I’m making lasagne tonight so I opened up my Italianissimo cookbook, Il Piccolo Talismano della Felicità. The recipe for béchamel obviously begins with a short history of this famous sauce. As always, we must begin at the beginning, which often goes back at least a few centuries. In the case of La sauce à la béchamel we only to back to the time of Luigi XIV and his maitre d’hotel by the name of Louis de Béchameil. That taken care of we can get down to business (how American) – what to do. Not first without another paragraph specifying that the sauce can be more or less dense, depending on its final destination (without specifying what those might be), by varying the amounts of butter, flour and milk.
So, here we go. There are phrases like, fatela cuocere adagio, adagio per qualche minuto (exactly how many minutes please), and add a nonnulla di noce moscata (a next to nothing of nutmeg – translated, a 1/8 tsp). Italian cooking -- a bit and this and that. My friend Alessandra once gave me a recipe for a ground chicken and ricotta kind of meatloaf wrapped in prosciutto and then aluminium foil and put in the oven, “until you can begin to smell the aroma as it sneaks past the door of the kitchen” – and how long would that be? Basically Americans have lost their senses, literally, and to compensate we need to KNOW exactly what to do, step by step, teaspoon by teaspoon.
I think it comes down to communication styles and high and low context – remember those hundreds of antennas that surround Italians as they walk down the street? Well, they follow them into the kitchen where they just know, somehow -- maybe its in their genes -- how much, how long, how hot, as they cook. We need it spelled out, directly, clearly in degrees, cups and teaspoons.
Buon appetito e a domani,