Words are funny, aren’t they, the way they can be so malleable in meaning. I think Freud even carried out some research into this and root words (Urwort) which can mean one thing and their opposite — e.g. the word ‘cleave’ … things can cleave together and things can cleave apart. Most confusing.
I was thinking about this just now because I was trying to find a good translation for a dish called “straccetti” which consists of thinly sliced beef sautéed in a saucepan. The word ‘straccetti’, meaning ‘little stracci’, comes from the word ‘straccio’. And what exactly is a straccio?
Well … it is the thick cloth or rag that one uses in Italy to clean floors with instead of a mop (mops do exist here too and are indeed used but not to the exclusion of a straccio). I suppose the fact that these cloths get used time and time again, and need to be sodden in soapy water before being used, would lead to the next meaning: which is limp and unadornedly ragged.
If you are feeling really awful and out of sorts and tired, you can say “mi sento come uno straccio” — I feel like the kitchen floor cloth. Somebody who dresses badly and wears tatty old clothes is called a “straccione”. If you rip up some old newspaper to shreds, the verb for this would be “stracciare”. If someone reckons an idea of yours is rubbish, then you can be sure that this idea is “da stracciare” — to be tossed. If you haven’t got a shred of evidence, then you haven’t got a ‘straccio di evidenza’. And on it goes …
What is amazing to me, from a culinary point of view, is how such an uninspiring word could be associated with a very tasty dish! A favourite home-food dish, “straccetti” are more of a summer repast … take very little time to cook … and can be accompanied by any vegetable whatsoever: in this post, for instance, by slices of artichokes. But rocket/arugula and tomatoes work very well, as do funghi porcini (ceps) or any other mushrooms, even truffles if you fancy them.
So … if ever you are in a hurry to cook something that everyone will appreciate, you could do worse than resort to these little ‘rags’ and ‘shreds’ to endow your evening meal with riches that the tastebuds will be grateful for! And last … do you remember my little post on using bread to mop up any sauce left on a plate? (see December 2010: Don’t poo poo the shoe) … well … I DARE you to get the end of your meal and NOT dunk your bread in any sauce that the straccetti leave on your plate!