There’s a lot of talk about the juxtaposition of the Italian and Italian-American food cultures, just lately pointed out as two completely different things, thanks to the Internet and the renovated interaction between our two communities. When I first met Alberto and Kelly, an Italian and an Italian-American running a blog about Italian cuisine, I was curious: how those two were able to find a balance between their different food heritages? Keep reading to learn more about this topic and this interesting couple of gourmets.
Please guys, introduce yourself!
A– Hi! I’m Alberto and I’m Italian. While my primary field of expertise is IT, I have a real passion for cooking (and eating). I’m a “bear” in a broad sense, I favour dinners with a small group of people over crowded parties, probably because I enjoy conversation at the dining table, and many people makes the experience chaotic. I’m very much a cat person, and I love spending my night with my little kitten when Kelly is away.
K- I’m Kelly, and I’m the American half of our duo. Like Alberto, cooking (and definitely eating too, lol) is a hobby for me. If I hadn’t become a teacher, I would have gone to culinary school. Actually, I was “this close” to dropping out of grad school to pursue a culinary career instead. My passion for food has never really gone away, and I’m finding that I can really use my love for food to help me learn Italian through recipes and also because Italians love talking about food, especially while eating, which is just one of the many, many reasons I feel like this is my “spirit culture”!
How did this passion for food start and why did you decide to open a blog together?
A – I’ve always been a gourmet, but after my parents divorced I found myself in need of being independent. I had to start from scratch, and I took a few non professional late night cooking lessons to begin with. It was out of necessity at first, given the work situation in Italy it was important not to waste food, and save money by buying raw ingredients and cook them on my own. It quickly become one of my favourite activities. When we met our first topic was food, and Kelly was already into blogging. A food blog was the next natural step to have something in common even at a great distance.
K- My interested in food started early, and my passion has only grown over the years. Thanks to my mom, I have always had a love and appreciation for food. Even though my mom worked long hours as a nurse, she always made it a priority to make us healthy meals from scratch, and I always wanted to join her in the kitchen.
My passion for food grew even more after I studied abroad in France and Italy in college. Back then social media didn’t exist and once back home, I had to fill in my family and friends with all the details of my time abroad. I wanted them to be able to experience a piece of Europe, and so I started making them some of the dishes I had abroad. Cooking was also a great way to deal with reverse culture shock!
I think Alberto and I had such a great connection initially because he is the only person I’ve met who has an equal or greater passion for food than me. It all started because my parents had just gotten a pizza oven (a gas one – not a wood burning one – I wish!), and I wanted to learn how to make pizza dough the Italian way. Alberto shared the recipe with me in Italian in One Note, and I thought…why not start a blog as a place to keep all of our recipes while sharing them with others? I had a blog already, but I had always wanted to write more about food, so starting this project together just seemed natural. Plus, it’s something that keeps us together when we are apart.
Kelly, is there something about Italian cuisine that really took you by surprise when you first came to Italy?
K- This might require a book! Where to begin? In the US we have a famous “Italian” chain restaurant which cuisine I thought was the epitome of Italian food – chicken alfredo, chicken parmigiana, spaghetti and meatballs… garlic breadsticks WITH pasta….okay I’ll stop there because I can see Alberto (and probably every other Italian) cringing already.
This is more or less the food that I was expecting to find when I studied abroad in Torino during college.
One of my first nights there, a big group of other American students and I were absolutely starving so we headed to the closest pizzeria around 6:00 p.m. We were shocked to find the pizzeria closed until 7:30 p.m.! We came back right on the dot and it didn’t fill up with Italians until around 8:30 p.m. We just couldn’t believe it because the general dinner time in the US is between 5 –7 p.m., give or take. I was equally blown away that it’s perfectly acceptable to eat an entire pizza to yourself and not be considered a pig. A dream come true for a pizza fanatic like me!
At the pizzeria we noticed that all of the Italians had ordered what looked kind of like a thin, plain slice of pizza. What was this mysterious thing they had? We wanted it too! And that is how we discovered farinata, a bread (pancake? Crepe?) made from chickpeas.
I haven’t seen farinata served as an appetizer in other regions of Italy, which brings me to my next point: Italian food is extremely regional – and this is a good thing! Alberto explained to me that neighboring villages used to compete with each other to make the best prosciutto or cheese etc., which has resulted in a wide array of absolutely incredible local dishes and products which even Italians are not always aware of.
Alberto, which are the most common clichés about Italian cuisine that you’ve seen spreading around and that you’d wish to eradicate?
A- There are tons. First of all the idea of Italian cuisine as a greasy-cheesy “mash”. That’s not Italian cuisine at all, and a quick two days trip in an Italian small town would give anyone the idea of what I’m talking about.
Secondary that everything cooked by someone with a recent or ancient (and sometimes dubious) Italian ancestry is Italian food, as if culture could be genetically transferred. Let’s say, a Chinese (I’ve chosen a Chinese because their cuisine is very different from ours) passionate about Italian cuisine and culture who’s been living in Italy for three years, can probably cook more honest Italian food than a second generation Italian in another country, if he wants. I want to be clear here, I’m not saying that Italian-like recipes are bad in taste, or wrong or anything. I’m just saying they’re not truly Italian. Honestly, I find this “True Italian” labelling style a little disturbing, it’s just marketing to sell a product.
Confess it guys, you do argue over recipes, right?
