30 May2012

Mrs. MM and I are invited to a lunch today to announce the launch of Casa Artusi in the Philippines. The Mayor of Forlimpopoli, Italy (where Artusi was born and spent his formative years) and Chef Carla Brigliadori have flown in for the event. The Ambassador of Italy H.E. Luca Fornari and his wife are the co-hosts along with Margarita Fores. Pellegrino Artusi is one of my food heroes. An avid, nay, bordering on obsessed home cook, he set out to write a “cookbook” in the late 1800’s entitled “La Scienza in Cucina e L’Arte di Mangiar Bene” or “The Science of Cookery and the Art of Eating Well” and was turned down by several publishers in Italy who belittled/ignored his work until he finally decided to publish the cookbook himself, with a first print run of just 1,000 copies in 1891. He was 71 years old at the time. The cookbook gained popularity by word of mouth and it has since become probably the most popular cookbook on Italian food ever published. Artusi passed away in 1911, at the age of 91, and his cookbook and all it’s 35 editions have gone on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies by the time he died! And, horrors, from the perspective of some chefs and food professionals, Mr. Artusi was an amateur home cook! His cookbook was actually “not up to snuff” by modern standards of accuracy, clarity, and recipe writing standards, they asserted, and yet it was so undeniably and stupendously influential on Italian cuisine over the past century! This is my kind of foodie underdog hero! :)

I don’t think Mr. Artusi ever planned to have such far-reaching impact. He wrote a book that covered many key basic recipes of his time, focusing on the foods he was familiar with, having grown up in Romagna and Tuscany. He infused his cookbook with anecdotes, sidebars, comments that were often not even food related, so his curiosity, knowledge and opinions are very much a part of the book. He espoused fresh products, eating rich foods sparingly, he loved his pork LARD for its unique and delicious flavor, and he just strikes you as being a real lover of food. His book was published at a time when the Italian nation and its populace was undergoing upheaval and dramatic change, and where the vast majority of the citizens were extremely poor but within decades a massive middle class was to be created, many of whom looking for some simple guide to help them in the kitchen and spend a little of their increased incomes, according to the Kyle M. Philipps III, the translator of the cookbook into its wonderful English edition, “The Art of Eating Well,” in his foreword.

Mr. Philipps writes further that “(Artusi) was actually a silk merchant…a shrewd and gifted investor…so gifted he was able to retire when he turned fifty. He spent his time between Florence and Viareggio. (From his small fortune) he established a home for the elderly and left money to provide dowries for poor girls. His greatest gift, the (substantial) royalties from his book…went to his servants, on the condition that they be still living under his roof at the time of his death, which they were.” You just gotta love it. :)

To be honest, I have only cooked a few recipes from his book, that has no photos or illustrations, but I think I have used dozens if not hundreds of his tips, suggestions, techniques, etc. This is a very simplified book, and one which you can use to guide you as you experiment and try new recipes. I refer to it often, and sometimes find myself just reading a few recipes every now and again, with no particular dish in mind… One needs to be a confident cook by today’s standards to use it, because it doesn’t explain as much as a modern cookbook would, but it was actually designed for a very simple reader when it was first published, albeit a reader quite familiar with Italian ingredients and cooked dishes… His book very much is the essence of the dishes he describes, focusing on the key ingredients, at the height of their freshness, or using key ingredients like lard for flavor, and simple cooking methods, and utensils, but infused with his knowledgeable opinions throughout… It’s a very, very hard act to follow, but it sure makes me want to revisit my latent need/desire to write a cookbook someday…:)

Oddly, Mr. Artusi does not have a recipe for fried squash blossoms in his book, though he espouses the joys of lightly battered and deep-fried-in-lard vegetable fritters. So in the spirit of Artusi, here is a simple, seasonal dish most folks can replicate at home. It’s one of our house favorites. I started off with a couple of bunches of fresh kalabasa flowers purchased at the market last Saturday (cook them the day you buy them, we had them for lunch that day). Remove the stamens and rinse the blooms carefully. Place a small piece of mozzarella cheese and a sliver of anchovy in the center of each bloom and gently twist the petals while dipping them into a light batter. The batter (Artusi style) is made of an egg yolk, flour, olive oil a hint of brandy, salt and some cold water that you mix and let rest for several hours in the fridge. Just before using, whisk up the egg white and fold into the batter to lighten it. Dip your veggies into the batter and deep fry in lard if you have it. Serve hot. Totally addicting.

P.S. More on the school/center CASA ARTUSI in Manila when I get more information in the months ahead. From what I gather, it is in the earliest stages of planning and implementation. :)

P.P.S. I wrote briefly about the English translation of the Artusi book in 2006, it was sent to me by Sister several years ago.

 

COMMENTS:

  1. tonito says:

    I love fried squash blossoms. My Italian-American office mate always made sure that I have dinner with them whenever squash was in season.

    May 30, 2012 | 8:16 am

     
  2. ami says:

    Have fun eating at the launch MM!

    May 30, 2012 | 8:34 am

     
  3. millet says:

    hope you can take pictures of the food and the event, MM!

