Letter “S” & “B” :: Stoccafisso vs Ba(c)calà

Letters from Italy :: "S" & "B" :: Stoccafisso vs Ba(c)calà | photo: ©Lonza65
Letters from Italy :: “S” & “B”
Stoccafisso vs Ba(c)calà | photo: ©Lonza65

“Bacalà (one “c”) alla vicentina” is one of the signature dishes of Italian cooking heritage. The funny thing about it is that the main ingredient – “bacalà” – is not what people usually mean i.e. salted codfish, but Stockfish – i.e. dried cod.

This misunderstanding started in XV century with Venetian merchant Messer Piero Querini, whose fleet was shipwrecked on the Lofoten Island coast. There he and his crew tasted “stokkfiss” for the first time.

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However the Italian word “stoccafisso” describes the dried fish for all the Italians and “baccalà” for salted cod. People from Veneto, instead, say bacalà (one “c” only, don’t forget) to indicate the dried stockfish.
Quite a mess, I admit. The reason for this misunderstanding is not clear, but now it is too late to worry about it.

Just keep in mind that if you’re visiting Venice or the Veneto, bacalà is stockfish and you’ll never be caught off guard.

Letters from Italy :: "S" & "B" :: Stoccafisso vs Ba(c)calà | photo: ©ockstyle
Letters from Italy :: “S” & “B” :: Stoccafisso vs Ba(c)calà | photo: ©ockstyle

“Bacalà, baccalà, stoccafisso” are tasty, healthy and ingredients for yummy dishes and for funny but not exactly flattering idioms.
“Fare la figura del baccalà” is not quite a compliment, since it means to act like a fool, while “restare come un baccalà” is when you stay still because you are unable to react. “Stoccafisso” is used to describe a gangly, thin and somewhat clumsy person – “sembra uno stoccafisso” (he looks like a twig).

More info about “bacalà alla vicentina” and its Brotherhood “La Confraternita del Bacalà” (in italian)

Letter “C” :: Cavoli (a merenda)

Appetibilis "Autumn - Winter Collection...  Letters from Italy :: "C" - Cavoli (a merenda) | photo: ©MateldaCodagnone
Appetibilis.net “Autumn – Winter Collection…”
Letters from Italy :: “C” – Cavoli (a merenda) | photo: ©MateldaCodagnone

“Cavolo” (stress on the “a”) i.e. cabbage is a common and healthy ingredient in  many recipes of the Italian cuisine. It is included in the cancer prevention diet, and despite the bad smell it releases, due to the presence of sulphur compounds, it’s employed as a side dish, in potages, in vegetable pies and so forth.

The Italian language, too, employs the word in many different ways. “Come i cavoli a merenda” (literally “like cabbages for tea break”, whose real meaning is to stand out like a sore thumb, or do not match with something) is a very common idiom when you need to express that something or someone does not fit into the context or does not clearly harmonize with the surrounding. (As a matter of fact, whoever fancies cabbages for tea? Nobody – in Italy, at least).

Letters from Italy :: "C" - Cavoli (a merenda) | photo: ©MateldaCodagnone
Letters from Italy :: “C” – Cavoli (a merenda) | photo: ©MateldaCodagnone

The word cavolo is frequently used in a figurative sense, as a substitute for the impolite – but very frequent word  – cazzo which must not be used in formal speech – so that a dickhead becomes a milder “testa di cavolo”, the sentence I don’t give a monkey’s translates into “non me ne importa un cavolo” and the rude interjection “no f*****g way!” becomes a gentler “col cavolo!”.

Letters from Italy :: "C" - Cavoli (a merenda) | photo: ©MateldaCodagnone
Letters from Italy :: “C” – Cavoli (a merenda) | photo: ©MateldaCodagnone

If you can manage to work out an awkward situation with benefits for all the parties involved, you will be able to “salvare capra e cavoli” (lit. save both goat and cabbages, i.e. run with the hare and hunt with the hounds). It is a frequently used idiom, or rather, it is a very frequent wish, because very often either you save the “capra” or the “cavoli”. Nine times out of ten you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. But perhaps you can have some cavoli for lunch or dinner (not for tea).

