Forget spaghetti alla carbonara, or 20 different ways with risotto - things are changing in Italy. Chefs that have long been in the shadow of Spain are cooking many ways with Parmesan or making crème brûlée out of olive oil, and Carlo Cracco and Moreno Cedroni are among those leading the charge, says Hilary Armstrong
The Italians are coming. Ever since Ferran Adrià, no less, publicly declared "A new Italian cuisine is born!" in 2007, the popular image of an Italy characterised only by mamma's recipes and pizza margheritas has looked seriously outmoded. And now, after decades - centuries, even - of Gallic culinary supremacy, followed by 10 years in thrall to the Spanish new wave's derring do, there's a dynamic new generation of Italian chefs out to prove that it's their turn now.
Variously described as progressive Italian cuisine, as cucina d'avanguardia, or cucina d'autore (a kind of "personal cuisine"), this "new Italian cuisine" is not easily pinned down, embracing as it does everything from Enrico Crippa's Japan-by-way-of-Piedmont influences at Piazza Duomo in Alba in the North, down to Ciccio Sultane's contemporary Sicilian with its attendant Arabic influences at Ristorante Duomo in Sicily.
Examples of this new cuisine are as many and varied as those of Italy's traditional, regional cuisine, but while new technology is being embraced, it's always at the service of tradition and the raw ingredients. In other words, this isn't the end of the road for buffalo mozzeralla, the best balsamic vinegar, white truffles or even nonna's risotto. The new chefs' bravura is just one more layer of interpretation on a rich food history.
Paolo Marchi, founder of Identità Golose, the annual chefs' congress in Milan, dates the change to the turn of the new millennium, when Italy's ambitious chefs "grew up" and began to reject "individualism and egotism" in favour of collaboration and discussion. "They realised they couldn't compete globally on their own. They saw Adrià happy to have Roca and Arzak by his side and began to understand that it's better to be one of the first, than the last of the first."
The comparison with contemporary Spanish cuisine is apposite. But Italian food writer and journalist for l'Espresso and La Repubblica, Roberta Corradin, notes some differences. "Dare I say it, Spain became a ‘culinary destination' after chefs started working on the ingredients and traditions. Italian cooking was already a great tradition, and Italy was already a culinary destination. This tradition poses a challenge for chefs, as when you don't have a big tradition (as in England, for instance), it's easier to innovate."
You can see this for yourself at the culinary congress, Identità Golose, which is making its London debut later in the month (see below). The line-up is dominated by Italy's hottest names, among them Massimiliano Alajmo of le Calandre and Giovanni Santini of Dal Pescatore (both with three Michelin stars); and Carlo Cracco, Massimo Bottura and Moreno Cedroni (all with two). From the UK, Giorgio Locatelli and Angela Hartnett are will also be there.
For Locatelli, the opportunity is one not to be missed. "The world over, millions and millions of people have a strong attachment to the idea of Italian cuisine, to the homeliness, and ritual of it," he says. "I don't think there's anything wrong with that but this is the opportunity to see a completely different view of Italian cuisine. These chefs are producing something with great personality, great understanding, and another level of panache and fantasy. There's no doubt we'll be talking about what they are doing 30 years from now."
Restaurant Osteria Francescana, Modena
Career Bottura gave up his law studies and a place in the family business in order to open a restaurant. Self-taught, until Alain Ducasse spotted him in 1992, Bottura went on to Le Louis XV in Monaco and Le Cirque in New York before opening Osteria Francescana in the historic centre of Modena, Emilia Romagna, in 1995.
He did a stage at el Bulli in 2000.
Awards Two Michelin stars since 2005; Best Creative Chef, Identita Golose, 2007; Voted 13th best restaurant in the world, 2009.
Cuisine A contemporary and irreverent take on the region's cuisine using unexpected combinations of familiar ingredients - eg, Magnum of Foie Gras Bottura, Zuppa Inglese Caldo e Freddo, "Memory of a Bologna Sandwich", "Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano". Traditional tortellini made to his grandmother's recipe still feature.
