Last week, thanks to the Italy-American Chamber of Commerce, I made dinner with Michelin-starred chef Cristiano Tomei. Tomei is in lockdown in Lucca, I’m in Miami and the other 90-odd participants are scattered all over the world. We came together out of love of true Italian taste and the magic of Zoom.
Zoom cocktails with friends have been a saving grace at this difficult time, but this masterclass was of another order — a stranger inviting other strangers into his home late at night his time to cook the dishes of his home and heart.
Tomei’s Italian-as-anything menu featured ripe summer produce, not pasta, and very little waste. Both pappa al pomodoro and Panzanella turn stale bread spectacular, marrying them with ripe tomato and basil. Scarpaccia is your go-to for zucchini overabundance. Referring to an old shoe with a worn-out sole, scarpaccia is a thin zucchini galette bound by a barely-there batter of olive oil, egg, grated cheese and water. I went rogue and plant-based, subbing nutritional yeast for the cheese, and aquafaba for the egg. Chef Tomei had been talking up the magnificence of beans, after all, and I had a feeling he wouldn’t object.
Tomei earned his Michelin star at his restaurant, L’Imbuto (The Funnel). He knows how to be cheffy. But he’s also big-hearted, exuberant, with an intuitive cooking style that’s elegant in its simplicity — just the way I like to cook and eat. After months of masks, gloves, social distancing and swabbing down every damn thing with sanitizer, he put the warmth and love back in cooking. You couldn’t ask for a better ambassador for the Italian government’s Extraordinary Italian Taste campaign.
His scarpaccia had a higher crust-to-zucchini ratio than mine, because I had larger zucchini. To me, the more vegetables, the better. I wonder — and hope I’m not offending anyone — if scarpaccia may be kin to hortopsomono, Greece’s thin and thinly-crusted pie. Italy, Greece, I love you both. I love the Italy-American Chamber of Commerce and Luna Park, too, instrumental in making the masterclass happen.
Enjoy Chef Tomei’s recipes, with thanks to the Italy-American Chamber of Commerce: https://www.iaccse.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Ricette.pdf
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