It's the Italian week! Throughout the week, we celebrate all that is Italian and inspired by Italy: recipes, stories and travel tips.
In Italy, breakfast is generally small, enough to kick off your day and your appetite. Dinner is short and sweet and sends you to bed not swollen but satisfied. Lunch, however, takes on an almost spiritual importance. In the Italian culinary psyche, the midday meal is like the ego, the id and the superego, all in one. Give your mood, your hunger, your schedule. In my family, lunch was so important that my grandmother woke up before dawn to start preparing pasta and sauce so that it was ready to eat at 13:00 When the sun swelled higher in the sky, we holed up in the house to escape the heat and seek comfort in its full and ricotta ravioli.
Obviously, nobody (not even me) is asking for that level of dedication. It's certainly a lot of food: a swarming plate of pasta, a Second (meat or fish), vegetables (usually local, seasonal and so delicious), all punctuated with freshly cut fruit and a glass of boiling water, slightly sweetened (without milk!).
We lead a hectic life, as if we went home before dawn and returned after sunset, so expecting someone to dine like a Ligurian is probably out of the question. Although our American work schedules do not encourage a two or three hour break in the early afternoon, this does not mean that we can not take all the time around noon to savor a good meal, to bask in the comfort of a satisfied stomach and allow ourselves a conversation while crossing a table. All without leaving the office. Here are some suggestions:
Support the leftovers.
Italians love to reuse food. Why throw out a perfectly good meal? Lunch, especially if eaten on the road, is the best time to revitalize last night's dinner. For example, a paste with red sauce becomes hotter than ever when it is heated with a splash of milk (a trick I learned from my aunt). And the chicken steak or chopped rotisserie and seasoned with fresh seasonal vegetables is a separate feast.
Finish with an espresso.
There is a hard and fast Italian rule that after 11, no one should drink milk with their coffee. It may seem decidedly non-American, but there is a certain sense to it: the milky and foamy drinks are too saturated and provoking by the end of the day. Instead, Italians opt for a quick shot of earthy black coffee. This helps cut the midday meal and gives you enough energy to stop the early afternoon crash. If black coffee is not your thing, choose a coffee with a little steamed milk.
It could be miles from Milan, but anyway, the ease and elegance of an Italian meal should not be so far.
What are your favorite lunch tips? Let us know in the comments.