Growling at Home: Made in Italy

Category: Growling at Home

Laurel R.

Made in Italy

By Laurel R.


My Italian mom is a fantastic cook. No matter what or how many ingredients she may have on hand… no matter how little time or notice she may have been given… no matter if unexpected guests turn up wanting to be fed… she always, without fail, has the enviable ability to take whatever is available and turn it into a delicious celebration of taste and goodness.

Cooking SpaghettiI wanted Mom to teach me her secrets. My organizational mind foolishly assumed that I, too, could become a fantastic cook simply by watching her as she was making a favourite dish, transcribing her instructions and quantities onto paper, then following the directions. As you might imagine, my efforts to do so exasperated us both!

The problem was that we weren’t speaking the same language.

I’m not talking about Italian and English… rather, something more akin to the language of heart versus head. Mom cooks by feel, by instinct, by taste – a little of this, a little of that – until it’s right. I wanted specific amounts and precise times to scribble down onto my little piece of paper; Mom would shrug and say something like, “Enough” or, “Until it’s ready” as she was tasting the sauce. “How much is enough?” I might ask, pen poised, to which I would receive another shrug as a waft of delicious scent emanated from the pot on the stovetop.

All the while as I was asking all the wrong questions, trying to turn art into science, Mom was working her magic and I was failing to learn.

But you know, I think I might finally get it.

Bowl of Tomatoes on Tricolored PastaLast summer I had the opportunity to watch a live cooking demonstration by David Rocco, star of David Rocco’s Dolce Vita on Food Network Canada, at Carrousel of the Nations.

He made two planned dishes – Risotto con puré di barbabietola (Risotto with Beet Purée) from his cookbook Dolce Vita, and Saltimbocca di Pollo (Chicken that “jumps” in your mouth) from his cookbook Made in Italy, as well as an impromptu dessert concoction of strawberries, freshly-cracked black pepper, and balsamic vinegar. The food smelled absolutely divine, and David was charm itself, but it was his explanation of his cooking style and philosophy that gave me a glimmering of insight into what I’ve been missing when it comes to understanding Mom’s art.

Quanto Basta.

Several times throughout his demonstration, David used the term Quanto Basta, and later as I paged through his gorgeous cookbook Made in Italy (which is full of beautiful photographs and is almost as much a coffee table book as a cookbook) I noticed that the abbreviation QB turned up in almost every recipe. He goes into detail near the beginning of the book explaining the cooking philosophy of Quanto Basta, which essentially means that you should tailor a recipe to your taste by using “as much as you need” or “as much as you want.” It’s about using what you have and making a dish your own. It’s about freedom instead of rules… about listening to your senses instead of following a strictly prescribed recipe.

This – this Quanto Basta – is the concept I couldn’t seem to grasp with my pen and paper and organizational mind, yet I see now that Mom is a perfect example of the philosophy.

PastaPerhaps now that the penny has dropped, I’ll be able to put aside my writing implements (at least where food is concerned) and start paying attention to smells, to tastes, to textures. I may never become a fantastic cook like Mom, but perhaps I can learn to create with my heart rather than my head. And maybe something delicious will happen!

Thank you, David Rocco… and thank you, Mom.

{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Kimberley
    Twitter:
    April 1, 2013, 1:05 pm

    I love seeing posts that incorporate personal stories/histories in our blog, so this was an enjoyable read. I love the idea of the quanto basta philosophy – as someone with a tendency toward perfectionism, I feel like it could be applied to life as well as cooking!
    Kimberley recently posted… more than friends: a point form love letter to TorontoMy Profile

    Reply
    • Laurel R.
      Twitter:
      April 1, 2013, 2:06 pm

      Thanks, Kimberley! And very good point… I know I most definitely could stand to apply the quanto basta philosophy to other areas of my life!

      Reply
  • Lisa M April 1, 2013, 2:12 pm

    Oh, if only I could learn to cook that way! Like Kim, I lean toward perfectionism, and if I don’t have a recipe to follow, I’m completely lost. I need directions like ‘how much’ and ‘how long to cook for’ and ‘what’s it supposed to look like when it’s done?’ I guess I just don’t have enough trust in my kitchen skills. Thank you Laurel for sharing and inspiring me to relax in the kitchen a little more and trust my senses.

    Reply
    • Laurel R.
      Twitter:
      April 1, 2013, 2:20 pm

      I totally relate, Lisa! It’s a struggle sometimes to allow ourselves to break the rules. Glad you enjoyed my musings! 🙂

      Reply
  • Elaine C. April 1, 2013, 2:38 pm

    Hi, Laurel. Cooking is very much forgetting about measurements. I don’t pay too much attention to measurements, I change recipes all the time to suit what I have on hand. I like playing around with food, it often yields good results as long as you know what ingredients play nicely with each other 🙂 Baking on the other hand, not so forgiving. It’s much more of a science otherwise you can end up with a lot of stuff going into the garbage 🙂 That’s probably why I like cooking more than baking; it allows me to be a bit more creative and have more fun while doing it while baking makes me feel like there’s a strict teacher watching over my shoulder 😉

    Reply
    • Laurel R.
      Twitter:
      April 1, 2013, 4:06 pm

      I’ve heard it said before that baking is science and cooking is art. It makes a lot of sense! I’m ok at baking, unless it’s something that requires a light hand… I tend to overmix and then end up with something tough or heavy.

      Reply
  • Julie B. April 1, 2013, 8:10 pm

    Thanks for such a great story . When I first learned to cook , I also followed the directions precisely and it never occurred to me that I could alter to my liking. Over the years through trial and error I have learned that cooking isn’t just about the measurements but also what smells and taste good to me. I am always searching for new recipes but now I feel more confident to be more creative in the kitchen….plus there is always
    Plan B- Chinese take out!

    Reply
    • Laurel R.
      Twitter:
      April 2, 2013, 10:51 am

      Thanks, Julie. LOL – I like your Plan B as well!

      Reply
  • Lynda April 3, 2013, 12:53 pm

    Thanks for this Laurel. As I read it I thought ” Yes – that’s the way to cook QB.” I’ve been doing it for years. The part nobody ever mentions is all the trials and errors QB has resulted in over the years. The line from point A to point B is Never short and Never straight. It only looks easy because we have tried and true experience. (Just ask my family 😉 Now when I cook, I still use the QB method and (mostly) it turns out good. If it doesn’t I find our what went wrong and move on:) It’s the only way to become good at doing something.

    Reply
    • Laurel R.
      Twitter:
      April 4, 2013, 10:47 am

      Very true, Lynda! It’s all a big learning experience, which means that there will be both successes and failures along the way. Makes life interesting!

      Reply

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