Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Great Italian Cook is a Shopper Too/ Broccoli Soup

In Italy, you know there is only local cuisine. There is no universal "Italian Cuisine" like for instance,in France. That is due to many reasons, among them the rich diversity of growing and grazing conditions that divide Italy into separate areas featuring unique wild fauna which are gathered freely by the populace. Because Italian cuisine is so local, it becomes the sole province of every cook in an area to claim her way of cooking the local wild mushrooms for example, as authentic. Thus, you have as many "authentic" ways of interpreting a local dish as you have grandmothers and maiden aunts cooking the dish (grandfathers too).

Here, we claim that only grandma's way of cooking lasagne is the "right" way. That can lead to stagnation as an Italian-American cook. I believe we have to replace the "gathering "aspect of Italian cooking by shopping. Just as the Italian cook augments her cooking by gathering these local prized ingredients, so does the Italian American cook need to constantly search out better ingredients. An experienced cook gets better by mastering technique which takes practice, and by improving ingredients which takes determined shopping. So what if Grandma didn't use extra virgin olive oil? It's available now, so use it! We should always try to "upgrade" our ingredients when we cook. As Michael Pollan says, "Spend more, eat less".

As an example, here is my interpretation of a recipe for "broccoli soup" which I watched Mario Batalli make on his TV show (from when I watched Food Network). You need broccoli with the stems on for this dish. I use a peeler to remove the hard outer part of the stems, then cut everything into bite-sized pieces.The taste of this dish is reliant on the quality of the ingredients used.

Ingredients: Three organic broccoli "trees" prepared as above,1 1/3 cup water, three cloves of garlic sliced thin, extra virgin olive oil for cooking, dried red pepper flakes to taste, extra virgin olive oil for finishing, salt, 1/4 cup parmigiana reggiano cheese

Procedure: Begin with a skillet into which you've poured about 4 tablespoons of oil. As the skillet comes up to medium high heat, add the red pepper flakes and garlic (I like a good amount of pepper- this is best as a spicy dish, in my opinion). As soon as the oil and pepper begin to color, add the broccoli and salt to the pan. Stir to incorporate. Add water and turn the heat up to high. Cover the pan. Hammer the broccoli, by which I mean let it cook a great deal till you can easily smash a stem piece with your wooden spoon. By then, there should be about 3/4 cup of liquid left in the pan. (Many American cooks would say this is over cooking the broccoli. I disagree. Italians like their vegies well done).Now remove the pan from the heat, and stir in about 4 tablespoons of the finishing oil and the cheese. The taste of this dish is greatly enhanced by the quality of the cheese and olive oil used. I use one brand of olive oil for cooking and another (which I never heat) for finishing. Try this dish with a great tasting olive oil and good parmigiana reggiano. You'll be surprised how the ingredients make a difference. Happy cooking and happy shopping!


  1. Why don't you watch Food Network anymore?

  2. While I think Rachael Ray and Giada De Laurentis provide a valuable service to beginning cooks, I don't find anything on the station for a more advanced audience. There are, of course other cooks featured, but no one who cooks in the style I am accustomed to. I prefer to watch the cooks on the PBS stations, particularly Maryann Esposito, Lidia Bastianich, Everyday Cooking and America's Test Kitchen.

  3. It would be great if you included some photos of your cooking process . . . for the ignorant.

  4. Thank you Sourdough. I'm addressing that problem today- a friend is coming over to give me a tutorial in the more technical aspects of blogging. Stay tuned.