There comes a point in time when even the most iconic dish - one that’s been created by a famous chef, one that’s survived for over 30 years - is ready for a makeover. And this is exactly what’s happened with Marinated Shrimp with Onion and Caviar, one of the signature dishes by Ezio Santin - the Michelin-starred chef of Osteria del Ponte, in Cassinetta di Lugagnano, right outside of Milan.
The restaurant has just changed hands, and the dish is now being revamped by the young Fabio Barbaglini, who is committed to carrying out its spirit, albeit in his own way.
“I never managed to remove this dish from the menu, my clients expect it and ask for it constantly,” explains Santin, who, together with Gualtiero Marchesi, is considered one of the godfathers of Italian cuisine. Maybe I’m being pretentious, but I think I’m one of the first ones to have brought raw crustaceans to the Italian table. When the dish was created in the ‘80s, nobody ever served raw shrimp. And nobody even used the blast chiller, which is required by law today—it’s a very useful appliance for “slaughtering” the germs. But I was so confident in my suppliers that I didn’t need one back then. The idea for this dish came while shopping at the fish market. Every day, I’d see a man—who was known as being a gourmet—reach out and taste the shrimp before buying them. This gave me the idea for the dish, which I thought would be “ennobled” by the addition of the caviar.”
Today, Ezio Santin is 75 years old, but he still goes running every morning along the Naviglio canals. And the restaurant he continues to oversee in Tokyo is celebrating its 10th year in business this year. “Despite it simplicity, it’s a marvelous dish. It joins together the sweetness of shrimp, the saltiness of caviar, and a touch of fresh spiciness from the onion.” It shows how even the simplest recipes can be brilliant and complex. In this case, if you get the oil wrong or use too much caviar, the balance will be easily upset. “I know that I’m leaving the restaurant in good hands,” concluded Santin. “Barbaglini knows how to respect ingredients, and his version reflects my own culinary philosophy.”
And how does Barbaglini feel about taking over the Osteria from the great Santin? “Changing a recipe of a master like Santin makes my legs shake, but I don’t think I’ve betrayed his teachings with my variations.” Barbaglini actually worked at the Osteria right after finishing hotel- management school, and his most recent position before taking this on was the executive chef at the Mont Blanc Hotel Village in Val d’Aosta, where he received a Michelin star. He’s just moved and settled to Cassinetta di Lugagnano. “I love playing with acidity and bitterness—these are my favorite of the five basic flavors. This is why I’ve added a touch of Campari to the vinaigrette and a drop of raspberry vinegar instead of lemon. Adding a bit of cauliflower enriches the dish, but also gives it a velvety consistency that pairs well the shrimp’s texture, and the sumptuous, savory taste of the caviar.”
Check out the two recipes, and see for yourselves.