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Why is Cheese Forbidden in Authentic Italian Fish Cookery?

niki rothman Aug 3, 2007 01:00 PM

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. b
    Blueicus RE: niki rothman Aug 3, 2007 03:17 PM

    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 RE: niki rothman Aug 3, 2007 03:23 PM

      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.

      8 Replies
      1. re: jfood
        lagatta RE: jfood Aug 3, 2007 04:05 PM

        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
          jfood RE: lagatta Aug 3, 2007 04:09 PM

          agreed but tradition taken to the extreme equals snobbery.

          1. re: lagatta
            niki rothman RE: lagatta Aug 3, 2007 04:22 PM

            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: lagatta
              Fleur RE: lagatta Sep 1, 2007 12:49 AM

              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
                lagatta RE: Fleur Sep 1, 2007 02:08 AM

                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
                  Cremon RE: lagatta Feb 15, 2012 09:04 AM

                  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
                  MakingSense RE: Fleur Sep 1, 2007 08:52 AM

                  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
                    ChefJune RE: MakingSense Sep 5, 2007 10:46 AM

                    <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. hrhboo RE: niki rothman Aug 3, 2007 04:30 PM

              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
                mojoeater RE: hrhboo Aug 3, 2007 04:55 PM

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

              2. Midlife RE: niki rothman Aug 3, 2007 05:53 PM

                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. gottasay RE: niki rothman Aug 3, 2007 06:01 PM

                  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!

                  1. ccbweb RE: niki rothman Aug 3, 2007 06:02 PM

                    I think the most direct response is: its not forbidden, its just not, apparently, done very commonly in Italy. In the never ending quest for the "authentic," its easy to turn such everyday realities into "rules." I'd bet that there are people in Italy who do like to have cheese with some seafood...because they like it.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: ccbweb
                      niki rothman RE: ccbweb Aug 6, 2007 11:32 AM

                      Really, I'm not worrying about being bad for putting cheese on fish - just wondering about the origins of this tradition culturally, why do people like Mario Batalli get so exercized about it? I'm usually the one who is being excoriated by snobs for breaking the rules, so please understand I don't have any ax to grind one way or another - just want to learn what's the story and why does it seem so important to many real Italian chefs?
                      I actually added butter, sweated in evoo scallions and garlic, marjoram, plain whole milk yogurt (strange sounding, but I urge you to try it) AND parmesan to my white clam sauce.
                      And was it ever DEE-LICIOUS!!!

                      1. re: niki rothman
                        huiray RE: niki rothman Feb 3, 2012 08:12 AM

                        That sounds now more like clam-flavored white cheese sauce to me...delicious, I'm sure, but it isn't "white clam sauce" anymore. To me, anyway. :-)

                    2. e
                      embee RE: niki rothman Aug 3, 2007 06:03 PM

                      As the fiddler once said: "TRADITION"?

                      My Italian friends (from Italy) tell me that the meals they grew up eating were rigidly standardized by region/city, time of day, and day of the week. If you were in Rome, or Florence, and it was time for the midday meal, you knew exactly what you would be having. Everything else on a restaurant menu was for the tourists. The no cheese on fish rule strikes me as more of the same.

                      No personal expertise to share on this, but I've been hearing it for decades. Pass the Reggiano.

                      1. Husky RE: niki rothman Aug 3, 2007 06:12 PM

                        Try it with the Parmigiano and if you like it, "bend the rules"...then have a cappuccino after 10am...

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: Husky
                          altajoe RE: Husky Aug 3, 2007 06:19 PM

                          No cheese (especially Parm) on fish is simple. Fish is delicate. Cheese (again, especially Parm) is not. The thought is that cheese will overpower the fish.

                          1. re: altajoe
                            gottasay RE: altajoe Aug 3, 2007 06:36 PM

                            But clams are not fish and they are not delicate at all in my opinion... is it an overall seafood rule or just a fish rule?

                            1. re: gottasay
                              altajoe RE: gottasay Aug 3, 2007 06:53 PM

                              In general, its not just the fish or shellfish. Its the condimento, which is usually delicate. A light tomato base or oil is intended to accompany.

                              To an Italian, putting cheese on a seafood dish is the equivalent to salting without trying it first, a no-no in any country. One more consideration is that by grabbing the cheese you are implying that the fish/shellfish is not fresh and needs to be masked.

                              1. re: gottasay
                                niki rothman RE: gottasay Aug 3, 2007 07:49 PM

                                I noticed the ONLY place Marcella Hazan conjoins fish and cheese in her cookbook index is for oysters and parm.

                                1. re: niki rothman
                                  mymymichl RE: niki rothman Aug 4, 2007 11:13 AM

                                  I love Marcella, but she can be something of a dilettante. Like the rest of her ilk, she is only a guide, and ought to encourage her readers to taste and decide for themselves.

                              2. re: altajoe
                                Husky RE: altajoe Aug 4, 2007 07:57 AM

                                True, but if the OP tries it and likes it, who cares?

                                1. re: Husky
                                  Panini Guy RE: Husky Aug 4, 2007 10:45 AM

                                  Two answers to that:
                                  1) Nobody. The OP can put whatever she wants on her dish.
                                  2) Me and many others, if we're eating at her house and she's already put the cheese on the dish.

                                  The answer is do what you like. But because it's a tradition you may not agree with, don't assume everyone else is with you. I used to eat cheese on top of all of my pasta dishes growing up. Then I started trying some dishes without cheese, like white clam sauce or mussels or tuna, and I learned I liked them better without the cheese.

                                2. re: altajoe
                                  Craterellus RE: altajoe Aug 6, 2007 02:37 PM

                                  AJ's point really is at the core of the original tradition. This basis does seem most appropriate to the more delicately sweet, impeccably fresh fish.

                                  1. re: altajoe
                                    ioggstream RE: altajoe Feb 13, 2011 08:15 AM

                                    right, plain and simple: don't overpower. Historical reason: if you are covering fish with cheese, you'll probably are serving bad fish and you need to "hide" it masquerading with something stronger.

                                    Anyway if you are not interested in that, you can put Parmigiano on your fish. But please don't serve it to me ;)

                                    Greetings from Italy,

                                    PS: this rule of thumb won't exclude that you can make something good with fish+cheese, maybe with some strong fish + light cheese (salmon+soft creamy cheese)

                                3. salutlemonde RE: niki rothman Aug 3, 2007 08:05 PM

                                  I'm still unclear on the "seafood" part.

                                  It seems like the rule is pretty much absolute with fish, but not with shellfish.

                                  In any case, that's how I've interpreted it - OK on shellfish, not on fish.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: salutlemonde
                                    ChefJune RE: salutlemonde Sep 5, 2007 10:49 AM

                                    Not ok on shellfish, either!

                                    But do as YOU like!

                                  2. d
                                    david kaplan RE: niki rothman Aug 3, 2007 09:49 PM

                                    Similar discussion a while back, which got quickly to the issue of pungent cheese overpowering delicate fish.


                                    This spring in Rome I had the pleasure of a pasta dish featuring fresh anchovies and pecorino. Strong fish + salty cheese = delicious. And this was at La Campana, a traditional restaurant.

                                    1. j
                                      JFores RE: niki rothman Aug 3, 2007 09:59 PM

                                      I TOTALLY DIDN'T EVEN REALIZE THIS! My family has never ever ever put cheese on anything with fish or shellfish in it and I just never even thought to do it. This is so strange!

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: JFores
                                        sisterfunkhaus RE: JFores Jan 9, 2010 12:29 PM

                                        I was going to say the same thing. I had no idea this was a rule until a few years ago, but have never done it or thought to do it. Fish and cheese doesn't seem like something that would go together. But, if you like it, do it. who cares what Italians do?

                                        1. re: sisterfunkhaus
                                          Chinon00 RE: sisterfunkhaus Jan 10, 2010 04:27 AM

                                          I've a friend who asked me once would it be wrong for him to bring Louisiana hot sauce to a French restaurant. He likes to put hot sauce on everything. I told him that hot sauce would mask the flavor of his meal and insult the chef on top of it. What would you have told him?

                                          1. re: Chinon00
                                            huiray RE: Chinon00 Feb 3, 2012 08:17 AM

                                            Here's a thread for your friend: http://www.chow.com/topics/826545

                                      2. f
                                        fara RE: niki rothman Aug 4, 2007 09:29 AM

                                        Another "italian authenticity" question ? :) Here's my input:
                                        I do think that cheese would usually work against seafood dishes, particularly if the dish tastes distinctly of fish (probably why it's considered heresy to add cheese in an italian restaurant). For example, no one on my Italian side would put cheese on fried flounder, calamari, baked fish.
                                        But I've had gnocchi with clams and a light tomato-cream sauce at my uncle's restaurant in Naples.
                                        I once had a Sicilian boyfriend, studying here, who came to dinner for linguine alla vongole at my dad's house. My dad makes a great clam sauce: parsley, garlic, olive oil, white wine, fresh clams and their filtered juice. We always put parmigiano on it - we passed to the Sicilian at the table and he says - no one does it in public but we do it at home. And he put cheese on the pasta.
                                        Now, the clams we use are very fresh New England clams (so fresh that if need be they last unharmed in the refrigerator for weeks) but dont' have a delicate flavor like the small clams I found in Italy. The garlicky-parsley part of my dad's pasta is enhanced by the cheese and the clams don't have a very strong flavor. I also like pecorino with the anchovy, olive, parsley, and fresh tuna linguine that I make. I think it depends on how strong the fish flavor is. I also think it's kind of gross on shrimp.

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: fara
                                          pikawicca RE: fara Aug 6, 2007 07:54 AM

                                          Have you ever tried shrimp with cheese grits? It might convert you.

                                          1. re: pikawicca
                                            MakingSense RE: pikawicca Aug 6, 2007 11:38 AM

                                            Shrimp and Grits is MUCH better if you don't serve it with cheese grits. Try using good quality grits instead. The cheese detracts from this dish IMO. Wouldn't have been used in the simple Low Country original anyway. Just a recent change, likely a Food Network or restaurant froo-froo version by those who can't leave well-enough alone.
                                            People can do as they please though. Why not just serve the shrimp over brown rice or quinoa?

                                            1. re: MakingSense
                                              mojoeater RE: MakingSense Aug 6, 2007 06:42 PM

                                              I've had shrimp and grits with and without cheese, and prefer the cheese. But isn't that what it's all about: personal preference?

                                        2. m
                                          mymymichl RE: niki rothman Aug 4, 2007 10:52 AM

                                          Rule one is if you like it then eat it and don't give a damn what anyone else thinks.

                                          That said, the italians (me too) feel their perfectly fresh fish is so excellent that its flavor deserves to NOT be masked by the strong cheesy taste. Still, if you must use cheese, try it just once sparingly to see how you like it. You mught decide you enjoy fish.

