Simple Italian Food: The Anatomy of a Dinner



(photo: examples of simple Italian food: lentil soup, fennel and cucumber salad, and flounder with breadcrumb topping)

We’re at a food crossroads in America and anyone who takes food seriously in the United States should consider themselves lucky to be living in today’s culinary world.  The food universe landscape in the United States is moving from the ultra bland and crude dishes of the late 19th/early 20th centuries and the processed food and meat and potato world of post World War II America to an environment more akin to the major food traditions (countries) on the planet (viz., French, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, etc.).  

Like in Italy and France, you can now find handmade products produced by local experts in the United States as well as excellent small and large markets stocked with the best raw ingredients on the planet (some made here and some brought in from other countries).  There’s also an explosion of food related media from the New Yorker’s excellent food issue to the countless food related specialty blogs and web sites.  Head to your local bookstore (or shop online) and the choices for cookbooks, food related non fiction, etc. are mind blowing.  Turn on your TV and find good food related content from Mike Colameco, David Rocco, Jacques Pepin, and CBS Sunday Morning’s Food Special.  In short, we’re most likely right in the middle of a food revolution, versus a crossroads, and as is the case with any revolution it’s easy to loose sight of what prompted the unrest with a given tradition and head in the wrong direction post revolution.  Simply put, we have much better food choices in the US (even compared to 10-20 years ago) but the next 20 years will truly determine how we eat, shop, and think about food.

Our food philosophy has always centered on eating simply and well; that is to say, buying the best possible ingredients one can afford, using the least amount of manipulation, and creating tasty and satisfying meals.  We encourage lovers of Italian food (and other food traditions) to cook at home most of the time (by most we mean all the time) and learn to seek pleasure and satisfaction in creating, from scratch, Italian food with one’s hands.  
Food philosophy, like the assertions above, have always been difficult for me to swallow (no pun intended).  That is to say, I love to talk and think about food at a deep level but at the end of the day it serves a basic and primary function for humans (viz., to sustain and, because of the way we evolved, to satisfy and please).  One of the reasons I’m drawn to Italian cooking is that eating well is part of being Italian so there’s no pretentious, high brow, association with loving food and making it a large part of one’s life (this is the danger associated with “foodie” and restaurant culture).   So, if you’re anxious about what extra virgin olive oil to purchase or what particular fish and cooking technique to utilize, my advice is to not think so hard and simply buy the best ingredients you can find and afford and cook (mistakes and all).  Just keep in mind that making food isn’t a skill you have to master or a task you need to perfect to impress your friends, rather think of it as a standard part of how you live each and every day (make food part of your routine).

A recent meal we prepared at home, I think, summarizes the concept of simple Italian food and how we like to think about food in our house:

  • Lentil Soup
  • Cucumber and Fennel Salad
  • Baked Flounder with a breadcrumb topping.      
  • Fresh fruit and cheese for dessert
You can find the recipe for our simple lentil soup here and we’ve posted a few entries on how much we love fennel in a salad and as a post meal digestivo.  Fish is always a great choice for protein and we aim to consume fresh fish, at the least, once per week.  We eats lots of wild Flounder, salmon, cod, sardine, and trout.  If we see good swordfish, Branzino, or scallops we’ll consume it about once per month.  We prepared the flounder with our standard breadcrumb recipe and lots of good extra virgin olive oil.  We ate a few ripe pears, a cactus pear, dried figs, and a few pieces of provolone for dessert.  Total prep time (excluding simmering the soup for 1.5 hours which you can do while you show and get ready for work in the morning) was 20 minutes.  

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.