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!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Stupid Use for Canned Food

An Insane Proposition: School Recommends Kids Bean Armed Intruders With Canned Food

Have you met ALICE? It's an acronym for a new method of school safety – Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate. According to its website (, it's the “new standard of care for K-12 schools.” All well and good, I'm sure, in principle. It's the practice that worries me. Particularly the part where little kids are supposed to defend themselves against armed intruders by pelting them with canned food.

Yeah, you read that correctly.

Officials at a middle school in Valley, Alabama, a town just up the road from Auburn on the Georgia border, recently sent home a letter requesting that students bring canned goods to school. Not for a food drive, mind you, but as a means of self-defense. It's the “counter” part of the ALICE method.

The nutjobs who run the school think that “arming” kids with cans will give them a “sense of empowerment to protect themselves and will make them feel secure in case an intruder enters their classroom.” Right. Canned corn always make me feel very secure. The inanity continues, “It is a practice that would catch an intruder off-guard. The canned food item could stun the intruder or even knock him out until the police arrive.”

There are so many things wrong here that it boggles the mind.

In the first place, armed intruders seldom tell you they're coming. In order to be prepared, the kids would have to keep their canned goods close at hand. Like on their desk tops, perhaps. If they have to dig them out of their backpacks or whatever while the intruder waits patiently to be “countered”, the deterrent factor is somewhat muted. I suppose you could design a holster of some sort; something the kids could wear around the school. “Watch out for Johnny! He's packin' pinto beans!”

In the second place, we're talking middle schoolers here. Age and maturity might play in just a little, don't you think? I mean, some crazy with an assault rifle jumps through the door and pops the teacher and a couple of your friends. Are you going to A) calmly reach into your backpack, grab a soup can, and accurately throw it at the bad guy while he's pointing a gun at you or are you going to B) scream and wet yourself? I'm betting on the latter.

Which brings up a third point; coordination and physical ability. How many kids of that age who aren't on the baseball team or something are likely to be able to effectively throw a can on the fly? This isn't a situation where they'll be able to calmly line up and take careful aim. I can just see a room full of panicked eleven year olds heaving cans in every direction. They'll likely take out each other – as well as most of the windows. Now admittedly, the letter specifically requests eight-ounce cans. Little cans. I can maybe see some tyke doing some damage with a #10 can of tomatoes, but an eight-ouncer is likely to just make the assailant angry.

And that leads to the effect such an assault might have on a whacked out guy with a gun. Sure, there's a possibility that one kid might get lucky and bounce a can of cling peaches off the guy's forehead. But the odds are much greater that he'll just get more pissed and deranged than he already is. And what do pissed and deranged people with guns do when they are threatened or attacked? Pile up lots of dead kids, that's what.


The superintendent of schools for the county is a little more realistic. It's not all about “countering,” she says. She apparently doesn't envision a pint-sized commando squad equipped with cans of Le Sueur peas. “The major point of the the training,” she says, “is to be able to get kids evacuated and not be sitting ducks hiding under desks.” And many safety and security experts agree. “Countering” is a bad idea waiting to happen. Far better that the kids be alerted, locked down, informed and that they get the hell out of there. ALIE would probably be a better idea than ALICE.

And yet, thirty states have implemented the ALICE method in their school systems. You might want to check with yours. Especially if you catch Sally raiding the pantry. Some fool might be “empowering” her and making her feel “secure” by telling her that she can do a Wonder Woman and knock out a bad guy with a can of soup. But Wonder Woman can bounce bullets off her bracelets. Can Sally?

The school in Alabama concludes its misguided missive with the cheery affirmation that any cans not used to ward off evil will be donated the the local food bank. And maybe that's where they should go to start with. How about just take care of the kids by being alert to danger and then getting them out of harm's way. Never mind the lunacy of trying to get them to “protect” themselves armed with little cans of carrots and a false sense of security. You'll just get them killed.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What Pasta Goes With Which Sauce?