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: mymymichl
                                            Texchef RE: mymymichl Aug 4, 2007 11:24 AM

                                            So interesting! I agree with the suggestions to eat what you like, but the sound of fish and cheese makes me want to barf... and I'm not Italian. (But I was married to one for 5 years)

                                            1. re: Texchef
                                              jfood RE: Texchef Aug 4, 2007 12:17 PM

                                              jfood felt the same way when he read that people put mayo on hot dogs. whatever works and people enjoy is perfect in jfood's book. Heck, little jfoods put ketchup on hot dogs and mustard on roast beef sandwiches. jfood does not agree but when he serves the family that what he serves.

                                              1. re: jfood
                                                ctscorp RE: jfood Aug 4, 2007 12:26 PM

                                                I wonder, too, if it's a regional thing. My family lives just south of Rome, and there is plentiful cheese, game, veggies, fruits and pasta, but no fish, as the village is inland and they are very proud of their indigenous foods. Perhaps the combo isn't traditional because there aren't many places that specializein/produce both cheese and seafood. Just a thought....

                                                1. re: ctscorp
                                                  hotoynoodle RE: ctscorp Aug 6, 2007 07:46 AM

                                                  that's my thinking too. long ago and far away, regions of what is now italy were disparate and not much mingling occurred. local foods and local cuisine stayed that way for centuries. easy access to many ingredients is a very modern thing. since food is practically holy in italy, people don't mess with it.

                                                  americans have a fondness for overloading dishes. whenever i come home from italy or spain it always takes a while for my palate to recalibrate. i eat so simply while there: perfect ingredients, simply presented.

                                                  maybe try a dash of sea salt instead of cheese? just a thought...

                                                  1. re: hotoynoodle
                                                    Karl S RE: hotoynoodle Aug 6, 2007 07:57 AM

                                                    Yes, many American palates - so accustomed to either the flavors of processed foods or BIG! BOLD! FRUITY/SPICY! flavors - do not adjust well to food that's more simply seasoned. Cheese - like hot pepper - becomes a universal seasoning (like ketchup and mustard used to be for so many people).

                                          2. Karl S RE: niki rothman Aug 6, 2007 02:42 AM

                                            A couple of different things:

                                            1. As for sharp cheese and seafood: I recall reading somewhere that one usually unspoken reason for the tradition developing is that the synergistic combination reminds many people of vomit. If you've burped the combo, you may understand why that can be so.

                                            2. Cream and seafood: too much cream obscures the flavor of delicate flavored seafood.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Karl S
                                              hotoynoodle RE: Karl S Aug 6, 2007 01:17 PM

                                              inland regions like emiglia-romano are known for meats and cheeses -- reggiano, prosciutto, etc. seaside regions are not. they had easy access to day-boat seafood, but not dairy. over the centuries, they simply cooked what was readily available, and dishes became known in that traditional fashion.

                                              it's not that complicated, lol.

                                              i also think americans are accustomed to having cheese on everything, so it's a go-to for them. it certainly adds flavor if the tomatoes in your sauce were picked a week ago and shipped 1500 miles and your fish was purchased frozen. typical american cooking is the antithesis of the italians, who most typically shop daily for dinner and buy local ingredients, in season. americans have to compensate for food that lacks real flavor of its own.

                                            2. Will Owen RE: niki rothman Aug 6, 2007 11:36 AM

                                              In Salerno, the very nice woman who was running the small restaurant let me know in no uncertain terms (even though her English and my Italian were both all but nonexistent) that you do NOT put the parmigiana on the linguini alla vongole. I conformed to her demands with never a murmur...but the very first kind of clam sauce I ever tasted was essentially pesto with clams added - yes, cheese and all - and it was awfully good!

                                              I think what it comes down to is simply this: Italians don't like seafood and cheese together, just like they typically don't care for raw onion or dead-ripe raw tomatoes. It's a cultural thing. As for me, there are several dishes mixing seafood and cheese that I love; yes, the sharp cheddar in my tuna casserole DOES have some flavor characteristics not unlike barf, but I happen to enjoy that kind of thing. There are all kinds of raunchy or perhaps unmentionable things that the smell of (for instance) fish can bring to mind, not to mention ripe Camembert...

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: Will Owen
                                                niki rothman RE: Will Owen Aug 6, 2007 11:44 AM

                                                Sexy Will Owen! But Will...since when was tuna noodle casserole considered fine Italian cuisine? And surely the Italians would be the last people on earth to cringe at the thought of anything on the cheesy OR fishy side? It's their horror of the combining of these ingredients, which are just as cheesy and funky fishy as they wanna be standing alone, that is so weird and fascinating.

                                                1. re: Will Owen
                                                  cheesemonger RE: Will Owen Aug 6, 2007 01:34 PM

                                                  I'm with Will here. My original answer to the original question was "Because it tastes ooky to combine fish and cheese".

                                                  But, as with all things, there are ammendments. Parm on Linguine alla Vongole doesn't faze me. I've been known to put parm on a pasta with a creamy seafood sauce- and there's a place in CT I'm thinking of right now that's making my mouth water. "Yes, I'd love some freshly grated parm, thank you" I say with a smile and lean waaay back so the waiter can adequately cheese me.

                                                  But "stuffed fish" where one of those stuffings in cheesey- blech.

                                                  1. re: Will Owen
                                                    sisterfunkhaus RE: Will Owen Jan 9, 2010 12:33 PM

                                                    I think that a good parm in and of itself will have a whiff of barf if you smell it. If it doesn't smell a bit barfy, I pass.

                                                  2. Phaedrus RE: niki rothman Aug 6, 2007 01:36 PM

                                                    OK, other than Altajoe, David Kaplan and fara, no one has made anyheadways into the actual WHY of not putting cheese with fish. Where is a food anthropologist when we need one.

                                                    14 Replies
                                                    1. re: Phaedrus
                                                      hotoynoodle RE: Phaedrus Aug 6, 2007 01:59 PM

                                                      why are you completely discounting the historical reality of the availability of only the most local ingredients? please see my posts above.

                                                      1. re: hotoynoodle
                                                        Phaedrus RE: hotoynoodle Aug 6, 2007 02:12 PM

                                                        Good point, because I missed it. Sorry.

                                                        1. re: hotoynoodle
                                                          ctscorp RE: hotoynoodle Aug 6, 2007 05:24 PM

                                                          Uh, and mine, which preceded yours, hotoynoodle! ;)

                                                        2. re: Phaedrus
                                                          MakingSense RE: Phaedrus Aug 6, 2007 02:35 PM

                                                          I think hotoynoodle has an excellent point. We never seem to give enough weight to the idea that people didn't always have access to or even interest in food products from even a small distance away. If you lived by the sea, you ate fish. The land there wasn't good for grass, hence no pastures for dairy cattle and no dairy products. The dairy regions for the most part were far from the fishing ports. Traditions and habits developed and there were regional aspects to them.
                                                          I also agree that there is a taste issue. Certain combinations taste awful and Italians just know that.

                                                          We should perhaps leave American preferences out of the discussion for the short term because it confuses the issue. Of course, it's your right to melt Velveeta on your shrimp scampi if it makes you happy.

                                                          The OP asked the question: Why is the general rule such as it is? Why are there a few exceptions?
                                                          Not whether YOU break the rule or not.

                                                          1. re: MakingSense
                                                            hotoynoodle RE: MakingSense Aug 6, 2007 02:52 PM

                                                            it irks me though that all too often americans think food traditions have no validity or that there is no reason behind them. that everything is just some fool rule from the food police.

                                                            eat whatever you like at home. sure. but i think the scoffing at tradition is unnecessary.

                                                            1. re: hotoynoodle
                                                              huiray RE: hotoynoodle Aug 2, 2011 08:32 AM


                                                            2. re: MakingSense
                                                              niki rothman RE: MakingSense Aug 7, 2007 08:48 AM

                                                              Brilliant! In our modern world we are jaded to easily availability of foods from far, far away - brought to our greedy mouths via destruction of the ozone layer through motor exhaust. But for most folks still living in undeveloped areas, or everybody not fabulously wealthy up until the industrial revolution, you basically ate ONLY what grew or lived rather near your home.

                                                              But here in the 21st century, as the song says, "...Anything goes!" Even middle class people are spoiled by the expectation of being able to get any food from anywhere on earth at any time.

                                                              I don't know what's happening in Italy, but I live in northern California on the coast and driving north or south one commonly sees rural coastal hillsides practically awash in grazing dairy cows. And I remember from my days living in Oregon, sometoimes even wading contentedly in the surf!

                                                            3. re: Phaedrus
                                                              niki rothman RE: Phaedrus Aug 6, 2007 03:00 PM

                                                              When Mario Batalli talks about the issue of how the Italians feel about fish he rapsodizes and obsesses about the Italians having a very deep need to feel fish has come straight from the ocean onto your plate. Pristene freshness. Delicacy. The less human hands have intervened the better. (VIRGINITY issues feature large in the Latin Catholic church. They have a cult of Mary.) Cheese is profoundly un-virginal. Cheese is a product VERY far from the cow. Messed with quite a bit, sometimes over years. The diamtetrical OPPOSITE of fresh, untouched, virginally pure and unmessed with by human hands - fish.
                                                              Just getting into some symbolism here.

                                                              1. re: niki rothman
                                                                fara RE: niki rothman Aug 6, 2007 03:12 PM

                                                                i think you answered your own question here :). to simplify: it doesn't go on so many levels. at least prepared simply, nello stilo italiano. there is actually a thread on the perfect (simple)clam sauce in home cooking right now, in which I have given my father's perfect recipe.

                                                                however your version above doesn't sound Italian so much as northern european? it sounds like it would go well with cheese, and you already have the dairy in it.

                                                                1. re: niki rothman
                                                                  vvvindaloo RE: niki rothman Sep 4, 2007 09:36 PM

                                                                  I think you have touched upon an important element of the fundamental argument here (that fish is delicate and its flavor should be respected, not masked): the fact that fish come from the sea, and Italians expect their fish to taste that way. Here in the States, many of us have become accustomed to fish that is "farmed", or fish that was once fresh and wild, but has traveled and lost some of its essence, not to mention fish that is "cleaned" beyond recognition. We (for the most part) expect our fish to smell as little as possible, and often encounter "seafood" that bears almost no resemblance to the living fish it once was (no head, scales, shells, or bones, for example). I know Italians who don't order fish in much of the US because, as they have told me, "it doesn't taste of the sea".

                                                                  1. re: vvvindaloo
                                                                    MakingSense RE: vvvindaloo Sep 5, 2007 06:54 AM

                                                                    How often do we hear people say, "I really like XXX. It doesn't taste 'fishy' at all."

