Life Lessons from Italian Cuisine

by Belinda Munoz on August 4, 2010

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Italia!

The history!  The language!  The catacombs!  The monuments!

The mosaics!  The sculptures!  The frescoes!  The people!

The piazzas!  The capellas!  The duomos!

And, ahh, the cuisine!  Not only is it delicious and satisfying; some of the best lessons I’ve learned of late seem to be inspired by Italian cuisine.

Below are bite-sized bits of trattoria-inspired food for thought that I’m, uh, chewing on:

+ Stretch like mozzarella di bufala. Expanding not only our minds but also our hearts will go a long way to reaching our highest potential.

+ Be versatile like pizza. What other food tastes good with pepperoni, olives or ham and pineapple on top?  Like pizza, it would serve us well to learn to deal with whatever comes our way, not passively but in an engaged way.  Let’s use lemons as an example.  If the weather calls for a refreshing beverage, we make lemonade.  If a situation requires dessert (I so want to be in a situation that requires dessert!), we make a lemon tart.  If dinner goes well and and conversation keeps flowing, by all means, pour me a shot of limoncello.  Who knew lemons could be as versatile as pizza!

+ Pack a punch like a shot of espresso. When we do something, why not give it our best shot?  A shot of espresso doesn’t hold back on its effect.  Why should we?

+ Age like good vino. Wine gets better with age, they say, as do we.  I believe this.  So, swirl.  Smell the aroma.  Drink in the days, the years and the fullness of every sip.

+ Family-style rules. Everything about the Italian cuisine is meant to be shared.  So is everything else the world has to offer.  The natural resources as well as the natural disasters.  Our gifts and talents as well as our collective struggles.  Nothing is meant for hiding, or worse, hoarding.  Pass  the parmigiano, please.

+ Look to the combination of prosciutto con melone. I would never on my own combine these two ingredients together.  But, someone was unafraid to experiment with processed meat and cantaloupe in the kitchen.  And guess what, they work together!  In life, there are times when we assume certain things or ideas could never work.  Sometimes we’re right.  But you know what?  Sometimes we’re wrong.  What a shame it would be to discount something that we falsely misjudge to be wrong that otherwise could’ve turned out  great.  In other less circuitous words, tried and true is nice and reliable.  But, scary as it may seem, there lurks wisdom in staying open to things unknown.

+ Go easy on the antipasto. Appetizers are just that, appetizers.  I myself love snacking on olives and peperoncini, but the main course is the heart of a satisfying meal.  A simple antipasto platter, though pleasurable and delectable, reminds us that there’s more to satisfaction in life than fluff.  Filling up on metaphorical antipasto isn’t the best way to nourish our soul.

+ Gelato flavors stay true to their essence. Compare jell-o and gelato.  I happen to love both but one is more artificial than the other.  Lime flavored jell-o is  bright green but the tanginess is drowned out by the sweetness.  On the other hand, ***nocciola gelato retains its essence by keeping all the bits of pistachio in every delicious scoop.

+ Everything tastes better when dining al fresco. It’s tempting to stay in when we’ve made our homes so comfortable.  But being comfortable is only one aspect of living and could lead to an unintended insular way of thinking.  Getting out there adds tasty flavors that aren’t available at home.  So step outside of that good ol’ comfort zone.  There’s quite a bit of luscious action happening out there.

+ Clams are delicious in spaghetti alla vongole, but clamming up when a conversation makes more sense leaves a bitter aftertaste. Silence, as we all know, is golden.  But speaking up especially when we have something important to say is not only appropriate but also good for our proverbial peace of mind.

With that, buon appetito and I wish you una vita dolce, a sweet life!

+++++++++++++++

CORRECTION:

***A reader very tactfully pointed out to me that nocciola is hazelnut, not pistachio.  Thanks, Cathleen!  I immediately turned to husband who I very often rely upon to edit my words…

Me: Honey, why didn’t you tell me that nocciola is hazelnut?  Didn’t you see I put pistachio instead?

Husband: I know nocciola is hazelnut.  I’m assuming you know your nuts.

Me: I know I’m nuts but…

+++++++++++++++

Do you like Italian food?  If so, what’s your favorite?

Do you cook Italian food?  If so, do you have any easy recipes to share?

Has food ever  taught you any life lessons?

+++++++++++++++

Image by [puamelia] Yumi Kimura

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stephen August 4, 2010 at 2:30 am

Personally I love Italian food. In fact I love all Mediterranean food and alfresco dining. My absolute favourites are Greek and Lebanese.
More than that though your passion and ability to take so much from the art of cuisine is infectious and inspirational. Great, great post, loved it, magnifica, bella magnifica :-).

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2 Kate August 4, 2010 at 4:32 am

Hi Belinda,

I adore Italian food, both cooking and eating it!
I think it could also teach us to keep everything simple (what could be more simple, but more deicious than a mozarella and tomato salad mmmmm!) and fresh.

I’m hungry now!

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3 Tony Single August 4, 2010 at 5:33 am

Oh gosh, Belinda, now I’m hungry as! 😛

I have to say that pizza is probably my favourite Italian food, only we don’t buy out… we make our own. That way we can just pile on the salad and pineapple and cheese and ham and olives and… well, the lot! Ain’t nothin’ like our homemade pizza! Yum!

