This is the second part of a previous post about my 10 food striking memories from more than a decade of living in Italy that you can read here.
As I said, not only was I not a foodie when I came to Rome in 2007, I wasn’t aware nor interested in particular ingredients or recipes either. I had had limited experience with some food on one hand — pork and alcohol, due to the restrictions in Iran — on the other, I still had the culinary taste of child, on some levels. I didn’t eat most of the vegetables, I hated fish in every form and way. All this changed forever when I started eating my way through Italy.
Join me on the rest of this journey though food and drinks that made the best part of my twenties (and early thirties). There’s no recipe in this post, and photos don’t necessarily represent the dish I have written about.
6. His Majesty the Pork; Porchetta and Salumi
All the pork I had tasted back in Iran came in the shape of a few varieties of cold cuts. That is to say just some ham, and maybe some sausages that on very rare occasions we bought (illegally) from the Armenian’s shop, or that someone had smuggled in from abroad.
Once in Rome, soon enough I was introduced to porchetta, the pork marvel rolled with tons of herbs, then roasted in its own skin until very crispy. I would ask the lady in the sandwich shop near Campo de’ Fiori to fill my sandwich (in a Roman ciabatta bread), with sun dried tomatoes and grilled eggplants. The tiny grocery shop right under my house on the other hand, would sell cheap pork steak. The fatty meat tasted divine to me, or better to say, it was a delicious sin I had never made.
Once I discovered the glorious world of salumi — the Italian cold cuts, there was no going back. One slice of prosciutto crudo and I was sold. Fatty salame used to be my favorite, capocollo, and mortadella came next. My heavy consume of these cold cuts was at its peak when we used to go to very inelegant evening picnics to the hills just next to roads, packed with a couple of supermarket baguettes, some cold cuts and a bottle or two of wine that we would share. No cutlery, no glasses, pure joy.
It is no secret that I used to absolutely hate fish. It took me a couple of years in Italy to transform that dislike to love and curiosity. I came to the realization that fish has an adult flavor, meaning you can’t really appreciate it until you’re fully grown up. My first ever pasta with fish, was with smoked salmon and cream. I spat out that first mouthful my friends insisted I tried.
Later my friend Gianni suggested he would make me shellfish pasta “the Sicilian way”, which consisted in topping the pasta with heaps of a mixture of slightly toasted bread crumbs with finely chopped garlic and parsley, soaked in a generous amount of olive oil. Bread on pasta? Why not! Just another lovely, Italian carb on carb.
My romance with seafood may have started from the readymade frozen shellfish sauces from the super market, but it has gone a long way from there. I’ve learned to cherish and absolutely love seafood thanks to the Italian way with fish, to the point that now it’s among my favorite dishes. Not a summer passes by without many cones of fried little fish (baby octopus, anchovies and calamari), and I have mastered the art of perfect spaghetti alle vongole veraci — clam spaghetti, which is now one of my most favorites pastas ever.