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Quanto Basta

My Italian mom is a fantastic cook. No matter what or how many ingredients she may have on hand… no matter how little time or notice she may have been given… no matter if unexpected guests turn up wanting to be fed… she always, without fail, has the enviable ability to take whatever is available and turn it into a delicious celebration of taste and goodness.

Pasta

I wanted Mom to teach me her secrets. My organizational mind foolishly assumed that I, too, could become a fantastic cook simply by watching her as she was making a favourite dish, transcribing her instructions and quantities onto paper, then following the directions. As you might imagine, my efforts to do so exasperated us both!

The problem was that we weren’t speaking the same language.

I’m not talking about Italian and English… rather, something more akin to the language of heart versus head. Mom cooks by feel, by instinct, by taste – a little of this, a little of that – until it’s right. I wanted specific amounts and precise times to scribble down onto my little piece of paper; Mom would shrug and say something like, “Enough” or, “Until it’s ready” as she was tasting the sauce. “How much is enough?” I might ask, pen poised, to which I would receive another shrug as a waft of delicious scent emanated from the pot on the stovetop.

All the while as I was asking all the wrong questions, trying to turn art into science, Mom was working her magic and I was failing to learn.

But you know, I think I might finally get it.

A couple of summers ago I had the opportunity to watch a live cooking demonstration by David Rocco, star of David Rocco’s Dolce Vita on Food Network Canada, at Carrousel of the Nations.

He made two planned dishes – Risotto con puré di barbabietola (Risotto with Beet Purée) from his cookbook David Rocco’s Dolce Vita, and Saltimbocca di Pollo (Chicken that “jumps” in your mouth) from his cookbook Made in Italy, as well as an impromptu dessert concoction of strawberries, freshly-cracked black pepper, and balsamic vinegar. The food smelled absolutely divine, and David was charm itself, but it was his explanation of his cooking style and philosophy that gave me a glimmering of insight into what I’d been missing when it came to understanding Mom’s art.

Quanto Basta.

oliveoilSeveral times throughout his demonstration, David used the term Quanto Basta, and later as I paged through his gorgeous cookbook Made in Italy (which is full of beautiful photographs and is almost as much a coffee table book as a cookbook) I noticed that the abbreviation QB turned up in almost every recipe. He goes into detail near the beginning of the book explaining the cooking philosophy of Quanto Basta, which essentially means that you should tailor a recipe to your taste by using “as much as you need” or “as much as you want.” It’s about using what you have and making a dish your own. It’s about freedom instead of rules… about listening to your senses instead of following a strictly prescribed recipe.

This – this Quanto Basta – is the concept I couldn’t seem to grasp with my pen and paper and organizational mind, yet I see now that Mom is a perfect example of the philosophy.

Perhaps now that the penny has dropped, I’ll be able to put aside my writing implements (at least where food is concerned) and start paying attention to smells, to tastes, to textures. I may never become a fantastic cook like Mom, but perhaps I can learn to create with my heart rather than my head. And maybe something delicious will happen!

Thank you, David Rocco… and thank you, Mom.

Bowl of Tomatoes on Tricolored Pasta

NaBloPoMo June 2014

(Updated from original post in June, 2012.)

Laurel Regan – Writer, tangler, iPhoneographer, cat herder, learner of French and Italian, crocheter, needle felter, Growlita, iFan, on-and-off politics junkie, 80s music trivia freak, ongoing work in progress.

{ 24 comments… add one }

  • Cheryl Jones June 9, 2014

    I hadn’t heard that term, Quanto Basta, before but I know what it is. It took me a fair number of years before I trusted my instincts when it came to moving away from a recipe and making it my own by changing it to what I wanted. I think most beginning cooks don’t have the confidence to do that. It’s something that either comes with time or never comes. I’m glad you’re getting it. I find that I have a lot more fun cooking now that I’m more relaxed about it. I’ve found, in watching chefs do their magic, that they all seem to get such enjoyment out of what they’re doing. I think that’s their secret. Good luck with your Quanto Basta and have fun!