                                                                    1. re: MakingSense
                                                                      fara RE: MakingSense Sep 6, 2007 06:03 AM

                                                                      people do the same with meat - skinless, boneless chicken breast tastes much less of chicken than bone-in, or thigh. cheese -preferably no flavor used to be the standard. eggs, etc. did we have some kind of wave of distribution of spoiled food in this country or something? would make sense. fish even now needs to travel way too far. it's not the same but I buy frozen wild fish b/c I don't live on the coast. (as most of you know most fish has been frozen anyway, might as well buy it before it's been defrosted).

                                                                      1. re: fara
                                                                        vvvindaloo RE: fara Sep 6, 2007 08:53 AM

                                                                        You are completely correct. In fact, this point occurred to me shortly after I posted my comment re: fish. Unless you go well out of your way to buy meat that is "free range", "organic" no hormones/antibiotics, etc., your meat (especially chicken) is likely to taste more like the factory it was made in that the animal it is purported to be. In a country like Italy, on the other hand, chicken still tastes like chicken. And even fish that has traveled an hour or so from the coast is considered less desirable than eating food that is local.

                                                                      2. re: MakingSense
                                                                        huiray RE: MakingSense Aug 2, 2011 08:42 AM

                                                                        "How often do we hear people say, "I really like XXX. It doesn't taste 'fishy' at all.""

                                                                2. r
                                                                  RGC1982 RE: niki rothman Aug 6, 2007 02:49 PM

                                                                  My 100% pedigree qualifies me to answer! Actually, I think it is more tradition than rule. Most genuine Italian dishes are actually quite uncomplicated and the flavor of each ingredient is usually discernable. Fish sauces tend to be either very light, such as white clam sauce, or bold such as Fra Diavolo (at least in the U.S). In any case, it usually cooks quickly and is made simply. Grated cheese just doesn't seem to be necessary to enjoy either the subtlety or the big, bold flavor. However, many years ago, when I dated a Sicilian guy from Brooklyn, his family cooked "Shrimp Parmigiana" for Christmas Eve. Yes, breaded and covered with red sauce and mozzarella. Typical marinara sauce with medium seasoning, and mozzarella went with it just as well as it would have over a chicken cutlet. It was something I had never eaten before, and it was delicious. That said, my own mother wrinkled her brow when I told her what had been on the menu. There is certainly no dietary restriction or religious tradition that I know of, although it is possible that the traditional Friday meals (non-meat), which were supposed to be simple meals and/or fasts, just seemed too rich with cheese.

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                  1. re: RGC1982
                                                                    hotoynoodle RE: RGC1982 Aug 6, 2007 03:07 PM

                                                                    shrimp parmigiana would never be on a christmas eve table in sicily, lol. italian-american food (on which i grew up!) is often a completely different thing. maybe that's why americans think italian food always needs cheese.

                                                                    1. re: RGC1982
                                                                      Karl S RE: RGC1982 Aug 6, 2007 03:21 PM

                                                                      Actually, historically there *was* a restriction. For centuries, restrictions on eating meat on Fridays and during Lent included restrictions on the use of dairy products. In northern Europe, where oil was rare, people effectively purchased indults to be exempt (the cause of the famous "butter towers" of Gothic northern Europe). In Italy, where oil was more readily available, there was less cause for those exceptions.

                                                                      While the restrictions on dairy faded a long time ago in the Roman church, they still exist in eastern Christian churches (even oil is proscribed on certain days). You want a completely vegan, low-fat cuisine?: look at recipes designed for eastern orthodox Lent...

                                                                    2. p
                                                                      peppino RE: niki rothman Aug 20, 2007 03:23 PM

                                                                      I learned about no parmigiano on seafood on my 1st trip to visit my family in Italy (Albisola SV about a 1/2 NW of Genova on the coast). Another thing I learned was, do not put parmigiano on gnocchi with a ragu di funghi (mushroom sauce). I guess it goes in the same category as "letting the ingredients speak for themselves". Don't make them fight for attention.

                                                                      The ragu di funghi was just olive oil and mushrooms. I can't remember if the mushrooms were porcini or if they were dried or fresh. Sorry, I drank too much grappa.

                                                                      1. h
                                                                        hungry_pangolin RE: niki rothman Aug 20, 2007 04:58 PM

                                                                        As full disclosure, I am not Italian, but a strongly formative influence on my life was a woman from Friuli, a region with its own cuisine (and, arguably, language). The rule is usually formulated "no cheese with seafood" (fish or anything else), because the usual cheese would be parmigiano, romano, or something similar. To my mind, it's a very good rule of thumb, because the sharpness of the cheese overpowers the subtlety of the seafood. From experience, I agree with the rule. That said, sometimes ricotta salata will be found with seafood in Italy, but it's so much milder than the above cheeses, that it doesn't overpower the flavour of the plate. As well, I allow *one* exception from French cuisine (which I love, but whose allowance of cheese with fish I cannot understand): the great, dense, sinisterly dark fish south from the south-west of France, along the Biscay, which can stand a bit of grated cheese only because it is so strongly flavoured.

                                                                        I'm sure that there's a biochemist here who could explain this. After all, many, if not most, rules about food/food and food/wine pairings have some basis in biochemistry.

                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                        1. re: hungry_pangolin
                                                                          niki rothman RE: hungry_pangolin Aug 20, 2007 05:24 PM

                                                                          Hungry pangolin, please do tell us all about this strange, dark, sinister fish - sounds like something Herman Melville would have enjoyed hearing about! Or are you thinking of herring?

                                                                          1. re: niki rothman
                                                                            hungry_pangolin RE: niki rothman Aug 21, 2007 07:53 AM

                                                                            Niki - The *soup* ("south" was a typo, though we could rename this "soupe Melville", or "soupe Nemo") is onion, garlic, fennel, tomato, fish (whole whiting I usually use), orange zest, saffron, bouquet garni, pernod, simmered together. The liquid is strained off, then what remains in the pot is pulverised (veg and fish remains), and then forced through the strainer again. Serve with rustically cut croutons with rouille, and grated parmegiano or gruyere. I prefer a thirst-quenching white with this (I like a viognier), but the flavours are strong enough that a good rose or gamay (even slightly chilled) are good matches.

                                                                            So, you see, it is the soup that is sinisterly dark, not the kraken you were led by my typo to believe was involved.

                                                                            1. re: hungry_pangolin
                                                                              MakingSense RE: hungry_pangolin Aug 21, 2007 02:56 PM

                                                                              The soup is Bourride, usually served with aioli. Common in French provincial cooking. All over in Brittany. I don't remember it being served with cheese in that area.

                                                                              1. re: MakingSense
                                                                                hungry_pangolin RE: MakingSense Aug 22, 2007 05:15 AM

                                                                                It struck me as more regional. I never saw anything like it in the north or east.

                                                                          2. re: hungry_pangolin
                                                                            Phaedrus RE: hungry_pangolin Aug 20, 2007 06:30 PM

                                                                            OK, that explanation makes a lot more sense than sheer food snobbery.

                                                                          3. Chinon00 RE: niki rothman Aug 20, 2007 07:02 PM

                                                                            Again, I like to temper the "do what you like" attitude with a little curiousity as to why certain rules exist. On my first trip to Italy (Rome specifically) I ordered a seafood risotto at a restaurant. The waiter brought it to the table and I asked for cheese. He told me in very slow and clear English "sir we do not serve this with cheese because it would overpower the fish". Now, I could have demanded cheese but I didn't. I ate it as suggested and really enjoyed it. Would it have tasted good with cheese? Sure. Would it have tasted better with cheese? Maybe. Would I have been able to appreciate the briney delicate oceany clams and shrimp and broth (which is what the meal is about) with cheese? No way.

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Chinon00
                                                                              Phaedrus RE: Chinon00 Aug 20, 2007 07:24 PM

                                                                              I think the way to do it is to follow the tradition, and if you don't agree with the tradition, do your own thing at home.

                                                                              1. re: Phaedrus
                                                                                jfood RE: Phaedrus Aug 31, 2007 07:55 AM

                                                                                Although jfood enjoys grated cheese on seafood, he would never embarass self or staff by insisting on cheese if the resto is adverse. There is a courtesy that the custo must show to the resto as well that trnascends the custo is always right mentality.

                                                                            2. s
                                                                              Steve RE: niki rothman Aug 21, 2007 07:10 PM

                                                                              I think it transcends Italy. I'm pretty sure it's rare in France and many other places. I say NO to cheese and seafood. "Eat what you like" is too facile an answer. Tastes have to be developed. To me, it's like people who smother every sandwich with mayo. The cheese is a crutch.

                                                                              5 Replies
                                                                              1. re: Steve
                                                                                Phaedrus RE: Steve Aug 21, 2007 07:23 PM

                                                                                Interesting point Steve. Kind of like drowning good pasta in red sauce because this is what everyone does, while I had a minimalist pasta dish when I was young and it was a revelation.

                                                                                1. re: Phaedrus
                                                                                  Chinon00 RE: Phaedrus Aug 21, 2007 08:09 PM

                                                                                  And cheese is one of those things that makes just about anything taste better or richer at least because, well, it's cheese. Sort of like the same way frying makes things taste tastier.

                                                                                  1. re: Chinon00
                                                                                    huiray RE: Chinon00 Aug 2, 2011 08:53 AM

                                                                                    Don't forget that cheese (especially parmesan) has high levels of glutamates (think MSG) which "enhance" food flavor - but often, when it comes to fish/shellfish/delicate foods what you end up "tasting" is the "glutamate-rush", it would seem to me, but you like it because it DOES taste good. It just may no longer quite be the actual taste of the original basic ingredient that you are tasting.

                                                                                2. re: Steve
                                                                                  MakingSense RE: Steve Aug 21, 2007 08:04 PM

                                                                                  I don't think there are that many French dishes that use cheese with seafood. Mornay sauce. With scallops for Coquille St.-Jacques. Sometimes with baked oysters. But they're used in prep not at the table. And in very small quantities, almost as a seasoning.
                                                                                  Maybe you're right that because we've gotten used to putting cheese on Italian on the US, almost as a reflex, we just do it without thinking.
                                                                                  I'm with you, Steve: Just say NO.

                                                                                  1. re: Steve
                                                                                    butterfly RE: Steve Aug 24, 2007 04:55 AM

                                                                                    That's certainly the case here in Spain. As a general rule, there is less reliance on sauces and add ons for flavor, because the flavor of the main ingredients drives the dish. Simple is nearly always better if you have good ingredients.

                                                                                  2. m
                                                                                    madisoneats RE: niki rothman Aug 31, 2007 11:30 AM

                                                                                    Just out of curiosity, I punched the following search into epicurious:
                                                                                    Main course + Italian + fish + cheese

                                                                                    I got 292 results.

                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: madisoneats
                                                                                      lagatta RE: madisoneats Aug 31, 2007 01:57 PM

                                                                                      Yes, but that was in English.

