February 22, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Try this at home

By |2023-09-26T01:10:38+02:00September 18th, 2023|"Notebook"|
The Italian look. But can it be replicated?

have spent the summer in my New England outpost, where it has rained so much that my yard has been invaded by very large mushrooms and very tiny toads.

With similar intensity, my news feed filled with catastrophic stories about traveling in Italy; wildfires, tourist vandalism, otherworldly heat, airline foul ups. There was also a rash of comment about American things that Italians do not approve of, such as flip-flops everywhere, demanding ice in drinks and over-sweetened coffee-like drinks.

Reading this made me feel pretty good about being damp and sunless here in the Land of the Bean and the Cod.

I felt so good about it, I began to wonder if Italy was even necessary, when you can do it in your own home. Sure, there aren’t any Vatican Museums or Colosseums, but when you can’t get in to them anyway…

Here are some tips for making your own Little Italy.

  1. Eat at a table with place settings. This is what Italians do — from North to South, from rich to poor.
  2. Eat like Italians do. Don’t throw everything into a “bowl” with a theme.
  3. Limit your cooking to not more than three main ingredients, plus maybe salt and pepper.
  4. Italians don’t throw balsamic vinegar on everything. Nor should you. And they don’t ruin good mozzarella with it.

Hold the garlic. Counterintuitive I know, but Italians eat less of it than you think. Same goes for oregano and “Italian seasoning.”

  1. Hold the garlic. Counterintuitive I know, but Italians eat less of it than you think. Same goes for oregano and “Italian seasoning.”
  2. Pretend you are at a restaurant in Italy. Don’t put on a plate with olive oil for dipping. The only reason restaurants in Italy do this is because Americans think it’s Italian. Like eating long pasta with the aid of a spoon.
  3. Host dinner for friends. Invite random-ish friends at the last minute. Re-consider the friendship of those offended by the impromptu invitation. Don’t obsess about Martha-Stewart perfection (if you follow Tip Number 1 you won’t have to). Sit at the table a long time. Use a real tablecloth and plates. Despite Tip 1, for a party you can avoid setting the table. Stack the plates and let people serve themselves and sit where they like.
  4. Wear real clothes made from cloth that is woven and has real seams and waistbands. Iron them.
  5. Wear shoes.
  6. Grow basil and rosemary in a sunny place. The perfume is cheaper than an airline ticket, faster than a plane and there’s no TSA.
  7. Learn to make coffee in a Moka pot. It’s cheap and easy.
  8. Gelato is nice. Pretend with ice cream. Eat it in a tiny cup.
  9. Men: wear long pants and see Tip Number 8.
  10. No Crocs. See Tip Number 9.
  11. Cook and eat fish. Afraid to? Never done it? Go with Tip Number 3. Olive oil, lemon, rosemary. Tomatoes, capers, olives. How easy is that?
  12. Eat lunch as per Tip Number 1. Remain at the table more than 30 minutes. Invite a friend. Follow Tip Number 2.
  13. No smoothies. Eat fruit like an adult, not a baby, preferably with a knife and fork.
  14. Stroll after dinner.
  15. Take a nap after lunch.
  16. Don’t put ice in drinks.
  17. Air dry your clothes on a line outside or an indoor rack. This is so Italian that Mussolini banned it. It’s good for your clothes. Do it nicely and you barely need Tip Number 22.
  18. Iron your sheets. It will feel like a hotel.
  19. Turn off your air-conditioning. Open windows at night; close during day. Use curtains and blinds strategically. This saves energy and protects against life-threatening drafts.

Pretty soon, not only will you feel as if you are in Italy, you’ll be like an Italian. Unlike a vacation, this can last a lifetime. Plus, even if you ignore Tips 8 and 9, in the privacy of your own no Italians will criticize you for wearing flip-flops or asking for ice.

Madeleine Johnson has written her "Notebook" column for more than a decade. She lived in Italy for almost 30 years, mostly in Milan, before returning to the U.S. in 2017. Her work has been published in the "Financial Times" and "New York Post."