Girlfriends: Q&A

March 13, 2009 / Food & Wine

Armed with laptop in hand, your editor had a date this morning with his girlfriends. They were all a-twitter (old-school, not the newfangled digital variety) since being informed that they have become Roman cuisine authorities among English speakers around the world, and were looking forward, as was your editor, to today’s Q&A session. Thank you all for your Qs. Their As follow…

“Paul from Australia,” I say in Italian..

“Oooh, I have a niece in Sydney. She doesn’t come visit often but she went there with her husband…” This goes on for five minutes during which she recounts her entire family’s genealogy and migration history, followed by a cross-family compare and contrast session with the others, all requiring regular nods of “ohh, molto interessante” and “ooh che bello” before we return to Paul.

“…sends thanks for the pasta e ceci recipe..”

“Ooh yes…that’s a good one. Oil, garlic, anchovies, rosemary….” Here they go over the entire Pasta e Ceci recipe (again), the time we all first met when I asked it of them, how I botched it (they still remember and made a point of pointing it out), and begin a whole disquisition on similar recipes such as pasta e fagioli and fagioli con le cotiche – pig rinds. Ten minutes later we finally get back to Paul.

“…and says that he makes it for his girlfriend in the evenings when she returns from University.”

“Eeehhiii..eehhiii…eehhiii!!” They burst into a fit of giggles… I don’t get it and look around a bit clueless. They fill me in, “Yes, smart man, he’s keeping her plump!” I nearly fall out of my chair laughing with them.

Next question: “Margaret…”

“Oooh, mia cugina Margherita…” and here we learn all about cousin Margherita and extended family… 5 minutes later…

“..has two questions. First, she sent in an article from a food expert in the New York Times…,” raised eyebrows all around denote expectation of important knowledge about to be shared, “who suggests that due to the financial crisis we all save energy and boil pasta in less water..”

“BAAAAAAAAHAHHHAHAAAA…..”, hilarity induced apoplectic fit erupts across the board. The other café patrons are actually staring at us all, and I can now say that I have seen 80 year old Roman matrons actually slap their knees repeatedly for laughing so hard.

“Come no?! Se te v’oi magná ‘a colla é perfetto… aaahhaaa!” (Sure, perfect if you want to eat glue.)

Five minutes are required before we regain our composure enough that I can continue. “..and her other question is: what technique do you use to cut onions for a marinara sauce?”

At this point the giggles have so set in so much that when one of them immediately says “EH, con il coltello….” (with a knife), the previous scene repeats itself all over again and I see more than one of the girlfriends shed a tear from too much laughter. (Btw, yes, they cut the onion in half, then each half in a parallel and 90° pattern of cuts.)

Conversation pretty much goes on at this level for the rest of the “date”, and despite it all we cover quite a bit of ground. I ask them Barbara’s question about what one needs for mostaccioli: “Don’t know, sorry”, “Not a Roman dish”, “..but a good denture is a start!”

Then I ask Susan’s question about pizza rustica ; their answer is pasta sfoglia, homemade or from the supermarket, and “i rimasugli in frigo” (any leftovers in the fridge). They do point out that in Rome these are usually made covered or open like a pie, often with leafy greens inside (spinach, escarola, cicoria).

I even get a recipe for cariofi e alici al forno (baked artichokes and sardines) which I will try and write up in a future note.

Above all however, what I learn is far more valuable. First, these gals don’t cook according to recipes. Their knowledge is such that they prepare things from scratch, from what’s in season, what inspires them at that moment, etc., and that they wouldn’t know a measuring cup or spoon if one bit them in the leg. And second, and far more importantly, they might sit together for a couple of hours every morning of their lives for coffee…

…but humor is by far the real elixir being drunk here.


by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

21 Responses to “Girlfriends: Q&A”

  1. What a wonderful Note. I had tears of laughter rolling down my cheeks. On your next “date” please find out if they use eggs (how many), ricotta, and what else in the pizza rustica. Would these famous ladies ever agree to pictures?

