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Taster’s Cherce

Check out this piece about the importance of authenticity by Sara Jenkins in the Atlantic:

I pride myself on having a profound understanding of what Italian food is and what makes it authentic…And yet, I ask myself, what is authenticity and does it really matter? Italians are, of course, passionate about their food culture and ready at all times to chastise a foreigner for not understanding that right combinations or sequences of flavors. Salad always comes after the entrée — never before. Pasta and soup fill the same slot in the meal, so you eat one or the other and not both. Plum tomatoes are for pasta sauce, globe tomatoes are for salad. And so it goes, a dizzying array of rules and regulations for how you eat. But still I wonder, what is the importance of authenticity?

Italian food and flavors changed dramatically after 1492 with the influx of the New World fruits and vegetables — tomatoes, corn, beans, peppers, potatoes — that were gradually integrated over four centuries of gardening and cooking and are at the core of today’s version of Italian food. If we wanted to be really authentic with Italian food, shouldn’t we do away with all the invasive species? Doesn’t that make tomato sauce and polenta inauthentic?

Food is not static. What we eat is constantly evolving and changing. New things become available. When I was a child in Rome, cilantro, limes, and yams were unknown and unavailable; today, thanks to immigration and the global produce trade, you can probably find all three at the corner vegetable stand. When I first started paying attention to my neighbors’ farm in Tuscany, they were extremely self-sufficient in terms of their food. They grew, raised, and foraged probably 90 percent of what they consumed. Their food and flavors were delicious and unvarying, and the dishes Mita cooked formed the basis of my understanding of Italian food.

Terrific stuff.

[Photo Credit: Quick Gardens]

Categories:  Arts and Culture  Chefs  Taster's Cherce

Tags:  authenticity  sara jenkins

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1 Eric McCauley   ~  Feb 24, 2012 12:25 pm

I'm going to have to check out Porsena the next time I'm in town. She has so many good points. It's hard to imagine not having certain things to cook with (cilantro, lime, yams). Reading this made me want to watch Big Night again. The line about the woman who might want a potato to go with her other starches comes to mind.

2 RIYank   ~  Feb 24, 2012 1:17 pm

[1] Oh, yes, perfect reference. Although remember the time period -- Primo was more upset that his rival (can't remember his name -- Marc Anthony) served the Jerseyites crappy food, it wasn't just authenticity. I've always wanted to try making a timpano.

There is definitely something to authenticity. Just by cooking we can recreate a scene from 19th century Tuscany, taste what they tasted and feel what they felt. I do find that important.

But it's only for certain occasions. Probably the best American cooking is fusion and innovation based on old world themes (or southern hemisphere themes).

Anyone who would insist on a globe tomato in her salad this month oughta have her head (or taste buds) examined. Thank god for plum tomatoes. And grape tomatoes.

3 Alex Belth   ~  Feb 24, 2012 1:46 pm

Love grape tomatoes. Especially now in winter.

Oh, and I'd make Sara run for the exists. Having friends over tomorrow and I'm making spaghetti and meatballs. LOL

4 joejoejoe   ~  Feb 24, 2012 3:49 pm

[3] I read that bit about spaghetti and meatballs and pictured somebody holding up a can of Chef-Boy-R-Dee to Sara Jenkins like a cross to a vampire. Good stuff though!

5 Chyll Will   ~  Feb 24, 2012 7:23 pm

[4] Wow, that reminds me that I haven't had ravioli in years...

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