Just like India, or let’s say similar to the situation here, there are vast differences in the culinary cultures between the north and south regions of Italy too. In an attempt to educate patrons at Sorriso, Marriott Suites, Koregaon Park, chef Jacopo Avigo will represent the Northern Italian cuisine while Chef Guseppe Loice will represent the Southern Italian cuisine in a friendly cook-off called The Big Challenge this Sunday. The two chefs have curated a special menu with a few dishes to showcase the varied dishes from different parts of their country. We caught up with them to find out more about this contrast.
The culinary culture
“Geographically, Italy is very different in the northern and the southern regions. In the south, you have the beautiful Mediterranean sea while the north has mountains and lakes. This is why the kind of food we eat in the north and the south is also different,” says Avigo adding that in the north, people eat more of birds, rabbit and wild boars, while in the south, sea food is popular.
Talking about the attitude of people towards the preparation of food, Avigo says, “In the north, life is very fast. People want to cook something quickly, eat it and go off to work. In the south, in a funny way, people have more time to cook. They take four hours to slow cook their pasta!” Loice recalls how his grandmother used to wake up early morning and cook lamb for five-six hours, stirring it slowly. He says, “The southern cuisine is considered ‘poor’. Back in the day, the north had many industries, not so much in the south. But of course, everything has changed now.”
The sun shines on the south of Italy in all its glory, so why not use it to dry vegetables and nuts to store it for the winter? “We sundry tomatoes, almonds, figs and what not. You don’t see much of this in the north,” says Loice, as Avigo adds, “In the north, we smoke our meat, vegetables and cheese!”
While we know that Italians love their olive oil, there is a difference in the way people in the north and south of Italy use it in their food. Avigo explains, “I live near the lakes, and the area is filled with olive trees. But the flavour of the olives you get in the north is very different from the south because of the change in the quality of water, air and land.”
Loice shares that in the south, people refrain from cooking with extra virgin olive oil, while in the north they do. “The olive oil in the south has a strong, aggressive flavour, but in the north it is milder,” he says. Avigo adds, “In the north, we use butter to cook too. People make fresh butter at home, and the preparations we have require butter — you need butter to finish the risotto, and adding butter to the polenta makes it creamier. The concept of ‘poor cuisine’ also applies to our cuisine. After the Second World War, there was a lack of food. So the mothers would find old bread, mix it with vegetables and add a little butter and parmesan and make gnocchi and give everyone to eat.”
He believes that it is the mothers in Italy who used creativity to make food with scarce supplies to feed their children, and they came up with preparations that have become popular Italian dishes today. He says, “The French then influenced Italian cuisine and enhanced it.”
Street food, specials, and staples
The south is hot while the north is cold. “Just like you eat rice in a meal in India, we have polenta. It has to be a part of most, if not every, meal. If we see someone too skinny, we tell them to have polenta. We also have a lot of cold cuts, but it is mostly pork. On Sundays, when the whole family comes together, we have a dish made of slices of different meats wrapped together with potatoes in between, and roasted for five-six hours. In Pune, I could only find quail, so I stuffed it with polenta and slow-roasted it and will serve it with potatoes,” says Avigo.
Loice talks about the street food culture in his hometown Sicily. “If you go to Sicily, you will see people coming and cooking on the street. Aranchini is a very famous streetfood. It is like rice balls, but made with bread and stuffed with vegetables or cheese. After the Second World War, mothers would make this and give children to eat by telling them it is meat balls when they did not have the means to buy meat,” he says.
Another interesting recipe that Loice talks about originated in Capri island. “In the early 1900s, Al Capone, an American mafia man came to Capri islands and he wanted the chef to make a brownie. In Italy, there was no such thing as brownie, nobody knew what he was talking about and you could not go on your phone and check what it is. He told the chef that he wanted a cake made out of almonds and chocolate, if it was good, the chef could live. The chef took almonds, chocolate and flour and made a dry cake with a distinct flavour of the almonds which the island was famous for. Al Capone loved it, and it became a new dessert in the islands,” narrates Loice, who has made a variant of this recipe for the special menu.
ST Reader Service
Both the chefs have curated a four-course menu including starters, pastas, main course and of course desserts from their regions. Some of the dishes include Trota in Salsa Verde, Panzeroti Puglies (mini folded pizza stuffed with Burrata cheese), Gnocchi di Pan, Pasticiotto Leccese (short bread tart filled with lemon custard garnished with cherry and bitter chocolate). This specially curated menu will be available at Sorriso, Marriott Suites, Koregaon Park, till June 17, 11 am - 11 pm