Experiencing Italian food is based on trying many smaller amounts of varying foods throughout the day, rather than eating large entrees. In Rome they call it antipasti. In Milan it’s spuntino. In Venice it’s cicchetti. The idea is small preparations of food prepared that day based on what’s fresh and in season. I learned the extent of this tradition when I was in a little Umbrian town of Mantignana a couple of years ago. My guide, and now friend, Catia brought me into a (the) coffee shop in the center of the town for coffee and breakfast. She wanted me to try torta di Pasqua (also known as crescia). It’s a bread baked all year round but its tradition is that it’s made at Easter (which is what Pasqua means) . It has ham, pepper and four types of local cheese speckled throughout. I looked at the display case and there was one loaf of this bread sitting there, beautifully wrapped and waiting to be purchased. We only wanted a couple of pieces to taste. The entire bread was huge and weighed several pounds. No problem. The shop owner took it out, unwrapped it. Weighed two pieces and happily served it to us at the counter. It’s an experience I won’t soon forget.
Food is for sharing. It is as much social as it is culinary. I will bring you stories told by people from all over and recipes that are on old, yellow cards that have as many food stains on them as they do tape holding them together. The single purpose in passing these traditions down is to make people smile. That’s the ultimate goal of Italian food today.