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hathor

Tradition v. Contemporary Italian Cuisine

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Further to my point about international haute cuisine not being particularly French, I'd like to make a few examples:

Carpaccio of blue fin tuna, eggplant caviar and mozzarella underneath, osetra caviar on top,

Chatham cod with braised fennel, raw fennel and fennel essence

Duck liver terrine with mission figs

I would argue that the only dish that seems connected to France and French cooking is the last one.  The first two could easily have come from fancy restaurants with an Italian name.  But they're sort of not Italian either.  Which is to say that they don't seem like they are "from" anywhere except being out of the kitchen of a very expensive high-end fine dining restaurant.  For some reason, however (probably because they more or less invented it) we don't have any difficulty calling dishes like these "French" when they come out of a restaurant with a French name on the door, but many people would have some difficulty calling the same dishes "Italian" -- despite the fact that I don't see either of those two dishes as being any more connected to France than they might be to Italy.  It's this sort of thing, I think, that can bias people against the idea of Italian restaurant cuisine that moves as far away from Italian cooking as these dishes do from French cooking.  For some reason we're more protective of Italian cooking in our minds -- or less protective of French cooking, take your pick.

Actually the dishes all look/sound modern "American" to me? Not sure why this is true.

These are good points, I wonder if it is type to stop calling haute cuisine "French" by default and to avoid national/regional classifications all together at this level where possible?

People/consumers/individuals, whatever, may be protective about "Italian" cooking simply because they don't automatically link it with "haute cusine", in the same manner as the term "French". If you changed the scale slightly and looked at French food at the regional level, I would imagine that people would get just as protective about what is "real/authentic" etc. If diners in NYC or London had a very stong idea about the identity of the cooking of Picardie, then they would react negatively to a restaurant identifing itself with this region, but serving dishes full of tomato, garlic and olive oil.


Edited by Adam Balic (log)

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In Florence the Fiorentina is a cut of meat.. it does not mean it is from Tuscan beef.

Cesare originally from lucca now has Maremma in New york and raised Chianina beef there.

A florentine steak is a 2 pound t-bone.

But no one here would use the beef from Piemonte to make it and call it a Florentine steak.

When I was working at the Macelleria Cecchini,

I saw Aimo of Aimo and Nadia in Milano, cook a Milanese ( breaded and friend beef) with a cut of the fabulous beef from Piemonte.. where he threw away half of the beef to make it! All of the fabulous fat!

At EATALY they have a fabulous selection of the Bue Grasso! the Fat Steer beef...

lovely!

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I don't take any particular position on the three dishes you ask about, except to observe that they don't strike me as all that Italian -- or all that anything, really.

That was exactly my point.

I guess it's not clear to me what this "point" adds to the discussion. I believe I wrote some time ago in this thread that most culinary traditions when "elevated" to a certain level of haute abstraction don't seem particularly rooted to an actual national cooking. The only reason we call today's haute cuisine "French" is because the French were the first and strongest to go in this direction.

What is  “cippolini onion”? And what exactly makes “branzino saltimbocca” Italian?

You’re kidding me… smoked fennel and Tagiasca olives is “plenty Italian?” From which part of Italy?

This seems pretty simple to understand, and I can't believe you actually don't understand it, but I will humor you nevertheless:

- "cippolini onion" is simply an unfortunate and not uncommon spelling of cipollini, which, as I imagine you know, is the diminutive of cipolla (onion), therefore meaning "small onion." In the United States, this designation is generally applied to the small, flat onions which are popular in Italy.

- What's not "Italian" about branzino saltimbocca? I've had plenty of "saltimbocca" dishes in Italy that were not made with veal (usually with turkey or chicken). What's "not Italian" about branzino (presumably) folded around prosciutto with onion, cabbage and sage? This seems clearly evocative of the "saltimbocca" meme.

- Again, what's "not Italian" about smoked fennel? You mean to tell me that fennel-loving Italians never thought to put fennel on the grill and cook them off with a smoky flavor? I think you must be kidding me.

- The taggiasca olive is an Italian cultivar from Liguria, I believe. So, what exactly is "not Italian" about these olives? Or are you saying that they would never be combined with guinea fowl and smoky fennel in Italy? Really?!

BISTECCA FIORENTINA (for two) 78.

26 oz. grass-fed Piedmontese t-bone steak. Anything wrong here? Didn’t realize that Bistecca Fiorentina was from Piedmontese steak? Also didn’t realize that steak from Piemonte came to the US, but perhaps it does. Does it?

The provenance of the steak is not of crucial importance in "allowing" them to call the steak "bistecca fiorentina." Do you suppose that 100% of the places selling bistecca alla fiorentina in Firenze itself are using Chianina beef from Toscana? Perhaps there is some kind of Italian government regulation to this effect? Regardless, their preparation seems faithful enough to the original that it's certainly not un-Italian. Would it please you more if their menu said "bistecca 'alla fiorentina' style"? Would that make it any more or less "Italian food"?

