Pea and Pistachio Old School Arancini with Tarragon Pesto. There are a lot of great things to learn about Italian cooking and culture packed inside these little rice balls. I’m calling them old school Italian arancini, though that’s not strictly true.
I made them as my contribution to a dinner party The Table Set threw for a few friends. You see Nathan, Andy and I were recently at Miceli’s, here is Hollywood. Miceli’s is the kind of old school Italian restaurant that only exists in America. Usually these restaurants are holdover from another time. A time when America defined Italian food as anything covered in a red tomato and red meat sauce.
While we were at Miceli’s we got to talking about places like Miceli’s and how they defined American’s idea of what Old School Italian food is. Those attitudes have changed quite a bit. Today most of us have a much broader, more regional understanding of how Italians really eat. But there’s just something about the old school Italian red checkered table cloth places that fits so well into American life. We took our recorder to the restaurant to capture the feeling of the evening we spent there. The evening that inspired us to throw an old school Italian dinner at home. I hope you’ll listen to episode.
Old School Italian Cooking
When it comes to old school Italian cooking how many times have you heard the phrase, now that’s Italian? Well, probably far fewer than you think. Because many of the classics we attribute to Italy are not authentic Italian dishes. They’re American adaptations. But really, who cares where it’s from anyway? Some of my favorite “Italian” restaurant specialties aren’t typically found in Italy. Things like Baked Ziti, Pasta and Broccoli, Pasta Primavera, and Fettuccine Alfredo were all developed here and became popular not only on dining tables but as reflections of family traditions too. Even the classic Spaghetti and Meatballs is not something you’ll likely be served in Italy.
2009 Vigne del Malina Pinot Grigio
Pairs well with Seafood, fish soup or cured meats like prosciutto.
Now I may not care where these old school Italian American specialties developed, but I am interested in why they developed.
Italian immigrant families 3 or 4 generations ago cooked up Spaghetti and Meatballs as a reaction to their new lives in this country. The dish probably had its origins in one of the baked Neapolitan pasta dishes served at religious festivals. Because at that tumultuous time of Italy’s history (they were fighting over the concept of unifying all the regions of Italy into a republic) meat was costly. So these special occasion dishes used meatballs the size of marbles as opposed to the egg-sized versions we are used to in America. In short, American-style old school Italian food is often about abundance and devolved the way it did because Italian immigrants were adapting their traditions to the food and culture of their new country.
So I don’t mind taking something that is classically Italian and giving it a modern American twist. In Italy arancini are likely to be filled with a Bolognese and served with marinara. Delicious. But my version of old school Italian arancini are made modern and light with a filling of sweet peas and pistachios. Even my pesto is new school. It’s made with tarragon instead of basil. Cin-Cin. GREG