Porchetta is a type of roasted pork that is popular throughout the country but is best-known in central Italy where it originated. The whole pig, deboned, is arranged in layers with a lot of salt and a stuffing of garlic and herbs, usually rosemary or finocchiella (fennel weed) and then rolled and roasted on a spit. It’s sliced into chunks and usually eaten as a messy panino with crusty bread or, in Rome, in a rosetta roll or between two slices of pizza bianca. A good porchetta is absolutely mouth-watering with its mix of meat, fat, crispy skin and savory herbs. A highlight of a drive is spotting a white van with its “Porchetta” sign on the side of a road, the more trucks pulled over near it, the better. Like many foods of rustic origin, porchetta now has a following among foodies and is on the menu in many trendy restaurants. The New York Times recently featured an article about the “Porchettiamo” festival in Umbria – a porchetta paradise. To satisfy a craving here in New York, the East Village “sandwich shop” Porchetta has a good version – greasy in a good way and succulent – served on a ciabatta roll. Yum.
This is good: The Film Society at Lincoln Center is holding a retrospective of movies starring Anna Magnani. Anna Magnani was one of the greatest Italian actresses, known for iconic films like Roma città aperta and her Oscar-winning performance in The Rose Tattoo. Magnani’s face, with its dark under eye circles, is unforgettable. Her acting was realistic and intense and underlined the emotional depth and humanity of her characters. Her roles, comic or dramatic, reflect the story of post-WWII Italy. The retrospective runs from May 18th to June 1st and is all-encompassing, including a wide range of her movies. Some are familiar, others less so. See as many as possible, she’s worth it!
It’s not often that you watch an old movie again and it lives up to your memories of it. However, Matrimonio all’italiana (1964) directed by Vittorio De SIca and based on Eduardo De Filippo’s play Filumena Marturano is a real gem. It features great performances by its stars Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni who not only could really act but were both incredibly good-looking! The plot could only be Italian – in fact, Neapolitan – and notwithstanding its old-fashioned nature, it’s delightful but also highlights a certain culture and attitude of wartime and post-war Naples. A true pleasure to see again.
During a Valentine’s Day visit to Eataly, among the gourmet and artisanal chocolates, I spotted the old standby Baci Perugina. Of course they are ubiquitous these days and certainly anything but artisanal (Perugina is now owned by Nestle) but they have a certain nostalgia and are, in fact, good. When that craving hits for something sweet and chocolatey, that bite of Bacio (singular!) hits the spot. Baci are iconic in Italy: advertisements for Baci, both print and television are part of modern cultural history. I looked up the story behind Baci and found to my surprise that they were created in 1922 by Luisa Spagnoli – the Luisa Spagnoli who was the founder of the fashion house. The connection? It turns out the enterprising Luisa was the wife of one of the founders of the Perugina chocolate company. Legend has it that Luisa came up with Baci because she was trying to figure out what to do with the leftover fragments of hazelnuts that had been used in other confectionery. She mixed the fragments with chocolate, added a whole hazelnut to each candy and covered it all in dark chocolate. Thus the irregularly shaped confection, with its bump of hazelnut at the top resembling a knuckle on a closed fist. Its original name was the somewhat inelegant “cazzotto” – roughly, “punch” or “wallop.” Giovanni Buitoni, another of the owners of Perugina, and rumored to be Luisa’s lover, had the clever idea of renaming the candy Baci. But there’s more. As anyone who regularly eats Baci knows, also contained in the foil wrapping of each candy is a small paper with a kiss/love-inspired message written on it. These tiny cartouches were added in the 1930s by the artistic director of Perugina at that time. He was inspired, apparently, by the story that the lovers Luisa and Giovanni would exchange love notes which they would pass to each other hidden in the various confections produced by Perugina. Interesting what you learn when you research the history of a chocolate candy!