“No, No, No, No!” “Ma come é possible?” (Italian for “How can that be?”)
“No, No, No, No!” Dottoressa Persico yelled while waving a reprimanding finger in my face.
Dejected, I stood on the weighing scale in her office in Salerno, Italy. Dottoressa had weighed me three weeks before and for a woman who was 25 weeks pregnant, I was within range. Obviously, this was not the case now.
When we moved to Italy from my home state of New York in December 2006, I was six months pregnant.Upon arrival in my husband’s hometown, Salerno, I went to my new gynecologist for a quick check up. Shortly thereafter, we moved up north to Crocetta, a trendy neighborhood in the city of Torino, Italy, where Max and I had visiting positons at the university.
Torino is known for its vast, daily open market,and while in Crocetta, my favorite morning hobby was to “break the fast.”
We started the day at the corner café, where we were welcomed by a counter full of cornetti (croissants) filled with either marmalade or chocolate or cream, Krapfens (similar to donut), Danish, genovesi (an almond based pastry) and, dulcison top, buns filled with dark chocolate and Noccciola delPiemonte IGP. The latter is a nut typical to the area. The denomination IGP (indicazione geograficaprotetta or guaranteed place of origin) is the equivalent to the DOC label for Italian wines.
That in Piedmont they would have a DOC for nuts is a testament to just how irresistible they are. Nutella did, after all, originate from this region. Of course, all the pastries went down accompanied by a couple of cappuccinos. Then, off to the market.
Like a bee collecting its nectar, I buzzed from vendor to vendor gathering the ingredients necessary for my second breakfast. We’d start at the center deli to purchase, depending on the day, prosciutto, salami, capocollo, porchetta, turkey slices as well as fontina cheese, emmenthal (Swiss cheese), mozzarella and brie.
Heading west, we’d stop shortly before the clothing, shoes, and accessories section of the market, to buy bread, bags of processed salty cornetti and focaccia at the bakery. Then, back east, toward the part of the market that sold kitchenware, for oil, lettuce,tomatoes and Dijon mustard at a small grocery store.
Back at our hive, a remodeled apartment in the attic of a 19thcentury building across the street from the market, a typical second breakfast would go like this: I’d take the cornetto, cut it along the bottom rim of the crescent shaped pastry, opened it, spread a knife full of Dijon mustard on both halves, slabbed on two slices of turkey then Swiss cheese on one half, took the other half and closed the sandwich, smooshed it, and then devoured it.
After our three week sojourn in Crocetta, I returned to Salerno for my second checkup. Dottoressa Persico could not take her eyes off that scale. She wondered out loud, “How can one gain 9lbs (circa 4Kg) in a span of 3 weeks?”
Illustration by: Veronika Gruntovskaya
“No, No, No, No!” “Ma come é possible?” (Italian for “How can that be?”).
Around noon, we left Crocetta for Moncalieri, a little town on the outskirts of Torino. Perched on a hill, the town dons a tall and narrow church on its peak with little cafes and stores descending along both sides of the slope. To the immediate right of the church lies Caffé Cittá, a cafeteria that mainly catered to the professors and students at the Collegio Carlo Alberto, University of Torino, where Max was a Visiting Professor of Math and Economics and I was a Visiting Ph.D. Student of Political Science in the winter of 2007.
There was a small, intimate group of scholars at the Collegio mostly consisting of Economists and Mathematicians. Every day at 12:30pm we congregated in the main hall of the former boarding schools for the sons of Italian nobility and headed up the hill to the Caffé Cittá for lunch. You could tell from the hearty and often spicy cuisine that the chefs came from Calabria, the southwest region of Italy (many people from that region migrated to Torino during t he 50’s to work for the Fiat car factory, which is now defunct).
I relished the lunch hour. We would have the standard Italian meal with an antipasto, a primo piatto of pasta and a secondo with meat, chicken, or pork, and then top it off with a fruit or dessert and a macchiato. Every day the cafeteria offered an antipasto which I always bypassed. It’s called vitel toné, a typical dish from Piedmont. To me, those cold thin slices of boi led meat garnished with mayonnaise and capers did not look appetizing. But Teresa, the co-owner and chef, insisted I’d try it. I told her I did not like mayonnaise. “It’s not mayonnaise, it’s a tuna sauce,” which mad e the dish even “fishier”. Much to my surprise it was refreshing and oddly light. The sauce is made from the broth of the veal boiled in water and white wine, with added tuna, eggs, anchovies, oil and capers. Go figure!