What they say "Quite radical. I love what he's doing." Ferran Adrià.
Address Osteria Francescana, Via Stella 22, 41100 Modena, Italy, Tel 00 39 59 210 118
FIVE DIFFERENT AGES OF PARMIGIANO REGGIANO IN FIVE DIFFERENT TEXTURES
FOR THE DEMI-SOUFFLE
- 200g organic ricotta, lightly smoked
- 100g Parmigiano Reggiano (aged 24 months)
- 60g egg white, whisked to stiff peaks
- 40g cream
- Salt and pepper
The demi-soufflé: Whip the ricotta (lightly smoked for about three minutes). Slowly drizzle in the emulsion obtained from the Parmesan and cream. Mix the egg white and put in the oven for about 10 minutes at 180°C. Remove it from the oven and carefully arrange a quenelle of the demi-soufflé mix at the base of the dish.
FOR THE GALETTE
- 50g Parmigiano Reggiano (aged 40 months)
- 10g softened butter
- 5g corn starch
Knead the butter, Parmigiano and cornstarch together very quickly. Spread a thin veil of the mix on Silpat in a triangular shape in proportion to the plate. Cook at 200°C for two minutes (the time needed for it to brown slightly but without taking on a bitter taste)
FOR THE AIR
- 500cl stock made from the crusts of Parmigiano Reggiano (aged 40 months)
- 500g grated Parmigiano Reggiano (aged 50 months)
- 2g lecithin
Blitz the broth and the grated Parmesan at room temperature. Filter through a coffee filter paper and keep refrigerated at +2°C. Transfer the filtered liquid to a large bowl. Add the lecithin and without hesitating create the froth with a blender.
FOR THE FOAM
- 125g capon stock
- 100g cream
- 250g Parmigiano Reggiano (aged for 30 months)
- Salt to taste
Bring the capon stock to the boil in the Thermomix, set to speed 3. Add the Parmesan a spoon at a time. Season. Increase the speed to maximum for one minute. Allow to cool. Put it in a siphon. Add the liquid cream in a drizzle shaking a little at a time so as not to lose the intensity of the Parmesan. Pump from the siphon loaded with a double gas shot.
FOR THE SAUCE
- 50g Parmigiano Reggiano (aged for 36 months)
- 40g unfiltered capon stock
- 30g cream
- Salt to taste
Set the Thermomix set at 60°C with the broth (on the number three speed). Add the grated Parmesan and bring the temperature to 85°C increasing the speed to the maximum until a velvety cream is formed. Pass through a chinois.
PLATING THE DISH
On the plate with the demi-soufflé, arrange two spoons of the sauce, a little cloud of the foam and on the top a crisp galette and last of all the froth.
Restaurant Madonnina del Pescatore
Career At the age of 25, Cedroni took over what was a pizza restaurant on Senigallia beach on Le Marche's Adriatic Coast in 1984. Cedroni started out working front of house and only moved to the kitchen in 1990.
A creative turning point followed in 1995 when he met Ferran Adrià. A stage at el Bulli followed in 1998.
Among Cedroni's other business interests are seafood delicatessen, Anikò, also in Senigallia; Clandestino "susci bar" in Portonovo, and café Acrilico in Ancona. He also produces a range of top-tier canned seafood under his own name.
Awards Two Michelin stars since 2006
Cuisine Best known for "susci": a modern, Japanese-inflected interpretation of the region's traditional raw fish dishes.
Signature dishes include turbot cutlet with beer batter, swiss chard and monkfish tripe; selection of sushi and susci; and canned fish, "gusto Simmenthal".
What they say "A culinary magic show", Travel and Leisure. "Molecular tomfoolery", Daily Telegraph.
Address Madonnina del Pescatore, Via Lungomare Italia, 11-60019 Senigallia (AN), Italy,
Tel 00 39 71 698 267 Websitewww.morenocedroni.it
MY OWN SALT COD, WHITE RAGU WITH MEAT AND YOGURT
Put 500g of Atlantic cod (gadus morhua) fillets in salt for around five hours, then wash and dry them.
