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hathor

Tradition v. Contemporary Italian Cuisine

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... French cuisine, where the regime of heavy sauces (talk about a cliche of a given era) was overthrown in the 1970s. That kind of heaviness and richness was desirable in another era. Among other things, heavy food was useful for fueling a population mostly dedicated to physical labor, and rich sauces were helpful (in part) to combat the lack of refrigeration and other factors that often made ingredients less than ideal.

For all of my life I have heard people say that French food is "heavy" and for the life of me I can't understand what they are talking about. I have grown up with French food and cooked it all of my adult life (unfortunately we are talking about a span of nearly half a century). Like Julia, my mother also attended the Cordon Bleu while she was on lay-over in Paris when she was a hostess in the 50's. I grew up with Coq au Vin, Boeuf Bourguignon and Poulet au Vin Blanc and the dish most often destroyed nowadays: Vol au Vent. I never thought of any of these dishes as heavy... quite the opposite actually, it was my grandmother's American food that always did me in. Fried Chicken with giblet gravy and mashed potatoes took all day to over-come and Thanksgiving dinner usually put me in bed for 24 hours. Yankee pot roast was another story all together.... add to that, the tremendous amounts of sugar that kept me bouncing off the walls and you really have a cuisine worth bitching about. French food never bothered me nor did I ever consider it heavy or unbalanced in any way.

In properly prepared French cuisine the sauces are balanced, so the use of cream is counter-acted by the acidity of the wine or the addition of some lemon juice. Additionally, when you eat French food you should always drink wine with it. It is part of the meal and without it, the food becomes unbalanced, probably unhealthy and certainly less enjoyable. I had an American friend who didn't like wine but professed to love fine food (especially French). He always ordered ice tea or (more often) a coke. I never understood how he could do this. I mention this only because he died at the age of 37 from a heart attack... c'est la vie.

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Today, that kind of heaviness is passe in France, and in many other countries. Is it passe in Italy? It seems Italy has clung to some of the old heaviness more stubbornly than most. Perhaps this is in part because traditional, local, regional cuisine is a major marketing proposition for Italian tourism. Or perhaps it's because people just like the food that way. Or maybe it's a lack of imagination. Or maybe it's that there are many Italian dishes that at some point reached their Platonic ideals and can never be improved upon, like the best works of Mozart, Rembrandt or Shakespeare. Or maybe if you actually compared dishes now and 50 years ago you'd find that there has been more lightening than a lot of folks assume.

I have to agree with what others have said about Italian food being heavy. Pastas are lightly sauced, meats are barely sauced.

But I have to disagree completely with this statement: "Perhaps this is in part because traditional, local, regional cuisine is a major marketing proposition for Italian tourism."

People here are genuinely, truly passionate about their local food and recipes. They are unaware of current market trends regarding eating locally, eating traditionally, eating seasonal foods. This is just the way that they eat. Period. One of the greatest challenges we face at the restaurant is that locals don't eat out that much. A very sweet older lady friend in town, explained to me that she was very supportive of the restaurant but wouldn't be coming to eat there because, "we don't have the habit to eat out." She then proceeded to tell me how she was making some trout for dinner. The point being that many Italians eat out infrequently, so the assumption that the popularity of 'traditional dishes' is the result of clever marketing, just isn't so.

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I think that one issue is that genius and original thinkers are very very rare and cooking tends to reflect this. When people say that they are against new-style food they are very often refering to mediocre or poor attempts, rather then the food produced by the best of the innovators.

Bravo! Very well said.

On the "heaviness" of Italian cuisine: One thing I have always had the impression of the cuisines of Italy is that that they have been based on the primacy of the ingredient with the emphasis of a dish highlighting the essential elements of one or a few ingredients whether vegetable, starch, meat or fish. My understanding of "classic" French cuisine is that the primary focus of the chef was creating a dish, that although delicious tended to undermine the elements of individual ingredients for the sake of the created dish. As such, deep, flavorful and rich sauces predominated. In this sense, contemporary French cooking has taken a more "Italian" approach.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Today, that kind of heaviness is passe in France, and in many other countries. Is it passe in Italy? It seems Italy has clung to some of the old heaviness more stubbornly than most. Perhaps this is in part because traditional, local, regional cuisine is a major marketing proposition for Italian tourism. Or perhaps it's because people just like the food that way. Or maybe it's a lack of imagination. Or maybe it's that there are many Italian dishes that at some point reached their Platonic ideals and can never be improved upon, like the best works of Mozart, Rembrandt or Shakespeare. Or maybe if you actually compared dishes now and 50 years ago you'd find that there has been more lightening than a lot of folks assume.

