Italo-american - Eating Without Fear
( Originally Published 1923 )
Nearly thirty years ago I had a friend who fell from grace, in that he' married a coryphée of the Metropolitan Opera ballet. But she made him a good wife, was an excellent mother to the very many children with whom she presented him, and died beloved and respected by all. To her I owe a life-long debt of gratitude. She taught me how to make spaghetti and rissorto.
The more I think of it the more am I convinced that spaghetti was the mess of red pottage for which Esau sold his birthright. But the spaghetti one gets at the Italian table d'hôte restaurants, is not the spaghetti of Signora Fiametta. And then there was a something about Fiametta—the way she prepared the dish, her dainty movements as she flitted from the table to the stove, her dancing black eyes as she kissed her finger tips when she tasted a drop of the seething sauce. And then she would laugh and explain, "Alonzo, he ees so particular." As a matter-of-fact, Lon was as easy-going as a man could be, he would have eaten anything put before him. It was she who insisted that her spaghetti should be absolutely perfect. She had three ways of cooking it,—all delicious and really equally good.
She would make a pot-roast of beef or veal, larding the little joint profusely with cloves of garlic, slit length-wise. Then in a saucepan she would pour a generous allowance of olive oil,—the real Italian green olive oil that has a wonderful bouquet. In this oil she would boil, not fry, three onions chopped fine and two cloves of garlic sliced across the clove. As soon as these commenced to turn a pale yellow she would add a can of tomato sauce, not just canned tomatoes, but the sauce sold by Italian grocers for the purpose. A little salt, a little pepper, a pinch of mixed herbs and a bay-leaf, and then the pot would be drawn to one side to simmer an hour or more. And then Fiametta would get down her largest saucepan and half fill it with water which she would bring to a sharp boil. Into this she would put a heaped tablespoonful of salt and then gently insert the spaghetti. I say "gently insert" advisedly, because her great care was not to break it. The main point is to keep the "spaghette" in the longest strands. It would take about twenty minutes to boil and become sufficiently soft, without getting pappy or pasty. Then she would strain it through a colander, turn it back into its saucepan, over it pour the tomato sauce, and before serving the meat, add its rich brown gravy to the already delicious dish. Over this she would sprinkle some grated cheese.
And then when it was served no knives were on the table, only a spoon , and fork. The proper way to eat spaghetti after grated cheese has been added, is to hold the spoon in the left hand, pick up one strand of spaghetti on the fork and twiddle it round so that it forms a ball on the end of the fork. It is then eaten. Italians claim that to break the spaghetti toughens it, besides which it makes it difficult to eat. We have all seen olive-hued gentlemen from Mediterranean's shores "absorb" spaghetti,—almost like vacuum cleaners,--but I am convinced that this is not considered "manners" in Italy, and I am sure that Fiametta's way was the right way. And she did eat spaghetti most divinely.
It is just as well not to go to a dance or even a theater after this most excellent of dishes. The garlic makes one an outcast for several hours, but it is worth it.
Sometimes Fiametta would vary the sauce by using chicken livers instead of pot-roast gravy, but the rest of the tomato sauce was, to all intents and purposes, the same.
And. then sometimes I might appear unexpectedly. "Fiametta," I would say, "my soul craves spaghetti." "Ah, signor, I am not making it today, and you know what time it takes." "Corpo di Baccho !" I would exclaim, "I must and will have spaghette." And then her eyes would half close and her pretty teeth would ?how between her parted lips. "Si, si, Signor. Sit down and have patience. Alonzo, he is not here yet. Take one of pees what you call?—stogies, and wait." And she would get the water ready in which to boil the spaghetti. Then down would come the olive oil; into a saucepan it would go with some garlic. The water boils, the spaghetti is cooked. Alonzo appears and we all sit down to a plain boiled spaghetti, over which is poured the garlic-impregnated oil, and grated cheese covers the whole. A pint of red wine per head was Fiametta's allowance-no more, no less.
