Italians are not known for their use of spices. But we do use them. They were introduced to us centuries ago. Medieval Wild Boar recipes call for chocolate, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon.
Panforte, my favorite Christmas treat, is made with pepper or a blend of exotic asian spices.
What prompted me to write this post is a podcast I listened to yesterday. The name of the podcast is ‘A Taste of the Past.’ A Culinary Historian, Sarah Lohman made a statement that so pertains to what I, as an Italian am going through at the moment. She stated that we want migrants’ foods, but we don’t want them (the migrants).
Circa Twenty Thousands Italians were migrating every year to the United States between the 1880s and 1920s. The United States decided to put a limit to the number of Italians that they would let into the country. Many were sent back home. Something I did not know. Something we should probably try to remember in such a delicate era in which we ban refugees from entering our country and marginalise the ones who have made it here.
I had an argument with a customer this morning about the Referendum’s result.
He told me that we need to build a wall in the Mediterranean sea. To which I calmly replied:
‘Are you not of Sicilian descent?’ He nodded.
‘You arrived here in the sixties, were marginalised, bullied, and was surely a victim of racism.
‘Half of the town we live in is of Southern Italian descent. How could you say that we should do the same to people who come here looking for solace and work?’
It’s not the same, he answered.
It is, I said. I told him that I no longer wanted to listen to him. I quickly put my wool hat and headset on.
I was just a kid in the Seventies but I remember the signs hanging from buildings in Florence which read ‘Andate a casa Terroni’ loosely translated as ‘Go home Rednecks.’ Terroni being people who worked the land. Southerners were considered lesser Italians.
We didn’t like them, but we enjoyed their pizza, their use of spices, their tasty foods, and vegetables. And this brings me back to the podcast I very much enjoyed yesterday.
When I was a kid Florence had a lot of Trattorias, Friggitorias (fried street foods,) Tripe and Panini stands. Those same stands would transform themselves in the summer in ‘watermelon stands’ I remember going there in the summer with my dad. We would be given a porcelain plate with a slice of watermelon. A metal knife, and a fork. Customers would eat their slice of watermelon while chatting. There is nothing better than feeling like a grown up as a kid. This was the Florence I remember.
Then the first Pizzerias opened. In the eighties Chinese restaurants started popping up everywhere. The evolution of the dining industry followed that of migration. Florence now has Asian, South American, Indian, Middle Eastern and African restaurants.
Do we really enjoy exotic foods, but not immigrants. I hadn’t thought about it.
How many can flaunt their heritage as being from a small circumscribed area dating back more than 5 generations? My family (from my father’s side) is from the Marche region of Italy. A flock of Latinis migrated here at the beginning of the 1800s. Even if my last name sounds Tuscan (a lot of Tuscan last names end with -ini) it is not.
So here is homage to all of us migrants.
A spicy Lentil Flour Frittata
- 1 Cup Lentil Flour
- 1 1/2 Cups Water
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tbs Olive oil
- 2 Cups thinly sliced white onions
- 1/4 Cup of Water
- 1 Cup finely sliced green leafy vegetable
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp allspice
- cayenne pepper optional
- 1 16" baking pan lined with parchment paper
- Place the Lentil flour in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the water, olive oil, salt and spices. Let rest for at least 30 minutes.
- In the meantime sautee the onions in a little bit of olive oil. Add Water and cook until the onions are soft. Place the Onions in the baking pan.
- Sautee the greens and place over the onions.
- Pour the Lentil Batter. Spoon some Rosemary infused olive oil over the Lentil flour batter.
- Bake @375° for 25 minutes