                                                                                      1. re: lagatta
                                                                                        hotoynoodle RE: lagatta Aug 31, 2007 08:55 PM

                                                                                        while i enjoy epicurious, it wouldn't be my go-to source for authentic italian cuisine either.

                                                                                      2. re: madisoneats
                                                                                        MakingSense RE: madisoneats Sep 1, 2007 08:36 AM

                                                                                        Epicurious also has 59 Cool Whip recipes and you know what kind of fights that always starts on Chowhound! They just put stuff out there. Not necessarily a reliable source. Like Wiki and Google, a good starting place, but you've got to dig deeper for accurate research.

                                                                                      3. jfood RE: niki rothman Sep 1, 2007 06:45 AM

                                                                                        Jfood is not a big fan of sub-categorizing foods so the Italian-American, Jewish-Italian, Franco-Prussian sorta gets grey to thisold dog, just looking for good food.

                                                                                        That being said and jfood feels a little better before his walk, he does not have any issue with the cheese "overpowering" the delicate flavor of the fish. Everyone has a different palate and jfood is sensitive to some flavors more thanothers and vice versa. Last night he made a halibut in which he thought the cumin overpowered the other flavors and mrs jfood disagreed. c'est la vie.

                                                                                        jfood loves the delicacy of the fish with a stronger cheese on to as a compliment, others may not. So jfood may be luck that he tastes the subltlety that others might miss but jfood is also upset that for other dishes he can not taste the subtleties. c'est la vie.

                                                                                        1. Chuckles the Clone RE: niki rothman Sep 1, 2007 03:18 PM

                                                                                          Fish on Friday. No cheese on Friday. Ergo, no cheese on fish.

                                                                                          At least that's my guess. Plus Parma's about as far from the sea as you can get and still be in Italy, as has been noted a couple of times. They don't even have a river.

                                                                                          On a practical note, when your clam sauce seems to be asking for cheese it probably just wants a little more salt and olive oil.

                                                                                          1. augustiner RE: niki rothman Sep 4, 2007 03:38 AM

                                                                                            one thing i don't think i've seen mentioned yet is the use of bread crumbs in place of grated hard cheeses with seafood in italian cooking. i see toasted bread crumbs come up over and over again when i look over my italian cookbooks and recipes.

                                                                                            i know this doesn't shed more light on WHY cheese and seafood in the same dish is discouraged, but i think it shows that there seems to be a steadfast tradition in italy of adding the texture of toasted bread crumbs to seafood dishes. and i've read several recipes and books that explain that bread crumbs are often used as a sort of "poor man's " cheese.

                                                                                            obviously, grated cheese melts into hot food, but there is a textural similarity. and while bread crumbs could never add the rich and complex flavors of parmiagiano or pecorino romano, etc., it wouldn't give the seafood that..funky flavor that some people object to.

                                                                                            anyways, if anyone is on the fence, maybe try adding toasted bread crumbs to your seafood pastas and see how that sits with you. i think this is ultimately cultural. if i'm offered cheese with my seafood at a restaurant, it's a 50% chance that i will or won't accept it, based on whim. if i was in a restaurant that frowned on it, i wouldn't ask for it and wouldn't miss it, either. i respect food traditions, even if i don't keep them.

                                                                                            BUT, for god's sake, niki rothman, please enjoy your meal while it's still hot! these burning questions for chowhound can always be employed afterwards to postpone washing the dishes.

                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                            1. re: augustiner
                                                                                              augustiner RE: augustiner Sep 4, 2007 04:38 AM

                                                                                              a cursory glance through my marcella hazan book, a woman famous for her strict, almost intimidating adherence to italian food traditions, showed several seafood pastas (i only flipped through the pasta chapter) with breadcrumbs. BUT, i also saw two recipes combining seafood and cheese. one featured anchovies and parmigiano-reggiano, which brings to mind the strong fish-strong cheese argument. but the other was a tortellini stuffed with fish which featured sea bass or any similar, delicate fish, and both parmiagiano reggiano and pecorino romano. whether these are recipes of her own or local, traditional ones, the book doesn't say. but if marcella hazan sometimes mixes the two, i imagine there are probably many tasty exceptions to the rule, even in italy.

                                                                                              again, i'm not making an argument for or against the rule, but i figured there would be exceptions to it even within italian culture. and italian cuisine is super-regional isn't it? but if an italian cook from the inland north has access to fresh fish now, would they add cheese to those dishes? agh. both trips there as a young child i insisted on eating lasagna ALL the time, regardless of where we were. if only i could afford to go there now!

                                                                                              1. re: augustiner
                                                                                                niki rothman RE: augustiner Sep 4, 2007 02:55 PM

                                                                                                I must respond to your passion, in worrying that my lunch that day not be ruined. And the response must come in the form of a confession that is sort of embarrassing but should at least be reasuring to you kind chowhounds who have feared for the ruination of a perfect al dente lunch supposedly sitting around getting soft and unappetizing. A health issue forces me to eat my pasta overcooked - and off the boil. I've come to actually prefer it that way. Odd how necessity has a tendency to become preference given only the passage of time.
                                                                                                But, thanks so much to all of you who went a little nuts when I wrote how my pasta was sitting around while I was typing to you. I love it that you care!

                                                                                              2. Chinon00 RE: niki rothman Sep 4, 2007 07:55 AM

                                                                                                I think that it might be important to know WHY it's done but in the end it'll be up to you whether you'd use cheese on fish or not. I think that is far worse to comply with "tradition" and not really know why or what the functionality of the tradition actually is.

                                                                                                1. Eat_Nopal RE: niki rothman Sep 4, 2007 03:44 PM

                                                                                                  I wonder if the strong middle eastern roots of Italy has anything to do with not combining dairy with seafood... sort of a linger cultural-religious vestige... that everybody observes subconsciously without exactly knowing why.

                                                                                                  14 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                                                                    butterfly RE: Eat_Nopal Sep 4, 2007 03:52 PM

                                                                                                    I think it's the opposite--if you look at it from a global perspective--the tendency to put cheese on top of fish (or meat, beans or many other types of food) is the more strange and unusual of the two tendencies... My theory is that Americans tend to do this more because their meat and fish, speaking generally, tends to be less flavorful.

                                                                                                    1. re: butterfly
                                                                                                      niki rothman RE: butterfly Sep 4, 2007 04:18 PM

                                                                                                      Hi butterfly,
                                                                                                      Or, it could be that we Americans basic character involves insisting on gilding the lily wherever and whenever possible because we are spoiled by just being used to having too much food - and that of mediocre quality?

                                                                                                      But you are definitely onto something, after reading your post about the lack of flavor generally in our meats and fish, I flashed on a TV commercial that i have noticed I gag on whenever I see it recently - for Applebee's or Friday's or Tuesday's or someother misbegotten chain restaurant perhaps in the guise of a day of the week. You are invited to enjoy their latest abomination in the form of otherwise probably simply defrosted, naked, flavorless chicken breasts with yellow oleagenous, generic cheese-product melted all over them. God help me, I wish I could remember what moniker these nasty protein slabs are masquerading under - no doubt with unintentional irony. Maybe another chowhound can help me out. Surely, the name could not help being more imaginative than the actual food offering. Unfortunately, in these places the name on the menu always sounds delicious but has nothing to do with what actually shows up on your plate. ITEM: "Dry, tasteless protein swimming in melted (but rapidly congealing) tasteless cheese product" - how's that for truth in advertising? Wouldn't sell very well though, would it?

                                                                                                      1. re: niki rothman
                                                                                                        Karl S RE: niki rothman Sep 5, 2007 06:55 AM

                                                                                                        And that's because boneless skinless chicken breast as commonly consumed in the US is worse than tofu (which is not a knock against tofu). Unless it's quality chicken supremes cooked in a more classic non-American manner, generally boneless chicken breast is the nastiest thing on many menus.

                                                                                                      2. re: butterfly
                                                                                                        Chuckles the Clone RE: butterfly Sep 4, 2007 09:04 PM

                                                                                                        Come to think of it, are there *any* fish dishes that americans generally eat that contain cheese? Tuna melts and tuna noodle casserole maybe, but anything else?

                                                                                                        I wonder if the question would be better reframed, "why do americans instinctively toss cheese on everything italian?"

                                                                                                        1. re: Chuckles the Clone
                                                                                                          Chinon00 RE: Chuckles the Clone Sep 4, 2007 09:19 PM

                                                                                                          Fantastic point! I think that it is just perfunctory.

                                                                                                          1. re: Chuckles the Clone
                                                                                                            butterfly RE: Chuckles the Clone Sep 5, 2007 07:19 AM

                                                                                                            "why do americans instinctively toss cheese on everything italian?"

                                                                                                            And Mexican and many other types of foods... When I go back to visit the US, it's the one thing that I notice right away--copious amounts of flavorless cheese and sauce.

                                                                                                          2. re: butterfly
                                                                                                            Eat_Nopal RE: butterfly Sep 5, 2007 08:24 AM

                                                                                                            Do you realize that you just insulted more than half of the world's population?

                                                                                                            1) Chinese, Mexican & Indian (arguably 3 of the most influential culinary traditions of all time) have strong traditions of saucing fish... it may not be cheese but in many of their dishes the protein is just another ingredient in the sauce. Some would argue that Classic French & Roman would also fit in in this sauce-phyllic label.

                                                                                                            2) The argument that Americans dress up fish because it is less flavorful is absolutely wrong. Stronger tasting fish (or beef, lamb, goat, turkey if they case might be) is MORE adept for taking on stronger flavors. U.S. protein was genetically engineered towards blandness not in the last 2 decades when sauces became more important in the U.S. gastronomy but in the 1950's when Americans DID NOT eat ethnic, DID NOT like spicy foods, DID NOT have salsa as the #1 condiment... back then for many people the flavoring repertoire was simply salt, pepper & butter.

                                                                                                            3) I've had Italian food that is sauced enough to where the character of the seafood is masked. The classic Cioppinos come to mind, or perhaps Clams in White Wine, Garlic & Parsley.... in either case the seafood just becomes part of the whole... and in both cases... CHEESE IS NOT A STRONGER FLAVORED INGREDIENT THAN EITHER SAUCE.

                                                                                                            So now its time to get back to trying to uncover the real reasons...

                                                                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                                                                              butterfly RE: Eat_Nopal Sep 5, 2007 09:23 AM

                                                                                                              I'm not sure if you are responding to me, if so, I can't understand what part of what I wrote that you are responding to, because there seems to be a major leap in subject matter (Chinese sauces? 1950s cuisine?). At no point did I insult half of the planet... on the contrary.

                                                                                                              My point was that adding cheese to main dishes involving fish is, from a global perspective, quite an unusual practice. The absense of such a practice doesn't, in my mind, necessarily point to Jewish and/or Muslim practices that are lodged in the collective unconscious of a country's gastronomy.

