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 ( 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,
(**FYI- the photo is of our refrigerator ( back home in Montgomery. I do miss it!)