Today is the International Day of Italian Cuisine and PRABALIKA M. BORAH looks beyond pastas and pizzas to get to the basics of Italian cooking

Pizza, pasta, lasagne, wine. What does Italian food bring to your mind? “Delicious cuisine with bursts of colours and flavours that explode in your mouth — exotic yet wholesome. Exactly like Italian women,” says ex-cricketer, wildlife enthusiast and angler Saad Bin Jung. Saad is a well-travelled Hyderabadi settled in Karnataka and is a connoisseur of Italian food.

Today is the International Day of Italian Cuisine and the dish of the year is tiramisu. It’s the day of the Catholic feast of San Antonio Abate, one of the most popular saints of Italy and the patron saint of domestic animals, but also of butchers and salami makers.

On this day, according to tradition, the Italian Carnival begins by celebrating good food and cooking. The occasion is celebrated in Italy, from north to south, on January 17 in many different ways. This day is celebrated in most Italian restaurants around the world, but are we really well-versed with Italian khana? Remember the scene from English-Vinglish where a confused Sridevi asks her French classmate, “French-Italian, not same?” She wasn’t an isolated case.

“Italian food is a lot about ingredients and not what is done to the ingredients,” says Chef Mandaar Sukhtankar from The Park, who specialises in Italian cuisine. “The stress is on freshness and use of locally produced ingredients. It is the philosophy of cooking. As a country which is getting used to world cuisine it will take us a while to know Italian cuisine in detail.”

Would he tweak the recipe to satisfy the palate of a local guest? “Unless it is a speciality restaurant serving authentic Italian cuisine I wouldn’t mind,” says Mandaar. Akshay Puljal, who owns a restaurant in the city and caters to lovers of Italian cuisine, says, “I face the white sauce and red sauce dilemma. If around 60 percent of my guests are well-versed with what they are eating, the rest of them are naïve and it is a delight to explain to them about what is being served on the table. Keeping in mind religious sentiments, a lot has to be accommodated in terms of ingredients and servings. Chicken Carbonara is a sin according to me, because I’m straying from original pork. But I have no choice but to do it to meet the requirements of the guest.” Eating Italian still means pizza to most people, but there are a few who really know their Italian, says Vikas Pasary owner of Little Italy, an all vegetarian Italian speciality restaurant. “As one travels more, knowledge improves and that’s what gives us customers who go for a course-wise meal; they are well-versed with what they are ordering,” adds Vikas.

It’s the tiramisu

This year, the International Day of Italian Cuisine is not being dedicated to pasta or pizza, but to tiramisu. Tiramisu is undoubtedly the most widely known dolce italiano in the world, a sign of the vast spread of Italian cuisine over the last 30 years. And that’s why it is also the most counterfeited. This dessert doesn’t need any cooking, if the ingredients are handy. It can be stored for a couple of days and served cold. And it is best described as ‘heaven in your mouth’.

The Park Hyatt in Hyderabad is celebrating this fest and Chef Matteo Grandi is upbeat. He is looking forward to offer tiramisu to his patrons. So what is the secret to making this slice of ‘heaven in your mouth’? “Ingredients, methods and presentation. I am going to present something which will have the authentic ingredients to make it for the best experience.” During the fest that is celebrated Park Hyatt properties across the world, the dessert for the day will be tiramisu.