I learned to cook from my parents. Both are wonderful in the kitchen, typically cooking dishes that begin with the sautéing of the holy trinity: garlic, olive oil, and onion. My mom can make green peppers stuffed with extravagant Spanish rice, fist-sized meatballs, and chicken and dumplings anointed by higher powers. Memories of my father put him beside a charcoal grill, turning steaks that spent entire hours soaking in garlic oil and sea salt.
To bring my own element to their lessons, I have found that it helps to consume at least one and a half bottles of red wine to better dull any sense of impending culinary doom. Doing so creates an environment where errors in measurement, fires, flare-ups, second-degree burns, Salmonella, and sliced, scalded, or amputated digits are not only dismissed, but celebrated flagrantly.
Fortunately, I married a woman who shares equal abandon for rules – and sobriety — in the kitchen.
For that reason, this Valentine’s Day we decided to try our hand at a higher order of cooking. We consulted a book that is held in high regard by a friend of ours who lived for some length in Italy.
Giuliano Bugialli’s The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, is considered by some, more or less, as the gold standard of fine Italian cooking. Bugialli takes the unique approach of stressing an OCD-like obsession with authentic Italian ingredients, measurement, and preparation. For one dish, he dryly remarks that unless you have imported, canned Italian tomatoes, the dish should not be attempted. Substituting, say, organic whole tomatoes would simply undermine the historical context of the dish.
As an exercise in culinary discipline, we attempted three Bugialli dishes: Pollo in porchetta (delightfully described by Bugialli as “a chicken made in the manner of suckling pig”), Spaghetti coachmen’s style, and a tomato and mozzarella salad blended with fresh basil, sea salt and black pepper.