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Osterie d'Italia by Slow Food


Craig Camp
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Sorry, guys. Been there, etc.

Let's do something useful. You'll see, Steve will be productive if we devise a specific project, especially if it has to do with wine.

Besides, you can all go over to the "3 things on a plate" thread, where a kind of surreal irrelevance still holds sway.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Besides, you can all go over to the  "3 things on a plate" thread, where a kind of surreal irrelevance still holds sway.

Bloody ingrate. If we hadn't been distracting Plotnicki over there he'd have been spending more time over here trashing Italian food.

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I am looking for the description of a high cuisine. Pasta that my grandmother can make is not high cuisine.

Again, you are 100% correct. Pasta that your grandmother makes is NOT high cuisine, nor was the pasta that my grandmother made. However the pasta that my ex-wife (from Piemonte Bill - Ivrea La Bella to be precise) could, when she wanted, be alta cucina.

Anyway Steve, I understand that you don't even like pasta (not even your grandmother's pasta cotta) so, as I've said many times, you are in no position to judge Italian cucina (sort of like a Jew going to St. Johns and being asked to judge the pork bellies or a Hindi being asked to critique Berne's Steak House).

However I do like the idea of an Italian database. Excel would be easier, I think, for non-computer people whilst Access (obviously) for those that can. Either way it's a great idea and we could all share and access the same DB with our own comments etc. What a wonderful idea, where do I sign up?

Edited by peterpumkino (log)
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Peter - Even though I have little affection for pasta, you misquote me so many times that I need to correct you. I haven't said I don't like pasta, if you read my pasta thread, I have an entire list of pasta dishes that are fabulous. Including a number of dishes in Italy. What I say is that pasta is usually not worth eating because it is made poorly or is just an extra course that has no meaning to the meal.

Pasta was a way for people to have a filling meal when they didn't have much money. You could afford to buy a small amount of meat, make a ragu etc., and flavor the pasta. Every cuisine has their variation of this. Eastern European Jews ate egg noodles with pot cheese (like cottage cheese) with cinammon etc. Flour mixed with water into a paste and then dried is a foundation of home-style cooking because it didn't cost many zlotas to make it.

The odd thing about pasta and Italian restaurants is that at the high end, why restaurants didn't reject pasta as everyday food? Can you imagine if the British had the same fascination with sandwiches, and that there was a sandwich course in the middle of every meal. Yes, in the middle of your meal at St. John, you ordered a small, fancy sandwich. Why? Well it's a sandwich, and you have to have a sandwich course with every meal. Or how about a pie course? Dinner at Gordon Ramsey for an appetizer, pie, main dish, dessert and home.

Pasta can be great, but most of what you are served is junk. Cibreo in Firzenze has the right idea. They don't serve pasta because they say to make it perfectly, you have to make it perfectly for each order and they say that is too time consuming. Too bad this concept didn't catch on with more high end restaurants in Italy. Because IMO, the cuisine is chained to a concept that doesn't need to be part of the high end dining exprience anymore. There would be much more culinary evolution in Italy if they could shed the pasta course from the fine dining experience. And it would have no impact on what you eat at your local delcicious tratorria.

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The odd thing about pasta and Italian restaurants is that at the high end, why restaurants didn't reject pasta as everyday food?

Steve, Steve, Steve. I'm sorry I have not misquoted or misunderstood you at all, your post demonstrates this.

Yes, your so right that originally pasta was a filler and your also right in that cultures over the centuries have their fillers too (india and china had/have rice for example) - however what we had in Britain was NOT sandwiches (invented by the Earl of Sandwich less than 2 centuries ago) - we had................. potatoes. Now you know exactly what can be done with potatoes when you try. For me there is not much that can beat roast potatoes perfectly roasted with excellent gravy (plus a roast joint of course).

That's the UK way.

The Italian way was to use pasta as the filler and they developed this over the centuries to provide unbelievably varied dishes, some innovative, some complicated some very simple, which form a major part of what is considered as.......Italian cucina. That's Italian food.

Can you get it in your head Steve, THAT IS ITALIAN FOOD!!!!!!

If, as you suggested, you took away the pasta course you would take away 2,000 years of care and culture, taste and good humour and you would end up with what? Certainly not Italian food that's for sure.

