Thursday, May 11, 2017

Trader Joe's frozen porcini chunks

There are some ingredients of Italian cuisine that are hard to come by in the States. Radicchio tardivo di Treviso, seen below, is one of them.

NOT porcini

Another one is porcini mushrooms. I've come upon the dried variety, of course, but there are obvious limitations. Next best would be frozen (also a compromise, but still.) So last week I was at my local Trader Joe's when I came upon their frozen porcini mushroom chunks. And bought them, naturally. Net weight 8 oz., price $3.69. Not bad. Imported from France. It must be a new item, since I haven't found anything on the Internet about them.

My first use was from frozen in a simple pasta dish. Pretty good. The second was even better. I sauteed fresh onions in olive oil, added riced cauliflower, stirred, added the flavorful water from bag, added the porcini (cut into smaller pieces). Bit of grated parmigiano. Very good. An herb or two would make it even better. I'm thinking thyme.

Obviously not a substitute for fresh porcini picked while hiking in the woods of Tuscany, but better than being porciniless.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Tampa Italians

We generally think of Americans of Italian origin as associated with the Northeast (well, with the exception of New Orleans.) But another Southern town has a significant presence of Italian-Americans, and they started coming around 1885. That city is Tampa in Florida.

The history of the Tampa Italians (who were overwhelmingly of Sicilian origin) began with the establishment around that time of Ybor City. The area, just outside the downtown center of Tampa (which was tiny at the time), was founded by Spanish-born Vicente Martinez-Ybor (EE-bor). He set up cigar factories in Key West; subsequently, when the Key West Cubans (of whom my paternal grandfather was one!) got uppity, he decamped to Tampa. He and other Spaniards built a number of factories, which were mostly manned by Cubans but also a number of Italians (including many Italian women, who were relegated to the less desirable and less skilled task of stripping the tobacco leaves.)

Other immigrants were attracted, such as Germans (who specialized in the decorative cigar boxes) and Jews (who were often merchants). Italians in the cigar industry spoke Spanish. The various ethnic groups began separate social clubs/organizations, which provided instruction, entertainment, socializing and even medical care. Here is the Unione Italiana in the center of Ybor City (7th Avenue). It is still active (probably less active than it could be.)

Most of the Ybor Sicilians came from the province of Agrigento in the South of Sicily (chiefly known for its magnificent Greek ruins). Specifically, they came from two villages, Santo Stefano Quisquina and Alessandria della Rocca. Another immigrant came from nearby Cianciana- Santo Trafficante. He and his son Santo were heavily involved in the Tampa Mafia, with his son Santo Trafficante Jr. becoming (improbably) one of the biggest mobsters in the US during his lifetime. It should go without saying that the great majority of the Tampa Sicilians were not involved with the Mafia. At present, there are a number of peeps of Sicilian origin in Tampa, many of them in prominent positions.

Ybor City and its immigrants is a fascinating topic. You can find out more by reading these books (which I have read and recommend): Mormino, The Immigrant world of Ybor City and Urso, A Stranger in the Barrio: memoir of a Tampa Sicilian.


Friday, February 17, 2017

Barilla Pronto pasta- a review

I finally got around to trying this. The concept, which is appealing, is to avoid the boiling and draining that goes into making pasta. Is this as good as your regularly-prepared pasta? I'll cut to the chase. The answer is no. My skepticism is strengthened by the fact that this type of pasta was not introduced to the Italian market.

Various formats are available, including half-length spaghetti (already questionable), linguine, angel hair and penne. I tried the spaghetti. The raw pasta is cooked in a pan. It is covered with cold water and stirred until the water is absorbed. This is actually not a new technique, it is called pasta risottata, that is, pasta that is made the way risotto is made- normal pasta is used. I tried this years ago (see the post here) and I didn't like it then either.

In all fairness, I only tried it twice, and it probably takes some getting used to. It might be especially useful if you make small portions and are in a hurry. But I don't intend to buy it again.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Tha Catalan language in Sardinia

Italy has a number of linguistic enclaves, including those where German, French, Greek or Albanian are spoken. Of these, only the German-speaking area (Alto-Adige/Suedtirol) in northeastern Italy has a strong chance of surviving linguistically. This is due to their numbers, and to their history of social and political action.

The New York Times has an article today on a little-known language minority, the speakers of Catalan in Alghero (hard g, accent on the second syllable.) Alghero (in the photo above) is a small city in northern Sardinia.

Not familiar with Catalan? It is a Romance language originating in Catalonia in northern Spain, but it is not a dialect of Spanish, it is a separate language of which the Catalans are very proud and protective. Here's a sample:

Tots els éssers humans neixen lliures i iguals en dignitat i en drets. Són dotats de raó i de consciència, i han de comportar-se fraternalment els uns amb els altres.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. 
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

And here is a man from Alghero speaking the local dialect of Catalan:

Friday, October 21, 2016

Anna Magnani, cat lady

Anna Magnani is one of the all-time greats of Italian cinema, and an Academy award winner. But more importantly, she was a gattara, that is, a cat lady. Specifically, a gattara is a person (usually female) who feeds and otherwise looks after stray cats. A male, a cat dude, would be called a gattaro.

The great actress lived near Largo di Torre Argentina in Rome, site of important ancient ruins. She would go out in the evening with a basket full of food, a scarf on her head in an attempt to disguise herself (to humans). The square is still a hangout for kittehs, who now have an all-volunteer cat sanctuary to look after them.

Check out Anna in her day job as actress in Rossellini's neo-realist masterpiece, Rome Open City (the scene contains a spoiler).