“The Art of Eating Well”
TUNDRA-VENICE Chapter 4 (Chevac, Alaska — Venice, California)
By Rosanna Albertini
While I crack eggs, and separate the yolks from the whites, hoping my Italian potato cake for Thanksgiving will look better than a panettone, my husband has a hard choice to make for his pumpkin pie: goat milk, soy cream, real cream? Fat, sweet, irresistible butter or vegan buttery spread? Real eggs, children of hens, or a liquid substitute? For this time, November 2015, we pretend history of cooking stopped in 1891, when Pellegrino Artusi published his “Art of Eating Well,” a book in perfect Italian language that helped to unify Italy more than the monarchy or the republic, with recipes for common readers of a country in which most people did not speak Italian.
I learned to cook from that book when I was twelve, and never quit. Only, beware of eggs, one century ago they were much smaller, their number must be cut in a half. And don’t be afraid of simple food! Pellegrino Artusi writes the recipe of the meatloaf as spirited as Corey Stein when she depicts the California Surfertaco.
183 . POLPETTONE (Meatloaf)
“Mister meatloaf, don’t hesitate to come forward, as I wish to present you to my readers. I know that you are retiring and shy because you’re conscious of your origins and realize you are more lowly than many others. Take heart and doubt not that a few words in your favor will convince people to try you, and perhaps even smile upon you.”
Corey Stein’s siblings in Alaska would be the perfect eaters of Artusi’s GENOESE PUDDING featuring a mixture of milk-fed veal, chicken breast, prosciutto, butter, grated Parmisan and eggs. The pudding must be completed, on the top, with chopped liver cooked in meat sauce. He recommends to serve it hot, “if it was made well, I guarantee your guests will remark on its delicacy.” It could be an alternative source of calories for lovers of Carnation evaporated milk. Unfortunately, also among the icebergs, butter is replaced by all-vegetable shortening. Adding mashed potatoes, sugar and salmonberries, good health is assured.
In California, instead, cows could cry in their stable: soy milk is ‘silky,’ who ever would call silky the creamy, good smelling cow milk? They call it FAT. Yes, nourishing food has been banned from our lives, but we shouldn’t ignore that rich food of the past, like the Macaroni pie, were prepared and offered rarely, meat was on the table only once a week or less, bread and tomatoes were a whole meal.
201. PASTICCIO DI MACCHERONI (Macaroni pie)
The cooks of Emilia-Romagna are usually very good at making this difficult and expensive dish, which is excellent when it is well made―a thing that’s easier said than done. Macaroni pie is a Carnevale [Mardi Gras] dish, and during that period of the year, there isn’t a luncheon or dinner in Romagna that doesn’t begin with it.
I once met a Romagnan of legendary appetite who arrived unexpected at a party as the guests were sitting down in front of a magnificent pie fit for a dozen. “What!” he said. “Just that pie I could eat all by myself for all of you?” “If you can eat it, we’ll pay for it,” they replied. The good man didn’t wait to be asked twice, and did. “He is going to croak by morning,” the astounded spectators said to each other after the performance. Luckily, the man’s condition wasn’t serious, though his belly did swell until the skin was as tight as a drum and he groaned, writhed, and cried out as if he was in labor. A man armed with a rolling pin hurried to his aid and, kneading his stomach as if it were dough, cleared the way for who knows how many other pies.
Gluttons and parasites of this type are rarer in our time than they used to be, for two reasons, I think. First, the human constitution has become frailer, and second, spiritual pleasures, a benefit of civilization, have eclipsed the pleasures of the flesh.”
The Art of Eating Well by Pellegrino Artusi (1820-1911) is a translation of La Scienza in Cucina e L’Arte di Mangiar Bene. Translated from Italian by Kyle M. Phillips III, Published by Random House, New York, in 1996. Out of print, but probably it can still be found as used copy, if the search is well done.