Even a little town in Tuscany makes a great gastronomical impression.
Even a little town in Tuscany makes a great gastronomical impression. The food in Italy is the real art, it is as good as painting and music. That was why we were so interested in talking to a real master, Tuscan chef Alessandro Prosperi and getting some life advice (and even the recipe of the most delicious sauce!)
Alessandro owns the guest house and the restaurant Locanda nel Cassero in Tuscan town Civitella Marittima. He was born in Siena. Alessandro has visited a lot of cities and countries to improve his professional skills. And he moved to Civitella Marittima on personal grounds, he got married to the local girl. After all, he broke up with his wife but he couldn't give up his life's work.
V&M (Viki&Marina): Alessandro, have you always been a chef?
AP (Alessandro Prosperi): I decided to become one when I was 14 and mastered a crostata (a traditional Italian pie - Ed.). It turned out good and I thought: well, I like it, I'll be a chef! I found out that you can learn this occupation in a special school of the hotel business. It was located quite far from Siena where I lived then, but it didn't stop me. Since then I work in kitchen. I was taught to cook in school but I became a chef owing to the years of practice.
V&M: You mentioned that a lot of dishes of yours reminds you of the mother's ones. Is it possible that she influenced your career choice?
AP: Not exactly, but partly it is true. We ate simple food in our family. And it was my grandmother who cooked mostly. A stew and a panzanella,a stew and a panzanella, the same thing every day! Once my mother started to cook. She made a pasta with tuna and green peas. It seemed so unusual to me! I liked it and got interested in cooking, I started to cook something in kitchen and bake different sweet pies by myself.
V&M: How did you come up with an idea of your own business?
AP: When I got married and moved to Civitella Marittima. I got a job in a hotel and it consumed a lot of time and energy.
I thought: "Why do I have to work so hard for anyone? I can do the same thing but for myself.
There were no restaurants here. And I started to ask locals if there were any available buildings for business. I was offered this one. I liked it but it turned out to be very big. I originally didn't want to open a hotel, only a restaurant. Moreover, everything was ruined and required a serious investment.
I discussed this with my family, mother and father. They said:"We will support you! Let's fix everything up here!" It was 18 years ago. We have gone a long way to get where we are now.
V&M: Did you have an idea of the restaurant the way it is now?
AP: No, at first I wanted a usual trattoria, a village place with simple traditional food. But things have moved on. Before Civitella Marittima I worked in London, France and in very elegant restaurants. They inspired me while I was fixing the building. And finally I fell in love with the result! The place became so beautiful that a village trattoria couldn't be here anymore.
V&M: Do you have mostly Tuscan dishes or a little bit of everything?
AP: Mainly, we have Tuscan food, about 80 percent. Even ingredients are local. But I reinvent old recipes in my own way, mix traditional with modern, I experiment. I come out with interesting variations of the famous dishes. I worked with one chef in France, who was an Alain Ducasse's student. He cultivated a passion in me for new things and experiments.
V&M: The question that every chef gets asked, what do you cook for yourself?
AP: I eat simple food. I cook from everything that I can find in my kitchen. For example, a pasta with tomato sauce.
V&M: Oh, by the way, we tried your famous sauce Salsa di Pomodoro. It so delicious! Could we have a recipe, or is it a secret?
AP: No, it's not a secret, of course. I'll tell you everything. I even have a story connected with this recipe. This sauce I learnt in cooking school. You need fresh tomatoes, the celery, a carrot, an onion and the basil. Once I didn't have the basil and put the parsley instead of it. When I tasted the sauce I understood that it was a taste from my childhood! My mother cooked something like this. I asked her and yes, it turned out to be the same recipe.
Salsa di pomodoro. Alessandro Prosperi's recipe.
Cut the celery, the onion, the carrots in cubes and fry a little bit with olive oil. Then add chopped tomatoes, the parsley, the basil, salt and pepper. Stew everything on low heat in an aluminum pan for about 45 minutes. Then it's good to strain the sauce through a special tool, called passatutto, a "filter" in Italian. This device with a handle helps to squeeze the sauce without peels and seeds. If you don't have this filter, you can use a sifter to strain the sauce in the old-fashioned way. A blender is not a good choice and to peel the tomatoes and the celery beforehand is too long.
V&M: It is said that a lot chefs are so tired of working in kitchen that they don't cook at home. Are you the same as them?
AP: Oh, no, I love cooking. Both at work and home. I can go out at the weekend, visit other restaurants to try other chefs' work.
V&M: Is there a secret that can make any restaurant successful?
AP: Every restaurant should have its own style and special dishes to make people come back.
V&M: And what dishes make people come back to you?
AP: We have a seasonal menu, dishes change. For example, our visitors love lasagnette (a small lasagne) with meat or vegetables, it depends on the season. We also have a magical dish Rivolto del Cassero. It is an unleavened pancake made with water and flour, and there is grilled pancetta, Cachiotta cheese, melted cheese and salad inside of it. One day a couple came to the restaurant and ordered a Rivolto. The next day they came back and ordered it as the first and the main course. The day after happened the same thing. I counted, they ordered seven and eight dishes in four days. And now we take this dish to the Expo from Tuscany region.
V&M: How people can get know about your restaurant and hotel?
AP: Our town is situated on the mountain and you can't see it from the road. Earlier, people came here just for five minutes, looked around and went away. Later, we opened here and guests started to visit us, to have a dinner or spend a night. Step by step the grapevine began working. After that, Locanda nel Cassero appeared in different restaurant guides including the Michelin one. It helps a lot to attract guest.
V&M: And finally, do you have a dream? Maybe to create something great?
AP: (thinking) I don't dream about anything grand. I want my business to develop actively, of course. I do everything by myself. For now the restaurant works only for dinners, but I'd like to have lunches and aperitifs. More employees are needed to make it happen. In general, I'd like the restaurant grow. But overall, I'm quite happy with what I have.