I have to agree with what others have said about Italian food being heavy. Pastas are lightly sauced, meats are barely sauced.

But I have to disagree completely with this statement: "Perhaps this is in part because traditional, local, regional cuisine is a major marketing proposition for Italian tourism."

People here are genuinely, truly passionate about their local food and recipes. They are unaware of current market trends regarding eating locally, eating traditionally, eating seasonal foods. This is just the way that they eat. Period. One of the greatest challenges we face at the restaurant is that locals don't eat out that much. A very sweet older lady friend in town, explained to me that she was very supportive of the restaurant but wouldn't be coming to eat there because, "we don't have the habit to eat out." She then proceeded to tell me how she was making some trout for dinner. The point being that many Italians eat out infrequently, so the assumption that the popularity of 'traditional dishes' is the result of clever marketing, just isn't so.

The influence of Slow Food, an international organization started and based in Italy can not be discounted when considering the origins of "current market trends." This organization came into existence primarily because of growing concerns of the erosion of what you just described within Italy.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Some Italian dishes that I find to be particularly heavy or starchy:

Most agnolotti, but especially "d'asino".

Vitello e tonnato.

Risotto, especially made with salsicca or lots of cheese.

Frito misto

Gnocchi and polenta, esp. with gorgonzola or other cheeses

The all time mother of rich foods has to be pizzocheri. One bowl of this stuff and you are good for two or three days.

Face it, Italian food is largely based on starch.

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Today, that kind of heaviness is passe in France, and in many other countries. Is it passe in Italy? It seems Italy has clung to some of the old heaviness more stubbornly than most. Perhaps this is in part because traditional, local, regional cuisine is a major marketing proposition for Italian tourism. Or perhaps it's because people just like the food that way. Or maybe it's a lack of imagination. Or maybe it's that there are many Italian dishes that at some point reached their Platonic ideals and can never be improved upon, like the best works of Mozart, Rembrandt or Shakespeare. Or maybe if you actually compared dishes now and 50 years ago you'd find that there has been more lightening than a lot of folks assume.

I have to agree with what others have said about Italian food being heavy. Pastas are lightly sauced, meats are barely sauced.

But I have to disagree completely with this statement: "Perhaps this is in part because traditional, local, regional cuisine is a major marketing proposition for Italian tourism."

People here are genuinely, truly passionate about their local food and recipes. They are unaware of current market trends regarding eating locally, eating traditionally, eating seasonal foods. This is just the way that they eat. Period. One of the greatest challenges we face at the restaurant is that locals don't eat out that much. A very sweet older lady friend in town, explained to me that she was very supportive of the restaurant but wouldn't be coming to eat there because, "we don't have the habit to eat out." She then proceeded to tell me how she was making some trout for dinner. The point being that many Italians eat out infrequently, so the assumption that the popularity of 'traditional dishes' is the result of clever marketing, just isn't so.

The influence of Slow Food, an international organization started and based in Italy can not be discounted when considering the origins of "current market trends." This organization came into existence primarily because of growing concerns of the erosion of what you just described within Italy.

Good point, but, most of my neighbors have never heard of Slow Food. Which makes me now wonder, is the appeal of Slow Food more on the international level than the national level. I have no idea, I'm just asking. I'm being a little precious when I say that my local friends have never heard of Slow Food, some of them have heard of it, but it means little or nothing to them. Maybe because the name is English? Boh.

Divina, if you are still following this conversation, what about your friends? You are certainly in a more sophisticated area than I am.

