sane person as one who would think it crazy to share a lane with Italian drivers. I think I might not be alone in this. You see, on the other side, the road continues and the shoulder disappears. Completely.
But still, nice guesture. And there is something to see. Yes, it’s that statue on the left. The base of the statue is a hunk of the old bridge. Thanks to you, Madre della Lunigiana, we are now protected. It’s all in its own little platform on the far side of the bridge. It’s as if they said, “geez, there’s no reason for a walkway, but it’s in the contract. We’ll get the priest to bless a statue and we’ll put it here so you have to use the walkway to get to it.”
Pretty smart, don’t you think?
And those clouds hugging the far mountains! Purty, no? Gonna miss it.
■ Nov 3, 08:29 AM by James Martin
We were learning art with Irma Fiorentini. It happened that we were learning it at the right time. On Friday Irma’s main squeeze Roberto would be coming from the big city as he usually does on weekends. He would cook us a meal. That’s Roberto over there on the left, squeezing the passatelli into the brodo. Note that he is smiling.
To say that Roberto had a passion for cooking would be a severe understatement. Roberto cooked with a head-on giddiness you might see in a child upon receiving the best Christmas present there ever was. He was in his element—and his element made him very happy indeed. And if you don’t believe happiness rubs off on nearby onlookers clinging to a wine glass in one hand and a cell phone camera in the other you’re sadly mistaken.
Food is unlikely to be cooked well without a cook’s joy to sauce it. Drudge makes sludge.
So there is Roberto, squeezing little breadcrumb and cheese earthworms out of his ancient press into broth while we sip and egg him on. Passatelli in brodo, another peasant dish of the Emilia Romagna. Simple, tasty, life affirming. Bread crumbs, parmigiano, eggs, nutmeg, lemon zest. Squeeze. Done.
Like a good story, the meal had structure. Courses, from the Passatelli in Brodo to the salmon with three sauces, to the dessert flowed and cavorted with Robert’s wine selections. And the story, as so many of them do, had a twist, it looped back upon itself at the exciting conclusion, when Roberto constructed the Mont Blanc, or, um, Monte Bianco.
Like the first course, brown earthworms of spiced chocolate and chestnut made up the flanks, and whipped cream capped the whole deal.
As in real life, as with the storms that brought the snow. a bit of unsettled weather accompanied the topping. The mixer sent puffy pellets of half-whipped cream through the air, interrupted only by Roberto’s sweater.
It was not a disaster. It was a cause for more laughter, a beautiful celebration of the food that had given joy to poor people for hundreds of years before ending up on our plates—and we found it when we weren’t expecting it, a juicy bonus.
It’s not just about the raw materials, in art as it is in cooking. Remember that if you remember nothing else.
■ Nov 1, 09:06 AM by James Martin
It smelled good at the Ristorante Venelia today. It was a holiday, All Saints day, and everyone was out and about with their children and most were having the tagliolini al tartufo. You see it in the picture. We smelled, we ordered without even hearing the waitress recite the menu.
Two plates of it came steaming to the table. I held back and took the picture you see above. Beautiful, eh? Then we stuck our heads in the steam, breathed deeply, and dug in.
At which time the diner at the next table over leaned toward us. He had a serious look on his face. He spoke to us in English, “They’re not real truffles, you know.”
Our forks, which had been twisting away at the ravishing tagliolini like little whirling dervishes, screeched to a halt. So, someone took the time to paint all those intricate lines on a radish or something? Were we going to die?
“These we call scorzone. Not the real truffle you get in Piemonte, the white one. This smells very, very good, but I don’t like it in the mouth.”
So we relaxed. I slid a sliver of truffle on to my fork. Yes, the taste—a little like you’d imagine cardboard to taste if it were infused with some truffle steam and you were in the habit of eating wood pulp.
“The owner found these this morning, he told me.”
The taste wasn’t sexy like a winter white truffle. Not even close. But it was a truffle, or at least people call it one, a summer truffle. Tuber Aestivum Vitt is the scientific name. It’s not the same as a summer black truffle, which is Tuber Melanosporum Vitt—but you probably know it as the Perigord truffle. It’s quite common in Tuscany, and it’s sometimes called “The Tuscany Truffle” because it grows well here.
