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Posts Tagged ‘locavore’

Last night’s dinner was a celebration.  The meal marked the inauguration of the American Academy in Rome as a Slow Food Terra Madre Community.  Terra Madre is a network of food producers, purveyors, artisans, and consumers committed to making food sustainable for human economies and communities and for the planet.

The event started at 4:00 in the afternoon with the children.  First, they all went out to the garden to gather carrots, radishes, and fennel for what turned out to be a radically simple salad of these three vegetables washed and simply sliced, with no accessorizing flavors or sensations.

After that, the children followed the kitchen interns to one of the dining room tables, where a half dozen large cutting boards had been dusted with flour and set up with a ball of dough.  The task: to make orrechiette, or little ear-shaped pasta.  It was an interesting display of manual and cognitive development.  The 2-4-year-olds loved the feeling of dough in their fingers; they were happy to manipulate the soft irregular shapes, and completely disregarded the goal of shape.

The 8-10-year-olds worked with the manual confidence of seasoned chefs.  Confidence, that is, not skill.  They rolled the dough into snakes as fast as that, then chopped the snake into bits with fast loud chops, and squashed those bits into bowls as big as clamshells and as small as fingernails, quick as they could, talking Star Wars and Legos all the while.

The result (of their efforts and of those of the kitchen staff) was delicious: tender pasta tossed with pork sausage, chopped braised kale, and just enough red pepper flakes.

This meal, including arugula salad and a semifreddo with tart orange granita, culminated in speeches by the presidents of Slow Food Italia and of Slow Food Roma, and with the presentation of a certificate recognizing the efforts of the Rome Sustainable Food Project, and naming the Academy a Terra Madre Community.

Then, we drank “after dinner drinks” and decorated the Christmas tree.

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It’s rainy, school’s out, and everything’s closed for the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  We made pizza for lunch, and now Jack is busy with various projects involving wooden trains, plastic tractors, blocks, legos, paint, and books.  I’m drinking espresso, listening to Let It Be, and reading various things on the Slow Food website.

This week, Slow Food’s Terra Madre project will have a worldwide celebration of eating locally and sustainably.  Here’s their description of the Terra Madre network:

In 1999, Slow Food launched the Presidia project which has since involved thousands of small producers across the world, strengthening local economies and saving cheeses, breads, vegetable varieties and breeds from extinction. The worldwide Terra Madre network was launched in 2004 to give a voice and visibility to these farmers, breeders, fishers and artisan producers, and to bring them together with cooks, academics, youth and consumers to discuss how to improve the food system and strengthen local economies. Today the Terra Made network is made up of more than 2,000 food communities.

Here at the American Academy, we’re going to celebrate by making the family dinner, on Friday night, a Terra Madre feast.  Mona has done an amazing job over the past few years of connecting with farmers and food producers in the area, and this meal will also mark the birthday of the American Academy’s Rome Sustainable Food Project as a Slow Food Community.  I like how the Terra Madre poster explains the impetus behind this event: “Animati dall’entusiasmo di Mona Talbott….”  Yes! Many great things that happen here have been animated by the enthusiasm of Mona Talbott.  I’m excited for this meal, as is Jack, because he gets to help, with the other kids, to make orecchiette and harvest lettuce from the garden.

A bunch of lucky school kids in Rome will get to go to the Italian School of Film Animation to watch Ratatouille and Totò Sapore e la magica storia della pizza. (Sounds fun. I’d like to see it.)  There are also compost and juice-making workshops for ragazzi e bambini.  Ooohh, fun!  Dirt and fruit, sticky hands, making messes!

I highly recommend reading Slow Food International’s Seven Pillars.  This is where it’s at.

For other Slow Food items of interest, you can check out their website.  And here’s a description of the Terra Madre celebrations.

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I haven’t actually been making or eating as many meatballs as it may seem from the frequency of their appearance in these posts.  But last night I did make a new (for me) variation on an old theme: meatballs that were halfway between Lions Heads from Shanghai cuisine and Milanese, with some of my favorite flavorings thrown in.  The dish was inspired by a cabbage-wrapped meatball meal the RSFP kitchen cooked for us about a month ago.

