Thursday 24 November 2016

Eat Italy

After a seriously busy season in Cuca we decided to take a much needed break to charge our batteries. November is a quiet month for Bali and a great chance to travel, learn more about food and find new ways to make Cuca better. And as you can guess, the single most important criterion that determines our chosen location is that it must deliver ultra-delicious food. The world is a big place and some places are just tastier than others so the key is to find one of the very few that stand alone as pure magic; a place where menus read like foodie fairy tales and every bite leaves you feeling happy and accomplished, like you just saved a kitten from a tree. My friends… welcome to Tuscany!

The decision was made and off we went to travel through the enchanting labyrinth of towns, villages and streets filled with unspeakable perfect classic cooking made by people who hate innovation and despise trends. We knew very little of traditional Italian cooking as my foundation is mainly French food and all its glory. The Italian cooking I encountered up to now was simple food made to eat as opposed to French food which is meticulous, labor intensive, meant to be celebrated and praised and full of the expensive ingredients. Cheap French food never existed in my world where $1 pizza slices and stodgy overcooked factory fabricated pasta was plentiful and a big part of my student life growing up. Until now Italian food never jumped out as a culinary wonder to be explored but more like Europe’s version of fast food. However, I have come to realize once again as in numerous times during my 8 years of marriage, that I was wrong.

What I thought I knew about Italian food I now find embarrassing after shockingly discovering the huge enchanting regional world of slow cooked traditional dishes made with love. The most important lesson we have both learned is that none of the produce we found in Italy was new or imported; the Italians just choose ingredients that grow well in their backyard, respect how to farm them, when to pick them and how to prepare them. We are talking about only a handful of ingredients to make a dish and the result is full of flavor not from adding more things but from using the best available locally.  The tomatoes explode with rich sweetness from ripening in the sun, the olive oil is like green aromatic tree nectar sucked from mineral filled soil and even the use of garlic brings a new spice and excitement to a simple sauce. The secret is that there is no secret! People have gardens and use them, people buy and support farmers growing things following the old school rules of agriculture and people don’t take shortcuts when cooking. Homemade is the only way and the hard way is the right way. If you don’t have the time, don’t make it. I only need to evoke recent memories of the porcini lasagna with layers of velvety pasta and creamy woody mushrooms; the soft fresh lightly sweetened pillowy whipped mascarpone with shaved aromatic black truffle; the squid risotto that was oceanic and soulful; the wild boar ragu that filled your mouth with meaty goodness; the cheeses that left you arguing over the last piece and the cured meats that were sliced laser-thin and melted on the tongue with a salty, fatty, rich deliciousness that made you consider a permanent apartment next door. And please god let’s just not even begin with the wine as it all just becomes too much, too good, too short.

I am so sorry to Italy for my total lack of understanding and thank you Tuscany for rewarding my stupidity with your deliciousness. We learned a lot and as always what we learned we will use every day in what we do. Get ready friends as new ideas are currently being braised, cured, tossed and catalogued for when we hit Bali.