I am a huge fan of vegetables. There have been few times I have cherished vegetables as much as when I visited the gardens at Villa Jamele with my friend and colleague Peppe Zullo. That being said, I LOVE meat. It isn’t often that a cook manages to entice my palate to such a degree that I do not need or want for meat on my plate… and then my taste buds tangoed with the artistry of Pier Giorgio Parini.
It was the last day of the festivities and my last class for the Salone del Gusto 2014 edition. I was late for his class, but the minute I walked in, I was riveted. The temporary kitchen stage provided by Salone del Gusto was sparsely decorated by colorful produce, interesting contraptions and a collection of wine glasses. I almost wondered if they had even finished setting up.
I soon realized that Chef Parini wanted us to be able to have an unobstructed view of his craftsmanship. The topic of the workshop was egg based pastas all made by hand. One of the dishes was a stuffed pasta and the other a long noodle. He spoke of paying attention to details such as texture, thickness and ripeness of ingredients. “It starts with choosing the right materials.”
Pier spoke highly of a ‘burrato’ flour, which can be a type 2 or type 1 flour but is not enriched with gluten and therefore creates an ideal texture for pasta when combined with durum wheat. For those less familiar with the flours available in Italy, they are usually categorized on a number scale (2, 1, 0 and 00) based on how finely they are milled and then protein content is analyzed to determine whether they are appropriate for bread making, pasta doughs or pastry concoctions.
My two favorite techniques were a chargrilled vegetable stock acquired using a steamer siphon (something I had never even seen before and I suspect may be the chef’s own design) and a squash pickled with honey and apple vinegar (not apple cider vinegar) using the lactic acid found in whey. We feasted on two pasta dishes which I will do my best to explain. Please note that there are no words in my vocabulary to describe the utter sumptuousness of Chef Pier Giorgio Parini’s dishes.
Melanzane dentro e fuori; simply explained, a circular eggplant stuffed pasta. Of course, it was not that simple. The pasta filling was pure eggplant. The chef pan-fried it with garlic and slow cooked the vegetable for hours with only the necessary amount of liquid until it became a caramelized eggplant paste. The pillowy pasta was cooked and served in a chargrilled vegetable stock. Finishing touches were added with tomato water and elderberry butter.
Our second course was spaghetti alla chitarra (a device reminiscent of a guitar used to cut dough into noodles). The dough was made with beet pulp. A sauce was made with crushed garlic cooked in oil with a homemade chili paste that had been fermented like miso. An almost Italian version of Gochujang. Chef Parini added in anchovies and beet juice. The spaghetti was simmered in the sauce, enhancing its already vibrant color. Once removed from the fire it was drizzled with olive oil, brightened with a few drops of lemons juice, garnished with a dollop of yogurt and sprinkled with coarsely chopped epazote.
I know that last dish sounds complex, but the flavor profile on the palate was remarkably simple and balanced. When asked what pairings he would suggest, the chef explained his lack of formal training with a wonderful remark: “I am a homemade sommelier. I like to drink.” My kind of guy. The pasta was so utterly delicious, I not only dismissed meat from my mind entirely, I managed to completely overlook the wine in front of me.
It was at that moment I made a mental note to meet the chef in person and visit his restaurant, Povero Diavolo at the first chance I get. Chef Pier Giorgio Parini deserves a round of applause, the kind that starts with a slow clap and slowly builds into a crescendo. Chef, I tip my knife to you and your exquisite skill.