Monthly Archives: April 2012

Italian Rum Cake

April and May are busy months for birthday within my family and circle of friends. So you can imagine how many parties and cakes we eat in these two months. Today you can find about a thousand different types of cakes to celebrate with. The usual chocolate and vanilla are standards. Red Velvet, Orange blossom, Oreo, not so standard but very popular.

 

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But what about the good old fashion Italian Rum Cake? As a kid that’s all we ever had. I don’t particularly remember liking it, however, it became a staple at every birthday. Imagine 4 and 5 year olds gathered around a rum cake when all our American friends would boast about fudgy chocolate cakes with cartoon characters on top. The most we got out of a decorative cake was three or four roses and almond coating around the cake.

When we got old enough to start ordering our own type, chocolate or vanilla became our choice of cakes.

This past weekend we celebrated my cousin Chicky’s 40th birthday. Over 70 people attended a fun party at a chinese restaurant. (yes- chinese) What Italian doesn’t like Chinese food??? – save that for another time.

My cousin is probably the only one of all the cousins who really enjoys Italian Rum Cake. As I grew older I learned to appreciate the exciting flavors of an Italian Rum Cake again; filled with creamy chocolate and vanilla cream, bits of peaches and strawberries in between two layers of soaked rum (sugar) spongy cake.

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Photo of Italian Rum Cake from Modern Pastry, Boston, (North End)

I laugh everytime birthdays come around and the conversations I have with my cousin over what kind of cake are we having tonight!

My birthday is coming up in May – I’ll have a choice of different cakes of course, but it will be tough — maybe I’ll just go old school and order an Italian Rum Cake… you really can’t go wrong with that!

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Cured Meat

My friend Felix Cutillo sent me an interesting link to a Huffington Post article about Cured Meats.


Photo by Felix Cutillo

The article explains how cured meat is becoming more fashionable to Americans. Got me thinking of my parents and their friends spending winter days curing there own meat and sausage.

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Photos by Lisa Capogreco

The article stated “This process will take at least several months, and can even take a couple of years. And while many European cured meats are still made the old-fashioned way, some of them have changed with the times (which is not always a good thing). This means that nitrates, nitrites and sodium, which are pumped and loaded in most American deli meats, can unfortunately often be found in many of these cured meats.”

The amount of time and work it takes to make the perfect sopressata, prosciutto and capicolla can be quite long. My family uses the recipes passed on, with nary a perservative to be found.

I know I’m lucky to enjoy a slice of homemade sopressata or prosciutto because unlike the products you will find in supermarkets, these meats are not filled with perservatives just a lot of love!

What I would bring to Pasquetta


After any holiday there is always the feeling of “let down”. The hype and excitement is over. For the people who do the actual cooking it might be a relief but in some ways a let down. That’s why I appreciate the way Italians enjoy life, beginning with the holidays.

Easter or Pasqua is celebrated on Sunday with a home cooked meal. The following day “Pasquetta” is celebrated where the majority of people flock to the countryside for picnics and barbeques. There is still some preparation involved but the food is usually simple; grilled meats, sopressata, breads, cheeses, olives and a lots of good wine.

If I were to celebrate “Pasquetta” on Monday, this is what I would bring with me.

Photos taken by © Felix Cutillo

So, the “letdown” after a holiday doesn’t exist in Italy.

Mastering the Art of Nothing

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I observe alot and come up with my assumptions on people, food, and life, which we know are all intertwined.

Italians are simple. They use simple ingredients to make the most remarkable dishes. Take a simple dish of homemade pasta with tomato sauce. It’s fresh, natural and simply simple. Take the conversation that ensues around the pasta dish. We discuss the process, the type of flour used, the type of sauce it’s served with. We go deeper into what tastes better, dry pasta or homemade. Which sauces go better with certain pasta. Yesterday we were treated to homemade pasta, courtesy of my mother in law, Norma.  

But this entry is not focusing on food, it’s about people.

