Thursday, December 01, 2011

Garantito IGP: On Culinary Stability

This Time, I Take The Stand:

People tend to view cuisines as monoliths that stretch unchanging into the distant past, and this is specially true in the holiday season, when I get many requests for "the authentic" recipe for this or that specialty. The simple truth of the matter is that there is no "authentic recipe;" every family adds its own special twist to a local tradition, a twist whispered down from generation to generation, and (within reason) every twist is as legitimate as every other.

What many people don't realize, however, is that while there may be continuity from generation to generation, or perhaps for as long as 3-4 generations, this doesn't mean that there will be longer-term continuity. Quite the contrary, things can change radically over the centuries. Artusi was well aware of this, and touches upon it in presenting Zuppa alla Stefani in La Scienza in Cucina:

"The illustrious poet Olindo Guerrini, in his capacity of Librarian of the University of Bologna, has the opportunity, or so it seems, to rummage among the bones of the Paladins of the ancient culinary arts for surprising recipes with which to draw a chuckle from modern cooks.

"He was therefore quite pleased to send me the following recipe, drawn from a booklet entitled The Art of Cooking Well, written by Bartolomeo Stefani, a Bolognese in the service of the Dukes of Mantova in the mid 1600's. In those days all manner of spices and herbs were widely used and abused, and sugar and cinnamon found their way into broth, boiled meat, and roasts.

"In taking over this soup I'm limiting myself, with regards to herbs, to a little parsley and basil; should my Bolognese forbearer criticize me in the afterlife, I shall defend myself by telling him that things have changed for the better. However, as occurs in all things, we have gone from one extreme to the other, and now people are beginning to exaggerate to the point that they omit herbs and spices even where they are necessary. And there's more: some of the ladies who have dined at my house have made the most horrid faces because of just a little nutmeg."

One of the traces an ingredient that has vanished from use may leave behind is its name, and in Tuscany Zenzero provides an interesting example: the word sounds like the many other words derived from the Tamil term for Ginger, and the Italian dictionary indeed says it is the root so common in the East. However, in Tuscany the word zenzero means red pepper, and when I first moved to Italy in 1982 true ginger root, called radice di zenzero to distinguish it from the pepper pods, was extremely difficult to come by, though it must have been present at some point or the name transfer would never have taken place. I did find it once in Florence's central market, and the woman selling it to me asked what it was for. When I replied Chinese cooking, she asked me, quite seriously, if I was Chinese - though I've been mistaken for German many times that was a first.

Since then there has been a flood of Oriental immigration, and now it's easy to find Oriental ingredients, including ginger root, in supermarkets. Italians who buy it use it primarily in ethnic recipes and in desserts. And it is slowly finding its way into Italian cooking; a few years ago Teresa De'Masi (whose is fantastic) included ginger root in a pasta sauce recipe she sent to someone with a surfeit of lemons, and very kindly gave me permission to share it:

Link"Now then...

"Begin by washing the lemon, whose skin should be untreated, quite well. Next, use a thin-bladed paring knife to trim off just the yellow part of the zest, and cut it into thin strips (if you're lazy, like me, you can purchase a lemon peeler, which gets the job done in a jiffy, and makes making limoncino, a tasty liqueur, a snap).

"Set a glass of white wine to heat in a pot with a peeled chunk of ginger, add the julienned lemon zest and a pinch of salt, cover, and simmer for a few minutes. In the meantime lightly beat 4 tablespoons of olive oil and the juice of the lemon in a bowl, with a couple of finely sliced cloves of garlic, lots of minced parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

"Drain the lemon zest, adding the liquid to the rest of the sauce. Cover the bowl and put it in a cool place, stirring it every now and then. Come mealtime, cook your linguine, pour the sauce over them, dust them with a little freshly grated ginger, and serve."

One could do much, much worse, and it's nice to see ginger beginning to appear (reappear?) in Italian recipes.

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

No comments: