95. Oh, the Food

Of course, going to Italy, you know you’re always in for a treat, food-wise. But one’s wildest imaginings don’t come close to the home cooking we were treated to in Grazia and Rosanna Creanza’s kitchens. Grazia, Tonio’s 85-year-old mother, and his sister-in-law, Rosanna, who lives upstairs, provided three meals every day to our band of olive-picking volunteers. It is a major catastrophe in our household if I am called upon to host one small dinner party a year, yet they sat at least a dozen for dinner every night, for three and sometimes four courses. In addition, Mrs. Creanza senior got up at 4:00 every morning, to prepare the pre-work breakfast and pack the lunch to be brought out to the orchards.

The stars of the show

Every dinner began with a pasta dish made with in-season vegetables; meat, if present at all, played a minor role as just a bit of flavoring. Then came the secondo, usually another vegetable dish like fried zucchini or eggplant parmigiana. The exception that proves the rule was the night we had lardo, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Grilled lardo on toast

Then fruit, or a sweet like fig cake or homemade stuffed figs. And finally a choice of limoncello, or walnut or pomegranate liquor, or all of the above.

Sunday, the day of rest, is never a day of rest for the women of a kitchen, and this past Sunday Grazia and Rosanna pulled out all the stops. First came the massive tray of lasagna. Then the porchetta roast. Then the roasted chestnuts. Then the tiramisu and the homemade chocolates. If we had a meal of that quality in a restaurant in New York, or even Rome, we’d be talking about it for the rest of our lives.

Why don’t we eat like that in America? There are many reasons, but a big one is that we would be afraid to. We have been thoroughly indoctrinated into the idea that all fat is bad, pasta-carbs are to be avoided, and for sure, you don’t eat raw pork fat or pour extra olive oil on everything. Yet all of these people were hale and hearty, and of perfect weight. I’m more and more convinced that our joyless regimen of fat-free this and low carb that is leaving us both fat and underfed, as we try to fill the void with junk.

So I return home tomorrow. Will I adopt an Italian diet? Will I begin pouring Creanza olive oil on every dish, and cook with a cup of it instead of my usual teaspoon? Will I only eat food that is unadulterated, local and in-season? Probably not. But it might be worth a try.

7 thoughts on “95. Oh, the Food

  1. Time for an Italian dinner party, Gigi. Just have all of us bring a dish – you and Ben put out the wine and olive oil!


  2. Yum. Looks delicious. We don’t eat that way because we don’t work in the olive fields all day burning it off! And women don’t have time to prepare 4-course meals!


    1. More than half of Italian women are employed outside the home. I don’t think they prepare 4-course meals every night, but I do think they use fresh, pure ingredients and less or no processed food. (Interestingly, when I inquired about buying a man’s apron at the outdoor market, the vendor said “oh, no, signora. Men don’t go in the kitchen!”)
      The overwhelming majority of Italians aren’t doing physical labor, but you rarely see heavy – or morbidly obese- people, as you do in any public setting in America. And I’m confident they’re not doing cleanses or restricting entire food groups or counting Weight Watcher points like we do. So I conclude, totally unscientifically, that it’s the quality of the food they eat. – Gigi


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