Another year! The good news is that this blog is still active and luckily keeps being found by those searching for Italian specialties like pizzoccheri or canederli or Italian misconceptions like my 6 Italian myths. The bad news of course is that I haven’t posted any new articles or recipes this year. I know, it’s terrible – but it’s also okay, given that social media has taken the place of blogging in many ways.
But I did resume podcasting (yay!) and produced 16 new episodes with as many guests and collaborations this past year! This continues to be a lot of fun for me and I’ve already started to work on a new round of episodes to hopefully reach my dream milestone of 100 episodes very soon!
Here is a list of the episodes this year. Thanks again to all of my wonderful guests!
On a personal level, we keep well here in southern England, still working from home and enjoying plenty of homecooked food. We pretty much spend our time planning meals, cooking, cleaning the kitchen, and being grateful for having a dishwasher. As the government lifted all social distancing measures exactly two weeks ago, we are far from back to normal, unfortunately. Traveling is still not really possible, including to and from Italy which of course breaks our hearts. But we enjoy our area, which is wonderfully green after a very wet summer, and spending time with our cat Rascal, who just turned 19, overall doing great and still a great source of comfort and inspiration to us both.
I hope you’re all well, wherever you are, and please get in touch for collaborations, to be on the podcast, or just to say hi – I’d love that 🙂
A classic Christmas special, featuring two very special guests: my wife Candace and our dear friend Miriam. Join us to hear us compare our different childhood traditions between a farm in Saskatchewan (Canada), an apartment in Palermo (Sicily), and one near Milan.
During the episode, we talk about how Nativity scenes can take on a local flavor, Miriam’s riveting performance in her childhood Christmas play, stockings, the presents-opening ceremony (between candlelight and spotlight!), and of course and at length about the food of the holidays!
Originally born in Naples, Marzia Molatore grew up near Valtellina, in northern Italy. About 15 years ago, she moved to Vancouver, Canada, where she teaches traditional Italian cooking.
Her case, however, is far more extraordinary than this. Recently, she shared on her blog the truth about the events that affected her life in Italy and which she has now started to leave behind. In the episode, Marzia shares more on her story and I am proud to have had the opportunity to record it directly from her own voice.
In the second part of our chat, Marzia talks about her cooking school and her goal to spread her love for cooking and dining together, as well as inspire more people to cook real food – an objective with which I couldn’t agree more!
You can follow Marzia on her blog, as well as on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Please join me in congratulating her for her incredible strength and fantastic attitude in life.
This episode’s guest is Pina Bresciani (pinabresciani.com), a talented food blogger based in Vancouver, Canada, with strong ties to Italy.
Join me as I learn more about Pina, starting from her upbringings in an Italian family in Vancouver, speaking Italian at home and English at school, and spending her summers at her grandparents in Sperlonga, a seaside town between Rome and Naples. Growing up, Pina continued to keep close ties to Italy, while growing fond of Vancouver’s natural beauty and multicultural vibe. In 2015, Pina decided to start a blog as a creative outlet and, naturally, she gravitated towards Italian culture, and, just as naturally, food became the main focus. Pina’s recipes show her continental Italian roots, at times incorporating a west coast influence, beautifully presented thanks to her amazing food photography.
During the episode, we touch on some of Pina’s posts:
Thoughts on the Table is back after a very long absence with an autobiographical episode. Following my relocation to England, I’ve now been living in my new home for five months, settling in and getting used to the local culture and habits. In this episode, my friend and recurring guest Nick Zingale takes the lead as we discuss the so-called culture shock experienced when relocating to a different country, as well as the “reverse” culture shock of going back to one’s native land.
How do we cope with culture shock? When do we start adopting new habits? If we go back, do the acquired habits stick? Do we see our native land differently? Join us as we try to answer these and more questions while trying to break down the differences between Canada, England, and Italy.
Hello everyone! Today this blog turns eight years old, prompting me to give an (overdue) update.
As you have heard in the latest podcast, and seen on “the social channels,” I have some big news. After spending over 17 years in Vancouver, two months ago I moved to England! Precisely, to the town of Guildford, 30 miles south-west of London. I won’t go too much into the reasons for the relocation, other than saying that they are both personal and professional, and that I am super excited about being here!
If you wonder what’s going to happen to this blog now that I am much closer to Italy and perhaps no longer bombarded by the worst Italian Food “interpretations,” please rest assured that I will continue the project! Even though England’s proximity to Italy, along with a much reduced Italian-American influence should result in a much closer rendition, Italian cuisine is still foreign, and as such, subject to adaptation to the local palate, and I have started to see this already. But in any case, what I’m interested in the most is food culture (and I think you are interested in it too!); England has so much to offer on that front, and I hope to dive into it over time.
