Little did I know what we were doing was carrying on an Italian tradition in dining--fare la scarpetta (making the shoe). Scarpetta means shoe in Italian. And to fare la scarpetta means tearing off a piece of bread to mop up the sauce or juices left on your plate, help in getting your food onto the fork or spoon. Nothing goes to waste in Italy, and especially in the impoverished South where my parents came from, one would never leave anything on their plate. Food was life itself. After all, not wasting food is being furbo. And in the South, they don't shy way from having bread with pasta, like they do in the North. What is the preferred type of bread for a scarpetta? Curiously, it is ciabatta, which literally means slipper.
Some say that the expression scarpetta comes from the fact that a torn piece of bread looks like a little shoe. I prefer to think that it really refers to wiping your feet... as wiping the bottom of the plate. Because of the extreme poverty suffered by many of our Southern Italian ancestors, others think scarpetta refers to being so hungry that one would eat the soles of their shoes. Sadly, there is historic evidence of desperate people doing just that, so perhaps there is some truth there.
However, the tradition of using bread to clean up plates goes back to the time of the Romans. I remember reading in my Latin study book how Romans would use bread after a meal to sop up the juices and olive oil on their hands, plates and even the table... and then pop the soppy bread into their mouths. Again, furbo... nothing is wasted. Fare la scarpetta is an ancient tradition indeed.
Go ahead, fare la scarpetta e mangia bene!
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