February 25, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Foams and “mouses”

By |2018-10-27T16:51:15+02:00October 26th, 2018|"Suzanne's Taste"|
Resistance is futile…

y mate has long held an interesting and thought-provoking take on food writing. Stop it. We’d all enjoy it more if we set aside the hype about what’s fashionable and what’s not. We could also probably live without knowing about the “latest” retro-apple-cinnamon-crumble-with-Brebis yogurt and Zanzibar cinnamon butter-crunched Black Forest walnut topping. Some eaters might find that their digestion improves without critics.

Especially when they’re asked to peruse a 10-page menu that describes every dish as if none of us ever learned the word soufflé or pesto.

But I digress. What I really wish to say on this glorious October morn with the last perfect Buffalo Steakhouse tomatoes still hanging on for dear life is that what is really truly exciting about food, for me at least, lies only in its eating and its taste.

Not that the gathering, culling, boning, simmering, folding, mincing or anything needed to get it mouth-ward isn’t interesting if not fascinating. It is. But what really knocks me silly is the deep red crispness of an autumn apple or the pale watercolor rainbow of greens in the fall’s first muscat grapes, which have practically turned to wine on the stem. Then there’s the smell of a ragout around lunchtime in the streets of any town where lunch still has meaning.

I love food. Always have.

A grandmother, mother and aunts who turned out yearly feasts at Thanksgiving and Christmas certainly paved the way. I feel for those with no culinary mentor in their kitchens. That missing mentor can change a person’s lifelong approach to food.

Forget reviews. What is really truly exciting about food, for me at least, lies only in its eating and its taste.

But it doesn’t take a culinary history to learn to love a country market, open or closed, bio or not, and we who write about their bounty aren’t really necessary to such admiration.

What it does takes to enjoy food is a bit of time with eyes and mouth open to even the smallest purveyor of food —vegetable stands, butchers, cheese shops all, street vendors. To me, all these are better than Bulgari, treasures for the table more striking than adornments for the body.

Seasonal foods have come a long way from the era of canned asparagus and tuna fish casseroles, macaroni and cheese, and French onion soup mix. You might not remember those days, but it doesn’t matter. Some are making a comeback in today’s pervasive retro spirit.

I can enjoy just about anything so long as its cooked well and contains fresh ingredients — preferably less than five (recipes that contain more too often add up to not much more than goulash).

One of the most delicious and memorable plates of pasta I have ever had was in autumn years ago during my first days in Rome when an artist friend invited us for a midnight spaghettata of pasta with garlic and hot peppers sautéed quickly in just-pressed olive oil and sprinkled with a bit of coarse salt. Heaven, at least for me, and so, so simple.

Along with the beautiful porcini and chanterelles and morilles of October, olives are being picked and crushed, and I long for a day to visit a farm where I can dip my crust of bread into Italy’s famous elixir and take home a bottle for my own little midnight supper.

Maybe it’s true that food doesn’t merit so many words, except in response to what it does to your taste buds and tummy. Perhaps my mate is onto something in wishing that food writers would take long vacations.

Mind you, I read food stories all the time and laugh with those critics who have a sense of humor, manage to keep their egos in check and poke fun at the crazy antics of “innovative” chefs.

But, to be truthful about my jaded view of too much attention on food, I still respond, often with wonder, at their various foams and mousses (I almost wrote “mouses”) and paper-thin translucent whatevers. They can make salad plates sound like the sum of kitchen-bound astrophysics.

But enough already.

These days, I’m happy enough just to glance at the give-away flyers in local supermarkets.

You never know where you’re going to find the next great twist on tuna casserole.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.