Weekend Reading: Cheese, Seafood, and Intractable Italians

Weekend Reading: Cheese, Seafood, and Intractable Italians

Faith Durand
Mar 29, 2008

One of the great things about Italy is they love making rules. And they obey very few.

That bit from Robert Trachtenberg's essay in the New York Times Sunday Magazine made us laugh. He defiantly flies in the face of all these Italian rules - specifically the ones about cheese on seafood. No cheese on shrimp risotto, they insist in Milan and Venice - is he trying to bring down their entire food culture? But he stands his ground.

From Palermo to Palos Verdes, the more outraged and belligerent they became, the more I stood my ground. Don't put cheese on your seafood, don't order a cappuccino after noon, keep your bread right side up — the rules never stopped. Was I in my own culinary Siberia? Where did this no-cheese ordinance originate, and could I find a reputable Italian chef willing to break rank with me?

He reaches back into ancient Sicilian food history and finds more than one example of broken rules. He closes the piece with a recipe for Pennette With Sea Scallops and Broccoli Florets that includes a half cup of Parmesan cheese.

But he also offers another recipe for pasta con le sarde, a dish of sardines, fennel, currants and bread crumbs that he admits should never, ever be embellished with cheese. He says:

Of course, if you want to put cheese on it, go ahead. But it's an outrage.

Just Grate

(Image: Stephen Lewis for The New York Times)

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