LA GENTILEZZA, by Elaine Fellows
Although Italy was politically united in 1861, the regional
differences are still striking. But from Sicily to Milan everyone
is caring of, and kind to, old ladies, and so in this series
of short bits, I will recall some endearing examples of Italian
gentilezza encountered by me during the happy years I spent
in Italy from 1982 to 2002. In my first Italian visit I was
sixty and didnt carry a cane, but long before my twentieth
winter my bastone was a constant companion. Perhaps
my cane contributed somewhat to identifying me as a kindness
candidate, but from my first visit my grey hair had seemed
sufficient ; I was doubtless somebodys mother, and as
such deserving. Italian mothers usually sacrifice greatly
for their children, work selflessly for them, and in their
old age they are rewarded!
Snow in Rome and Sun in Sicily
In January, 1985 as I arrived at Fiumicino airport from London
where Id spent two months, it was snowing heavily. The
snow would continue - so rare an occurrence in Rome that for
years the stalls sold post cards showing the city covered
in snow. My plane was late and I feared Id miss my connection
to Palermo. We had disembarked in the airports centre
-far from the gates- the snow swirled around us as our baggage
was unloaded onto a truck. I was told my plane was already
out on the tarmac on the other side of the airport. I expressed
my concern to two gentlemen, airport employees. After conferring,
they asked me to identify my bag then gallantly conducted
me over to a waiting ambulance, loaded my bag and me aboard.
One of them accompanied me as we raced across Fiumicino. I
couldnt remember the word for siren and laughingly asked
why we werent ringing our bell. My attendant
and the ambulance driver seemed to find my question charming!
Thus we were in a convivial mood when we arrived at the little
plane for Sicily. They were just taking away the stairs, but
this operation was soon halted, and the little old lady was
welcomed aboard the last plane to leave Rome for three days.
A NOTE FROM JUNE BELLAMY
Studio June Bellamy was originally created as an Oriental
School of Cooking for Italians, introducing basic methods,
spices and the cuisine of different oriental countries. Today
the same method is applied for English speaking students who
are interested in the art of the Italian cuisine, by learning
to cook the most basic and simple recipes or venturing into
regional master pieces.
At the Studio in Florence (www.studiojunebellamy.it), our
courses or single lessons are built around individual or group
requirements and are given both in Italian and English. Every
lesson is accompanied by annotations on the cultural or historical
context of the dishes prepared during this hands-on experience.
Regarding our Spring schedule, there are no set courses in
English, however we are open for bookings for individual lessons
which can be Half day Sessions (morning or afternoon 10 am
and 4.30 pm) or All-Day Sessions (10 am - lunch, a break then
5 pm till dinner) that could include food-shopping, if desired.
At Sovicille Siena (www.borgopersonatina.com), in collaboration
with Orsa Pellion di Persano at Borgo Personatina, where accommodation
is also available, we have created a really lovely summer
program including seven days of cooking. Studio June Bellamy,
Associazione Culturale per l'Arte e la Gastronomia. Via di
Camaldoli 12 r - 50124 Firenze. Tel/fax 055.224130. email:
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LA CANTINA DELLOIL SHOPPE
A gem has been discovered in Florence for those who are partial
to the trend in many cities toward small plate meals. La Cantina
was founded by a master of the nuances of flavors and how
best to match them to achieve the epitome of their delicacy,
but first a brief history: Alberto and Margherita, his wife,
opened the small but well-known Oleum Olivae, the Olive Oil
Shop, a few doors away at 22/R, with a select inventory of
superior oils that were embellished by Albertos vast
knowledge of all of the essentials of olive oil and balsamic
cultivation and production. As a Chemist and Teacher by profession,
Alberto has a keener sense of the intricacies that distinguish
olive oils and vinegars. It was a perfect marriage of these
In response to requests, the Oleum Olivae began to serve occasional
sandwiches on the side. It was a riveting sight to watch Alberto
create a masterpiece before your very eyes with a rapturous
description of what he was concocting. From this small start,
the Olive Oil Shop was overwhelmed with requests for sandwiches
to the point that lengthy lines formed on the street to sample
his creations. They are not to be missed.