A- Argue I would say not, she tries everything I cook with enthusiasm. But if it was for her, we would eat pizza every day because she really likes it.
K- Actually, I think the only food related thing we disagree on is dessert. I have a sweet tooth and Alberto hates 99.9% of sweet things. Other than that, I trust Alberto with food 100%. I would even let him feed me blindfolded. He is such a prankster, but we have a rule that food is sacred and not to be messed with. I am always excited to make things his way because he did make burritos and hamburgers better than I’ve tasted in the US after all!
Who wears the pants in the kitchen? Or should I say who wears the apron?
A- When it comes to Italian recipes, it’s me. But she’s learning pretty fast. Too fast. I suspect a coup soon, in my reign.
K– Hands down, Alberto. He is THE boss. I secretly like it because he really knows what he’s doing and I love to learn from him. It makes me feel pampered to have a good cook in the kitchen. But speaking of a coup…I think we need to have a pizza dough throw down!
Alberto, what I really love about your recipes is that you share “the real deal” and not instagrammable content. Those are the everyday dishes, the kind of food we usually have and that are also made by left-overs or by taking advantage of seasonal products. Was this your intent? To show that typical Italian dishes are made of few and simple ingredients?
A – Yes. And no. Our intent is a little more subtle. By sharing our traditional home recipes, usually made by few simple ingredients, I want to show people they don’t have to go to an Italian restaurant to eat Italian food. They can cook it at home without a deep cooking background, and even get pleasure by the time spent for that. No one in Italy would ever go to an expensive restaurant with the sole purpose to eat tagliatelle alla bolognese or pasta al pomodoro, because for the same price you can totally make it at home in a larger quantity, freeze it for months, and use it when you feel like to.
Now, regarding the instagrammable content: while I understand that appearances count, they can also be misleading. Have a look at any minestrone advertisement: vegetables are vibrant in color and their form is exactly as just cut. I don’t know about yours, but the only moment my minestrone looks like that is when the ingredients are raw. It’s just nice to see, but it’s not what you’ll get if you want it to be edible.
By posting untouched pictures of my recipes I’m asking our readers a little leap of faith. While not everything I post might look good, it does not mean it won’t taste good. I guarantee though, that’s the real thing, no tricks there.
Kelly, I guess that when you came to Italy, you discovered some wonders of the regional cuisine. Is there a local dish that you have particularly enjoyed and that you wish people from abroad to know?
K- There are so many delicious regional specialties in Italy, and I’m sure many that I have yet to discover. There is one type of pasta from Liguria that I think everyone should know about: croxetti. A little butter and parmigiano are added to the dough so that it is sturdy enough to be pressed between a circular wooden stamp with ornate designs on both sides (traditionally a family’s coat of arms). It yields a surprisingly delicate, melt-in-your mouth pasta. This pasta was also new to Alberto (since he’s from Veneto), and we were both speechless with delight when we tried it. It’s usually reserved for special occasions since it can be quite laborious to hand-stamp each piece of pasta, but we both agree this pasta is going to become a staple for the holidays.
We discovered croxetti on my most recent trip to Italy last summer when Alberto and I visited my great-grandparents’ tiny village called Varese Ligure, nestled in the mountains of Liguria not far from the Cinque Terre. There is an elderly man in the village who hand carves croxetti stamps in his little workshop to keep this tradition alive. My great-grandparents didn’t speak English and my grandfather passed away before I was born, so sadly a lot of the knowledge and traditions of my Ligurian heritage have been lost too. Thanks to the passion of this man, Pietro Picetti, I’ve been able to recapture a piece of my family’s past to preserve for future generations (read their article about croxetti here).
Here you are a difficult request: four adjectives to describe Italian cuisine.
A- Simple (in the ingredients), genuine, healthy (well, most of the time), varied. Oh, shall I also add excellent?
K- Simple (in a way that few ingredients are required and the flavor of one ingredient really shines, while the others compliment it), seasonal (always fresh; ingredients based on what is available), local, traditional (as in the history of each region is reflected in the food).
In conclusion, why should people follow your blog?
A- I’d say many reasons. Italians love food, and our culture is deeply connected to our cuisine. I think one of the best way to understand Italian culture is sitting with Italians at the table: there’s more than just food when we eat, something we call “convivium”, although I must say things are starting to change with the new generation. That’s what we’re trying to provide with our blog. We’re in the process of changing it to make it better, so stay tuned.
K- Making and sharing food brings us such joy that we hope to bring that same sense of joy to others through our recipes. Our aim is to create that sense of “convivium” for our blog readers, to invite them to our table like old friends, sharing food made with love, connecting over laughter, stories, and chats about things that matter like culture, travel, and language. When Hippocrates said, “let food be thy medicine,” he may have been referring to the purity and quality of ingredients, but I think this could also include the sense of conviviality and connection that is so uplifting when breaking bread with others. As our blog grows we hope to include things like meal plans to make it easier for busy families to have homemade meals and tips to entertain Italian style. Since I’m an English teacher learning Italian, I also want to incorporate language learning through recipes for all of the other foodies or buongustaio out there. What better language classroom is there than the dining table, after all?
Thanks Alberto and Kelly for this chat!
We will be glad to hear from you: do you think Italian and Italian-American cuisines are different? Any direct experience with Italian regional cuisine? We would love to continue the chat, leave a comment!