Bologna

The Inner Italian Q & A: Linda Dini Jenkins

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

One in an occasional series of conversations with those who try to “live Italian” wherever they are.

"La Principessa" in Perugia

Linda Dini Jenkins is a freelance travel writer and photographer and the author of Up at the Villa: Travels with my Husband (more later on how to win a free copy!). She also blogs regularly about travel and travel writing at Travel the Write Way and teaches creative writing and journaling. She enjoys taking small groups of friends, to explore what Italy has to offer beyond the Florence-Venice-Rome triumvirate, and she can pack her suitcase in 15 minutes.

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Q: Living “Italian”. . . Is it a great way to live or the greatest way to live?
A: Well, I think it’s the greatest way to live. When you take into account the slower pace of life (outside the big cities!), the immersion in history and art, the fantastic cuisine, the love of design and music, the respect for taking time out to enjoy the simple things . . . whether it’s Italian or Mediterranean or European, it’s how I want to live.

Q: Why?
A: Are you kidding? Start with the food, the design sensibilities, the language, the arts, the vino, the pausa, the passeggiata . . . need I go on?

Q: When did you discover your Inner Italian? What is your Inner Italian named?
A: I always knew about my Inner Italian but, like other children of first-generation Italian-Americans who desperately wanted to assimilate, “being Italian” was something that just happened and was never really encouraged. In fact, I’d heard stories growing up of how hard it was for my father to be Italian in a New York suburb in the 1930s and ‘40s; even being Italian in my first job in New York in the 1970s was something of a liability. And I was always a little ashamed after that of being part Italian (my mother’s side of the family was English/Irish/German) until I met my husband and he took me to Italy in 2000. Since then, I have been a proud and vocal Italian-American. If my Inner Italian has a name and it needs to be something other than Linda, I suppose it’s Principessa . . .

Q: What does “living Italian” mean to you?
A: My grandparents came over from Italy in the late 1890s and they were anything but rich. So for me, living Italian has to do with cooking and eating together, always having crusty bread and wrinkled olives and green olive oil on the flowered oilcloth-covered table. It means not being afraid to be emotional—even if that involves fists and things flying when you’re angry. It means loving music and feeling the arts very deeply. It means trying to have a sense of style—of la bella figura—even if the clothes or table settings come from Target. And it means being a storyteller and a traveler and something of an adventurer.

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Ragú

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

raguRagú is the Italian term for long-simmered, mellow meat sauce that dresses pasta or polenta. It varies from region to region, sometimes prepared with large chunks of meat, sometimes with ground, or more properly, finely minced meat.

I’ve sampled ragú of duck, rabbit, mixed meats, and sausages and have never encountered one that failed to satisfy my appetite. Arguably the most renowned of Italian meat sauces is ragú alla bolognese from the storied food city of Bologna. It is classically prepared with a combination of chopped beef, veal, or pork, and, in the good old days, was finished with heavy cream. Milk is now more often used.

Finely chopping onion, celery, and carrot into a mxiture called a battuto is the first step in making a ragu.

Finely chopping onion, celery, and carrot into a mxiture called a battuto is the first step in making a ragu.

Ragú alla bolognese is not as tomatoey as the meat sauces of the south that influenced Italian American sauces. The tomato acidity in a bolognese is balanced by the sweetness of the sautéed aromatic vegetables—the soffrito, or flavor base.

The soffrito should be lightly caramelized but not browned. This sauteed vegetable mixture is the flavor base of ragu.

A properly cooked soffrito is one of the secrets to a divine ragu.

It’s essential to cook the soffrito slowly to lightly caramelize the vegetables without browning them. I like to remove the soffrito from the pot so the meats can brown without the steam created by the veggies.

ragu alla bolognese recipe