1. You get to savour lunch!
I have noticed the lunch hour, and even the concept of lunch, is dying out in many post industrial countries. Not so in Italy, the inventor of the Slow Food movement. In Italy lunch begins at 1.00pm. Not 12.30 or 1.10 but 1.00pm. No one questions you or where you are going at that hour. Everyone knows. It’s lunch time. Lunch occurs mostly sitting down, mostly with company but not looked on strangely if it is taken alone. It involves at least two courses, is followed by a coffee (cafe/short black) and a gentle walk. It never occurs while walking or working. If a good, nuturing and sustaining lunch is what you desire then pretend to be Italian for a day and take it!
2. You can eat pasta every day.
Not just for special occasions or only after you have laboured by making it fresh yourself, pasta is a staple and comes in a myriad of forms. Pasta is eaten ‘al dente‘ (chewy) so that the flavour and texture can be truly appreciated, and is paired with seasonal produce and is therefore constantly changing. It is part of every Italians’ diet and now even gluten free pasta is offered at most restaurants (by asking for it as it won’t appear on the menu). Pasta is not only matched with seasonal ingredients (herbs, vegetables, fish and meat), the shapes, sizes and texture (ribbed or non ribbed) of the pasta are matched with particular sauces and ingredients to bring out the taste and texture of ingredients e.g. ribbed pasta with tomato based sauces The thickness of spaghetti is also chosen depending on what it is served with. Tip: never serve size no. 3 with seafood!
Rigatoni cacio e pepe – one of my favourite typical Roman pasta dishes. Sheeps cheese and pepper. Sounds simple, is delicious. Note it is served with ribbed pasta so that the cheese coats the pasta as you eat it – yum!
My mother-in-law Francesca’s Timbalo (baked pasta dish – every mother does one). Francesca’s has fried pork meatballs in it and is sealed with fried eggplant. The pasta inside this dish is usually penne, unribbed because the mixture is already dense and doesn’t need to stick to it.
3. You get to experience four complete seasons, consecutively and well spaced (but don’t forget to follow the seasonal ‘rules’).
Each season is quite distinct in its weather, food, activities and lifestyle. As everyone is impacted by the seasons at the same time it creates a sense of community – everyone is eating, doing and talking about the same things at the same time. Where you will be going for your summer holidays, when the seasons last vegetables are available, how you will be celebrating this seasons’ saints days, what you will be eating for lunch that day are all acceptable conversations with complete strangers at the bus stop or with neighbours in your apartment block. The first sunny day is not a reason to go to the beach unless it is after June 21st (the official beginning of summer) and if the heat continues into September it is still not a reason to wear your summer clothes as I recently experienced. While walking in my local neighbourhood wearing my summer clothes (as it was 27 degrees), I overheard a person commenting to her companion how ridiculous I looked wearing them when it was now September and therefore clearly Autumn!
If you’re not sure what to do in each season or how to behave, head to the Trevi fountain and look up. The four statues at the top represent each of the four seasons in Italy and how they are personalised!
Next week: more reasons to be Italian.
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