Letters from Italy :: "C" - Cavoli (a merenda) | photo: ©MateldaCodagnone
Letters from Italy :: “C” – Cavoli (a merenda) | photo: ©MateldaCodagnone

Letter “B” :: (in) Bianco

Honey, what's for dinner? Letters from Italy: "B" - (in) bianco | photo: ©MateldaCodagnone
Honey, what’s for dinner? Letters from Italy: “B” – (in) bianco
photo: ©MateldaCodagnone

When we talk about food and cooking, the word “bianco” (white) is frequently used in the phrase “in bianco” and it means plain food without any sauces or additional spices.

“Mangiare in bianco” (have plain food) often happens after being sick or after recovering from a malaise. Therefore, having “riso in bianco” (boiled rice) or “pasta in bianco” (plain pasta, i.e. with butter or olive oil) is not exactly the best treat for a food lover.

"La vita è una combinazione di magia e pasta." ~Federico Fellini | photo: ©MateldaCodagnone
“Life is a combination of magic and pasta” ~Federico Fellini
photo: ©MateldaCodagnone

“Carne bianca” is referred to poultry – opposed to red meat. Confetti bianchi (white confetti) are used for weddings only; for other colours read here: Did you say confetti?

“As it happens for many Italian words and phrases, “in bianco”, too, must be handled with care. Especially when it goes with the verb “andare”, as it means “not to score” and this is perhaps even worse than having a strict diet based on boiled rice.”

A “settimana bianca” (“white week”) does not mean that you’ll live on rice for seven days or that your ladykiller charm is worryingly dropping, but simply that you’re spending some days off in a ski resort in winter time. Be a “mosca bianca”(“white fly”) means “to be as rare as hen’s teeth”, and un “assegno in bianco” is a blank cheque. There are many more idiomatic uses of “(in) bianco”, – I don’t want to bore you about it – but the one that I like the most is “beviamoci un bicchiere di bianco”, let’s have a glass of “white”. Here, “white” can only be referred to wine.

Cheers to the pitfalls of the Italian language!

Letter “M” :: Set the Moka on fire!

In every single Italian house there is – at least – one. More often than not, many of them, in different sizes. For millions of Italians, it is perhaps the first cooking “tool” (let’s put it in this way) they use as soon as they get up, half-way through the morning, after lunch and sometimes, after dinner. It’s the moka /ˈmɔka/, (small capital) a coffee maker whose supremacy is being jeopardized by those stylish though bulky coffee machines that glamorous actors advertise worldwide. Despite George Clooney’s efforts, moka still holds the record of the most popular coffee maker.

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Octangular shape for the best home-made coffee… Photo: Lonza65

There are many moka manufactures, but in my personal opinion, only the brand showing “l’omino coi baffi” (“the guy with a mustache”)  gives the best performances. Its octagonal shape made it an icon of the Italian life style, it hardly needs maintenance and it may last for decades, provided that you follow some basic precautions. When buying a new one, perform a sort of “priming” with water only. Then, after each use, rinse well the upper part (the “collecting chamber”) but do not use any soap or detergent, otherwise the coffee flavour will be completely spoiled. If you want to be sure to have a homogenous taste, stir the coffee before pouring it into the cups.

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The “dirtier” the moka, the tastier the coffee… Photo: Lonza65

How do you know when coffee is ready? When the kitchen is filled with a funny gurgling noise and the air smells of roasted warm coffee, you know that, whether you are in Bora Bora or in Reykjavik, in Venice or in Buenos Aires, you will always feel at home (if you’ve been clever enough to put a moka into your luggage).

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Moka espress, Made in Italy… Photo: Lonza65