For the white ragu
Cut 76g of onion, carrot and celery into mirepoix and put in a frying pan with 25g of extra virgin olive oil. Add 150g veal fillet, finely diced, brown and soften with 25g of white wine and cook for about 10 minutes, adding 2g of salt and 50g of vegetable stock. Allow to cool and combine with 50g of low-fat yogurt.
Heat 300g of extra virgin olive oil to 65°C.
In a very hot non-stick pan, sear the fillets (in 100g pieces) in pre-heated oil just to move the heat from the outside to the inside until the inside reaches 40°C. Then remove them from the oil.
Place two spoons of ragu (about 30g) on a deep plate, arrange the fish and decorate with the dried skin of the fish.
Restaurant Ristorante Cracco, Milan
Career Vicenza-born Cracco trained at Gualtiero Marchesi in Milan, the first Italian restaurant to be awarded three stars, before working with Alain Ducasse and Alain Senderens in France.
From 1991 to 1993, he was head chef at another three-star, Florence's Enoteca Pichiorri.
In 2000, the Stoppani family, owners of celebrated Milan delicatessen, Peck, invited him aboard a joint venture, restaurant Cracco-Peck.
In July 2007, Cracco took it over entirely and renamed it Ristorante Cracco. This November, Cracco is due to open a 60-cover restaurant at the Triennale Design Museum in Milan.
Awards Two Michelin stars. Voted the 22nd best restaurant in the world in 2009.
Cuisine Provocative, playful takes on Italian traditions such as steamed tiramisù, mayonnaise ravioli with baby squid, caramelised Russian salad, and marinated egg yolk with Parmesan cream.
What they say"Food for the mind" Corriere della Sera
AddressRistorante Cracco, Via Victor Hugo 4, 20123 Milan, Tel 00 39 2 876 774
SEA SNAIL, OLIVE OIL, CREME BRULEE
- 1.3kg cuttlefish
- 450g extra virgin olive oil (ideally from Sicily-Calabria)
- 18g sugar
- 6g salt
- 2 Madagascar vanilla pods
- 50 pea shoots
- 10g Maldon salt
Clean the cuttlefish, dry on kitchen paper for one hour.
Place the cuttlefish in a saucepan with the oil, salt, sugar and vanilla.
Cook for two hours with the help of a weight without it reaching 62°.
Sieve the oil with cuttlefish and let it cool down to 45°C. Once you have reached the right temperature, blitz in a Turbomix until you have a thick cream of oil. Refrigerate for about two hours.
- 200g sea snails
- 1 carrot
- 1 celery
- 1 shallot
- 1 garlic clove
- 5 white peppercorns
- 1 bunch of parsley
- 4 litres water
- 8g sea salt
- 1/2 bay leaf
- 50g extra virgin olive oil
Cook the sea snails with the carrot, celery, shallot and white pepper in salted water. Drain and leave the sea snails, unshelled, on the side.
Cook the sea snails in a pressurised oven at 120°C for about 30 minutes with the garlic and bay. Then grill them with little oil.
Place a ramkin with about 45g of the vanilla mix under the grill for about seven to eight minutes (or in a traditional oven for five minutes at 240°C) until it is brown. You will get a semi-burnt savoury cream.
Lay the sea snails on top with a pinch of Maldon salt.
- 50g extra virgin olive oil
- 25g cocoa butter
- 16 pea shoots
Melt the cocoa butter, adding the olive oil, then leave in a fridge for one hour in a square mould. Remove the oil from the mould and grate it on a plate, adding the pea shoots and some salt crystals. Serve the oil butter to accompany the oil brûlée
Where? Great Halls, Vinopolis, No 1 Bank End, London SE1 9BU (Stoney St entrance),
When: 29-30 June
What? An annual international gastronomic congress founded by the journalist and food editor Paolo Marchi in 2004, and organised by MAGENTAbureau in Milan, it showcases latest developments in cuisine around the world, but particularly in Italy.