Imagine belting sixties Italian karaoke with your professors at the annual departmental Christmas party while holding a piece of panettone. College is clearly more than the exams.
This week in Italian class, we discussed Pellegrino Artusi, a prolific cook and chef of one of the most famous gastronomic books written; La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene(Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well). Our class discussions are always fascinating; ranging from the problem of the mammone (mamma’s boy) in Italy, the out-of-control tourist influx in Venice, and the Italian terrorist activity during the 1970s, to the art of savoring an espresso. I think that discussions flow freely not only because of the nature of the content, but also because we feel encouraged to speak without the embarrassment or shame of stumbling over our words. This week’s topic was Artusi and his magnificent cookbook, a work that told the stories of recipes spanning different regions of Italy, all with a humor and passion for the food.
That evening, the Italian Department held its annual Christmas Party, where I felt Pellegrino Artusi made an appearance in spirit. There was a table loaded with olive oil–soaked focaccia with sun-dried tomatoes, panini stuffed with thinly sliced, salty prosciutto that melted in your mouth and contrasted with peppery arugula and creamy mozzarella di buffala. And then there was the panettone, a fluffy Christmas cake filled with bits of candied orange peel and raisins. It is one of those cakes that consumes your senses as you eat it, with its yeasty, honeyish softness . . . I could eat it all day. But even more important than the food was the simpatico atmosphere.
In class that morning, we learned why Artusi made a lasting mark on food writing: because in his cookbook he included personal anecdotes and humorous stories with each of the recipes. Artusi believed that eating, more than just providing sustenance, was an experience to be shared with others. Food was just as much nourishment for the body as happiness for the mind. Artusi would have been proud had he seen the Italian Department that night as we sang and danced and ate with gusto, enjoying both the panettone and each other’s company.