For now, all I can do is share my first impressions. I may be stating the obvious, but, to me, the most noticeable difference between England and western Canada is that in England, the weight of history has resulted in a stronger national identity. However much I love Vancouver’s openness towards all cultures, it’s fascinating to now be exposed to more rooted customs, which may be even stronger in a small town such as Guildford. Moreover, it’s exciting to have the opportunity to explore and discover, for instance, that pretty much all cafes serve cream-tea, that the only fruit in fruit scones is raisins (or should I say sultanas?) and that crusty bread may be called a ‘bloomer’ (having no reason to be called “Italian!”)
I will talk more about British culture and traditions going forward, in comparison to the Italian and North American ones.
Now, onto a brief retrospective on this last year of blogging, or podcasting, as I should say. With only one article published, no recipes (boo!), and eight podcast episodes, it appears that I have been dedicating myself almost exclusively to Thoughts on the Table. I have certainly enjoyed producing each episode, along with my wonderful guests (some returning and some new): from the planning, to the recording, to the editing. If you missed any of them, here is a summary:
Returning guest, food blogger and photographer David Scott Allen returns on the show to discuss The Basic Rules of Italian Food, such as that no Italian would dare to cut spaghetti with a knife, or to have a cappuccino after a meal!
Food blogger Alida Zamparini returns to give us an update on her latest recipes and blogging trips. As you will hear, Alida has been focusing on regional Italian products and artisan craftsmanship, such as the production of ricotta in the Friulian Alps. Alida also introduces her passion for ancient grains such as spelt and Kamut Khorasan.
An interview with blogger Enzo De Chiara during which he explains his link to the United States and how he started his blog to document his food, travel, and lifestyle experiences across from his hometown of Bergamo (in northern Italy) and his adoptive city of Columbia, Missouri.
A Christmas episode with my friend and recurring guest Nick Zingale. In the episode, he describes how his Italian-American family celebrated Christmas over the years, with a special mention of the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
Neapolitan born and raised Giuseppe D’Angelo describes how he made a mission for himself to discover the best Neapolitan pizzerias around the world. In his blog, he praises how pizza makers outside of Naples can obtain an excellent product despite operating in less than ideal conditions.
Writer and editor Melinda King talks about her background in food and wine science and history and shares her view on the true nature of Italian food with an insightful analysis that transcends its well-known allure.
Hi! Here I am celebrating seven years of blogging and looking back at the past 12 months, as I do at this time every summer. Thank you for reading this post. Your choice to dedicate a bit of your precious time to me and to my work is humbling and makes me proud to be a blogger!
So, what happened in the last 12 months? The podcast Thoughts on the Table continued to be my main focus and has become a great passion. I enjoy every aspect of it, from the planning stages, through the ever-exciting moment of the recording, to the post-production and its magic. But among everything, I especially love the fact that the podcast allows me to work together with amazing people around the world and meet them face-to-face on Skype. In the last 12 months, I published 12 episodes with new and returning guests, including food writer Mark Preston, food bloggers Linda (Signorina Spaghetti) and Ale Gambini (A Queen in the Kitchen), restaurateur Simon Pagotto, as well as travel blogger and storyteller Nick Zingale, who has quickly become a recurring guest. This year, the podcast also hit an important milestone, its 50th episode! For the occasion, I was joined by my buddy Jason (with whom I started this series four years ago) for a special episode dedicated to balance in food.
The series has since hit 59 episodes, and still counting! I have already started working on new outlines with future guests and I look forward to organizing many more. If you’d like to be on the show, I’d love to work with you on themes that you find meaningful — please contact me for more information. BTW, the podcast is now available on Google Podcasts and on Stitcher, besides of course iTunes, and direct playback on the Internet Archive and on this blog.
“ I had discovered a parallel universe! A pretty unappetizing one […] the portions were too big, the pasta was either drowning in sauce or looked pale and overcooked, and the sauces looked overly rich.”
Finally, I’d like to thank all of you who follow me on the various social networks. Thanks for joining the discussion and for helping me preserve authentic, continental Italian food and its main qualities of simplicity, balance, and flavor. If you don’t already, please follow me on Instagram (where I also share my recommendations for good food in Vancouver or in Italy, and occasional pictures of my gorgeous cat); Facebook (where I sometimes take a provocative stance against the horrible Italian food aberrations I come across); Twitter (where I occasionally also share random thoughts of some wit); and of course on the blog itself, Disgraces on the Menu.
As always, your feedback is really important to me — if you have any corrections, suggestions, or ideas for future collaborations, please contact me! Thanks again.
