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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Five Food Signs to Spot an Italian

By: Ymatruz | Filed under: | |

Sparkling water served during our anniversary dinner in Lucas Ristorante, a classic Italian restaurant in New Jersey.

The first Christmas eve I spent with my Italian family, it was a no meat day, except seafood meat. It was Seven fishes on Christmas eve, an Italian tradition. For most of the occasions I had liked most of what were served on the table and the only question I had, what is it that I could not eat?

Here are five food signs to spot an Italian:

1. THE CHEESE REVOLUTION
I never know of someone from an Italian family who doesn't eat cheese (unless he is lactose intolerant). I grew up from a culture that the only cheese I know is cheddar, with brand names as "Cheez Whiz" or "Queso". But if you are around Italians, there are different kinds of cheese and at the most, I could only identify from the way they taste are Romano, provolone, cheddar, mozzarella, ricotta, Parmesan and pepper jack.

If you got the prosciutto for antipasto, pair it up with mozzarella, provolone, cheddar, pepperoni and oh-la-la! But hey, where's roasted peppers?

Mozarella, provolone, cheddar and pepperjack cheeses with Italian bread and prosciutto on the side.

2. ROASTED PEPPERS
I fell in love with roasted peppers that I think I mastered how to make it myself. The way I recall it, here's how to prepare one: Preheat the oven to 400 deg F. Roast the red peppers in the oven for at least 30 - 40 minutes until the skins are wrinkled, soft and juice comes out, turning each sides while roasting. When they are fully cooked, it is easier to remove the skin. After skin is peeled off, remove the stem and seeds then cut the roasted peppers into strips.  Soak in olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh garlic overnight and hmm...I'm getting hungry. The sweetness of roasted peppers always stand up.

Roasted peppers in the middle, with salami, cheese, pepperoni and mozzarella.

3. ARTICHOKES
OK. The first time I ate artichokes, I found it very weird that I had to scrape the leaves using my teeth, after dipping it either in a mixed olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or melted butter. And I meant it, scraping the leaves one by one. After 2 or 3 tries, I stopped eating.

On the next occasion, I left my heart in the artichokes when I tasted the artichokes heart. Ah? I never thought that the "chokes" meat inside the artichokes would be one of the most savory and tender vegetable ever. The one I had was simply soaked in olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon (or vinegar, I can't recall). The other flavors I had was even better, stuffed artichokes hearts bought from a certified Italian deli and it was really good.

Artichokes heart served after soaking in olive oil and vinegar. Oh, so yummy!

4. ITALIAN BREAD
You are an Italian if you thought that almost every meal, there should be a piece of bread on the table. You can get any bread as long as it is freshly baked Italian.  Ha-ha! And please add an olive oil dip, that would be awesome!

Oh, that olive oil dip! 

5. PASTA
"No one can cook like grandma." You will always hear from the Italian family. Scrap the canned tomatoes, their Grandmas make their own version of pasta sauce using fresh tomatoes, cooked in long hours on a low heat. And at times, served in their home made pasta, too. Somebody asked me, "What kind of pasta do you want? which I would reply "spaghetti" because that's how we call it in Philippines (although we also use macaroni for soup and salad). Then, he mentioned the common list of options - penne, linguine, fettuccine, tortelloni, rigatoni, rotini and ravioli.  It burned my head imagining how each one look like so I just said, "I'll stick to spaghetti."  I believed there are about a hundred of pasta shapes variety out there and I would be happy trying the first ten.

Lucas Ristorante offers traditional Italian cuisine. Luca is one the best seafood pasta I had tasted. It has jumbo shrimp, crab meat, scallops, asparagus, tomatoes and creamy white sauce.


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