In the morning, at the market, I bought some pork which the butcher ground on the spot.  I love that they do this.  Then they show it to you, as if to say, “is this to your liking?”  I bought a big cabbage and some parsley, and started to plan the process in my head.

While shopping, I also bought a city bus and admired some chocolate tools:

Harry, Jack, and a serious toy

Dolce Desideri has fun with chocolate

Prep:

Then, the meatballs: ground pork, breadcrumbs, 1 egg, salt and pepper, a generous pinch of freshly crushed coriander seeds, and small pinches each of ground cumin and cinnamon. I rolled them into a generous size—something between a golf ball and a billiard ball.  I browned them in the pan, while the cabbage leaves blanched.  Then, when all was cool enough to handle, I wrapped each ball in a leaf and set them on a plate while I deglazed the pan, randomly, with sweet vermouth.  (It was the only non-quaffable alcohol in the pantry, and turned out to be the best secret ingredient!)  Then, I put in the meatballs and poured in some stock, covered them, and simmered for 15 or so minutes.  Meanwhile, I cooked some pasta and tossed it with olive oil and parsley.

We took a break from mask-making to eat.

Jack & Felix

swaddled polpette

Then, we got ready for dancing.

Felix, Jack, Pio

Who are these masked dancers?

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Last night, the RSFP served ossobuco.  The platters came out piled with hunks of glistening meat and bone.  Something about about the primal nature of this meal brought out the sillies in us.  We started trying on each others’ glasses.  Some began eating with their fingers.  There was quizzing on food and sex.  And then the marrow sucking began.  While this was going on, there was laughter, of course, which caused a fleck of marrow to fly, projectile-style, from one man’s lips to another man’s shirt.  (You know who you are, friends….) He wore the badge of grease for the rest of the evening, which ended with grappas, noccinos, and amaros.  I wish I had a picture of my friends holding greasy bones up to their puckered lips.  And they, I’m sure, are glad I don’t!

The vegetarians may have been horrified, and luckily for them, were not at our table.  The combination of disgust at the finger-licking sensuality of this unabashedly carnivorous meal, and the ethical divide would be enough for some harsh condemnation of the bacchanalian scene.

Is it enough to say that we know, because of the dedication of Mona and Chris to finding sustainable, local food, that these animals we ate were raised and killed with care and humanity?  Many prefer not to think about this, but when you’re sucking the marrow out of leg bones, the fact of your dinner’s other form as a cute little calf is hard to avoid.

Another way to think about it is as veal shanks braised in stock and white wine and garnished with gremolata—a simple dressing of parsley, garlic, and lemon.  Another perspective is health: a quick google search suggests that bone marrow is nutritious and may even help to account for the low incidence of heart disease in offal-loving societies.

It was, then, a most basic and most complex feast.  And it was delicious.

Since I don’t have any pictures, I’ll direct you to this video of Mark Bittman and Fergus Henderson roasting bones and then spreading the “jiggly” marrow on toast.

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This is a seasonal pleasure. Clementines daily. Jack using his baby-Italian to exclaim “mandarino piccolo!”  The way the fresh scent stays on your fingertips—zest from the peel.

As an early afternoon, pre-Thanksgiving dinner drink, they served “Puccinis”—prosecco with freshly squeezed mandarin (clementine) juice.  This is free association at the service of the endless plethora of unnamed drinks.  Taxonomies of tipsiness.  Puccini’s Turandot is a Mandarin princess.

Who can melt her ice?

But why, then, are Bellinis (prosecco and peach nectar) called Bellinis?  Did he have something to do with peaches?  Not exactly, but this is an associative tipsy taxonomy, so the explanation arrives accordingly.  According to Wikipedia: “Because of its unique pink [?] color, which reminded Cipriani [the Venetian bar owner and namer] of the color of the toga [?] of a saint in a painting by 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini, he named the drink the Bellini.”

