Can I Cook Italian Food For Italian Guests?

Welcome to the Feedbag, where all the dumb questions about food, drink, cooking, eating, and accidental finger removal you've been embarrassed to ask can finally receive the berating they goddamn deserve. Also: answers. Send all your even-vaguely-food-related questions to albertburneko@gmail.com with the subject "Feedbag." All of them.

Richard:

Will I insult someone from Italy by cooking them Italian food?

I have some friends who have Italian foreign exchange students staying with them and they are all coming over for dinner at my house this week. They don't speak much English and are from a small town in Italy where I am sure they are used to the best traditional Italian food. Since they don't speak much English, I am unsure of what they really like. My go to dish when having people over is an Italian dish but I don't want to insult them with our un-Italian recipes and ingredients. What do you think I should make? Do all foreigners love American Hamburgers? Skyline Chili?

Rich, generally speaking, I don't think it's possible to insult reasonable, decent people by hosting them in your home and cooking a free meal for them, so long as the food isn't terrible or inedible or poisonous, your home isn't, like, the Bates Motel or a landfill or Jay Mariotti's house, and the company isn't rude or bigoted or Jay Mariotti. Unless these Italians are the worst, least gracious, most charm-free people on earth (and this is a distinct possibility, given that those are the exact qualities Italians look for in elected officials), they will find your well-intentioned renditions of the familiar foods of their homeland charming and generous. More importantly, they will care more about whether these foods taste good than whether they taste authentic.

On the other hand, though, you may safely assume (or hope) that these Italians joined a student-exchange program in the first place out of curiosity to experience the culture (where "culture" can be understood to mean "attractive, sexually available young people, and also maybe the food or whatever") of another country. In which case, the joke's on those idiots, 'cause the United States has no culture! but also maybe they might be disappointed to come many thousands of miles across the Atlantic ocean, only to be served what will be, relative to their experience, C-minus Italian food. And then they'll be all disappointed and sad about it, in their hilariously awful Euro haircuts and form-fitting turtlenecks.

This is to say, maybe you could take this as an opportunity to broaden their culinary horizons, and yours. Make something new! You can safely assume that they've probably never had good Tex-Mex in Italy; this is great because it means that you can rock their shit with some tacos, and also because it means you can rock their shit with some really-not-all-that-great tacos, because what the fuck do they know from tacos.

Basically I just want everyone to make tacos all the time. Tacos tacos tacos.

Katie:

I make a lot of dishes that consist of long noodles + stuff + light sauce. My dilemma is that I can never toss the ingredients in such a way that the stuff is distributed evenly among the noodles. Inevitably I end up with all the stuff on the bottom and sides of the bowl and a big pile of spaghetti or whatever in the middle. No, I don't rinse the noodles. We're talking about carbonara here (and other stuff but if I can't even get bacon to stick to sticky eggy spaghetti then what's the point of talking about ramen? Even the parsley— THE PARSLEY just gets plastered to the side of the fucking bowl.) I even have these fancy fucking tongs with these teeth that are obviously designed just for this task. Is there some sort of trick to this or is all foodie photography a lie?

Katie, I think I know what you are doing. What you are doing is straining the cooked pasta in a colander and then tossing it with the sauce. That's bullshit, Katie. It's bullshit and you know it!

Try this instead: A minute or two before the pasta is done cooking, use those fancy toothy tongs to transfer it directly from the boiling pasta water to the pan where the sauce is cooking, along with a generous scoop of the salty, starchy pasta water. Toss everything in there and let the pasta finish cooking in the sauce. This will produce tastier pasta, thanks to the extra time it and the sauce are spending together; it will also, wonderfully, produce a somewhat thicker, stickier sauce, thanks to the combined effects of the starch in the pasta water and the absorbency of the still-not-totally-cooked pasta.

Also! If you're cooking Stuff (shrimp or chicken or cherry tomatoes or whatever, the kind of large stuff that always seems to wind up clumped together on the bottom and sides of the bowl when you toss it with pasta) in the sauce and then tossing it all together, you might want to consider wrangling that stuff separately from the pasta + sauce. Like, for example, if you're making, say, shrimp linguine, you're adding the shrimp to the pan at the very end, when you add the pasta, and letting it cook during the last minute or two of the whole process. Well, when you extract the pasta and sauce to plates, go back with your tongs and manually extract some shrimp, too, and position them on that glorious tangle of pasta on the plate. That's the best way to ensure each plate is getting your desired pasta:sauce:stuff ratio.

And finally, as pertains to the Parsley Problem, add that stuff at the very end, after everything has come off the heat, and don't toss it more than once or mayyyyyybe twice. This is one instance in which an even distribution is not as important as how goddamn great some freshly chopped parsley looks and smells on top of the whole ungainly production.

Got it? Great. Everybody else in the world is a boredom coma, so I hope this was goddamn helpful.

Heath:

I have an 8lb pork loin and a 10lb box of bacon.

[smooth jazz]

I also have a 500gl steel tank that's been converted into a charcoal-burning, meat-cooking, hell of a fucking machine!

[overbite]
[dance of seduction]

I want to take the bacon and make a weave, wrap the whole 8lb pork loin in the weave, and put it on this cooker.

[zzzzzzzzzzip]

I can't see how this could go wrong, but when it comes to bacon and pork loin... sometimes I get tunnel vision. I thought about injecting the pork loin with garlic, butter, herbs, and then marinating it over night in a tub full of chilled Sailboat Fuel. Any thoughts, ideas, suggestions?

Run for president? I think you should run for president.

Andrew:

Is there any way to improve on the humble and glorious sloppy joe sandwich, or have Manwich and its knockoff equivalents basically mastered it with their brown-drain-add this gross stuff recipe? Like, is it one of those things that just isn't worth the time to do it yourself? I think sloppy joe sandwiches are perfect.

Well, it depends on what you're looking for, right? If what you want is something that tastes like Manwich but doesn't come with the stigma of your dinner having gotten virtually all of its flavoring from the inside of a can, then no, your effort will not be rewarded, and would be better spent on getting over the anti-Manwich hangup, because nothing else is gonna taste as Manwichy as Manwich, and you're going to hold that against whatever you make, and it will be able to detect your resentment and its heart will slowly break until someday it is forced to say goodbye to you in a tearful scene with Sarah McLachlan music.

On the other hand, if what you want is something recognizably Sloppy-Joe-ish but that tastes different from Manwich and that you can make your own, start with tomato paste, vinegar, worcestershire, onion, and bell pepper, and go from there. Cumin and cayenne and molasses? Grand! Garlic and brown sugar? Also fun! Beer and celery? I mean celery doesn't do it for me but, hey, sure! It will almost certainly be tasty; it will not be Manwich. How few things are Manwich? No things are Manwich. This is the great sorrow of mankind.

Send your Feedbag questions to albertburneko@gmail.com, subject line "Feedbag."

Albert Burneko is an eating enthusiast and father of two. His work can be found destroying everything of value in his crumbling home, or in shorter form on Twitter @albertburneko. You can find lots more Foodspin at foodspin.deadspin.com.

Image by Sam Woolley, photos via Shutterstock.