Is it noshworthy?

Why I love Italian Food…

December 2nd, 2009

In the last two days, I’ve had some scrumptious Italian food, reminding me of what a diverse and creative cuisine it is.

How many other types of food run the entire culinary gambit?

For years, one of my favorite family restaurants in San Diego is called Filippi’s. Every time another child comes of age or gets married, they open another restaurant. That’s how San Diego ended up with a dozen Filippi’s restaurants. And since some of them have moved with their spouses, there are even ones in Napa and Oregon.

The best thing about Filippi’s is that you can still get a huge plate of pasta for about $5.00. Add a meatball the size of an infant’s head and it goes up to $7.00. Even at these prices, they make some of the best marinara sauce I’ve tasted.

The Olive Garden may be a huge corporate chain, wrecking havoc on the Italian language with invented words like “Houspitaliano”, but they have a huge, enthusiastic following for their addictive breadsticks and Italian inspired meals like Four-cheese mezzaluna pasta in a creamy pinot grigio sauce. Okay, the half-moon shaped ravioli may be a gimmick, but it doesn’t make it any less delicious.

Italian cuisine isn’t just relegated to affordable and chain restaurants. A visit to Little Italy in any major city, or someplace like Columbus Avenue or Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, show that there are some incredible Italian restaurants that are worthy of Michelin stars.

Years ago I worked for a man who I affectionately refer to as the “Crazed Italian”. Although not my favorite employer, I owe him a great debt for taking me to Rome and introducing me to the Italian way of dining.

As I mentioned in my Thanksgiving post, the only thing I love more than good food is a great variety of it. Dining in Rome shows that the Italian’s share my belief that more courses often make a better meal.

In my time in Rome, we spent hours every day in meetings. By the time 6:00 came around, I was ready for some rest. This is when the “Crazed Italian” explained that what happened in the office was theater. What happened at dinner decided if we got a deal.

So the suit and tie stayed on, and I was introduced to the most brilliant concept in dining. The four-hour meal.

You see, the Romans don’t order a soup or salad, an entrée, then a dessert, and call it a night. Restaurants have one sitting, sometimes two. And each sitting goes on for hours, as you work your way through several courses and enough wine to make anyone sauced if consumed during a traditional meal. But spread the many bottles over four hours and numerous courses, and you’ll find yourself in a warm and happy place.

This is probably why so much business is done in restaurants in Rome. Wouldn’t you want to be in business with someone who takes you to a warm and happy place?

Since I don’t speak Italian, I spent most of our evenings enjoying the food and observing the patrons. Courses ranged from sautéed spinach to paper-thin slices of prosciutto. Later came pasta and proteins like veal and chicken. And somehow after all this food and paired wines, they find a place for desserts that defy the imagination.

In America, we’ve had glimpses into this brilliance. Most Italian-American restaurants serve a cannoli or a cheesecake (More of a nod to New York Italians than the old country). A Roman dessert menu is a Fantasyland of cookies and cream puffs, of pastries laced with rich liquors and supernaturally thick gelatos.

My sweet Irish grandmother used to say, “Since the Irish don’t have a cookbook of our own (Irish stew and soda bread would make a very thin cookbook), we have license to borrow from everyone else.” It’s no wonder that after teaching me how to make cream puffs, I learned how to make chicken cacciatore.

Italian food belongs to us all, and the world is a better place because of it. 🙂

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