Food

A feast for the soul

In conversation with Mimi Thorisson

Cook, writer, living with her family in Turin, Italy.

 

Tell us about your new cookbook “Old World Italian” and what inspired you to write it? When will it be available?

I’ve been in love with Italy and Italian food for a long time and after writing two French cookbooks it seemed a logical and desirable move. It was more a question of when than if, we had been living in the French countryside for 8 years and were ready for a new adventure. 

Old World Italian is available now!

How long ago did you move to Italy? Why Turin? 

We moved to Italy 2 years ago … we could have chosen many other cities, we were not bound by geography and could have continued our work anywhere. We discovered Turin quite late, only a few years ago and it always was very appealing to us, a real city, full of Italians living their lives, rich in history, beautiful, surrounded by mountains, lush with greenery, a rising food scene … and the best wines in Italy. Turin also has a grand French heritage, a lot of people speak French which made the transition easier.

We could have made a different choice, Rome came up in conversation, so did Bologna, after all the country-life we were ready for a little city-life, espresso downstairs rather than a drive away. Italy is so full of wonderful places I could see myself living in, if I’d draw up a shortlist it wouldn’t be very short. 

 

Your favorite Italian dish to eat… and to cook… 

Again, these Italian shortlists can never be really short – too much choice and variety. But I can never say no to a really good ragu Bolognese, that would be on my very short shortlist of all dishes from anywhere. 

I love making fresh pasta, it’s a little time consuming but the more you do it the more it becomes second nature and feels almost therapeutic – to put all else aside and make something delicious out of very little. 

 

What is the secret to a successful dinner? 

People, rather than recipes, are the most important ingredient – as much as I love food I’d rather have mediocre food with people I love than great food with … well. Although as I’m writing this I must admit I have a hard time with mediocre food. 

I guess a truly successful dinner must tick all the boxes, a lovely crowd, great food, good wine, and absolutely no stress, dinner can be served when it’s ready rather than at a certain hour provided there is enough Champagne in the house to bridge the gap.

 

What is the one Italian food “rule” you live by?

Never have pasta in French cafés, only have Pizza in Pizzerias (that serve little else), never serve pasta as a side dish. No matter how good the sauce is, if the pasta is not cooked to perfection (al dente) the results will be a disaster and there is no saving the situation. 

Of course all rules are made to be broken and one of my guilty pleasures is spaghetti with meatballs, American red sauce style. The al dente rule though, is an absolute …

 

One thing you learned living in Italy? 

In Paris they generally don’t allow dogs in the taxis, a no is a no. In Napoli, a no is also a no, but it could become a yes if you have enough charm or offer a little extra money. It’s an anything goes culture, and it suits us. Italians are warm and expressive and flamboyant, they don’t necessarily get too caught up in the details unless it’s a matter of life and death, like food or fashion!! No but really, at the end of the day, I love the feeling here of ‘Anything is possible’ philosophy.

 

The ingredient you can’t live without? 

Living in France I’ve always had a fear of running out of butter or eggs and while Italian cooking is not as reliant on those two the fear has not left me.

 

The few times you eat out, where do you go?

We do eat out quite a lot, on our travels and at home in Torino. It’s a great way to understand a city, its culture and the people who live there. Caffé Mulassano is a huge favourite, a tiny, gorgeous place with, equally perfect for breakfast, Bicerin, Aperitivo or after Opera drinks and tramezzini. 

Lunch would either be Magazzino 52 or Consorzio, a slightly younger and more modern take on the Piemontese classics, but very classic nevertheless. 

And for dinner it would have to be Al Gatto Nero, a Torinese institution and one of the finest places you can have the pleasure to dine in.

 

Please share one of your quick, go to recipes that you learned in Italy?

One of our favorites, so classic and quite frankly perfect. The tajarin with tomato sauce (recipe from my cookbook ‘Old World Italian’ shared by one of our favorite restaurants in torino, Al gatto nero).

 

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled

16 ounces / 460 g each peeled tomatoes, drained

Fine sea salt

1 pound / 500 g dried tajarin (tagliolini) 

Large bunch of fresh basil, leaves chopped

 

  1. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until lightly golden. about 3 minutes.
  2. Crush the tomatoes with your hands as you add them to the saucepan. Stir well and add 1/2 cup / 120 ml water. Cook for 20 minutes to reduce. Season with salt.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente, about 2 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, return the tomato sauce to medium heat. Reserving a ladle of pasta water, drain the pasta and add the pasta and the reserved pasta water to the sauce. Toss for 20 seconds until coated.
  5. Just before serving, add the chopped basil and serve immediately. 

 

What does Italy have that no other place you travel to has?

I would have to go with the “cliche” of endless regional variety and abundance of marvelous choice. I sometimes have to pinch myself at the thought of how easy it is, from Torino, to travel to other regions and experience a different culture, equally satisfying. Jump on the train and have lunch in Modena, go a bit further and have dinner in Rome. Hop on a train to Milan for an hour and have risotto Milanese or stay two hour more on board and have seafood in Venice for dinner. It’s all within reach, surrounded by sea, green, mountainous and breathtaking. 

 

If you could describe Italy in one sentence what would it be?

Italians do it better