                                                                                                              It seems to me, cheese is clearly an added fat used to create "comfort food". Where I live this is achieved with pork or olive oil instead.

                                                                                                              1. re: butterfly
                                                                                                                Eat_Nopal RE: butterfly Sep 5, 2007 10:18 AM

                                                                                                                "I think it's the opposite--if you look at it from a global perspective--the tendency to put cheese on top of fish (or meat, beans or many other types of food) is the more strange and unusual of the two tendencies"

                                                                                                                That is what I was referring to. The Chinese & Indians (almost 1/2 of the world's population) like to top their fish with other types of food. Add to them any cuisine of Chinese derivation, Mexican, Latin American & even Italian.

                                                                                                                No its not strange. Evolved cuisines tend to use sauces (a more complex & sophisticated process than just simply grilling or pan frying a fish).

                                                                                                                1. re: butterfly
                                                                                                                  Eat_Nopal RE: butterfly Sep 5, 2007 10:19 AM

                                                                                                                  Sorry I misunderstood your statement. You were saying that putting cheese on top of fish or meats, or beans is strange... and I thought you were saying that putting meat, beans or any other food on top of fish was strange.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                                                                                    butterfly RE: Eat_Nopal Sep 5, 2007 01:56 PM

                                                                                                                    Right, I wasn't talking about Chinese sauces or any other such thing that might insult half of the planet. This thread is about putting cheese on fish.

                                                                                                                  2. re: butterfly
                                                                                                                    southernitalian RE: butterfly Sep 5, 2007 10:25 AM

                                                                                                                    Butterfly - sprinkling or shaving parm or romano on food is hardly making it comfort food. i don't think you're talking about the same thing we are. we're talking about a sprinkling, not complete coverage. aren't we?

                                                                                                                  3. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                                                                                    hotoynoodle RE: Eat_Nopal Dec 2, 2009 07:19 PM

                                                                                                                    cioppino was developed in the states and NOT served with cheese... nor is linguine with clam sauce.

                                                                                                                  4. re: butterfly
                                                                                                                    sisterfunkhaus RE: butterfly Jan 9, 2010 12:45 PM

                                                                                                                    Or it could be because we don't know how to cook it so that it has flavor. Most people I know seem to boil, grill, or bake everything and the only seasonings they use are garlic powder, salt, and pepper. None of them keep good butter, and the only vinegar they seem to know about it balsamic. If those were the only preperations and ingredients I knew, I would pour cheese all over everything too.

                                                                                                                    I've been known to have 10 different kinds of cheese in the icebox, but much of it is for eating or special dishes designed to have cheese as the star.

                                                                                                                2. southernitalian RE: niki rothman Sep 5, 2007 07:04 AM

                                                                                                                  As much as I love mussells marinara and it SEEMS like I should be sprinkling parm on them, I can never bring myself to do it. it just seems wrong. Fish and cheese? Never! Ever! My grandmothers would spin in their graves. And yet my greatest indulgence (especially while pregnant) is a McDonald's Filet-o-Fish. Unbelievably tasty, always perfect. A piece of mystery fish with a slice of cheese. And it works. Go figure.

                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: southernitalian
                                                                                                                    Eat_Nopal RE: southernitalian Sep 5, 2007 08:27 AM

                                                                                                                    I just had my first ever Filet-o-Fish and the first thing that I told my wife was... "Pretty good, but have they always served it with cheese? It seems so irrelevant"

                                                                                                                    1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                                                                                                      pankofish RE: Eat_Nopal Sep 5, 2007 10:39 AM

                                                                                                                      In Sicily and Sardinia, which have traditions of cheesemaking and are surrounded be the sea, cheese (pecorino) is used with breadcrumbs and herbs to stuff sardines and swordfish. This is probably a seasoning (salty cheese seasons the stuffing - like marinating lamb in salted anchovies). I believe that most Italians are pragmatic about it and don't season seafood with cheese because it's just not very good - and interferes with the focus of Italian cooking: impeccable, fresh products cooked simply.

                                                                                                                  2. w
                                                                                                                    wedw3 RE: niki rothman Dec 28, 2008 11:48 AM

                                                                                                                    I am Irish/Welch and my wife is Italian. She was raised on Long Island and is a wonderful Italian cook. She cooks both Italian/American and 100% Italian. I asked her about this topic. She just laughed. I asked why she is laughing and she said that it doesn't matter how you prepare or use in a recipe as long as it taste good! She also stated that all cultures have some really outstanding recipes that stand alone, but it isn't a sin to adapt a recipe to ones one taste of spices and herbs or in this case putting some cheese on fish and pasta.

                                                                                                                    1. roxlet RE: niki rothman Dec 29, 2008 02:50 PM

                                                                                                                      It isn't forbidden, but it just tastes weird and unpleasant to me. Do what you like, but the combination of romano or parmigiano with fish is something I find hugely unappealing. We would have bread crumbs sautéed in olive oil as a topping for pastas that had fish in them -- pasta con le sarde in particular. Similarly, Italians for the most part, don't use cheese on pastas containing hot red pepper flakes -- al'matriciana being the notable exception. Putanesca, for example, with hot peppers and anchovies, never has cheese.

                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: roxlet
                                                                                                                        Karl S RE: roxlet Dec 29, 2008 04:56 PM

                                                                                                                        That has more to do with the anchovies than the hot pepper. See also aglio e olio and pepe e cacio - both classic preparations where pecorino is often added to peperoncino.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Karl S
                                                                                                                          roxlet RE: Karl S Dec 31, 2008 05:13 AM

                                                                                                                          I believe that those pastas call for black pepper, which seems, somehow, to be in a different category than red pepper flakes.

                                                                                                                      2. p
                                                                                                                        paddydubai RE: niki rothman Dec 31, 2008 01:40 AM

                                                                                                                        Pasta with clams is a great favourite of mine. Once in a snooty Italian place in London I was treated to a telling-off from the surly old waiter when I asked for parmesan on it.

                                                                                                                        I think it depends a lot on the context. If you're in the mood for warming, comfort food, shovel the cheese on. If you're in a more refined frame of mind and you want to truly taste the fresh, subtle flavour of the seafood, leave it off.

                                                                                                                        One of my other favourites is spiedini di pesce - grilled kebabs of assorted fish, lightly flavoured with garlic, lemon and parsley - and I wouldn't dream of putting cheese on them, as it would kill the taste.

                                                                                                                        29 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: paddydubai
                                                                                                                          stile mediterraneo RE: paddydubai Dec 1, 2009 06:33 AM

                                                                                                                          I am Italian, living in Italy...in Puglia a region where we have lots of fantastic cheese and fish. I totally confirm that we would never put cheese on top of pasta with seafood. The only exception I can think of is the stuffed calamari...where we also put the parmesan cheese inside. However it is so delicate that it does not make a crontrast. Also, yes I would put some parmesan in the risotto with lobster. But I would never put any cheese on my linguine with tuna or scampi or shrimps!!!

                                                                                                                          1. re: stile mediterraneo
                                                                                                                            Blueicus RE: stile mediterraneo Dec 1, 2009 08:34 AM

                                                                                                                            How amusing that all of these apparently "hard and fast" rules all come with some exceptions.

                                                                                                                            Actually, this whole thread reminds me of the (to me) odd practice of certain people pouring soy sauce over their white rice.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Blueicus
                                                                                                                              Phaedrus RE: Blueicus Dec 1, 2009 09:10 AM

                                                                                                                              When I first moved away from Taiwan, we were invited to a dinner party, I was about nine years old. I got to eat with the other kids and one of the kids just poured soy sauce over his white rice and then offered the bottle to me. I looked at him like he had horns growing out of his head, he just shrugged and went about mixing his rice and soy together. Then I moved to the US and figured out that this was a pretty regular practice. I still get the shivers when I see people do that.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Phaedrus
                                                                                                                                Midlife RE: Phaedrus Dec 2, 2009 01:08 PM

                                                                                                                                I understand the classic standards on this rice thing.....it's good for you yet many Americans find it bland. My wife uses Ponzu, which I would think would be as abhorrent to you as soy sauce. My own tendency is to mix it with whatever sauce is served on the dish, but if there is none..................... what is an acceptable pairing with plain white rice? or is there none?

                                                                                                                                When I'm eating with Asian friends there I've noted a tendency to drip sauces from other dishes as one holds them over the individual rice bowl before consuming, or even to place the chopstick-ful on the rice temporarily before eating it. That provides a saucing to the rice. What's the protocol on that?

                                                                                                                                1. re: Midlife
                                                                                                                                  Phaedrus RE: Midlife Dec 2, 2009 03:57 PM

                                                                                                                                  Usually, when you eat at home, you don't want to use up dishes because that means you have to wash extra plates, a waste of precious water and effort. When I was young, I would spoon the sauce on to my rice, but I just don't get the soy sauce deal, it is just nasty to me.

                                                                                                                                  In certain large cities. you can find food stalls where they use the rice and bowl as the holder of the food, rather than using dishes.

                                                                                                                                  Most of the time, rice is used kind of as a palate cleanser, you take a bite of rice in order to clear out the taste of the previous bite and prepare the mouth to taste a bite of another dish.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: Midlife
                                                                                                                                    Blueicus RE: Midlife Dec 9, 2009 08:21 PM

                                                                                                                                    Nobody ever eats plain white rice with no accompaniment, unless they're poor.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: Midlife
                                                                                                                                      huiray RE: Midlife Aug 2, 2011 09:12 AM

                                                                                                                                      @midlife: But rice is the "staple", just as bread may be to you. Rice does have a delicate taste - it is not true that it is flavorless. The foods/dishes other than the rice are the "accompaniment" to the rice. One says "soong fan" in Cantonese. The rice also becomes the vehicle for savoring the sauce of the accompaniments (those other dishes).

                                                                                                                                      Drowning rice (and those other dishes) with soy sauce has more to do with US/American folks ideas/perceptions of what constitutes "Chinese" food.

                                                                                                                                    2. re: Phaedrus
                                                                                                                                      foodlovergeneral RE: Phaedrus Apr 8, 2013 05:20 AM

                                                                                                                                      Totally agree with you and I am not Chinese. If you want to try someone's cuisine-try it the way that they prepare it rather than try to change it. When I was a kid, I remember that Chinese food became very Americanized. It was so bad when I finally started to taste real Chinese food as an adult in China and from my Chinese wife. Likewise, it's rare to find American Italian cooking as delicious as the Italian cooking in Italy. I think that in the U.S. the recipes become modified sometimes. A friend of mine owns a Chinese restaurant. It has been totally amended to make it American, he said-despite that he is from Hong Kong. In Verona, there's a famous restaurant that opened a sister in New York that I used to love. It has modified it's recipes somewhat for the New York market and I stopped going. Sushi chefs who come to the U.S. have had to give in to the large amounts of wasabe and soyu that Americans require to disguise their fish. It's usually not even real wasabe but a mixture of a little bit of wasabe with horseradish. The miso soups are not often real smoked and fermented katsuo, but a fake consisting of chemicals and some fish powder.

