I can trace my love for Italian food back to one day, in the fourth grade, when I fell off my bike in front of Mrs. Irvassi's house. Our new neighbours had barely moved in when this beautiful Italian woman wrapped her arms around me and carried me into her kitchen. She bandaged my knee, wiped my tears and then insisted that I eat what seemed like a five course meal.
I quickly learned that at the Irvassi house, love and food were synonymous, and what they served was not just food but a connection to a rich family history. I ate Aunt Giovanna's sauce on my pasta for months before I learned that Aunt Giovanna was killed for being a pacifist in the Second World War. She would fight for her family, she would fight for her land, but she would not support a dictator like Benito Mussolini. Legend told she was found dead in her garden still holding a basket of tomatoes and fresh herbs intended for the sauce that would feed a gathering of war activists. This story was always told with a hushed tone making that sauce seem sacred.
As a child, I was mesmerized by the beautiful language and the passionate storytelling happening around their dinner table. There was no such thing as a quiet meal in their home, and there was no such thing as a rushed meal. I use to daydream of secret ingredients hidden in their cupboards that inspired love, and when my sweet dog Cindy was struck by a car, I wondered if the Irvassi cupboard held a magic ingredient that would bring my dog back to life.
Many years later I still hold a fondness for the enchantment of Italian food and culture. Something about its richness depicts an unhurried way of life. Even in a world where the fast pace seems to be altering many cultures, Italians seem deeply rooted in the same steady pace of years gone by. This is apparent in Italy's slow food movement, started by Carlo Petrini. The movement began to defend food biodiversity, protect small producers and their communities, and to promote gastronomic traditions. Petrini's love for traditional foods has grown into a worldwide movement, and just like those days spent tasting family tradition at the Irvassis', you can get back to the roots of real food with a local slow food convivium in your own back yard. Check out www.slowfood.ca for local events.Petto di pollo con tartufu
(Chicken breasts in butter with truffle)
From Twelve A Tuscan Cook Book by Tessa Kiro's
4 chicken breasts, skinned and boned
cup all purpose flour
3 ounces butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 black truffle about 25 to 30 g - available at Nesters or The Cup Deli
If you don't have a truffle slicer, use a sharp knife to slice the truffles very finely. If possible, use a pan that is suitable for the oven as well. You can use white truffle instead of black or use truffle oil liberally drizzled on finished dish. The dish is also good without the truffles. Simply squeeze some lemon juice into the pan butter just before serving.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels. Trim off any fat. Season breasts with salt and pepper, and dust with flour on both sides.
Heat half the butter with the tablespoon of olive oil in the pan. Add the chicken breasts and fry for a few minutes on each side to seal until lightly golden. If frying pan is not oven proof, transfer chicken to an oven dish. Add the rest of the butter to the pan and put into the hot oven for about 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through, juicy, tender and golden crispy brown.
Remove from oven. Scatter a few very thin slices of truffle over each piece and serve immediately with the pan butter.