Hello! My friend, Mario Verdicchio, kindly agreed to be Part 2 of the Man in the Kitchen series. Since he was in Berlin this week, we got together to chat about food and everything under the sun and for lunch, he cooked us his signature recipe pasta al ragù di salsiccia.
I met Mario through a rather roundabout way: through our mutual friend Daniela’s Facebook wall. I’d see him leave comments along the lines of things I’d write too. This moved on to comment replies, Twitter follows and in person meet-ups.
Fast forward a few years later and we are still here! I asked him to participate in the “Man in the Kitchen” series, because firstly he’s Italian, and Italian men (I know many of them!) are the most opinionated voices around food, especially Italian food, and around cooking technique (come on, from a culture that are geniuses at making things creamy without using actual cream). Secondly, he’s into food and is generally an interesting mind to pick.
So here we go: Mario in the Kitchen
So tell me something yourself that Google doesn’t tell me. I have 50% of Japan in me. Google won’t tell you that my mother is Japanese, and Googling my very Italian name, you won’t guess that I’m not entirely Italian.
I always lived in Milan, but my mother didn’t want me to lose any of my Japanese heritage so she made me attend the Japanese elementary school in Milan. They recreated a small school adhering to the Japanese education system; it was a very closed community, you could only attend if one or both of your parents were Japanese. We had the standard Japanese curriculum plus 2 hours of Italian per week.
How did you start cooking? How did you grow to be the cook in the relationship? I learned to cook when I moved out of my parents’ home. Given that I’m in a long distance relationship, it’s fifty-fifty cooking responsibility. Whoever is the host, is the chef.
What kind of foods did you eat while growing up? A mixture of basic Italian and Japanese foods. My mother was working back then, and she never learned to cook while she lived at home. She trained me to accept simple foods, and in a way “lowered my standards” so I can eat everything without complaining. This doesn’t mean I can’t recognise good food when I encounter it. My mom has since retired, and she has become a much better cook!
My father didn’t cook because he was lazy. When he cooked, he’d cook proper Italian things, the most memorable being artichoke cream. You know how hard it is to cook and eat artichokes? He’d just take the best of the artichokes, on a plate in an artichoke cream.
Like the technology sector, gastronomy and cuisine is still a male-dominated field, even though it’s common for women to do most of the cooking at home. Why do you think there’s so few women in restaurant kitchens? It’s just a reflection of a sexist society. People reach these “power positions” because they know other people. If women aren’t allowed to participate in these networks as much as men, this is the obvious result.
On French food, as an Italian. As an Italian I almost feel obliged to diss the French, because the two countries are very competitive with each other (and for good reason: they’re both world-class when it comes to food).
I’m not very much into extremely elaborated French cuisine: what I and many other people love about Italian cuisine is that you get extremely sophisticated taste out of rather simple recipes. Some of my top gourmet experiences came from basically uncooked food, like cheese or beef tartare. I have to give this to the French at least: their soft cheese and their patisserie is the best in the world. Maybe because they are extremely decadent and they just won’t stop searching for new experiences.
In our household, we drink German whites and Italian reds. Thoughts on my sommelier wannabe-ness? I agree with you. If you live in Germany, this is the best combination to go for, quality and price wise. Italian red wines are fantastic and much cheaper than their French counterpart (you cannot find German red wines that compare), whereas when it comes to white wines, although there are excellent Italian whites (I’m thinking of Vermentino and Falanghina to name a few), you can find many excellent local alternatives in Germany.
One thing I noticed is that Germans love Italian red wines, because German red wines are light and you can find many similar products in Italy, as opposed to French or Portuguese red wines, which are undoubtedly heavier. There are super structured red wines in Italy, though, like the Amarone, Barolo, Valpolicella. Enough with self-promotion!
Favourite kitchen equipment/gadget? The knife. If you know how to use it properly, you can do so much with it and don’t need other tools. The other tools are just an embodiment of one thing you can do with a knife.
What’s the story behind your recipe? I don’t remember the original event but it must have been cooking for friends. If I try new recipes, it’s because I’m having friends over. It’s to feed them and to impress them.
The original ragout recipe calls for ground beef, but I started mixing some ground pork as well, and noticed how much tastier the dish would get. Then I switched to the even richer taste of salsiccia. Now I only use salsiccia. The fennel used to cure the meat is fundamental, and if my guests allow it, I will mix some spicy salsiccia with peperoncino (hot chili peppers).
Another detour from tradition is that I do not pour red wine into the sauce. First of all, any red wine I have I’d rather drink that use for cooking. Moreover, it makes the whole thing more sour without adding too much to the final result taste-wise. The only recipe for which it makes sense to pour wine onto meat is boeuf bourguignon (those French again).
Thank you, Mario!
Pasta al ragú di salsiccia
What you need for 4 people
500g of spaghetti, we used De Cecco Bucatini No 15. 1 carrot, peeled and finely diced. 1 big golden onion, finely diced. 1-2 stalks of celery, finely diced. 400g of salsiccia (100g per guest), peeled and reminced. 2 x 250g cans of diced tomatoes, plain flavour, no basil. 4 bay leaves (1 per person). Olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Pecorino Romano, grated, as much as you like.
Make the soffrito
In a cast iron pan, heat about 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Then sautée the onions, carrots and celery in olive oil. When the onions are glassy, add the minced salsiccia. Continue cooking over medium fire until the salsiccia is thoroughly cooked. Add salt, pepper to taste and 1 bay leaf for each guest.
Then pour in the tomatoes. From here, you can go two pathways:
- medium fire and cooking for a shorter period, the bare minimum is 30 minutes
- low fire and cooking for longer, for a maximum cooking time of 1 hour
Stir from time to time.
Boil the pasta
While the sauce is simmering, prepare the pasta according to cooking instructions. Drain, then divide over 4 plates. Pour sauce into the middle of the pasta. Decorate the plate with 1 bay leaf from the sauce.
Add the cheese, then mix it all together, then add more cheese. This way you have cheese in the sauce, and cheese around the pasta.
This pasta goes with any Italian red wine. We had it with Colli Senesi.
Buon appetito! See you in the next edition!