Tuesday, May 20, 2008

On Risotto And The Old Virtue Of Patience

Italian cuisine is chiefly popular for pasta and pizza. Nothing wrong with either one, of course, but I have a dream: that at some point in time risotto will be added to the short list of remarkable italian dishes. Risotto was, with Polenta, the staple food for northern italians, when life was slow and deep. It still reigns amidst the splendors of Northern Italian Cuisine, as a polymorphic and finely dressed little prince...
I have another, more self-centered dream: that, once I have defeated my despicable indolence, I will become a Master in the Noble Art of Risotto Making.
Well, Master I am certainly not, at least not yet. I have started my apprenticeship, though, and I want to share with you the basic secret: the single most important ingredient in Risotto (aside good Arborio rice) is the old Virtue of Patience.
You must stir, continuously, slowly, at a moderate fire regime. Risotto is unforgiving: too much fire, too much hurry, and you''ll end up with a heinous magma.
There is, to be sure, a true alchemy at work here: the action of fire has to take its dutiful place, a fire nurturing the gastronomical miracle.
Epicureans et savants, to the stove!
PS Do not save on the wine. A risotto deserves the very best there is.
PPS. There are plenty of good resources on risottos (try here, for a starter). Keep in mind that the basic recipe is deceptively simple, but the variations endless.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

On The Ivy League

I have been in the USA long enough to understand the implications of the term Ivy League. Here, a country where the social hierarchy, or system of castes if you prefer, is still rather mobile, it is important to establish an elite of some kind.

As a matter of fact elite schools have been around since times immemorial, and they still go strong: suffice to think of the French Grandes Ecoles to know it all.

A few months ago, I had the sudden desire to know what is really old, in the world university system. I thought of Oxford and Paris, of course, but also of Bologna (1088), and (I am a native of Italy) of the Schola Salernitana, a medical school of the late middle age.

Old? Yes, but one can do better. As it turns out, the oldest extant university in the world is
the University of Al-Karaouine or Al-Qarawiyyin ( جامعة القرويين‎), founded in 859 CE. Not bad, right? Amongst its renowned alumni, the greatest jewish medieval philosopher Maimonides.

To be sure, there were centers of learning back in the far past, for instance the buddhist university created under the indian king Ashoka, and other schools tied up with some form of priesthood. Whether we would cast them into the modern label of universities is, of course, matter of taste (I would).

So, here is my question:

If you are a graduate of, say, Bologna, Coimbra, Toulouse, Oxford, you belong to which league?

I would suggest the Stalactite League, but perhaps someone here will come back with a better name :)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Chesterton on Fairy Tales

Prompted by a friend's praise, I have recently read Chesterton's Orthodoxy. It has not been an easy reading, perhaps simply because in this quite special period of my life I my brain is so overloaded with my own life, that those written words have (rare event indeed!) little part in it.

I shall refrain from commenting on the book itself, and its scope: some readers will find it sublime, some boring, I suppose. Instead, I focus on what really fascinated me, because it resonated in my soul with a deep echo. Here are Chesterton's words:

The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are fairy tales. They seem to me to be the entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies; compared with them other things are fantastic. Compared with them religion and rationalism are both abnormal, though religion is abnormally right and rationalism abnormally wrong. Fairyland is the sunny country of common sense.

Outlandish? Perhaps a bit provocative, but, I believe, basically true. We have learned so many rules growing up, so many assumptions, so many prejudices, that the simple candor of children's fairy tales strikes us down with his morning's brightness...

Saturday, May 3, 2008

On Fairies

I have been missing in action for a tad too much, time to come back...
In this post I want to make a public announcement:

I do believe in fairies.

To be sure, I believe in much, much more: elves, ogres, sorcerers, witches, angels, demons, and whatnot. My universe (and I say it with pride) is vast and inclusive.

Am I insane? Gullible? Ignorant? I would think not. Quite simply, I believe that there are many pairs of glasses through which you can stare at reality. One of these glasses makes you see the same world you and I used to live in when we were children.

Why not putting them on once again, from time to time? Try, you will not regret it.

PS There is an excellent blog on fairies, definitely worth visiting: Fairish.

PS2 Once you dig up that fabulous pair of glasses from your dusty chest of children toys, you will start spotting fairies amidst humans (they are rare, to be sure, so please do not get irritated if it will take you some time). So far I have positively identified two fairies. When you spot them, they are unmistakable. Trust me.