The thing about these Italians is that they like things the way they like them. I’ve been here for a month now, and I am galvanized that I have never seen a people so determined that their way is the way - the right way - the only way! Whether it’s their gnocchi burro e salvia, their borlotti beans and tropea, their asparagus frittata, their tagliarini with artichokes (a very common topic).
I have fallen flat in my attempts to impress with food here more than any other place in all of my food travels.
I’ve been to Italy many times. I’ve eaten in Italy (a lot) and most of my cooking education came from Italy (thank you Enrica!), and yet, here, at the Villa, with a new set of Italians, somehow, all that I have eaten and seen and learned and done is rendered nearly worthless. I am again a babe in the woods. For these Italians, there is The Way to cook risotto with garden fresh zucchini. There is The Way to make a ragu. The Way… is their way, which is to say their mother’s or grandmother’s way, which is why your way will not be right now matter which dusty, obscure cookbook or television celebrity chef taught you and how many songs of praise you’ve received before.
I came here fresh off a solid year of experimenting with the exotic; learning the notes and colours of the world’s great pantries and spice cabinets – the dry spices of Morocco, the smokey, cured goodness of Spain, the pungent, spicy, fish-saucey language of Thailand and Vietnam, the heat and vibrancy of the Levant (a fellow Mediterranean cuisine no?) – and each time I’ve tried to infuse even a glimmer of this complex flavor knowledge that veritably springs forth from the corners of my culinarilly saturated mind, I am rebuffed, shrugged, dismissed.