And there was still that alluring smell…
So that was our primo. They didn’t charge an arm and a leg for it—and it was clearly specified on the menu exactly the type of truffle that was used, so nobody was trying to rip anyone off. For 12 euro the plate was quite an enjoyable one.
So look at the picture again. If you were searching out the winter white truffle, the best kind of truffle, you wouldn’t see the black on the outside. If it were the second-best black perigord truffle, it would be less yellow in the inside. This is the kind of truffle you get when you purchase those bottles of cheap, preserved truffles.
But let’s get back to the rest of the meal. Over on the right is what I ordered.
Piccione. Pigeon, called squab for the squeamish, stuffed with all manner of funghi or forest mushrooms. Oversalted, but a fantastic dish in spite of it. I ate fried squash flowers with it.
We are full. There is unlikely to be a late meal on this all saints day.
■ Oct 22, 07:37 AM by James Martin
Piadina is a historic flatbread famous in Emilia Romangna, especially in the eastern part along the Adriatic, were it’s most revered and they call it Piadina Romagnola. You wrap it around all manner of foods. It beats a generic Italian panino hands down. Like panino, a piadina is both the name for the bread and for the finished
sandwich like thing product.
Sure, the middle east has pita. But Piadina Romagnola isn’t the only flatbread you’ll find along your travels in the boot. As I sit here in my waterlogged Lunigiana, I begin to think of the long arc of flatbreads that start here in the towns of Aulla and Podenzana with panigacci, an unleavened flatbread cooked on a hot terra cotta form, proceeds through the rest of northern Tuscany where it picks up leavening and becomes focaccette, then travels to the Adriatic coast where animal fat (like lard) or, in modern times, olive oil gets incorporated and it becomes piadina. In each case you can munch on them alone or stuffed with all manner of meats, cheeses and other spreadable things.
The search for fab Piadina in Rimini starts when you pass through the Arch of Augustus marking the terminus of the Via Flaminia, as seen above. You’re soon walking through the ancient Roman Forum, which really lies a meter and a half below your feet. You keep pressing forward until you pass over the equally ancient Tiberius Bridge, where you find yourself in the historic neighborhood of Borgo San Giuliano. Fishermen lived here once, proud and poor since the medieval. When a house changed hands to another, it was recorded in a plaque. Federico Fellini loved the place, and murals are painted on the walls that evoke his cinematic work, like the one to the right.
If you are lucky you will land at a place you will think too modern to seriously host a beloved historic food. And the name! Well, I will give it to you straight: NudeCrud.
Would you eat there? If the answer is no, then I feel for you, for you have erred in a sinful way.
If you can’t find a Piadina Romagnola stuffed with something you like here you’re a seriously finicky eater. I mean, there’s even one made with squid ink. You can get the house version of a hamburger, Rimini style. It’s all good, exotic or no.
You see, the ingredients are all local. I like it when you sit down and ask the waiter where they get the lamb and he says something like, “Giuseppe from the neighborhood has a slice of land on the east side of town and has a small flock that gets the best treatment in the world and we’ve been getting his lamb for 37 years…”
So you know you’re not getting a hamburger full of disguised tendons washed in ammonia. Look here:
Farine biologiche tradizionali, al farro e al Kamut del Mulino ad acqua Ronci, l’unico con macine in pietra e grani dell’alto Montefeltro
That means they use flour that’s organic and traditional, made from farro and kamut, the farro is milled in the mountains of Montefeltro by a traditional stone mill.
They call it chilometro zero a chilometro vero, true and local food. And we’re talking about what Americans call a “wrap”. We don’t expect organic, because it’s just a sandwich; we expect too little.
So you have found it, you have discovered Roman Rimini, and you’ve done it all in an evening. Have a beer (they have lots of artisan beers) or a glass of wine. And several piadine.
The fact that they are mighty tasty is in what you don’t see on this page. A picture. I was too busy eating.
Via Tiberio, 27/29 – 47921 Rimini (Rn)
Tel. +39 0541/29009
Also see: Rimini Map and Guide
I dedicate this food post to the kindest, most knowledgeable food and wine expert I’ve ever had the pleasure to know, a man who wrote of the simple pleasures of things like the Tuscan flatbreads with style and an eye to detail I can only hope to emulate: Kyle Phillips, who recently succumbed to cancer. I will miss him.