This, of course, is not the eponymous saint, but the Madonna, in a triptych we saw in Venice and which now hangs in postcard form in our studio.

https://i1.wp.com/www.lib-art.com/imgpainting/9/0/6809-frari-triptych-giovanni-bellini.jpg

https://i0.wp.com/www.wga.hu/art/b/bellini/giovanni/1480-89/2frari/134frax9.jpg

Beautiful illusions of paint.

Then, there was another cocktail, recently.  Lauren asked Alessandro to make a drink he enjoyed making.  We all heard the shaker.  It was frosty and pale orange.  Others ordered the same.  I asked him, “What’s it called?” and he said “Seedecara.” Hmm… that must be some Italian artist I don’t know.  Then, I heard Luca pronounce it, with slightly less inflection: “sydecara.”  Oh!  It’s a sidecar! Brandy, Cointreau, lemon juice. Thank goodness I skipped that one.

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The forecast was for rain for the long Thanksgiving weekend, but each day, we had mist and then sun.  That was a nice turn of events, because we had lots of touring of Rome to do with our visitors.  Yesterday morning, I had to swear to everyone that I didn’t plan it this way, but en route to Piazza Navona and the Pantheon, we ended up walking by both Antica Caciari (where we bought fresh ricotta, fresh pesto, and fresh sausages) and Roscioli, my favorite forno (where we bought fig bread, hearty bread for dinner, and a torta di mele—apple cake—the last of which I’ve been wanting to buy since I first laid eyes on it).

Some other observations…

Sorry, this is gross and unappetizing, but interesting.  Don’t park where the starlings roost:

What would beauty be without shit?

Now, though, let’s turn to beauty.

Lion and pinecone: fierce, lordly, evergreen; pignoli, carne, regeneration, peace, power, teeth, needles, mane, shade.

Giant Bernini-designed river god, at ease in his musculature, reclining in the center of Piazza Navona:

The oculus:

Another, humbler, dome:

Mmmm… so moist and appley.

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No.  I’m not talking about that mystery conglomeration “corn dog” that masquerades as meat, but meatballs, served cocktail-catering-style on little wooden skewers.  We took Jack to a cocktail reception last night, and his favorite items were the polpetti, or, meat lollipops.  (My favorite was the split date posing as a dish for gorgonzola and a walnut quarter.)

The reception, here at the Academy, was for the new American ambassador to Italy, David Thorne.  Alice Waters was also there, having come from a big Slow Food event, and planning to stay in Rome through Thanksgiving.  I think you can guess which dignitary I was most excited about meeting.

This morning, Jack said, “Mommy, can you make polpetti?”  Yes! And you can help!  So, after dropping him off at school, I stopped at the Super Carni—a little butcher’s shop owned by a grandparently couple, which sells lots of organic products—and asked for “del bovino per polpetti.”  Probably not very correct, but he understood.  Remember how I mentioned that Italians are always, in a tacit and politely bossy way, telling you the proper way to do things?  Well, I had asked for beef, but after half-picking up a piece of beef, he set it down and reached instead for the chunks of veal, which he then put through the old-fashioned meat grinder twice, making sure the texture was to his satisfaction.  I love the immediacy of this operation.

And of this one:

For the recipe, check out this post.

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We’re so coddled here, with the wonderful food prepared for and served to us at the Academy.  So it was with real satisfaction last night that I prepared a meal requiring what felt like authentic labor: beheading fish and whisking for a good half hour.

The meal was utterly simple, and maybe that’s why it was so much fun to make.  I started in the morning at the open air market on Via Nicolini, where I bought a pile of fresh sardines.  The fishmonger threw in a handful of parsley too, which is one of the nice gestures these Roman vendors always make.  It’s both generous and bossy of them: “here, have some herbs” and “if you’re going to cook that, you really should have this.”  (This attitude actually seems to be a regional—or even national—trait.)  I bought lemons at another stall, mixed chicories at another, some apples, brocoletti, and then some pizza bianca at Pasticceria Beti.

