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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Pizza With a Knife and Fork? Sorry, New Yorkers – Mayor de Blasio is RIGHT!

I've been flapping my gums for years about the proper way to eat certain Italian foods. I've already expounded at length about the proper way to eat spaghetti. You don't cut it, you twirl it. And there's a proper twirling technique, too, one that never, ever involves a <shudder> spoon. But right now I want to reiterate the right way to eat pizza. By “right,” of course, I mean the traditional Italian way.
 
No offense to youse guys in New Yawk and New Joisy whose Italian ancestors arrived at Ellis Island two or three generations ago, but those vecchi nonni would absolutely spin in their graves if they could see a lot of what has been done to their beloved traditional food – to say nothing of their native language. Yeah, I'm talkin' to you, people who say “moozzarell” and “proshoot” and “ragot.” But that's a topic for another time.
 
There's been a real tempest brewing in a teapot in the New York media lately because the new mayor, an Italian-American guy named Bill de Blasio, got caught eating his pizza with a knife and fork. I live hundreds of miles away and I swear I can hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth from here. Everybody in New Yawk knows dat da way to eat a slice 'a pizza is to pick it up wit yer hands, fold it ovah and stuff it in yer face. Capeesh? So when the mayor gets caught with a knife and a fork, why it's like he roots for the Red Sox or somethin'. Oh, wait........he does root for the Red Sox.

Disaster!”, cries one New York writer. “Forkgate”, screams another.

In his own defense, de Blasio, whose mother was Italian, says, “In my ancestral homeland, it’s more typical to eat with a fork and knife.” He added, “I have been in Italy a lot and I have picked up the habit for certain types of pizza,” noting that the pie he allegedly butchered at Goodfellas “had a lot on it.”

And you know what? He's absolutely right. It is indeed proper etiquette, especially when dining out, to eat pizza with a knife and fork. Nobody wants to see grease dripping down your fingers and toppings falling out of your mouth as you fold a slice like a freakin' sandwich and shovel it into your pie hole. Italians don't even let their children eat that way.

In the first place, real Italian pizza isn't served by the slice. I didn't used to be served that way in America either. Those old guys at those early pizzerias sold it by the pie. You go in and ask for a slice and they show you the door molto rapidamente. It took a long time for “by the slice” to catch on, and it still hasn't caught on in some more traditional places. So the way you eat a pizza in Italy is to cut it in quarters with your knife and then cut small bites and transfer them to your mouth with a fork.

Now, because a lot of traditions “evolved” once they came to America, a lot of people – yours truly included – will take those first molten hot bites with a knife and fork. You know, the ones that leave burned places on the roof of your mouth if you just stick the pointy end in and bite down? And that pointy end is usually pretty droopy, too, and everything sort of slides off on the way to your face and ends up on your shirt. Once I get far enough into the slice that it has cooled a bit and is a little more stable, I'll eat it with my fingers, American style. Sometimes. Depends on who I'm with and how much crap I want to take.

And Hizzoner says that's the way he does it, too. “I often start with a knife and fork but then I cross over to the American approach and pick it up when I go farther into the pizza,” he explained.

In fact, although the Italians did not exactly “invent” the fork, they were responsible for its refinement into an eating utensil and for spreading it around Renaissance Europe. So Italians and forks go way back.

A lot depends on the pizza, too. In Italy there's no such thing as “supreme” or “meat lover's.” They don't load their pies with everything but the kitchen sink. Authentic Neapolitan pizza, made according the the strict standards of Vera Pizza Napoletana, requires that the crust be no more than 14 inches in diameter and no thicker than 0.8 inches. The allowable toppings include tomatoes, basil, mozzarella, oregano, and garlic. If you want pepperoni pizza in Italy, go to an American tourist trap. The real pizzerias won't know what you're talking about.

