Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Spending time in the kitchen

This Christmas I made anolini in brodo (stuffed pasta cooked in broth) along with fresh tortelli with a chestnut stuffing finished in butter and fresh sage. The mains included a traditional bollito misto (a dish of mixed boiled meats used to make the broth for the pasta) followed by faraona alla creta (stuffed guinea fowl baked in a clay mould). One of my young sons [the creative one] did the sculpture-work. The other [the destructive one] wielded the hammer over the table. Luckily everyone managed to avoid the shrapnel and the bird was perfectly cooked, juicy and tender. We finished with a chocolate zucotto followed by a traditional panettone made by the local artisan baker. It was a great meal, simple yet fitting the occasion. All in all, I estimate I spent approximately 4.5 hours in the kitchen. I can’t really complain as most of that time was spent watching the meat boil. That said, I’ve been invited to my neighbours for Boxing Day and I’m eating out on New Year’s Eve!        

My Christmas efforts were average (time-wise, that is!). A recent survey found that 42% of Italian households spent between three and five hours preparing Christmas dinner. It’s a figure that pales in comparison to the 12% of households that spent over eight hours! Only 6% managed to get dinner on the table in under an hour (how they did that is anyone’s guess). The remainder (40 per cent), spent somewhere between one and three hours. Nine out of ten Italians had lunch with family.

We all spend more time in the kitchen over the Christmas holidays. Yet I wonder just how much more time the average Italian spends in the kitchen compared to any other Sunday lunch throughout the year? Why do I say this? I say so because I know that what my local neighbours ate on Christmas hardly bears a difference to what they eat practically every Sunday. The anolini in broth and the mixed boiled meats are so commonplace in this area they are a given. And a roast of some sort almost always follows. Of course everyone enjoys a little extravagance over Christmas – perhaps a few slices of the finest culatello, maybe a shaving of truffle over fresh pasta and, for those with a sweet tooth, the occasional extra dessert. But we have a machine at home for slicing the ham and as far as dessert is concerned, as often as not, that merely entails a walk to the local pasticceria. I know because it’s a small town.

My point is this. Italy is still a nation of home cooks that live [or is it love?] to cook. Whilst the five-minute polenta flour and boil-in-the-bag cotechino sausages might have taken some of the sting out of cooking, Italians still spend a significant amount of their time in the kitchen. Ready-made-meals and pre-prepared vegetables in the supermarket are noticeable by their absence. So if you want to eat here, there is no alternative but to put in the effort. That said, I’m still going out New Year’s Eve!    

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