Perfectly pristine ingredients, combined sensibly and cooked properly, are what make Italian food taste so good.
– Mario Batali
Simplicity. Fresh ingredients. Straightforward cooking techniques. This is what defines Italian cooking. This is also what one does not think of at all when considering Modernist Cuisine. What might come to mind instead: thirty components manipulated ten ways beyond recognition and put together in an abstract form to be contemplated philosophically before tasting (emphasis on tasting, not actually eating). But as the genius of Grant Achatz demonstrates, the principles of Italian cooking can be applied in novel and unforeseen ways.
Take the humble granita, for example. It’s a simple Italian dessert, where you take fruit juice, or perhaps wine or coffee, mix it with sugar and freeze it. You break up the ice into a slush and serve it. Easy and delicious. Chef Achatz’ spin: why not turn a salad into a granita? Yes. Why not?
Creating A Savory Granita
It couldn’t be easier really. Take some spinach, arugula and romaine, and juice them all together.
Add some salt, pour into a tray, and freeze. Then you take some red wine vinegar, add some salt, and freeze that too.
Freezing a Salad. Also, an ice cream maker attachment and a bag of transglutaminase. An everyday freezer.
Once frozen, you take a fork to it and create a salad slush. Actually, mine was pretty frickin’ frozen, so I spent a few minutes stabbing at it repeatedly with a fork, breaking the ice up into an acceptable slushy texture. The funny part was ice flecks were flying all around as I was doing this. Once I was done, I looked around and saw little droplets of bright green chlorophyll all over the counter and floor. A quick cleanup followed so I wouldn’t be left with polka dot stains throughout my kitchen.
Break up the red wine vinegar ice as well and you’re pretty much done. Put down some lettuce ice, then some red wine vinegar ice, add a dash of olive oil, salt and pepper. And your salad is complete. An unique experience, your mouth is totally confused by the combination of the flavor, texture and temperature. But yet it’s familiar too. It manages to surprise, delight and yet be comforting at the same time. Simple and straightforward. And thoroughly, undeniably modern.