    May 30, 2012 | 8:44 am

     
  4. Odessa Ates-Villareal says:

    Good Morning MM, have a great time there and hoping you will share it with us on your next post! I haven’t tried frying squash blossoms. We normally use it for Laswa together with the squash and sitao young shoots /stems. However,I have also seen them stuff with cheese and fried by David Rocco on his TV show. they look so yummy MM!!! Bdw, I have a small plastic container (air tight) of Lard at our fridge for like a year already. i’d like to ask if I can still use it? i bought it in a bakery by a kilo so i haven’t ask for its CU date. hoping for a reply….tnxs po ……. :)

    May 30, 2012 | 8:59 am

     
  5. Marketman says:

    Odessa, it would have been better if you kept it in the freezer, but a year is pretty long even in the freezer. Best to thaw the lard or bring to room temperature and maybe heat up a couple of tablespoons and see if it still smells good or rancid. If there is any doubt, throw it out and obtain fresher lard. I think we put 2 month or so expiry dates on our lard if frozen, and I find that that is conservative, but best for the purposes of retail products… Having written all of this, there is a tidbit of information that I have always wanted to confirm, though it came from a most trustworthy lawyer, that in their Southern town in Cebu, the tortas for the annual fiesta were made with AGED lard from the previous year’s celebrations! Yipes, that means it sat around for 12 months at tropical temperatures before being used! :)

    May 30, 2012 | 10:12 am

     
  6. Christine says:

    May 30, 2012 | 10:31 am

     
  7. millet says:

    one year old lard? something like a sourdough starter, or mother yeast maybe? but this is lard, though…and nobody died of salmonella poisoning after the fiesta?

    May 30, 2012 | 11:46 am

     
  8. Joey in Dubai says:

    That’s a very interesting and very informative (as always) post on Artusi. It seems he’s like you: retired at 50…gives money to charities…loves pork lard. That is so you! I want to be your servant LOL!

    May 30, 2012 | 12:01 pm

     
  9. Gej says:

    Reincarnation?! – Ha ha! What an interesting book, life, and event!

    May 30, 2012 | 1:29 pm

     
  10. Ley says:

    Yes MM, 1 year-old aged lard for tortas in Boljoon. I suspect this is a practice done in towns where torta is a delicacy. The lard is from pork adobo, cooled and placed in glass jars (those used in tuba), sealed and stored in room temperature. Comes the time to make tortas, i.e. during the next fiesta, the glass jars are simply placed under the sun or near the fire in the dirty kitchen to thaw the lard.

    May 30, 2012 | 4:44 pm

     
  11. ConnieC says:

    MM, you do have some of Signore Artusi’s ingredients to longevity and happiness: “eating fresh” and LARD ( from pigs who eat right themselves) and giving to others.

    I can imagine the unexpected surprise of the sliver of anchovy as you bite into the calabasa blossom. Ah, health issues be damned or else…..I’ll have it behind hubby’s back.

    May 30, 2012 | 5:14 pm

     
  12. Nadia & Rene says:

    Hi MM. If you’re referring to the famous torta made in Argao…then the aged lard would probably explain the “funny and very peculiar” taste my husband and I got the first (and last) time we tried it. The taste was exactly that…AGED.

    May 30, 2012 | 6:33 pm

     
  13. Marketman says:

    Nadia, yes, they use pork lard in Argao… but perhaps the odd flavor you refer to was the anise seed and possibly hints of tuba or coconut toddy, that also adds to the distinct flavor profile of Southern Cebu tortas…

    May 30, 2012 | 6:54 pm

     
  14. marilen says:

    Still anticipating (with great hope, if he finds the time ) the foodie/travel book that MM should publish. Right, gang?!!!!!

    May 31, 2012 | 12:41 am

     
  15. brownedgnat says:

    Perfect timing of this post. I was just at the osteria in Forlimpopoli (on the way to Rimini from Florence) a few weeks ago. Those are some good looking blossoms!!

    May 31, 2012 | 1:48 am

     
  16. Thel from Florida says:

    90% of what I cooked for my kano husband are Italian food. I would like to buy the book by Artusi translated by Phillips so I looked in the Internet. I found the NEW book cost $199. Used one in good condition little bit less. I only want new stuffs and can afford $199, but I’m having a second thought. What do you think MM? Thanks!

    May 31, 2012 | 1:57 am

     
  17. Marketman says:

    Thel, that sounds quite pricey! This is the book I have (I think there are two English translations) and this used copy is $70 + shipping… Amazon also has many from $25 and up, but used copies. I guess they are out of print, but I would imagine Random House will print more eventually… the original price of the book was $29 or so I think…

    Also, instead of the hardbound book I have, here is another translation with apparently more of the recipes… it’s in paperback and still available for a much more reasonable price… here.

    May 31, 2012 | 6:47 am

     
  18. bubbles says:

    hi MM! wow! that book sounds so entertaining and also an inspiration for the “chef wannabe” like myself! =) btw, im going home this coming july in Davao city, and I don’t see squash flowers around Davao city. I want to try and cook this dish to my mom, but im afraid i won’t see any. Can i hand carry the flowers to davao? will the airport people allow me? hehe :) and also does the taste matter if the flowers is a little bit willted when i arrive in davao? ;) thanks MM! :)

    Jun 1, 2012 | 2:38 am

     
  19. PITS, MANILA says:

    We’ll wait for your blog re the launch … hoping to see a lot of photos …

    Jun 1, 2012 | 4:31 am

     
  20. sarah says:

    I cooked a version of this recipe for dinner. It was sooo delicious! Thank you for the recipe! –> http://renegade-lover.blogspot.com/2012/06/stuffed-squash-blossoms.html

    Jun 17, 2012 | 10:02 pm

     
 

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