Seasonal is the new local. Think about it, it makes so much more sense. Eating things in season, regardless of where they might be from, means eating foods when they taste the best and when they are most in balance with the world around them. Bright green things in spring, hearty root vegetable stews in winter.
For centuries before our modern food distribution systems were created, people had no choice but to eat seasonally and locally. Many of the most famous dishes, particularly in countries renowned for hearty peasant food, such as Italy, stem from eating what was both in season and locally grown. The differences in the cuisines of various regions are most obvious when we realize that regional specialties are almost always based on seasonal and local availability.
This month, over twenty Italian restaurants in Toronto are taking part in the first Italian Seasons Festival. From May 16th to 31st, chefs at select local Italian restaurants will offer a special seasonally-inspired menu featuring ingredients currently in season throughout the various regions of Italy.
We had an opportunity to sample some of the dishes that will be available at Tutti Matti (343 Adelaide Street West) – Italian for “everyone’s crazy” – and speak with chef Alida Solomon about the promotion.
Solomon started her cooking career as a pastry chef at the now-defunct Galileo on King Street West, where she soon started working at the different stations in the kitchen in order to practice her skills at all aspects of Italian cooking. With the encouragement of head chef Francisco Rivera, she then moved to Tuscany where she stayed six years, running an all-female brigade at a restaurant there. The education she received from working in Italy combined with the Italian cuisine program offered at George Brown College gave her the skills she needed to open Tutti Matti in 2003, and she visits Tuscany regularly, often taking her staff with her.
The restaurant specializes in the regional cuisine of Tuscany, which is based around meats like wild boar, pheasant and beef. They make all their own pasta and bread in-house and Solomon is now looking into making her own charcuterie.
When asked about her participation in the Italian Seasons Festival, Solomon admits she is excited. She believes that Torontonians need to know about restaurants in the city serving real Italian food, and that Italian food reflects a dedication to cooking in the season.
“At least twice a week, people ask for Caesar salad and tomato sauce,” she admits when we ask if Torontonians need to learn more about Italy’s regional specialties. She points out that August and September are great for serving tomato-based dishes, but the rest of the year they’re not in season in Tuscany, and so don’t appear on her menu.
Solomon’s dishes for the Italian Seasons Festival include an antipasti plate that features northern Italian cheeses, two types of salami (one made from wild boar), bruschetta, a flavourful chicken liver pate and olives; tortelloni stuffed with green and white asparagus; wild boar stew served atop swoonworthy rosemary polenta (which we dubbed “the Tuscan pulled pork sandwich”); beef short ribs braised in a combination of beer, orange juice and rosemary honey; and for dessert a lemon tart and a goat cheese-based custard with fresh fruit or a cheese platter. The four-course prix fixe will be $50 per person, an incredible deal if the samples we had are any indication.
And while the dishes at Tutti Matti are based on ingredients that are currently seasonal in Italy, Solomon happily sings the praises of local suppliers like Wicklow Way (formerly fous-y-tout farms) and the vendors at Dufferin Grove farmer’s market as well as purveyors from Italy.
Festival organizers share Solomon’s hope that Toronto diners will use the festival as an opportunity to check out some fantastic local restaurants and to learn more about the various regions of Italy through the season dishes on offer. Plans are already in the works for a Fall/Winter festival for later this year. For more info and menu details, please visit the Italian Seasons Festival website.