Archive for the ‘why do they do that’ Category

Do Italians Eat Pasta Every Day?

One question I get from many people is whether Italians eat pasta every day. Of course answering such a question would require an enormous generalization, so I’m going to give you the experience in my house, which consists of a Calabrian and an American with Italian, Lithuanian, and German blood.

Do we eat pasta every day?

Pretty much, yes. Usually either lunch or dinner — but hardly ever both — contains some kind of pasta for us.

I’m sure for some of you the thought of eating pasta every day sounds boring, and you’re positive you’d get sick of it within a week or so. This actually did cross my mind as I considered moving here — would I just get sick of eating pasta? And if so, then what would I do?

Well, seven years in, and I’m still having some pasta on most days. Don’t get me wrong; there are days when I just don’t want pasta. So I don’t eat it, easy peasy.

“Pasta” Does Not Equal Spaghetti and Meatballs

One important thing to remember is that Italians don’t eat pasta with “red sauce” and meatballs every day; in fact, the rumors you’ve heard about Italians not eating “spaghetti and meatballs” are true; if there are meatballs, they are often huge and served after the pasta course, so you’ll have one, *maybe* two at the most.

That “red sauce” is often a ragù, made with meat (often pork and for us, rabbit or chicken); in our house, that’s probably a once every two weeks kind of dish, often on a weekend.

Also? Italians don’t just eat spaghetti. As I’m sure you know, pasta comes in all shapes and sizes, and part of the fun is matching what kind of sauce or accompaniment best suits a certain kind of pasta, so there’s a lot more than spaghetti going on around here.

So what else are we eating with pasta? Well I have a list of recipes to give you some ideas, and you’ll see everything from tuna (with or without tomatoes) to broccoli (no tomatoes) to ricotta fresca to fresh tomatoes and basil to prawns. We eat pasta cold in a salad in the summer and hot in minestrone in the winter — and with legumes like peas, ceci, and lentils year round.

Pasta is very versatile, and as always, I do encourage you to experiment.

But Pasta Makes You Fat!

Another misconception regarding pasta is that some people believe that if they ate pasta every day, they’d be the size of a house. The answer to that is, well, it depends on how much pasta you eat and what you’re eating with it.

Pasta and carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap in health circles, but you *do* need them in your diet — in moderation, just like everything else that helps your body function the way it should.

Italians seem to know instinctively that 100-200 grams of pasta a day falls well within the recommended daily allowances of carbs. You just have to not load up on carbs the rest of the day in order to keep a good balance.

Other health issues like diabetes may cause concern with carbs, but if you’re an otherwise healthy person, eating a bit of pasta a day is one of the common features of the Mediterranean Diet, which we know can offer great health benefits — but know that is not a “diet” as the word has come to be understood. It is a way of life.

Yeah, I’m Still Not Buying that I Could Eat Pasta Every Day and Not Get Sick of It

If you still can’t imagine eating pasta every day, think of it this way: do you eat bread every day? Many people do, in one form or another. Well you can think of pasta as our bread. It accompanies other ingredients and isn’t really the “point” of the meal — although it’s still an important part to be sure (see the discussion of matching pasta with sauce above).

Note also that Italians will generally *not* eat bread and pasta together, so don’t be surprised if you’re in an Italian restaurant and they swipe any bread off the table just as the pasta is served.

But hey, we’re not all created the same, so it very well may be that you would get bored with an Italian diet and with eating pasta every day. So why not come over here and find out?

How often do you eat pasta?

Love Thursday: Celebrating an Anniversary

Last week, P and I celebrated four years together.

Lots of people on both sides of the Atlantic ask us about marriage and when we’ll make it “official.”

We may get around to doing that (and I’ll be sure to let you know!) but for now, we’re just fine with the way things are, so no announcements are forthcoming–not today at least. Every day is an adventure, though, so who knows what tomorrow will bring?