So admit it once and for all, you do not like pasta, that's the bottom line and that is exactly why you cannot like or appreciate Italian food.

PS I couldn't care less what one restaurant in Firenze says! There you go again quoting other people, pity there isn't a guide book called 'Italy Without The Pasta Course' as you would buy ten copies and quote them constantly. :smile:

Edited by peterpumkino (log)
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Okay, next time I'm at Gordon Ramsey, I'm going to order a jacket potato and gravy to have as a course by itself.

Steve, Steve, Steve.....that's a very silly statement. We're not talking about Ramsay, we're not talking about the UK, we are talking about Italian food and the importance of pasta within the cucina. Italian food is a question of balance and, to be very honest, the main course in Italy is usually pretty simple. Main courses in Italian food do not have lots of side dishes as we have in Britain and that is exactly why the Pasta course and the antipasti course are so important to Italian cucina. Without them you would not have anything substantial. Geddit!!!?????

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Italian food is a question of balance and, to be very honest, the main course in Italy is usually pretty simple.

I know that. I don't like that. I find it a primitive approach to cuisine. It is fine on the tratorria level, but a failure on the grand restaurant level, which is the level I'm very interested in dining at if you haven't noticed. But we've tread that ground before so let's not go there again.

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I like timballo di maccheroni.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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What I find truly astonishing about this thread is people's refusal to recognize that everyone (yes, even Steve) is entitled to his or her own opinion. It just goes on and on and on with people stating different opinons, but no new arguments being made.

Clearly Steve has a very set view of what grand cuisine is, and that view is different from those of others. So what? Some people like Picasso or Pollack and others don't. Once you get down to the reasons for the difference of opinion being a fundamental difference in definitions, as here, there is nothing more to say. So why has everyone put so much energy into this? Why wasn't this just a one page thread?

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Yeh, several recipes are in "Ma Cuisine", which is his 'home cooking' book. Mostly tarted up with truffles, foie gras, cream etc. It was really popular late 19th C. dish, you seen it many cooking books from that era.

Steve- I have fallen for you Americans with you pasta and scampi before. I order "Spagetti with Scampi sauce" in DC, no scampi. Cheapskates.

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Ba-dum.

I think Peter is taking a reasonable line here. Bill made heroic efforts yesterday to find an example of an Italian dish which met Steve's standards. And he got "kreplach" as a response. I think that's the wrong strategy for addressing Steve's position. First - and he'll correct me if I'm wrong - when he measures Italian cuisine against french cuisine, he doesn't mean French home-cooking, or country cooking, or cuisine bourgeois. Nor, I think, does he mean the main historical stream of haute cuisine which came down from Escoffier - I find it hard to imagine Steve eating and enjoying dishes like poularde a la financiere. What Steve really likes to point to are the relative handful of very pricey four star restaurants creating a certain kind of rarified post-nouvelle cuisine.

Attempting to identify dishes from another country's cuisine which would sit comfortably on one of these menus is, I suspect, a pretty futile quest. Similarly, discussing how traditional dishes from another cuisine could be refined or altered so that they would fit Steve's preferred profile, is to contemplate the original dish being changed beyond recognition.

I think it's more appropriate simply to deny that the cuisine Steve prefers provides standards which are applicable to quite different cuisines. It's one thing for Steve to say he likes the kind of food he does, and rejects food that doesn't make that cut; it's quite another - and illegitimate - thing to hold that his esoteric tastes provide appropriate standards for everything from pasta to fish and chips to curry.

Edit to take account of Claude's post: Indeed, but Steve thinks he's not advancing an opinion as to his preferences, but offering a yardstick against which any competent judge would conclude that Italian food is inferior. Now, at one level, it doesn't matter tuppence, as he's not convincing anyone. At another level, it can be amusing to argue about.

Edited by Wilfrid (log)
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Ba-dum. 

