25 February 2010


SARONNO, Italy - McDonald’s recently introduced the McItaly, an all Italian beef hamburger topped with Asiago cheese and artichoke paste. The Italian Minister of Agriculture, Luca Zaia, thinks it’s a good idea. He said he wants to give an imprint of Italian flavors to Italian kids.
Italian Celebrity Chef, Luisanna Messeri
What? Give an imprint of Italian flavors to Italian kids? What Italian kids is he talking about? He certainly can’t mean the kids I see every day. Or the ones I hear in the restaurants discussing whether to order the pasta alla Bolognese or the pasta with sardines? Who know better than I do the difference between pecorino and provolone cheese, between calamari and cozze. Are those the kids he’s talking about?

British chef Jamie Oliver did a series of television programs about food in Italy few years ago. The cookbook that followed is called “Jamie’s Italy” and in it he writes that he has been “totally besotted by the love, passion and verve for food, family and life itself that just about all Italian people have.” 

He talks about meeting a six year old girl in Puglia who was sitting with her grandmother making homemade orecchiette, cappelletti and fusilli pasta faster than any chef he had ever seen. And about another young girl who told him if he was going to cook beef on a grill, he should use rosemary to flavor it, and only rosemary, because that was how they grilled beef in Puglia.

 The Art of Making Pesto: Watching and Learning
One of my first jobs was to watch a pot of snails that had been put on the stove to cook. When the water started to boil the snails would climb up the sides of the pot and rattle the cover in an attempt to get out. That’s when I would call my Grandmother. She would rush into the kitchen, lift the lid and push the snails back down into the boiling water with a wooden spoon. 

I took my responsibility very seriously. This was our dinner I was in charge of. I remember standing on a chair next to the stove staring at that pot lid just waiting for the first sign of any movement. I also knew that the snails had spent the night in a pan of cornmeal so that now they were clean and stuffed and would be delicious to eat. I don’t remember how old I was but I don’t think I was in school yet.

Italians start their food education at birth and it never really stops. Pre-schoolers and those in elementary school get school lunches, with fairly basic lunch menus. The first course is some kind of pasta or rice; the second course can be meat, fish, cheese or a frittata, some kind of vegetable and/or salad, and desert, which is usually fruit or sometimes pudding. To drink they are offered mineral water. 

There are very strict rules about what foods the schools can and cannot serve. The basic ingredients must be grown or raised locally and if it isn’t grown or raised locally it has to have been grown/raised organically. No hormones, no steroids, no pesticides, no genetically altered anything that Mother Nature didn’t put there in the first place.

Once the kids are in middle school their school day ends at 1’o’clock and they go home for lunch. This means that if you walk down the street in any neighborhood in any Italian town around 1’o’clock in the afternoon you will most likely hear the sound of Italian mammas in their kitchens cooking something that smells so delicious you want to knock on the door and invite yourself in. Can you see why I'm confused? I don't understand what happened to Minister Zaia that makes him think Italian kids need to be imprinted with Italian flavors.

I'm sure he knows that Italy has the strictest regulations regarding the care and feeding of beef cattle in all of the European Union. But is it possible that he doesn't know that the Italian beef they serve at McDonald’s is not made with meat from beef cattle, but from the meat and extra (dangly) parts of old milk cows that are no longer productive? It’s safe to eat, but that’s about all I can say for it. It is all very strange indeed.

1 comment:

  1. I remember making homemade cavitelli with my Grandma, and my Grandpa Leonti was the executioner for the snails! :) I so remember the amazing power of the snails when they were being fed/cleansed, how they lifted the heavy iron lid from the pot. Thanks for another interesting blog.