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Articles by: Dino Borri

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Let Them Eat Cake!

    The search for food to ignite passion began a long time ago. It was a pleasant trick, which mostly produced psychological effects—not to be underestimated when it comes to Eros. Aphrodisiacs have survived for millennia with their reputations unscathed, despite a total lack of scientific proof.

    Ancient Aphrodisiacs 

    The Egyptians swore by the aphrodisiacal powers of lettuce, so much so that they considered it a holy symbol of Min, the God of fertility. Depictions of Min leave no doubt about which part of the body he ruled by. For the Nile Valley civilization, the onion was equally erotic. Priests who had taken a vow of celibacy were even forbidden to eat it.

    The Greeks placed similar restrictions on mint. As Alexander the Great’s preceptor, Aristotle advised the skilled tactician to not let his soldiers drink mint tea during military campaigns. Another food the Greek philosopher and his pharmacological counterpart Hippocrates agreed upon was lentils.

    The former believed that the legume kept men virile well into old age; the latter claimed that lentils cooked with saffron were an aphrodisiac. Speaking of legumes, the Greek historian Plutarch ascribed such virtues to beans, or fassolatha, a soup that is still a national Greek dish.

    But for the people who invented democracy, the list of aphrodisiacs was much longer and included artichokes (believed to ensure the birth of sons), garlic, leaks, mushrooms, and—who can forget—onions. 

    Law of the Lake

    Less of a nautical civilization, despite its geographic position, Greece wasn’t particularly fond of fish. But it sent the Romans into raptures, a people especially attuned to the pleasures of the flesh (in a non- culinary sort of way).

    Romans went berserk over seafood and oysters, so much so that they developed techniques of farming them that continue to be practiced nearly unchanged to this day. The principal site for farming seafood was Lake Lucrino, near the Gulf of Pozzuoli (in Southern Italy), aided by its proximity to the sea.

    Seafood was so exploited—in the dining halls of the rich—that restrictions had to be placed on it more than once by various leges sumptuariae, laws that put a cap on luxury commodities and displays of public and private wealth, like banquets and parties. 
     

    The Curious Case of the Artichoke

    Artichokes are famous aphrodisiacs, most likely because of their phallic shape. As the plant spread, its fame grew.

    Belief in its powers was already deep-rooted during the Renaissance. In fact, the famous sixteenth-century doctor and herbalist Pietro Andrea Mattioli writes in his Commentaries: “Artichoke meat cooked in beef stock is eaten at the end of a meal with pepper and ginger to increase sexual appetites.”
     

    Chocolat

    More recently, most aphrodisiac properties have been ascribed to chocolate and cocoa. This association is due to a few organoleptic properties of cocoa.

    According to The Journal of Sexual Medicine, eating at least one cube of dark chocolate a day increases your sex drive. One of the substances contained in cocoa that helps fuel one’s libido is theobromine, which affects the central nervous system, where it acts as a stimulant, increasing energy levels, reflexes, our ability to concentrate, and sexual desire—all qualities connected to “being in the mood.”

    The obromine increases the production of endorphins, which has an effect analogous to morphine: it gives us pleasure and attenuates pain. Furthermore, chocolate helps the production of serotonin, which has a tranquilizing effect. So, enjoy! Just about anybody can afford some good chocolate, which not only helps our amorous side, it helps our humorous side too.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Panettone vs. Pandoro


    Aficionados of Italian Christmas sweets  have always been divided into two camps: lov ers of pandoro and lovers of panettone. Many people think pandoro is just panettone with out candied fruit and raisins. To correct that misconception, here’s a little history about the two sweets eaten year round in the US.  “Panetun” (in dialect) comes from Lombardy, Milan to be exact.


    The word probably derives from the word “panetto,” a small loaf cake, with the augmentative suffix “-one” to refer to its large size. It can be traced back to a cured bread made with yeast, honey, dried fruit and pumpkin in 200 AD. In 600 AD it looked like a crude form of focaccia made with corn flour and grapes. In 800 AD panettone referred to cornbread made with eggs, sugar and raisins. (The latter ingredient was believed to bring wealth.)


    According to one legend, at the end of 400 AD Ughetto, son of the condottiere Giacometto degli Atellani, fell in love with a beautiful young woman named Adalgisa. To be near his beloved, he became a baker, like her father Toni, and created a rich bread made with butter, eggs, sugar, citron and candied oranges. The sweet fruit of his love was an unprecedented hit, and people from every neighborhood came to taste “Pan del Ton.” According to another legend, on Christmas Eve, at the court of Duke Ludovico, a cook was preparing a special sweet. Unfortunately, the cupola-shaped raisin bread got burned in the oven, and the cook became apoplectic. As he cursed and howled, a servant named Toni spoke up, advising the cook to serve the sweet all the same and say the crust was special. When guests saw the unusual bread, they applauded raucously. And when they took their first bite, a chorus of praise erupted, and “Pan del Toni” was born.

