Great Italian Food Journey event

What we learned from the Great Italian Food Journey with Aldo Zilli

On Tuesday 24 November, National Geographic Traveller joined one of the masters of Italian cuisine, Aldo Zilli, at his home for a live event celebrating Italy and Italian food, in association with the Italian National Tourist Board. Hosted by chef and presenter Joe Hurd, with wine advice from expert Joe Fattorini, it was a fun and lively discussion about all things delicious from Italy and where to experience them. Here are some of the key things we learned:

Italian food doesn’t exist

It’s not a real thing, according to Aldo. “It’s all about the regions, it’s all very varied. Even within those regions, if you go 10 miles down the road, the food varies.”

Pasta made by guitar

One of the dishes Aldo cooked was spaghetti chitarra alla carbonara. The name of the spaghetti comes from the tool the pasta is made from, the chitarra (literally, ‘guitar’). “It’s the oldest pasta cutter in the world. One side makes spaghetti, one side fettuccine — it’s amazing and it’s from Abruzzo!” explained Aldo, who’s a proud Abruzzo boy.

Cheek to cheek

Use pork cheek (guanciale) for carbonara. “You put it in the pan and then turn the heat on,” said Aldo. “You don’t want to drop it in and for it to sizzle, you don’t want to burn it, you cook it and make it crispy.” He recommended using pancetta if you can’t find guanciale.

The best city for food

Aldo Zilli, Joe Hurd and Joe Fattorini all agreed that Bologna was the best city to visit for food in Italy. “I’ve eaten the most incredible mortadella in Bologna — it’s huge,” said Aldo. “They hang it in the windows of these wonderful delis.” Aldo also recommended Parma, having been on a recent visit to eat at restaurants just outside the city.

Retro chills

Some Italian wines that were popular in the 90s and early 2000s are coming back into favour, said Joe Fattorini. “One of the great trends at the moment is a red that you can chill. Things like Valpolicella Classico came in and out of fashion, but it’s great. Put it in the fridge. These slightly lighter reds are great with fish — Valpolicella goes very well with sea bass.”

Simple spice and zest

Another dish cooked at the live event was Tuscan Chianina T-bone steak, a popular dish from Florence. Aldo recommended a simple sauce — on the night, he made one from garlic and chilli, with a rocket salad on the side with some chilli oil and lemon zest. “I don’t like to put lemon on the meat as it cooks it a little more, so I put it on the salad.”

Five key ingredients

The five ingredients Aldo said he couldn’t live without are rosemary, 00 flour, extra virgin olive oil, basil and mint. “I’m getting really into fresh mint,” he said. “Grill your courgettes with a little bit of olive oil and fresh mint — mamma mia!”

The wine you can’t live without

Joe Fattorini listed the five Italian grape varieties he couldn’t bear not to be in his wine cellar: Vermentino, Sangiovese, Trebbiano, Nebbioli and finally, “Nerello Mascalese, from the slopes of Mount Etna.”

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