SCIM 2023. The cuisine of the soul, an article on the value of food for Italian emigrants – Italian Cuisine

On the occasion of SCIM 2023 – Italian Cuisine Week in the worldhere we are at a new chapter on the history of emigration cuisine, presented in the de project The Italian kitchen The Tales of the Roots,in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. This time we present the article by Elisabetta Morofull professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Naples Sister Orsola Benincasa, holder of the teaching of History of gastronomy of the Mediterranean countries at the University of Naples Federico II, member of the Assembly of Italian National UNESCO Commission and director of Virtual Museum of the Mediterranean Diet. Moro examines the profound bond with his own “maternal cuisine”, establishing an effective parallel with language: just as there is a maternal language, in fact, so too does a diet, a cuisine, a gastronomy that speaks the language of the soul. Below is the article and, then, a recipe taken from the volume created for SCIM 2023, I Racconti delle Radici.

The colors of Italianness – by Elisabetta Moro

«Man is what he eats said the philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach. But when man emigrates, then eating becomes the home of his soul. Him the recipes, his prayers. The flavors are the memory of him. And the Sunday table the sap that nourishes his family tree, bringing it back to the depths of its roots, but also projecting it with new branches towards the future. Because the relationship that men have with food is similar to the relationship they have with language. Food and speech are natural and cultural at the same time, and obey partially unconscious rules learned even in the prenatal period. There are those who talk about «maternal nutrition just like we talk about «mother tongue. Because the first food experiences, just like linguistic ones, leave indelible traces. And they become even more evident in the dishes of Italians abroad. That they transformed tomatoes, parmesan, mozzarella and basil into as many colors of Italianness. Italians, in fact, always carry with them the hand luggage of gastronomic culture. The Fiorentissima demonstrates this history of Italian cuisine abroad, which for a few centuries has been producing recipes that are new and old at the same time. Like him spaghetti with meatballs Italian Americans, heirs of spaghetti alla guitar with Abruzzo pallottini and the use of meatballs in pasta flans from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Or like the pizza with clams, which is neither new nor absurd, given that in the mid-eighteenth century in the alleys of Naples, where pizza was born, anchovies and clams were placed on the leavened disc seasoned with garlic and oil. In fact, those who emigrate preserve and contaminate, remember and renew. Thus the tricolor table on Sunday is still a ritual today, in which the homeland is recalled in the pots of ragù and the smells of toasted lasagne. Once prepared by grandmothers, today purchased already made. Because if it is difficult to find time to cook, on the other hand it is vital to remember, to renew the sense of an identity. But after all, what is identity really? It is truly the home of the soul. And if we think that the Greek word díaita – from which the Italian diet and the English derive dietthe Spanish diet – it really means mansionthen it becomes evident that all Italian cuisines, without exception, are the foundation of our community in the world.

The recipe from Belgium-France: Polenta with carrots and peas

For many immigrants from Northern Italy to France and Belgium, before and after the Second World War, the daily food was polenta, even after the improvement in the standard of living in the countries of arrival. The director of the animated film on Italian immigration to France Labor (2023), Alain Ughetto, recalled that his «grandmother Cesira started cooking from the morning: polenta and milk for breakfast, polenta and stewed rabbit at midday and baked polenta au gratin in the evening. Researcher Leen Beyers studied the eating habits of three generations of Italian immigrants who arrived in Belgium as part of the 1946 Italian-Belgian protocol which provided for the exchange of coal for workers to be employed in the country’s mines. The immigrants, coming from Ciociaria, Veneto and Emilia, were all hosted together in a structure contemptuously nicknamed Château des Italiens. While on holidays the immigrants from the North prepared lasagna Bolognese with bechamel and those from the South prepared lasagna with meatballs, hard-boiled eggs and pecorino, on working days everyone mostly ate polenta. Beyers noticed how the immigrant women most inclined to welcome elements of Belgian cuisine as a sign of integration had invented the dish of polenta with carrots and peas, created in imitation of the stoempa very popular dish in Belgium, in which vegetables are mixed with mashed potatoes. Simone Cinotto (ph Davide Maestri)

Chef Emanuele Frigerio
Easy Commitment
Time 1 hour

Ingredients for 10 people

500 g corn flour for polenta
150 g boiled peas
150 g carrots
30 g onion
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper


Chop the onion and sauté it in a pan with 2 tablespoons of oil.
Peel the carrots and cut them into rounds, then add them to the onion.
Add salt and pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then add the peas, add a little water and cook for about 15 minutes.
Prepare the polenta by pouring the flour into 1.5 liters of boiling salted water. Cook it, stirring, for about 45 minutes. In the end it should be quite soft.
Serve it together with the vegetables and complete with freshly ground pepper.

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