Not All Pastas Are Created Equal

Anybody who has ever wandered down the pasta aisle at the grocery store has probably come away bewildered by the variety of shapes on display. And what you'll find in the average supermarket is but a tiny fraction of all the wonderful examples of the pasta makers art. A conservative estimate finds between 350 and 400 different pasta shapes on the market, the majority of which, of course, can be found in Italy. So, why are there so many shapes? Did somebody get bored in the kitchen or what? While imagination does play a role in the creation of pasta shapes – tortellini are said to resemble the navel of Venus and orecchiette are supposed to look like little ears – there is actually a real reason behind the various configurations. It has to do with the one of the primary purposes of pasta: serving as a vehicle for sauce.

Don't get me wrong. As any good Italian will tell you, pasta is meant to be the star of the dish and the sauce is merely a condiment. That said, some pastas work better with some condiments than others. The way the sauce clings or adheres to the pasta can make or break a dish. That's one reason you NEVER (was I emphatic enough there?) put oil on your drained pasta or in the cooking water. Unless, of course, you really want your sauce to slide right off the noodle. The way a pasta is shaped contributes to its surface area, which, in turn, determines how it will interact with the sauce. Some pastas are smooth and some have texture or ridges (called rigati). Some are long thin strands, some are long flat ribbons, some are short hollow tubes, while others have fanciful configurations like shells, bow ties, corkscrews and, yes, even little ears.

There are nearly as many sauces and preparations as there are pastas. The hands down winner of the pasta sauce popularity contest is the traditional southern Italian tomato-based sauce. The essential salsa di pomodoro is the basic platform from which many other sauces are made. Although delicious when served “plain,” adding spices, herbs, vegetables or meats like ground beef, pork sausage, pancetta, or guanciale creates a range of possibilities from marinara, arribiatta, amatriciana, puttanesca and many more. A hearty, meaty bolognese begins with tomato sauce. Often, tomato sauce is combined with meatballs for what Americans believe to be a quintessentially Italian dish, except that it only exists on Italian-American tables.

Then there are the oil-based sauces. Usually consisting of nothing more than olive oil or butter and a variety of herbs and spices, these light sauces are as simple as they are delicious. Pasta aglio e olio, or pasta with garlic and oil, comes to mind.

While tomatoes and olive oil reign in the southern parts of Italy, creamy and/or cheesy sauces are more representative of northern regions. Although rice, gnocchi, and polenta are common in the north, there are still plenty of rich, creamy pasta dishes to be found.

Whether prepared with tomato-based sauces or rich creamy sauces, baked pasta, or pasta al forno, is the ultimate comfort food. Macaroni and cheese and baked ziti are just two of dozens of examples.

Finally, pasta is used to bulk up soups and it is a staple in many salads, as well.

The general rules of thumb for pairing pasta with sauce advise that thinner, lighter sauces are best paired with long pastas like spaghetti, linguine, bucatini, fettuccine, tagliatelle, pappardelle, and capellini. Capellini, or “angel hair,” is very delicate and works best with the lightest sauces, while thicker pasta shapes, like bucatini and fettuccine, work well with heavier sauces.

Chunky, meaty sauces and thick, creamy or cheesy sauces pair best with short, tubular pasta shapes. Penne, ziti, cavatelli, conchiglie, gemelli, fusilli, radiatore, farfalle, rigatoni, and, of course, chifferi are but a few of dozens of choices. You'll recognize chifferi by its common name, “elbow” macaroni.

Pastas that are ideal for soups include ditalini, orzo, pastina, stelline, anelli, and acini di pepe. These are all tiny pasta shapes, but larger shapes, like farfalle, can also work well in soups.

People throw almost anything into pasta salads, but the shapes that work best include rotini, fusilli, farfalle, oricchiette, rotelle, penne, and good old “elbows.”

There are no hard and fast rules here. The pasta police will not batter down your kitchen door if you are caught using shells instead of elbows in your macaroni and cheese. With four hundred varieties from which to choose, there's a lot of room for experimentation. These are merely guidelines based on generations of experience. Your mileage may vary. So, impazzire! (Go crazy!)

And buon appetito!