The end of the Italian Greedy Cook’s quest

Ostuni in Puglia

All Soul's Day procession, Tucson AZ, 2008
All Soul’s Day procession, Tucson AZ, 2008

I was rather sad last night knowing I was watching the last of the series of four programmes, Two Greedy Italians which has delighted me these past weeks. Indeed, the programme itself  had an aura of sadness as they attended the Puglia celebrations for the day of the dead, All Souls Day, Gennaro spent time in the church remembering the souls of the departed. They visited a monastery that used to be renowned for growing and cooking fabulous food for the monks.They found the gardens abandoned, the produce sold was not produced in the monastery but came from nearby, the food that was once renowned, prepared in the wonderful kitchen, now modest. The reason soon became obvious as the numbers of visitors who come to view the relics increases exponentially the numbers of men willing to devote their lives to God has diminished, leaving only 5 monks to not only tend to their religious duties but oversee the visitors, acting as guides, not really what they signed up for I’m sure. Antonio and Gennaro also visited the shrine of Saint Padre Pio , Gennaro’s personal saint, here again commercialism and popularism has overrun its simple spiritual origins. Gennaro was sincere in his firm beliefs and I can understand that part of him which yearns for a simpler more contemplative life away from the materialistic temptations of today.  I could see Antonio’s sadness at this rampant commercialism that seems to have overtaken the spiritual. Wherever in this world of ours something attracts a following, whether it be saintly or sinful, not far behind there will be someone with an eye to making a fast buck out of it. The the tale of Jesus turning out the money lenders from the temple sprang to mind.

But later in the programme Antonio and Gennaro go foraging in the woods for mushrooms and I agreed wholeheartedly with Antonio’s sentiment that here in the heart of the countryside, where life and death are in a – circle and the towering trees form an arch above your head with the breeze rustling the leaves, is the true cathedral of god. Here one can feel the presence of something far more powerful than ourselves at work. Churches, cathedrals and all that is inside them are man – made, surely to feel a creator’s presence you should put yourself in the heart of their creations. All the paraphernalia that goes with religions is superfluous, just look at a  beautiful flower, watch the surf of the ocean, hug a tree here you will see and feel true majesty.

It is not difficult to see that life today is very complicated and there are pressures that lie all around us, more and more people need something to cling to that gives them a feeling of security , something to believe in, to know that someone is looking out for them. But too how sad that there are always unscrupulous people out to exploit that?

Through these four programmes it has become obvious how genuinely fond these two men are of each other, despite the inevitable minor irritations that surely are found in all relationships over a period of time. They share a passion for food and their  homeland and this to me is so reminiscent of Cypriots. As they travelled through Italy and visited the different regions with their speciality foods, the similarities to the rural way of life in Cyprus came back to me time and again. I bid a  fond farewell to two greedy Italians.

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More Greedy Italians

Amalfi Coast Italy 6

Image via Wikipedia

I of course had to see what those cheeky Greedy Italians were up to this week after last week’s pursuit of the traditional Italian woman. This week they ventured to the Amalfi coast, with those breathtaking views of verdant hillside precipitously running down to meet the glittering azure blue sea. This is where Gennaro grew up and he showed he hadn’t forgotten the skills he used as a boy for diving for fish from the sea bed, from which Antonio conjured up a quick and tasty shellfish linguini.

What struck me with this episode is how closely it resembled my sentiments about my journey to Cyprus in search of their culinary heritage. The bounty of nature is the same as in Cyprus, Antonio and Gennaro revelling in the freshness of juicy peaches and apricots just picked from the tree and not even bothering to pick the grapes off the vine before gorging on their black lusciousness. Lemons hanging profusely from the tree hanging over their terrace where Antonio rustled up a mouth – watering  lemon tart, if only I could have passed my hand through the telly and taken a slice, it looked so good.

In the 1950’s this area as with Cyprus, was very poor and they made do with whatever nature provided and wasted nothing. Necessity is ever the mother of invention and that certainly goes as far as inventing delicious food out of simple ingredients. These families, as with Cypriot villagers, kept, chickens, pigeons, goats and pigs to fatten up and eat. Pasta was eaten at the beginning of the meal to fill hungry bellies when there was possibly very little meat to go round in the second course if any at all. They ventured even further south to Naples,this is the birthplace of the pizza the now famous fast food. These regions ate what was known as”poor man’s food”  and the irony is that today this food is popular the world over and indeed turned into a cuisine that is served in  5 star restaurants. But as Gennaro says, when the ingredients are this fresh and eaten in these surroundings you couldn’t wish for anything more.

Two Greedy Italian Cooks

I was watching a new cookery series on telly last night called “Two Greedy Italian Cooks” which I found both very sweet, very Italian, very funny and very sad all at the same time. These two famous Italian chefs Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo go in search of that  legendary Italian female  who is a fabulous cook and homemaker. Antonio is doubtful she still exists with most women going out to work with little time to cook and indeed they came across plenty of young unmarried women who know nothing of cooking and were not particularly bothered; although Antonio was of the opinion that unless you can cook you will not find a husband  (hummmm?) What do you say to that? The men were bothered of course and in one cafe  where they were chatting to a group of young women and one solitary male who was bemoaning the fact that he missed home cooking as his partner worked very hard and had no time to cook so (sigh) he had to cook. One young woman had the audacity to say that wouldn’t it be lovely to find a young man who could cook for them? Now it didn’t seem to occur to  these two greedy cooks, that they were, indeed, capable of cooking a lovely meal for the hard working girls and surely instead of expecting the women to take sole responsibility for cooking a family meal that they could promote  both the men and the girls learn to cook “lika mamma used ta make” after all that is what they did. “Lungo la parità live” or in English, long live equality I say!!!

They were very relieved to see that a cookery school has been established which teaches women how to make pasta, The Awaiting Table, in the south of Italy. On visiting this… well who should they see but one of the hard working young women they had spoken to earlier who couldn’t cook for toffee and had obviously decided after Antonio’s pronouncement, she had better buck her ideas up and learn to cook that pasta or she will be left on the shelf along with her bag of flour.

However, I agreed  wholeheartedly with Carluccio’s sentiment that “cooking for someone is an act of love.” I love cooking for others, not all the time mark you but I certainly get a kick out of it.

My grandmother passed her knowledge down to my auntie who cooked along side her when she was alive and I was privileged that she gave my cousin Androula and I a master class in how to make pasta the Cypriot way when I visited last  May to gather information for my book “Androula’s Kitchen”. I am pleased to read on the Awaiting Table web site, that the traditional Italian way to make pasta is identical to that which aunt Eugenia showed us, using just flour and water and a very long rolling pin.