Monday 20 March

In this second appointment looking at new gastronomic tendencies, we’ll look at Finger Food (if you missed the first volume, you can find it here). Finger Foods is delicious cuisine that can be eaten directly with our hands, where culinary creativity is unleashed to create edible “containers”.

For centuries the fork has been used in the western world after Catherine de’Medici introduced it in France in the 16th century and from there its use spread to all of Europe. Now the ancient – and allow us to add, delightful! – application of “God’s forks” has come back into style.

On this subject, it’s useful to know that the fork was not readily accepted. In fact, when this implement arrived in the West thanks to the Byzantine princess Maria Argyropoulaina, the Church defined it as a “demoniacal object” due to its close resemblance to the pitchfork used by the devil to herd the damned. The aversion was so strong that Peter Damian (De Institutione monialis) considered the death of the Dogaressa Theodora due to a dreadful illness as a just divine punishment for the sin of having introduced in Venice the use of the two- or three-tined fork.

In Finger foods, it goes without saying that our hands have been freed from the chains of the so-called etiquette preached by Giovanni della Casa and his ilk, and they can once again be used while eating the most modern culinary pleasures. Besides, eating with your hands has always been acceptable for some foods such as chicken drumsticks, shrimp and pizza

Finger Foods are all delicacies that can be eaten without the intermediation of silverware, and possibly in a single bite. They range from recipes “made in Italy” to ethnic food, from the refined entrée and amuse-gueule with which chefs welcome us to their restaurants to the tiny masterpieces made by pastry chefs, from the new micro-containers such as spoons and verrines to edible materials, of which the ice cream cone is the most famous ancestor, from vegetables used as “boats” with delicious cargoes of cheese or other savory fillings, to those cut julienne in order to be dunked in a tasty sea of sauces and dips.

Here are a few of the most famous Italian Style finger foods, often particularly appropriate as street food, too. We’ll dedicate a future volume of these posts to Finger Foods from the rest of the world.

Olive ascolana: stuffed and fried olives prepared exclusively with the meaty Ascolana olive (a product registered in the Slow Food Ark of Taste), stuffed with a blend of three meats and breaded with flour, eggs and grated bread.

Sicilian arancini: small stuffed and fried rice balls of numerous types, from the classic version with meat sauce and ham to more original versions of the stuffing such as pistachio and cuttlefish ink.

Crocchette (croquettes): potatoes, cod fish or vegetables boiled then breaded and fried

Fritture (deep-fried foods): there are no limits to the list of foods that can be deep fried exclusively with constantly fresh olive oil, better if extra-virgin, at a very high temperature. Foods that can be fried include different types of meats, fish, vegetables, herbs (sage leaves are delicious), dried fruit, semolina, and on and on because in Italy the saying is “even a slipper is good if fried”.

Panzerotti: savory turnovers made of pizza dough filled traditionally with tomatoes and mozzarella but here, too, the variations on the theme are infinite and even include dessert fillings.

Tramezzini: delicious multi-layer triangular sandwiches of white bread filled with salami, cheese, tuna, egg, butter, mayonnaise and various sauces.
Then there are polpettine (meat or vegetable balls), spiedini (shish kebab) of various types of meats with slices of vegetables between them, which can also be made with fish or shellfish, involtini (roulades), in which the most disparate ingredients are wrapped in slices of meat, salami or vegetable leaves (Tuscan kale leaves are particularly appropriate, as are Savoy cabbage or spinach leaves).

In this exaltation of tastes, the childhood pleasure of using our hands directly finds its most appropriate expression in the famous slogan of the marketer Marco Mignani: “If you don’t lick your fingers, you’ve only enjoyed half the pleasure”!

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