Lemongrass, Little Foams and Bollito Misto
Posted in FreshAira on August 17, 2012 by
We Italians are handy at doing a lot of things, and one of those, among the many others in which we excel, is the art of indignation. It’s almost a matter of genetics; we become indignant very easily.
At present on the GVCI forum, we are debating lemongrass, an aromatic herb widely used in Asiatic cooking. All this has arisen from an intervention by Rosario Scarpato, which has been answered in the Gazzetta Gastronomica by Stefano Bonilli, the founder of the Gambero Rosso, in his editorial “Il rispetto di una cucina diversa” (“Respect for a different cuisine”). Summarising and simplifying the various interventions, Scarpato sustains, together with the majority of the GVCI chefs I believe, that using lemongrass in Italian cuisine has no sense. Bonilli replies to this that Italian cuisine should be open to foreign contamination and that this can only benefit a style of cooking which should not remain stagnant. I can assure you that Scarpato doesn’t have the intention of becoming the new leader of the powerful lobby against the cultivation of lemongrass. I have in fact been told that he’s been seen gobbling down Tom Ka Gai, a typical Thai soup based on lemongrass, under cover in an alleyway in the southern outskirts of Bangkok.
Lemongrass is only an example. The question in a nutshell is; if we allowed Italian cuisine abroad to adapt to or to be contaminated by local flavours, would this cause confusion amongst our foreign guests? Everyday, they eat lemongrass at home and in the restaurants they go to for lunch. The large majority of these guests of ours doesn’t know what the true flavours of Italian cooking are and wouldn’t distinguish between a supposed Italian restaurant which prepares spaghetti alla bolognese with chili or linguini alla Giuglio Cesare and a genuine Italian restaurant. However, what bothered Bonilli most was the definition which Scarpato had given to arie; he had labelled them “little foams!” Neither did Paolo Marchi like this definition. In fact, it was described as a “fall in style;” parallels were drawn with the rejection, in that moment, suffered by Gualtiero Marchesi because of the open ravioli in his innovative cuisine. And all this “gastronomic indignation” because the term “little foams” was interpreted as being derogatory. Really, I believe that the “-ette” (“schiumette” is the Italian word used by Scarpato) is just a diminutive. It’s simply a way of stating what arie truly are: a brilliant innovation which is pleasant to use now and then in some dishes. Sometimes, arie are used to give the airs (the literal meaning of “arie”) of being an innovator and, in that case, they become neither more nor less than just little foams.
And while we discus about little foams and lemongrass, Mario Caramella, in Singapore in his restaurant InItaly, proposes a bollito misto (boiled dinner) in a modern key and understandable for the Asian market and with absolutely authentic flavours. Once again, Italian cooking without lemongrass is stagnant? Well, I still say; “it’s in motion” in defiance to all the arrows of the “holy innovation.”