                                                                                                                                      Other times, it's a question of freshness and ingredients. The food storage in the U.S. is great, but it allows much older ingredients to hit our tables routinely and appear fresh. But the taste is not the same. In Mexico, for example, the cheeses are different and fresher. The vegetables are different and fresher. The meat is different and fresher. Same for China. Same for Italy. While our variety and availability here is amazing, we don't often get as much of the great experience of amazing freshness as in some other cultures.

                                                                                                                                    3. re: Blueicus
                                                                                                                                      Karl S RE: Blueicus Dec 1, 2009 10:09 AM

                                                                                                                                      Then there's ketchup on rice (ketchup is based on a southest Asian condiment, of course)....

                                                                                                                                      1. re: Karl S
                                                                                                                                        Blueicus RE: Karl S Dec 2, 2009 08:04 AM

                                                                                                                                        I have to admit, I've never seen ketchup on rice before... though I've certainly had my fill of ketchup fried rice (Western Fried Rice for those from HK). Oh, and I also have to admit that butter with plain rice still eludes me to this day

                                                                                                                                        1. re: Blueicus
                                                                                                                                          butterfly RE: Blueicus Dec 3, 2009 05:41 AM

                                                                                                                                          At the very cheapest places in Spain they sometimes have a first dish called "arroz a la cubana," which is white rice mixed with tomato sauce (or a ketchup like sauce) with a fried egg on top. Strangely, my husband's Cuban grandma calls the same dish arroz puta (puta being a not so elegant term for a prostitute or loose woman).

                                                                                                                                          1. re: butterfly
                                                                                                                                            Steve RE: butterfly Dec 3, 2009 06:00 AM

                                                                                                                                            Putain in French. Not to be confused with poutine... in Canadian.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Steve
                                                                                                                                              Phaedrus RE: Steve Dec 3, 2009 07:11 AM

                                                                                                                                              Puta is not in the same family as putain. I think it refers to the prostitutes in this case.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: Phaedrus
                                                                                                                                                golflouis RE: Phaedrus Jul 29, 2010 02:09 PM

                                                                                                                                                prostitute= english
                                                                                                                                                putain= french
                                                                                                                                                puta= spanish

                                                                                                                                                Poutine is basically french fries with a tiny bit of brown sauce and covered with cheese curds that are melting with the heat of the fries down under lol
                                                                                                                                                This is a simple fast food dish with many variants and served all across Quebec province in Canada

                                                                                                                                    4. re: stile mediterraneo
                                                                                                                                      jfood RE: stile mediterraneo Dec 1, 2009 09:51 AM


                                                                                                                                      Could you give jfood some insight on the Puglia difference between shrimp and scampi. Many thanks in advance.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: jfood
                                                                                                                                        Karl S RE: jfood Dec 1, 2009 10:08 AM

                                                                                                                                        I thought scampi are langoustines, which are closer relations of lobster than shrimp, IIRC.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: jfood
                                                                                                                                          butterfly RE: jfood Dec 2, 2009 03:54 AM

                                                                                                                                          These are scampi:


                                                                                                                                          Cigala in Spanish, langoustine in French, Norway lobster/Dublin Bay prawn in English, Nephrops norvegicus in Latin. We eat them a lot in Spain.

                                                                                                                                        2. re: stile mediterraneo
                                                                                                                                          MMRuth RE: stile mediterraneo Dec 9, 2009 02:22 PM

                                                                                                                                          I make various recipes from a Sardinian cookbook that do combine both cheese and fish in dishes - pasta and otherwise - for what it is worth.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: MMRuth
                                                                                                                                            KTinNYC RE: MMRuth Dec 9, 2009 02:27 PM

                                                                                                                                            The author of “Encyclopedia of Pasta”, Oretta Zanini De Vita , has this to say on the topic, "There’s no logical explanation”, “It’s in our spiritual formation."

                                                                                                                                            1. re: KTinNYC
                                                                                                                                              MMRuth RE: KTinNYC Dec 9, 2009 02:38 PM


                                                                                                                                              And just found this, above, that discusses the combination of cheese and seafood in both Sardinian and Sicilian cooking.


                                                                                                                                              1. re: MMRuth
                                                                                                                                                southernitalian RE: MMRuth Dec 10, 2009 04:47 AM

                                                                                                                                                Not to put too fine a point on this but I just reread the OP's original post. I don't think the word "forbidden" is appropriate. I think "skeeve" (pronounced "schkeeve") is a better way of putting it. Just...don't.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: southernitalian
                                                                                                                                                  MMRuth RE: southernitalian Dec 10, 2009 04:54 AM

                                                                                                                                                  What I am trying to understand is the idea that there are legitimate Italian recipes that do combine the two, at least at least one Italian cookbook that I have, versus the idea that there are no exceptions to the rule of not combining the two.. Have you found that not to be the case?

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: MMRuth
                                                                                                                                                    southernitalian RE: MMRuth Dec 10, 2009 05:31 AM

                                                                                                                                                    Who knows? Maybe it's more of an italian-American thing? You don't eat beef, pork or chicken on Christmas Eve, no hats on the bed, no purses on the floor (unless you WANT to be poor), spill salt? toss some over the shoulder, bread, salt and candles when you move in to a new house, toss a penny into a new car. I (seriously) could go on and on with the particularities of Italian-American culture (at least as it exists in NY/NJ). We're a passionate lot. Not always rational, but passionate. I can't tell you the number of men I know who have t-shirts that have American and Italian flags crossed on the front above the caption: America, we discovered it, we named it, we built it. That's passion.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: southernitalian
                                                                                                                                                      KTinNYC RE: southernitalian Dec 10, 2009 05:36 AM

                                                                                                                                                      I know quite a few Italian Americans and they don't really resemble your descriptions at all.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: KTinNYC
                                                                                                                                                        The Professor RE: KTinNYC Nov 15, 2012 10:31 AM

                                                                                                                                                        I know plenty that _do_ fit that description to a "tee". Thing is, they're all older than 75.
                                                                                                                                                        Many younger Italian Americans don't give flip about those things (and a few I know don't even like Italian food. LOL. They do still cling rabidly to the 'Columbus' myth, however).
                                                                                                                                                        Thing change, attitudes change, and customs change.

                                                                                                                                                2. re: MMRuth
                                                                                                                                                  golflouis RE: MMRuth Jul 29, 2010 02:18 PM

                                                                                                                                                  Believe me those Sardinian and Sicilian recipes are surely not very popular in Rome and Milan.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: golflouis
                                                                                                                                                    MMRuth RE: golflouis Jul 30, 2010 04:39 AM

                                                                                                                                                    I'm sure they aren't, but that is beside the point, isn't it?

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: MMRuth
                                                                                                                                                      golflouis RE: MMRuth Jul 30, 2010 11:14 AM

                                                                                                                                                      Ruth it can be beside the point for you, but people sure want to know the best standards in cuisine, for that reason in France the light is coming from Lyon and Paris, so for Italy it's from Rome and Milan; this doesn't remove any value to more provincial cuisine but if it doesn't sell in the capitals it's probably because it doesn't meet the standards of high cuisine, and this is relevant to people that want to know...otherwise anybody could declare themselves 5 stars "chefs"

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: golflouis
                                                                                                                                                        MMRuth RE: golflouis Jul 31, 2010 05:10 AM

                                                                                                                                                        But the question is "why is cheese forbidden in authentic Italian fish cookery" and I'm just pointing out that there are examples of this not being the case in some regions of Italy. Of course, I suppose one can contend that Sardinian and Sicilian cuisines are not "authentic Italian."

                                                                                                                                        3. m
                                                                                                                                          mowaterhouse RE: niki rothman Mar 20, 2010 06:23 PM

                                                                                                                                          It has nothing to do with the type of cooking you're doing. Generally, when adding cheese to a seafood dish, it tends to make the fish taste "not so fresh" and the one thing you always want to present when cooking fish is to serve the freshest fish possible. Generally, it's the use of melted cheese in these dishes. I'm with other posters here - if you like it - eat it - I don't think there's anything wrong with a little parmesano reggiano on the dish. Manga!

                                                                                                                                          1. g
                                                                                                                                            golflouis RE: niki rothman Jul 29, 2010 01:59 PM

                                                                                                                                            Of course you can eat cheese with whatever you like..there is no fault there, but if you pay close observation and attention to the taste of fish without cheese and with cheese,you will find out by yourself that those two don't marry very well..you greatly loose on the taste of the fish.
                                                                                                                                            Beef, pork and veal marry very well with cheese..we all know that; already with chicken i am not so sure..but with fish it is a universal "no", because it doesn't taste so good.

                                                                                                                                            8 Replies
                                                                                                                                            1. re: golflouis
                                                                                                                                              ospreycove RE: golflouis Jul 30, 2010 07:37 AM

                                                                                                                                              Golf, my feelings as well. I guess to bring it to street level it would be similiar to Hot Corned Beef on White with Mayo. It just does not go. The delicate aroma and essence of the fish is blown away by a muscular dry grating cheese.
                                                                                                                                              Also, Waiters in Italy cringe when tourists ask for fromaggio on seafood. It is just not done.....Tradition has a bit to do with it too in a culture that revolves around Cibo..........

                                                                                                                                              1. re: ospreycove
                                                                                                                                                golflouis RE: ospreycove Jul 30, 2010 11:45 AM

                                                                                                                                                Absolutely Osprey, this is why some recipes don't cross the local or provincial level; another good example is "La coquille St-Jacques"...the one from Bretagne in France is served "gratiné" but the classic Coquille St-Jacques served in Paris and Lyon doesn't have any cheese cover as the one from Bretagne; the people from Bretagne put cheese on almost everything...probably because it is the main dairy producer region in France; many are sure familiar with the famous salted crepes loaded with cheese and béchamel from Bretagne as well..not a classic in Paris..

                                                                                                                                              2. re: golflouis
                                                                                                                                                johnb RE: golflouis Jul 30, 2010 11:56 AM

                                                                                                                                                >>>>but with fish it is a universal "no", because it doesn't taste so good.<<<<

                                                                                                                                                Bullpucky. You need to go down to New Orleans, including Italian restaurants, and try some of the dishes down there. Ask Chef Besh what he thinks about cheese and seafood (Hint--one of his favorite dishes is the crab au gratin served at Bon Ton that contains AMERICAN cheese; and yes that is real cheese). There are many great oyster dishes in NO that involve parmesan.

                                                                                                                                                The Italians, whoever is included under that heading, can have whatever traditions they like, and there can certainly be bad cheese/seafood dishes, but there are many many ways that seafood and cheese products go together very well.