  2. Brilliant, GB. I love it. Fantastic Q&A format. Good for use with other audiences apart from your girfriends too?

  3. I could use a cup of whatever they are drinking! I second the request for photos (along with dear Ed. of course), but have heard they are camera shy……

  4. Claudia

    As a raised-in-Rome American, I loved the original story about the girlfriends — they sound like the same group that sat outside MY apartment growing up. And if they’re 80…well, maybe they ARE the same group. The pasta e ceci recipe was a huge hit with husband and two kids and has been made several times already. More, please!!

  5. Gale Iannone

    I so enjoyed this Note, as well. It instantly brought up memories of my grandmother, my mom and aunts. As for using measuring cups, what? You’ve got to be kidding. In order for me to learn how to make the wonderful holiday and rustic everyday dishes, as a child I stood by their elbows and WATCHED how they did it. Nothing was written down. It’s all by look and feel and taste. I now have an 8 years old granddaughter who lives in another state. I’m planning to have “summer cooking camp” at my house with her and other youngters in our family of about the same age. My hope is that they, like me, will learn the amazing art of cooking Italian from the older generation of grandmothers and aunts. Everyone will have a hand in making the food and then eating in. It doesn’t get any better than that!!

  6. Patricia

    OK. So where do I find this recipe? My mouth is watering at the thought of it. I could just SEE and HEAR the ladies laughing. It made me nostalgic for my family in Ascoli Piceno. I grew up in Bologna & spent a few weeks every summer in Ascoli Piceno with my aunt. I am very familiar with the ladies and gentlemen who sit outside their doors and talk and drink coffee. My Aunt would take me to the Ascoli open air market. I remember the chickens and rabbits were bought live! She lived in the old part of town, “al Centro”, near Piazza del Popolo. Thanks for the great memories.

  7. Pat Ceccarelli
    Pat Ceccarelli

    GB and his girls are my favorite!! I can just imagine them: puts a smile on my face and a reminds me of all I love about Italy and the ItalianNotebook!!

  8. Love the girlfriends! Homemade pizza rustica, of course ;-)…..I make it and I know there are many variations on it, but I have never included greens (neither does my Calabrian family or Genoese/Neopolitan family). Something to consider…thanks GB, as always, very entertaining! Would love to see a recipe from the gf’s as a standard weekly posting :-)

  9. GB–You must write a book about the girlfriends! Not only are they priceless (and possibly an endangered species), but the way you write about them is brilliant. Please Q&A them about amore someday soon. I feel that their knowledge extends beyond the kitchen.

  10. Very adorable… They are sweet and lucky to have each other. And I think they are enjoying you also! I look forward to hearing more from them.

  11. Candy Utroska

    GB, I agree that the girlfriends are priceless and possibley an
    endangered species….but the way you write about them is brilliant!!
    with growing admiration, Candy

  12. Paul Huckett

    Well GB ,my partner and I are rolling around the floor laughing with glee at your account of coffee with The Girlfriends . And the thought of her getting plump is hysterical as she teaches Physical Education ,Gymnastics ,coaches every sport known ,and is the fittest 53 yo I know !! Tell the girls the pasta keeps her energy levels up without her getting plump and if she looks like getting so ,she chases me a few times around the kitchen !!! .Stories like this make my day more enjoyable .Thanks .

  13. Bernardine


    LOVE the girlfriends and wish I’d been home in time to submit a question. Their recipes are just as much fun as their opinions. Please, more of them and I agree with others-If they’ll agree to a picture, please publish one.

  14. Pat

    re: Girlfriends photo: NO! NO! NO! I think that would just spoil it- I imagine something much more like cartoon illustrations- …. please, NO PHOTOGRAPH!!!!

  15. I agree… photographs are a must! The girlfriend’s articles are always my favorite. Thank you, dear GB, and please keep them coming! Tori is correct though — a book about the girlfriends should be in the works. You describe them in such a way that everyone will want to know more about these wonderful women.

  16. Here in the Maremma region, north of Rome, they never ever put onions AND garlic in anything. Got to be one or the other,never both. Go figure. Love the girls.


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