Jacques Pépin once wrote: “There is something evanescent, temporary and fragile about food. You make it, it goes, and what remains are memories.”
The 3 Italian Dishes I Know by Heart
Nourishment for a lifetime.
And he couldn’t have been more right. Our memories readily attach themselves to the enjoyment of food—whether it be the specific, unforgettable taste of a dish, or the friends and family we share meals with. What’s particularly special about food is that even though it is “evanescent, temporary and fragile,” we engage with it daily, thus allowing ourselves countless opportunities to invoke the memories associated with it.
And it doesn’t take much: the invigorating scent of a fresh herb, the earthen and grassy aroma of a cup of green tea, or perhaps the spiced, ambrosial flavor of homemade baked goods. All of these things have the potential to trigger memory. Even a very simple, peripheral detail of a meal— such as a place setting or the music playing in the background—can remind us of fond food-related experiences.
Such a thing happened to me recently; I was at a friend’s flat and noticed a few new dishes sitting on the counter. Normally this wouldn’t catch my attention—my friend is a chef and has a very well-stocked kitchen. I had to stop, however, when I noticed, among other things, a pizza stone. It instantly triggered a memory.
At the age of 23, I’d just moved to New York City from Chicago. One of the first friends I made was a pizza chef from Naples named Luigi. We’d crossed paths in the Windy City, and after a few minutes of conversation, realized we’d both be moving to the five boroughs soon. I barely knew Luigi, but I instantly had a friend.
We both worked in kitchens in New York and, as cooks are wont to do, we would assuage the stress of long, tiring shifts with a few drinks, the company of one another, and, of course, food. When I’d finish my shifts, I’d take the subway to Hell’s Kitchen to visit Luigi at his restaurant. Each time, without fail, he’d make a new pizza for me. Each one of them was delicious; each one of them was his pride and joy. But for him, sharing his food was more than a chance to showcase skill—it was his way of sharing his own personal narrative.
Each pizza came with a story. He’d meticulously explain the composition of the dough, which types of Italian flours he imported to make it, and how his uncles taught him to make it from a young age in Naples. I hadn’t been to Italy at that point, and I could only imagine the far away land and characters he’d describe.
I’ve tried ever since to replicate Luigi’s pizza, particularly the pizza bufalina. Of course, I’ve never been able to do so perfectly. What I’ve learned since is that it’s important to use the freshest possible ingredients, as well as a reliable pizza stone, a pizza paddle, and the perfect platter for serving.
It all came to life for me, however, several years later during my first visit to his home country.
As one might expect, food and drink were an integral part of my inaugural trip to Italy. The reason for my visit was to meet my girlfriend’s family and to see her hometown of Bergamo. Seeing the medieval town, peering out over the verdant, rolling hills, taking the train to Milan and leisurely strolling through the streets at dusk—all of these experiences were incredibly memorable. But, what brought me the most pleasure were the meals I shared with my girlfriend’s family.
Meeting your significant other’s family is no light matter. His or hers parents are finally given the opportunity to see the person their child has only been able to bring to life in conversation—and perhaps through a few well-selected photos. And, more importantly, they’re finally able to see if their child is in good hands. Knowing this made me slightly nervous, of course. It didn’t help, either, that my Italian language skills are nonexistent, which significantly inhibited my ability to make a strong case for myself verbally.
In the end, though, none of this mattered. Words are of lesser importance when people are gathered around good food and wine. The welcoming, loving smile of an Italian mother serving you orecchiette with rapini or rigatoni with salsiccia and ricotta holds far more importance than any word could ever hope to.
What’s particularly special about memories attached to food is that they so easily transcend location and time; the afternoon that I came across that pizza stone at work, it was the summer of 2016 in Berlin —but in an instant, I was transported to the summer of 2010 in New York City.
There’s no shortage of opportunity to invoke such nostalgia, too. Near my office, there’s an Italian grocer; every time I walk past it, the memory of being in Italy, with my girlfriend’s family, enjoying one another’s company through the language of food, comes alive for me. This is perhaps the most important power food possesses—it nourishes our bodies, of course, but it also nourishes our memories. It satisfies us for a lifetime.
Bring Italy into Your Kitchen
Want to create your own memories surrounding authentic Italian cuisine? Then be sure to make the above recipes at home and do so with high-quality kitchenware, like the items below:
A pizza stone is instrumental in getting the crust just right when making pizza at home.
A pizza paddle allows you to effortlessly transfer pizza to the oven, as well remove it when it's finished baking.
Be sure to choose a pizza serving platter that's simple, yet elegant.
As the saying goes, presentation is everything. Having the right pasta bowl is almost as important as having the right ingredients.
The perfect partner for the above pasta bowl is this serving bowl.
Published on October 14, 2016