At the beginning of my culinary education, I learned an important principle of Italian cooking from writer Marcella Hazan, who explained that it is not restaurants but home kitchens, especially rural ones, which offer the best cooking in Italy. According to Marcella, to suggest that a restaurant’s cooking tastes of the home is one of the greatest compliments one can offer. This attitude made a deep impression and has shaped our approach to cooking at Old Tioga Farm. Although I’m not inspired by novel cooking and believe that good cooking emphasizes not the chef but the ingredients themselves, every cook or chef still imparts something of his or her personality to his or her cooking.
This fact was clearly demonstrated to me while dining recently at l’Asino d’oro in the Monti neighborhood of Rome. L’Asino is run by Lucio Sforza, who was based for many years in Orvieto before moving to Rome several years ago. Though I enjoyed many excellent meals during my recent week in Rome, my two meals at l’Asino stand out as the best example of rural home cooking which I experienced there, and I can’t help but think of Sforza himself when I think of those dishes. I had the good fortune to eat there for lunch one day (best deal in Rome…three courses, wine, and water for 13 euro) and dinner the next.
The first thing I notice when I dine at l’Asino is the lack of pretense. There is no drive to impress, only to nourish. Portions and seasoning are delightfully moderate, allowing one to enjoy a series of small plates without weariness. Vegetables are abundant and feel like the foundation of the dishes. Flavors are easily comprehensible and traditional. It it the cooking of the countryside, the cooking of the poor, the cooking of the home. Dining at l’Asino, I can forget I’m in the heart of Rome and be momentarily convinced I’m dining at the home of a farmer in the Umbrian countryside.