Under My Foreign Vine and Fig Tree – Still in Italy

This is the fourth article in December of the School for Housewives 1906 series published on December 30, 1906, and is a discussion on keeping house while in Italy.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of Boston Sunday Post.

Under My Foreign Vine and Fig Tree

Still in Italy

AN OLD writer records that the reigning powers of Rome once expelled professional cooks from the city for “corrupting and enforcing appetites with strange sauces and seasonings.”

From which stern edict we gather that, in the youth of the empire, the Italian gourmand knew something of the insidious aroma of onion and leek; the mysterious ambush of cheese; the suggestion of chestnuts; the suspicion of tomatoes—the ineffable blending of all these and other ingredients that make Italian cookery distinctive and delicious.

It is not practicable to teach their art by rehearsing the formulas given to us by native cooks. We may evolve, by the help of these, palatable dishes. We do this daily, and congratulate ourselves upon our success. To reproduce them in their delectable perfection, the artist must have genius, no less than skill—and the genius must be of the native stamp.

No one really understands the possibilities of cheese as do these children of “bella Italia.” It is to be found in their soups, sauces, ragouts, meats and vegetables; indeed, it is put in almost every dish concocted, and, lest it be overlooked, grated Parmesan is often served in small dishes with each meal.


We are quite used to macaroni and cheese, but how many of us have eaten creamed spinach or cauliflower or eggplant (baked or stuffed) or creamed cabbage covered with grated Parmesan?

A simple omelette of three eggs, salt and cayenne maybe made most palatable if done in a pan that has been rubbed with a clove of garlic, and the omelette be sprinkled copiously with Parmesan just before turning out.

Polenta, described last week; risotto, of which rice is the chief ingredient; beans, “finocchi” or fennel, boiled in a cream sauce, macaroni and other nourishing farinaceous goods form the daily diet of the lower and middle classes in Italy, where the rich, as in most other lands, have yielded to the influence of French cookery.

Chestnuts are to the Italian—and in an almost equal degree to the French—peasantry what the potato is to the Irish. Sometimes they are served boiled, shelled and dressed with drawn butter; or they are brought to the table in the shell, kept piping hot by folding in a napkin. These are opened with sharp little knives and eaten with butter and salt. Frequently chestnuts are shelled and cooked in the gravy with the meat as we serve potatoes under a roast, or they are broiled, mashed and made into a thick puree with hot milk, butter, salt and pepper, as we prepare mashed potatoes.

As I have explained in a former paper, no baking is done in the home kitchen. Cakes, bread, pastry and fancy desserts are bought cheaply from the confectioner. Italy especially excels in sweets and pastry.


Many of the poorer Italians never have a kitchen fire at all, as for a few cents they can run out and buy a dish of macaroni or fish cooked in oil.

Italy is noted for its chickens, which are tender, cheap and delicious. They are served stuffed with chestnuts and roasted; boiled with rice, eggs and pork; or cooked in broths. The peculiar shapes of the pieces are puzzling till one learns that the usual method of dividing a chicken for broiling is to cut it with scissors.

Giblets are sold separately in the markets; also the breasts, stripped from the bone and laid apart from the dark meat of the fowl. This assortment of the various portions makes it easy for the cook to secure the materials for frittura and other dishes calling for certain tidbits we cannot get in this country without buying the whole fowl.

The poorest peasant would not consider a dinner complete without soup. Sometimes a good broth, or an onion soup forms the entire family meal. Every edible is utilized for the soup pot, and with marvelous results.

A favorite soup is rice with peas; another is lettuce soup made with three pints of stock, a head or two of shredded lettuce, two tablespoonfuls of rice, salt, pepper and a tablespoonful of Parmesan cheese. The rice is boiled in the stock, then the lettuce is added, gradually, and the whole simmered for twenty minutes. The cheese is added just before serving, or strewed upon each plateful by the eaters.

Onion soup with cheese is made of fried onions sliced very thin and added to bouillon. It is served with slices of toast, sprinkled with grated cheese floating on top.

The typical Italian bread is somewhat heavy and substantial, being made without yeast.

Good ice cream is bought at the confectioners. “Granita” is a half-frozen ice, something like a frappe. The Neapolitan ices are especially famous, also the Venetian water ices.

Every Thursday and Saturday is a special time for serving “dolci” (dolche), as all cakes and candy are called. These, with “pastetti,” or tarts, may be bought surprisingly cheap. A good Christmas cake, “pan-forte de siena” (siena, hard bread), comes in round cakes about an inch thick, made with raisins, citron, figs and currants. It is very dark and very hard, but a popular sweet “delicta” (Italian honey) is made by the peasants with the ground comb stirred in. It is served for breakfast. Sweet champagne is always served at Christmas, New Year and Twelfth Night.

Some of the following recipes are so typically Italian that they should be tried by the hostess aspiring to novelties:

Macaroni “Alla Napoletana.”

¾ pound macaroni.
¼ pound grated Parmesan cheese.
½ ounce shredded tongue.
6 shredded mushrooms.
2 shredded truffles.
½ pint tomato sauce.
½ pint white sauce.

Boil the macaroni in salted water until tender. Drain and put into a saucepan with the white and tomato sauce; add the other ingredients; stir over the fire for ten minutes; add the cheese and serve.

Potenta “Alla Bologna.”

3 or 4 sausages.
1 pound of Indian cornmeal.
1 pint of boiling water.
¼ pint of tomato puree.
Grated Parmesan cheese, butter, salt, pepper and bread crumbs.

Stir the polenta or cornmeal gently into boiling water; stir until smooth; add salt to taste and let it cool.

Boil the sausages ten minutes; cool; remove the skins and cut into slices. Place a layer of polenta in the bottom of a baking dish, then a layer of sausages, add the tomato sauce, cheese, salt and pepper. Repeat till the dish is full. Cover the top with breadcrumbs and pieces of butter. Bake in a moderate oven a half hour and serve hot.

Roast Turkey “Alla Milanese.”

One turkey; sausage, one-half pound; chestnuts, boiled and peeled, one-half pint; eight prunes, scalded, halved and stoned; four pears, pared and quartered; one glass of white wine; slices of bacon, butter, pepper and salt.

Parboil the sausages; cool, skin and slice. Heat two ounces of butter in a skillet, add the chestnuts, prunes and pears and chopped liver of the turkey. Fry for a few minutes, drain well from the butter, add the wine and stuff the breast with the mixture. Lard the breast with bacon, wash well with butter, and cook in a moderate oven for two hours, basting frequently.

Risotto “Alla Milanese.”

Rice, six ounces; butter, two ounces; grated Parmesan, one and one-half ounces; one small onion, finely chopped; six button mushrooms, finely chopped; three pints of stock; salt and pepper.

Wash, drain and dry the rice; heat the butter; fry the onion brown; add the rice, and stir over the fire for a few minutes. Add half the stock, boil quickly for twenty minutes, then cover the pan and let the contents cook slowly. Add the remaining stock by degrees, and when nearly the whole of it of it is absorbed, stir in the cheese and seasoning.

Cabbage “Al Forno.”

One large cabbage; white sauce, one and one-half pints; grated cheese, two tablespoonfuls; bread crumbs, butter, salt and pepper.

Soak the cabbage in cold water an hour, chop coarsely, and boil tender. Put a layer in a pudding dish, cover with white sauce, grated cheese, salt and pepper. Repeat until the dish is full. Cover with bread crumbs, dotted with bits of butter, and bake in a moderate oven half an hour.

The Housemothers’ Exchange
The Ideal Bathroom
New Use for Old Washstands
A Receptacle for Bottles
A Shelf for Everything

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