I think Peter is taking a reasonable line here.  Bill made heroic efforts yesterday to find an example of an Italian dish which met Steve's standards.  And he got "kreplach" as a response.  I think that's the wrong strategy for addressing Steve's position.  First - and he'll correct me if I'm wrong - when he measures Italian cuisine against french cuisine, he doesn't mean French home-cooking, or country cooking, or cuisine bourgeois.  Nor, I think, does he mean the main historical stream of haute cuisine which came down from Escoffier - I find it hard to imagine Steve eating and enjoying dishes like poularde a la financiere.  What Steve really likes to point to are the relative handful of very pricey four star restaurants creating a certain kind of rarified post-nouvelle cuisine.

Attempting to identify dishes from another country's cuisine which would sit comfortably on one of these menus is, I suspect, a pretty futile quest.  Similarly, discussing how traditional dishes from another cuisine could be refined or altered so that they would fit Steve's preferred profile, is to contemplate the original dish being changed beyond recognition.

I think it's more appropriate simply to deny that the cuisine Steve prefers provides standards which are applicable to quite different cuisines.  It's one thing for Steve to say he likes the kind of food he does, and rejects food that doesn't make that cut; it's quite another - and illegitimate - thing to hold that his esoteric tastes provide appropriate standards for everything from pasta to fish and chips to curry.

Edit to take account of Claude's post:  Indeed, but Steve thinks he's not advancing an opinion as to his preferences, but offering a yardstick against which any competent judge would conclude that Italian food is inferior.  Now, at one level, it doesn't matter tuppence, as he's not convincing anyone.  At another level, it can be amusing to argue about.

OK, you disagree with Steve. And nobody is going to convince him (at least publicly, for there is a whiff of troll in his responses). So what?

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That's an easy one Claude. It's because when someone like me says that X is better then Y for the following reasons, people who are partial to Y hear that statement as saying, you shouldn't enjoy Y. And I have to admit, I'm guilty of that as well sometimes. Nobody likes to hear their favorite ending up in second place. What's funny about it (and I don't mean haha,) is that in a debate among French and Italian wines, a statement that says there are no greater wines then Burgundy and First Growth Bordeaux doesn't bring much consternation. But if you switch the topic to food, people lose the objectivity they bring to wine and they get defensive about it for some reason.

Wilfird - Though you laughed at my kreplach joke, you missed the point of it. No pasta dish would contain enough culinary technique to meet the standards I am applying. No matter how good it is. Not that a pasta dish can't be part of a haute cuisine meal. The Provencal chefs used to include lobster, foie gras, truffle ravioli in their cuisine. But I was really asking Bill for something more then that. What I was looking for was a dish that came out of Italy that had the culinary impact of the Troisgros Salmon in Sorrel Sauce. Or, my favorite example, the Robuchon mashed potatoes. Not only are those dishes not esoteric, but they influenced every single haute cuisine chef in the entire world. I'd like Bill, or anyone else for that matter, to name an Italian chef or their dish that has the same amount of impact on the fine dining scene as the almost countless number of dishes I could name that came out of three star restaurants in France.

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What's funny about it (and I don't mean haha,) is that in a debate among French and Italian wines, a statement that says there are no greater wines then Burgundy and First Growth Bordeaux doesn't bring much consternation.

Says who? That thread is on the way.

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No pasta dish would contain enough culinary technique to meet the standards I am applying. No matter how good it is.

Are not the best wines made by winemakers who intervene as little as possible? Certainly they have the same knowledge of technique as those winemakers making mass market wines which are created using only technology and technique.

The art is knowing when to leave something alone.

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Claude and Wilfrid, you are both right. There are too many people with too much worthwhile information to share on eGullet to keep beating this dead horse. I participated primarily to hold Steve accountable for some of his more outrageous and least supportable statements, but at at the end of the day, "Chacun a son gout." Steve seems to crave whatever will succeed El Bulli, which, as nearly as I can determine, is the finest and ultimate expression of FRENCH technique in the world today (at least since Freddy Girardet closed shop in Crissier). He just does not appear to be able to seek that out without doing so at expense of cuisines and styles that he either does not like, does not understand, or both. I actually sent Craig a private e-mail addressing his original subject today, because I decided that posting it here would be a non sequitur at best on this thread. It's a free e-country, but it's time to return the Italy segment of eGullet back to the discussion of Italian food, accepted on its own terms. It is far more valuable to discuss the good, bad and indifferent things about Italian food than it is to try to measure it against a mythical (or at least, ever-changing) standard of a single person who doesn't seem to appreciate the genius inherent in the simplicity of the best Italian cooking. To be sure, I do not think Steve is a bad person, and I will be happy to rise to the bait from time to time, but in another forum, not this one.

