A few posts ago, I was inspired by the Trattoria Milanese (via Santa Marta 11, Milano) to write about tomato sauce. Remembering with mouth-watering fondness that meal and wondering, already, when I can hope to repeat it, I am trying to content myself with thinking about the menu, the decor, and the staff’s particularly pleasing way of treating the clientele. (Yes, this is a hearty endorsement.)
Their menu includes a category of dish you sometimes see in Milanese restaurants regarding “piatti da farsi” or—more commonly— “piatti espressi,” in other words, dishes that are made upon request.
The language, in this case, has always interested me. Maybe because of the use of “express” in English to refer to services that are typically speedy and ever speedier so that we never have to suffer anything but immediate gratification, or maybe because I wasn’t paying close enough attention in Latin, I assumed the first time I encountered “piatti espressi” that that they were dishes that would arrive soon after being ordered. My husband set me straight subito (immediately). He informed me that the phrase had nothing whatsoever to do with speed, and that I might, in fact, have to wait longer for it, as it was being made expressly for me.
Aha. And so we can now understand also that a caffe espresso is a coffee that more importantly than being delivered quickly, is made—beginning to end—on the spot for the person who’s requested it. At the Trattoria Milanese, this concept is probably most frequently applied to risotto alla milanese (rice prepared with saffron and veal stock). It is such a common order, that shortly after saying “Hello” the wait staff ask you if you will be having any. That way your “express” order can be placed immediately in the kitchen. It takes about 20 minutes to prepare, and God forbid you should suffer the wait. That’s what antipasti are for.