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Friday Cool Extra - Italy Unpacked

Posted by Adrian Ainsworth on January 19, 2013 at 9:10 AM

This Friday at 9.00pm on BBC1 sees the last of a series of three programmes presented by Giorgio Locatelli and Andrew Graham-Dixon showcasing the cultures of food and art in Northen Italy.

The three programmes are based in northern Italy: Lombardy (where Giorgio comes from), Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna. Graham-Dixon an art historian and Locatelli a renowned chef,  are both passionate about their crafts and their enthusiasm shines through to bring a very entertaining picture of the places they visit. Art, cookery and a Maserati along with these two presenters makes for a very interesting journey. 

The first programme featured Bologna, historically an area of abundance, power and richness. It is the birthplace of modern Italian cuisine with a rich cultural heritage and a university that is the oldest in the world. Giorgio went shopping to cook a true Bolognese meal: tagliatelle ragu, and laughed at the idea of 'spaghetti Bolognese’ and told us no Italian would ever eat this – it’s something that grew out of the cuisine taken abroad by emigrants. We learnt why northern pasta is different to southern and made with eggs and why ragu is better with tagliatelle than spaghetti. Then there is the whole question of tomatoes: the pasta lady sternly told Giorgio he mustn’t put any tomatoes in the recipe, while the butcher whispered that he should add just a little! Giorgio followed the recipe of his hero, Artusi, the first person to put the concept of an ‘Italian’ cuisine into a book, er... with the addition of a little tomato.

From Bologna they went on to Modena, which, Giorgio tells us, is home of two of his greatest passions: balsamic vinegar and fast cars. Modena is the home of Ferrari. Finishing in Parma we saw the making of a special Parma ham and Giorgio tells us it smells so wonderful that if it was a woman he would marry her.

As you watch, you feel you are watching two friends full of passion for the art and cuisine of Italy who have come together to share their knowledge with each other as well as us, they are very natural on screen and draw you into their pleasure, without  ever overwhelming their subject.


The second leg of Andrew Graham-Dixon and Giorgio Locatelli's journey took Giorgio home, to Lombardy, a region brimming with engineering innovations and the influences brought by the proximity to Northern Europe, always with an eye to the future.

The first stop is of course Corgeno, Giorgio's hometown, where Andrew is the guest at a typical Sunday Lunch at the Locatelli's home, and a meal of traditional polenta cooked by Giorgio's father.

Andrew repayed him with a visit to some very unusual frescos by Lorenzo Lotto, hidden in a private chapel. The Christ with long fingernails is one of Andrew's favourite frescos.

Next they go to Milan, the region's capital, with its temples dedicated to the Gods of religion (The Duomo), art (La Scala) and capitalism (the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele the II and surroundings streets, full of luxury shops).

At his restaurant inside La Scala, the chef Gualtiero Marchesi (father of the modern Italian cuisine) intrigued his customers with a risotto made with saffron and... gold.

But Milan is not just about beauty and style, it has a dark centre. It is an arena of extreme political contrasts. Fascism was very strong here and so was the opposition to it. In Milan the Futurists movement embraced the world of modern art, and expressed the violence that would shape modern Italy under Fascism - a dark but fascinating story, that Andrew and Giorgio investigated with a visit to the Museum of 900.

More amazing art is waiting for them outside Milan, in the gem that is Mantua, a town full of mesmerizing buildings. Among these, the diamond in the crown is Palazzo Te, a former hunting lodge built for the amusement of the Duke Federico Gonzaga and his guests, designed and covered in frescos by Giulio Romano, a disciple of Raphael.


Finally, to end this fascinating trip another well kept secret: Cremona, hometown to the one of the most famous luthiers in the world: Antonio Stradivari, where Giorgio and Andrew were privileged to be the spectators of a very private concert.


The final leg of Andrew Graham-Dixon and Giorgio Locatelli's journey moves north to Piedmont, a land of luxuriant forests and tall mountains. They visit an abbey along the Via Francigena, an ancient road running from Rome to Canterbury, to reflect with the monks who live there, and to admire the fresco in their chapel.


Giorgio and Andrew go truffle hunting with Sandrino and his dog, and have a succulent breakfast with one of the precious nuggets, straight from the soil. There are many more gastronomic treasures to discover in this region, from the famous rice fields of Vercelli, to the Gianduiotti in Turin, the region's capital. Giorgio chats to the founder of slow food, Carlo Petrini.


Andrew explores the baroque architecture all over Turin. Stupinigi, a former hunting lodge made for the Savoia dynasty, and the Castle of Rivoli, now a captivating museum and home to the artists of the Arte Povera, are highlights.


Finally, another pilgrimage site: Sacro Monte, Holy Mountains, in Varallo. A series of gruesome chapels on top of a mountain full of waxworks enacting scenes like the Massacre of the Innocents.

This whole series features places that we intend to visit or at least pass through on our retracing of the Mille Miglia trip, which we hope to take in May/June this year. It really sets the scene for this holiday and gives us some pointers to steer us on our way and maybe some ideas for meals when it comes to eating out.  More importantly though this is a delightful series for any lover of art and food and best of all it is all dressed up in a lovely Italian wrapping. Catch up with this series and then don't miss the last episode on Cool Friday the 25th January on BBC1.

Categories: Friday Cool

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