I came to Vancouver in 2001, right after getting my Electronic Engineering degree. I had a six-month contract as a software engineer, joining an Italo-Canadian development team. Naturally, I was very excited for the professional experience that awaited me, but I was even more excited for the opportunity to discover a big new city in an enormous new continent – along with its language, its culture, and its food!
During my first few weeks, I trusted my Italian coworkers for food recommendations. They had been living in Vancouver for over a year already and had developed a liking for a pool of Asian and south Asian restaurants, but also for some Ethiopian and Greek establishments. I always loved discovering new cuisines, so I was happy to follow my coworkers around (also because I didn’t quite miss Italian food yet). During those days I learned how to use chopsticks and got to try a whole range of new dishes, including sushi – still one of my favorites.
When on my own, despite trying to expand my horizons to North American food, I kept going back to foreign food. Thinking of it, this is probably because “ethnic” restaurants were meant for foreigners – there, I could order my meal simply by pointing at a picture on the menu, or by reading the number next to it. In North American restaurants, instead, my Caucasian physiognomy was probably deceiving with regards to my language challenges – people expected me to speak English and therefore adjusted my words to their closest logical interpretation. This sometimes resulted in a different dish being brought to me instead of the one I ordered, like that time I was served a Caesar salad instead of a sesame salad, simply because I didn’t know the final ‘e’ in sesame is not silent.
Eventually, through trial and error, I learned how to order food. But I wasn’t totally immune to misadventure. One day, being quite desperate for something a bit more familiar, I stumbled into a McDonald’s and I distractedly ordered: “One cheeseburger and a beer.” In Italy every McDonald’s sells beer, so I mechanically assumed it would be an option in Vancouver as well. The guy at the till probably thought I skipped a word and gave me a burger and some kind of pop. Even though I realized quickly that it wasn’t beer (the fact that it came with a straw gave it away), I wasn’t really in a position to complain, as you can imagine. As I was eating my burger, I gulped down this strange soda. At first, I didn’t mind it, then I started experiencing the horrible feeling of having swallowed a cup of mouthwash! It took me months to realize that that day I had my first root beer. As of today, that root beer was my last!
I then moved from the hotel where I was staying into a small apartment. The kitchen wasn’t fully operative, but it had a microwave oven, so I thought I could try to cook some food for myself. Wandering around in a Superstore, I came across these large frozen “ravioli” filled with potatoes and cheese (the bag probably had the word ‘perogies’ written on it, but it didn’t register with me). The instructions on the package said that these dumplings could be cooked in the microwave, so I was hopeful they would be OK. I was completely wrong! These big, puffy semicircles were made of a thick, chewy dough which, despite having followed the cooking instructions, was definitely way undercooked and tasted quite funny. I ended up squeezing out the filling and eating it like mashed potatoes*.
While at the Superstore, something else caught my attention. I noticed some big blocks of orange cheese, which I recognized as the same cheese that McDonald’s puts in its cheeseburgers. I had never seen the “real thing” in block-form before, and I was especially fascinated by the “marbled” one in which bright orange and pale orange cheese are twirled together. So, after the perogies disaster, I went to the fridge hoping to improve my meal by finishing it with a piece of cheese. Well, that night I realized that this crustless, rubbery orange product is not something you want to just eat with bread like you would for a piece of Fontina or Scamorza… it’s so dry that it’s almost impossible to swallow, and it really tastes quite bland.
After a few months of sushi, dim sum, moussaka, chicken korma, and unsatisfying cheese, my excitement for new foods was starting to wear off. One day, I suddenly craved pasta. Luckily, I happened to walk past a restaurant chain called: The Old Spaghetti Factory. Of course, I didn’t expect to find my mom’s pasta there, but I also didn’t expect it to be too different from it. After all, a pasta dish is a pasta dish, right? Not at all. I had found a completely different kind of Italian food. I was outraged! Spaghetti and Meatballs, Chicken Pesto Penne, Linguini Alfredo… I had never heard of any of these dishes when I was living in Italy. I had discovered a parallel universe!
A pretty unappetizing one as well… the portions were too big, the pasta was either drowning in sauce or looked pale and overcooked, and the sauces looked overly rich. I ordered something which seemed a bit more familiar to me, clam linguini, but even that dish didn’t compare at all with the one I knew. I thought that maybe I had ended up in a strange “fusion” restaurant, but the more I looked around for other Italian restaurants, the more I became aware that they all served the same kind of unfamiliar dishes.
