Saturday, March 20, 2010

If I Could Only Eat One Cuisine for the Rest of My Life...

Dude, this is a no-brainer. The Italians get my undying love and cheek kisses for their cuisine. If I had to give up all others, I would miss creamy coconut curries, fresh guacamole with warm salty chips, and the soul-satisfying age-tofu roll that I get at Fuji Sushi about once a week. But those things all pale away into the culinary abyss when chummied up next to Italian food.

To me, the success of Italian food depends on the freshness of its ingredients. I actually don't find it a complex cuisine. The beauty is in its simplicity; the best flavors, blended together in holy matrimony. It is the zap of fresh ingredients combined with even fresher ingredients that makes it so addictive to me. Italian is comfort food at its finest. All comfort foods are laced with some kind of secret ingredient that makes you pause in silence to reflect on the fulfilling nature of what you just ate. Italian food does just that for me.

Many of my favorite ingredients are used judiciously in Italian cooking - What's not to love about huge bunches of basil, creamy cannellinni beans, balsamic vinegar, sun-ripened tomatoes, red wine, and olives?

Let me pause at the mention of olives. I love an olive. Hey, if it was good enough for the ancients, it's good enough for me. My idea of Mecca is the olive bar at Whole Foods, where I try hard not to rack up $20 worth of olives that likely will all be eaten on the car ride home. Olive oils are like wines to me, ready to be sniffed and savored. The pale green gold makes bread seem magical, salads glisten, and makes every vegetable more true to it's beautiful little vegetable self.

Many of my favorite dishes are Italian: eggplant parmesan, lasagne, homemade pasta of any kind, fresh-baked foccaccia or baguettes, grilled pizza, pasta puttanesca, freshly made pesto, pasta fagioli soup. I love to recreate traditional favorites and put my own twist on them, like lasagne layered with creamy cashew ricotta, chicken seitan cacciatore, or tofu marsala. Last night we had homemade Italian bread, oven-fried eggplant parmesan with a wine tomato ragu and a crisp romaine salad with red wine viniagrette. Mmmmm. I've got leftover eggplant in the fridge waiting to be warmed up and stuffed into a hoagie roll with some soy mozzarella for an eggplant parm sub.

For those interested, my foolproof go-to Italian cookbook is Nonna's Italian Kitchen by Bryanna Clark Grogan. It's all vegan and almost everything I've tried is delicious.

What is your favorite cuisine? What would you choose if you were forced to eat only one region for the rest of your life? Would it be Thai, Mexican, Indian, Southern Soul, Cajun, Japanese, Vietnamese.....What would keep you satisfied?