To refrigerate or not to refrigerate…

(view of the other half of our kitchen, opposite the sink) (Mark’s book: Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family)

Brrr…it’s getting cold in here. Well, not so much~

“Are you still going to eat that?” I can hear Ian’s voice in my head as I am about to descend from my room into the kitchen this morning. I am in Hilton Head, SC, finishing up a production of CABARET (http://artshhi.com) and my three roommates (Ian, Laura Beth, and Bruce) are in the cast.
Yesterday, I made a pasticcio (a baked egg casserole) for dinner. I had a package of frozen spinach and some toasted pine nuts in the freezer that needed to be used before I leave Hilton Head and return home to Alabama. In the fridge door, there was a ½ pint of heavy whipping cream, three eggs, and in the drawer I had some Grana Padano cheese. With all of those ingredients I thought a pasticcio would be the best way to use them all up. I would hate for any of it to go to waste.

I sautéed an onion and some garlic in olive oil, added red pepper flakes, the thawed and drained spinach, squeezing out all of the excess water, and about a ¼ cup of chicken broth (that was hanging out in the door, too). I cooked that mixture until all of the liquid had evaporated, stirred in the pine nuts, seasoned it with some Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and removed it from the heat to cool.

I buttered an 11-inch, round shallow baking dish and in a separate small bowl beat the eggs and the cup of heavy cream together. Added a ½ cup of finely grated Grana Padano to this mixture and stirred until well combined. Once the spinach mixture was cooled, I spread it out in the bottom of the dish, poured the egg/cream/cheese mixture over the top and baked it in a 300-degree oven for 30 minutes. I let it cool on a wire rack. Perfetto! (Hint, hint~ I just gave you a recipe!)

I let it cool completely before wrapping it in plastic wrap, but I left it on the counter and did not put it in the fridge.

While I was living in Italy in 2005, the one thing that I almost immediately noticed was the lack of refrigeration—or, should I say the lack of use of refrigeration. Nonna always used the toaster oven as the overnight storage container for baked dishes. I was a little nervous, like Ian, that the food might have spoiled overnight. In America, we refrigerate everything immediately. Not so in Italy. I never got ill eating the leftovers that came from the toaster oven, or from under the paper towel that covered some things as they hung out on the counter while we slept, or from the covered pan on the stovetop that held the last remnants of our previous night’s pasta course. No one in the house flinched, no one was ever ill, and I soon got over my fear of a bacteria-ridden lunch. At the grocery store I noticed the same lack of use of refrigeration. Eggs were not refrigerated. The cartons were stacked on shelves on the aisle’s end-cap—the non-refrigerated end-cap shelves. Also, there was not a huge number of cartons, either. Nonna and I went to the grocery store rather late one day and all the eggs were gone. Can you imagine walking into a grocery store in America and having the refrigerated egg case completely empty? Or, better yet, seeing the egg cartons sitting out on an unrefrigerated display? That store would be out of business in a week. In Italy, however, that is not the case.

In some way I guess that over-refrigeration only leads to higher energy usage and to eventual spoilage from the unused overhead. I wonder if Italian grocery stores have less waste than their American counterparts. Hmmm, I don’t know.

Anyway, I am about to head downstairs and put the wrapped, leftover pasticcio into the fridge. I can hear Ian clunking around in the kitchen and I wonder if he’ll say anything about the dish being left out over night.

I guess I’ll soon find out~

Ciao e a presto,
Mark
(**FYI- the photo is of our refrigerator (http://www.subzero.com) back home in Montgomery. I do miss it!)

About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at www.beyondthepasta.com and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

  1. lhdeanlhdean10-22-2009

    Reading about the pasticcio left me ravenous, of course. But I want someone else to prepare it for me. Re the refrigeration issue: my mother grew up on an Alabama farm with 11 brothers and sisters. Whatever was left from lunch or breakfast was put in the pie safe and served at supper.or nibbled on during the day. Milk and butter were stored in a “spring” house which, being in Alabama, I doubt got particularly cold except during winter. They had astonishingly good health throughout their lives. My aunt even made mayonnaise with raw eggs. . . Linda Dean

  2. Mark LeslieMark Leslie10-23-2009

    I hope that the change is due more to being overly careful about food preparation, instead of it being about the freshness or quality of the product. Eating in season always helps. For some reason, tomatoes in the store in February don’t seem to have the same appeal and flavor as those purchased from farmers’ markets and roadside fruit/vegetable stands at the height of their natural growing season. In Italy, Nonna would not buy anything if it was not the absolute best it could be. If we were supposed to make a recipe with eggplant and the ones at the store that day happened to be a little old or rough looking, she would decide to change the recipe as opposed to being so committed to the recipe as to ignore the freshness of the eggplant.There were many days when I thought the produce was acceptable–not exceptional–but still acceptable. Nonna did not agree with me. Either it was exceptional or we didn’t use it.I think she was onto something there.Thanks for the comment!Ciao e a presto, Mark*pass a link to this blog along to others that might be interested:mark.leslie.net or beyondthepasta.posterous.com. Both addresses take you to the same place~ this blog!

  3. mhr310mhr31001-14-2010

    Great blog.Where did you do food shopping in Hilton Head? Fresh Market?The only problem we have with the island when we vacation there is finding good produce.

  4. Sybil MalkinSybil Malkin02-12-2010

    A little off subject, but would you mind sharing the beautiful grey/green color you’ve painted in the kitchen?

  5. Mark LeslieMark Leslie02-13-2010

    Sure, it is Spartan Stone by Martin Senour.

  6. Mark LeslieMark Leslie02-13-2010

    mhr310,Sorry that I hadn’t noticed your post until just now. Yes, fresh produce in the Hilton Head, and the South in general, is hard to find. I usually shopped at Publix or Fresh Market there. I really wish I could have found some wonderful farmer’s market or green grocer. Let me know if you happen to discover one~Thanks for checking out the blog!Mark

  7. mhr310mhr31002-13-2010

    Thanks for your reply Mark.  Yes, I go to Fresh Market and it seems to be the best on HH Island. We're flying down on Thursday for a long weekend and I'll let you know if there is anything new. There are Farmer's Markets in Bluffton, but only during growing season. Thanks again. Merle

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.