It takes a lot to shake me from my usual blurry-eyed morning apathy as I switch my phone alarm off and start scrolling mindlessly through news notifications. Yesterday, a headline had me awake and emotional in an instant: "An outrage to Italian cuisine: Nigella Lawson angers Italians with her controversial carbonara recipe."
As a food blogger and a passionate Italian home cook, I'll always at the very least scan any article related to Italian food. News about the latest food fad might even get me outraged - but only for as long as it takes me to reach the kitchen and switch my focus to my own cooking and blogging.
Today, though, I felt too strongly about the fuss many from the Italian community were making about Nigella's carbonara to let it go. Seriously, guys?
Here are 5 top reasons why you should not have bothered posting insults on her Facebook page:
1. By now we Italians should be accustomed to the fact that Brits make carbonara with cream. Even at 'Italian' restaurants, how many serve carbonara with cream? Too many! But why is it such a big deal now? Yes, it is painful but it's been happening for years - so why do you feel you have to express your disgust against Nigella?
[photo: author's own]
2. Nigella is no Italian chef. I admit that over the years I've been shocked to see how much the British public refers to her recipe books as bibles for good Italian cooking. Why, oh why? Maybe she has some Italian blood in her veins - but she's not Italian like the many authentic Italian cooks and food bloggers out there who really know their traditions and saw the magic happening as they grew up (and I am proud to include myself in that list). So why would you expect her to come up with authentic Italian recipes?
3. She is well renowned for her twists on traditional Italian dishes - perhaps she created them to accommodate the slightly different tastes of the British public. She might be breaking those holy rules so dear to our hearts, but so what? She never claims to be the Messiah of real, authentic Italian food. Her twist may not work for us Italians but might make the day for the British public.
Some people are not interested in the absolute authenticity of Italian food but are more interested in what most closely matches their taste. Authenticity matters to us Italians as food and traditional recipes are holy to us all and the backbone of our civilisation. Food is love, and a way of life. You can't expect those who don't have the same baggage to feel the same. No one means to disrespect our heritage and tradition.
Grow up, move on. We all have our preferences; accept those of others: "degustibus non est disputandum", or, as the French say, "les goux et les couleurs on les choisit pas".
4. The real problem is not changing ingredients and adding twists to sacred, century-old recipes - it's that the official names of our beloved dishes are used for what look like aberrations of the original versions. Could we not just ask Nigella to call her carbonara "pasta with wine, cream, pancetta and egg sauce"?
I still remember the shock when a colleague told me she had made a yummy pasta with bolognese sauce. I felt excited beyond belief, only to hear seconds later how she had replaced the meat with lentils. "Absolutely delicious," she exclaimed. I smiled, but I was dying inside and just wanted to shout: "Woman, I am sorry to have to break this to you, but what you made is not bolognese sauce, it is simply pasta with lentils and vegetables!"
We cannot blame chefs, cooks and other people for being creative and adding their own personal touch, but to steal the name of a holy national dish for their own creation? That is the main sin!
5. Nigella's twist on carbonara is less concerning than the "carbonara con le zucchine", a real hit from the vegetarian crowd. That's not even close to carbonara! I am more worried about vegan and vegetarian 'remakes' - and diet fads are often even worse - ripping out vital ingredients. At least Nigella continues to promote the decadence of recipes that bring joy to the palate.
Rather than wasting your energy on directing insults at someone who may not even be aware of the recipe that her cookery team has put together, follow and support new voices on the food scene who are seeking to keep the tradition of real and authentic Italian food alive.
With all these twists and turns and personal takes on the Italian classics, our beloved dishes will be lost and hardly anyone will remember how to make a real carbonara. Help me promote the goodness and beauty of the traditional recipes to create awareness among those who are actually keen to know and enjoy the real Italian goodness.
So stop following the crowd, the big names and the lights, as this is likely to only damage your liver... and getting angry is something we should all avoid.
Search deeper and you will find some real hidden gems. Your heart will explode with joy when you find a recipe that reminds you of the unforgettable tastes that accompanied your childhood and the years spent in Italy.
Check out my recipe for an authentic carbonara and let me know what you think about it!
[photo: author's own]