In any event, I refer to P as my marito (husband) in conversations with others, and he calls me his moglie (wife)–or more often, his mugliere in Badolatese. And as far as everyone is concerned, his parents are already my suocera and suocero; I also have lots of cognati e cognate (brothers- and sisters-in-law).

Also, this is what my left hand looks like each and every day:

Just some rings on Flickr

P gave me the white gold band when we had been together for about a month or so way back in 2005, and the diamond engagement ring is just that–but it was my grandmother’s, given to her by my grandfather in the early 1940s. She gave it to me several years before she passed away, making sure that I would be the one to have it.

No, the two rings don’t remotely match, but that seems rather perfect for P and me, who are, in many ways, polar opposites. We’re alike in some important ways too, and just like P and me, the two rings meet somewhere in the middle–I love how the silverish tones shine together–and somehow just work.

And that works for us, too.

Happy Love Thursday everyone!

P.S. I have already contacted the 5 La Bella Lingua winners:

Paola of Always Italianissima


Peter Leonard




The Logic of Italian Boys’ Names

For as long as I can remember, I gave my furry friends nicknames based on their real names.

  • My dog Maverick became Maverickaronyravydoodlenoodlebug, which then became Doodlebug or simply The Doodle.
  • My cat Kudzu became Kudzucchini (sometimes followed by Big Fat Weenie, but the poor thing doesn’t deserve to have *that* posted on the Internet).

Now I have Luna, aka Luna Balloona aka Luna Baboopa aka Boopers aka The Boop.

Stella? A similar pattern. Stella Bella aka Stella Bellamoopers aka The Moop.

So yes, I often call my girls, who are so *not* excited by the gorgeous view behind them and only want to be untied so they can run freeeeeee, (right to left),

The Moop and The Boop:

My girls unimpressed with the view on Flickr

Little did I know that this fascination with changing real names into something somehow related and yet not was actually in my blood.

You see, here in Calabria, most guys are named one of, oh, ten or so names. And yet they go by all different versions of those names, so for us non-natives, if someone is suddenly called by their real name, it can get confusing.

Here are, from my perspective:

    The Top 7 Most Common Male Names in Calabria
    and Some of Their Related Nicknames:

1. Antonio: Tonino, Toni, Totò, Nino, Antò
2. Domenico: Mimmo, Mico
3. Francesco: Checco (KEH-koh), Ciccio (CHEE-choh)
4. Giuseppe: Peppe, Pino, Pinuccio (pee-NEWCH-oh) (not Pinocchio!)
5. Pasquale: Pasqualino, Pascal, Pascala
6. Salvatore: Salvo, Turi
7. Vincenzo: Vincenzino, Cenzo (CHEN-zoh), Enzo, Cece (cheh-CHEH)

Note that although these names are spread throughout Italy, nicknames often differ by region, so do check with a local before trying to show off your nickname knowledge. And also note that this is completely separate from the sopranome system.

And in case you’re wondering about my P?

Well for his Paolo, he doesn’t like to be called anything but Paolo, but sometimes the older generations call him “Paolino” or, *very* local to us as it’s only used in this town, maybe one or two others, Paolehru (powl-EHR-oo). How cute is that?

Do you do nicknames?

Buon weekend!

Feast of the Seven Fishes: Guest Post and Book Giveaway

Today I have the enormous honor of welcoming Robert Tinnell, one of the authors of Feast of the Seven Fishes: The Collected Comic Strip and Italian Holiday Cookbook and of the Seven Fishes Blog.

Lucky you, you’re in for another *fabulous* guest post, but first, today is your last chance to enter to win Diana Spechler‘s Who by Fire from last week’s contest. And for those of you who loved Diana’s guest post as much as I did, you can keep up with what she’s doing by becoming a fan of hers on Facebook here.

Now it’s time for another giveaway!

Goodness it’s like Christmas around here!

1. In order to be eligible to win a free copy of The Feast of the Seven Fishes, just leave a comment on *this* post by 11:59 p.m. CST (Italy time) on Tuesday, December 16, 2008.

