My husband and I just returned from vacation, spending two weeks in Sicily and Italy. We visited small communities and large cities. Originating in Italy, the Slow Food Movement focuses on regional cooking and fresh food on a smaller scale. During this trip, I was able to experience this first hand. Their approach to food is quite different from ours.
Italians have a great appreciation and respect for the land. They know where their food comes from. They use greener agriculture practices with minimal use of pesticides. Cows and sheep grazing on grass dotted the landscape. We saw pear, peach, lemon, and lime trees, endless groves of olives and grapes, and fields of wheat. Near Rome, we saw a few fields of corn.
We were able to spend time with my husband’s family in Sicily. It was an adventure going to their country house located in central Sicily for dinner. Broccoli, eggplant, and tomatoes were cut from their garden. We cut and chopped the vegetables and prepared broccoli, green beans with tomatoes, eggplant, a tomato salad, and a hearty vegetable and pasta soup accompanied with fresh bread. Outside, many enjoyed slices of beef the size of breakfast cutlets that were cooked on the grill. Cousin Giuseppe left for a few minutes and returned with a bowl of freshly picked peaches for dessert. It was quite a feast!
Grocery stores are located in neighborhoods and are the size of our convenience stores. Rows and rows of processed foods are absent. A person behind the meat and cheese display case (mostly likely the owner) will help with your selection. Another display case has prepared panini (sandwiches) made with a slice of cheese and a couple slices of thin ham or salami on fresh bread, as well as a variety of pizzas and freshly made dolci (sweets) such as cannoli, cookies, and tortes. This is the Italians’ equivalent to “fast food.” Shelves had pasta in all shapes and sizes and a variety of olive oils. Canned tomatoes, sardines, beans, soups, and wine also lined the shelves. The “produce department” consists of crates of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables brought in that day.
Food in Italy is prepared simply using fresh, seasonal, local ingredients. It was surprising to see an asterisk by an entrée ingredient on restaurant menus indicating it was frozen and not fresh. It was almost like an admission of guilt. (We saw one or two asterisks on a menu if any). Eating a simple plate of pasta with tomato sauce was full of flavor and delicious.
The woman sitting next to me on the flight home had visited her son and his family near Naples. She shared how they made a large batch of tomato sauce earlier that week. Freshly picked tomatoes were cooked outside in a big kettle. Only garlic was added. Once cooked, they ran the tomatoes through a strainer to separate and remove the skins and then put the sauce in jars. Simple food simply prepared.
Italians are known for their love of food. They have high standards. Genetically modified foods and “industrialized” grown or prepared foods are non-existent. Where fast food restaurants are usually within three miles of our houses here, they are nearly impossible to find in Italy. From the Italians, we can all benefit by learning a new appreciation for fresh quality food.