Follies of a Frazzled Chef: Peanut Butter Crusades – Part 1

The Frazzled Chef

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Italians are pretty serious about their food.

Oh, wait, you had noticed? Good.

I’m not here to point out the obvious, but you need to keep this in mind so you can understand the extreme difficulty of the task I’ve taken on here in Siena.  Just today, in conversation with my restaurant manager friend, he very nicely put into words the overall Italian sentiment about food.

“Sarah, when I put a plate of food in front of you,” he explained intently, “I’m not just giving you something to eat. I’m giving you culture.”

So what happens when Italians are asked to eat something that doesn’t really fit into their traditional cuisine? It’s a request that’s usually met with a lot of fervent head shaking and naysaying. Now, for an open-minded Canadian like myself, this just won’t do. Don’t get me wrong, when I’m in Italy I eat like a brava ragazza italiana. Come to think of it, I probably eat like two brave ragazze italiane because of the quantity of food I end up packing away at times, but that’s beside the point. The point is, I, Sarah the Canadian, (everyone needs a Crusade name, no?) have taken it upon myself to make a home in Italian cuisine for one of my favourite food staples: peanut butter.

Good old peanut butter, or burro d’arachidi, as it’s called in Italian, is very very very popular in North America and very very very unpopular here in The Boot. I’m a huge fan of the stuff, but since peanut butter wasn’t eaten by an Roman emperor or Italian king, it doesn’t fit into the framework of traditional Italian cuisine. Imagine my surprise one day, when, in the supermercato I came across a small little barattolo (jar) of Skippy peanut butter. Hurrah! My eyes quickly darted to the price tag, and I think I promptly had a mini-heart attack. Nearly 4 euros for 300 grams of peanut butter?! Mamma mia!

I emptied my pockets and bought the lonely little jar (there was only one on the shelf) and promptly made a peanut butter sandwich to take to work the next day. When I took the sandwich out of the wrapping and started to savour the flavour I had missed so much, my curious colleagues began to hover around my desk, eyebrows raised and sniffing.

“Sarah, what’s that smell? What are you eating?”

“A peanut butter sandwich…” I felt it was obvious. Everyone knows peanut butter when they smell it.

“Wowee, can I try some? I’ve never had it before.”

“You’ve never tried peanut butter?!”  I nearly fell victim to my second peanut butter-induced heart attack in two days. To me this seemed absurd, that a 30-something year old woman could have gone through life without having tried peanut butter. Please!

“This stuff is a staple where I come from! The kids all eat it for breakfast or take it to school for lunch! It’s a source of protein! You can even buy the crunchy kind!” I chatter away enthusiastically.

“Yeah, it’s North American junk and it’s going to make you fat if you don’t watch out,” was the wisdom offered to me from my boss as he sauntered by, ripped a corner off my sandwich and walked into his office.

“Oh yeah, he’s right. It’s butter. It’ll probably make you fat. On second thought, I won’t try any…” She shook her head and held up a halting hand as I offered my sandwich to her. It was this little scenario that made me swear a solemn oath over my Skippy that I would make my Italian friends realize just what they were missing.

How would I do it? What was my plan? To make Peanut Butter Cookies…

Watch for Peanut Butter Crusades – Part 2 where I’ll describe the experience in all it’s frazzled detail!!!

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