You know, the great—and I mean great—thing about Italian cookery is that it really doesn’t ask you to do very much. If you want to fuss about over your food and “create” “creations,” France is the place for you. If you want to put it on the table now and have it be fresh and delicious, the skinny peninsula might be a closer culinary match.
In home cooking, but also in some of the finest restaurants, you can order side dishes that are so simple it’s almost embarrassing. But that’s the point. The ingredients are intrinsically fantastic; all they ask is to be wed in holy matrimony, and that takes about 2 minutes. Tops. The ingredients I speak of are as follows:
1. Olive oil (the best you can get your hands on)
2. Freshly shaved parmigiano or grana padano (I use a vegetable peeler)
3. Scant balsamic vinegar, lemon juice or neither, depending
4. One very fresh, very crisp vegetable, thinly sliced. For example…
I have had this concoction in restaurants with raw, paper thin slices of Sardinian artichoke, fennel, and porcini mushrooms (delicious, but to be eaten in moderation as they are uncooked in this preparation). But the version that blew my mind was the one that put humble celery center stage. Celery! Sounds daft, but it was divine. Thinly sliced on the diagonal. Fresh. Crisp. Clean. Perfectly in balance with the bite of the oil and the salty grain of the cheese.
Now, I find myself craving this stuff. So, when grilling fish or meat at home, I often whip out one of these stupidly simple side dishes, and it’s often the smartest thing I’m putting on the table. Not to mention the most delicious.