                                                                                                                                                1. re: johnb
                                                                                                                                                  Chinon00 RE: johnb Jul 30, 2010 01:20 PM

                                                                                                                                                  But speaking in VERY broad terms it's my understanding that Italians are more into the naked pleasure of the raw ingridient and therefore where cheese on fish (or anything else) surely would taste "good" cheese would mask the flavor of fish; which is often delicate to begin with.

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Chinon00
                                                                                                                                                    Karl S RE: Chinon00 Jul 30, 2010 03:06 PM

                                                                                                                                                    It's also the kinds of Italian cheeses that are typically used for garnishing; they have the unpleasant effect of making fish taste like vomit.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Karl S
                                                                                                                                                      johnb RE: Karl S Jul 30, 2010 03:39 PM

                                                                                                                                                      >>>they have the unpleasant effect of making fish taste like vomit.<<<

                                                                                                                                                      I haven't had any oysters au vomit lately, so I can't say.

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: johnb
                                                                                                                                                        ospreycove RE: johnb Jul 30, 2010 04:13 PM

                                                                                                                                                        Karl.....Succinctly stated!!

                                                                                                                                                      2. re: Karl S
                                                                                                                                                        hotoynoodle RE: Karl S Feb 17, 2011 07:45 AM

                                                                                                                                                        just like the french, the italians have hundreds of varieties of cheese, from very mild, to very strong. not everything smells like romano.

                                                                                                                                                2. j
                                                                                                                                                  Jojo9 RE: niki rothman Feb 16, 2011 10:10 PM

                                                                                                                                                  I agree with you - sometimes it'd be nice to have that salty bite of parmesan on a nice Italian fish dish. However, my Italian dad always tells us it's just not the done thing. He never explains why though...

                                                                                                                                                  1. i
                                                                                                                                                    italia84 RE: niki rothman Feb 17, 2011 06:53 AM

                                                                                                                                                    I'm born and raised in the US but my family is from Sicily. You don't put cheese on seafood because the flavor of the cheese would overpower the flavor of the fish. Having said that, I've seen members of my family and friends--people actually FROM Sicily--put grated cheese on clam sauce. I'm sure it's due to American influence, but if it tastes good and you prefer it that way, than do it.

                                                                                                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                    1. re: italia84
                                                                                                                                                      szmeterling RE: italia84 Aug 2, 2011 05:41 AM

                                                                                                                                                      I just made red snapper ravioli - snapper, swiss chard, shitakki mushroom & lime zest - in a plain smooth tomato sauce. Something was missing, so I added some nice gouda to the sauce and it took the dish up about 10 notches!

                                                                                                                                                      Hurray for fish & cheese together

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: italia84
                                                                                                                                                        coll RE: italia84 Apr 10, 2013 05:39 AM

                                                                                                                                                        My husband's family is from Sicily and from Abruzzi, and the only way they will eat clam sauce is with ricotta mixed in. Parmesan optional.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: coll
                                                                                                                                                          foodlovergeneral RE: coll Apr 10, 2013 06:38 AM

                                                                                                                                                          Ricotta is ccmmon in sicily. Parmesan-not so much .

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: foodlovergeneral
                                                                                                                                                            coll RE: foodlovergeneral Apr 10, 2013 09:00 AM

                                                                                                                                                            Thanks for that, I always wondered where the tradition came from. My husband WILL NOT eat clam sauce unless there's ricotta on the table, even though it's one of his favorite dishes. I only make it when I have half a tub leftover from something else.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: coll
                                                                                                                                                              foodlovergeneral RE: coll Apr 10, 2013 09:25 AM

                                                                                                                                                              Ricotta has a very creamy flavor and texture without the fermented notes of parmesan or pecorino. Hence it works differently.

                                                                                                                                                      2. iL Divo RE: niki rothman Feb 3, 2012 08:15 AM

                                                                                                                                                        to me it's just a matter of taste.
                                                                                                                                                        I for one like parm cheese on top of my shrimp scamp or Alfredo shrimp.

                                                                                                                                                        1. m
                                                                                                                                                          mfrazier8284 RE: niki rothman Sep 6, 2012 04:13 PM

                                                                                                                                                          I was scolded in a NYC Little Italy restaurant a few years ago when I requested cheese for my seafood pasta. OK. No cheese on fish dishes. Got it. So when do I add cheese? Which sauces? What about pesto? What about marinara? what about mixing parmigiano and pecorino?

                                                                                                                                                          16 Replies
                                                                                                                                                          1. re: mfrazier8284
                                                                                                                                                            foodlovergeneral RE: mfrazier8284 Sep 6, 2012 04:48 PM

                                                                                                                                                            It seems that a lot of traditions come from generations of trial and error, along with a sense of healthiness and good tastes from a certain cultural perspective. I find it rewarding obey a given tradition in order to real get a feel for the cuisine and the culture. If Italian cooks have been taking this approach for generations, it's worth considering, no? Perhaps it's about not overpowering the fresh taste of the fish-in Italy, there seems to be a tremendous appreiciation of very fresh ingredienets. Perhaps it's a certain issue of balance and taste.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: foodlovergeneral
                                                                                                                                                              mbfant RE: foodlovergeneral Sep 8, 2012 06:06 AM

                                                                                                                                                              @ foodlovergeneral

                                                                                                                                                              @ mfrazier8284
                                                                                                                                                              Cheese is usually used on meat sauces and veg-based sauces. Parmigiano is customarily not used in the presence of noticeable quantities of garlic or hot pepper, though pecorino romano may be. Marinara doesn't take cheese. Pesto alla genovese has cheese incorporated into it. Mixing parmigiano-reggiano and pecorino romano is done all the time. Cheese is sometimes the star of the show, as in cacio e pepe, but when it isn't, it should be used sparingly so as not to take over and hide other flavors (main problem using it with fish). It's only relatively recently that parmigiano has become a national cheese, and many localities have forgotten that they once used something else, made locally. In Rome, the native pastas are always served with pecorino romano, not parmigiano, because that is what is traditional, plus it's the right sort of flavor for something like amatriciana. Cacio e pepe is traditionally made with pecorino romano, but there is nothing about the technique that says don't use parmigiano-reggiano, which would be delicious.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: mbfant
                                                                                                                                                                huiray RE: mbfant Sep 8, 2012 06:47 AM

                                                                                                                                                                Yet as you know, in the US many folks in the general populace [i.e. not on Chowhound] associate "Italian food" and especially any kind of "Italian pasta dish" with copious amounts of cheese dumped on it. Just a general comment. Many USAmericans (in a general sense) seem to adore cheese, lots of it, vast quantities of it, in their food. Sigh.

                                                                                                                                                                When I first moved to my area (in the Midwest) I was taken aback by the "Italian food" served in some popular "Italian" places. Note double quotation marks. I had never seen so much cheese before on so-called "Italian" dishes.

                                                                                                                                                                Further afield and in another cuisine, there was one place in the "artsy" district here [a restaurant that went away some years ago but which was "well-regarded" by the general public and favored by the local newspaper food critic] where I had "French Onion Soup" that I would characterize as onion-flavored melted cheese with bread. That food critic I mentioned gushed about how marvelous the "soup" was and loved the cheese that came with it. From then on I knew that any place/dish he recommended I knew I should avoid.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                  Veggo RE: huiray Sep 8, 2012 07:09 AM

                                                                                                                                                                  I'm guessing you are cheese averse?

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Veggo
                                                                                                                                                                    foodlovergeneral RE: Veggo Sep 9, 2012 07:33 PM

                                                                                                                                                                    I think he has a sense of appropriateness. Many diners have a lack of restraint-the more the better. But the best Neopolitan pizzas are not over whelmed by cheese; they have the proper balance. They are all about great crust as well. There is an awful lack of balance in American food that leads to an overabundance of cheese. I think America's obesity problem is related to the need to go overboard with everything, not just cheese, but a host of thinks.

                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                    cheesemaestro RE: huiray Sep 8, 2012 07:26 AM

                                                                                                                                                                    Most Americans buy cheap, industrial pasta that is devoid of flavor and texture, then gussy it up with a sea of sauce and a mountain of cheese to make it palatable. Compare the size of jars of pasta sauce sold in supermarkets in the US with the ones imported from Italy (a third of the size). In Italy, the past a is a star in its own right and needs only a modest amount of sauce and cheese to make it shine. In the US, pasta is no more than a two bit player on which to throw sauce and cheese. Chowhounds excepted, of course! :-)

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: cheesemaestro
                                                                                                                                                                      Midlife RE: cheesemaestro Sep 19, 2012 01:03 PM

                                                                                                                                                                      Could you name a couple of brands of what you consider 'real' pasta that are readily available....... especially in SoCal?

                                                                                                                                                                    2. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                      Karl S RE: huiray Sep 8, 2012 07:31 AM

                                                                                                                                                                      Well, yes, copious amounts of dairy are characteristic of American food ways in the Northeast, Middle Atlantic, Great Lakes, and Plains states (and then spread as Americans from those areas went to other parts of the country) because the climate, ecology and terrain was conducive to widespread dairying and dairy products (the South somewhat less so, because of heat, and the West due to lack of water until its great rivers got dammed up). I suspect the most practical reason the American way with cheese never penetrated Chinese and Indian take-out joints is that dairy is a relatively expensive food component (obviously in addition to the fact that the American way with cheese is alien to East Asian and South Asian cuisine families), whereas in European cuisines cheese was a cheaper way to supplement meat.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Karl S
                                                                                                                                                                        Veggo RE: Karl S Sep 8, 2012 07:42 AM

                                                                                                                                                                        I had 4 wonderful housemates (big house) from China and Taiwan while I was recently working in Dallas, and none of them ate cheese of any kind. I patronized a great cheese shop there, and I usually had 6 or 8 varieties on hand, safe from midnight fridge marauders!

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Karl S
                                                                                                                                                                          foodlovergeneral RE: Karl S Sep 8, 2012 10:37 AM

                                                                                                                                                                          Interesting; Mexican American food has loads of cheese too. But an elegant French meal might be accompanied by a cheese course at or near the end of the meal. In it one or several complimentary cheeses might be served with bread and perhaps a fruit compote as well. The cheeses are served at room temperature which presents their flavors the best. It's an excellent experience, and some of my friends are joining us in that type of tradition.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: foodlovergeneral
                                                                                                                                                                            Veggo RE: foodlovergeneral Sep 8, 2012 10:59 AM

                                                                                                                                                                            The use of cheese in real Mexican cooking is a world apart from American interpretations. I wish more Americans would seek out and enjoy the real deal.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Veggo
                                                                                                                                                                              foodlovergeneral RE: Veggo Sep 9, 2012 07:38 PM

                                                                                                                                                                              A great point. We had queasdillas in Mexico at a friends house where we stayed. The cheese was made fresh daily in a town that the domestic employee lived in that was clean, and amazingly good. It was totally delightful and even in Mexico, it was considered amazing. It was dirt cheap to buy that cheese. There was no overwhelming conglomeration of cheese, beans, rice and sauce that they call Mexican food in the U.S.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                          Bkeats RE: huiray Sep 19, 2012 01:26 PM

                                                                                                                                                                          huiray has hit it. I think most Americans associate italian food, especially pasta, with cheese. So why shouldn't they put cheese on the clam sauce? But if you step away from the italian food/cheese association, I have a hard time coming up with many instances of cheese combined with seafood. There's the filet o'fish McD's. But cheese and clams? I'm drawing a blank. Could you imagine the the derision directed at anyone who wanted to sprinkle cheese on clam chowder? Clams casino with a blanket of melted cheese? But someone will now probably say that what I've mentioned is being done somewhere.

