To begin at the beginning, the most recent additions to Italian food are a few recipes and a list of recipes that I especially like with Polenta, and therefore find uniquely suited to the cold weather we've been having. The latest on the Italian Wine review are instead an overview of the wines presented at Bolgheri this June, which I apologize for not getting up until now, and a post from Luciano Pignataro profiling three dynamic south Italian women; I've been invited to join IGP, a group of Italian journalists who post articles simultaneously on their sites -- on their site in Italian and on the IWR translated. We've got some interesting things in the works.
Turning to Cosa Bolle, long-term readers know that I usually greet any opportunity to discuss politics with poorly repressed glee, and the scandal that has brewed up around 74-year-old Prime Minister Berlusconi's dalliance with a barely-legal (now; she wasn't yet when the news broke) Moroccan illegal immigrant who goes by the name Ruby Rubacuori (Ruby Heart Thief) and a host of other young strumpets of roughly the same age would have resulted in rivers of ink, especially when then-underage Ruby was caught stealing, and the police who had her in custody received a call from the Prime Minister's office, telling them they had arrested Egyptian President Mubarak's Nipote (niece or granddaughter; the word can mean either), and demanding that she be released to Milanese City Councilwoman Nicole Minetti, a woman who became a City Councilwoman after her considerable charms caught Mr. Berlusconi's attention while she was cleaning his teeth -- she was a dental hygienist -- and he put her on his party's ticket.
One simply cannot make this sort of stuff up, and things have only become more tortured and convoluted since then, as Rachel Donadio elegantly states in a recent article in the NY Times.
But this isn't the politics I had in mind.
Rather, Italy seems to have inadvertently done away with food fraud legislation.
I'm serious; the Italian Parliament has drafted a tremendous number of laws over the decades, many of which are either seriously out-dated, unclear, or at loggerheads with each other. As a result the legal system moves at a glacial pace, and it is quite possible for one court to find a plaintiff guilty, and another to find one innocent, when the plaintiffs did the same thing and the same law was applied in both trials -- what changed from one judge to the next was how the law was interpreted.
This is obviously not good, and a while back Mr. Calderoli, the Minister of Semplificazione Normativa, or Simplification of the Laws, announced to loud fanfare that he had taken stock of all the laws enacted prior to 1970, noted which were worth keeping, and voided the rest. Every last one.
Unfortunately for us, law 263 of 1962, entitled "Disciplina igienica della produzione e della vendita delle sostanze alimentari," or Rules Governing Hygiene in the Production and Sale of Foodstuffs, didn't make the cut, and since all of the food health and safety rules and regulations drafted since then are based upon that law, they are all null & void.
This means that if somebody decides to make his pesto sauce greener by adding verdigris, a toxic copper-based compound, he can. If the spring water he's bottling is packed with pesticides due to aquifer contamination, that's fine. If he buys a warehouse of old food, doctors the expiration dates on the packages, and resells it all, he has done nothing wrong. At least formally, and that's what counts, because one can only be convicted for formal trespasses against a law, not for doing things that are morally repugnant.
Reenact the law? That would be a step in the right direction, but it wouldn't solve the problem, says a judge who was investigating blue mozzarella ("mozzarella" made in Germany that was sold very cheaply by several discount chains, and turned blue upon exposure to the air due to bacterial contamination of the packaging water; a number of people got sick from eating it), because Italian law states that if something is under investigation, it must be judged according to the most favorable of the laws being used to evaluate it. Here there is no law, and therefore everyone currently under investigation for food fraud in Italy is off Scott free.
All the more reason to buy locally, from people you know and trust, and be wary of deals that seem too good to be true.
Happy Valentine's Day
Stepping off my soap box, San Valentino's Day is rapidly approaching, and it is custom to prepare something romantic to celebrate the Day with one's Significant Other. A great many recipes are sweet, and involve Chocolate (see for example this collection, or this chocolate espresso mousse). And there is the classic pasta with smoked salmon, which is one of my favorites.
You can do more with smoked salmon than make pasta sauce, however: It's perfect for making flavored butter, which you could spread on slices of toast (perhaps with a little smoked salmon on top) as an antipasto, or add a dab of to other fish dishes for a burst of salmony aroma.
To make salmon butter you'll need:
- 1/2 pound (225 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- About 2 ounces (60 g) smoked salmon, chopped
- A few drops of lemon juice
- Salt to taste
Turn the soft butter onto a sheet of aluminum foil, shape it into a cylinder about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) in diameter, roll up the foil, and chill until the butter is firm.
Instead of salmon you could use boned anchovy fillets (my father often did), and you could also, for color contrast, add a little finely chopped parsley or dill to the butter.
Another option would be to make herb butter, and here exactly what you do is up to personal taste.
Assuming you start with a half pound (225 g) of unsalted butter, you could chop
- A bunch of parsley
- Several sprigs fresh dill
- 3-4 cloves garlic
Cream the butter as above, work the herbs into it, add salt and lemon juice (roughly a teaspoon of each, or to taste), and chill the resulting butter until firm.
Another herb combination might be rosemary needles, basil (or oregano), and a small bunch of chives, again with a splash of lemon juice and salt to taste.
Either of these butters will be quite nice on toast, and they will also be nice with fish, boiled vegetables (especially potatoes), on grilled steak, and even as a simple pasta sauce.
A final option would be to make mustard butter, by creaming 1/2 cup (100 g) unsalted butter with a teaspoon each of powdered mustard and Dijon mustard seeds, adding salt to taste. It will be nice on grilled meats or boiled or baked potatoes.
In short, lots of options!
This time's proverb is Emiliano: Par i och an fa mai l'alba - For fools, dawn never comes.
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Guide to Italian Food
PS -- Please forward this to anyone you think would enjoy it! If you would like to read past issues (nothing in them really gets stale), you'll find them on the IWR site, through http://www.cosabolle.com.