Here are the fish, before their “dressing”:

There are a few ways to prepare sardines—going from minimally to maximally meticulous.  I chose the middle road.  The minimal would be just to clean the scales off and cook them whole.  The most thorough would be to cut the heads off, clean the guts out, and bone them before cooking.  The middle way, which Robinson Crusoe would have advised, is to break the heads off with your hands; the attached guts follow; and the boning is easier to do when the fish are cooked anyway.

Sardines are very nutritious, as they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and low in the mercury and other contaminants that settle in the big fish higher up on the food chain. They are very high in selenium and vitamin B12 and high in calcium, niacin, and phosphorus.  Are these good reasons to feel virtuous even when you fry them in butter?

After a good descaling rinse, they’re ready to be dredged in salted flour and fried up in a mixture of butter and olive oil, at high heat.

Before doing that though, I made the aioli with a whisk—and with the assistance of Junior Wells’s Hoo Doo Man Blues, prosecco, and Peter.  I followed Alice Waters’s recipe from The Art of Simple Food.  Start with garlic and a pinch of salt mashed with a mortar-and-pestle; add a 1/4 tsp. of water and an egg yolk. Starting drop by drop, whisk in 1 c. extra virgin olive oil. (When you’re not working with the help of electricity, this takes a good long time.)

The resulting meal was simple, cheap, yummy, and fun.

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In my last post, I attempted both to recommend Food Inc., and to criticize what I saw as the overly facile closing message (“vote with your fork”).  There was more to the event, here at the American Academy in Rome, and there is a positive alternative to the dark suggestion of the film that Monsanto may well take over the world.  Briefly, these follow-ups/upsides have to do with braised pork and grass-roots.

Let’s start with grass-roots.  Since the screening, I’ve talked with a lot of people about how depressing the film is.  It seems to offer only the meager solutions of “voting with your fork” and waiting for policy change to adjust the prices of food.  Obviously, more needs to be done and can be done.  One of the people I’ve talked with a lot about these issues is Mona Talbott, the executive chef here.  She is passionate not only about great cooking but also about reforming American food culture through cooking education.  An over-reliance on convenient but unhealthy fast-food is in part a consequence of a general lack of cooking skills and knowledge.  Another part of the problem is the misconception that fast food is cheaper than home-cooked food.  This doesn’t have to be the case.  The Rome Sustainable Food Project works on a tight budget to provide nutritious, delicious, and sufficient food for all of us.  Mona points out that the world’s oldest traditional diets, like that in Italy, have had such long histories of sustaining people in part because they can sustain—with complete nutrition—the most people.  In other words, traditional diets are complete, and they are poor people’s diets.  The basis of the Italian diet is the lowly triumvirate of beans, grains, and greens.  These are affordable. Pasta is cheap.  The cheapest cuts of meat are delicious when cooked slowly.

But cooking, which often isn’t learned in the family anymore, needs to be learned if families are to be fed on these inexpensive foods rather than on fast food.  Actually, many people don’t know anything about food anymore, much less cooking!  If you take a look at my friend Sharyn’s comment on my last post, you’ll see what I’m talking about. She teaches in a university, and her students don’t know about the seasonality of any foods.

Several things need to, and can, happen, with a grass-roots effort. More communities can take on the reform of school lunch on their own, and even put in edible schoolyards (playground gardens) and teaching kitchens.  Children, then, can teach their parents about seasonality and cooking.  Or they can learn about food and cooking by asking their grandparents, as their doing with the help of Bioversity’s campaign Diversity for Life.  Cooking schools can teach home cooking.  Institutional kitchens—like the one here, with its unpaid interns—can double as educational kitchens.   Old routines, like canning parties, can be revived.  (Mona mentioned this today, and you might recall one of my recent posts about the biodiversity scientist I met recently, Stephan, who has fond memories of tomato-canning parties in a neighbor’s garage.)  Children can be taught the basics of cooking, and along with those, the comforts and thrills of cooking, by being included in the process of growing and making food.  With the encouragement of children and community-based campaigns, working parents can be convinced to plan ahead and find the time to put together a healthy meal—even if it’s just rice, beans, and something green.

