Plates and Chopping Boards | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

When we sit at the dining table, we hardly waste much time thinking of how tableware originated and evolved in time.  We might briefly admire the beauty of a plate or a particular decoration perhaps just  as ice breaker and small conversation. We might treat ourselves with the elegant newest collection of dish ware made by Alessi called “Dressed”, or some hand painted ceramic plates, or we might end up eating in any casual dinnerware with nonchalance. The important thing is to have food into a washable or throw away vessel and assign a plate to each person sitting at a dining table. It was not this way a few centuries ago. (Photo: marcel wanders alessi)

Think about how it was in the Middle Age when diners in noble courts and taverns alike shared bowls, glasses, chopping blocks and tin plates.  This meant that diners sharing tableware had to pay attention to each other and respect table ethics because they were facing each other while eating from the same plate.

Each person had a spoon to dip in a common soup bowl and in a common sauce bowl. Meat and solid food were cut in a serving dish placed in the center table from which each person took a piece and place it on the chopping block shared with another person. If the other person was a woman and supposedly not a master in the art of cutting, the man sharing the chopping block with her would cut a pieces and offer it to the woman.

Forks did not exist yet, they arrived on the Italian Florentine tables around the 1300. Women held each piece of solid food between two fingers and brought it to the mouth gently. Men stabbed solid food or meat with a knife and ate directly from the blade.

Napkins did not exist yet either. It was an accepted custom to clean oily hands on the tablecloth, but it was not acceptable to suck the fingers clean with the mouth. To avoid offending table decency, a piece of food which had been in the mouth first, could not be put on the shared chopping board, or shared thin plate, that was not acceptable.

Why I am talking about table customs in the Middle Age and what does it have to do with the way we eat today? It seems that every thing old at some point become new again. I was really surprised to see that some restaurants in Italy have taken this historical table custom and twisted to today’s novelty.

In a restaurant on the Amalfi cost in Italy, I observed some appetizers being served on a cold stone or some others on a pre-heated stones depending on the type of food. Some restaurants serve also the main entrée on hot stones and it becomes really spectacular. Food arrives at the table seared halfway, the rest of the cooking is completed at the table by the customers, the way they like it.
(Himalayan Sal Slab: surlatable.com)

This trend is spreading throughout the U.S. too. I have eaten at upscale restaurants in California where one time I enjoyed appetizers on a Himalayan salt plate, the next time I delighted myself with an Argentinean Seared Flank Stake on hot slate with chimichuri sauce and the next time again I tried a fried kale with parmesan churros. All three times it was an enjoyable experience in that cooking at the table with friends evolves in a pleasant conversation.

Just like in the Middle Age, in trendy restaurants of today food is brought to the table on a hot stone  with another plate to eat off of it, but today there is an array of flatware, glassware and tablecloths to help us being more comfortable or civilized at the dining table.

These stones are available at gourmet shops and they are affordable.

I shall be here to answer any question you might have on the “mise en place”, staging a table, or staging a dinner party. Ciao,
Valentina
www.Valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. Robert Taitano, a friend and business associate says:
“Valentina – an International Professional Interior Designer is now giving you an opportunity to redesign your palate”.

She is the author of two Italian regional cuisine books available on this site in the Books section, on Amazon and through the publisher:
http://outskirtspress.com/ComeMiaNonna
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M
http://outskirtspress.com/SinsOfAQueen


Brewing In Architecture |Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

LaCupolaGetting up in the morning with that roaring sound of my Italian professional espresso maker really gets my blood going. Aside from the sound of birds chirping outside my bedroom window there is no better sound I like to hear in the morning.
Espresso, my lifetime lover I can’t do without it. My coffee has always been the same type for years, a blend of Brazilian green coffee beans that I toast myself to my liking. Espresso requires special Italian machines to make it frothy, thick and short.

One type of very common machine for family consumption is made for a stove top and produces one cup (small machine) up to twenty-four cups (very tall). The other kind is the café type with a few levels, one for each cup, a selection to make one or many cups at once, the cappuccino and steam feature, temperature/pressure gauge and more buttons that you know what to do. You get the picture, it is a professional machine, which performs for high traffic cafés.  

A coffee maker in Italy like everything in my country must have style, we just don’t settle for functionality, we want beauty in the kitchen too.

Italian architect Aldo Rossi (1931-1997) using architectural features of Italy designed many attractive famous espresso makers all produced by Alessi. He is considered to be the greatest Italian architect of the second half of the 20th century. It has been said: “Aldo Rossi is an author of abstraction, geometrical patterns and silent evocation created some of the most intensely poetic works of architecture and design in his age”.

In his products he utilizes geometrical shapes to make profound design statements. Aldo Rossi designed the Pens espresso makers, La Cupola espresso maker in 1984, la Conica espresso maker in 1988. All these designs reflect the harmony and the beauty of the classic architecture of Italy.  Aldo Rossi has been called  ‘a poet who happens to be an architect’. His theory on the nature of design is about offering an alternative to the technological and functional emphasis of modernism. Italians love to roll around in antiquity even when making coffee. Our eyes rejoice in the presence of a Brunelleschi’s cupola, Medieval Towers or Palladian’s architectural details. Now transfer all that beauty into food and gadgets to serve those food and you have pure pleasure. Espresso for Italians has the same importance as tea for British.  It is one of the many pleasures of the day in the Italian life and it is good for you.

I read a very encouraging article on the New York Times about coffee health.
In some researches has been found that caffeine might prove to be a way to stimulate hair growth in men going bald. Coffee could protect people against multiple sclerosis. Habitual coffee consumption is associated with a substantially lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Higher coffee and caffeine intake is associated with a significantly lower incidence of Parkinson’s disease. Harvard Medical Study says coffee drinking may help against heart disease. Women who drink coffee are (much) less likely to commit suicide.
Abstinence from Coffee drinking leads to early death.
Who would have ever thought of all these benefits!

With this in mind, let us keep the habit of making coffee, but let us brew it in the classicism of Italian architecture where romance is written on buildings the world admires. (All photo credits: Architect Aldo Rossi).
I am here ready to help you with the selection of special objects, gadgets and kitchen wear  and to design that special Italian kitchen for you. Ciao,
Valentina
www.valentinadesigns.com

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

 

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos. She is  the author of two regional Italian cookbooks available in this site at the Books Page:
Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity   –  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M
Sins Of A Queen – Italian Appetizers and Desserts

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