It’s been over 5 months since my return from Italy and I am still processing what I learned about food while there. I encountered so much during the 5 weeks I spent traversing the beautiful land of Italia. And honestly, I do not know how to really capture in words all that I experienced…it is a bit daunting to think about it. I guess that is part of the reason for my time away from writing.
But this trip was so paramount in my life and changed me as a cook, father, and steward of the land, and I want to share just a little about what I learned.
In Italy just about everything is fresh, local, made from scratch, and in season. Not too surprising! Before going to Italy I found myself in the kitchen most afternoons prepping for the evening meal…sometimes 2-3 hours would not be unheard of.
But now it is mostly about simplicity. I can credit a lot of this simplification to one person and the book she gave to me…I spent my last day there in Roma’s Testaccio neighborhood with the ever delightful Rachel Roddy. After touring around with Rachel and her son, which included picking up fresh good from the local market, we headed back to their flat for a fun afternoon in the kitchen and then gathered around their table for a late lunch.
The afternoon was filled with great conversation about food, cooking, blogging, writing, books, and Italy. Near the end of our afternoon she gave me the book: Zuppe, Soups From The Kitchen of The American Academy In Rome, by Mona Talbott. I fell in love with this book’s simplicity and all that it offered. It’s main emphasis is to provide delicious, no frills soup recipes which utilize local and seasonal ingredients.
And that is exactly what happened in my kitchen after my return from Italy; dinners became simpler, easier, and uncomplicated…though this may seem like a small change, it had a very large impact on me and the direction of The Nurturing Hearth. I felt more Italian than ever, not in a complicated culinary level, but on a personal, individual level…cooking from the land and providing nurturing meals well within our means. I felt great (less stress in the kitchen, smaller budget), the kids loved the soups, and dinner time became more relaxed.
It also provided me with more time to expand my baking skills…so each soup incorporated fresh bread. In addition, I began to explore the region for local cheeses and salumi, and started to incorporate those as well. This of course has led to my desire to provide local tours for folks when we finally settle in Wisconsin.
Today, I prepare meals that range anywhere from soups to 1-4 course dinners, but there is a much more ‘relaxededness’ to it all. I almost always favor the simpler dishes, not just for sake of time or ease, but also taking into the consideration the financial aspect of it all. In Italy, I was struck by how few Italians go out to eat elaborate, expensive meals. Outside of the big cities, most Italians prefer to stay at home and prepare their own meals…leaving the restaurants to the tourists.
In America, studies show that we spend the smallest percentage of our paycheck on purchasing food, and the majority of what we do spend on food is on dining out. In the rest of the world the opposite is true. When I began to research this back home, I saw this was what I was noticing in Italy- a lot of locals that I talked to about dining all said we eat at home!
Along this line, prior to going I was purchasing quite a bit of goods from Italy, but now I have focused my spending on more local ones. I know I can’t buy local olive oil, but if I can do my best in other categories I can offset the true costs involved in the production, sale, and transport of Italian olive oil to the States.
Looking back on it all, I set off for Italy last September with lots of hopes and dreams, and returned home with a small unknown book of soups that would ultimatly change me as a cook, father, and steward of the land. Stay tuned as this adventure towards simple italian cooking continues to unfold:)