Amatrice, located to the northwest of Rome in the inland part of the bulging calf of the Italian boot, may or may not be the point of origin for this dish. The confusion arises from the name and its popularity outside of Amatrice.
The word Amatriciana means “in the style of Amatrice” and its popularity in Rome cannot be overstated. I’m on the side that believes a Roman liked the food in Amatrice and came up with something evocative of the place thus “in the style of” but I’m open to it being a direct import.
Either way I first encountered it in Rome over dinner with possibly the most pompous person I’ve ever met. Lucky for him, he was interesting and could pull it off.
I’m anticipating a pizza. There are three of us sharing it and it’s not what any of us would have were we given free reign.
I’d have gone vegetable. Maybe anchovies.
My son is easy to predict. He wants pepperoni and black olives.
Our friend is harder to predict. He likes a variety of bell peppers and bread crumbs on top.
You would think that a compromise would include a bit from me, a bit from my son, and a bit from our friend. It turns out that it just my son got one from his wish list on the pie. Pepperoni and sausage. We colluded, and came up with something simple and spectacular.
This is currently my favorite cookbook. It has been for quite a while and I’m usually pretty capricious.
Marcella Hazan (Her Name Be Praised) earned her place in the Italian cooking pantheon with Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (Originally published in separate volumes as The Classic Italian Cookbook in 1973 and More Classic Italian Cooking in 1978 – combined, updated, and revised in the current single volume in 1992)
As wonderful as it is, Essentials is as advertised. It’s the essentials. It resembles in style and layout, Rombauer’s The Joy of Cooking. I assume that was an intentional and successful attempt to claim staple status among Italian cookbooks in the same way Rombauer had general European-American books. It’s a broad overview. Her later, shorter books are more adventurous. They have a sharper focus and capture the mood and culinary fetishes she’s entertaining at a given moment. She’s more fun after she laid the groundwork.
I’ve got my mother’s copy of Marcella Cucina (1997.) Most of Mom’s cookbooks are heavily annotated. I remember a veal dish in a non-Hazan book exed out in pencil with the words “Never Again!” scrawled in the margin. Not so this book. There are a few notes here and there, but I get the sense that Mom thought Marcella did a pretty good job.
Chicken Parmesan carved out a place on Italian restaurant menus around the middle of the last century. The thing is, it’s not from Parma and by all evidence it likely originated outside the Italian borders. Most recipes call for mozzarella and/or provolone with a slight few tossing in Parmesan as a finisher. Shenanigans! It’s half-truths and misappropriation nestled in a lightly salted bed of al dente angel hair.
There are people with what sounds like a marvelously fun job if you’re into musty old books and getting shushed by librarians because you’re cursing at the disorder neglect has imposed on the obscure corner of the research wing you inhabit regularly fun. They scour old cookbooks and menus, literature, and diaries looking for the first mention of a particular dish. Imagine these food historians as a better fed version of Oxford English Dictionary etymologists.
Those slightly overweight sneezy people have pinned the first appearance of Chicken Parmesan in Italy as being somewhere in the mid-1950s. That’s two or three years after it popped up roughly simultaneously in the US, Argentina, and Australia – the three top destinations of the 23 million people fleeing miserable poverty beginning after the end of WWI and ending around the mid-1950s. It’s what’s know as the Italian diaspora.
Yesterday was a great day. Not business wise. We are having drainage issues in our parking lot due to new construction around us and the flash floods gave us troubles (more on that later.) It was a great day because of the people that came in.
I talked with a high school English teacher who had the day off because his students were in a placement exam all day. We talked books and plays. There was a small business attorney and muffaletta enthusiant who was particularly funny, a sheriff’s deputy with two years, fifty-three days to retirement by his count, and couple of nurses with stories that ran the risk of causing blushes. Fun people.
That was all ruined by one particular pick-up order.
We’re not in the haggling business. If you don’t want to pay the price for an item, don’t. Go without. We think our prices are fair. Actually we know they are, math being involved and such.
I quoted a price on the phone, was told she didn’t want to pay that, and told her that I’m sorry but that’s what we charge. She placed the order.
When she came in she again said that she wouldn’t pay the agreed upon and printed and laminated and posted on the internet price. I suppose the idea was that I would give her a discount since we had already made the food and faced with tossing the food or selling it at a loss we would sell it at a loss. That’s just not the way this works. Go down that road and it’s loss every time.
I hate that that’s my takeaway from the day. The teacher, the lawyer, the cop, the nurses… all wonderful. I hope to see them again soon. You remember the frustrating, though.
I fancied myself a dashing young waiter in the late nineties. I was chasing a girl around the south at the time. Our parent’s were friends but we regarded each other as the children of parent’s friends do. We knew each other, but our interactions were limited to parties we were forced to attend. You don’t make friends there. You mingle and try not to let on that you’d like to be spending time with your real friends instead of the assembly.
I connected to her through DeVinci’s in the most indirect way.
I was in The Garage Café with a few friends and one of our former co-workers had just returned from a semester in Glasgow. We were talking about Scotland when my parent’s friend’s daughter walked in. Because of that loose relationship I knew my parent’s friends daughter had just returned from a nine month stint in Edinburgh.
I asked her to join us.
Next thing I know it was three in the morning and the daughter and I were the only ones left in the bar. There were a few years of stupidly tentative courtship involved but we’ve been married for nineteen years.
Twenty-five or so years ago we would close down the restaurant around nine or ten, pick up our dates and when the bars closed around two in the morning we would re-assemble at DeVinci’s. We had keys and the alarm codes and since we caught a beer delivery guy trying to cheat us and pocket some money for himself we had a regular blackmailed keg that cost the owners nothing.
The calzone seems to have originated in Napoli in the 18th century. That shouldn’t be too surprising. Flatbreads with toppings on them have been around since we figured out how to mill grain, but the pizza as we currently conceive it came from Napoli too. They are a clever town.
As I understand it, the calzone was concocted so people could grab one on the go, thus the name “calzone” meaning trousers or pants legs since people ate them while walking as opposed to the soft crusted Neapolitan style pizzas that practically require a fork and a knife.
The original calzones were smaller affairs than what we are used to. They were sandwich sized and easy to carry around. If you’ve ever had a pastie in the Nordic tradition you know what they were like. Of course, now we present a monster that takes up the plate. I’m going to attribute that to the same basking in luxury that over took our mid 20th century wave of Italian immigrants. That diaspora saw twenty-three or so million Italians leave the poverty that gripped their home country and head for better pastures. You hear about Americanized Italian food having too much sauce and too much meat. That wasn’t a bunch of Yankees misreading a recipe and overdoing it. It was a bunch of dirt poor Italians arriving in the land of plenty and embracing fully the opulence available to them. Our calzones are huge.