During The Identita’ Golose 2013 Food festival, one of the featured Italian chefs participating in the Demos and Dinners was Cesare Battisti. His restaurant in Milan, Ratana‘, is extremely popular because it features traditional dishes from Lombardy. But Chef Battisti is very versatile and while everyone was expecting him to cook something traditional, he sidetracked everyone preparing a pan Mediterranean dish: Penne with Pepper Cream, Bread Crumbs, Anchovies, Preserved Lemons & Fresh Oregano. Chef Battisti used Monograno Felicetti, a pasta made for a single type of grain (note that usually what you buy at the supermarket is made with a mix of lesser qualities of wheat flour) and that is a masterpiece in itself. This dish went head to head with Mario Batali’s Shrimp and Basil Ravioli with Butter and Squash. To round up the meal, Chef Giuseppe (Beppe) Rambaldi of Combal.Zero in Piedmont prepared a pasta doughnut filled with cacio and pepe sauce to prove the versatility of Pasta Monograno Felicetti. As you can imagine, the savory doughnut was delicious and I almost forgot my manners and licked my fingers.
Here is my interview with Chef Battisti….
L25: Chef Battisti, before we begin our interview, congratulations because the pasta you cooked was amazing and I am going to steal your recipe because my husband loves peppers and I am surely making this pasta for him. Tell us anout your perception of what americans think of Italian food?
CB: I have worked on several American Cruise ships and I believe that often the food was taken for granted. With Eataly and Identita’ Golose and with many other chefs working in the US things have changed. Also given the success of chefs cooking Italian food it’s clear that there has been an incredible push towards the real Italian Food Culture.
L25: So when you come to America do you notice that they stopped abusing garlic?
CB: Absolutely and in particular I find that before Italy was associated with spaghetti and pizza, now Americans know that there are different types of food whether you go north, center or south and depending also on the seaside and mountain regions. It is a huge step forward.
L25: Even though you restaurant focuses on traditional food of Lombardy, your dish involved techniques, flavors and ingredients from different areas of the Italy. Americans really love dishes with textural differences. What is the best way to make Americans appreciate the different textures and it not only tomato pure’?
CB: We need to educate people first and foremost. We need to start with basic recipes and high quality products. We can teach them the techniques later on because the message we need to send to American cooks is that we need to cook at home. There is way too much premade food and it is not the best option, even if it saves time. Today we have put on a show using so many different ingredients but we also need to point out that in Italy there always was an exchange of products, for example the anchovies packed in salt in Sicily were then exchanged in Lombardy and Piedmont with meats. So there are several Lombardy and Piedmont recipes, starting with Bagna Cauda and Vitello Tonnato that include anchovies and other products that are not deemed properly local.
L25: Tell us about your experience when you travel to America. What is the first thing you eat when you land in New York?
CB: A hotdog, in the street! That is my “welcome to the US” food.
L25: What should my readers order at your restaurant Ratana’ in Milan?
CB: Risotto, of course!
Lemonade25 will be traveling to Milan soon and taste Chef Battisti’s creations at Ratana’. Stay tuned for the review!