Tag: Guide

Halal: quick and easy guide – Italian cuisine reinvented by Gordon Ramsay

La Cucina Italiana

Halal, a concept that oozes with meaning, goes far beyond its literal translation of “lawful” in Italian (the opposite of which is Haram, or “unlawful”). To reveal the most intricate nuances of this fundamental principle of Muslim religious practice, I had the pleasure of interviewing Walid Bouchnaf, the quality manager of BeHalal Srl. Through this conversation, Bouchnaf guided me on a journey of understanding that transcends the mere “ban” on pork and the dynamics of slaughter ritual, revealing a broader panorama that characterizes the Halal approach to daily life.

What is Halal (in a simple way)

Walid Bouchnaf began our conversation by highlighting that Halal is not simply a set of dietary rules, but rather a philosophy that permeates every aspect of Muslim life. The practice of Halal is not limited to the act of eating alone, but extends to work, education, social relationships and even daily actions such as going to the bathroom. The Muslim, therefore, seeks what is lawful and strives to distance himself from what is considered unlawful or Haram.

Within the food sphere, I was guided through a deeper understanding of Halal. It is therefore not just a matter of choosing legal foods, but also of evaluating the methods of obtaining them. Ritual slaughter, often mistakenly identified as the essence of Halal, is only one part of a bigger picture. This process, which involves killing the animal by bleeding, is not only a religious act, but also a technical approach that aims to guarantee hygiene, considering blood as a potential vehicle for bacteria and viruses and therefore illicit.

Bouchnaf stressed that the focus on ethics does not stop at slaughter, but embraces the well being overall animal. The animal must be in excellent physical and psychological condition, come from ethical farms and comply with specific standards. Furthermore, the company that markets the product must adhere to religious and ethical values, pay taxes and not be involved in illegal activities or linked to the mafia.

It is emphasised, therefore, that Halal is not simply a question of meat, but a holistic approach to life, involving environmental, ethical and social responsibility issues. It’s not just what you eat, but also how it is produced and marketed.

Halal: are there certifications?

As regards the world of certifications, yes, specific Halal ones exist and Bouchnaf illustrated the fundamental role of organizations like BeHalal (for which he works) in the food sector and beyond. These entities act as a bridge between the religious and industrial dimensionsensuring that the standards of quality, ethics, safety and environmental respect are respected.

Food: what is best to eat and when

After exploring the Koranic precepts, the conversation concluded by exploring the relationship between Islam and food, as suggested by the Sunnah, or the Prophet’s behavior in terms of practices and education. Walid shared that Islamic tradition encourages moderation in eating, then sharing meals, appreciating what you have and admonishing you not to waste food.
The Hadith (anecdotes about the life of the Prophet, a constituent part of the Sunna) provide specific indications on foods, underlining the benefits of fruit and vegetables.

What and how to consume

All cultivated plants, herbs and mushrooms are considered legal for humans, excluding those harmful to health or that cloud reason, such as alcohol and drugs. The Hadiths report the Prophet’s predilection for certain foods, including watermelon, melon, cucumbers, grapes, quince and the Kebas fruit of the Miswak tree.

How to become an inspector of the “Michelin Guide”: interview – Italian Cuisine

La Cucina Italiana

How do you get started in the area?

«With the apprenticeship: you travel for a few months accompanied by a senior inspector who takes you to the starred ones, one, two or three so that you understand the different levels of quality. Then you’re on your own and it often happens that once you’re free from those who work alongside you, you take away any whim by having Christmas lunches everywhere, but it all runs out in a couple of weeks. Both for physical reasons and because you learn to choose wisely from the menu. When you are prepared, one dish is enough to understand the place.”

What is the number 1 problem for an inspector?

“Loneliness. Getting the hang of it, you manage to organize a weekend in a beautiful location and have family or friends join you, but the beginnings are hard for everyone. I’ve had a crisis, perhaps in a remote place where they sent me, and even cried. Clearly I didn’t give up and stayed with Michelin for life. I always like, paraphrasing a famous aria, to remember what the motto could be Red Guide: «No one enjoys it because if you enjoy it, it means you’re not working.

On one occasion he said: «You feel the French breathing down your neck, always. They try to influence every choice, even those of individual stars.” In practice, it is like saying that Italians don’t count or at the time, perhaps, they didn’t count.

«It’s more subtle. Meanwhile, it must be said that decisions at Michelin are collegial: no one person ever decides alone, I guarantee it. Then, the custom of exchanging countries for important visits became increasingly popular: if it is true that in our restaurants, in addition to French inspectors, German, English or Japanese ones are increasingly noticeable, it is well known that Italians go to abroad. As for the breath of the French, during my mandate, I tried to broaden their parameters for assigning “macarons”, also bestowing heretical stars for the spirit of the era. “The star is on the plate”, it has always been said, I have tried to go further, to evaluate other factors. For example, in 1996 we awarded one star to Joia in Milan, eliminating once and for all the idea that vegetarian was synonymous with penitential.”

Perhaps they have only understood this in recent years

It's time for new oil: 2021 oil guide – Italian Cuisine

AND new oil season. Given the tensions in the world, it would be nice if it were always time for olive trees. For Christians and Jews – we know this since childhood – the twig is biblical symbol of peace and well-being. But the tree is also important for Muslims: in the Koran it is considered a source of light in the heavens and on the earth, specifying that it is neither in the West nor in the East but exactly in the center of the cosmos, where it symbolically expresses the conjunction and the balance between Earth, Heaven and Underworld. None plant is so rooted in history and culture. «The peoples of the Mediterranean – wrote Thucydides in the 5th century BC. – they began to emerge from barbarism when they learned to grow olives and vines ". However, it is not necessary to disturb ancient myths and stories to talk about the miracle ofcooking oil. Meanwhile, because olive juice (this is nothing more than an extraordinary natural fruit juice) is the healthiest of foods, obtained solely and exclusively from the simple pressing of the olive.

new oil
Photo Alessandro Moggi.

The numerous Italian varieties

What makes it exceptional – and always different – are the variety of which Italy boasts the primacy as a demonstration of biodiversity that our long and narrow territory gives us: 533 native cultivars against, for example, just 70 in Spain, world leader in terms of quantity of oil produced, and 52 in Greece, the home of the first olive trees. We have the record in Europe of Dop (42) and Igp (7). Each variety – transformed into extra virgin olive oil – has a clear identity and, we could say, its mission in enhancing this or that dish. As with wine, you should have the practice of combining food and oil well, because the right drop can enhance a recipe or, on the contrary, turn off some flavor.

We see only the most used cultivars. Ligurian oil – il Taggiasco, especially – is very soft, light, ideal for not overdoing delicate preparations. Versatile is the Tuscan Frantoio with a beautiful green color with yellowish notes, with an intense medium-strong flavor that refers to artichoke and thistle on a dry almond base. Tuscan and at the same time Apulian is the Leccino, with vegetal scents and dark color, faint in bitter and spicy flavors; it is recommended on fish and white meats. Let's stay in Puglia with the bitterness, the sensations of toasted almonds and the spiciness of the very common Coratina; ideal on cooked vegetables and meat. In Sicily I have always been in the race Nocellara del Belice in the West and the Tonda Iblea in the East; in both cases it is an exaltation of intense flavors and aromas: wild herbs, sometimes citrusy with notes of green tomato for the Nocellara; harmony between freshly cut grass, artichoke, almond and natural aromas for the Tonda Iblea. Both are extraordinary in enriching first courses or enhancing peasant soups.

What are the adjectives to describe oil?

Round, sweet, harmonious, fruity, are positive adjectives for oil. But we also learn to appreciatebitter and spicy. They are marked flavors only in the best extra virgin, because they show a good presence of polyphenols, the natural antioxidants that are more than good for our body. Bitter and spicy also tell us a lot about the producer's abilities: 1) if it is late in harvesting, the olives will be too sweet because they are excessively ripe; 2) the correct extraction of the oil is carried out with cold milling to preserve the integrity of the olive; 3) in the blends we try to insert cultivars rich in polyphenols.
Quality negative are instead rancid (oxidized because exposed to air), dusty (stale taste), vinous (due to the fermented olives before pressing), moldy (when the olives have remained on the ground for too long).

The 2021 budget

Without prejudice to the skill of farmers and oil millers, what does the 2021-2022 oil campaign? This year too, the quality should be good for exactly the same reason that the quantities in many areas will be scarce: the persistent drought has not made the olives ripen, but has prevented the development of the oil fly and other parasites. Overall the Italian production should grow by 15% (315 million kilos, compared to 273.5 million last year), but with the country split in two: South well, North very badly, so-so Center. Puglia will be the queen of the vintage, with 140 thousand tons, almost half of the national production; Calabria and Sicily paired at 30-35 thousand tons, stable compared to 2020. Basilicata, Molise and Abruzzo are doing well, with double-digit growth. And here the good news ends. The further north you go, the more the drops are consistent: -20 / 25% in Campania and Lazio, -30 / 40% in Umbria and Tuscany, -80% in Garda and Trentino, -40% in Liguria; Sardinia is saved with a -10%. In short, olive growing Italy smiles, but does not celebrate, as does Portugal (a record year). Spain is disappointed, Greece assumes the worst harvest since the war; Turkey is satisfied as in 2020. Morocco and Tunisia, on the African Mediterranean coast, return to the levels of two years ago after the bad last season.

Ancient and new lands of oil

Ficus, Olea and Vitis – handed down by Pliny the Elder – were in the center of the Roman Forum. Two thousand years later, 189 olive trees planted between the Arch of Titus and the Colosseum and grown organically give us thePalatine oil, a very respectable fruity extra virgin olive oil. The new frontiers of Italian extra virgin olive oil are on the one hand the recovery of the ancient territories and, on the other, the planting of new olive groves, taking advantage of climate change. The case of Piedmont is significant: for some years the thermal rise has been pushing many young people to plant olive groves in the areas of Pinerolo, Monferrato and Canavese. The cultivated hectares are still just 250 with a production this year of about 800 quintals of oil from the Leccina, Frantoio, Pendolino cultivars. Picholine, a French variety that resists the cold well, is also being tested.

Cover photo by Sergio Ramazzotti.

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