Finally, the Olive Oil Shop was converted to a Delicatessen,
featuring his creations. Alberto was then inspired to take
his intense interest in food and in heightening their flavors
to La Cantina, where one can expect a delectable selection
of small plates from the Tasting Menu
, that include 4 or 5 small plates of basically
traditional dishes with special, personal touches to enhance
their flavor. Starting with only the freshest, finest quality
ingredients provides each dish with a gustatory advantage.
Apart from the Tasting Menus, there is a wide assortment of
a la carte small plates from which to select. The limits of
space prohibit reciting the extensive list of choices and
the combinations offered but a sample will have to suffice:
crostini, antipasto, carpaccio, Tagliere Toscana, ribollita,
zuppa, crespella in addition to a variety of salads and scrumptious
desserts that are sinfully delicious. But dont be fooled,
none of these dishes resemble plates with similar names in
they lack the gifted Alberto touch that separates
his renditions from others. He is usually present at La Cantina
to walk you through your meal and describe with passion what
you are about to devour.
Not to overlook his devotion to superior olive oils, there
are 50 top olive oils from which to select, 20 balsamic vinegars
along with a choice selection of some 150 wines. Both the
Delicatessen and La Cantina merit a visit. La Cantina dellOil
Shoppe, Via S. Egidio 10. Firenze tel. 055 2001092 firstname.lastname@example.org,
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Thumbs up for one of the best Chinese restaurants in town.
Corso and Bei (who ought to know) chose Il Mandarino in Via
Condotta for entertaining wedding party guests recently. Bei
stands by the authenticity and quality of the roast chicken,
the won ton soup and the fish with ginger. IL MANDARINO, 17/R
Via Condotta. Tel: 055 2396130.
RECIPE OF THE MONTH
CROSTATA DI FRAGOLE - Serves 10-12
Watch for the first fresh berries of Spring,and go wild!!
I try to keep pasta frolla (sweet tart pastry) on hand for
last minute desserts. This easy-to-work-with dough is ideal
for beginning cooks. Try the same recipe with other fruits
such as blackberries, raspberries, etc., using the corresponding
jam. The possibilities are just about endless.
½ recipe pasta frolla (see below) or use store-bought
pastry dough/pie crust for one pie
½ pound (250 grams) mascarpone
fresh strawberries, washed, dried and cut into halves
½-3/4 cup strawberry jam (or even better, substitute
a generous handful of your fresh berries mashed with 3 tablespoons
powdered sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 375°.
Roll-out pasta frolla and place in a buttered and floured
10-inch tart pan. A pan with removable sides works best but
isnt necessary. Make a pretty border by pinching the
edges as for a pie crust. Using a fork, prick the entire crust
so steam can escape while baking. Bake crust 10-12 minutes,
until lightly browned. If the crust gets a steam bubble while
baking, pop it with a knife. Set crust aside to cool, then
transfer to a flat serving platter.
Blend mascarpone and jam. Spread mascarpone and jam mixture
on cooled crust. Place the strawberry halves in concentric
circles, slightlyoverlapping to completely cover the tart.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired and garnish with a
sprig of mint or edible flowers such as pansies or violets.
Pasta Frolla: this recipe makes enough for two 10-inch tarts.
If you want to make just one tart, wrap half of the dough,
patted into a saucer-sized disk, in plastic wrap and store
in freezer for up to 2 months.
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) cold butter, cut into thin slices
¼ t. salt
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
On a smooth surface, combine flour, sugar, butter and salt.
Crumble with fingers until the butter is worked into the flour
and mixture resembles coarse meal. Make a well in the centre,
like a low volcano, and add eggs and extra yolk, blending
until mixture comes together. Divide dough in half and chill,
wrapped in plastic wrap for at least 30 minutes.