You are currently browsing the daily archive for June 14, 2011.

As Westerners know, cooking shows are increasingly popular.  Yet, many studies in our countries show that fewer people are cooking from scratch.

A significant proportion rely on:

– Ready-made meals from the supermarket.

– Fast-food from takeaways, where quality and hygiene can sometimes be dubious.

– Processed foods high in fat and sugar.

I do find it a bit strange, although I shall present both sides of the picture, that fewer women seem to care about cooking, even when they are at home all day!  How could a woman not care about what she serves to her family?  Yet, I know plenty — from teachers to homemakers — who say, ‘Cooking is oppressive.’  They don’t mean the actual sweating over a hot stove as much as they do the mere idea that their place is sometimes in the kitchen — sexual identity politics, in other words.

Even in my family, some of the men can cook better than their wives or daughters.  I find it amazing.  In one of my (now deceased) cousin’s households, though, he and his wife shared the responsibility.  He had his specialities and she had hers, although she was largely responsible for the day-to-day running of the kitchen.  After his wife died, my cousin prepared his wife’s recipes and lived quite happily for a number of years on his own.

Recently, BBC2 aired a four-part documentary following London chefs and restaurateurs Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo around Italy to see how the food landscape has changed since they left many years ago to pursue their careers in the UK.  The show is called Two Greedy Italians and my only criticism is that I wish the Beeb had been able to put four more episodes together.  We were sorry when the last one aired.  Still, perhaps this was just the start and we’ll have a second series.  I hope so!

Gennaro worked for Antonio for a number of years until they had a professional falling out.  They got back together again for Two Greedy ItaliansGennaro was also a mentor to Jamie Oliver and has appeared on a number of Jamie’s cookery shows.

Antonio and Gennaro both relate cooking to love and family life, which is how it should be.  In the first part of Episode 1, Gennaro gives a lengthy and moving exposition of this relationship.  The duo also visit the Giacobazzi family of Modena, known worldwide for their excellent balsamic vinegar.  They note that the women are in charge of making the vinegar. I guess the men in the family run the business side of things. (They manufacture a number of different types — we use it all the time.  Some is for everyday use and some is truly vintage and much more expensive.) Have a look:

In the next part, at the eight-minute mark, Antonio and Gennaro share a drink with a group of young Italians discussing cooking in the home.  One woman, Giulia, identifies herself through her crime reporting and has no interest in cooking for herself.  ‘But you might get married someday,’ our chefs counter.  ‘Or maybe not,’ she replies. ‘Why can’t we find a man who can cook?’

But that’s really missing the point. The older one gets, the more one realises that life lies outside of work.  Work enables life and relationships but it doesn’t define them.

It is interesting to note that the man at the table does the cooking because his wife works long hours.  Fair enough — no criticism.  His grandmother taught him how to cook — a wonderful thing, indeed.

At 11 minutes in this next section, Antonio and Gennaro spend time in a cooking school originally intended for tourists who would like a short cookery course which now attracts a growing number of Italians.  Giulia the crime reporter is there, learning how to make tortellini:

One thing cooks will love about that clip is the variety of rolling pins hanging on the wall.  Also note the pasta dough the head instructor works with — so light and supple.  This lady says she is the mother for those who don’t have mothers to teach them how to cook.  Beautiful (and so much better than Jamie Oliver’s nudging).  If this doesn’t bring a smile to your face, I don’t know what to say.

In the last two parts of episode 1, Antonio and Gennaro visit a complex which helps to rehabilitate former drug addicts.  Located in the countryside, it has a clinic, living quarters, a kitchen, a restaurant and a farm — a bit of a modern-day secular monastery for those seeking to repair their lives.  The patients farm animals, grow vegetables and make cheese.  They also learn how to cook for the entire community.  This is such a wonderful idea:

In the first two segments, you’ll see the way that fast food and pre-prepared food (e.g. pasta) is beginning to take over the Italian landscape.  I wonder what the country will look like in 20 or 30 years time.  Right now, everyone is of a relatively normal weight, but if convenience food is available wherever one goes, change is surely afoot.

I notice that in my visits to France over the past 34 years how the size of the people has changed dramatically.  Everyone used to be thin up until old age.  Now, it’s a very different story.  But with fast-food chains dotted around all the streets, it’s no wonder people are putting on weight.

Try preparing more meals at home and see if you don’t start losing weight or at least feel fuller after a normal sized portion.  Fat and sugar, as tasty as both are in food prepared outside the home, really don’t satiate hunger as much as a plate of food from your own kitchen does.  Yes, of course, you will be using fat and sugar in some of what you make, but because you are working with proper ingredients, you won’t need to have extra helpings or graze between meals.

Back to the show, however.  This series is a fine encapsulation of Italian culture.  If you’ve ever wanted to visit Italy or relive your time there, it’s a great place to start.  And, of course, you’ll see Antonio and Gennaro recreate some of their favourite dishes, too.

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