Now, would you please excuse me. I have to go and play that videogame starring my most favouritest Italian of all time – Luigi. (What, you think I was going to go with his more famous brother?) 😛

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4 Eva @ EvaEvolving August 4, 2010 at 7:30 am

Oh my goodness. This is lovely! I see a trip to our favorite Italian restaurant in my near future…

I love family-style and all it represents. There is such symbolism, such meaning in sharing a meal. Gathering together at a table. Good conversation and good food. Togetherness. Isn’t it great?!

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5 Justine August 4, 2010 at 9:40 am

Would it be too bold for me to say who DOESN’T like Italian food? I love it – right up there with Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Malaysian, Thai, Korean, and Ethiopean cuisine. Yes, I love food so this post definitely made my mouth water as I nod in agreement. If anyone could dissect food and its metaphors well, and leave their readers hunger for more upon digestion of your nuggets of wisdom, it would be you. Buon appetito!

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6 Aging Mommy August 4, 2010 at 11:31 am

Very clever! I LOVE real Italian food and there is no finer place on earth to eat it than in Italy – unfortunately once you do that everything else pales in comparison. We used to cook a lot of Italian food – favorite recipe book being River Cafe, London establishment run by two women and is the place where Jamie Oliver polished his skills before venturing out on his own and they had quite an influence on him. Some of his pasta and risotto recipes in his first few books are also really good.

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7 BigLittleWolf August 4, 2010 at 1:16 pm

This is absolutely delightful – and delectable! I love Italian food, and while I don’t live in a part of the country where you get good Italian food, I come from a part of the country where you do, and miss eating the real stuff.

I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite dish, but after reading this, maybe I’ll make chicken cacciatore for my son tonight.

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8 Di Palo Selects August 4, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Italian food truly is a lifestyle- an indulgent and delicious one at that! For all of you Italian food lovers check out Di Palo Selects at http://www.dipaloselects.com/, offering the finest in Italian foods available for order from the convenience of your home. Di Palo Selects offers the finest authentic, imported Italian specialty food products from cured meats and delicious cheeses to unique pantry items such as fig jam and gluten-free pasta. Check it out!
Happy Eating,
Di Palo Selects

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9 Fr. Michael August 5, 2010 at 6:53 am

Belinda,
You’re talking my language! Italian food is my favorite. I was raised on it…and eat it all the time!

To you and all your readers: Providence, RI has some of the best Italian restaurants in the country. It’s worth the trip just to eat here!

And Rome…is it possible to get a bad meal there? Not in my experience…

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10 Phil - Less Ordinary Living August 5, 2010 at 6:54 am

Molto bene Belinda –

I really enjoyed this post. Versatile like pizza – that is my new catchphrase. I also love the idea of doing everything family style – I’m coming to appreciate my family more every day at the moment. Life is better when it’s shared.

What is my lesson from Italian food? Keep it simple like meatballs – no frills, no overcomplication, just be honest and straightforward.

Take care,

Phil

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11 rob white August 5, 2010 at 6:57 am

Wonderful metaphors, Belinda. Like a good Mozzarella, we are all here to stretch further and expand on who we are. 🙂

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12 Tess The Bold Life August 5, 2010 at 12:51 pm

This is so creative I absolutely love it! I’ll always look at my expresso in the morning and set my intention of giving the day my best shot. You rock!

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13 Sara August 5, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Belinda,

UNFAIR!!! I read this post at 4:00 PM my time…I still have three hours…yes, three hours before dinner and now I’m starving:~)

On the other hand, this is one of wittiest posts I’ve read in a long time. I loved how you combined Italian food with life lessons. Very well done:~)

When I visited Italy, I ate pizza and prosciutto and melon almost every day. I would actually the melon and prosciutto over the gelato, which is not normally like me:~)

Regarding lessons, chocolate has taught me the most. It has taught about over indulgence and the price one pays when one over-focuses or over- consumes only one thing. Life and our bodies are meant for variety:~)

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14 Steve Scott Site August 5, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Gosh, As well as feeding my mind, your post made me quite hungry. As Homer would say. “Pizzzzaaaaa”

I loved the way you used to food to bring through real positive life lessons.

In life I am way too much of an appetizer guy. I can often skip on dinner and just eat those lovely appetizers. I strive not in the sense of my life or my reality though. No video games and little (gotta have a little) boob tube for this kid.

Thanks,
Steve

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15 The Exception August 8, 2010 at 10:01 am

My daughter and I are as close to Italians as we can get with our watered back blood and our home in Virginia surrounded by no one that speaks anything close to Italian or eats the food or lives the lifestyle!
This post is wonderful… Italy is quite close to my heart for many of the reasons you stated (the lifestyle, the food, the passion for life and living and just being).
One of the aspects that I love is the time given – a meal is not rushed, it is savored. It is a given that an Italian meal will include time to digest, to converse, to relax, to enjoy each taste of food and tone of conversation and emotion of the company. It might include people watching and the world at large.
It is not rushed or centered on business – an Italian meal is about the meal and the people and savoring it all!!

Italian food also is about simple and fresh – as natural and easy as can be… and balanced. It is one of the simplest foods to make and yet I am willing to pay a dear price for good Italian food – and in this area we do just that as the best and most simple Italian is often the most dear! ;)I love this post – Brava!

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