Stefania Costanza, Consul General of Italy in Mumbai, tells Shikha Jain about the ease of incorporating healthy Italian elements into Indian cuisine.
Italy ruled across the world, for one delicious week. The Week of Italian Cuisine in the World is an annual event primed to celebrate Italy’s incredibly varied regional cuisine and food traditions with a wide array of events promoting culinary culture and flavours to millions of consumers worldwide.
The third edition of the Week of Italian Cuisine in the World, which ran from November 19 to 25, aimed to promote internationally high-quality Italian cuisine and the agri-food sector. It went hand-in-hand with the promotion of regional tourism, culinary itineraries on the tracks of Italian culinary art and the Mediterranean diet, one of the elements that make Italy one of the healthiest countries in the world.
Excerpts from an interview with Stefania Costanza, Consul General of Italy in Mumbai, a passionate champion of Italian cuisine…
Is Italian cuisine bland or does it have an abundance of taste?
Italian cuisine has an amazing variety in itself. Every single region of Italy has its own particular taste coming from long tradition and then there are very local versions of it. Broadly speaking, the difference is that in the South of Italy the cuisine is more spicy because of the weather. In the North, there is more dairy products because the weather there is less warm.
In what ways can Italian cuisine be blended with Indian cuisine?
It is very easy for Italian and Indian cuisine to understand the other because most of the time we use the very same ingredients. Think about semolina, here in the South of the India you have Idli made out of it – very simple and very tasty. With semolina put some butter, milk and parmigiana cheese and you have your Gnocchi Alla Romana. With aubergine you can have one of the most beautiful dishes – Melanzane Parmigiana that I enjoy here a lot of time and it’s a speciality from Rajasthan. So, both the cuisines have almost the same ingredients; you just have to combine it in a different way.
How can one merge the healthier way of Italian cuisine into its Indian counterpart?
We know that in India the percentage of diabetics is extremely high. Actually, I was surprised when I first arrived here, as in Italy it’s very low and is not a matter of concern. Here, among the many kinds of medical examinations you do, every doctor also wants you to undertake the diabetes test. It is related to an unhealthy diet. It is important to know what we are eating, the quality of what we eat and if it is refined or not. When it comes to taste, Italian cuisine is very well recognised as probably one of the most interesting and tasteful cuisines in the world. But we also want to stress the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
What health benefits does it offer?
Studies have proved that Italian cuisine leads to longevity, a healthy heart and it is also associated with the absence of hypertension. All these advantages are linked to the nutrition of the cuisine. It is also based on the quality of the ingredients as they play a major role. The ingredient are most of the time the same as what Indians use, which makes it easy to replicate. We also went to schools to convey this message because every time you educate a child, you are educating an entire family because the child will go back and talk about what he/she heard and it will spread. Another thing we did was send out a different recipe every day to our mailing lists where 90 percent of it was veg and only one dish was non veg. It was a way to show that Italian cuisine is also vegetarian mostly and can be replicated at home as opposed to its common perception as a very high-end expensive cuisine. The recipes included Bruschetta, Penne Arrabiata, Buconchi Aglio Olio Grumi, Caponata, Gelato, Torta di Mele (Apple Cake) and many more.
What is that one ingredient that Italian cuisine can’t do without?
You definitely cannot do without Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Parmesan cheese because they make up the best of the ingredients. The oil really brings out the taste of everything in a perfectly balanced way and is not replaceable with anything else. Parmesan being a cheese is usually a topping that goes together with pastas and ricottas.
The classics that one can never go wrong with?
Italian cuisine started out as a very poor regional cuisine many decades ago. Most of the very well-known dishes now actually came into existence by collecting whatever was there in the kitchen and reusing it. This is the beauty of Italian cuisine. Lasagne, Bruschetta, Tiramisu, Spaghetti Aglio E Olio and Gelato are some of the classics, to name a few.