Frequent Dream of Italy contributor Linda Dini Jenkins recently interviewed Umbria tour guide, cooking teacher and lecturer Anne Robichaud. Anne shared her best tips for living and traveling in Umbria…and Italy.
- The objective of Italian hospitality is to kill your guests — which is to make them die from all you make to eat.
- Don’t confuse “antipasto” with “before the pasta.” It means “before the meal.”
- Don’t be intimated by Italian menus with all their “primi” and “secondi” and dolci” courses — Italians usually only eat this multi-course meal on Sundays.
- Don’t ever ask for separate checks in an Italian restaurant — there’s not even a word for it!
- Salt eggplant? Only if you’re frying the large ones, but never the small ones and never if you’re going to sauté them.
- Yes, “funghi” means mushrooms, but when you see “al funghetto” in a recipe, it means “the way you cook a mushroom,” and you usually cook mushrooms with garlic and parsley.
- The best way to drain pasta is to do it over a metal bowl to catch the water, called the “brodo della pasta” — so if the sauce is dry, you add a ladleful of the pasta water. And the poor people in Italy (who don’t have money to buy detergent) wash the dishes in the pasta water, because the starch cuts the grease and it’s been boiled, so it’s already disinfected.
- A few words about bread: You never put a loaf of bread on the table upside down — that brings the mal’occhio. You have to flip it over. Never cut bread at the table — it’s always cut away from the table. At the table, you only break bread, probably because Christ broke bread at the Passover with his friends. And you never throw out bread — not to your animals, even. Find ways to use it — in soup, in salads, make bread crumbs. Anything. Just don’t throw it out!
- Green bell peppers are for frying; the yellow and red ones are for roasting, because they have thicker skins.
- When you see the initials “qb” in an Italian recipe, it means “quanto basta” — as much as it takes; it’s the most common annotation in Italian cooking.
- Wash a leek after it’s been sliced — rinse it 2 or 3 times to get all the dirt out of the layers.
- Tiramisu in Umbria is made without liqueur. And if you want to try it at home, try using Graham Crackers instead of Lady Fingers and it won’t be so sweet.
- Cream cheese is a “fake” mascarpone, made by Italian immigrants who were trying to imitate mascarpone; cottage cheese is a “failed” ricotta.
- The best pigs are fed acorns in November and December, just before the January slaughter. It improves the flavor of the pork dramatically.
- General rules for traveling in Italy: show respect. Observe the Italians and do what they do. Don’t take your shoes off on trains . . . don’t over-imbibe . . . remember that short shorts are for the beach and not for town . . . cover your shoulders when you enter a church . . . be especially respectful of religious sites.
- If you’re staying with or visiting an Italian family, common courtesy is a must. Says Anne, “You can never put out your hand enough, you can never say thank-you enough, you can never look people in the eye enough, you can never give too much as a hostess gift. There’s never too much of making physical contact, extending the hand, using first names, touching somebody. Don’t be afraid to be touched. Italians are a demonstrative people.”