After a wedding we went to today at a wine farm restaurant, where the food was fashionably stacked in towers, encircled by drizzles of intense sauces with fanciful ingredients, I thought back to meals I've eaten in Italy.
How can I be so sure that what I'm writing about Italian food is still current ten years later? Why do I know that I could walk into any one of the restaurants I used to eat in with my clients and eat the same wonderful meal, as long as the season was the same? Why is it that good Italian restaurants don't feel the need to reinvent their dishes with the latest jus or garnish to entice their regulars back once more?
I think the main thing that separates gourmet Italian food, or any traditional European food, from the fads and trends of haute foodiedom, is the seasons. Italian food (or rather each different regional cuisine, for each small area of
When your palate is refreshed every month by a new seasonal speciality, you never do tire of those delicacies. Chefs don't have to tempt jaded plates with ever more outlandish combinations. You can stuff yourself every day for a month with asparagus in every possible variation from risotto to pasta, as antipasto or in a sformato, but then it will be out of season, you move on to artichokes and by the time asparagus season comes round again you will welcome it enthusiastically anew.
It's not just that Italians are conservative in their tastes, they are that, but they know a good thing when they have it on their plates and see no reason to mess with it. Good ingredients are cooked simply so that their flavours are enhanced. Plus within in
So the ephemeral trendy restaurants may have moved on in the last ten years from 2D pictorial arrangements on enormous plates to intricate towering stacks of food that need several lines on the menu to identify the ingredients, but I am as certain as certain can be that I could walk into a favourite restaurant in Le Marche tomorrow and eat the same fantastic pasta dish scattered with a myriad of tiny wild mushrooms collected by the father of the restaurant owner that morning. He may be ten years older but the mushrooms will be from the same secret collecting places at the edge of the woods. In spring it will be the wild asparagus that make a wonderful delicately flavoured risotto.
The seasons provide the variety and rhythm that keep our fickle human palates from satiation, presenting us with treat after treat through the year, all we need to do is tune back into them and accept their gifts, something that the Italians have never forgotten.