A slice of Italy

Amrita Prasad
Sunday, 11 March 2018

Chefs Monica and Franca recently showcased the specialities of Tuscan cuisine and mentioned how it is as diverse as Indian food.

Marriott Suites Pune, in association with Fratelli Vineyards, recently hosted chefs Monica and Franca, stalwarts of regional Tuscan cuisine. Founders of the Tuscan dining icon and Michelin Guides rising star — La Locanda di Pietracupa in Italy, the duo who were in the city to showcase Tuscan Pop-up at Sorriso Marriott Suites Pune. Some of the dishes presented were Duck Puff Pastry Cannoli, Chickpeas Puree, Vinsanto Reduction, Artichokes and Cheese Lasagnette, Olives Breaded Codfish Fillet with Creamed Potatoes and so on. 

Assisted by Jacopo Avigo, Italian speciality chef at Sorriso, Marriott Suites Pune, Monica and Franca attempted at making the guests discover a whole new selection of Italian dishes that are not only simple enough to make at home, but also broaden the understanding of Italian food.

Vegetarian dishes are popular in Tuscany
The duo, who relished Indian foods like Masala Dosa and Vada Pav during their stay here, said that great food, great wine and great company are at the heart of their culture. When asked what were their takeaways from Indian cooking, they replied in unison, “We would like to understand and use a lot of Indian masala in Italian cooking because this amount and depth of spices are uncommon in our cuisine. That said, for the pop-up we designed a menu to showcase the idea that vegetarian dishes are also very popular in Tuscany albeit not as complex as Indian dishes. But we are happy to introduce the people of Pune to a different variant using the freshest of local ingredients.”

Giving us an insight into Tuscan cuisine and the common ingredients and cooking techniques involved, Monica said that Italian cuisine is divided into various regions. “Tuscan food is based on the Italian idea of cucina povera or ‘poor cooking’. It is about simple meals that are inexpensive and can easily be made in large amounts. Tuscan cooking doesn’t use complicated seasonings or elaborate creations because they’re not needed. Instead it is made using fresh, high-quality ingredients that bring out the natural flavours in each dish. A recipe from Tuscan cuisine does not usually require more than three ingredients,” she elaborated.

Franca pointed out that Italian cuisine is a compilation of the cuisines from the various regions. “It includes Tuscan, Sicilian, Emilia-Romagna, Piemonte and Alto-Adige. All these cuisines together make Italian cuisine,” she added.

Italian cuisine has diverse influences
The cuisines and eating habits of every country is deeply linked to its culture and influenced by its traditions, and Italian cuisine is no exception. Highlighting how Italian cuisine is influenced by society, economy, politics, geography, Monica said that as with all the great cuisines of the world, Italian cuisine is a composite of influences from many different cultures over a period of time. 

“For example, during the Middle Ages, Sicily was occupied by Arab Muslims. During this period, many different spices and fruits were introduced to Italian cooking. Similarly during the period of sea travel, innovative cooking techniques were developed to preserve food for long voyages. Thus dried pasta was developed. During the period of Renaissance, tomato was introduced to Italy by the Spanish. Tomatoes were native to Peru but did not take long to become a staple of Italian cuisine. During this time, other foods from the New World like corn, beans, peppers, zucchini and chocolate made their way into staples of Italian cuisine,” she said. 

Fresh local produce is always good 
Both Monica and Franca took traditional and classic Italian flavours from Tuscan cuisine and rendered them more appetising to Eastern palates. When asked what changes did they make to traditional recipes and flavours to suit Indian taste buds, they said that at the Tuscan Pop-up, they also incorporated fresh local produce in the menu. “So the flavours were an exciting mix of Tuscan recipes and Indian ingredients,” added Franca.

In this age of social media, anything that is posted on Instagram becomes a trend, especially in food. Explaining the role of social media in creating awareness of food and helping the exchange of recipes and culinary expertise, Monica said, “A lot of diners nowadays click a picture before consuming a dish. They first enjoy a dish with their eyes and then with their taste buds. Social media is a visual medium of creating awareness of different cuisines across the globe.”

For aspiring chefs, the duo had a piece of advice: “Cook from the heart and work with fresh locally produced ingredients as they will bring out the best flavours.”

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