Country Cooking

Italian cuisine–from Pellegrino Artusi’s seminal book to a cooking school in Manila

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MARGARITA Fores (center) will run the local chapter of Casa Artusi, the famed culinary school’s one and only offshore campus so far.

I knew I had a copy of the book “The Art of Eating Well” by Pellegrino Artusi, but I didn’t have time to look for it before the lunch that announced the opening of Casa Artusi in the Philippines.

It is a sort of culinary school that teaches Italian cooking using the recipes of his book. The announcement was made at White Space at Pasong Tamo Extension, where Margarita Fores—who will run the school—cooks at The Commissary on weekends.

Foresis known mainly for her Italian cooking, learned from women in private cooking classes in Italy. She honed her craft at Casa Artusi in Forlimpopoli, Artusi’s birthplace in Romagna, northern Italy.

When at last I found the book, it was dusty from not having being read. The original title is “La Scienza d in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene” (The Science of Cookery and the Art of Eating Well). My copy was translated by Kyle M. Phillips III, who wrote in his introduction that Artusi had to pay for the printing himself because no one would finance it and his friends didn’t believe it would sell.

The book proved to be a bestseller and accomplished much more than just documenting recipes. It enabled housewives of Italy’s growing middle class, who had no servants and staff, to make good and presentable meals. More importantly, it spread the use of the Italian language in a country that was not yet unified by language.

The translator wrote how he couldn’t find second-hand or even third-hand copies because Artusi’s book is usually passed on from mother to daughter for generations.

The Casa Artusi launch also announced that Fores would cook for a Filipino food festival at the Westin Excelsior Hotel in Rome during the week of the Philippine Independence celebration (June 13-19), then cook sinigang et. al at Festa Artusiana, an annual tribute to Pellegrino Artusi in his hometown.

The recipes will all be from “Kulinarya: A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine”; Fores was one of six chefs who worked on the book.

Organized effort

Perhaps Casa Artusi should serve as a model for the promotion of our cooking. While the Kulinarya chefs have been invited abroad to do Filipino food festivals and to different regions in the country, there is no center here to teach our cuisine. We envy Thailand and Vietnam in their effort to teach their own cooking to tourists.

We have the book “Kulinarya” that can be used as recipe source, but we need an organized effort for the teaching itself. The many cooking schools in the country could serve as venues—that is, if those schools teach their own students Filipino cooking at all. Last time I heard, very few do.

At the launch of Casa Artusi-Philippine chapter (the school’s one and only offshore campus so far), the mayor of Forlimpopoli, Paolo Zoffoli, was in town to sign the agreement with Fores. The program included the Italian Ambassador to the Philippines, Luca Fornari, trying his hand at making tortellini with the help of Chef Carla Brigliadori, a “Marietta” of Casa Artusi.

“Mariettas” are instructors named after Marietta Sabatini, Artusi’s maid, who, with his cook, Francesco Ruffilli, tested the recipes.

In Italy as in most other countries, those who spread the culture of food are the grandmothers and mothers. Mario Batali told me in an interview that he learned Italian cooking from the grandmothers in an Italian town. Like Artusi, he realized that it is home cooking that should be learned, not food as presented in restaurants.

Every new edition of Artusi’s book included additional recipes contributed by those grandmothers and mothers. The final edition totaled 790 recipes. My book has 460.

Pinoy connection

While eating some of the recipes during the launch, my tablemates and I giggled as we tried to connect the Italian dishes to ours, little knowing that Fores had done that in her press kit. The Tortellini in Brodo was very much like our Pancit Molo. Of course the Porchetta is our lechon. And the pasta with meat sauce—well, that’s our “spaghetti.”

Every recipe is numbered in the book, and so the Zabaione is no. 412. The Biscotto that accompanied it is no. 394, a biscuit that we at the+ table identified as Lengua de Gato.

On perusing Pellegrino Artusi’s “The Art of Eating Well,” I discovered that it contains as well stories of his life and that of his family, and many of his asides provide entertaining reading.

For instance, when it came to marrying off his sisters, he wrote: “I still have two sisters who had begun to count their years and were frantic for husbands under my roof; anybody who’s lived with spinsters know what a trial tolerating them can be.”

And here is what he wrote to introduce recipe no. 387, Budino Gabinetto (Cabinet Pudding): “Everybody knows that the world always pines for an idol to adore, inventing one if necessary and inflating his merits beyond reason. But I’m skeptical by nature, and repeat a famous man’s words: ‘Bring him to me dead, and then we’ll think about it.’”

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