So you think you like Italian food here in America?
You walk into your friendly neighborhood Italian restaurant craving fettuccine Alfredo or Chicken Vesuvio. Or when the waiter offers fresh mozzarella or Parmesan for your linguine with clam sauce, you bury the seafood pasta dish under a mound of cheese.
The real Italian TV judge on The Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” cringes at the thought.
“In Italy cheese on seafood is banned,” said Rome-born Mario Rizzotti, one of the world’s foremost experts in authentic Italian cuisine, over the phone from his home in suburban Chicago.
“Unfortunately,” he says, listing Fettuccine Alfredo and Chicken Vesuvio among several dishes that are actually American creations by Italian heritage chefs using ingredients grown on American soil, “it’s the Italian Americanization of Italian cuisine products. There is a market for that. People like it. But in Italy, you don’t eat that.
On Saturday night, Rizzotti and Chef Adam Weisell, owner of Aurelia Osteria in Chicago, will visit South Bend’s historic Tippecanoe Place restaurant alongside Executive Chef Edward Bareham to cook up a true four-course Italian dinner.
The evening is part of Rizzotti’s “4 Love of Italian Food” International Tour designed to educate Americans about authentic Italian food products and help diners distinguish between authentic Italian cuisine and American counterfeits and to find out how authentic Italian food ingredients can help reduce health problems associated with unhealthy eating.
“The format is similar to a wine dinner,” said Kevin Jakel, general manager of Tippecanoe Place.
Since leaving Rome and moving to Chicago, where he started as a diver and worked his way up to an Italian culinary expert for the Academia Barilla – the center based in Parma, Italy, dedicated to the development and promotion of Italian gastronomic culture – Rizzotti has traveled the country educating people on the differences between olive oils, balsamic vinegars, Italian cheeses and cold cuts, and how to distinguish authentic Italian products and incorporate these ingredients in a daily diet to improve overall health.
Fettuccine Alfredo? No grazie.
“Italy had nothing to do with the fettuccines they made here,” says Rizzotti.
Pure and extra virgin olive oil, now it’s Italiano.
“Extra virgin olive oil is pure and flawless,” says Rizzotti and cites Terre Rosse d’Ombrie as his favorite. “This is a very nice selection of two varieties of olives, hand picked and pressed for 24 hours from the moment they leave the tree.”
The best of the best costs around $ 22 a bottle. Pay $ 10 or $ 12 more than the regular brand, or pay later, Rizzotti warns.
“If you like to buy the oil with the fillers, don’t hesitate. The consumer will make the final choice, but mark my words, you are what you eat, ”he says.
Chances are, you won’t find the most important ingredient for your Italian dish at the store. Still, says Rizzotti, don’t even bother cooking at home without it.
“When you get the ingredients to list, at the very top with a pencil, write… passion,” says Rizzotti. “If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, your dish will never taste good. Put some love in your kitchen. Put some love into your choice of Italian cuisine. It will make a difference, not only for your dish, but for your health.
• What: Authentic Italian dinner prepared by chef Mario Rizzotti, judge on The Food Network’s “Iron Chef America”
• Or: Tippecanoe Place Restaurant, 620 W. Washington St., South Bend
• When: 6:04 p.m. Saturday
• Cost: $ 124 per person
• For more information: Call 574-234-9077