Viva La Vintage: 1960’s Dinner and a Movie {Italian Style}

Vintage Italian Travel Poster by Island Art Store via Etsy
Vintage Italian Travel Poster by Island Art Store via Etsy

Dear readers, in this week’s post we are all heading on a European adventure to the country best known for two things: food and romance.  On this trip you will be transported through food and film back to 1960’s Florence, Italy for an authentically magical night of escapism that will make you feel like the fanciest of weekend jet-setters! .

On the menu: Tuna Viareggio with Sauteed Wild Arugula Greens (from the vintage 1960’s cookbook The Art of Regional Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto).

The Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto c. 1963 First Edition
The Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto c. 1963 First Edition

In your glass: 1967 Grifone Tosacana wine (slightly chilled)

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On the big screen: The 1962 romantic drama, The Light in the Piazza, starring Olivia de Havilland, Yvette Mimieux and George Hamilton which was shot entirely on location in Florence.

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Ms. Jeannie fell in love with this movie not only for its gorgeous location and costumes but also for its unexpected story and wonderful acting. Olivia deHavilland (who most famously played Melanie in Gone With the Wind) plays Meg, a modern American mid-century mother in a coming of age story centered around her daughter Clara’s budding romance with handsome Italian Fabrizio (played by George Hamilton).

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Its not your typical love story, Clara is not your typical young woman and Meg is not your typical mother. With a plot that takes all sorts of twists and turns in unexpected ways, each character reveals several layers of depth, facing situations that are complex and timeless.  It’s also very funny and Yvette as Meg’s daughter, Clara, does a delicate job of creating a woman who is both fresh and feisty. Ms. Jeannie will not say anything else so she doesn’t spoil the surprises in the movie but here is the original trailer so you can get a sense of the adventure…

Florence, located in central Italy is known for its gardens, beaches and simple delicate cuisine. So in keeping with the movie Ms. Jeannie chose a recipe from the vintage cookbook, The Art of Regional Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto which organizes the foods of Italy by section within the country.

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Combining the best of the beaches and the gardens – the dinner menu represented both attributes with wild fish and garden greens. Adding in a glass (or more!) of the Tuscan blend Grifone Toscana 1967-  a 2009 vintage made in the same central region as Florence and a rustic baguette on the side made this authentic Italian dinner complete.

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Both dishes were fresh, fast and easy to prepare – perfect summer cooking! Ms. Jeannie purchased both her fish and the wine from Trader Joe’s.  Just a little preparation note – tuna cooks best when its is semi-frozen. So if you buy frozen filets like Ms. Jeannie did, you want to just thaw them in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes before slicing and cooking.

Tuna Viareggio Style (serves 4)

1.5lbs fresh tuna, sliced 1″ inch thick

1/2 cup flour

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, sliced

1 small clove garlic

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

2 anchovy filets, chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup warm water

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon basil, chopped

1/2 teaspoon oregano

salt to taste

Dust tuna slices with flour. Fry in skillet in two tablespoons of oil, over moderate flame, until lightly brown on both sides. Remove from pan and keep hot (on a plate covered with a lid works great!). In same pan saute onion, garlic and parsley in balance of oil. Remove garlic and add anchovies and wine: cook slowly until wine almost evaporates. Dilute tomato paste in warm water, and add with rest of ingredients. Cook covered over moderate flame for 15 minutes. Add fish carefully and cook 6-10 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

The Sauteed Arugula Greens were a modification from Maria Lo Pinto’s Sauteed Dandelion Greens recipe. Since Ms. Jeannie couldn’t find dandelion greens anywhere, the arugula was the next best substitute. You could also use spinach but cooking times will vary a little bit.

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Sauteed Arugula Greens (serves 4)

2 lbs. fresh arugula

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large garlic clove, cut in half

3 anchovy filets

Clean and wash greens. Roughly cut them in 2″ inch pieces. Heat oil in saucepan, add garlic and brown. Remove garlic and add greens, cover saucepan, and cook 5 minutes or until tender. Cut anchovies into small pieces and add. Mix well and cook 2 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

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And there you have it dear readers! A mini-mental vacation to the land of good living! If you were feeling especially festive, you could also plan an outdoor movie night and set this one up under the stars. It would be very romantic. Or as they’d say in Italian… questo e molto romantico!

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The Light in the Piazza is available for download or dvd purchase on Amazon here. The cookbook is available for purchase in Ms. Jeannie’s shop here. Catch up on past blog posts featuring other Italian recipes here. A special thanks to Mr. Jeannie Ology for the handsome hand modeling!

Bathe, Chop, Simmer: The Art of Italian Cooking, 1948

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All summer long, the garden tomatoes have ripened one or two a day – making an easy pluck, enough for a sandwich or a salad or an ingredient for dinner.  Now as the end of the season comes to a close, the bushes have reached their relaxed state of exhaustion. They are leggy, bald in some spots from clipping and pruning and dry in others  from months beneath the hot Georgia sun.

