Cooking with Italians

In The Godfather Clemenza delivers my favorite line after his driver was murdered:

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Since that scene, the quote has evolved into something of a mantra that basically means ‘don’t sweat it, move on. Take the cannoli and go.’ Yeah, that’s a cool mantra! Ok! But what I really love about this scene is that Clemenza took a second from his routine chaos to remember he promised his family that he would bring home dessert.

Clemenza’s responsibility to bring good food to the table was his highest priority – and this is a high priority shared by my Italian friends in Maastricht. I’ve now enjoyed three meals prepared by Italians – and they have been some of my favorite meals in my 20 years of eating!

My friend Kristen and I were invited to eat REAL Italian pasta after we told our friend, Lukas, how horrible we are at cooking. As Americans, Kristen and I get impatient while making pasta. Sometimes we put the pasta in before the water boils, or maybe stop cooking too early. We use store bought pasta, the cheapest one. To us, pasta is an affordable dinner that is fairly easy to make.

Don’t. Ever. Tell. An. Italian. These. Pasta. Sins.

Lukas walked us through the proper Italian way to make pasta, and it honestly looked like he was making a different meal because there was SO much more that goes into making pasta than throwing noodles into a boiling pot of water.

My favorite moment of the cooking tutorial was when Lukas pulled out his iPhone, and casually set a pasta timer. HE HAS AN APP FOR PASTA. Once Kristin and I could control our laughter, he showed us how the app has different settings depending on the type of pasta, what sauces you should pair with each noodle – it was very extensive.

After hearing the words, but never quite knowing what they meant, I FINALLY learned what ‘al dente’ means! Lukas and our other Italian friend, Michael, perfectly explained the meaning like true Italians – with their hands. ‘Al dente’ means firmness of the noodle to the teeth. Both explained by pretending to gnaw on a noodle, because when words are limited, the Italians have a way of visual expression.

We learned to cook like Italians, then during dinner, we learned to talk like them.

537109_10200503426975193_1990973699_nThroughout dinner, Lukas and Michael would switch off explaining different hand gestures and how to use them. It is almost an art of communicating. These hand motions are universally understood within Italy. Often words fail us, and when words fail in Italy, there is a dynamic way to express yourself with your hands.

Grazie (Godfather) Lukas and Michael!

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Some friends came over to our dorm to enjoy wine and each other’s company. Our group consisted of two people from the USA, three from Norway, one from Israel, and three from Italy. We had wine, cheese crackers and salami to snack on. When that was all eaten, the Italians took over. I said I was hungry, and BOOM all three Italians congregated around the stove.

Kristen and I handed over the pasta noodles and canned sauces we had on hand…and faced much disgust about or culinary decisions. Trying to compensate for our pasta inadequacies, we handed over all our fresh produce also. Heated Italian discussions fired up in the kitchen as they tried to decide what to do with their very limited ingredient options.

For the next thirty minutes our kitchen was an Italian cooking battle-zone! Coming from different parts of Italy, all three had differing opinions on everything – from how much oil to use, to how long to cook the pasta. For the rest of us, it was an hysterical display of pasta maniacs and a blast to watch our Italian friends acting very Italian. For the chefs, it was an important art form to not be messed up.

Somehow, with the pathetically lacking ingredients, they pulled it off! Pasta was flowing onto our plates, and new plates were pulled out for every new person who came down our hallway. I understand now why Italians make such large quantities of food – it welcomes people to the table!

As Nora titled this photo: Italian cooking, by Italians. How exotic.


 The third Italian meal I enjoyed was again, by the one and only Lukas!

He prepared a traditional south Tyrolean meal/snack – including the delicious dry-cured, lightly smoked ham called prosciutto!

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 In true Italian form, the meal was inviting to everyone. Nobody had plates, and the dishes were easy to access. People had their hands free to pop in a snack, then talk to a new friend. Italy does it right. Food is not only enjoyable, it also brings together friends for a great meal. I’m so pleased Italians understand the value of dining because many of my new friends have been met over a bowl of spaghetti or handful of prosciutto.

Alla salute!

PS We want to host a Thanksgiving feast for our Italian friends, but we only have a stove top and microwave, no oven! Ah! Have ideas about traditional Thanksgiving food that doesn’t require an oven? Please comment!

Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Uncategorized

4 Responses to Cooking with Italians

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  2. grandmother

    Reagan, you can make dressing, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows and serve them with sliced thick pieces of turkey from the deli along with a can of cranberry sauce and a jar of turkey gravy if they have them at your grocery store.

    DRESSING: Items needed: Stale bread-Large onion-Celery-Butter-Salt-Poultry seasoning-Chicken broth- one Egg. Day before, take a loaf of bread and tear it up into 1/2 inch pieces and lay it out on a piece of newspaper to dry out. Cut up one large onion and five stalks of celery into 1/4 inch pieces. Melt 1/2 stick butter in large frying pan and cook onions and celery until soft. Add a stick of butter to the pan and melt. Stir in the bread. In a sauce pan add egg, salt and poultry seasoning to the chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Pour over the bread mixture and gently stir. Cover and cook in the microwave for 3 min.

    GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE: Items needed: 2 cans cream of mushroom soup- 1 cup of milk-2teaspoons soy sauce- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper- 8cups cooked cut green beans (four 15 1/2 oz. cans)-1 can (6 oz.) French Fried Onions.
    Stir soup, milk, soy sauce, black pepper, beans and 1& 1/3 cups onions in a 3-qt. casserole. Put in microwave and cook until hot. Stir. Top with remaining onions. Microwave for 1 minute.

    SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE: Items needed: 4 large sweet potatoes- 1 1/2cups milk- 6 Tablespoons butter-2 Tablespoons sugar-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon- 1 bag large marshmallows.
    Peel sweet potatoes and cut into chunks (2 inches). Put into pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook until fork tender (about 20 to 25 minutes). Drain. In a small pot, heat milk and butter until warm but not boiling. Take from heat, add sugar and cinnamon. Mash potatoes, add milk mixture and whip. Cover with marshmallows. Heat until soft.

    Reagan, good luck! There’s a wonderful saying about Thanksgiving. “There is no right or wrong way to relish the day. It’s the spirit behind the effort that becomes the Memory”. With love, Grandmother

    • Reagan J Payne

      Thanks so much Grandmother! Green bean casserole is always one of my favorites, so I will definitely be trying it out! What a wonderful quote also, so many great memories from our Thanksgivings together as a family. This weekend I went to the Museum Boysmans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam and got a postcard for you! I need to figure out where to purchase Dutch stamps and how to mail it, but some day soon it will make it to Cape Girardeau! A statue by Edgar Degas made me think of you and how much fun you’ve always provided for little girls like Yuliana and Katya – it was a real joy to admire in the museum and think of all of you back home! The postcard is of the statue but doesn’t quite do the work justice. Regardless, it will be heading overseas to you! Much love, Reagan.

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