Mona, who has cooked for the best restaurants and wealthiest people, wants to devote herself to this grass-roots cooking re-education effort when her tenure as the head of the Rome Sustainable Food Project ends.  She’s a real inspiration.

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Immediately after the film screening on Saturday, we participated in a panel discussion with two of the farmers who sell their organic foods to the Rome Sustainable Food Project: Enzo Foi, who came with Filippo da Sole, from the farm and agriturismo destination Lo Spicchio; and Giuseppe Brandizzi, from the organic dairy Biola.  The audience had many questions about organic agriculture (agricoltura biologica) in Italy, food politics in Italy, and the differences between the U.S. and Italy on these matters. Enzo told us, without the wish to romanticize Italy for the mostly American audience, that the main difference between the U.S. and Italy, in terms of industrial agriculture, is scale.  Here, as in the U.S., there is a large industrial-farm lobby that shapes the politics; synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers are used (although the European Union has outlawed GMOs and rBST); small-scale farmers are going out of business.  But, also as in the U.S., there is a movement to expand sustainable agriculture, and to encourage buying locally produced food, and some politicians are helping to promote these causes.  (There are, of course, differences.  Italians know how to eat and have a culture of food, for one!)

More important than the help of politicians, though, is the grass-roots movement exemplified by these men and their families, who are educators and cooks as much as they are farmers.  They farm and cook and eat the way they do because they want to preserve the land, foods, and traditions that have sustained people for centuries and that could—if not cared for—be lost to oblivion.  If you’ve seen Food Inc., consider the proud strut of this rooster compared to the falling-down factory chickens:

Lo Spicchio gallo

After the film and discussion—and in spite of the revolting images of factory farming we’d just seen—we all eagerly went upstairs to the dining room to eat a meal prepared with the ingredients from Enzo’s and Giuseppe’s (and a few others’) farms.  We ate Lo Spicchio pork braised in Biola’s whole raw milk; cardoons roasted with lemon and buttery breadcrumbs; polenta; local red wine; and the most flavorful “blondies” I can imagine. (We eat a lot of braised meat here, in part because Mona and Chris like to cook the whole, traditional, foods of everyday Italians.  The braising cuts are the cheapest cuts.  The other night, Chris and the interns cooked up an amazing meal of braised lamb with harissa, chickpeas with greens, and cous cous.  Simple. Complete. Delicious.)

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I’ve been thinking about these a lot, lately, because of the work I’ve been doing for Bioversity.  And because of the food I’ve been eating here in Rome.  Farro four times a week? And cauliflower, I have to admit, has been an underutilized species in my household, if not in general—until this fall.

I’ve written about farro, and I’ll write about some others in the future, but right now, I’m thinking about one NUS in particular which I was surprised to see on the list: pistachios (in Italy)!

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What about pistachio gelato?  And those gorgeous green cakes we saw in Venice?

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Most of those pistachios come from Iran.  The word pistachio derives originally from the Aramaic word pistaqa (rendered phonetically), and Iran is still the leader leader in pistachio production and exportation. According to the International Society for Horticultural Science, “in 2003, Iran as the most important pistachio exporter and USA as the second exporter [had] a share of 69% and 8.9% respectively in the world exports.”

Bioversity, an organization in Italy dedicated to researching and educating about agricultural biodiversity, and to revitalizing neglected and underutilized species, led a campaign starting in 1993 to conserve and promote the production of pistachios (and arugula, oregano and hulled wheats) in Italy.  NUS are important as we think about the future of agriculture because of their ability to grow in climates other, perhaps higher yeilding, crops will not—for example the hot, arid climate of southern Italy.

Pistachios are a good source of protein, fat, fiber, vitamin B6 and thiamine.  They also make a delicious snack, especially when salted!

The most pistachioish gelato I’ve ever tasted was made at Il Gelatone in Venice.  Mmm!  I hope the pistachios didn’t come from one of the most repressive regimes in the world….

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