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Some Italian dishes that I find to be particularly heavy or starchy:

Most agnolotti, but especially "d'asino".

Vitello e tonnato.

Risotto, especially made with salsicca or lots of cheese.

Frito misto

Gnocchi and polenta, esp. with gorgonzola or other cheeses

The all time mother of rich foods has to be pizzocheri. One bowl of this stuff and you are good for two or three days.

Face it, Italian food is largely based on starch.

It may be based on starch, but for the most part the food is relatively unadorned - including the starches. It is rare to have an Italian dish in which the individual ingredients are not identifiable either visually or by taste. That is not to say that Italian food doesn't or can't have the ability to sit in one's stomach for awhile! :laugh:


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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People here are genuinely, truly passionate about their local food and recipes. They are unaware of current market trends regarding eating locally, eating traditionally, eating seasonal foods. This is just the way that they eat. Period. One of the greatest challenges we face at the restaurant is that locals don't eat out that much.

But we're talking about restaurants. This topic opened with the question, "Is there any reason to cook totally traditional dishes, if you want to be a cut above a trattoria? Can a restaurant attain and/or maintain 'stars' cooking completely traditional, regional foods?" So that's very much a question about tourism marketing.

I mean, the average person in Spain isn't eating El Bulli food at home. The whole culinary avant garde is utterly irrelevant to the average Spanish mother cooking food for a family. Nonetheless, from the perspective of the restaurant industry in Spain, it's very important. It's Spain's big culinary selling point to the world right now. Whereas, Italy's big selling point is "We cook the same food our grandparents cooked, we hate change, our food is simple and old-fashioned, if you walk ten feet your're in a different region, hooray for Slow Food . . ."


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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People here are genuinely, truly passionate about their local food and recipes. They are unaware of current market trends regarding eating locally, eating traditionally, eating seasonal foods. This is just the way that they eat. Period. One of the greatest challenges we face at the restaurant is that locals don't eat out that much.

But we're talking about restaurants. This topic opened with the question, "Is there any reason to cook totally traditional dishes, if you want to be a cut above a trattoria? Can a restaurant attain and/or maintain 'stars' cooking completely traditional, regional foods?" So that's very much a question about tourism marketing.

I mean, the average person in Spain isn't eating El Bulli food at home. The whole culinary avant garde is utterly irrelevant to the average Spanish mother cooking food for a family. Nonetheless, from the perspective of the restaurant industry in Spain, it's very important. It's Spain's big culinary selling point to the world right now. Whereas, Italy's big selling point is "We cook the same food our grandparents cooked, we hate change, our food is simple and old-fashioned, if you walk ten feet your're in a different region, hooray for Slow Food . . ."

We’re missing the point here. The idea of cutting edge in restaurants in Italy is a non starter. I can’t speak for the restaurant situation in Spain, but in Italy we are talking about 10 perhaps 20 restaurants that can carry out cutting edge techniques and/or food combinations. Several restaurants have tried and failed badly (i.e. Fulmine in Trescore Cremasco) or haven’t tried ( Ambasciata in Quistello).A very small number of Italians have any interest in even the few places which can carry it out.

My neighbors, aside from the locals, in the town where I live in Italy are mainly wealthy people from Milan, Bologna, Brescia, Turin, Bergamo, Modena, Florence, etc. These are people who have the money as well as the desire to entertain in restaurants, for both business and social situations. They have absolutely no interest, except perhaps (and that is a very big perhaps) when entertaining stranieri, of going to a cutting edge restaurant. That is simply not their idea of enjoyment. They want to go out and eat food that they can recognize and enjoy, and they want to have a good time. They are not going to restaurants to worship a chef and his/her food creations. They are going to enjoy themselves with family and friends in a restaurant that hopefully serves good food and has at least a few bottles of wine that they know.

I’m talking about the high end of Italian society in terms of financial resources, the only Italians who would even think of going to expensive cutting edge restaurants… and they don’t do it and have no interest in doing it. They might do it when they go to New York or London or Spain, but they are not frequenting those types of restaurants in Italy and never will. Those cutting edge restaurants in Italy are going to be dependent to a large extent on non Italians.

