I recently read again in an Ottolenghi cookbook. An almost whispered confession: that he had used coriander in a real Italian recipe. And that it tasted very good. “And I’m venturing further into very dangerous territory by suggesting, God forbid, that fresh coriander is a perfect fit for traditional cooking.”
I have to chuckle every time I read it. Because everyone knows that if there’s one place you’re not allowed to touch, it’s Italian cuisine. The regional dishes and their method of preparation are almost sacred, people fence with their own Italian aunts or neighbors or Vittoria’s who always make it this way, with these ingredients and would never make it otherwise. ‘Different’ is not creative but wrong in Italian regional cuisine. At least, that impression is often given.
I sometimes think of the Italians when, for example, I’m eating gado gado. (Learned from Vanja van der Leeden from her cookbook Indorock, that you can first soak the tofu in salt water and then roll it in black and white sesame seeds and then bake it. Oh, what a brilliant suggestion! That’s so good, the soft texture with crispy outside, the savory taste. This aside.)
So then you eat very tasty and very non-Italian and then I sometimes think: too bad, for the Italians. That they can eat the peppers with balsamic vinegar, delicious, sure, but not with salty lemon and coriander and argan oil. Also delicious.
It’s amazing that recipes sometimes give rise to a ‘how-to-do’. Never put cream in the carbonara. Never meat and fish in the paella (a pernicious tourist invention). Never pineapple in the sauerkraut (there’s something to be said for that, but someone had done that last winter, and with success).
I sometimes think of the Italians when, for example, I’m eating gado gado
Considering all this, you come to the simple conclusion: if it tastes good, it is allowed. That’s true anyway, because there’s no kitchen police, but let’s pretend there is. The kitchen police would then nod graciously at that coriander that Ottolenghi had sprinkled on his aubergine dish and admit: it’s not authentic, but it is very tasty. And once the kitchen police have figured it out, she can also, however puristly Italian she may be originally, eat a herring and admit: that’s very successful the way you do it. Something different than our briefly marinated anchovies.
At the same time, there is also a kitchen servant in me. Always hated ‘fusion’, so no soy sauce with the mozzarella, no peanuts in French food. Disgusting! I cried with a contorted face, and admit it, it also sounds very disgusting right away. But maybe it’s not right. The great French three-star chef Alain Passard confit oranges with soy sauce and pours olive oil over the pineapple, so who are we humble eaters to think so? And even if you don’t want to go that far right away, what an advantage is it sometimes to be a characterless Dutchman without much ‘own kitchen’ and eat pasta with tomato sauce and a pinch of roasted Mexican chipotle pepper one evening and the other evening beetroot with garlic and Greek yogurt, and no one who comes by with a cap and says: that’s not how we do it here.