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Aug 3, 2007 01:00 PM

Why is Cheese Forbidden in Authentic Italian Fish Cookery?

I just whipped up a big unctuous mess of capellini with white clam sauce - delicious, yes...but something seems missing. "Oh, I know - parmesano! Of course! But, of course as everybody knows it's a BIG BIG "NO-NO" Massive injunction, possibly a hanging offense, against adding cheese to Italian fish dishes...

Since it seems like the perfect last step, aside from lemon juice, to put the perfect kick into my own spag. a la vongole, WHAT is the big problem with the genuine Italian chefs and vongole eaters...not to mention every other chef and eater of pesce? WHY the horror of combining fish and cheese?

Just to let you know, I haven't actually desecrated my own pasta with clam sauce lunch with any parmesano YET, but I'd love to know why I should refrain - please give me some rational reasoning to underpin what seems to be an absurd, yet unbreakable, culinary law.

Cooks from every country and ethnicity are certainly welcome to jump right into the conversation, but cooks and sophisticated eaters bearing authentic Italian DNA are ESPECIALLY welcome to respond, as I'd be very interested to learn any pertinent cultural history, folk tales, grandmas' stories...please do enlighten us!


My pasta lunch is getting cold as I type this!

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  1. So, is your pasta still uneaten as we speak??? I'd save myself the horror of cold soggy pasta and just add the cheese.

    1. jfood has heard about NO cheese on pasta with fish. Jfood's response is thanks for the import please pass the romano. anyone who wants to draw a line in the sand on this should also post on the thread about "food snobbery."

      anyone who does not believe that cheese and seafood do not go together in Italian cooking should venture to New Haven and order a white clam piizza with mozzy.

      11 Replies
      1. re: jfood

        That isn't Italian cooking - it is Italian-American (or more precisely, Italian-USian) cooking, which is a perfectly fine and valid category. (Sounds good, too).

        I don't know where the taboo came from - indeed when I was living in central Italy the idea was a heresy - but I don't know the origin. I don't think it is just a matter of food snobbery - tradition is not exactly the same thing.

        1. re: lagatta

          agreed but tradition taken to the extreme equals snobbery.

          1. re: lagatta

            I suspect it is a valid Italian cultural tradition and not an elitist American "foodie" snobbism because I've repeatedly heard it from authentic Italian TV chefs like Gia DeLaurentis, Lidia Bastianich, Mary Ann Esposito, Michael Chiarello. Marcella Hazan, in her "Classic Italian" cookbook mentions aming many fish dishes but one that mentions cheese - adding parmesan to baked oysters, perhaps the exception that proves the rule? Judith Machlin who is the doyen of Jewish Italian cookbook writing, and where it is perfectly permissable to combine fish and dairy for kosherness, omits any recipe where they are combined in the cookbook of her's that I own.

            1. re: niki rothman

              I need to be able to say this- I really don't care what anybody says, I like cheese with seafood sometimes. Not others. Not going to stand on ceremony, not going to fly in the face of a nation's tradition, either. To each one's own, and bon appetit.

              1. re: EWSflash

                The food police might lock you up! Be careful what you say.

            2. re: lagatta

              What in heaven is "Italian-USian"?

              Italian -American food is somewhat, or very different from Italian food in Italy. It was adapted by Italian immigrants to America who found thery could not get certain ingredients they could easily find in the Old Country, and the plentiful fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, they did not have in Italy.

              Italian-American Cuisine has morphed into a genuine cuisine of its own.

              The no cheese with fish custom has nothing to do with snobbery. Most Italians feel that cheese would overwhelm the delicate taste of fish.

              In Italian American cuisine, cheese is often added to everything, not so in Italy. There are certain foods that call for cheese, others that do not.

              1. re: Fleur

                Niki, I have two friends who are Italian-Jewish (or Jewish-Italian?) and I have never had any cheesy fish dishes served or prepared by either. But then, their cooking is very Mediterranean (both have Sephardic surnames - there are also Askenazi Jews in Northeastern Italy) and fish would more likely be served with lemon, tomato and other delicious Mediterranean produce.

                Neither keeps kosher, but the traditional dishes they were making would follow kosher rules, and indeed fish is "neutral", no?

                Italian-USian (as I had said, a more precise term) - food of Italian origin as it developed in the US. The US is not the only country in America with a very large Italian population. It has the absolute largest numbers in terms of persons of Italian descent, but Argentina is the American country with by far the highest percentage of Italians (some say 40% of the total population) and a very great Italian influence in the cuisine, which there too evolved - and of course there is a lot more meat than in "Italian-Italian" cuisine.

                Many Argentineans are of Northern Italian ancestry, while more US citizens of Italian descent hail from the Mezzogiorno. Genovese dishes such as the torta pasqualina/pascualina (it. sp.) are very popular in Argentina.

                In Canada, Molise and Abruzzo (in the centre-south) are among the largest places of Italian emigration.

                Brazil and Venezuela are also among the American countries with a sizeable Italian population.

                1. re: lagatta

                  Kosher dietary laws forbid serving or eating dairy with meat - but that does not extend to fish. Kosher fish (that's fish that have scales, gills and fins on them) can be served with kosher dairy products and still be kashrut.

                  That being said, my favorite Italian dish is Linguine with White Clam Sauce (definitely NOT kosher) served with garlic and plenty of grated Parmigiano and Romano on top. I am now hungry just from having typed that!!

                  So blazes with tradition - eat what you like!!

                  Buon Appetito!!

                2. re: Fleur

                  There isn't one kind of "Italian food in Italy" and there are great variations regionally and from North to South as Lagatta points out.
                  Many of the immigrants to the US, particularly after WWII, were from Southern Italy which has historically been poorer than Northern Italy. Although they were not able to find many of the products they were used to in their homeland and made substitutions, when they did well in their new country, they were delighted to add more "luxury" products to their meals. They added far more meat, fish and cheese proportionately than the recipes prior generations had used. Not to mention much larger portions.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    <Although they were not able to find many of the products they were used to in their homeland and made substitutions, when they did well in their new country, they were delighted to add more "luxury" products to their meals. They added far more meat, fish and cheese proportionately than the recipes prior generations had used. Not to mention much larger portions.> This was because here in US the precious animal protein was far more easily obtainable!

                    As for missing the cheese on pasta with fish, try toasted breadcrumbs with a little garlic and parsley! That adds the crunch and loads of flavor.

              2. I say try some without parm, and then try some with. Go with what you prefer, and don't worry too much about tradition.

                1 Reply
                1. re: hrhboo

                  ditto. Eat what you like. I, personally, like parm/romano/etc on my shellfish pastas!

                2. I've heard the 'no cheese with seafood' thing more times than I can count. Recently, within a week of each other, I saw two chefs (one on TV the other at a cooking school) make Lobster Risotto and add grated Parmigiano. The one I was able to tasted in person was awesome. I think it's like wine..... ther are rules and purist opinions, but you should do what tastes good to you. I would guess that the sharp-ish flavor of Parm or Romano would conflict with the subtlety of most seafood, and pure italian cookimg is more about the fish than about the sauce anyway, so I get it. But I see people drinking red wine with fish too, and the same is certainly true of most reds overpowering a delicate poached fish. There's a reason for the 'rule', but you get the largest number of votes.

                  1. That is a sad rule, considering how AWESOME parmesano is on pretty much every kind of seafood pasta! Who cares what the rule is. Unless you're out to dinner with someone who holds that perspective, (and even then), it's going in YOUR mouth. Food is to eat for taste. So eat and enjoy!