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Fact: Massimo Bottura is one of Italy’s—and the world’s—best chefs. But that doesn’t mean he is taking it easy. On the contrary. The American Express Global Dining Collection chef recently teamed up with Neiman Marcus and his friend Guiseppe Di Martino, a third-generation Italian pasta-maker, on the retailer’s annual Fantasy Gifts wish list. As part of it, Bottura will host a lucky someone in his country house as well as his three-Michelin-star restaurant, Osteria Francescana, in Modena. In the meantime, Pastificio Di Martino will make a donation of $50,000 to Bottura’s charity, Food for Soul, which raises awareness of the effects of wasted food on the environment while improving access to fresh healthy food in Refettorio and Social Table community kitchens around the world.
“I am very excited to collaborate with Pastificio di Martino to provide a unique pasta experience and journey into the best Italian culinary traditions of Emilia Romagna […] Modena is the town of slow food and fast cars, considered the breadbasket of Italy where one can find exceptional quality and flavor of the best products such as handmade egg pasta Tortellini, Parmigiano Reggiano, Balsamic Vinegar, Prosciutto, and Culatello,” Bottura told us. “This Neiman Marcus Fantasy Gift is a step into the beautiful cultural heritage of my hometown.”
So with the holidays around the corner, we recently caught up with Bottura and chatted all things Italian food and holiday dishes.
By the way, if you’re a true Italian cuisine lover, don’t forget to check out Neiman Marcus’s curated collection—a Taste of Italy— of Italian epicure, dinnerware, kitchen, and entertaining essentials imported from Italy.
How do you prepare for the holidays?
Massimo Bottura: Holidays for any restaurant can be the busiest time of the year. At Osteria Francescana, we have always closed the restaurant on the 24th, 25th, and 26th [of December] to ensure that our staff can spend time with their families.
In our home, this means preparing tortellini—a Modenese tradition for Christmas lunch. Tortellini are made with egg pasta that has been rolled out by hand. The pasta is cut into small squares and folded around a traditional filling of veal, prosciutto, Mortadella, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Tortellini are often served in capon broth or in the case of our family, with fresh cream and a dash of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
What are the dishes that are always present on your family’s table at Christmas?
“Our family tradition is to gather all of my brothers, their children, friends from out of town, and whoever wants to join at our house for a long and joyous Christmas Eve dinner. I am usually the one stuck in the kitchen but as our home has an open kitchen onto the dining room, it’s just like being at the table.
Anyway, everyone always gathers around the kitchen counter to help and watch me prepare [the food]. We serve fish on Christmas Eve and so there is always Baccala, a family-style pasta with clams or mussels, and baked fish for the main course. And, of course, Panettone for dessert.
When my mother was alive, we always spent Christmas lunch with her eating tortellini and roasts but ever since her passing in 2013, we began a new tradition. We go to one of our favorite restaurants—San Domenico in Imola—for Christmas lunch and sit at the table for hours talking, eating, drinking, and relaxing. I spend my whole life in the kitchen so it’s nice on Christmas not to have to work!"
What are the ingredients you always need to have in your kitchen to be able to cook Italian food?
“No kitchen should be without Villa Manodori extra virgin olive oil, Artiginale Balsamic Vinegar, and Dark Cherry Balsamic Vinegar. These are versatile condiments that I have been making and selling for over 20 years in the USA and continue to be best-sellers because they are so versatile and so delicious.
Then, of course, no Italian kitchen is complete without Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I suggest having both 24 months and 36 months available. Bitter greens, like radicchio or chicory, make a difference in pasta dishes; some hot pepper flakes—the fresher the better; lemons for zesting; almonds in savory and sweet dishes; fresh eggs always come in handy; stale or day-old bread for making bread crumbs; a pantry full of good quality pasta like Di Martino; your own tomato conserve from the late summer tomatoes. If you don’t have that some canned cherry tomatoes or Vesuvian tomatoes will do. [You also need] capers from Pantelleria, anchovies and anchovy juice, and some fragrant dried oregano from Calabria. You really can’t go wrong [with these]!”
What is the easiest Italian dish to prepare at home from scratch?
Passatelli in Brodo.
· 1 ½ cups breadcrumbs
· 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
· 3 eggs
· pinch of grated lemon zest
· pinch of ground nutmeg
· 4 cups chicken broth
Bring broth to a boil in a wide pot. Place the breadcrumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, nutmeg, and lemon zest in a shallow bowl and mix. Beat the eggs and add to the dry ingredients. Mix together into a uniform ball of dough. Place the dough in a ricer and press it directly into the boiling broth. Cut passatelli of 5 cm [about two inches] on length. Cook until passatelli rise on the surface, about one minute. Serve hot in a bowl full of broth.
What is the quintessential Italian dish?
“Spaghetti with tomato sauce. This summer my friends and I were posting on Instagram the best spaghetti and tomato dishes we ate whether they were in restaurants or at home. At the end of the day, a great plate of pasta is one of the simplest and most satisfying dishes in the world. “
What do you usually order when you eat in your favorite restaurant in Modena?
“Well, Gnocco Fritto—lightly fried dough—with cold cuts like Mortadella, Prosciutto, and Culatello as well as sour cherry jam, and balsamic pickled onions. For the pasta course, Tortellini in fresh cream or Tortelloni with pumpkin filling served with butter, sage, and fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano or fresh tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms, which are in season in the fall and winter.
Then I often skip the main course and head directly onto dessert which is a bowl of vanilla ice cream with warmed sour cherry preserves and a few freshly made Amaretti cookies. Yes, and of course, a bottle of Lambrusco to share with the table.”