Food, and the culture that accompanies it, is one of Italy's great exports. So it may come as a surprise to learn that back in the land of pasta and olive oil, cookbooks aren't generally best sellers and TV cooking shows don't get prime-time slots. But the Milan-born Csaba dalla Zorza, Italy's answer to Martha Stewart, is working to change that.
I first encountered dalla Zorza and her culinary approach—one as much about style as it is about recipes—in the kitchen of Mariacristina Modonesi, the corporate communications director of Tod’s, who lives in a Florentine townhouse next door to Palazzo Pitti with her winemaker husband, Roberto Giannelli. Dalla Zorza’s latest book, Around Florence (an English translation—her first—will be out in the United States in March), is an homage to Tuscan cuisine via visits to seven kitchens belonging to people who she thinks channel the spirit of the region, people like Modonesi.
As I watched dalla Zorza, 43, make an ovoliand-porcini-mushroom salad, slicing a large purple Tropea onion and tossing it into a saucepan with a pinch of salt and heap of sugar, we discussed her career. In 2003, after graduating from Paris’s Le Cordon Bleu, she began self-publishing Italian-themed books like Fashion Food Milano and Celebrate in Venice. Soon she was hosting TV shows and penning magazine columns. Still, she admits it’s not easy to overcome the average Italian’s illusion of “I don’t need anyone to tell me how to cook. It’s in my DNA.”
When her onion mixture began to bubble, she poured in a glass of Giannelli’s Brunello di Montalcino 2009 as if it were grandma’s old cooking brew. “Wait a minute,” I said. “Is that the Riserva?”
Dalla Zorza smiled. “It makes no sense to be fussy about all the other ingredients but cook with bad wine,” she replied. This is a woman, after all, whose idea of the appropriate garb for braising onions is vintage Dolce & Gabbana. La dolce vita indeed.