I am back with Gino De Blasio for a new episode of Thoughts on the Table. This week, as we dissect two more misconceptions (Parmigiana and Balsamic), Gino and I explain the reasons that motivate us to protect and preserve authentic Italian food. Thanks for listening!
4 thoughts on “[Thoughts on the Table – 10] Parmigiana and Balsamic”
Another enjoyable talk. I listen to these on the way to or from work or while walking the dog. Lots of fun!
I really liked the comment about using the number of ingredients as a 'rule of thumb' in judging the authenticity of a supposedly Italian dish. I make exactly the same point in my blog post on authenticity, although I put the limit at 6-7 ingredients rather than 3. (I guess it may depend on whether you count salt and pepper, etc. as ingredients.)
Thanks Frank, much appreciated!
Yes – 3 ingredients may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but I agree that keeping the number low is a good rule of thumb.
I appreciated the high quality of the podcast.
Here my thoughts. Please note that I live in Italy and not abroad, so I may miss the full picture.
I think that it is quite difficult to define an Italian recipe. Sure, there are recipes that are Italian and others which are not. But to identify the border is a hard task.
Cooking is not a frozen art. Traditional recipes are coded, but even for these recipes you can find different versions. Moreover, everyone can interpret it. I don't think that changing a recipe is enough to move a recipe from Italian to alien. This may turn a recipe into another. More important is how you change a recipe. I think that this is a matter of taste (Italian taste, for example), not rules. And distinctions here are more subltes.
I do agree that you can identify some ingredients as Italians, and you can also define what is mozzarella and Parmigiano Reaggiano and Aceto Balsamico di Modena. But I believe that the category of Italian recipes has uncertain boundaries.
You can even create new Italian dishes. I have no rule to identify them, but I can tell if I taste them. Maybe it's that, a matter of ingredients (which and in which combination), and taste.
So, maybe, if you modify a recipe to meet the different tastes of a foreign culture, well, you have no more an Italian dish. But don't ask me what is Italian taste.
Thanks Davide for your comment, I'm hoping it will start a conversation – it's a very interesting topic!
To me, what we mean by "rules" is that set of intangible constraints that come from having developed a palate. There are things an Italian cook would never do, no matter how creative he or she is. As a metaphor, I think of the interpretations of a dish as of the melody of a solo in a song: while being unique, it will always lay on the song's key. As an Italian living abroad, trust me, I have encountered very dissonant solos!
You are right that even traditional recipes can (and do) change over time. However, I think that they are quite stable within the Italian territory. The reason why these dishes have become popular is that their flavor profile "works". Going back to the music metaphor, I would say that traditional recipes are "catchy tunes" – it's very hard for anybody who has heard those melodies to forget how they go! You'll hear different variations, but you'll always be able to recognize the underlying tune. Trust me, I've witnessed some interpretations of Carbonara (as an example) which bear no resemblance to the original: they are completely different songs with the same title, and that's just confusing to me. I'm OK if they come out of an interpretation, but that would require a certain awareness of the original. I argue that often they come out of ignorance of such original, and I can't approve of that.
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