The cardboard-crusted abominations foisted off on an uneducated American public by the likes of Pizza Hut, Dominoes, Little Caesar's, Papa John's and the rest wouldn't even qualify as pizze in Italy. And many of the pies produced by supposedly “authentic” pizzerias barely make the grade. If you have to juggle your pizza and fold it in half and hold your mouth just right so the grease doesn't drip and the copious toppings don't slip, you're not eating a decent pizza anyway. It's like those tomato and cheese casseroles they call “deep dish pizza” in Chicago. I dare you to fold up one of those bad boys. And even if the crust is thin and crispy on the outside with a nice chewiness on the inside, if you load it down with so much garbage that it all slides off in your lap, what's the point?

So cut Bill de Blasio some slack, anti-forkers. He's right, you're wrong, live with it. I don't care if 8.3 million New Yorkers think they're right. Sixty-one point three million Italians will say they're not, and that pretty much settles the question. Capisce? 

I'm outta here. All this talk has me craving a nice thin-crust pizza Margherita, so I gotta go get my knife and fork. Ciao!

4 comments:

  1. Some intelligent Americans are trying to explain why Italians eat their pizze the right way using knife an fork; but still you don 't catch the main reason. It 's not simply to avoid having crap dripping onto your shirt The real reason is because cooking is an art and a good dish should be enjoyed with all senses. Pizza has a straight side and a reverse one. You should enjoy the look of it from above, right in your dish, all its toppings and their flavors one by one, even the sound of cutting knife and the crunching crust is a delight. You can cut it in so much small chunks and enjoy each of them, see them, smell them, choosing which one you want to eat first. This is the enjoymet of slow food. New Yorkers maybe are so much used to fast food they also treat their pizza as a fast food, swallowing it folded up, rapidly before sauce gets on their shirt, face or lap. That way you don 't enjoy the right side of your pizza. What you see, smell and touch actually is the wrong side. Even the first taste you feel in your mouth is that of the wrong side. Afterwards, all the tastes and flavors are mixed together and closed up inside: you cannot distinguish them. This maybe is too much refined an argument for a largely uncivilized population who are mocking their mayor for not being as much uncivilized. Many here in Italy think that 's because American pizza is so shoddy you prefer gobbling it down without even a look at it. But even New Yorkers and their pizza may improve over time, let' s hope.

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    1. (Ron James stands, bows, salutes and says, "Ben detto, signore" to Maestro Petronius.)

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    2. Thank you a lot. I was never tributed a bowing before, least of all for the way I eat. I 've been thinking about my last sentence and New Yorkers. So this is my idea, Ron: Don 't you know anybody who can propose the original authentic pizza, right in New York? Can you imagine what a provocation: a place or even a chain of restaurants whose name is "K&F Pizzeria" where K&F stands for knife and fork?
      Of course, there you serve true Italian ingredients and the true Italian pizze as a whole, not sliced. A knife and fork, good company, slow eating and enjoying your food are all strongly recommended.
      It sounds like a good business opportunity. I found this blog surfing the net but I feel you are a conoisseur of American 's mood, and you 're very good in the kitchen too: Maybe you could do that, or find out who can.
      Just in case, I might contribute in a video, explaining how to use knife and fork correctly; not just to be polite, but to get the best enjoyment from your meal. Second lesson: how to twirl spaghetti.
      Also, I could walk among the tables if you want, reciting an entire canto of Dante 's Divine Comedy; as I like to know it by heart. This way some diners may hear a bit of the true Italian language, with its queer correct pronunciation :).

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  2. Refreshing article… but a little beside the point since there is practically no mention of "pizza" in Italian literature (culinary or otherwise) prior to the arrival of U.S. troops in WWII… Show me just ONE photo of anyone in Italy eating pizza in Italy that goes back more than 70 years… Check out Pellegrino Artusi's La scienza in cucina e l'arte di mangiar bene and you will only find three pizza recipes and they're all dessert recipes made with dough that contain eggs and lots of sugar… Everything indicates that the pizza in its current form was invented in NYC in the 1920's by some wily Italian immigrant loosely adapting to the American urban landscape and way of life one variation or other of something that was sold on the streets of Napoli. Nothing truly Italian about it.

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