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People here are genuinely, truly passionate about their local food and recipes. They are unaware of current market trends regarding eating locally, eating traditionally, eating seasonal foods. This is just the way that they eat. Period. One of the greatest challenges we face at the restaurant is that locals don't eat out that much.

But we're talking about restaurants. This topic opened with the question, "Is there any reason to cook totally traditional dishes, if you want to be a cut above a trattoria? Can a restaurant attain and/or maintain 'stars' cooking completely traditional, regional foods?" So that's very much a question about tourism marketing.

I mean, the average person in Spain isn't eating El Bulli food at home. The whole culinary avant garde is utterly irrelevant to the average Spanish mother cooking food for a family. Nonetheless, from the perspective of the restaurant industry in Spain, it's very important. It's Spain's big culinary selling point to the world right now. Whereas, Italy's big selling point is "We cook the same food our grandparents cooked, we hate change, our food is simple and old-fashioned, if you walk ten feet your're in a different region, hooray for Slow Food . . ."

We’re missing the point here. The idea of cutting edge in restaurants in Italy is a non starter. I can’t speak for the restaurant situation in Spain, but in Italy we are talking about 10 perhaps 20 restaurants that can carry out cutting edge techniques and/or food combinations. Several restaurants have tried and failed badly (i.e. Fulmine in Trescore Cremasco) or haven’t tried ( Ambasciata in Quistello).A very small number of Italians have any interest in even the few places which can carry it out.

My neighbors, aside from the locals, in the town where I live in Italy are mainly wealthy people from Milan, Bologna, Brescia, Turin, Bergamo, Modena, Florence, etc. These are people who have the money as well as the desire to entertain in restaurants, for both business and social situations. They have absolutely no interest, except perhaps (and that is a very big perhaps) when entertaining stranieri, of going to a cutting edge restaurant. That is simply not their idea of enjoyment. They want to go out and eat food that they can recognize and enjoy, and they want to have a good time. They are not going to restaurants to worship a chef and his/her food creations. They are going to enjoy themselves with family and friends in a restaurant that hopefully serves good food and has at least a few bottles of wine that they know.

I’m talking about the high end of Italian society in terms of financial resources, the only Italians who would even think of going to expensive cutting edge restaurants… and they don’t do it and have no interest in doing it. They might do it when they go to New York or London or Spain, but they are not frequenting those types of restaurants in Italy and never will. Those cutting edge restaurants in Italy are going to be dependent to a large extent on non Italians.

Hello- I may be really off-base with this; but it seems to me that the real question is: Do you want to serve really, really, really good food that Italians would eat, or do you want to serve really, really, really good food that tourists would eat?In my opinion, that is what all this comes down to. Please correct me if I am wrong.

I should add that I am one of those rare :hmmm: tourists who prefers to eat what, where, and how the locals do.


Edited by Naftal (log)

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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...Italy's big selling point is "We cook the same food our grandparents cooked, we hate change, our food is simple and old-fashioned, if you walk ten feet your're in a different region, hooray for Slow Food . . ."

LOL! I laughed so hard that I nearly spilled my Barbera all over my risotto!

I have to say there is some truth to this.


Edited by SWISS_CHEF (log)

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People here are genuinely, truly passionate about their local food and recipes. They are unaware of current market trends regarding eating locally, eating traditionally, eating seasonal foods. This is just the way that they eat. Period. One of the greatest challenges we face at the restaurant is that locals don't eat out that much.

I mean, the average person in Spain isn't eating El Bulli food at home. The whole culinary avant garde is utterly irrelevant to the average Spanish mother cooking food for a family. Nonetheless, from the perspective of the restaurant industry in Spain, it's very important. It's Spain's big culinary selling point to the world right now. Whereas, Italy's big selling point is "We cook the same food our grandparents cooked, we hate change, our food is simple and old-fashioned, if you walk ten feet your're in a different region, hooray for Slow Food . . ."

Regarding the Italian selling point I personally think that is leading a distorted view, but I imagine that similar things were being said about Spain by much of the restaurant world before the development of the El Bulli et al.


