BRYCE ON FOOD
- Want to start an argument between two or more Italians? Ask them who makes the best red sauce.
Ever since my youth, I have had many Italian friends. Inevitably, I have been invited over to their houses for dinner which is usually a gourmet feast of homemade pasta, meat, cheeses, wine, and other delicacies, usually prepared by “Moma” or my friend’s wife. As I discovered, everything focuses on the red sauce, of which considerable pride and love goes into it. Interestingly, I’ve discovered all Italians believe they make the best red sauce and, in a way, they all do. Their sauces are based on family recipes handed down over generations and, as such, are perfectly tailored to family tastes.
However, do not try to compare sauces in a one-on-one taste test. This is where Italians lose their sense of humor. When sampling another Italian’s sauce, they smile and politely say, “Very nice.” Never “Wow!” or “That’s incredible!” It’s just, “Very nice.” Privately, they’ll confide it was perhaps the worst thing they ever tasted and it suffered from either too much sweetness or acidity.
Italian men often get actively involved in the process which probably explains where the stubborn pride originates. Whereas Italian women quietly whisper about the imperfections of another’s sauce, the men are more vocal about their displeasure. As an outsider, it is rather amusing to watch.
I certainly do not claim any authority over the process of making red sauce but I have discussed it several times with my Italian friends. The recipe is relatively simple: Take some olive oil and sweat some garlic and onions in it. Puree skinless tomatoes, preferably plum tomatoes, and mix it in with the oil, garlic and onions. Add sugar to cut the acidity, and allow it to simmer for a couple of hours. What I have written thus far is enough to drive any Italian cook insane, and I’m only getting started. They would argue over the type of olive oil to be used, the amount, how to slice the garlic, the types of tomatoes, whether to use tomato paste, and how to sweeten the sauce to taste.
Even though there are but a few ingredients to consider, it is the combinations and process of assembling the sauce which creates countless permeations. Instead of sugar, some people use carrots to cut the acidity. I have a friend who sears a country pork rib in the olive oil to give it a delicious taste. Some people consider this blasphemous, particularly the Vegans. Then there is the matter of additional spices and herbs to be used, such as parsley, basil, cloves, thyme, bay leaves, not to mention cheeses. And the combinations grow exponentially.
If chili recipes are personal, Italian sauce recipes are passionate, understandably so. When the right ingredients and love is added, their red sauce turns to magic. While Italians squabble over their recipes, the non-Italians, including yours truly, are gorging themselves on some rather splendid cuisine. Personally, I can count on one hand the number of Italian dinners I’ve had that were heaven sent. One was in Rio de Janeiro at the home of an Italian friend whose “Moma” cooked an amazing Sunday meal. Frankly, I think she was trying to kill us with food as one dish was better than the next. I feel lucky to have survived. The rest were in the United States. I won’t divulge the names as I do not want to be the cause of another vicious argument. One was a restaurant, the rest were prepared by friends.
Obviously pasta is the other variable in Italian dishes. In theory, it is also simple to make; just wheat, eggs, and water. Then again, arguments inevitably arise over the type of wheat, eggs, and liquids to be used. Regardless of what ingredients are selected, Italians will inevitably say, “Very nice.”
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.
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