                                                                                                                                                                    3. re: mfrazier8284
                                                                                                                                                                      coll RE: mfrazier8284 Apr 10, 2013 05:30 AM

                                                                                                                                                                      My poor Mom is still embarrassed that, when I took her to an Arthur Ave restaurant, she asked where was the parmesan for her pasta, after seeing the gorgeous hunk displayed by the front door. The waiter said, oh I assumed you wouldn't want cheese with your seafood. It could have been called mild "scolding" I guess. He did bring some but then she was afraid to use it.

                                                                                                                                                                      My grandmother (her MIL) was Italian and Mom was always intimidated by the rules and regulations of Italian food; well and by Nana herself actually. Mom still bears a foodie scar about that incident, even though it wasn't that big of a deal, and whenever having seafood in an Italian restauarant will always retell her tale of woe. PS she still loved the meal, so it wasn't a total disaster. So, after reading all these replies, you can't say you weren't warned what the consequences may be!

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: coll
                                                                                                                                                                        foodlovergeneral RE: coll Apr 10, 2013 06:42 AM

                                                                                                                                                                        Foodie sometimes means snootie. But I think respecting the culture of food is not a bad idea too. When in Rome, don't eat parmesan with the langustino.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: foodlovergeneral
                                                                                                                                                                          coll RE: foodlovergeneral Apr 10, 2013 08:59 AM

                                                                                                                                                                          Oh my Mom learned her lesson, and is none the worse for it. If she ever gets back to Rome, she'll know the drill now!

                                                                                                                                                                    4. Bacardi1 RE: niki rothman Nov 15, 2012 06:15 PM

                                                                                                                                                                      Huiray notwithstanding - whose opinions I do respect - I do personally enjoy freshly-grated parmesan on my Spaghetti with Clam Sauce. Oh The Blasphemy & Horror! Lol!!

                                                                                                                                                                      That said, & as I've said constantly on these boards, food is & always will be a matter of PERSONAL PREFERENCE. If you enjoy cheese on your Italian seafood dishes - GO FOR IT. No one - even an old-school Italian - has the right to intimate that you're wrong to do so. YOU are the one enjoying the dish.

                                                                                                                                                                      14 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Bacardi1
                                                                                                                                                                        Phaedrus RE: Bacardi1 Nov 16, 2012 04:14 AM

                                                                                                                                                                        On the other hand, mindless adherence to habit is equally insidious. Those old school Italians may know something about their cuisine and the reasons for doing or not doing something. And if you tried it their way, you just might experience something different.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Phaedrus
                                                                                                                                                                          erica RE: Phaedrus Nov 16, 2012 04:36 AM

                                                                                                                                                                          Review of new branch of a NYC restaurant under the banner of Parmacotto; I was struck by how many dishes incorporated seafood and cheese. I've been conditoned never to combine the two when preparing Italian dishes, except for a few specifically Sardinian recipes, although I have encountered the combination in the Mezzogiorno.


                                                                                                                                                                          Discussion of dinner at Eataly in NYC, where the poster mentions being served a dish with lobster and Taleggio, which incited a brief debate:


                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: erica
                                                                                                                                                                            huiray RE: erica Nov 16, 2012 05:42 AM

                                                                                                                                                                            Regarding the Parmacotto review: Hmm, I count just two seafood-with-cheese dishes, maybe three if you consider squid ink "seafood". Note the critic was dismayed at his seafood carbonara** "...obscured in too much cheese and egg", while his wife's oysters "...crumbled on top with a buttery mixture of crushed walnuts, bread crumbs, and pancetta..." sound a lot like Oysters Rockefeller which is a USAmerican invention. In any case, consider the targeted clientele and the location: in Manhattan's Upper East Side, for Ladies Who Lunch, folks like "...the bejeweled lady at the table next door drinking her $200 Brunello from a goblet filled with ice cubes."

                                                                                                                                                                            Regarding Eataky and that lobster dish - I presume you mean the sub-thread descending from this post: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8446... . Heh. HEH.

                                                                                                                                                                            ** Why such a dish as "Seafood Carbonara" even exists baffles me.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                              erica RE: huiray Nov 16, 2012 11:45 AM

                                                                                                                                                                              Agreed! True, only three dishes with seafood and cheese but even that many surprised me..

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: erica
                                                                                                                                                                                foodlovergeneral RE: erica Nov 16, 2012 11:56 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                Batali is an American who studied cooking in U.S. and France. In his last 4 years, before he opened his first restaurant, he studied Italian cooking in Italy. So he has a bit of Italian training.

                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: erica
                                                                                                                                                                              foodlovergeneral RE: erica Nov 16, 2012 11:18 AM

                                                                                                                                                                              A friend of mine from Italy went to that restaurant. He thought it was a very good American restaurant. While they have actual Piemontese beef-amazing for the U.S.-the styles are Americanized.

                                                                                                                                                                              Japanese Sushi chefs think Americans put too much soy sauce and wasabi on the fish, covering up it's delicate flavors. I think the same thing applies. Good lobster and good fish are too delicate and delicious to be covered up by a strong intense cheese like parmesian or teleggio.

                                                                                                                                                                            3. re: Phaedrus
                                                                                                                                                                              Bacardi1 RE: Phaedrus Nov 16, 2012 07:05 AM

                                                                                                                                                                              I've had "Spaghetti with Clam Sauce" without cheese (oh - & I'm talking about the white version here), & I still prefer it with a dusting of freshly-grated Parmesan.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Bacardi1
                                                                                                                                                                                huiray RE: Bacardi1 Nov 16, 2012 07:12 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                Chacun à son goût.
                                                                                                                                                                                I suppose, as you said above.

                                                                                                                                                                                p.s. Too kind, with your compliments.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: huiray
                                                                                                                                                                                  foodlovergeneral RE: huiray Nov 16, 2012 11:24 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                  Certain sont mauvais. Mauvaise compréhension de la nourriture crée une mauvaise expérience culinaire.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Bad taste in food makes for bad cuisine.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Certainly the French would not tend that much to agree with "chacun a son gout" in food.

                                                                                                                                                                            4. re: Bacardi1
                                                                                                                                                                              foodlovergeneral RE: Bacardi1 Nov 16, 2012 10:53 AM

                                                                                                                                                                              I think if an old school Italian tells me I am wrong to combine foods a particular way, I will test out his thesis and try it his way to learn about his culture instead of insisting on my own narrow view-"I'm going to put my Kraft cheese on my Olive Garden spaghetti with clams-which is MY preference-regardless of what you say about real Italian food". I suppose anyone can choose whatever they want. But is it a desirable way to enjoy your food experience?

                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: foodlovergeneral
                                                                                                                                                                                erica RE: foodlovergeneral Nov 16, 2012 11:46 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                Agree there, too.

                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: Bacardi1
                                                                                                                                                                                TheCarrieWatson RE: Bacardi1 Apr 9, 2013 09:58 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                A couple of things come to my mind here. I haven't read this entire thread so forgive me if I missed it, but I have not ever heard anyone say WHY cheese/fish are considered an off-limits combination. I've always wondered myself. The other thing that occurs me is that it's surely a matter of degree, and not an absolute. For instance, Spaghetti with Clam sauce. To me, any cream sauce in a pasta is getting some cheese grated in it. I don't think the 'rule' applies as much here because the clams aren't the dominant element. They're being covered in cream sauce for pete's sake - how atrocious is it then, to make that cream sauce taste as wonderful as you can? I believe strongly that in an instance like that, cheese is totally called for. Same with risotto. Are you really not going to put cheese in a risotto because there are prawns in it too? On the other hand, when the star of the show is the seafood then I think, yes, that guideline holds true. I think people are inclined to take that guideline - and that's all it is - a little too literally.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: TheCarrieWatson
                                                                                                                                                                                  Steve RE: TheCarrieWatson Apr 10, 2013 04:57 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                  Here are the Cliff Notes. Just don't ask me about The Canterbury Tales:

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. WHY. cheese strong, expensive fish delicate.

                                                                                                                                                                                  2. MATTER OF DEGREE In theory, sure. But in practice, go ahead and find a seafood risotto recipe with cheese on the internet using ".it" as the domain exclusion. I'll wait here while you Google it.

                                                                                                                                                                                  3. EAT WHAT YOU LIKE. But don't include it in an educational dinner showcasing Italian Fish Cookery.

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Steve
                                                                                                                                                                                    hotoynoodle RE: Steve Apr 10, 2013 07:01 AM


                                                                                                                                                                                    4. FOOD USED TO BE LOCAL. places near the sea did not keep dairy cows so cheese was not common in their cookery or pantry. regardless of everybody on here thinking marcella hazan is the be-all-end-all of italian food, she cooks from emilia-romagna. "italy" only came together as a nation-state in 1861. it was then, and still remains, fiercely provincial.

                                                                                                                                                                                    my family came from near naples. i only had cream sauce on pasta in restaurants. and no, we did not put cheese on fish.

                                                                                                                                                                              3. f
                                                                                                                                                                                foodlovergeneral RE: niki rothman Apr 8, 2013 05:06 AM

                                                                                                                                                                                Often, it seems, cultures that really relish seafood-especially very fresh seafood-by the sea seem to be light handed in terms of flavoring their fish. Real "yueh-tsai" cooking in China is a good example. The fish and vegetables from this region on the Eastern coast of China are very lightly spiced compared to the heavier spicier dishes more inland to the West, such as Szichuan or Hunan. I think when Chinese or Italians came to the states in the 20th century some of the cooking changed because America didn't have such great incredients readily available to most people until late in the 20th century. Hence, people got used to frozen fish.

                                                                                                                                                                                Someone mentioned that their Sicilian American wife thinks "if it tastes good, put it on". In Sicily, they don't put cheese on fish, though some post insists that they do in Sardinia.

                                                                                                                                                                                I think if it tastes good, why not? BUt if it hides the flavor of some fantastic incredient, why?

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