And now when I make spaghetti for a guest, I always tell him I learned to make it from an Italian ballet girl. And he always looks shocked, or coy, or whatever the expression is meant to be. It is always the same. But you, I am sure, will allow that my "affaire" with Fiametta, was such as my maiden aunt might envy.
Rissorto is rice cooked in the same way as spaghetti. Both of these are better on the second day, when the sauce has thoroughly permeated the paste or rice. The cheese is all important and either Parmesan or Roman should be used, but it should be freshly grated and not bought bottled. It is also well to buy the spaghetti, macaroni or whatever Italian paste you desire at a real Italian shop. The packet paste, German and French paste, are not nearly so good. If you have never taken a trip through the Italian quarter of one of Our big cities it is well worth your while to do so. It is almost as good as visiting a foreign country.
For those who jib at the idea of garlic, macaroni cheese is very nice as a savory. A custard is made of two eggs and half a pint of milk with a pinch of salt. This is put into a deep dish and macaroni which has been previously broken into pieces and soaked in water for an hour is placed therein. The whole is put into a very slow oven and as soon as it has risen and formed a skin on top, a thick layer of grated cheese and several small pieces of butter, both well peppered, are laid over it and it is replaced in the oven to finish cooking.
Sweet macaroni pudding is made with sweet custard and the top is covered with powdered sugar or meringue.
The figured Italian paste makes a nice garnish for clear soups and vermicilli is excellent in chicken broth. Some people like Vermicilli pudding. I don't.
Veal Cutlet it la Charlie Sadler
Charlie Sadler was a first-rate cook, but he used to drink. We always knew when he had had too much, be-cause he used to buy candy and pipes, and as he never ate candy and never smoked anything but cigarettes, when Charlie appeared and unloaded pipes and candy, we knew what to expect. But when he was sober he was an excellent plain cook, and the way he treated veal cutlet is worth recording. Veal cutlet is tasteless in itself, and one gets terribly tired of "Weiner Schnitzel," the only thing I could ever order at a German restaurant (before the war) because it was the only thing I could read in their impossible language.
You require a cutlet about three-quarters of an inch thick. You then chop a small onion and some parsley as fine as possible; add a pinch of mixed herbs and some celery seeds and re-chop; salt, pepper, cayenne, and a tea-spoonful of flour. Mix all together and then add a tea spoonful of Worcester sauce, making the whole into a round cake, like a muffin. Put a very little bacon fat or butter in a frying pan, just enough to grease it, and put in the cutlet, on the top of which you place your cake of dressing. Cover the pan with a saucepan cover or plate, and let it cook very slowly for fifteen minutes. Then carefully lift off the dressing, turn the cutlet, replace the dressing, and cover the pan as before for another fifteen minutes. Veal should be cooked very slowly and very thoroughly. As soon as it is cooked put it on a hot dish in the oven, and turn the dressing into the pan. Fry this over a hot fire, rousting it around with the back of a fork to prevent its burning; pour over it a little less than half a pint of boiling water, boil it for a minute, and then turn it over the cutlet and serve. It is truly excellent.
I have some native-born American friends with whom I often take luncheon. They are never tired of chaffing me about English mustard, which they seem to think I eat with everything, and their joy is complete when the waiter brings German mustard.
Now there seems to be some mystery about the making of English mustard, and yet it is simply the plain powdered mustard, (Colman's for preference), just as it comes out of the tin, mixed with a little cold water. Nothing else.
As to the dishes %with which it is eaten: anything indigestible, rich or liable to upset or impede digestion. Of course only a very little should be taken, but the idea is to promote the flow of the gastric juices and prevent that very unpleasant sensation of tasting the food half-an-hour after eating it. Therefore, mustard should be taken with beef, pork, goose, duck, veal, rabbit, sausages, kidneys, liver and bacon, ham, tongue, venison and anything which is liable to be indigestible. It is not taken with lamb, chicken, or fish, but I would rather have indigestion than take it with grouse, partridge, quail, woodcock, or any of the delicious birds which come under the head of "game.
It is, however, taken with Welsh rarebit which, without it, is the most indigestible dish that comes from the kitchen, bar stewed cheese.