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Chef Karime Lòpez

Ditalini, ‘Sea Deepness’ Recipe by Karime Lòpez
Interview by Alessandro Casagrande
Introduction courtesy of Gucci Osteria, Florence, Italy
Photography by Gabriele Stabile

With this recipe, we want to take you to Southern Italy, where it is possible to taste the sea everywhere. In these regions, the places are full of colours, and exactly all those vibrant tones are the ones we would like to represent in the dish through the small spheres of crispy vegetables and the broth made with roasted squid. The ingredient which makes this broth special is the cod skin, bringing to you a full-flavoured bite of the sea deepness.

Alessandro Casagrande (AC) — How did you first get into cooking?

Karime Lòpez (KL) — I have always been passionate about arts, particularly plastic arts. I moved to Paris, where I started attending courses in sculpture and paintings while studying French to further progress my studies at l’Ecole des Beaux-Arts. And there, I fell in love with the beautiful windows of Parisian pâtisseries. The desserts looked like miniature sculptures, edible miniature sculptures. I realised how pastry, and cooking in general, has a lot in common with plastic arts, and that realisation opened my mind. The skills needed to make beautiful desserts were the same I was studying for my arts courses. The only difference between the two disciples is that pastries are also edible, and I love food. After that, I moved to Siviglia to attend a cooking course, and work experiences around the world followed. My training in Paris has had and still has today a great influence on my work, particularly for what regards the pairing of flavours and the aesthetic aspects of the dishes.

(AC) — What are some of your childhood food memories?

(KL) — I grew up in a family where food and meal preparations were very important. The colours and textures of fresh fruits and the smell of tortillas are some of my dearest childhood memories of Mexico. In particular, I always remember this bean soup with shredded turkey on top that I used to have as a child, and that I still like a lot nowadays. 

(AC) — How does your Mexican culture emerge in the food you cook?

(KL) — Mexican culture will always emerge throughout the menus I work on: it’s part of my essence. I would say it’s particularly noticeable in the colours and freshness of the produce used. For the dishes of Gucci Osteria, I like to showcase the amazing products of Italy and use the techniques I learnt during my travels.

The Purple Corn Tostada, which is a dish representing my country, is a good example of this. We make it with the Palamita, generally considered a “poor” fish, but rich in nutrients, and we serve it with the tostada. In Mexico, we use corn to make tortillas. In Peru, they make corn cakes. And in Italy it is used to make polenta. The same ingredient is treated in different ways, using different techniques to obtain a precise flavour and texture. At Gucci Osteria, we have an Italian tostada, because we use Italian corn, but made using Mexican techniques. 

(AC) — How has traveling around the world inspired your cooking?

(KL) — Travelling has enriched my life. The more I travel, the more I realize that there is not enough life to learn all the gastronomy around us. Each place is a new exciting set of elements to learn about: the techniques, the products and how we share the table in the different cultures; each plate can tell a different story that, in turn, shapes history. 

All these elements have shaped me as a chef, and they are still shaping me today.

(AC) — Being the first female Mexican chef to win a Michelin star, which advice you can give to the women that are interested in working in the restaurant industry?

(KL) — My piece of advice would be to work hard and be persistent, despite the hard times you will go through. It’s a beautiful job, inspiring and satisfying on so many levels.

The only way to show as a woman what we are able to do is with hard work.

(AC) — Which is your favorite Italian dish?

(KL) — Eggplant parmigiana: I love this dish, because it’s so comfortable and rich.

Ditalini, ‘Sea Deepness’ (serves 4 people)

280 g Ditalini Pasta by Gerardo Di Nola
200 g Cod skin 
1,5 kg Squid
2 pcs Yellow onions
125 g Butter 
25 g Shallot
55 g White wine vinegar
125 ml White wine
1 Bay leaf
65 g Salted capers
125 g Sugar 
2 tbsp Villa Manodori Lemon Oil
1 pcs Carrot 
1 pcs Courgette
6 pcs Large radishes 
1 pcs Large potato 
1 pcs Mullet bottarga
1 pcs Lime
Fine salt

Method – Cod broth
Wash the skins thoroughly under running water in order to remove the salt and impurities.  Put them in a pot with 1.5 liters of cold water, bring to a gentle boil and then leave to cook over low heat for 6-8 hours, removing the foam every now and then. Reduce until it has reached the consistency of a slightly gelatinous and tasty fish broth. Then filter and let it cool.

Method –  Squid bottom
Remove the skin and entrails, rinse the squid well to remove sand or residues, once drained put them in a baking tray with baking paper together with the onions cut in half. Brown everything in the oven for about 2 hours at 180 ° C or until golden, then put into a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to a light boil, cook over low heat for at least 6 hours, removing the foam every now and then.  Filter and reduce until you have a consistency and a taste of brown sea bed. Cool and store.

Method – Caper butter
Put the capers to desalt in running water, once ready blanch them in syrup (125g sugar-125g water) for 5 minutes, drain and dry in the oven at 60 ° C for 12 hours.  Blend until they become powder and store in a dry place. Leave the butter at room temperature, then, in a saucepan, put the coarsely chopped shallot, the wine, the vinegar and the bay leaf, and cook over low heat until ¾ parts get reduced, then filter and let it cool.

Whip the butter in a mixer or by hand with a whisk and gradually pour in the reduction and the caper powder until you have a uniform texture. Keep in the fridge.

Method – Vegetable spheres (carrots, potatoes, radishes and courgettes)
With a parissien spoon, cut the balls from the vegetables (carrot and potato without skin) 20 pieces of each vegetable (for 4 people)

For cooking in boiling salted water
Carrots 2 minutes
Potatoes 4 minutes

Cook and cool in water and ice, drain and preserve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

The radishes don’t have to be cooked (they should only be slightly warmed with steam when plating). Store in cold water.

Final steps
Boil the pasta in water and salt for 6 minutes, then finish cooking in the pan for 3-4 minutes, gradually adding the squid, the cod broth and the lemon oil. Once al dente, remove from heat and stir in 3 tablespoons of caper butter.

1 minute before serving, put 5 spheres of each vegetable in the steam oven with a drizzle of oil.

Put the pasta in the centre of the plate with its cream, arrange the vegetables on top to enhance the colours. Finish the plate with grated bottarga and lime.

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