Edited by Adam Balic (log)

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...Italy's big selling point is "We cook the same food our grandparents cooked, we hate change, our food is simple and old-fashioned, if you walk ten feet your're in a different region, hooray for Slow Food . . ."

LOL! I laughed so hard that I nearly spilled my Barbera all over my risotto!

I have to say there is some truth to this.

There is always truth in caricature, but in essense it remains a distortion.

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Adam, I believe my characterization is accurate with respect to the way Italian culinary tourism is promoted to the world. I'm not saying Italy is really like that (though other folks posting here are), but all you have to do is pick up any tourism brochure about Italy and you'll hear the fresh, local, simple, regional, traditional mantra repeated in some form or another.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Yes that is fair enough, but I would still say that it a caricature rather then an accurate report - which is what you would expect from a tourist pamphlet no?

The original question was about "Is there any reason to cook totally traditional dishes, if you want to be a cut above a trattoria?". I think that "totally traditional" is very restricting, so I will rephrase the question as:

"If you would like to produce innovative, contemporary cuisine in Italy is there any need to have a basis in traditional cooking?

I think that the short answer is no, there are plenty of examples that demostrate otherwise. But there is no reason why you couldn't either and I feel that given the huge expectation of Italian food as being "fresh, local, simple, regional", I would think that in terms of marketing the food it might be significantly easier.

I think that I said before that genius and original thinkers are very very rare and [restaurant] cooking tends to reflect this. I think that expecting one of these individuals to pop up in Italy (or elsewhere) and create a new wave cooking/restaurants is unrealistic.

Rather then fight the juggernaut of "fresh, local, simple and regional" Italy why not take advantage of the huge marketing tool (and raw ingredient resource) that it represents? I feel that the only real hindernace to somebody that wanted to do this would be lack of imagination and skill, rather then some intrinsic defect in the cuisine.

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Italy's big selling point is "We cook the same food our grandparents cooked, we hate change, our food is simple and old-fashioned, if you walk ten feet your're in a different region, hooray for Slow Food . . .

sounds about right to me.

hathor made a good point that your everyday normal italian doesn't know about the Slow Food movement and would probably look at you with a "BFD" expression on their face if you told them about it. It means nothing to them because it is a totally normal fact of life for them.

Fortdei seems to say it all with his comment. Or at least my experience has been the same.

Some italians will eat contemporary things but only about 3 max 4 times a year, the rest of the time they just want normal italian food ( 5 ingredients or less) - this goes from the really rich globtrotting top manager to the little old lady living down the street to the really super cool "don't touch my sunglasses and of course I have 4 cell phone" dudes.

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Let us please be fair to Italy. In the context of historical cuisine, Italy has really done her share. In fact, I ask you to name one country in all of Europe (or the world) that has contributed more. It was Catherine de Medici that introduced the whole concept of chefs to France, in fact, France should get on her knees in thanks for the Italian contributions to her kitchen. In the 15th century when the most of the world was poking each other with pointy sticks the Italians were building the Sistine Chapel.

Let's also be honest, until recently, what has Spain given the culinary world besides tapas and paella? They have precious little to lose by propagating a fad.

Perhaps the Italians are just sitting the current culinary revolution out.

Don't worry, even today, when Italy cooks, the whole world watches.

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Rather then fight the juggernaut of "fresh, local, simple and regional" Italy why not take advantage of the huge marketing tool (and raw ingredient resource) that it represents? I feel that the only real hindernace to somebody that wanted to do this would be lack of imagination and skill, rather then some intrinsic defect in the cuisine.

Certainly a thought provoking discussion.

Back at the restaurant, here's a real world experience (versus our intellectual discussion): Yesterday we got a beautiful case of pencil asparagus. I asked my Roman co-chef what he had in mind for the asparagus since he brought them into the kitchen. He gave me the 'you have 3 heads' look, and said you boil them in water. I didn't have time to go into the finer points of my love for asparagus and he proceeded to boil the shit out of those poor little aspargus, their heads turning into a soggy mass. Now, my experience in Italy is that 99% of Italians cook all vegetables into a pile of mush and when I've tried more 'al dente' vegetables, the tourists eat them, and the Italians don't. Italians want their vegetables to be pre-chewed. Which is my long winded way of saying, there IS a defect in the cuisine. So, now what? Continue to serve traditional mushy vegetables? Or just quit my whining, and save some of the crunchy, fresh tasting stuff for myself?

