What do you think of when you think about Italian food? Some might think about pizza, spaghetti al pomodoro, cacio e pepe or carbonara. Or even of dishes that have been created outside Italy but which have little to do with what Italians really eat.
But that is far from what a new movement of Italian chefs are working on. For those like me who follow the Italian scene rather closely some of the names of this movement may sound familiar. For others, these are chefs that are still under the radar but who are slowly but surely establishing themselves as the new frontier of Italian cuisine.
Niko Romito, for example needs no introduction internationally. Paolo Lopriore, on the other hand, has worked under the international radar for a very long time even if for many young chefs in Italy today, he is a guiding light.
I’d heard about him in passing but rarely delved into depth about what he has meant for Italy. At Spessore a few years ago, all the young chefs were raving about this chef and finally thanks to Laura Lazzaroni I understood why. He is a link between the past and the future of Italian gastronomy even if he is doing today without much fanfare making the kind of food he likes.
Food writer and bread master Laura Lazzaroni has taken it upon herself to tell the world about this new movement. And she does it in splendid style with The New Cucina Italiana, a book that has only just recently been published by Rizzoli. She has done this accompanied by Italian renowned photographer Alberto Biasetti.
This book takes us to Italy at a time when travel is next to impossible, when restaurants pivot between open and closed and when chefs are passing through what may well be the toughest moment the sector has faced since in a century.
Whether it was by chance or by design, Italy was the last place that I have visited In 2020. And before that, I’d had my fair share of Italy in 2019 visiting a handful of the chefs mentioned in the book including Antonia Klugmann, Riccardo Camanini and Alessandro Miocchi and Giuseppe Lo Iudice among others.
The New Cucina Italiana takes you on a trip through Italy. Laura starts her voyage of discovery, or rather rediscovery at one of the mentors Niko Romito. She tells his story and how he has managed to shape Italian cuisine from fine dining down to fast food and his famous fried chicken at Alt. She says that in a few years time there will be a Before and after Niko Romito in Italian cooking. “Maybe more than a Mother Teresa, he’s a culinary Jesus.
And she shares a number of recipes from the ‘absolute’ onion with Parmesan-filled pasta buttons and toasted saffron to his roasted cauliflower and his sourdough-potato bread. I’m curious to try many recipes from the book. Some are easier than others though most don’t require equipment that is normally found in professional kitchens.
What’s great about the book is that it does not cover fine dining but also farmers and foragers, ‘Sunday restaurants’, fine dining creatives, pizzaioli (because even here there is a lot of innovation going on) as well as the new osterie and trattorie which may in reality be the hardest and last frontier that will need to be broken.
Even here, she takes us on a journey from Milan to Rome with many detours to showcase the likes of Diego Rossi of restaurant Trippa or Francesco Capuzzo Dolcetto of Marzapane to mention a few names. At a time when travel is close to impossible, the only thing we can do is dream of our next trips, dream of our future lunches or dinners.
If we are adventurous enough, we might try our hand at some of the recipes. For one, I cannot wait to attempt Romito’s Sweet and Sour Aubergine with tomato, Lopriore’s Fried zucchini in ‘scapece’, pasta with green almonds and garlic, Gorini’s passatelli with Savoy cabbage broth, pumpkin seeds and soy sauce or Camanini’s Reheated rice to mention a few examples.
Maybe during the Easter holidays, I might get my hands on cauliflower and work on Romito’s recipe or the ‘Cotoletta’ of Romanesco cauliflower with garlic and chive mayonnaise by Francesca Barreca and Marco Baccanelli of Mazzo fame.
I might fail but in the journey is the joy particularly when we cannot get to the destination yet.
If you want to be in the know about what’s was cooking in Italy prior to (and during the pandemic) while planning your next culinary trip then look no further.