     
    The panettone we know today dates back to the early twentieth century, when Angelo Motta gave it its tall fluted shape, literally heightening its importance.

     
    The name panettone was copyrighted in July 2005 and applies to cured, confectionary soft dough, which is acidic. The basic ingredients are flour, sugar, egg yolk, butter, raisin, zest  and candied citrus fruit. Pandoro is a Veronese specialty. Delicate, fluffy, it gets its name from its golden yellow color. There are several legends about its origin. The current version of pandoro dates back to the nineteenth century and developed out of “nadalin,” a thirteenth-century sweet from Verona. But its name and distinctive traits go all the way back to the Venetian Republic, where apparently, among the dishes dusted with gold leaf, there was a cupola shaped dessert called “pan de oro.”

     
    Another story links pandoro to the famous French brioche, a dessert served for centuries at the Doge’s Palace. Whatever the actual truth, October 14, 1884 is the official date for pandoro. On that day, Domenico Melegatti patented a sweet fluffy bread shaped like a star by impressionist painter Angelo Dall’Oca Bianca.

     
    The name “pandoro” is also dated July 2005 and applies to a sweet baked good made with a soft acidic dough and shaped like a frustum with an eight-pointed star section. Today, there are various offshoots of the classic panettone and pandoro, but if you’re looking for one made in Italy, check the label to see where the product comes from. Many sold in the US are made in Brazil.
     
     
     


  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    An Italian Craft and Tradition

    The art of ice cream making and refrigeration has been around since the most ancient times within Asia Minor, Egypt and China. The ancient Romans used to mix beverages and fruit juices with snow (collected on Mount Etna in Sicily or on Mount Vesuvius by Naples).
     

    The custom was so popular that the first kiosks selling primitive gelatos appeared on the main
    streets of Southern Italy. The Arabs, refined gastronomes, invented “sorbetto” (sorbet) and distributed it throughout the West, starting from Sicily.
     

    The evolution of ice cream changes from one century to the next and in the eighteenth century gelato starts being considered a typical Italian product. With the migratory wave of the 1800s, numerous Italian workers moved to European countries and worked as traveling salesmen, first selling roasted chestnuts, then caramelized fruit and ice cream. The first moving ice cream carts appearing all over Europe date back to those years.
     

    At the end of the 1800s, and at the beginning of the 1900s, ice cream was mostly homemade in its egg based, milk based and fruit based versions. Ice cream was healthy and beneficial and it was served in cups or glasses.
     

    In modern times, the birth of industrial processing has generated several “absurd” products: from ice cream on a stick to calippo popsicles, even in weird colors such as the “smurf” color, a bright blue that certainly does not have anything natural in it. Fortunately, today the best Italian chefs and pastry chefs have started to produce ice cream with authentic and traditional ingredients from their geographical regions.

    There are more and more family run ice cream parlors which make ice cream only with the best and freshest ingredients. Some are really unique: you can try delicious manna delle madonie from Sicily (Manna is the product resulting from the incision of the ash tree, now it is only produced in Sicily, exactly in the Madonie Park, close to the towns of Castelbuono and Pollina. It is called “manna“ because it comes from heaven ), pistachios from Bronte in Sicily (pitachio gelato should not be a glow-in-the-dark green), lemon gelato made with lemons from Amalfi (which is white and not as yellow as the sun), or gelato made with hazelnuts from Piemonte.
     

    The way gelato is stored is also extremely important. The best products are stored in thermosteel ice cream carapinas because the ice cream has less contact with oxygen and is subject to a more homogenous refrigeration. Ice cream should be softened a few times a day by moving what is at the bottom to the top and so on. This process improves the product’s freshness and flavor. Good quality ice cream should not have any ice clusters and must be so creamy that it melts really fast.

    Here are some ice cream parlors you should check out when you visit Italy:

    ● Agrigelateria San Pe’, Strada di San Pietro di Rivetta – Poirino, Torino; via Nizza, 230 – Torino (@ Eataly); Via Bossolasco, 6/4 – Torino.

    ● Caffè Sicilia, Corso Vittorio Emanuele III, 125 – Noto, Siracusa.

    ● De Coltelli, Lungarno Pacinotti, 23 – Pisa.

    ● Grom, Piazza Paleocapa, Torino.

    ● Cremeria Gabriele, Corso Umberto I, 8 – Vico Equense, Naples.

    ● Cappadonia, Via Roma, 153 – Cerda, Palermo.

    ● Stefino, Via Galliera 49, Bologna.

    ● Sanelli, Piazza del Popolo, 2/1, – Salsomaggiore Terme, Parma.

    ● Gelato Giusto, Via San Gregorio, 17 – Milan.

    ● Vivoli, Via Isola delle Stinche, 7r – Florence.

    ● Gelateria Pasqualetti, Via del Duomo 14, Orvieto.

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