Naftal, I agree with you in spirit, but after you've had essentially the same menu put in front of you 10 times at 10 different restaurants, wouldn't want to branch out a little? Sometimes I've felt as if the Umbria Tourist Board mandated the menus!

There are no simple answers, and I'll continue to look for balance.

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One possible corollary of this very interesting discussion is that we should celebrate, promote and cherish any restaurants that experiment with innovative techniques and twists on traditional Italian cuisine. As noted in recent discussions (like THIS one), few Italians are adventurous in terms of exploring other cuisines. Likewise, it is claimed up-thread that many Italians dine out much less regularly than we imagine. All of this suggests that there is a very limited pool of potential clients for innovative cuisine. Indeed, if only 10-20 restaurants pursue any such agenda (as Fortedei notes) in a country of c. 60 million, then these brave pioneers need to be protected and preserved!

I'm being deliberately provocative of course, but it seems to me that the significant, nay overwhelming, focus on the splendid traditional cuisines of the regions means that there is plenty of space for the few experimental places that explore what new techniques might offer long-established ingredients, flavours and combinations. For my part, when visiting these days I like to mix both the classical and the more innovative restaurants, and I enjoy each for what they offer... but when I've lived in Italy for extended periods, I have found myself yearning for something different every two weeks or so - and perhaps new approaches might offer that alternative direction or that bit of difference?

To paraphrase Hathor's original point, I like trying 'contemporary' Italian cuisine because I'm simply very curious to see what materialises when traditional preparations and techniques are re-assessed: at worst, there's no harm in popping outside the food museum now and again; at best, these places may nudge the boundaries in new directions?

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Now, my experience in Italy is that 99% of Italians cook all vegetables into a pile of mush and when I've tried more 'al dente' vegetables, the tourists eat them, and the Italians don't. Italians want their vegetables to be pre-chewed

On a side note to this. A German friend of mine has her new-agey theory on the fact of most italians boiling the shit outta veggies.

Basically italians yell and scream all day and are very emotional people so when they eat they need something soft and soothing.

Germans, on the other hand, are uptight and don't let their feelings out so they eat lots of hard raw vegetables to get some of the angry energy out.

(obviously not all italians/germans are like this).

Hathor - finding a balance is not an easy task.

Some restaurants around here have the regular menu but then they have a few tricks up their sleeves for "traditional" tastebuds or "contemporary" tastbuds" - depending on which type of restaurant it is.

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Back at the restaurant, here's a real world experience (versus our intellectual discussion): Yesterday we got a beautiful case of pencil asparagus. I asked my Roman co-chef what he had in mind for the asparagus since he brought them into the kitchen. He gave me the 'you have 3 heads' look, and said you boil them in water. I  didn't have time to go into the finer points of my love for asparagus and he proceeded to boil the shit out of those poor little aspargus, their heads turning into a soggy mass. Now, my experience in Italy is that 99% of Italians cook all vegetables into a pile of mush and when  I've tried more 'al dente' vegetables, the tourists eat them, and the Italians don't. Italians want their vegetables to be pre-chewed.  Which is my long winded way of saying, there IS a defect in the cuisine.  So, now what? Continue to serve traditional mushy vegetables? Or just quit my whining, and save some of the crunchy, fresh tasting stuff for myself?

There are no simple answers, and I'll continue to look for balance.

:shock::hmmm::laugh:

Thanks for bringing us back to earth. Sounds tragic and I think you've pinpointed the inspiration for Gerber's baby food. On the other hand, "al dente" vegetables arouse controversy even in the States where they're popular; it might be James Peterson who writes a polemic against the trend.