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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Wilfird - Though you laughed at my kreplach joke, you missed the point of it. No pasta dish would contain enough culinary technique to meet the standards I am applying. No matter how good it is.

I get your point all too well. My point, however, is that pasta dishes don't require the sort of techniques which impress you to be good; neither do countless other dishes; nor is it relevant - as my old signature suggested - whether they influence other chefs in that really relatively small circle of which you approve. Your yardstick is randomly chosen to relflect your own preferences, and your only real defense of it as a general yardstick is to point to menu prices.

Bill and Claude - points taken. There really is no aim to the debate, other than to amuse oneself to the extent one finds it amusing.

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Well I've probably had as many arguments with Steve as anybody but in this case I concur with him up to a point :blink:

The question to ask for me is whether adherence to a pasta course as an inescapable part of an Italian restaurant meal is holding back chefs from developing less simple approaches to their starters and main courses.

The much heralded "simplicity" of Italian main courses may be a direct result of people not wishing to eat anything that's not fairly simple as the edge has already been taken off their appetites by a pasta course. By the time they've had bread, a starter and a pasta, the main course has become a less relevant affair. It's well known that people's appetites for bulk quantity are not what they were for reasons we all know. The type of meal that involves eating a bowl of pasta in the middle, however good that pasta is, means that chefs are left with little incentive to get people to focus down on really emphatic and creative main courses, or even starters.

It may be this innately conservative approach to meal structure which is "holding back" Italian cuisine at the highest level and cramping creative chefs' styles. Maybe at a certain level Italian meals do need "liberating" from the pasta course.

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Well I've probably had as many arguments with Steve as anybody but in this case I concur with him up to a point :blink:

As a traitor to my own people, I sort of agree too. Reminds me of Marinetti's Proto-Facsist Futurist essay "Against Pasta":

Above all we believe necessary: a) The abolition of pastasciutta, an absurd Italian gastronomic religion. It may be that a diet of cod, roast beef and steamed pudding is beneficial to the English, cold cuts and cheese to the Dutch and sauerkraut, smoked [salt] pork and sausage to the Germans, but pasta is not beneficial to the Italians. For example it is completely hostile to the vivacious spirit and passionate, generous, intuitive soul of the Neapolitans. If these people have been heroic fighters, inspired artists, awe-inspiring orators, shrewd lawyers, tenacious farmers it was in spite of their voluminous daily plate of pasta. When they eat it they develop that typical ironic and sentimental scepticism which can often cut short their enthusiasm.

edit to cite: excerpt from The Manifesto of Futurist Cooking by F.T. Marinetti

Edited by The Camille (log)
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First, Camille and Tonyfinch, thanks for the first real progress in this thread in a while. If that had been Steve's point (and I'm not convinced that it is), some progress could have been made. A couple of thoughts-it is true that the full monte experience at most serious Italian ristoranti will include the pasta course. In the Piemonte, the custom is three antipasi, pasta, a secondo (entree), possibly with contorni (side dishes), maybe a cheese course, and dessert. If the portions are large, such meals are absolutely punitive. However, the best restaurants often keep the portions to a size where the overall effect is no worse than any comparable menu degustation, and in the very best, you can have a taste of everything and not even be particularly full. Also, I have noticed that most Italians rarely request all of the courses, even in fixed price situations, although I have not observed a tendency to skip the pasta course, which often exhibits lightness and a good deal of creativity. It seems to depend upon what the restaurant does best, and how hungry the diners are. I also notice that, for dietary reasons, many of our Italian friends will eat pasta only at lunch (sometimes only with a salad and then maybe a little cheese, since many Italians prefer dolci only with coffee mid-morning or mid-afternoon) , presumably on the theory that it will be worked off in the afternoon. A final thought-there are many Italian restaurants where the secondo never seems to measure up to the quality of the antipasti and the pasta, but after some reflection, I suspect that this problem is common to many cuisines. I certainly find that to be true in the U.S.

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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