Looking more closely at some of these self-proclaimed Italian restaurants, I was particularly surprised to find a slew of spelling mistakes printed on their menus, which I actually found quite offensive. Don’t they know that we have spell checkers in Italy? Don’t they know that Italians very rarely make spelling mistakes? It’s a phonetic language! In a few cases, I almost offered to correct the menus myself, but then I realized that maybe these errors were for the best after all, since they acted like unintentional warnings to native Italians, hopefully sending them off to the Chinese restaurant next door, perhaps with an equally misspelled menu, but that they would have never been able to call out.
Meanwhile, my first work contract had ended and I was offered a full-time job, which I actually still hold now, 15 years later. During the following years I kept running into distorted Italian food, and somehow Italian food was becoming even more popular in Vancouver. In 2010, I decided to have some fun and start a pretentious blog aimed at fixing Italian food in North America. In my opening post, I wrote: “I will say the proper ways to write the names of Italian dishes. And, from what I know, I will also try to say how the dish should look and taste… for sure I will say how the dish most definitely *shouldn’t* look or taste!”
This was just the beginning, though, and as I continued blogging my initial rant turned into something a bit more useful. I started investigating the root differences between the food of Italy and the food of North America, which are as much in the ingredients as in the culinary culture. I also learned that Italian-American food is a cuisine in its own right, historically rooted and not less authentic than the cuisine of Milan. However, I think that Italian-American food should be labeled as such, and I hope that going forward more restaurants and chefs will celebrate it by calling it out on their menus instead of labeling it as generically “Italian.”
Since I started the blog, however, things have begun to change. I am not sure I can take credit for it, but it’s indisputable that thanks to YouTube and true Italian food blogs people can get accurate descriptions of all kinds of cuisines directly from the people who grew up eating them. In this changing landscape, more and more Italian restaurateurs are discovering that they can be successful outside of Italy without compromising by adapting their menus to local expectations. As a result, the Italians abroad can more easily find the Italian food they’re familiar with.
I think that the new global awareness is also reflected in an increased availability of ingredients. Naturally, North America’s produce is still very different from the Italian because of climate and composition of the soil, but, at least in big cities, it is now easier to find Italian grocery stores and to cook traditional continental Italian without having to substitute any key ingredients. Overall, I don’t see this as globalization, but quite as the opposite – it’s a phenomenon which validates local realities and traditional cuisines, ultimately preserving them in their immense richness and protecting them from accidentally merging into one another. Cross pollination and fusion cuisine will of course still happen, but, hopefully, they will become more deliberate than they have been in the past. _____ * It took me years, but I eventually came across properly cooked east European perogies and discovered that they are actually delicious.↑
I’m from northern Italy – only been to Sicily once – and I only had heard about this dish before moving to Canada. Thanks to my friends food-bloggers, however, this dish tickled my attention, I starting making it, and I think it has already become part of my repertoire! What I love about Pesto alla Trapanese is how fresh it tastes, and that it can be prepared quickly (as the pasta cooks) and pretty much all year-round (unlike Pesto alla Genovese which requires large amounts of fresh basil, which is best in the summer).
Since I’m far from an authority on this dish, I’m presenting a variation over Frank Fariello‘s rendition. Similarly, it makes use of uncooked cherry tomatoes that are mixed in with other ingredients in a blender – a method quite common these days, as opposed to using mortar and pestle (which is traditional and at the origins of the name “pesto”). Aside from the blending technique, I substituted Pecorino for the milder (though geographically incorrect!) Parmigiano, and increased the amount of almonds for a grittier and drier sauce.
Pesto alla Trapanese, with almonds and fresh tomatoes
Yield: 2 servings
Total Time: 15 minutes
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
6-8 (140 g, 5 oz in weight) cherry or strawberry tomatoes
1 garlic clove, minced
8 basil leaves
40 g (1 ½ oz) almonds, blanched (chopped or whole)
40 g (1 ½ oz) Parmigiano, coarsely grated
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
140 g (5 oz) spaghetti, linguine, or even short pasta like farfalle or fusilli
coarse salt (1/2 Tbsp per liter, 2 Tbsp per gallon of boiling water)
Bring a big pot of water to a boil.
Toast the almonds in a pan at high heat for a couple of minutes until they get some color, but before they turn dark.
Core the tomatoes and score their skin (see illustration on the side).
Boil the tomatoes for 20 seconds, then dip them in cold water to stop the cooking. Keep the water boiling, you’re going to use it to cook the pasta.
Salt the water and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box.
As the pasta cooks, peel the tomatoes and squeeze them to remove seeds and excessive liquid.
In a blender, mix all ingredients so that they turn creamy, but still a bit coarse. I used an immersion blender and it worked very well.
When the pasta is cooked, drain it and put it back in the pot along with the pesto. Mix gently and serve immediately.
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