The holidays bring everyone together around food. But I am here to point out how Italians take “Nothing and make art of it” It’s no secret that Italians are passionate and at times, very dramatic. In one of my favorite movies, “Marty” two elderly sisters sit side by side and one complains about her daughter in law and the way she treats her, in reality (in the film) she treats her just fine, but the mother in law takes it as really bad. Her sister replies to her, “Caterina, don’t make -a – tragedy out of everything”.

I laughed so hard when I first saw that scene and silently agreed that Italians can make “tragedy out of everything” or as I say in a more positive way, “mastering the art of nothing”.

I love listening to conversations and seeing how people interact. When I was Italy I was especially intent on observing the art of conversations among Italians. It’s there that I discovered that insignificant things in general like the weather or a cup of espresso are not as insignifcant as I thought.

To Italians, everything is important. The way a shirt falls off your shoulders, the hem on your slacks has to be just right. A scratch on a shoe? God forbid!

We are in America and things haven’t changed that much.I noticed that at the dinner table the day expands into conversation after conversation and the next thing you know it’s 9PM and your legs feel restless from sitting all day. Italians around the world were feasting yesterday and I can only imagine the topics of conversation. I am sure it went from the best place to buy a pound of mortadella while debating the merits of pistachio or black pepper and making sure it’s imported!

Most dinners can erupt in heated debates over politics or sports, which can also be entertaining, however, in my opinion “the art of nothing” is really something. As long as it doesn’t become a bigger problem than what it is or as I quoted a “tragedy”. “Nothing” can actually be spirited, fun and lighthearted, especially after a few glasses of wine!

In Italy, today is Pasquetta, a holiday after Easter where people flock to the countryside to picnic and relax and recuperate after a long day of eating. How appropriate for Italians to celebrate Pasquetta, after all it’s just another day to do “nothing”.

In this photo you see my mother in law making homemade pasta and for the record, she doesn’t “make -a- tragedy about everything”  🙂

 

Italian Easter Egg

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Easter is one of my favorite holidays if not truly my favorite. Even as a kid I loved to dress up with a new dress and hat and go to Easter Mass. I always wanted the Easter Bunny to stop at my house but hardly ever did. In our Italian culture, the Easter Bunny didn’t exist. To compensate I would get a big Chocolate Easter Egg with a surprise in the middle from my father. These eggs are very popular in Italy and since my father at the time had an Italian specialty shop he sold a lot during Easter.

Can’t say I really loved the chocolate because they were all bittersweet chocolate eggs. Today, you can find milk chocolate, white chocolate, and a much better choice than bittersweet for a kid.

I relate to Easter as “bittersweet”. I loved the symbolism behind Easter, a time of renewal – a time of rebirth. The season of letting go of the past and dreaming of what the future will bring.
Saddened by the events occurring in Holy Week when Jesus died on the Cross for our salvation it was also a joyous time when he rose on Easter Sunday.

During Easter I reflect a lot on the ones that have passed on my life. Again, it saddens me but then I believe in the resurrection and get comfort believing that they are in a special place. I think about my grandmother, my aunt and how they used to bake the Easter breads, cook the goat – yes we eat goat, and the other good stuff on Sunday. Thankfully my mother is still keeping these traditions alive and I chronicle them.
Our Easter “tavola” is not 20-30 anymore, more like 8-10. We still get together and luckily I can still celebrate with the same cousins I celebrated with since I was born. We get to share with their kids our tradition and yes the Easter Bunny visits them; fortunately not with “bittersweet” chocolate.

Sometimes when I bite into a chocolate on Easter I think about the bittersweet eggs and sometimes long for it. It reminds me that life is bittersweet especially at Easter time. I count my blessings everyday and appreciate all the great things in my life, especially my family. I might just buy that bittersweet egg to remind me of my culture that made me who I am; and to remind me that life is just that – bitter and sweet at the same time!
Buona Pasqua a Tutti!