Ingredients Maketh the Italian Cuisine
If there is one thing that sets Italian cuisine apart, it is their focus on quality ingredients and their strong belief in balancing delicate flavours. As Chef Matteo Arvonio from JW Marriott Juhu puts across with much feeling, “ingredient is the king of a dish in Italy.” In the city to create some of the finest Italian delicacies for the Italian Road Trip at Alba, JW Marriott Bengaluru’s speciality restaurant, Chef Matteo explains the importance given to creating traditional flavours. He strongly believes a dish should only be made the way it is traditionally, without changing flavours. And to achieve this, they select all the best ingredients and then create the dish to not compromise on quality.
Unlike other cuisines where much depends on how the sauce is made, or how well something has been marinated, Italian food revolves around balancing all the elements in the dish, so as not to overpower the senses. Many ingredients are sourced locally such as seasonal vegetables and fresh cheese. And anything that cannot be recreated outside of Italy, is always imported from the homeland such as cured cheeses, artisanal pastas that are made of a specific Durum wheat growing in Italy.
Meet the Italian Master Chef
Originally from Piedmont, Chef Matteo started his career travelling across Italy learning regional cuisine and the history of what went into creating each traditional recipe. Classic Italian cuisine is what people generally know of – your regular pizzas and pastas. Regional cuisine could be broadly categorized into northern, central and southern styles. And these styles are significantly influenced by the geographical position, countries they trade with, and certainly by what easily grows in the region.
Chef Matteo shares his passion for authentic Italian ingredients
On this Italian Road Trip, Chef Matteo takes the gourmand from Piedmont, through Tuscany to Sicily – showcasing all three regional cuisines. Talking to us before the dinner service started for the first day of this exquisite food festival, Chef explained how northern regional style generally involves more techniques, and use of more wines, cheeses and spices. There is a significant influence from French cuisine due to the proximity of these regions. A lot of polenta, and game is cooked as compared to the southern style. Here, the climate allows the growth of fresh colourful vegetables like tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini which are incorporated into the cuisine. Nuts like pistachios and almonds are used a lot, and fresh seafood is the pride of the region. Southern style relies on simple cooking and shares a lot of ingredients and preparations with Mediterranean cuisine because of the trade with Middle east and northern Africa. There is a preference for fresh cheese like Ricotta, Burrata and Mozzarella as compared to the cured cheeses used in the central regional cuisine such as Parmigiano and Pecorino. Here, they consume mostly cured meat like Prosciutto, and a lot of legumes like chickpea.
The first dish from Chef Matteo’s well-designed Italian Road Trip menu is the Zucchini and Provola Parmigiana. Classically, this dish is made with deep-fried aubergine, layered with a thick cheese and tomato sauce. Chef Matteo created a healthier variation by using zucchini, tomatoes and fresh basil, and layered it with Provola and smoked Scamorza. The sharp pungent taste of Provola mixed with the smoky flavours of Scamorza cheese balanced the fresh vegetables to make for a light dish.
Pan-seared Prawns and Sea Scallop from Tuscany was served on stewed lentils, with Rigatino and Vitelotte chips. Rigatino is basically Pancetta from Tuscany, salt cured and spiced with black pepper and other spices. And Vitelotte is a French variety of blue-violet potato with a nutty flavour. Interestingly, this dish is a creation of Chef Matteo using regional flavours and cooking styles and the freshest ingredients available.
The homemade Pappardelle with Duck Ragu served with smoked duck is inspired by northern cooking styles and central regional ingredients. Originating in the Tuscany region, Pappardelle are broad, flat pasta noodles and the name is derived from ‘pappare’ meaning to gobble up! Meat, especially game is an integral part of Italian cuisine especially in the northern regions and the stress is on not overcooking the meat to retain its original flavour and texture.
Another Tuscan delicacy from the menu is the Guinea Fowl stuffed with Black Rice. This was served on a bed of chickpea sauce and late harvest wine jus. Late harvest wines are made from grapes left on the vine longer than usual to allow them to dehydrate naturally. Losing all their water content makes these grapes sweet, thus creating aromatic, sweet wine that is good for cooking with meat. The juices of the fowl combined with the stewed chickpea and the sweetness of the wine made for a rustic dish prepared with all local flavours of Tuscany. As Chef Matteo expressed so aptly, this dish “brings hearty food to fine dine.”
No meal is complete without indulging in dolci, and Alba’s Road Trip to Italy indulges like none other. The Sicilian Fruit Cannolo is a tube-shaped shell of fried pastry dough filled with sweet, creamy cinnamon-flavoured Ricotta. Chef Matteo balanced the sweetness of the creamy filling with the subtle tartness of the passionfruit and mango sauce the Cannoli were served on, and replaced the traditionally used candied fruits with some fresh and colourful seasonal fruits.
Saving the most decadent dish for the last, Chef Matteo brought out the Bonnet Piemontese al Cioccolato e Amaretti – a silky chocolate and caramel pudding with almond biscuits from Piedmont. The subtle bitterness from dark chocolate and roasted almonds of the Amaretti balances with the sweetness of caramel like a dream and brings out the silky texture of the dessert.
Catch up with Chef Matteo at Alba, JW Marriott Bengaluru
Italian Chefs take a lot of pride in their local ingredients and make efforts to preserve them, and the centuries-old family recipes for artisanal pasta, or cheese, or cured meat. Instead of mass-producing everything, they like limiting specialities to their regions to maintain the authenticity and to create a sustainable ecosystem.
Do visit Alba at JW Marriott Bengaluru from 3rd to 12th March 2017, to indulge in an authentic Italian feast and catch up with Chef Matteo's interesting anecdotes as he takes you on an indulgent road trip through Italy.