Thursday, January 05, 2012

Garantito IGP: La Cucina al Tempo di Guerra

This time I take the stand, and begin with an aside:

Day before yesterday Giulio Gambelli, an extraordinarily humble man whose knowledge of Sangiovese was second to none, and who had a hand in many of the great Tuscan Sangiovese-based wines, left us to discuss wines with the Creator, whose great gain is our great loss.

I didn't know him well, because though our paths did occasionally cross, I was too shy to say much, and he too hard of hearing to understand what little I did say. I expect he thought me a bit slow, but was much too polite to say so.

I do have one story however: a number of years ago I was at a restaurant with a couple of friends, one a winemaker and another an importer. We started with a Morellino di Scansano of the sort I like, one that remembers "ino" is a diminutive, and is light, sassy, and deft on its feet, and then tried a wine the Gambero/Slowfood people raved about, awarding the first vintage to appear in the Guida the coveted (especially then) 3 glasses. We were swishing, muttering about nice concentration, admiring the color, discussing balance, and taking tiny sips, until the Importer said, "The hell with this. I want to drink!" and ordered a bottle of Pergole Torte, one of Giulio's creations.

When we left the Pergole was gone, while the other bottle was still more than half full.

Thank you, Giulio.

Returning to the topic at hand, there's no getting around it, times are tough and people are cutting back. And this is perhaps one of the reasons that Vallardi has reprinted Lunella de Seta's La Cucina al Tempo di Guerra, a book that came out in 1942 to help Italian housewives do their part for the War Effort, by "winning the daily battle to feed their families."

It makes for interesting reading. Because there was rationing, and it bit deep. But before helping people to figure out how to cook without many of the ingredients they were accustomed to, she thought it best to stress that even in times of want one must carry on -- the table set as always, but using a brightly colored tablecloth that won't show stains (with soap rationing daily laundry wasn't an option), use pots and baking tins that can also double as serving dishes to reduce the number of pots to wash, and so on.

And then there are the recipes, and here one naturally wonders what -- given rationing -- is missing. Meats and fats especially, as well as white flour (when calling for flour she generally specifies segale, rye), and also whole milk, which she does call for, but also says how to substitute for more than once. Coffee too; it had vanished completely from all but the most fortunate tables, and she says not just how to make coffee from orzo, toasted barely, but also from toasted ground acorns (there is also a pudding with acorn flour).

And what is present? Meat extract and bouillon, which are used extensively to perk up soups, canned meats -- about half the recipes in the meats section are for canned meat prepared one way or another, while many of the rest are for barnyard animals, rabbit especially -- and legumes, vegetables, greens, and fruit.

The vegetable kingdom is as one might expect very important; in introducing salads she says that given the situation, one can enjoy nutritious meals without being a slave to tradition, and simply have a soup or other first course followed by a salad -- something that seems natural now but that was a big break with tradition then.

Equally important are legumes, which she notes have less fat than meats, but ounce for ounce have as much or more of the other nutritional needs, i.e. protein, carbohydrates, and calories -- and greens, which she says are much healthier than meats, providing the "body with what it needs to counter losses of energy and keep itself in perfect shape," whereas meat proteins "slowly intoxicate, to a greater or lesser degree depending upon one's constitution." Again, ideas that are widely accepted now but that were revolutionary then.

Taken as a whole it is a fascinating book, and though I might not feel the need to use meat extract (and likely not canned meat either) many of the book's 346 recipes are still current, and the sorts of things that are nice to fall back upon in the new age of frugality we seem to be entering.

To finish up, a recipe is a must, and given the cold wet weather we're having this Zuppa Aristocratica would be nice if you like spinach:

Zuppa Aristocratica - Recipe 84

A refined, and particularly nutritious dish.

Wash spinach very well as usual, boil it, squeeze it dry, chop it very finely, and put it through a wire mesh strainer to make an airy cream.

In the meantime, prepare in a pot a béchamel sauce of sorts, with a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of rye flour, and the proportionate volume of milk, salting to taste and bringing the mixture to a boil.

Mix the spinach well into the pot, and add another cup of milk to dilute the mixture. In the meantime, line the bottom of your soup tureen with croutons.

If you lack milk, or want to be more frugal, rather than add milk to the butter-and-flour mixture at the outset you could use water, adding, when the dish is heated through, a cup of whole milk and a tablespoon of unsweetened condensed milk.

For more information, see

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

1 comment:

Elisa said...

I was born in Italy towards the end of World War II and grew up eating cornmeal and vegetables. We had meat once a week..on Sunday.