  • Laura June 9, 2014

    Beautiful post! I can apply quanto basta to more than just cooking!
    Laura recently posted… the thing i don’t want to blog aboutMy Profile

  • Amber n June 9, 2014

    I wish i liked to cook. It never really was a passion for anyone in our family.

  • Susan - ofeverymoment
    Twitter:
    June 9, 2014

    I love to cook, but had never heard the term Quanto Basta. I love it, and now I know how to quantify some of my cooking experiments when I record them! Beautiful photo too!

    • Laurel Regan
      Twitter:
      June 10, 2014

      I wish I could take credit for the picture, Susan, but I’m afraid it’s just a stock photo. I think we’re all too busy getting down to eating Mom’s wonderful cooking to stop and capture it in a photograph! ;)
      Laurel Regan recently posted… Tangled Tuesday No. 6My Profile

  • Life Breath Present June 10, 2014

    Although I haven’t yet created full recipes on my own, I definitely use this QB method when cooking. I just throw a little of this and that, along with the basic ingredients and go from there. Often I ask how something tastes and often I say don’t ask me to make it exactly the same, because I can’t.

    Congratulations on allowing yourself a bit of freedom when cooking! Enjoy putting heart into it, I know I do! :)
    Life Breath Present recently posted… Gratitude Linkup – Week of 6/8/14My Profile

  • Beloo Mehra June 10, 2014

    This is a lovely read! Especially because that’s exactly how most Indians I know (including myself) cook – by feel, by heart, by adjusting to one’s taste, as much as you need, by QB :) When someone asks how much salt to add in a particular dish or how much of a particular spice, in Hindi we usually say – “andaze se” (by guesswork, by the feel). I don’t cook with recipes or anything, it is almost all by “feel”. I always felt intuitively that Indians and Italians have a lot in common, now I know one more area in which they are very alike :)
    Beloo Mehra recently posted… Change, Beauty and TruthMy Profile

    • Laurel Regan
      Twitter:
      June 10, 2014

      Interestingly enough, I believe David Rocco was working on a new television series which was set in India and focused on Indian cooking! I’m not sure if it’s aired yet, but from what I’ve read it sounds like he thinks much the same as you do about the connections between the Indian and Italian approach to cooking! I’m looking forward to watching the series. :)
      Laurel Regan recently posted… Tangled Tuesday No. 6My Profile

  • Roshan R
    Twitter:
    June 10, 2014

    I too had not heard of this term till now but as a guy who’s watched his mom cook for decades, I know that the theme of QB resides within her just as it does with your mom.. Indian, Italian… in the end, the cooking from the heart speaks a language of its own.
    Roshan R recently posted… Who’s gonna win the FIFA 2014 World Cup?My Profile

  • Cathy Graham June 10, 2014

    Loved your post and that term quanto basta. So interesting. I’m a pretty basic cook and not that adventurous. Often I feel guilty if I don’t have what the recipe calls for and substitute something else but maybe that’s not a bad thing after all. I’m just making it my own. Thanks for helping me change my perspective about cooking and be more playful about it.

  • Meena Menon June 10, 2014

    Have you read “Under the Tuscan Sun”? You’ll fall in love with Italian food all over again!

  • ElaineLK June 10, 2014

    I’m strictly a recipe cook, but I have made a few changes to some of the ingredients when they were things we don’t care for or don’t have, and the result has always been good. I’d love to have the confidence to try to “wing” a whole meal! My mom was a great cook, too, and she hardly ever measured her ingredients–just knew how much to use. Great post, Laurel.

  • Kathy Combs June 10, 2014

    I love to cook, and while I generally follow recipes, I also do a lot of doctoring and tasting. :)
    Kathy Combs recently posted… Feeling GoodMy Profile

  • Aditi
    Twitter:
    June 13, 2014

    What a beautiful philosophy -Quanto Basta!! One could apply it to all spheres of life, whatever you do in life – feel it, love it and spread that joy! :)

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