Introduction

Introduction

By
Stefano de Pieri
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781740661713
Photographer
Earl Carter

Modern Italian Food is a book of recipes for the home cook. To my mind, there is very little of interest here to chefs, although some general directions are perhaps of some use to young industry people whose idea of Italian food has not yet been bastardised. My intention with this book is to reaffirm, time and again, the basic principles of Italian gastronomy: freshness, simplicity and lack of pretension. My friends say that when Italian food wants to get out of itself, it tries to become French – and I agree with that assessment. It is not right for Italian food to deviate from what it is. When it tries hard to be something else, it stops being Italian; it ceases to be fresh and simple.

This fresh and simple cuisine relies on a number of pillars: good olive oil, the judicious use of salt, fantastic cheese – Parmigiano Reggiano being the main one – golden chicken stock, home-made foods such as pasta, gnocchi and bread, the smart use of the lesser cuts of meat, the equally smart use of less glamorous fish and a love of texture over presentation.

I have divided the book into chapters devoted to a theme or ingredient, rather than going for the traditional division of entrée, main and dessert. The restrictions imposed by the meal divisions force food into a straitjacket, instead of allowing for greater freedom of choice at a communal table. Philosophically, besides food being good and wholesome, what is important for me is the communal aspect of the table. In an age when going fast is just about the only way, fitting in a restaurant or take-away meal here and there, the communal table in the privacy of one’s home is the last refuge against insanity.

I have also included a chapter on wine. Not enough Italian cookery books deal with the wines of the peninsula, and look at creating a dialogue between food and wine. I think that the existing division between oenology and food is silly, as the two go together. Cooks and winemakers operate in the same field, yet rarely do they come together. What is important, in terms of this book, is that there are Italian wines that have now made Australia their home, with more doing so as time goes by. When you go out for dinner, it may happen that a sommelier suggests a glass of Soave or Sangiovese or Nebbiolo made, not in Italy, but in Australia. So, to a certain extent, this is a modern development, as the vinification of Shiraz is a modern development in Piedmont. Hence the title Modern Italian Food, which should read ‘food, wine and all the other things that we are inventing or discovering as we go along in Australia’. ‘Modern’ also means that there is a definite trend in this book away from the over-use of tomato and garlic in favour of the smart use of olive oil as the saucing agent or flavouring, with herbs such as rosemary, sage, flat-leaf parsley and basil.

I have also blended sweet and savoury recipes under a general heading. So the chapter on flour contains bread, pasta and desserts, but then desserts also reappear under cheese, for obvious reasons.

Finally, there is a chapter on preserves and jams – a natural for me, as I live in an area that is rich in citrus and stone fruits and, like my friend Maggie Beer, I was taken by the rich possibilities of non-industrial conserves. Preserves and conserves are beautiful reflections of the gastronomic possibilities in farming communities. I hope that you will find a recipe or two that suits you.

Modern Italian Food is my third book in a short time. It feels somewhat odd to be a food writer because I never consciously aspired to be one: I became involved with food through necessity rather than choice. Now I find myself entangled in food as a professional, even though sometimes my inner self tells me that I should be doing something else. How many industries can boast such immediacy between the product and the consumer? And where each mouthful is not only a sensory experience open to immediate judgement, but also an immediate evaluation of its monetary worth? And where each newly trained employee is likely to move on, seeking a new professional experience? I choose to ignore that nagging voice from inside because food, for me, has now become a way of life and, more importantly, an excuse for trying out some ideas on an audience willing to listen. I was fortunate to have had a television series that provided me with a space to speak out about environmental issues, and to advance ideas that are important to me.

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