La cucina - heart of any home.
Kitchen styles may change through time but a few fundamentals of any Italian kitchen always remain:
The centrepiece - every Italian kitchen has one and most-often-than-not it's bang in the middle of the kitchen. The table is sacred to Italy - it's a gathering place not only for eating, but for meeting and talking, doing homework, chopping vegetables, reading. It's here after lunch-time dishes are cleared that text books come out and children get to homework. It's here that conversations run long into the night, that a chair is pulled up when a neighbour pops round, that you'll catch up the news. An Italian will sit happily at a table for hours, having done so their entire life.
The kitchen sink.
A large sink is fundamental in an Italian kitchen - for dishes but also for vegetables. Most Italians will grow their food if they have a patch of ground to do so, even if only tomatoes, parsley and cucumbers during the summer. If they don't grow their own, they'll know someone who does and periodically be handed bunches of fresh produce to 'curare' - to clean, sort and cook or bottle. The culture of market shopping takes precedence in Italy where it's not uncommon to buy fresh food every day. Cooking from scratch is taken for granted, this takes time, spent in the kitchen. But time well spent! While top-and-tailing beans, peeling tomatoes or shelling peas, the telly is on and you're sipping a coffee and catching up with the family. Bringing us to our next common-place item...
As the hub of the home, there's usually a telly. Italians typically spend many hours a day sat at the kitchen table thus the news, a couple of talk shows and some soaps become part of daily routine. Midday church bells toll and automatically the news is turned up and a huge put of water put on to boil for the pasta. Conversation over lunch is never lost because Italians will simply talk over and above any talk-show presenter, thus the telly remains as a comforting background noise, rather like having extra people in the room.
La stufa - the stove.
Once wood-burning stoves were used to warm the house, boil water, cook food and dry the washing. These days you'll find many an Italian kitchen with one leftover from past years but many modern stoves are installed with new kitchens as efficient, sustainable methods to heat a home. Pellet-burning versions are popular in Italy, piped to warm the house, customarily, one can't beat the glorious, dry heat from a proper stove. Apart from supplying a cooking surface, traditional stufe used to house a small oven for baking - some say they make the best bread you'll ever taste, we agree.
Possibly the most quintessential of Italian items and where does it belong?
In the kitchen. Near the stove.
Italian coffee boils down to a simple mix, bought in a supermarket and made on the stove. There's no fancy froth or roasting beans here - ask most Italians and they'll say they love a good 'short' Illy espresso from the bar but equally adore a moka coffee made on their home stove.
Why? Because deep-down it reminds them of home, of the heart of the home.
'The moka pot is an emblem of timeless, Italian, deco design, made to this day with its characteristic black, Bakelite handle.'
Invented by Italian engineer Alfonso Bialetti in 1933, this nifty apparatus is filled it with pre-ground coffee and cold water which boils up through the coffee grains making a familiar gurgling sound named 'The Stromboli Effect' after the erupting black volcano on the Aeolian Island off the coast of Sicily. This is simple but effective design that continues to be used daily in Italian households at breakfast, after lunch and sometimes mid-afternoon.
Not in the kitchen as such, la cantina is la cucina's backup squad. Some homes may have a storage area downstairs or tucked away near the garage but the most effective of cantine are situated close to the kitchen. These larders are usually full to the brim of preserves, passata, dried fruits and bottled sundries along with an extra fridge or freezer or two. Baskets, bottles, jars, jams, pots and pans, you'd think these little rooms stored wine - well, they store everything! Not to be confused with la taverna - la cantina is for essentials, la taverna for entertaining.
Funny how kitchens change with nations, there is one thing you'll never find in an Italian kitchen and that's the washing machine! After its natural spot being in the laundry, in Italy, a washing machine is typically housed in the bathroom.
Another quirky anomaly is the drying rack! Not placed next to the sink, in Italy they're built into the cupboards and placed above the kitchen sink!
The beauty is finding what works for your family, these days sinks are built into islands and stoves seldom burn wood - kitchens change in time but try telling that to an Italian builder in Veneto dialect!