Jars of tripes forever

The American Disease is becoming the Italian Disease as well as the French Disease. Those of us who swim against the gastronomic tide are welcomed like aged guardians of the Eleusinian Mysteries. A couple of weeks ago in Turin, Mary and I were subjected to a Cookathon which left us loosening our belts and gasping for breath. In the eyes of Adriana Vittorio, we were the Last of the Great Eaters.

Until three years ago, Adriana was the proprietor of Casa Della Trippa. This was not an Italian hashish boutique, but an old-fashioned tripe-and-offal shop in Turin which she had inherited from her father. The foods for which she supplied the ingredients, and which she herself so expertly cooks, are passing into history. According to Valentine Harris, the great "finanziera", an incredibly rich dish once prized in both France and Italy, was named after the traditional costume of the Turin bankers who favored it. (Whether the name as well as the dish was an export to France, like so many other Italian delicacies, she does not say.) As Adrianna still makes it, the ingredients include cocks' combs, sheep's brains, sweetbreads, chicken livers, cucumbers, artichoke hearts, mushrooms, cognac, marsala secco, and dry white wine. Properly cooked, the result is a combination of flavors so rich and varied, and yet so inextricably blended, that one can spend a delightful time attempting to sort out the various strands, like the voices of a Bach contrapunctus.


Today a mere list of the ingredients is enough to send the average diner rushing from the room hand over mouth. And so when Mary and I go to Turin, Adriana, who lives just a floor below our friends the Ricchiardis, sends up platter after platter from her classic repertoire, which the younger members of her family can no longer stomach.


There are advantages to being both open-minded and open-mouthed. Within a couple of days we had devoured not only huge helpings of finanziera, but also dishes of braised peppers, artichoke hearts cooked in butter, parma ham decoratively interleaved with slices of unbelievably ripe pineapple (the melons having been declared to be not yet in their prime), platters of chard stalks and fresh green peas, and a whole field of lavishly buttered asparagus. Mary was so enthusiastic about the artichokes (which in London would have required a second mortgage) that on our morning of departure Adriana produced a small crate of them, separately wrapped by her supplier in damp paper, with stalks attached, so as to survive the journey back to London.


So what are the younger generations eating in Italy today? According to La Stampa, the same as everywhere else. So if you have a favorite little trattoria in a small Italian village, draw out your life savings and make a pilgrimage before it is too late, having first determined that it has not already become a New Wave Pizza Parlor, rushing their imported New York Creole Chili con Carne and Sun-Dried Tomato Calzone with Black Bean Sauce, Fresh Basil and Lemon Grass straight from the freezer to your table by way of the microwave.


©1997 John Whiting



The [ London] Guardian April 9 1997


Pasta but faster for Italy


[from] LA STAMPA


Gabriele Beccaria


SIGNORA Maria, the Italian mamma who features in every survey on family life, housework or childcare, has changed beyond recognition. She works, as well as running after the children, still tries to find time for her hobbies and has little time left to spend in the kitchen. The result is that Italians are forgetting how to cook.

"People still know how to make boiled potatoes or chips, but haven't a clue about roasts or stews. We are throwing away our culinary heritage," a nutritionist, Oliviero Sculati, laments. "The brigade of grandmothers and aunts still remains as a historical legacy, but for how much longer?"


The big feast has been consigned to the past, at least for the moment. The changing Italy is changing at table too. Italians eat less, and less well, according to a new study by the National Institute of Nutrition. "Quality at all costs is no longer imperative," the institute's director, Amleto D'Amicis, says. "People eat less and waste less. Fewer people are getting fat as a result."


In 1996, the food industry registered a fall in production for the first time in more than a decade. Sales of pasta have remained stable, but less meat, wine, vegetables and dairy products are being sold. While most people still know how to make a decent plate of pasta, they come out in a cold sweat at the thought of anything more complex or time-consuming. Ready-made and frozen dishes are taking their place. Five minutes in the microwave and the illusion is on the table.


"They call them products with service added," says Fabrizio Filippini, an "aroma expert". The flavour enhancers in mass-produced lasagne al forno work miracles.


So at lunch and dinner ready-made meals are on the increase, and while pasta is hanging in there, a snack culture is rearing its head. Italians are constantly picking at light and fast foods, low-fat or enriched with vitamins and minerals. And although eight out of 10 people still eat lunch and dinner at home, the very terms are becoming fluid. Enrico Finzi, the president of polling agency Demoskopea, says: "While at breakfast the coffee habit has given way to toast or croissants, the disorder of the day means more snacks and a late dinner."


"It's chaos, above all mental chaos," says the president of the National Association of Specialists in the Science of Nutrition, Michele Carruba. "We are losing a very healthy alimentary tradition based on carbohydrates, protein and a variety of vegetables - the old tradition of 'a food for every day', gnocchi on Thursday, fish on Friday and so on." The upshot is that neuroses are spreading, indicated by the profusion of different eating habits.


The one unchanging element is the attraction of diets, often attempted and hardly ever successful. Some 50 per cent of Italians diet at least once a year, and 25 per cent are always dieting.


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