So how does one cook like an Italian? By traveling to Italy and eating Italian food in the best restaurants? By going to the markets in Italy and seeing what is on offer in them? By purchasing Italian ingredients from a trusted source and utilizing them in Italian recipes? By taking cooking classes from an Italian or an authority on Italian cuisine? I suggest that yes and no to some or all of these options is the best answer.
While a certain(albeit limited) sensibility about Italian food can be developed from those sources I think cooking “like” an Italian, or like a member of any foreign culture, requires much more than ingredients and technique. The interplay of history, food and culture is rich and understanding the importance of any one of those on the others is crucial to learning about and appreciating them and their impacts on the cuisines they represent. An understanding of any of them singularly, or collectively, can not happen in a vacuum. The interplay between them is always happening and changing but we can learn about them by exploring the past and the present and we can also have some sort of grasp on the future by looking inside and outside of a culture.
In order to “cook like an Italian”, then, one must investigate the relationship of history, food and culture through texts, memories, traditions, stories, photographs and agricultural data. The tools involved in cooking, eating and farming are also relevant to constructing a historical context in which one could learn to “cook like an Italian”. If all of this seems a bit daunting it is because it IS daunting. It is where I come from as a chef who has been cooking the cuisines of Italy, traveling and studying olive oil harvests, trade routes, agriculture and Italian history in the broad sense for over twenty years. The Italian cuisines and the beauty they represent is, at heart, a simple thing. It is a justified glorification of growing good stuff, preparing it simply and appreciating it in a relaxed fashion. Buried in that simplicity is a lot that is not so simple but it is the stuff that forms the taken for granted background of their cuisines.
As spring very slowly approaches we are starting to incorporate some more seasonal ingredients into our specials at cittanuova. Eventually some of the specials will find their way onto our menu. The process is slow and deliberate but hopefully the end result will justify our approach to cooking and menu development.
Over many years of cooking many different cuisines I have to admit a special fondness for the cuisines of Italy. I don’t cook Italian cuisine. I cook Italian cuisines. It is important to make this distinction because Italy, like much of Europe, still clings to regional variations and traditions when it comes to cooking.
Michael came to work with me at Della Femina restaurant in East Hampton in 1997 along with James Carpenter and Harold Dieterle.
I left Della Femina to open Della Femina in NYC. I came back to East Hampton in 2002 to open The 1770 House. Harold has since gone on to television success and has opened three of his own critically acclaimed restaurants in NYC. First Perilla, Kin Shop and most recently The Marrow. James has made his culinary mark as well – three really talented guys!
I want to show off some of Michael’s most recent work in picture form because it is beautiful and delicious! You can view the menu here.
A while back I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Northern Italy to the region of Liguria. Liguria, which is near the border with France and Monaco, is famous for many things. The beautiful Cinque Terre, pesto, lemons, olives and fish from the Mediterranean Sea. The rugged landscapes, the perfumed air and the winding roads make it a region that is easy to love.