During the past months we had quite a few food festivals in Milan. The most recent was “Taste of Milano” whilst a previous one I attended was “Mi Gusto Tortona“, held during the Design Week. In both occasions, I had the chance to see the charming Luigi Taglienti presenting some of his dishes and explaining the philosophy behind his cuisine. Almost a year ago, I visited the Restaurant Trussardi alla Scala, just a few months after Taglienti had became executive chef there. I was very impressed by his twist on traditional dishes, you can read here about my review of the restaurant. Both Luigi Taglienti and his sous-chef Roberto Conti have been extremely friendly and explained very well to the public some secret tips of the haute cuisine!
Last Sunday he presented a show cooking named “L’evoluzione del magro“. The core idea of his philosophy is evolving the tradition into a contemporary concept, aiming at the future. Being originally from Liguria, he showed the evolution of one of the most typical dishes of the Ligurian tradition: pansotti (filled pasta) with nut sauce.
The pasta is traditionally filled with borage. A vegetable native of the Mediterranean region, particularly used in Liguria.
Taglienti used the whole vegetable, cooked it in salty boiling water, minced it and mixed it with oil and filled the fresh pasta with the resulting cream. For the nut sauce, he used nuts (that had been marinating in milk overnight), bread, garlic and marjoram. This was the most traditional version of the dish, although as you can see from the picture, by displaying the two elements in such a simple way, they were both enhanced.
The second version of the same dish was made without one of the elements used in the previous one: the nuts. This allowed to focus the attention on the borage, the core element of the dish. Taglienti cooked the vegetable pressing them between two pots so that the temperature would remain constantly very high and the vegetables would not release any liquids. He did not mince the vegetables in this case. On top of the borage, he put the cream of minced vegetables used to fill the pasta as well as a raw leave of borage, marjoram and extraction of the vegetable. To finish, a layer of fresh pasta, to recall the pansotti, split in their individual elements on the plate. This further “evolved” version of pansotti, intensifies the borage cooked in different ways, and brings the tradition to an experimental level, blinking to the future.
Earlier in April, I met him at the Mi Gusto Tortona where he prepared a typical soup from Tortona, called Panada again evolving this traditional dish into a modernized version of it.
The main ingredients are stale bread and eggs, poor elements that remind of the people from the area around Tortona. The “richer” ingredient is the Zingherlino, a special ricotta cheese seasoned for two weeks in a crust made with black pepper, white pepper and juniper. Taglienti evolved this recipe by conceptualizing it without losing its traditional taste.
The base for the soup is prepared with onion finely chopped and olive oil as well as fried stale bread. To this base, he added broth made with chicken and onion. Subsequently, he mixed the soup, passed it through a sieve three times and obtained a cream of bread. He then put the cream in a siphon so that it would remain at 70°. This process only changed the consistency of the food, without altering the taste, especially due to the benefit obtained from keeping the cream in the siphon at a stable temperature.
As for the eggs, he divided the egg whites from the yolks. He cooked the white of the eggs with steam and then emulsified it with olive oil and sparkling water. This method of cooking allows to bring the eggs to a different consistency. Separately he mixed the egg yolks with lemon juice, oil and salt and emulsified it. The liquid obtained was poured on a baking tray and cooked with steam for 6-7 minutes at 180° until he obtained a film of boiled egg yolk and cut it in dishes of a size of a yolk.
Finally he caramelized the garlic from Vessalico (Liguria), cooking it in honey (miele d’acacia) to obtain garlic confit. The soup would require Parmesan but Taglienti used the Zingherlino cheese to enrich the soup. He didn’t use the cheese just freshly cut but he made a mash of it so that the spices were balanced, mixed in the whole cream.
Finally the dish was composed in the following way: egg whites, a disk of egg yolk, one clove of caramelized garlic, cream of cheese, bread soup from the siphon and finally fried bread, salt and olive oil.
This way of presenting the dish kept the various ingredients hidden, enhancing the taste that one would only discover by eating it. The garlic is the turning point of the dish: the contrast between the sweetness given by the honey and the pungent taste of the garlic itself really added a balance to the soup. The richness of the cheese and its spices counterbalanced the plain soup, that became more interesting mainly for its consistency.
This was a very significant example of how a good chef can evolve a traditional dish into a modern and more interesting version of it, enhancing the taste with the juxtaposition of different textures.