Food has always been an issue that has attracted attention since ancient times. “De Re Coquinaria”, published in 1483, is the first gastronomic canon, written in 230 A.D. by a cook named Celio. He collects in a book some messy notes attributed to the famous gourmet Apicius. This is the only book that shows cuisine at the time of ancient Rome and its value is precious precisely because it confirms the importance of food for humans not only as a means of livelihood but also as a convivial moment.
Since Roman times to the present, conviviality is the hub of Italian cuisine (part of the Mediterranean diet, a UNESCO World Heritage), closely related to well-being, to live and to eat well.
As I wrote in my third book, ‘The Vegetarian Italian Kitchen’: “For Italians, eating is how you eat. It means taking care of the people we love, sitting down and taking your time. Time to feed, to enjoy the small pleasures of life, time to share”.
This philosophy of life, remained essentially unchanged over time, provides a positive approach to food, far from the obsessive fads raging in recent years. Centenarians living in some small towns of southern Italy have reached this enviable goal without knowing what ‘superfoods’ are but passing on, within their families, recipe notebooks, the result of centuries-old traditions. They are the clear evidence that ‘diet’ is a lifestyle, not a trend.
The so-called “Clean eating” and “Healthy food” have little to do with the two key terms that should instead be supported and which are a fundamental part of the Italian and Mediterranean diet: seasonality and sustainability.
Seasonal fruits and vegetables contain all the necessary vitamins and nutrients that the body needs according to the time of year.
In Italy, especially in small towns it is a habit buy fruits and vegetables in small markets or directly from farmers. This pleasant custom allows, among other things, to establish a relationship of trust with the seller and choose the best products.
Accustomed to the rich flavors of the garden cultivated by my father, I learnt as a child to recognize the goodness of seasonal vegetables grown without fertilizers, distinct from flavorless industrial-grown ones. I also learned the value of natural, sustainable food, lovingly prepared by my mother, which retained all the flavor of authentic unrefined ingredients. Growing up, I deepened my knowledge on the benefits of ingredients which are now rarely used or, worse, forgotten; flours of ancient grains are just one example.
My modern Italian table contain simple ingredients which were used by our grandmothers and mothers when refined ingredients were a rarity. Ancient grains, pulses, vegetables, unrefined sugars. A contemporary plant based Italian cuisine that takes all the best of the past and also looks to the present, taking a cue from some ingredients that do not belong to the Italian tradition, as seitan and tofu to which I add a touch of Italian and Mediterranean style.
Without exasperating the concept of ‘healthy’ and ‘clean eating’, my cuisine offers the best of Mediterranean Vegetarian Diet (with some vegan dishes) following the philosophy confirmed by numerous scientific studies that all come to the same conclusion: minimalism is true wealth.