Well, we did it. Apple has just OK’d our baby for the App Store, and we’ll just sit back and wait and see if anyone notices. A long-treasured bottle of Barolo fell victim to our little celebration.
The Italian Menu Decoder was some three years in the making. Not that we worked on it all the time; it was something we took up to fill any time we had between jobs. But it was addictive. One thing always led to another. Take milza, or spleen (of a calf). Couldn’t leave that out; in Umbria they grind it up and put it on little toasts as bruschetta—it’s actually delicate and quite tasty. That reminded us of the pan ca meusa, spleen and cheese sandwiches, we tried long ago in the famous Antica Focaccia San Francesco in Palermo. Now, that old standby is famous and has its own website, which reminded us we had to explain sfinciuni, panelle and cazzilli, and a few other things too.
And a Palermo market cheese sandwich (usually caciocavallo—I check to see if we have that word yet) can be schietta, plain, or maritata. ‘Married’ means with spleen. Maritata can mean a lot of things around the Mezzogiorno. We didn’t know that in Naples they call a soup minestra maritata if it has meat in it, ‘married’ to the vegetables.
And schietta made us think of the Greek sketo, which is what you say there when you don’t want any sugar in your frappé. It was a surprise to find so many old Greek words hiding among the Italian. In Venetian dialect (and Bergamasco and Triestino and no doubt many others) a fork is a pirón instead of a forchetta. And rightly so; after all, the Byzantines invented them.
See what I mean?
It never stops. Never. Most likely we will be working on this app for the rest of our days. I’ve added two words to it since I started writing this post—cimino, I noticed, is Sicilian for sesame seeds, which will be on the soft roll locally called a mafalda; the Palermitani prefer these with their spleen.
We’ve learned a lot, most of which we of course forget—after some thirty years of being confused by Italian words for seafood, we still often can’t tell which fish is which. Worst of all, the Italians are diabolically clever people, nowhere more than in the kitchen, and at times we suspect that they might be coming up with new words faster than we can pin down the old ones.
Right now we have checked it against various lists and we think we have just about everything. There was a last minute panic before the release when we realized we had forgot—spinach.
Not having a staff of culinary lexicographers at our command, we might slip up here and there. And with a subject where everyone and every village has its opinion of what’s right, we expect to get a lot of mail. That, in fact, is just what we’re hoping for. One of the reasons for starting this blog is to start a big discussion about all these subjects, to hear from those who know while exploring the secrets of regional and traditional cooking from every corner of Italy. If you have any corrections, amplifications, emendations, recipes or stories to tell, do drop us a line!