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29 May 2014

¶ Regular readers know what a staple dish spaghetti alla carbonara is in our household. We introduce the non-traditional note of parsley, and we use only the yolk, not the whole egg. But: no cream! And pancetta, not bacon. Is there a better way? We’re working up the courage to try the version updated by Riccardo De Pra, the chef at a restaurant in the northern Veneto. The inspiration, it turns out, is Japanese. At The Smart Set, Jason Wilson claims that this was a dish worth being stranded for — as he was by that Icelandic volcano a couple of years ago.

Carbonara is known as a classic dish of Rome, and so I wanted to know why a chef from the northern Veneto had perfected it. His answer was even more surprising. “The story actually starts in Japan,” he told me. As a young chef, De Pra had worked in Japan, which is extremely rare for an Italian chef, and he learned some decidedly non-Italian kitchen techniques. “I came back from Japan after a year, and brought my new ideas with me. And when I put them on the menu at my father’s restaurant, I immediately lost 80 percent of his customers,” he said, with a laugh.

¶ At The New Statesman, John Gray sketches an interesting history of the Little Red Book. Even more interesting is his review of a new book of academic essays about it. (via 3 Quarks Daily)

All of the relevant disciplines are represented – history, area studies, literature, political science and sociology – and although ten of the 13 contributors teach in the US, the collection is representative of the range of views of China that you will find in universities in much of the world. However, the fact that it reflects the present state of academic opinion is also the book’s most important limitation.

Reading the essays brought together here, you would hardly realise that Mao was responsible for one of the biggest human catastrophes in recorded history.

Robert Kaplan’s thoughts about Cardinal Richelieu are interesting, if only because Kaplan’s usual subject is more contemporary, but in one passing sentence he captures, without realizing it apparently, the contradictory impulses of the modern age.

What emerged from the horror of the Thirty Years’ War was a yearning for international law on one hand and a Europe of coherent states on the other — some form of territorial organization which would replace the hundreds of small political units, overlaid by various degrees of imperial power, that had made the Continent so prone to cataclysm.

How curiously the European Union has attempted to solve this problem by micromanaging from the top while leaving force in the hands of national politics.


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