How best to explain the true value of “Made in Italy”? Many times, self-proclaimed culinary Messiahs will tout the accurate but abstract “holy trinity” of territory, ingredients and tradition. But in order to really understand the essence of Italian cuisine, all we need is all our senses and a good dose of objectivity - especially when we find ourselves in a place as special and memorable as Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia, the two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Milan run by chef Aimo Moroni.
Once here, in the 'Place' (English for 'Il Luogo') of Aimo and Nadia, ask for the legendary Spaghettone col cipollotto , (a recipe for Spaghettoni with Tropea spring onions), and you’ll find this dish tells you all you need to know about Italian haute cuisine. In a single forkful of pasta, you’ll encounter intelligence, love, modesty, complexity, research, and style. And, of course, history: because while this dish may be forty years old, it’s shockingly modern. The dish is nothing less than a classic.
Like Italy at its best, the ingredients are neither complicated nor pretentious: spring onion, chili pepper, bay leaves, tomato. Then a bit of vegetable broth and a dusting of Parmigiano cheese. The cooking method is simple: sauté the spring onions, add the remaining ingredients a bit at a time, mix it in with the spaghetti al dente, and it’s a done deal. It may sound simple, but the difference between what you’ll eat at the Luogo and what you’d manage to prepare at home is…well, enormous. And why? The reason is simple: you are not an utter fanatic when it comes to food, and Aimo Moroni is. The 80 year-old head chef and owner of the restaurant on via Montecuccoli, Moroni claims to be “possessed” by the concepts of taste, flavor, and the pursuit of the best products available.
His lifelong obsession is evident by just looking around the restaurant’s kitchen and pantry, whose contents read like a Who’s Who list of Italy’s best ingredients from North to South. Just about every product here has a first and “last” name, showing its place of origin: there are pistachios di Bronte, pork di Cinta Senese, leeks di Cervere, duck di Miroglio, chickepeas delle Murge. The philosophy here is that ingredients should be cared for and loved, but touched and modified as little as possible. Cooking techniques are also light-handed, but executed with expertise: this is where Aimo’s true modernity really shows. And yet, Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia (located on the outskirts of town, far from Milan’s glitter and glamour), is timeless, and a place where ideas from Renaissance-era thinkers like Della Robbia and Ghiberti are still alive and well.
Together with his wife Nadia and their daughter, Stefania, Aimo Moroni has welcomed two young chefs into the “family restaurant”. After having studied under maestro Aimo, Fabio Pisani and Alessandro Negrini have taken on the lead roles in the kitchen just this year, and have done so with a great deal of imagination and talent. Of course, being a fanatic, Aimo still keeps a watchful eye over the stovetop and the sauces.
These two new chefs, Negrini and Pisani, hail from the opposite ends of Italy - one of the mountains of Lomabrdy and one from the southern region of Puglia. Both fanatical about quality and territory, their eyes light up when they talk about capers di Pantelleria -just like their boss’s. Any remaining unbelievers out there are invited to walk through the doors of Aimo e Nadia and be converted to the magic of authentic Italian cuisine. If you order a dish like the Spaghettoni the classic Etruscan Soup with vegetables, legumes, cabbage and spelt della Garfagnana, along with aromatic herbs and fennel blossoms, and find yourself overcome with the urge to kneel on bended knee, don’t worry: it’s just proof that you’ve embarked on the journey towards true culinary consciousness.