Among the greatest triumphs of Leonardo’s La Gioconda is it’s simplicity. The Renaissance, a period of re-birth, adored simplicity in response to centuries of medieval ornament.

Marcel Duchamp, in 1919, decided that enough was enough. Why pander to purists? Why live in a boring world? So he invented ArTabasco, hot sauce for the arts.

This is reflected in the title: (L.H.O.O.Q. = elle a chaud au cul, which can’t be printed in a family paper, but means, roughly, she has a hot ass).

This is precisely the effect of the mustache: Hot sauce, to tweak the bourgeoisie, and call out the phonies.

But what if we don’t want satire? Then leave off the hot sauce. Make it simple again.

One of the most simple and renowned dishes of Italy is the Caprese salad. Buffalo mozzarella, olive oil, basil, tomato. That’s it. You need a recipe for this like you need a training manual to tie your shoes. You won’t find instructions for “Extra-good-fresh-vine-ripened-red-tomato” in the recipe. Or fresh basil. That’s all understood.

Why do we have this need to adore, fetishize and idealize Italian cuisine, and then mess it up every chance we get, in the name of ‘creativity’.

Here’s a recipe from the Huffington Post Food section by a person calling himself ‘Meathead’:

Caprese Tomato Salad: The Ultimate Tomato Recipe, Essence Of August

3 large fresh vine ripe globe-shaped tomatoes
2 pinches of coarse sea salt
4 tablespoons of chips of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
15 small leaves fresh basil, or 5 large leaves
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Of course everything today is amazing, the ultimate, the best. But this isn’t a Caprese salad at all. Parmesan? Balsamic Vinegar? Oregano?

The first response might be: ‘It’s my version of a Caprese salad’. So why is it ‘ultimate’? He must have meant chronologically.

Well, if you’re following closely, you’ll see that the Balsamic is the mustache. But I don’t think Mr. Meathead is in on the joke.

Alright, there’s always room for a good salad and the maker of this one is very respectful of the process. But, if we’re truly honest, the real Caprese salad is so pure, so rich and good, that we should preserve it, even if we can’t do it every day as in Rome. The original should be preserved, under its rightful name, because it’s a reference to a cultural artifact. Duchamp was careful to add a joke name to his joke Mona Lisa. But calling out the maker of “The ultimate” here gets us this reader’s comment:

“You do know that the Italian Purist Brigade will come after you with fork and tong for including balsamic vinegar in the recipe.”

But, it’s not pur-ism, it’s purity. And it’s not a brigade, it’s a culture. Vinegar throws off the balance of this dish dramatically. Why not call it L.H.O.O.Tomates, and keep the joke alive?
And finally, there is a good practical reason to adhere to the original. One commenter laments that he can’t afford good Balsamic as well as good Olive oil, so he buys second rate versions of each. Now why not just leave out the vinegar and use a decent oil? Simplicity is sometime more economical too.

We All’s Cream For Carbonara

There was a case like this which involved a ‘low calorie’ Spaghetti a la Carbonara which recommended non fat half-and-half instead of cream. But there is no cream in Carbonara, at least not in Italy, so this stop gap creativity ruined a dish, and then ruined it again, simply out of ignorance. When alerted to this fact, internet freedom fighters screamed about purist taste police, etc., and demanded the right to be creative.

OK, but you need to have a talent for it. Otherwise, simply, simplify.


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