I grew up with a devoutly Francophone mother. She came into her culinary own during the Julia Child wave, and I can vividly remember watching “The French Chef” with her when I was a child. While I enjoy French food and cooking and am still trying to master all the classic techniques, my tastebuds took me on a different path, and I really fell in love instead with Italian cuisine and food principles. Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to find myself in a room full of similarly-minded people at an event put together by the Casa Italia Atletica listening to the representatives of several provinces talking about food, wine, and sport.
Titled “Italy that still runs – genuine passion,” this is one in a series of global events that Casa Italia Atletica is doing to promote Italian products overseas and was being held in New York because of the marathon on Sunday. Fred Plotkin, author of several books on Italy, was the moderator and translator for the panels, which included presentations by representatives from Ascoli Piceno, Reggio Calabria, Molise, Siena, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lazio, and the Confederazione italiana agricoltori (agricultural representatives association). I was invited to attend by Susannah Gold of Vigneto Communications, whom I know from graduate school. Of course, in addition to the discussions, there were some wonderful samples of food, drink, and olive oils to try.
What was intriguing about these panels was to hear the passion that each person has for his or her region’s products. Having lived in Italy and having traveled around a little bit, these discussions, some of which can be seen on the Casa Italia Atletica website, made me miss the country and the food as I haven’t for a while and also made me realize that there are so many other wonderful areas that I haven’t yet had a chance to explore. One of the overall themes was the link between eating good, high-quality food and how that connects to health: of the people, of the region, and of the country. It is these values that they are seeking to share and to promote with others through this project.
Among the issues that came up was the preservation of Italy’s biodiversity from trends like genetically modified corn, which it has been battling. A couple of representatives also talked about how they keep the fish stocks in the coastal regions from being over-subscribed or compromised so that the traditional foods can still be made and people can be fed as they have always been. Still another area that was talked about was just the communication and awareness in general of the type and quality and uses for genuine Italian products in the overseas markets. Unfortunately, however, sometimes what is labeled “Packed in Italy” is not the same as “Made in Italy.” This is something that we as consumers must also note if we want to support products that we would expect to find coming from there, in quality as well as in price.
The Italians’ closeness to the land and the sensitivity that is housed in their cultural DNA for only the best of the best whether it is shoes, clothes, cars, food or wine, is something of which Plotkin asked them to keep guardianship. If you have had the chance to spend time there, you get it. You know how fiercely proud the Italians are at making the best; their pasta, cheese, meat, etc. is always better than that of the neighboring town or region. It sets the bar higher for everyone else to make sure that they are buying and eating the highest quality (la piu alta qualita) of what is available to them. I even had a work colleague in Bologna who told me that she could determine whether a pasta was rolled out by hand or machine just by the taste and texture of it. I wish my own senses were that acute.
In addition to the discussions, we were given an opportunity to try some of these wonderful products for ourselves. During the first break we sampled the delicious meats and cheeses provided by the sponsors, as well as several kinds of wines and olive oils. Paolo Caridi, a renowned pastry chef, was there dishing out desserts and presenting a discussion about the wonders of bergamot, of which he is the global ambassador. Some of the desserts were made using this fragrant citrus fruit, which is also a component in Earl Grey tea.
The entire event wrapped up with a pasta dinner, fitting for a few days prior to the marathon. Again, these dishes, simple as they might seem in presentation, embodied the themes of the panels. Really, really excellent top-quality ingredients brought together to make an incredible tasty and satisfying meal: olive oil in the rigatoni with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella dancing on my tongue with its brightness; capellini delicately clinging to each strand without a soupy mess left behind; spaghetti with garlic, red pepper, and fragrant olive oil spicy and clean-tasting; and earthy truffles studding the cavatelli coated with the barest hint of cream warming my palate. These are the dishes that remind me once again that about how well Italy runs and what amazing things a passion for wonderful ingredients produces.