Now that I have been in Italy for five and half days and have consumed eleven cooked meals, I have made a few observations that I would like to share.
First, Italian food is very simple and clean, and it is not difficult to cook good food. Most recipes have only a handful of ingredients, most of which are fresh, and the other ingredients, like pasta, can be easily stored. Italians shop for food regularly, sometimes on a meal by meal basis (this may not be true for everyone, but my family does it and it seems to be fairly common), and buy high quality ingredients. There is a big local and organic food movement here also, which I may talk about some other time. I once read that Italians, on average, will spend up to one quarter of their income on food and, as a result, eat better food and are healthier because of that. I don’t know the statistics, but Americans spend some ridiculously small percentage of their income on food, and the result is obviously not good.
Second, Italians eat less, both at meals and in between meals. The meal portions are about half to two-thirds what I would eat at home, and probably a quarter to one-third of what many Americans eat at each meal. Because of this, it is fine to eat dessert or something sweet after a lunch or dinner, as we have done following most meals. I also have not left a single meal feeling uncomfortably full. Kids finish school at one in the afternoon (but make up for the shorter days by attending schools on Saturday) and go home for lunch. As a result, many people, though of course not those who have a regular work week, eat a hot, sit down, home cooked lunch. This is something I’ve never done before, but that I have really enjoyed since I arrived here. Because lunch is more satisfying, I tend not to snack between lunch and dinner, which is also a big change.
Finally, it is nice be in a culture that, like me, is not afraid of carbs. Bread and pasta are delicious and are not going to make you fat if you are not overeating.
In and around Venice/Mestre, seafood is a huge part of the cuisine (lucky for me) and people buy buy it fresh off the boat from outdoor fish markets. Last night we had linguine with fresh clam sauce, which is very simple to make and I highly recommend it if you can get fresh clams.
First, soak the fresh, unopened clams in salted water for an hour or so to remove any sand.
Next, place the clams, dry, into pans on medium to high heat. Do not add any water. While cooking the clams, you should also cook the desired quantity of linguine (as always, in well salted water).
Until they are heated the clams are alive and as they cook they will open and release some water. Once the vast majority of the clams have opened and effectively are cooked, turn off the heat and discard any unopened clams, as that means they were dead before you started cooking, or something else is wrong with them, rendering them unfit for consumption. If you like, you can also add a little white wine to the pan and cook for a minute or two before turning off the heat.
Next, in a pan, heat olive oil on low to medium heat with a couple cloves of fresh garlic.
Once the oil has heated and the garlic has had a bit of time to infuse the oil, add the drained pasta and some chopped parsley to the pan, and toss together.
Finally, add the claims and toss with the pasta.
Dinner is served. Delicious.
Good topic for debate during dinner: is it best to discard all of the clam shells from your plate before you dig in, or as you go? There are two different schools of thought. If you discard them first, your pasta may not be so hot by the time you get around to eating it. But if you discard them as you go, the shells are a bit of nuisance. Tough choice. Tough life.