I have always believed that, to understand a person of a different nationality, you need to speak their language. That way you can convey information and understand the most superficial spoken communications.
As a result, I combined language studies with those of people’s culture, understood as a set of values and ways of life belonging to a linguistic group. Slowly I came to understand that this was not enough though, that there was a much deeper message to decode, of a non-verbal kind: that of the body. Gestures, expressions, movements, silences: in other words the unsaid words are often more meaningful, but also the most difficult to pick up because they vary between and typify different cultures. At last, having eliminated these “obstacles”, I asked myself what makes communication pleasing, keeping in mind this fundamental rule: “Something might be important in one culture but not in another.” So then I looked at the basic, essential needs common to all humanity and the answer came to me: “Food! Here is one kind of cultural exchange.”
So an element which I had always thought important for the family became transformed into a wider conviviality, involving shared pleasure. The much fabled table groaning with food then becomes an excuse to get together and enjoy the same dishes.
Often I have tried out the more well known and engaging Mediterranean recipes, but for my last dinner
I exceeded myself and achieved a personal ambition. Like a true native of Trento, I made “strangolapreti” (priest-stranglers).
Well! What can you say? Translating the word was a feat in itself. Imagine the questions raised by it! Not to mention the ingredients: stale bread, nettles, ricotta (“re-cooked cheese”?!?)….
Then to explain how you have to go out early in the morning to pick dew-covered shoots, as though those little drops of water were the magic ingredient that made the dish unique. Stressing that the ricotta has to be bought from the dairy and the eaten as soon as possible to enjoy the taste to the full. As you know, cookery requires dedication and care, but also patience, curiosity and an open mind. I therefore say to any cooks wishing to follow me that the watchword is: flexibility. By that I mean: be adaptable when following the recipe, allowing for possible variations, extensions or changes to the ingredients. In this way the “strangolapreti” accepted a compromise, and came down to the level of plain old spinach dumplings livened up by a fine local cheese, enjoyed by one and all. So long live culinary “corruption” and defiance! What can be more stimulating than a Norwegian salmon with olive oil on a bed of oregano and rosemary? Or “lihapullat” (Finnish meat balls) with chilli? Not to mention Trentine focaccia with cardamom! With a simple plate of re-cycled bread you can defend and spread your heritage and interact with other cultures. For my next dinner I want to cook potatoes “en brenzon” and a “frigulöc” cake according to my mother’s ancient recipe.
May the gastronomic gods help me!