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Made in Italy

(Note: This post was written by Laurel Regan and originally published in a separate blog called “Insalata di Alfabeto”, which was later merged with Alphabet Salad.)

My Italian mom is a fantastic cook. No matter what or how many ingredients she may have on hand… no matter how little time or notice she may have been given… no matter if unexpected guests turn up wanting to be fed… she always, without fail, has the enviable ability to take whatever is available and turn it into a delicious celebration of taste and goodness.

I wanted Mom to teach me her secrets. My organizational mind foolishly assumed that I, too, could become a fantastic cook simply by watching her as she was making a favourite dish, transcribing her instructions and quantities onto paper, then following the directions. As you might imagine, my efforts to do so exasperated us both!

The problem was that we weren’t speaking the same language.

I’m not talking about Italian and English… rather, something more akin to the language of heart versus head. Mom cooks by feel, by instinct, by taste – a little of this, a little of that – until it’s right. I wanted specific amounts and precise times to scribble down onto my little piece of paper; Mom would shrug and say something like, “Enough” or, “Until it’s ready” as she was tasting the sauce. “How much is enough?” I might ask, pen poised, to which I would receive another shrug as a waft of delicious scent emanated from the pot on the stovetop.

All the while as I was asking all the wrong questions, trying to turn art into science, Mom was working her magic and I was failing to learn.

But you know, I think I might finally get it.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to watch a live cooking demonstration by David Rocco, star of David Rocco’s Dolce Vita on Food Network Canada, at Carrousel of the Nations.

He made two planned dishes – Risotto con puré di barbabietola (Risotto with Beet Purée) from his cookbook Dolce Vita, and Saltimbocca di Pollo (Chicken that “jumps” in your mouth) from his cookbook Made in Italy, as well as an impromptu dessert concoction of strawberries, freshly-cracked black pepper, and balsamic vinegar. The food smelled absolutely divine, and David was charm itself, but it was his explanation of his cooking style and philosophy that gave me a glimmering of insight into what I’ve been missing when it comes to understanding Mom’s art.

Quanto Basta.

Several times throughout his demonstration, David used the term Quanto Basta, and later as I paged through his gorgeous cookbook Made in Italy (which is full of beautiful photographs and is almost as much a coffee table book as a cookbook) I noticed that the abbreviation QB turned up in almost every recipe. He goes into detail near the beginning of the book explaining the cooking philosophy of Quanto Basta, which essentially means that you should tailor a recipe to your taste by using “as much as you need” or “as much as you want.” It’s about using what you have and making a dish your own. It’s about freedom instead of rules… about listening to your senses instead of following a strictly prescribed recipe.

This – this Quanto Basta – is the concept I couldn’t seem to grasp with my pen and paper and organizational mind, yet I see now that Mom is a perfect example of the philosophy.

Perhaps now that the penny has dropped, I’ll be able to put aside my writing implements (at least where food is concerned) and start paying attention to smells, to tastes, to textures. I may never become a fantastic cook like Mom, but perhaps I can learn to create with my heart rather than my head. And maybe something delicious will happen!

Thank you, David Rocco… and thank you, Mom.

Photo courtesy morgueFile, photographer kconnors

Laurel Storey, CZT – Certified Zentangle Teacher. Writer, reader, tangler, iPhoneographer, cat herder, learner of French and Italian, crocheter, needle felter, on-and-off politics junkie, 80s music trivia freak, ongoing work in progress.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • styler1 June 12, 2012

    I’m such an awful cook. I should watch some cooking shows!

    • DawnStorey June 12, 2012

      My husband does all of the cooking! I need to learn, though. I’m thinking of trying some of the recipes from my new David Rocco cookbook – maybe a once a week blog feature?!

  • CorinneRodrigues
    June 12, 2012

    Cooking is truly all about the senses, Dawn. I’m not Italian but I can’t cook from a cookbook – I need to smell, taste and feel to know it’s just right. I love the phrase ‘Quanto Basta’ – I might use it in a post soon – with credit to you of course ♥

    • DawnStorey June 13, 2012

      It’s a great philosophy, isn’t it?! And I love the sound of the words, too… they just roll off the tongue. Feel free to pass on the message!

  • JoHeroux
    June 13, 2012

    I am  a foody and love the food network. I will make a meal from whatever I have and almost always it’s good. Sometimes really good. My problem is that I have a hard time making anything the same way twice because I do not use recipes, unless I have written it down as I went along for some reason. I do that now and then, but only if I think it’ll be a keeper!  Cooking for me is an art form of love. Great new blog!  ♥

    • DawnStorey June 13, 2012

      Thanks, Jo! I like your description of your cooking style. I’ll bet your food is yummy!

  • schulmanlinda
    June 13, 2012

    This was a fantastic blog about cooking and I completely understand it! We need to get past our fear and just cook what we love!

    • DawnStorey June 13, 2012

      Thank you so much! I think you’re right about getting past the fear.


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