From My Wok to Yours - Taking the Mystery Out of Everyday Dining and Meals!!

Monday, January 4, 2010

How Do You Say "Chinese Food" in Italian?

After struggling into my pants a couple of days ago, I decided that I had to modify my resolution for the New Year.  (Okay, I hadn't really made one, but I decided that I was just going to have to.  Oh yeah, and I didn't REALLY have to "struggle" into my pants...)  The fact that I worry about actually "filling out" my clothes concerns me no end...

So whilst grumping about my weight gain, which was a direct result of all the Holiday meals that I had enjoyed, I realized that I was going to have to eat better, and eat less, or smaller portions.  In my family, however, that is easier said than done.  (In fact, refusing an additional serving, or a "Mop Up" is actually considered an insult to the chef.)  It is particularly hard when the food that I get to enjoy is so darned good.

The last few days have seen my family try new dishes and recipes, and also enjoy the varied selections of the Italian side of the family.  (Obviously hers, not mine.)  The conversation around the dinner table ranged from how different we liked our food to how San Antonio, with its taqueria on every corner and fastfood joint on the other needed some exposure to true Chinese and Italian cuisine.  We tried a 5-ingredient recipe of Turkey, wheat penne, asparagus tips,  olive oil and white balsamic vinegar that worked out wonderfully.  It was one of those "spur of the moment" kind of recipes that we had to try to see if it was any good.  We also got some of the famous "Colonna Spaghetti."  The spaghetti for us was a deviation from the norm, as we don't get to enjoy homemade Italian food very often.  The history behind the food? Well storied.  The availability? By request only now.   The  Colonna family has restaurant experience that goes beyond my age, and the popularity of their food still resounds here in San Antonio.  I was able to eat at their last restaurant, that unfortunately is no longer open, and I have to say that, while the restaurant experience was always good, having it made specially for you at home is second to none.

David Colonna's bark may be a lot worse than his bite, and one wrong move while trying to help with the food assembly may take you by surprise, and the wait may make you gnaw your fingernails off if you are really hungry, but this is one dining experience where the wait is definitely worth the time. 

I have been able to assist in the assembly of my own meals a la Colonna, but the secrets behind the sauces are not divulged, even to the most favorite nephew-in-law.  With handmade Italian-style pizzas, steaks, seafood and traditional pasta dishes such as chicken Alfredo fettuccini, calzones and spaghetti and meatballs, I have been the beneficiary of generations of experience in the Colonna Kitchen.

David's keen sense of taste and brilliance in cooking didn't come from years in a culinary academy.  It didn't come from hours spent poring over recipes in everyone else's cookbooks.  It came from the source.  Dave's father Frank opened up the original Colonna's Pizzeria on the Southside of San Antonio in 1967 as a traditional pizza parlor.  While it has changed its appearances many times in the last 4 decades, the best way to get the real taste is not in the local restaurant, it's in his kitchen.

Having been in the restaurant business since 1925, the Colonna family had the true experience behind the menu.  The family business has roots in New Haven, Connecticut, known as The Original Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, and has branched out to include locations in Farfield, Manchester, Yonkers, and even inside the Mohegan Sun Casino.  Their specialty is, of course, pizza, which they cook the old fashion way - in a HUGE coal fired oven.

A personal favorite of mine is Chicken and Jalapeno, but one made with sundried tomatoes, bacon and sausage is also good.  For those unfamiliar with the name or the product, it is a pizza meant to bombard your senses.  While it does not feature the neat round that the big national chains pride themselves in, a Colonna's pizza offers more depth of flavor, and the ability to enjoy LOTS of it without getting stuffed on crust.  The thinner crust also allows for the entire pizza to cook, as opposed to the gel-line (a layer of dough that looks uncooked and soggy) that often comes with a thicker crust pizza.

The secret behind the taste:  Use only the freshest and finest ingredients, and simplicity is best.  The famous sauce is made from scratch, and the dough is made from a secret family recipe.  The amount of care that goes into a true Colonna meal is representative of what Italian food is SUPPOSED to be about.  There are no fancy ingredients in a Colonna pizza unless you put one on it.  No preservatives.  No pre-frozen dough. 

Most non-Italians identify Italian cooking by rattling off some of the standard fare offered in "Traditional Italian Restaurants," like pizza and spaghetti. Some people even go as far as to say that Italian cooking is all pretty much alike. However, those who travel through Italy notice differences in eating habits between cities, even those only a few miles apart. The differences are regional, communal and location specific.

There are individual family recipes for making sausage, cheese and wine, many families have their own bread. The ever-present question about what goes in one man's sauce even has many different answers.  Variations in the pasta are another example of this multiplicity: soft egg noodles in the north, hard-boiled spaghetti in the south, with every conceivable variation in size and shape. Perhaps no other country in the world besides China has a cooking style so finely differentiated into different regions and tastes. So why is Risotto typical of Milan, why did Tortellini originate in Bologna, and why is Pizza so popular in Naples?

The beauty of Italian food to me is that it shares many of the unifying characteristics of Chinese food.  Cooking it is simply another aspect of the diversity to which we should be exposed on a more regular basis.

Distinctive cultural and social differences remain present throughout Italy, but capitalism has created a new form of evening out the differences from long-established family values. In a country so diverse, it is nearly impossible to define an “Italian” cooking style, just as in China, one must know the region to recognize the taste, but traditional food is still the identifying feature and core ingredient of a region's identity, and both Italians and Chinese react with an ethnocentricity when they are confronted with the challenge of defending, defining or divulging their culture.  This pride in cooking, and pride in taste, and pride in global cuisine creates the fusion of tastes that I get to enjoy on a regular basis, and one that I highly recommend that everyone else tries to partake of regularly.

Until then, Buon Appetito, Amico... (Good Eating, Friends...)

Whole Wheat Penne with Turkey and Aparagus


2 pounds turkey breast scaloppini cutlets

1/4 cup garlic-flavored olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
(this stuff is EXPENSIVE so try not to waste any...)

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

16 ounces whole-wheat, whole-grain penne

1 pound asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces


Put the turkey cutlets in a glass bowl and add the garlic-flavored olive oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Toss to coat, and let stand for 10 minutes.
Preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, over medium heat, and add a generous amount of salt.
Remove the turkey from the marinade, shaking off any excess liquid and transfer to a plate. Drizzle with oil to keep it from sticking and season well with salt and pepper. Grill the cutlets, turning once, until the turkey is cooked through, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer to a cutting board and chop into bite-sized pieces.
Boil the pasta according to the package instructions. Add the asparagus in the last 2 minutes of cooking time. Carefully remove about 1/2 cup of the cooking water and reserve. Drain the pasta in a colander, add some garlic oil to the bottom of the pot and return the pasta to the pot, off the heat. Add the turkey and any juices released to the cooked pasta and toss to combine.
Season the pasta with salt and pepper, to taste and drizzle with additional olive oil and vinegar, if desired. Add the pasta cooking water, a tablespoon at a time and toss until the pasta is evenly moistened. Transfer to a serving platter or bowl and serve warm, room temperature, or cold right out of the refrigerator


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1 comment:

  1. Boy, do I look forward to your interesting and delicious food blogs.
    I'd love to sit at your table for a meal.
    My claim to fame is my version of CPK's
    BBQ chicken pizza. I think I make it better than they do--though I cheat using a Thin Boboli Pizza crust.