After lunch, I would strategically spread books across my open work station to feign working. In actuality, I watched my bulging belly. It was someone else’s turn to eat. My belly contorted in every direction as the little girl inside me consumed what I had just eaten.
As she ate the vite ltoné, she’d glide to the left, then, she’d have the spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and basil and roll to the right. The secondo piatto of roast chicken with rosemary and a dash of white pepper made her somersault, then the macchiato coffee would follow, at which point, she’d give me a good kick.
A series of hiccups ensued causing my belly to bounce up and down often 100 times in a row. She was satisfied.
But Dottoressa Persico was not satisfied. “No, No, No, No!”
She turned on her heals and headed back to her desk. Then she did the unimaginable, “I’m putting you on a diet!” I pleaded, “But Dottoressa, everything is so good up there, have you ever tried the Marocchino and Bicerin?”
She ignored me and proceeded with my diet sentence.
Torino is known for its coffee and chocolate. On the first night we arrived there, we met up with Paolo, a colleague of Max at the Collegio. He took us to Caffè Fiorio. This was the first time in my life I checked my attire upon entering a café. To describe it as elegant would be an understatement; majestically lavish would be superfluous; but exquisitely refined would do it justice. I was not the only one scrutinizing my attire. I caught Paolo eyeing me suspiciously, at which point I was sure that they would not seat me and was about to turn to leave when he said, “so it’s not a rumor, you are pregnant. I hope that won’t prevent you from trying Bicerin.”
It most certainly did not!
In 1704, Caffè Fiorio invented Bicerin, a thick and creamy three layered coffee beverage served in a glass. At the base there is hot chocolate, in the middle espresso, and on the top frothy whole milk. This beverage has been a huge success at the Caffè and throughout Torino ever since. Despite the milk and hot chocolate, the beverage was too strong for me. I preferred its rival, the Marocchino.
Paolo explained that there was a debate as to whether the two beverages were the same. The Marocchino consists of whipped milk, powdered cocoa, and espresso. Unlike the Bicerin, the Marocchino is mixed with cocoa that streams through the beverage turning it into what most describe as a “leather brown” color. On discovering Marocchino, I had one with Max and his co-author, Luigi, every afternoon around 4pm at the pasticceria, Rivetti, a few yards down the street from the Collegio in Moncalieri. The glass window featured chocolates in every shape and form: from coffee pots to flower pots, with the flowers made of almonds and the dirt in pot made of chocolate powder. Sometimes, I would squeeze in a chocolate pastry fresh out of the oven. I could not resist the little hot pastry pockets filled with dark, sweet chocolate which oozed its way in my mouth after every nibble.
“No, No, No, NO!”
A word of caution to other non-Italian pregnant women who happen to be in Italy during the last trimester and binge on Italian food: DON’T DO IT! There is nothing worse than pissing off an Italian gynecologist. The diet sentence was harsh.
My breakfast snack was gone. My Italian lunch combination with a primo and a secondo eliminated; I could either have one or the other. My coffee and chocolate snack in the afternoon: “don’t even think about it,” she warned.
Back in Crocetta, where the market vendors had wrapped up their wares and the street cleaners cleared the last scraps of market debris, my stomach was on the prowl. Like lunch, for dinner I was only allowed one piatto, preferably a secondo piatto of fish and a fruit for dessert. I ordered pineapple. They were especially good, naturally sweet and juicy and contained just enough acid not to aggravate an already unbearable bout of indigestion.
My nights in Crocetta were grueling not because of my indigestion but because I had to watch Max consume all of the local delights. While I was stuck with pineapple for dessert, Max enjoyed a Bonet, a flan-like cake made with cocoa and amaretti, almond cookies which contain the liquor amaretto. An amaretto cookie is placed on top of the chocolate flan, like a bonnet.
The name, Bonet, is said to come from either the cookie cutter which is shaped like a beret of a chef, or because the dessert is served at the end of the meal, in other words, it “tops” off the meal. The Bonet is the most typical, ancient traditional Piedmontese crème caramel dessert. It has been recorded as a staple dessert in Noble banquets from the 13th century.
Max hates flan, but he could not resist this one. He ordered it every night. I asked him what was so particular about this flan and he said, “I love the contrast between the almonds and rum which are very sweet and the cocoa which is very bitter.”