Published on February 17th, 2011 | by Ann Rickard0
Learn how to dine like ltalians
Australians do ltalian cuisine so well. There is nothing we haven’t learnt from the ltalians since the early days of immigration in the 50s and 60s.
We took their classic dishes, added to them, subtracted from them, tweaked and twisted them and came up with some beautiful ltalian/Aussie dishes of our own. But I wonder if we have yet truly learnt the art of enjoying the ltalian table in the same robust but leisurely mannerasthem?
Eating in any restaurant in ltaly will give you theatre as well as delicious cuisine. Whether it is an upmarket establishment – such as the Flstorante il Porticciolo in Laveno in the north, as we experienced recently – or in the more bustling and busy Hotel Bologna in the heart of Varese in Lombardy. At Ristorante il Porticciolo it was all polished glassware, pristine table linen as well as sumptuous upholstery to sink into and gaze out at the magnificent lake views. As with most of their meals, the Italians love to start with antipasti – could be anything from the traditional melon and prosciutto to a chicken terrine with porcini mushrooms. Then it’s on to the primi piatti -the first course – usually pasta or risotto.
Only after you have consumed this do you go on to the main course – the secondi piatti-where you enjoy your chicken, meat or fish served simply, sometimes with nothing more to accompany it than a wedge of lemon. A tittle rest, another glass of wine, and then its dolcl time – desserts and sweet things .. . any’thing from a torta (tart) or the always-favourite cassata. lt’s the big deal, very dignified and languorous and a med like this is usually finished with strong coffee and a liqueur. And that’s just lunch.
At the Hotel Bologna it was more hearty – a kind of put-it-on the-table-and help- yourself approach and although quite different, just as splendid. Down on to the table was thumped a huge plate of cured meats – salami, ham, Learn how to dine like ltallans sense 0f occasion accompanies each meal Pickles, meats, who knows what will come t0 the table? and prosciutto. You just take what you want and when you’ve finished the plate gets passed on to the next table. lf you are particularly fussy, ask the waiter to cut you your own individual slices from the giant side of prosciutto wedged in that vice-like thingie over by the door.
It’s waiting there for your pleasure. ln the norlh of ltaly, risotto rules. They like a red wine risotto very much in this restaurant. Our host, Marco, explained it is the simplest yet tasty way to eat this speciality dish. “You just add some red wine when you are cooking the onions and rice, and then when the risotto is finished and has the parmesan sprinkled on it, you pour some more red wine over it just before you serve. ” It came to our table with a neat little puddle of red wine in the middle and it couldn’t have breen more Perfect.
Throughout the meal intriguing items keep on getting happily thumped on the table bry rushing waiters. A wooden bowl filled with bottles of balsamic, olive oil, mustard, pepper; a tray of fat jars brimming with pickled eggplant, onions … and potatoes; a dish of long, green picklesandfat, blackolives. lt all added to the sense of occasion and gave the impression of a generous host. The moment we had finished spooning or pouring from the jars and bottles, the whole lot was whisked away to another table.
And so it continued right through to the end of the meal when, over coffee, Yet another rushing waiting delivered a half a dozens bottles of frosty Iiqueurs to the table. Just help yourself to whatever you fancy. Pay on your way out and only for what you declare to have consumed.
It’s so friendly, trusting and generous. You want to go home to Australia and open your own ltalian restaurant. But, of course, You won’t.