It is very difficult, if not impossible, to know an Italian in Italy without them cooking for you. Having home cooked Italian food with good Italian wine and conversation will warm even the coldest of hearts. And you cannot be initiated into this part of Italian culture without learning at least one traditional Italian saying that does not quite translate into English.
During my second week living in Bologna, the apartment search will still ongoing so my husband and I were staying in an AirBnB hosted by Danilo. During our stay, Danilo’s girlfriend, Filomena, came down from Milan for a couple of nights before they both travelled south to visit their families in Calabria. Before they left, they insisted that they cook us a traditional Italian dinner which we were only too happy to accept.
Filomena is a phenomenal cook and she graciously explained what she was doing so I could write down the instructions and make the meal myself.
Starting with the aperitivo, a traditional Italian pre-dinner snack, we had some beer and chips while the spaghetti and side were being prepared. Danilo speaks English almost fluently and the rest of us were able to hold our own in each other’s respective languages with the help of hand gestures and language translation apps.
Filomena’s spaghetti carbonara (for four people)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 200 grams of cubed pancetta or bacon
- 1 whole egg
- 4 egg yolks (1 per person)
- Salt and pepper
- Parmesan cheese
- 500 grams of spaghetti
- 2 capsicums, cut into strips
- 1 heaped teaspoon of anchovies
- Boil water for the spaghetti.
- Heat about 5mm of oil in a pan and fry the pancetta on medium heat for 10 minutes or until the pancetta is crispy and golden.
- Beat the egg and egg yolks together and add black pepper.
- After the water comes to a boil, add a heaped tablespoon of salt and the spaghetti. Cook until al dente (we had an amusing conversation about how non-Italians like their pasta soft and sloppy!)
- After the spaghetti has finished cooking, turn off the heat and take one cupful of the water from the pot and set aside. Drain the spaghetti and rinse it under hot water.
- Return the drained spaghetti back to the pot (do not put it back on the heat) and mix in the pancetta.
- Mix in the egg then slowly add the water from the cup previously set aside until the cup is empty.
- Serve the spaghetti with parmesan.
Side dish – served after the spaghetti
- Fry the anchovies and capsicum in oil until the ingredients are mixed. Add half a cup of boiling water, cover and simmer on low for 10-15 minutes or until the capsicum is soft.
- Empty the water.
- Serve with fresh bread and cheese (we had asiago cheese).
We ate this delicious meal accompanied by a Cannonau red from Sicily and wide ranging conversation. From the disparity in available employment between south and north Italy, to the average age of marriage in our countries (it’s quite a bit later in Italy), to seeing Danilo and Filomena’s incredible photos from their holiday on a boat going around the Aeolian islands.
At the end of the meal, Danilo sliced up a fresh peach and put a piece in each of our wine glasses and shared the Calabrian saying, “La boca l’è minga straca se la spuza de vaca”— the mouth cannot be finished until it smells of cows. Which means that a meal is not finished until you have cheese – sheep and goat cheese don’t count!
There you have it. Home cooked food, served with good wine and conversation is the perfect welcome pack when settling in a new city.