Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A CONVERSATION BETWEEN COOKS

Chef Joseph Asks Don Vito to Define “Authentic” Italian Cuisine

Vito De Carolis is about as authentically Italian as you can imagine. A native of the city of Torino (Turin), he and his wife, Daniela own a home there that is 600 years old. Vito grew up loving cooking and worked at a very early age at a small food shop named “Il Pastificio”. (See a previous blog post entitled “Where My Love for Cooking and Eating All Began”).

Cooking and eating is considered an art in Italy

He not only understands the specialties of his native Italy, (where cooking and eating is considered an art) but also possesses a commanding knowledge of many other international cuisines. I have spent my adult life working in kitchens all across North America, but I never cease to be amazed by Vito’s extraordinary insights into food, culture and cooking.

On a warm summer day recently I had the opportunity to ask him some very basic questions about food in his homeland. I always know that I’m getting ready to learn something interesting when he prefaces a statement in his rich and pleasing accent with “In the Piedmont region (or other regions) of my country…..”

Like so many of the other cuisines of the world there is not just one single Italian Cooking. There are in fact, many regional specialties throughout Italy that are quite varied. Many dishes are not just regional but reflect the tastes and flavors of specific cities as a result of the isolation that the city states experienced during the middle ages. The foods that many Americans identify as “Italian” are actually dishes that have evolved to reflect American tastes and in some cases are American creations.

Don Vito and every day Italian food

Vito defines “authentic Italian” as “local food that is eaten daily on a regular basis by typical Italian families, not the cooking that is to be found in the fancy restaurants”.

He uses as an example his Insalata Mista, an everyday mixed salad with a Vinaigrette dressing. The way this salad is served is unlike both the American custom of the salad at the beginning of the meal and the French tradition of serving salad after the entrée. Italians enjoy their salad as a side dish served along with the entrée. See the end of this post for a recipe for this salad and classic Italian Vinaigrette, using only sea salt, wine vinegar and olive oil.

Another simple dish often misunderstood by Americans is Tomato Sauce. De Carolis says, “Until about 40 years ago every Italian family possessed their own Tomato Squeezer. The best fresh tomatoes were only available in August and everyone would buy large amounts, often 10 to 20 cases at a time. The following week was a nightmare because of the hard work involved in grinding the fresh tomatoes by hand”.

A dying custom

The fresh tomatoes were then cooked with olive oil, celery, onion, carrots and basil. The finished sauce was sealed in sterilized jars and stored for use throughout the year. Because of the heat involved, this activity was usually accomplished outside. “This is a custom that is now dying out because fresh tomatoes are on the market year round and there are good commercial sauces such as the Oliveri products available through Avanti Savoia”, reflects the gentleman from Torino.

Classic Ragu is a sauce made from tomato sauce and minced beef and pork, seasoned with only thyme or rosemary. Vito notes that butcher shops to this day still package meat with large sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme or bay leaves.

A new addition to American cooking

A comparatively new addition to American cooking is the use of Balsamic Vinegars. Up until several decades ago this product was not even available commercially. Balsamic Vinegars originated in the Modena and Reggio provinces of Emilia- Romagna and were consumed as a digestive at the end of a meal. Also, Balsamic was employed to add flavor to sauces, and with cheese or over ice cream.

It was NOT used as a salad dressing, even though younger Italians are using Balsamics with their salads possibly as a result of modern marketing. Italians still do not serve a salad containing cheese with a Balsamic Vinegar. Served with cheese alone yes, but not with a salad containing cheese. However, if you should choose to substitute Balsamic vinegar for wine vinegar in vinaigrette, use 1/3 of the amount of balsamic vinegar called for in the recipe.

An enlightening experience with a knowledgeable source

A conversation with Don Vito is always a fun and enlightening experience with a knowledgeable source. We hope that you will enjoy this information and recipes from Avanti Savoia’s Italian partner. For more detailed information on the history of Italian cuisine see our next post.

Buon Appetito!

Don Vito’s Salad with Italian Vinaigrette

In a salad combine equal parts of the following ingredients:
Fresh lettuce
Shredded Radicchio
Cucumber, chopped
Tomato, chopped
Red Onion, that has been cut into small strips, soaked in cold water one hour and drained

Classic Italian Vinaigrette:
Ingredients: (*Avaiable at Avanti Savoia)
Fine sea salt to taste (Vito recommends *Sel de Mer, fine #35021)
1 part *Red (# 25001) or *White (#25002) Wine Vinegar
3 parts extra virgin olive oil such as *Marcinase from the Puglia region (#10001)

1. In a small mixing bowl, immediately before serving; whisk salt with vinegar until
mixture begins to foam.
2. Beat in oil until smooth and toss with salad ingredients, serve and enjoy!

3 comments:

jLynn said...

Great article! Looking forward to reading more of Vito's cooking trivia - as well as more of your own Chef Joseph!!

OK - a question... why soak the red onion in cold water for an hr.?

Avanti Savoia said...

Howdy jlynn, Soaking the onions in cool water lowers the sulpher content, thereby producing a milder flavor- perfect for eating in a salad. This is just one of the "new tricks taught to a old dog" that I have learned from our Italian partner, Don Vito of Turin. Thanks for your question.
Bon Appetit Y'all! Chef Joseph

Anonymous said...

Would you comment on the ratio of dressing to salad greens? When in Italy I see they very lightly dress and here in American we seem to get our greens in a swimming pool of dressing. Any comments? And thank you Carol