I really appreciate that you’re trying to humor me and also trying to explain the Italian language. I have many, many problems with the language.

Here, in the extreme north- western part Tuscany, I simply didn’t know that, as you say, cipollini is the diminutivo of cipolla. For the diminutivo, we always say cipollina in the singular and cipolline in the plural, because cipolla is feminine, not masculine. The word cipollini doesn’t exist here (either spelled that way or in the “not uncommon way”), except in local dialect, where it means something entirely different, or as a surname. However, thanks for the grammar lesson.

Here, cipollina is also the name for what you say is “the small, flat onions which are popular in Italy.” We see lots of flat onions here, cipolline, but none of them are small; however, we’re in a small town in Tuscany so we miss a lot of what is popular in the rest of Italy.

Having been to Taggia a lot, I believe the people there would be horrified that those olives would be used for “guinea fowl” with smoky fennel and lemons. Hey, but times are changing and the good folks coming to New York because the dollar is so cheap, and eating at Insieme, might, after eating that dish, think that serving them that way is a good idea. Once again, cultural transformation of food from one area to another... right?

In taking another look at Insieme, some of the dishes from the “traditional” side of the menu would be found in Italy; most are merely the latest version in a long line of Italo-Amercan food, perhaps very good, but having very little to do with what is cooked in Italy today.

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In Florence the Fiorentina is a cut of meat.. it does not mean it is from Tuscan beef.

Cesare originally from lucca now has Maremma in New york and raised Chianina beef there.

A florentine steak is a 2 pound t-bone.

But no one here would use the beef from Piemonte to make it and call it a Florentine steak.

When I was working at the Macelleria Cecchini,

I saw Aimo of Aimo and Nadia in Milano, cook a Milanese ( breaded and friend beef) with a cut of the fabulous beef from Piemonte.. where he threw away half of the beef to make it! All of the fabulous fat!

At EATALY they have a fabulous selection of the Bue Grasso! the Fat Steer beef...

lovely!

I thought the Piemontese were very into boiling their beef. Isn't there a specific breed that is better boiled? Or is it just a specific cut that is better?

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Here, in the extreme north- western part Tuscany, I simply didn’t know that, as you say, cipollini is the diminutivo of cipolla. For the diminutivo, we always say cipollina in the singular and cipolline in the plural, because cipolla is feminine, not masculine.

That would be why I said "not uncommon misspelling." My use of I instead of E at the end was a typo. But, here's the thing: Okay, so the restaurant used a misspelled name. So what? Spellings do not make something more or less "Italian." They were using a commonly-understood-to-Americans word to describe an ingredient from the Italian kitchen. If a restaurant decides calls a pressed sandwich a "panini" instead of a "panino," that makes it an inappropriate use of the language, but the spelling doesn't make the sandwich Italian or not-Italian.

Here, cipollina is also the name for what you say is “the small, flat onions which are popular in Italy.” We see lots of flat onions here, cipolline, but none of them are small; however, we’re in a small town in Tuscany so we miss a lot of what is popular in the rest of Italy.

Lo Zingarelli says: "cippolina [1830] s. f. 1 Dim. di cipolla. 2 Varietà di cipolla con bulbo piccolo, che si mangia fresca, sott'aceto o gener. cotto." Again, I don't quite get your making such a big point out of incorrect namings or spellings on the menu.

Having been to Taggia a lot, I believe the people there would be horrified that those olives would be used for “guinea fowl” with smoky fennel and lemons.

Are you taking the position that the olive cultivar known (but not exclusively called) the taggiasca olive is only grown and properly consumed in Taggia, and that the people of Taggia are the only ones whose practices and opinions as to the culinary use of these olives carries any weight? That is quite a restrictive view of Italian cooking! Considering that one can find cured olives around Italy for sale at retail and employed in restaurants that come from a wide variety of cultivars and regions, I'm wondering why we should care whether the people of Taggia would be horrified to see these olives used for guinea fowl (or faraona, if you prefer) with smoky fennel and lemon?

That's not the point. The point is whether Italians eating such a dish in Italy would say "this is Italian" or "this is not Italian." My experience is that they might say "this is not a traditional dish of this particular region" but would still feel that it's within the range of what they considered "Italian food." But, hey... don't take my word for it. A short google search revealed that the restaurant Ròmilo in Rome had on its menu at one time a remarkably similar dish described as terrina di faraona, finocchio e olive taggiasche, su vellutata di peperoni gialli e sedano glacè. I guess that, in your view, this is "not Italian" and the Taggiesi would be horrified?

Hey, but times are changing and the good folks coming to New York because the dollar is so cheap, and eating at Insieme, might, after eating that dish, think that serving them that way is a good idea. Once again, cultural transformation of food from one area to another... right?

Look... I'm not here to defend the cooking or the menu of Insieme. That's not the question posed in this thread -- which is not about how Italian food is implemented in New York City.

In taking another look at Insieme, some of the dishes from the “traditional” side of the menu would be found in Italy; most are merely the latest version in a long line of Italo-Amercan food, perhaps very good, but having very little to do with what is cooked in Italy today.

Let's examine that. There is on the traditional side of the dinner menu:

- A salad with lettuce, vegetables, shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and balsamic. This is a salad I've had in Italy.

- Spiedini di gamberi. Very Italian. I've had dozens of iterations of this in Italy.

- Vitellone crudo alla Piemontese. Not sure what makes this Piemontese. And it's a tartare-type dish, which I've never had in Italy. However, a short google search for "vitellone crudo" turns up quite a few Italian-language pages with a recipe for this dish.

- Fritto misto alla Lucchese (consisting of deep-fried offal of various kinds). Again, I'm not sure what the connection is to Lucca. However, a short google search reveals that this is quite similar to the traditional fritto misto alla Piemontese. Perfectly Italian, notwithstanding the naming convention I don't understand.

- Chestnut fettucine with venison ragù. Again, chestnut pasta sauced with game ragù (and named after Castagne, as Insieme does) is quite traditional in Italy. The pomegranate garnish isn't particularly traditional, but not enough to make this dish entirely "not Italian."

- A traditional lasagne al forno with béchamel and ragu is perfectly Italian. The use of "green" spinach lasagne is not unprecedented for this dish in Italy.

- Linguine con vongole. Totally traditional.

- Cacciucco alla Viareggina. Totally traditional.

- Arista di maiale arrosto. Totally traditional.

- Lesso misto. Totally traditional.

- Bistecca fiorentina. Other than the use of Piemontese beef, totally traditional (although, as I mention above, I don't believe that Toscana-sourced beef is necessary for this naming, even in Firenze).

- Fagioli all'uccelletto. Totally traditional.

- Roasted potatoes with herbs. Is there a single European culinary tradition where this is not traditional?

- Cavolfiore in umido (cauliflower stewed with sofrito and tomato) is not something with which I am familiar, although nothing in the preparation strikes me as not-Italian. A google search turns up several Italian-language references.

- Polenta. Totally traditional.

So, in what way, exactly, are these dishes "very little to do with what is cooked in Italy today" and merely the "latest version in a long line of Italo-Amercan food"?

I've traveled and worked around in Italy quite a bit, from the big cities like Milano, Roma and Napoli to the medium cities like Firenze, smaller ones like Pesaro and Orvieto, and small towns like Montespertoli and Urbania. Some cities and areas are more hidebound by culinary tradition than others, but have been plenty of restaurants in locales of all sizes and in all regions that made forward-looking food more or less within the general range of that Insieme is doing, and that were well-received by the locals. More to the point, I don't have any doubts that, were I to bring an Italian visitor to Insieme, the food would be recognized as sufficiently within the Italian culinary aesthetic to qualify as "Italian" (whereas, say, Carmine's would not). I have, in fact, done exactly that with Babbo as the restaurant. Few of the Italians I know would be shocked at guinea fowl with smoky fennel, olives and lemon. It almost seems as though, as a part-time American transplant to Italy, you're taking an even more conservative view than most Italians on this question (which I suppose isn't too unusual or surprising -- Catholic converts are often observed to be "more Catholic than the Pope").

So, getting back to the point of this thread, you have to go further from tradition than Insieme does before the contemporary food starts to become only nebulously and notionally "Italian." There is a point where this happens, in my opinion, but as I and others have stated, this is really true of any national cuisine.

As for Italian microregionalism, I have to believe that it's slowly but inexorably (and sadly) on the way out. 40 years ago, the vast majority of Italians spoke dialect in the home as their primary language, now the vast majority of Italians speak Italian in the home as their primary language and the local and regional dialects are disappearing. Similarly, mass media and the much more extensive distribution of ingredients that were formerly only in certain local areas means that Italians are consuming a much wider variety of foods than ever before. Why, I hear that the Milanesi sometimes eat spaghetti with olive oil, and pizza with mozzarella di bufala is sometimes consumed outside of Napoli. Shocking, I know.

Anyway... if you want to talk about traditional versus contemporary Italian cooking in a way that does more than challenge the spelling and naming conventions of a New York City restaurant menu, I'd be happy to do so. But I don't think there's much more useful to say in the current fork of the discussion, so I'll opt out of continuing that any further.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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