Or the now-famous “al dente” translating as “to the tooth”, meaning it has bite to it, and you can see the little white centre of a spaghetti strand and know it's exactly at that stage. Or have it the way our friend Lucio Galetto likes it - “in piedi”, standing up - that’s even more al dente!
Similarly, when pasta is about to be served, Italian kitchens ring with the phrase, “Butta la pasta”, which means, “I’m putting on the pasta, so finish what you’re doing and get to the table otherwise you’ll miss out”; in other words, “You have 7 to 14 minutes before we eat”. Add a forceful Italian mamma and a hungry family and it's an incredibly motivating force.
And there’s something about making pasta from scratch that is so leveling and such a good tonic. Flour, salt and eggs. Mixed gradually by hand, rolled and kneaded into a dough. Rested. Rolled and fed into a pasta machine, gradually turning the settings to a thinner and thinner sheet to work the glutens in the flour and make the pasta elastic. And then the joy of cutting the shapes you need. Long ribbons of pappadelle or fettucine. Or laying out sheets for ravioli and dotting the filling onto those silky sheets.
Pasta truly is the fuel that Italy runs on. In the words of the great Sophia Loren, "Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti."
Pasta's not the only food we're salivating over this week. There's also la bistecca alla Fiorentina, the classic T-bone steak cut from the big white ox Chianina. I had my first real one in an osteria in Chianti. It’s served for two because it is far too big for one. I shared it with my son, Carlo, who is as much of a meat lover as I am. This slab of meat was so big that we barely got through it. The meat is sweet and delicate, yet rich and full of flavour.
My friend Daniella Mollica, who started the Slow Food movement in Australia, is now raising these cattle in Gippsland with her husband, Sam Walker. This is exciting. As a write this, I’m expecting the first carcass to be delivered next week and I can smell it.
Almonds are a very versatile creature and are as integral to Italian cuisine as spaghetti. I use them in cakes, to cook fish with; I even use them to form a crust over scallops. They are in soups, biscotti and rich desserts. They make a fantastic pastry for tarts when mixed with flour, butter and sugar and, if this wasn’t enough, they’re also coated in sugar and thrown at people at weddings and given away in bonbonniere at communions.
This humble little nut has certainly made an appearance throughout my entire life in one way or another, so I'm glad to welcome it to the show. And they continue to impress: recently we got some fresh ones in. Once we peeled them, the nut was soft and delicate, ready to be sautéed in butter, making a wonderful accompaniment to a seared John Dory fillet, which I served with a farro and asparagus salad. Delicious!
There are many versions of nougat recipes. Some make a soft torrone and some make a hard torrone. This is a sweet that uses very simple ingredients, yet needs a little technical know-how and care to get right. Once it all works out, though, it’s probably one of the most famous and delicious of all Italian desserts. This is a classic of la cucina Italiana.