2. This contest is open to all readers across the world.

For another chance to win a copy of the book as well as a fabulous gift basket of Italian goodies, head over to Joe’s Italyville and Maryann’s Finding La Dolce Vita for a Food Blogger Event involving the Seven Fishes!

Benvenuto Roberto!



For those of you who don’t know, once upon a time I created, along with artists Ed Piskor and Alex Saviuk, an online comic strip called Feast of the Seven Fishes.

The strip developed a strong following and that in turn led to a book that collected the entire storyline (which, I should probably mention, deals with one Italian-American family’s 1983 Christmas Eve celebration in romantic comedy fashion) complete with a cookbook section (authored by my wife, Shannon) as well as an essay on the people, places and events from my life that inspired the story.

Since making the fateful decision to pursue this project back in 2004, the Feast of the Seven Fishes – the book – has taken on a life of its own. The book has done very well, drawing attention from major foodie outlets like public radio’s The Splendid Table and was nominated for the prestigious Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album – Reprint.

Robert Tinnell signing books at the Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival

My home town of Fairmont, WV is in the third year of a Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival which was inspired by the book’s success and is growing by leaps and bounds, all the while continuing to help preserve this marvelous holiday tradition. And, while it was somewhat delayed, there is in fact a film version of the book going into production in the near future.

For all those wonderful benefits the book has generated, however, nothing compares to what the Feast itself has done for my family.

When I was kid, eating fish on Christmas Eve was just something you did. We never called it by name. I never even bothered to question why we did it, especially as I had not been raised Catholic. All I knew was that December 24th meant a delicious meal of exotic foods, cooked up by my ancient great-grandmother, Isabella Oliverio, on her wood-fired stove in the basement of her modest home in Rivesville, WV.

As kids we savored the smelt and the stuffed calamari and her delicious soup – the latter of which, I’m sorry to say, I’ve been unable to replicate. Why didn’t I take more notice at the time? Why did I take it all for granted? In the book I excuse my inattentiveness to the fact that “when you’re young, you’re busy being young, you know?” If only I had a time machine.

Well, as a matter of fact, now I do.

I can’t recreate my great-grandmother’s dishes in exacting detail. Nor can I resurrect relatives long gone and sorely missed. But what I can do – what my family and I have done – is recreate the atmosphere of those long-ago Christmas Eves. We do it with food and smell and wine and music and laughter and love.  And if I’m being honest I admit that we do it at the top of our lungs.

I don’t want to make generalizations about other Italians, but I will say that mine is, um, loud. Maybe you know an Italian family like that.

Once I finally took an interest in recapturing the magic of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, far too many older relatives had passed away. Fortunately my grandfather and his brothers were still alive and took me under  wing, initiating me into the wonder of the preparation of the Feast, as well as the viability of polkas as Christmas carols.

My grandfather has been gone now nearly ten years, but on Christmas Eve I feel him at my side. Which is a wonderful feeling – especially since I don’t have to hear him yell.

The morning of Christmas Eve, my wife, my brother and my father-in-law and myself start cooking – although I should add that we’ve actually started days earlier with the soaking of the baccala and other things. We spend the day in a fury of fish, garlic, music, beer and wine. As the day rolls along we are joined by other family and friends. When all is said and done we average around fifty for dinner.

The dinner itself is a marathon, however, and is no longer limited to seven fishes. Instead it has evolved into a melting pot of traditional family recipes and new and exciting efforts. The smelt and whiting and baccala and eel, all prepared using the methods passed down through my family, sit snugly beside the octopus (grilled over open flame and served over a bed of sea salt) and the grilled sardines (drizzled in lemon juice atop anchovy angel hair pasta).

Oyster Shooters - Down the Hatch!

My wife and I decided a few years ago that we would go all out for the Feast and that it would serve as our Christmas present to extended family and friends. It costs quite a bit to prepare and we thought to ourselves that giving this meal and this experience to our guests would mean more than buying just anything to say we were “giving.”

