2018 will be a special year for Italy. 2018 will be the year of Italian food, as announced by Dario Franceschini, minister of Culture and Tourism, and Maurizio Martina, minister of Agriculture. The initiative has been received positively worldwide, with enthusiastic reactions from the Italian embassies in more than one hundred countries. The idea of dedicating a full year to the beauty of Italian food came on the success wave of the first “Settimana della Cucina Italiana nel Mondo,” celebrated in 2016 throughout the world, USA included.
Then again, that Italian food is loved with passion a bit everywhere on this beautiful planet is no surprise: it’s good, it’s tasty and it magically manages to put a smile on people’s faces: just try to say “gelato” out loud in the middle of a room and monitor people’s reactions, you’ll see I’m right.
Food gives us the opportunity to go on a date with Italy, hold hands with her and stroll, feet in the Mediterranean, along the sandy shores of time
Statistics related to sales of Italian products worldwide strongly support this view, but statistics are arid and a bit boring, two things Italians don’t like to be associated with, also when sitting around the table.
It’s not about statistics I’d like to write today. It’s about soul. The soul of Italian cuisine, which is so close to our hearts, and the main reason of its success: look into it and you’ll understand why Italy takes its kitchen activities so seriously, you’ll understand why, if you learn about our food, you’ll also learn to love our country, in spite of her many idiosyncrasies, her bleak economy or her countless problems.
Food gives us the opportunity to go on a date with Italy, hold hands with her and stroll, feet in the Mediterranean, along the sandy shores of time: her millenary life barely shows on the golden suppleness of her face even though, deep into her hazel eyes, you can tell she lived, suffered, rejoiced, cried and laughed as no other land on Earth. Food can tell you about this Italy, about her heart, beauty, history and secrets, just as if she herself disclosed it all to us.
Chef Massimo Bottura takes inspiration from contemporary art to create highly innovative dishes that play with Italian culinary traditions
Because in Italy, food is history. When you learn about a dish, you learn about the people who created it, of the reasons behind its creation. Look into its ingredients and you’ll meet all the people who, throughout the centuries, spent a time here: a mouthful of cassata Siciliana, or of any Sicilian stew enriched with almonds and raisins, will speak about the Moors, of their colorful habits and penchant for sweet, decadent, honey-sticky dishes.
Taste the aromatic, red wine infused rabbit or wild boar roasts of Piedmont and you’ll hear the Savoias of late medieval times, natives of the French speaking side of our beloved Alps, enchantingly describing with their slight, wave-like accent, how the air of the mountains makes everything taste better. Try Alto-Adige dishes and the breathtaking haughtiness of 18th century Vienna or the smile of Princess Sissi, may suddenly come to your mind. Italian food is Italian, but it’s also the product of the many different cultures and people who, throughout centuries, have walked into her kitchen, deciding to leave a handful of ingredients in the larder and a few hints on how to use it scribbled in good calligraphy on a piece of paper.
The soul of Italian cuisine, which is so close to our hearts, and the main reason of its success:
Because in Italy, food is tradition and love. A mouthful of torta pasqualina may bring you back to the happiest times of your childhood. A chickpeas soup will feel as warm and consoling as the rough, yet gentle and steady hand of your grandfather when you walked to the market with him every week. Fresh handmade ravioli lying on the table will bring back a painful pang of longing for people you love, but can no longer touch with your hands and see with your eyes.
But then sadness disappears in a sunny, Sunday-morning like a concerto of water bubbling on the stove, the Pope’s reading the Angelus in Saint Peter’s square and the main door closing with a bang, announcing your parents’ arrival at home from the bakery, with the usual tray of Sunday pastries wrapped in green and gold paper: the colors of whipped cream, chocolate and custard, of puff pastry and hazelnuts and butter cookies.
Because in Italy, finally, food is art. Creativity has entered Italian kitchens in days of yore, out of necessity more than fanciness. Panettone was born out of a mistake; chocolate spread out of World War Two’s food rationing; “finanziera” or tripe soup because nothing, absolutely nothing had to be wasted of a farm animal. Creativity at the service of needs it’s a form of art, in the end. An art Italian “cucina povera” mastered throughout the centuries.
In a twist that only Italy could conceive and deliver with the right aplomb, visual arts became inspiration for flavors, too, as in the case of Bellini cocktails and Carpaccio.
But in recent decades, art as pure representation of creativity has also become a fixture in Italy’s kitchen: think of Massimo Bottura and his outstanding examples of creative reinterpretation of the country’s culinary classics, of the painting like presentations of Enrico Crippa’s dishes at his Piazza Duomo, in Alba.
Yes, indeed: food is the soul of Italy and she no longer tries to hide it. It’s too easy to read where her heart is in those hazel eyes of hers. No wonder the world loves Italian food: isn’t it always of the soul and spirit of someone we irremediably fall in love with?