Who remembers eating grissini when you were a kid? I sure do? When my brothers and I would go down with our dad to Genova Delicatessen in Oakland on Saturday (sadly its closed) to shop we would always walk in and go to the bin and grab a grissini to munch on while we were getting our cheeses, meats, ravioli, etc. Domenic would always give us another if we finished our first quickly. And, we were never charged for our grissini. It was something kids always got as a treat (probably to keep us quiet too), but Italians, whether in the US or Italy, are always good to kids. Italian's love children!
As a kid I always wondered, what is a grissini and why do they make them? They're bread, I think, but not really bread!? What the heck?
Well L' Italo-Americano Magazine, the #1 source of all things Italian since 1908 tells us these very crunchy “bread sticks” were invented in Turin in 1679, by the Savoias’ personal baker, who created them specifically for King Vittorio Amedeo II, who couldn’t digest regular bread very well.
Their dough is the same as bread but, as they are very thin, they dry while baking so remain very crunchy. Grissini were an immediate success because they were not only good to eat and easy to digest, but also lasted longer than regular bread; they were so famous that they became “les petits bâtons de Turin,” as Napoleon would call them (one of his favorites), turned into a local speciality.
Those first grissini - called “robatà,” between 10 and 15 inches in length, irregular in shape and rolled by
hand - are today a 'prodotto agroalimentare Italiano protetto' (Italian agri-food protected product).
Later, the grissini 'stirati' were invented, the mechanical production of which started as early as the
Today, we can enjoy herbs grissini, spice grissini, olive oil grissini, all of which should be enjoyed with local cold cuts, prosciutto and soft cheeses.
I still like munching on them, but plain, just for the crunch . . . it also brings back some very sweet memories. And oh by-the-way after leaving Genova's we'd walk across the street to Buon Gusto bakery (an Italian bakery, also sadly long gone) and we'd get free cookies from the ladies working the counter. It was good being a Italian kid back then!! Buon appetito!
As a kid growing up in an Italian family, during Lent we ate ‘frugally’, avoiding meat (definitely on Friday’s) and rich foods. These days were called, giorni di scammaro. Now, I wasn’t quite sure if it was a ’religious’ thing, or a holdover from the tough years my grandparents had to endure in Italy before immigrating to the US in the early 1900’s.
A ‘tradition’ of those tough economic times – when wallets were empty and nothing would go to waste. And this is how, what I consider a delicacy, was born and became a traditional local dish – a bowl of leftover spaghetti became “frittat’e maccarun, or (leftover) pasta frittata.
Throwing away pasta, was sacrilege! Especially when it can be used to make up a delicious meal for the following day. In spite of its name, frittata di pasta is usually made with spaghetti, vermicelli or bucatini, that is, with pasta lunga, so that the final result is dense, soft inside and crunchy outside.
My Nonna would take the leftover pasta from the night before (the pasta must rest overnight) and slice up some zucchini (always plentiful in any Italian’s garden and my Nonno’s garden was no different), onions, garlic, chard or whatever other vegetables might be fresh from the yard (and even some leftover meat from the sauce . . . yes sauce, NOT gravy), mix it together with the pasta, some eggs, some cheese, some salt and pepper, fry it in a cast iron skillet until brown on the bottom and either flip it over (which is a skill), or place the skillet in the oven and broil until the top is brown. You can eat it warm but it always seems to taste better cold. I think as it rests the flavors mingle and intensify.
To this day when we have any leftover pasta, we look forward to the frittata the next morning (Now, I throw a bit more Pecorino Romano on top before putting it in the oven to get a nice cheesy, crunchy top – sorry Nonna, but I know you’d understand).
Amo mia nonna! Buona mangiata!
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Tony Moglia's grandparents immigrated from Italy in the early 1900's. He's a dual citizen who has traveled extensively throughout Italy for 40 years. He's happily married to a vibrant dancer who together have two children and three grandchildren. Tony has dreamed of Villas of Italy since his first trip to Italy, and now he shares his dream with you.