HOW TO COOK ITALIAN CUISINE, IN ROERO, PIEDMONT AND LOOK GREAT: PART I


This first article is an introduction to the Italian cuisine in general and that of Roero, Piedmont, in particular. It could be skipped by those of you who have spent years in Italy, some of them in Langhe and Roero, and believe they know Italians, the way they cook, and their cuisine; and by the few jinxed souls who have invited their husband’s boss and wife for dinner, hoping to get their husband promoted and better paid, pretending they know how to cook Italian.

For all others, this section is as important a read as any future articles. This is because few foreigners appreciate the strong relationship which exists between Italians and their cuisine, how Italians eat, and why their cuisine is so regional.

Langhe and Roero’s inhabitants are like any other Italian when it comes to food and cuisine. This is why the first topic discussed here, titled “The origin of the Italian cuisine and the influence other cultures had on it”, does not differentiate North from South or East from West. Italians are one homogeneous people when the topic is cuisine: no more “Polentoni” (eater of polenta: the way South Italians refer to us in the North), nor “Terroni” (the way we identify Italians living south of, say, Florence); food is too serious a topic for any Italian not to agree and concur that our cuisine is unequalled and the best.

Period.

Once convinced of this, you, the reader, will soon become a first rated amateur cook, or maybe a professional cook, who knows, and a learned one as well, and the envy of all your peers.

The origin of the Italian cuisine and the influence other cultures had on it.

The cuisine of Italy finds its roots in poor people’s kitchens: peasants with few ingredients they could cook with. Peasants, with little money to spare, and in need to make the most of what nature had to offer: vegetables, wheat, and any possible variations of the same, such as buckwheat in the mountains, rice, corn and corn flour, chestnuts and chestnut flour, milk and cheese, poultry, rabbits and, why not, fat cats when there were no rabbits; sometime fish, when living close to the sea shore or big lakes. Game was out of the question since the land the game roamed in was the exclusive property of the rich, or the royalty: and poor souls could be hanged if found “stealing” the game from their rightful owners. Very few ingredients, if any at all, could be used that were coming from far away: these poor people had no money to buy exotic spices or ingredients other than those available on their land. In order to trade, peasants also needed to be close to a trade route, or a trade center: places where they could exchange their goods for the goods of others.

This explains in large part why the cuisine in Italy is so regional. Also why Italian are so proud of their local cuisine: untamed, and mostly un-diluted or influenced by any other than the closest of neighbors.

Sophisticated recipes and abundant meals, meals with lots and lots of meat, such as beef, veal, goats, pork, and game, where the domain of the gentry, and of their masters: princes, dukes, kings. As a matter of fact these people used to eat so much meat and so few vegetables, that a common illness among them was the gout. These people had money to spare: they could use it to buy goods from far away. They could also employ foreign cooks, and sample the exotic spices, and ingredients, used by them. The Royal Family of Piedmont, the Savoy, for instance, where very French in their manners and tastes. We are not sure, even today, how much their French inclination in everything, from tongue to food, really influenced the everyday cuisine cooked by their subjects.

But no matter what, Italy, a country if there is one, which has been invaded and conquered by all, Huns (they attempted to teach us how to make sausages), North African’s Hannibal cum army and elephants (couscous), Spaniards (Paella) and French (anything edible), the one country which should have made hers the cuisine of others, remained impervious to the cuisine of foreigners and faithful to her own.

In all candor The French did try, especially in Piedmont, because of the Savoy, as hinted earlier: but their “Nouvelle Cuisine” met the resistance Italian have for plates served half filled: Italians may not eat all they are served, but when the dish being served them barely covers one third of the plate it is served in, Italians feel cheated, no matter how tasteful the meal is. So the only thing they adopted from the French, and their “Nouvelle Cuisine”, was to present their dish as a work of art. So the Italian version of the French “Nouvelle Cuisine” is a full plate served artfully.

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