Earlier this month, we attended a culinary presentation by food historian Francine Segan at the Italian Culture Center in Tuckahoe, NY. We sampled a few plates of pasta (who would have thought you could put chocolate in pasta?), received some tips on how to prepare the perfect pasta dish and definitely learned a lot about the rich history of pasta in Italy. After the talk, we reached out to Francine to learn more about her and her new book Pasta Modern.
FP: How did you get your start as a food historian?
FS: My first career, and education was as a child psychologist. A dozen or so years ago I did a Shakespeare-themed dinner party (with fun touches like only candlelight & no forks –they didn’t use them back then in England, just spoons/knives). Word got out about the dinner and I ended up with a book deal with Random House. Published Shakespeare’s Kitchen the next year and then Random House contracted for two more books (Philosopher’s Kitchen & Movie Menus)
FP: Interesting how opportunities present themselves!
Your new book, Pasta Modern, explores the current culinary creativity in Italy. Tell us about some of your favorite research experiences from the book.
FS: To research the book, I made appointments to tour about a dozen pasta makers in Italy. One of my favorites turned out to be Garofalo in Naples. They not only took me on a tour of their factory, but arranged a fun cooking demo in their staff kitchen! Two friends of one of the employees showed me how to make the Bucatini Dome that’s in the book. Then they served it to me for lunch!
I also loved learning from the Garofalo staff about other terrific, not very known, recipes. They ended up being one of my best go-to experts helping me track down chefs, home cooks and bloggers. They went above and beyond, spending hours with me there in Italy and on Skype. They love foodies, especially an American foodie and really showed me the meaning of Italian hospitality.
I also oved spending time with chef Davide Scabin whose two Michelin star restaurant Combal Zero was called “life changing” by Food and Wine Magazine. He taught me lots of really out there, unusual & delicious ways to enjoy pasta like using pasta shells instead of rice to make Pasta Sushi. He also introduced me to a pasta I had never heard of before—Monograno Felicetti–but now LOVE. It’s unique pasta because it’s made with special whole grains including kamut and farro and has a terrific nutty flavor. It’s really good, even with no sauce. Even my picky eater daughter who hates pasta likes it!
Felicetti is made up north in Italy, an area that has more risotto than pasta eaters. It’s really odd to Italians for pasta to be made up there. It’s really the south that’s known for making dry pasta. It’s is the world’s largest maker of 100% organic pasta yet I’d never heard of them!!
FP: Sounds like you had a great experience! If we visit Italy (we really hope so!), we’ll make sure to eat at Combal Zero. We’ll also make sure to read more about your adventures in your book!
You’ve studied a variety of historical eras and locations. If you could visit another time period, which would it be and why?
FS: 200 years from today because I’d love to taste what they’re cooking up then!
FP: What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name 🙂
FS: Pasta for breakfast. Lightly buttered & topped with a poached egg and crumbled bacon. Why eat toast when there’s pasta?!
FP: Good point! We’ll have to try pasta for breakfast soon!
If you weren’t a food historian, what would you be doing?
FS: As a food historian I get to travel a lot to Italy and eat all sorts of great food and drink wonderful wines. Therefore, if I weren’t a food historian I’d like to be a millionaire so I could travel a lot to Italy and eat all sorts of great food and drink wonderful wines!
FP: What are some of your non-historian hobbies or interests?
FS: I am a pilot and sky diver. I also skeet shoot and love tennis, skiing, hiking and jogging.
I like trolling flea markets and vintage clothing shops and have a cool collection of obsolete objects that have to do with dining, food and entertaining in the past.
FP: Pilot and a sky diver?! You’re full of great adventures! Thank you so much for your time, Francine. We wish you continued success!