For all that they lack in fine appearance,  a curious event has been occurring over the past week or so. Suddenly,  it seems, the last little stragglers have joined together for one last hearty attempt to grow, ripen and red in abundance.

Over the weekend, Ms. Jeannie pulled 18 ripe tomatoes from her vines, with about 15 more “in the hopper” so to say that will be ready in the next couple of days.  My goodness! Their efforts seem valiant! Armed with her big basket full of beauties and under the spell of a cool rainy Saturday,  it seemed to Ms. Jeannie like the perfect time to make a new recipe from an old cookbook. The recipe is  Salsa Semplice Di Pomodoro #1, otherwise known as Plain Tomato Sauce #1 from the Art of Italian Cooking  by Maria Lo Pinto, circa 1948.

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The Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Lo Pinto, 1948

The cookbook is great. Hardcover, spotted, penciled, appreciated – every time she opens the cover, Ms. Jeannie feels like she is communicating with a dozen different women before her.  Their notes, their stains, maybe some sweat and tears all marked there on the pages. The author, Maria, bound all these recipes together because her friends kept asking how she did that, and this and that and this, again and again.  Just like the cookbook endeavor of the women of  St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church, the recipes contained in the Art of Italian Cooking have been passed down in Maria’s family for generations. Tried and true Italian, at it’s best!

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This is a really simple recipe with just 7 ingredients, which include basil, another overzealous  grower in Ms. Jeannie’s garden!  The recipe called for canned tomatoes, so Ms. Jeannie actually added a little bit of extra work to the whole affair by using fresh, but really that just meant a little bit of extra time preparing the tomatoes in a hot water bath.  So you could make this recipe either way depending on the amount of time you have.

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The hot water bath is easy – you just boil a big soup pot full of water  and once it starts bubbling drop your tomatoes in the water and let them bob about for 4-5 minutes. You’ll see the skins start to wrinkle and burst.  When that happens, they are ready to come out.

While the tomatoes are bobbing about you can chop the onions and garlic.  When the the wrinkles appear, lift each tomato from the bath (Ms. Jeannie likes to use a slotted spoon so that the excess water drains) you can put the tomatoes in a strainer to let them cool off a bit. Once cool enough to touch, you just peel the loose skin from the tomato, cut off any blemishes or spots and then set the tomatoes aside in a bowl.

Next,  warm the olive oil in a saute pan, add the onions and garlic, saute for 5 minutes and then add a sprig of basil and the tomatoes and sort of mash the tomatoes up with a wooden spoon in the pan.

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Simmer the whole pot on low for 45 minutes, stirring often. Next add the sugar and salt and pepper. Simmer for another 15 minutes and then it is ready!

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This batch makes about 3 cups of sauce (maybe a little more or a little less depending on the size of your tomatoes). According to the recipe it is enough for 1 lb. of pasta.  The consistency is thick with big chunks of tomato and onion, which works well with either a small pasta (shell, bow-tie, ziti) or the traditional spaghetti or fettuccine.

At the last minute, Ms. Jeannie decided to add two tablespoons of tomato paste and a cup of water, so that she would have enough sauce for an Eggplant Parmesan recipe she is going to try in October.  After simmering for another 15 minutes, those two additions increased the yield to 4 cups of sauce.

The great thing about this recipe is that you can tweak it however you like – add olives or mushrooms, oregano or a dash of red wine. In the introduction of the book, Maria encourages any and all experimenting – as she states – all these recipes are simple foundations of Italian cuisine – you can build up from them according to your palette.

Right now, it is still too warm for a heavy baked Italian dish, so Ms. Jeannie is freezing her batch. It is always seems fun to pull out little reminders of the summer garden when you are well into another season.

The next harvest challenge that needs to be tackled is the basil. Ms. Jeannie has plans to dry some and make a batch of pesto but there will still be lots to use before it starts going to seed, so if you have any suggestions please comment below!

In the meantime, here’s the tomato sauce recipe in full…

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Salsa Semplice Di Pomodoro #1 (Plain Tomato Sauce #1)

1 large canned tomatoes (or 15-20 small to medium garden tomatoes)

4 tbs. olive oil

2 sliced onions

1/2 tsp. sugar

1 clove garlic

1 sprig basil

Salt & Pepper to taste

Fry sliced onion and garlic about 5 minutes in oil. Add basil. Strain tomatoes through sieve; add and simmer 45 minutes or until tomatoes are cooked to a thick sauce. Stir frequently; add sugar, salt and pepper, stir thoroughly. Simmer 15 minutes.

This sauce may be used on any type of macaroni or boiled rice. Sufficient for 1 pound.  Also used with pizza recipe.

Mangia, dear readers! If you are unfamiliar with that expression, it means eat, in Italian!