...but, forgive me, Hathor, this situation is shades of the Whole Foods feast in Omnivore's Dilemma: asparagus in September? :wink:

Your concluding remark sounds as if you will find a solution. I guess the chef who buys the produce w specific preparations in mind has first dibs until you settle into enough a routine to define standards. If there are days Erba Luna closes and you do mre than sleep, I think you need to invite the Roman over and ply him with wine and vegetables cooked to your liking.


"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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there IS a defect in the cuisine.

You can add bread with no salt to that list.

Perfection is a rarity in this world. No serious scholar of Mozart or Shakespeare (or Italian cuisine) would argue that every note, every word (or every recipe) is flawless. There's room for improvement, and when people stop acknowledging that, instead believing that everything has already reached its Platonic ideal and can never progress, they stop improving.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Rather then fight the juggernaut of "fresh, local, simple and regional" Italy why not take advantage of the huge marketing tool (and raw ingredient resource) that it represents? I feel that the only real hindernace to somebody that wanted to do this would be lack of imagination and skill, rather then some intrinsic defect in the cuisine.

Certainly a thought provoking discussion.

Back at the restaurant, here's a real world experience (versus our intellectual discussion): Yesterday we got a beautiful case of pencil asparagus. I asked my Roman co-chef what he had in mind for the asparagus since he brought them into the kitchen. He gave me the 'you have 3 heads' look, and said you boil them in water. I didn't have time to go into the finer points of my love for asparagus and he proceeded to boil the shit out of those poor little aspargus, their heads turning into a soggy mass. Now, my experience in Italy is that 99% of Italians cook all vegetables into a pile of mush and when I've tried more 'al dente' vegetables, the tourists eat them, and the Italians don't. Italians want their vegetables to be pre-chewed. Which is my long winded way of saying, there IS a defect in the cuisine. So, now what? Continue to serve traditional mushy vegetables? Or just quit my whining, and save some of the crunchy, fresh tasting stuff for myself?

Naftal, I agree with you in spirit, but after you've had essentially the same menu put in front of you 10 times at 10 different restaurants, wouldn't want to branch out a little? Sometimes I've felt as if the Umbria Tourist Board mandated the menus!

There are no simple answers, and I'll continue to look for balance.

Hi-Actually, I like the idea of doing the al dente thing. At least the food will still look like food. :biggrin: It occurs to me now, that what I object to is not innovation per se rather, it is the tendency of food to look like a science fair project :shock: or like it came from a sculptor's or painter's studio (instead of from a kitchen)that I have a problem with. Though I know that I am in the minority here...


"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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There is a demographic aspect to Italian cuisine which we have not really discussed.

During the first half of the century our village had 3000 people and today we have 200. For the last 50 years Italians have moved out of the country and into the cities. That is especially true in the Piedmont where the car factories in Turin practically vacated the small villages like mine. Additionally the "city" Italians tended to look forward to the future and shun the past and small town ways. This led to a big decline of the traditions and local foods and a boom of cheap, fast food.

Today people like Paolo Massobrio and Carlo Petrini are helping Italians to be proud of their roots and look with-in instead of constantly craving everything new from the US and other trendy countries. And it is working.

Italy had an image problem and part of the recuperation process is getting in touch with their roots and feeling good about their cuisine. This explains the current fascination with tradition... it's the "big new thing" here. Once this period cools off, they will have the self-confidence to experiment on a larger scale.

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Now, my experience in Italy is that 99% of Italians cook all vegetables into a pile of mush and when I've tried more 'al dente' vegetables, the tourists eat them, and the Italians don't. Italians want their vegetables to be pre-chewed

On a side note to this. A German friend of mine has her new-agey theory on the fact of most italians boiling the shit outta veggies.

Basically italians yell and scream all day and are very emotional people so when they eat they need something soft and soothing.

Germans, on the other hand, are uptight and don't let their feelings out so they eat lots of hard raw vegetables to get some of the angry energy out.

(obviously not all italians/germans are like this).

Hathor - finding a balance is not an easy task.

Some restaurants around here have the regular menu but then they have a few tricks up their sleeves for "traditional" tastebuds or "contemporary" tastbuds" - depending on which type of restaurant it is.

:laugh::laugh::laugh:

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