Alfredo's, Rome eatery with heroic past, delicious present
Owners helped Jewish families during World War II17 April, 16:01
(ANSA) - Rome - Italians named Alfredo often hear the glib exclamation Fettuccine! when they introduce themselves to foreigners, especially North Americans.
Alfredo Di Lelio, a Roman chef and restaurant owner from the early 1900s, may not have invented pasta al burro (pasta with butter), but his interpretation, the iconic Fettuccine Alfredo, carries his name and has been savored worldwide since the 20s. Millions of recipes are floating around, including one in the classic US cookbook Joy of Cooking and many believe that the creamy sauce is an invention of Italian Americans. ''Not so,'' the current owner of Rome's famous Vero Alfredo restaurant, Isa Di Lelio, granddaughter of Alfredo I, told ANSA.
''My grandfather Alfredo's pasta, made even richer with three parts butter instead of two, was prepared for his wife when she was pregnant with my father, before he added it to his restaurant's menu in 1908''. Yet Alfredo's rich and nutritious creation went on to feed much more than his wife and the paying public. ''We went underground in 1944 when occupying forces in Rome began to round up Jewish families,'' one of those people, 84-year old Donatella Limentani, told ANSA. ''We had no game plan, no extra food supplies, we just knew that our only chance to live was to go into hiding''.
Alfredo's son Armando, later known as Alfredo II, was a long-time friend of Limentani's uncle Bruno and did not hesitate to help the family, along with many others in need. ''The risks were not only imprisonment, but torture and even death. Regardless, they made sure we had food,'' recalled Limentani, her voice wrought with emotion after more than 50 years. ''In the worst of times, they may have only had two spoonfuls themselves, but one went to us''. Before the war, Armando and Bruno had been the classic, bon vivant friends, arm-in-arm, reveling in the finer side of Rome's social life. It was, after all, a time when Hollywood stars flocked to the city and entertainment poured from the city's many venues.
As early as the 1920s Hollywood personalities began to frequent Alfredo's. Among the first were Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, who gifted the golden fork and spoon to Alfredo that have now become part of the restaurant's logo. Upon returning to Hollywood, they gushed about Alfredo's culinary finesse so much that the restaurant became a ''must do'' on the list of stars and VIPs visiting the Eternal City.
Some 90 years later, the significance of the golden cutlery has become even more symbolic. Eliana Pavoncello, daughter of Donatella Limentani, told ANSA: ''I had been working with the restaurant for events, looking at the logo every day and seeing their cutlery, then, one day at my mother's. ''I realized that the knife I was about to set the table with was the same design as the one used at Alfredo's - identical to the original gift from Pickford and Fairbanks,'' she said, smiling. ''It was like a bulb lighting up. One of the cornerstone symbols of the restaurant came from my grandparent's store, Limentani's. ''Our families were somehow bonded even before they knew it''. To celebrate the daily sustenance they received as children in hiding, then 14-year old Limentani and her seven-year-old brother wrote a rhyme they would sing when their aunt Margaret would return from Alfredo's restaurant with their daily bread. ''It is a children's song,'' she reminisced. ''But it was part of our ritual that kept us hopeful. It let our minds feel free... hunger is a physical sensation, but also the lack of freedom was insatiable. ''In a time when it was hard to know who was truly your friend the proof of one family's friendship came to us every day wrapped in a checkered table cloth''. Di Lelio said simply that: ''my father was a generous person. I am moved by stories I hear about him to this day''. Fettuccine Alfredo is a ubiquitous part of Italian cuisine worldwide. Just as the restaurant on Piazza Augusto Imperatore, with its volumes of guest books and snapshots of stars, politicians and personalities spanning 10 decades, is engraved into Roman culinary history, so will Alfredo and son remain in the unwavering memories of the families they helped save. Rhyme by Donatella Limentani while in hiding, 1944: Dring Dring Dring Di chi e' la suonatina Che sentiamo ogni mattina? E' la tua Margaretina Con la borsa col faggoto Tu di corsa entri in cucina E ci porti da mangiare Con amore Margaretina.
Translation: Jingle jingle jing Whose is that ring We hear every morning? It is yours, little Margaret With your purse and tiffin you rush to the kitchen And you bring us our food With love, little Margaret.