To our way of thinking, what better gift than these marvelous dishes and the effort that goes into preparing them?

And rather than having one’s memories dominated by the endless gauntlet of shopping that has come to define the holidays, we hope to provide an authentic experience, one our guests will, hopefully, look forward to year-after-year.

As the world endures this time of grave economic uncertainty, it’s our hope that more people will reconsider just what they are giving for the holidays. We would, honestly, treasure a gift of homemade bread or canned jelly much more than some mass-produced trinket someone felt compelled to give us.

In that spirit, let me encourage any and all who’ve taken a moment to read this, to consider integrating the Feast of the Seven Fishes into your Christmas Eve celebration. And if you don’t have an annual Christmas Eve celebration, consider starting one.

You needn’t go as crazy as us. You needn’t even be Italian. If I’m being really honest, you needn’t even serve fish – because the real point is for you to have an honest moment with family and friends. Hopefully one centered around delicious food you’ve taken the time to prepare yourself.

Buon Natale!

Robert Tinnell


Thanks so much Robert! I couldn’t agree with you more.
Anyone else starving now?

Remember to comment for your chance to win Feast of the Seven Fishes
and be sure to check out The Scribbit Message Board for lots more giveaways!

why i love il farmacista in italy

Pharmacies in Italy run very differently from those in the United States.

I bring this up now because on Friday I finally broke down and went to la farmacia (farm-uh-CHEE-ah) after feeling not-so-good for a few weeks.

It started with a virus, but then every few days I’d get abdominal pains and was just generally rundown.

Why not go straight to the doctor?

I hate going to the doctor, and I know I’m not alone in that. The biggest part of the annoyance for me is having to wait around with a bunch of sickies who may be sicker than I am and/or with different problems, and possibly catching what they have on top of whatever I have.

But Italy lets me avoid that ever so slightly because here the logical first stop is il farmacista, the pharmacist, who can also diagnose your symptoms and give you medications that require prescriptions–and you only pay for the meds, not the advice.

My pharmacist is here every day but Sunday (he’s even here some Sundays as pharmacies are required by law to rotate so that one is open every Sunday in a given area), so it’s also rather convenient as he’s just a few steps down the Corso.

Once I’m there, I describe my symptoms, and he lets me know if I should go to the doctor or hospital or if he can provide something to help along the healing process.

Best of all, I live in a village of about 350 people. I’ve had to wait in a line (of one person ahead of me) precisely one time in five years.

Read: no shouting your symptoms across the desk in a room full of people. So that’s nice too.

Now, granted, something *very* annoying about the pharmacy system in Italy is that you have to *ask* the pharmacist for just about everything medical you can imagine–think vitamins, regular strength painkillers, cold medicine, yeast infection meds (ladies, I know you hear me on this). I’m spoiled as my mom sends me these things, but that’s more because many of these things are also ridiculously expensive here.

Anyway, I am happy to report that since my pharmacist gave me meds on Friday, I have felt so amazingly better that I have resolved to stop complaining about having no drugstore where I can buy everything over-the-counter, without describing of symptoms or asking anyone for help in the unlocking of cabinets that hold controversial items like tampons, lipstick, and shampoo.*

And that is why I love il farmacista in Italy.

Today anyway.

*For the record, we can buy tampons, lipstick, and shampoo in places other than pharmacies, thank goodness.

Have you dealt with il farmacista?

What say you?

Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time. 

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Homemade apple butter
Green beans, potatoes, and pancetta
Glazed Apple Oatmeal Cinnamon Muffins
Pasta with snails alla calabrese
Onion, Oregano, and Thyme Focaccia
Oatmeal Banana Craisin Muffins
Prosciutto wrapped watermelon with bel paese cheese
Fried eggs with red onion and cheese
Calabrian sausage and fava beans
Ricotta Pound Cake