Slow Food: Saving our Food Heritage
“Fast,” “Convenient,” “Save time,” all have become the mantras of modern life. “Time is money,” has become the foundation of how we live our lives today, both here in the US and Italy. Many of the time-honored traditions of Italian regional cuisine are being lost and replaced by more time efficient and less expensive methods.
The “Slow Food” Movement was created to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life, and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat. It goes without saying that Italy has a rich food culture and is an extraordinary expression of local traditions.
We like to think that what we have done here at the Food Club is based on the “Slow Food” tradition. This week’s menu is an example of regional dishes from North, Central and Southern Italy.
Chef's Travel Notes
“Fast,” “Convenient,” “Save time,” all have become the mantras of modern life. “Time is money,” has become the foundation of how we live our lives today, not only here in the US, but unfortunately, even in Italy. So much of small-town life has disappeared eclipsed by countless shopping centers and fast-food restaurants. Many of the time-honored traditions of Italian regional cuisine are being lost and replaced by more time efficient and less expensive methods.
In 1989, Carlo Petrini, was alarmed by this trend and started the Slow Food Movement as an antidote to fast food and the immediate threat of McDonalds opening near the Spanish Steps in Rome. There was also a push to embrace American fast-food trends in Florence where we lived. In fact, Francesco and I gave serious thought to opening a hamburger join there, but instead decided to make the leap and come to Washington to promote authentic Italian regional cuisine. (Good choice!)
Slow Food has become a global grassroots organization “to prevent the disappearance of local food cultures and traditions, counteract the rise of fast life, and combat people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat…” It works to safeguard ancient and traditional food production techniques at the risk of disappearing. It believes food should be GOOD (quality and healthy), CLEAN (safe food production), and FAIR (pricing to consumers and for farmers).
It goes without saying that Italy has a rich food culture. Its early un-unified, city-state system reinforced regional differences and even encouraged them as a point of pride. After its unification, Italy was divided into twenty regions, each with its own culinary traditions. But, because of modern day outside influences and the establishment of the European Union, cooking is changing in Italy. Dishes that were once commonplace in trattorias and even in-home kitchens are getting harder to find. It is becoming more expensive and time consuming to carry on these traditions.
In the twenty-one months of COVID shutdown and Food Club menus we have visited and eaten specialties from seventeen of the twenty regions. It has been quite a journey for me (and I hope for the many of you who have been with us from the beginning) discovering the nuances and history of Italy’s marvelous food mosaic. There are some common cooking trends dividing Italy into three different gastronomic areas – North, Central, and South. The Northern regions’ traditions are considered the richest, where butter and cream are more frequently used than olive oil and where hardy soups, risottos, egg-based pastas, high-fat cheeses, and vegetables like radicchio are prolific.
Central regions’ strike just the right balance between the North and South. They are renowned for their heavy-bodied food - salami and sausages, as well as truffles and mushrooms. Homemade pastas like spaghetti alla chitarra and bucatini always seem to be seasoned with sauces containing meat and game (usually pork.)
Food from the Southern regions is typically considered Mediterranean. Fish, seafood, durum wheat pastas and olive oil are the main ingredients. Poorer than its Northern cousins, it is more farm-based and rustic, influenced by centuries of dominance from foreign invaders.
I like to think that all we have done here at the Food Club is based on the Slow Food tradition of highlighting regional food culture. This week’s menu is an example of dishes from North, Central and Southern Italy.
Radicchio all Griglia (North). We split the round heads of radicchio, quickly grill them with a balsamic reduction and toss them with roasted red peppers, arugula and taleggio cheese.
Stracci alla Fiesolana (Central). Stracci or “rags” are irregular shaped egg pasta strips tossed with a tomato, mushroom and sausage sauce from the Etruscan town of Fiesole, outside of Florence.
Pollo Saltimbocca alla Romana (Central). We use chicken breast in place of the more traditional and expensive veal, wrap it in prosciutto and sage and finish it with dry white wine.
Cannoli (South). A well-known Neapolitan specialty, it is a fried cylinder pastry filled with ricotta cream and chocolate bits.
Our wine selection this week comes from Piemonte, the zone where the Slow Food Movement began. Michele Chiarlo, Le Orme, Barbera d’Asti, is made from the barbera grape harvested from several vineyards south of Asti. It is ruby red with hues of violet. It has good structure and roundness with a savory finish.
Italian food is an extraordinary expression of local traditions and terrain rather than a homogeneous national cuisine. It has become my passion to uphold and promote these priceless regional traditions and to utilize them as a strong base for new and possibly better cooking. Maybe these months of forced slow down are really a blessing as we take the time to savor food, friends, and family.
“Chi va piano, va sano e va lontano. ”
Old Italian saying…”Those who go slowly, go healthy and go far.”
Piano, piano –