Paris, 28 October 2013, a warm sunny day in a splendid autumn.
Sitting at one of the tiny tables crowded on the sidewalk in front of one of the oldest and most famous bistros in the capital, I ask the ceremonious waiter for their most typical and traditional dish … he, in perfect Italian, despite his Parisian and haughty accent, announces, triumphant from Grandeur: “Our first national dish, Monsieur, notre Soupe à l’Oignon… our onion soup !!!”.
I order it almost with enthusiasm as an “American tourist”, but, like a good Tuscan, I mull over: “Come off it, if Julius Caesar did not come here with the vines following the legionaries, you still drank only cider and beer … if “aunt” Caterina de Medici hadn’t brought here your onion soup you didn’t even know what it was, along with crepes, béchamel, vol au vent, duck with orange and various other things … ah, yes, even the “French” kiss , the fork and the underwear !!! “.
Marseilles, 28 October 1533, a warm sunny day in a splendid autumn.
Sitting at one of the large tables stretched to infinity in the garden in front of one of the oldest and most noble palaces of the port city, I ask my bewildered neighbor, a provincial noble, if she knows how to use that tool that appears for the first time on the table of a royal banquet … which I say is called a fork …
We are at the banquet for the newly celebrated wedding between Caterina dè Medici (now Duchess of Orléans) and the future King of France Henry II… they are two teenagers (fourteen) who practically do not know each other. That very convenient wedding (among the great bankers , the Church and a King you always find something good to do together, right?) was just celebrated by an uncle of Catherine, Giulio de ‘Medici, Pope with the name of Clement VII.
Caterina had already seen a lot of things in her young life and, well informed about the customs of the country where she was to marry, in the transfer she had brought with her everything that would have served for her dignified coexistence with those barbarians… Ah! yes, indeed the Court of France in those times shone for pomp and manifestations of power, but certainly not for culinary refinement and etiquette in general … in Tuscany we were, as usual, ahead of the posse.
Caterina, already then of a high Tuscan style, manages to impose a little more Renaissance and less Gallic manners at the Court … No more belching and farts during banquets … To eat you begin to use a new incredible instrument, the fork, instead of smearing everything, in common trays, with your hands … Moving on to the recipes, enough with these monumental courses of various meats and game that plague you all with gout, we introduce vegetables and fruit, we introduce some beautiful and simple recipes (maybe aphrodisiacs … in his case, ten years without children, it took them to work … but then, a dozen children !!!).
And so we find our “Papero al Melarancio” which becomes the Duck with Orange, then our “Pezze della Nonna” which become none other than the Crepes, the “Salsa Colla” which turns into Béchamel, we ready supply the vol au vent, and …, oh, well, ice cream, in the form of “Crema del Buontalenti”, will be brought to France in a few decades by another Queen of the Medici family, Maria.