Modenese pesto, mustards, and jams. The perfect Sunday lunch according to Massimo Bottura

Dec 9 2023, 13:11
Massimo Bottura and his wife Lara Gilmore have penned their new book, “Slow Food, Fast Cars,” published by L’Ippocampo. A volume that celebrates Casa Maria Luigia, the project inaugurated in 2019 on the outskirts of Modena, which has become the heart of “Bottura-ness,” a playful and comfortable guest house

Slow food, fast cars. A statement of intent by the Emilia territory, land of great foods and the world's most iconic motorcars. A combination of belly and thrills, not bad at all. That's what Massimo Bottura and his wife Lara Gilmore thought of as the title for their new book, Slow Food, Fast Cars, published by L’Ippocampo (258 pages, 39.90 euros), which was released today. A volume celebrating Casa Maria Luigia, the project inaugurated in 2019 on the outskirts of Modena, which has become the heart of “Bottura-ness,” a playful and comfortable guest house. Here, contemporary design merges with an art collection consisting of visually striking pieces owned by Massimo himself, lent by galleries (at the entrance stands a life-sized agent by hyperrealist artist Duane Hanson, alongside a large photo by Andreas Gursky, and dozens of other contemporary artworks scattered around), along with a collection of vintage cars and motorcycles, 7,000 vinyl records in the music room, and the serene nature in the vast park. We visited while it was shrouded in the steam of our breath and the sound of our steps in the snow.

The epicentre of Casa Maria Luigia

Jessica Rosval

And then, of course, the kitchen. Here at Casa Maria Luigia, it's a familiar ritual, an ever-open hearth, with a fridge stocked at all times with something to nibble on. This ritual is overseen by chef Jessica Rosval, whose masterpiece is the Emilia breakfast offered to guests. The erbazzone, fried gnocco with mortadella, omelettes, focaccias, cauliflower with Parmigiano Reggiano cream, cotechino with sbrisolona, and Marsala zabaglione. Got it? “When this idea came to us,” says Jessica, “my first thought was: how will I convince someone to wake up at 5 in the morning to prepare it?” Because here, bustling begins before dawn “when Modena is still dark and shrouded in fog, with a veil of moisture over everything. The start of our day is marked by fire, in front of the oven clad in black tiles, with the words Maria Luigia written in white tiles, amid the crackling of wood. In Modena, the wood is always damp, and lighting the fire is a challenge every time.”

Massimo Bottura and Lara Gilmore's Recipe Book

The book gathers 85 recipes, divided among those from the Modenese breakfast, snacks, the so-called "tòla dòlza" - which means take it easy, and is indeed Sunday lunch, with Modenese pesto, whipped cod, smoked beef ribs - home desserts, and pantry products like preserves, flavoured oils, liqueurs, mustards, and jams. The recipes are interspersed with stories written by Massimo, Lara, and Jessica in which the trio narrates the places, spaces, and stories of this truly unique space, which may seem like mere words, but when you're there, you understand it truly is so. "This," says Lara, guiding us through the many spaces of CML, "is a place for reflection, to enjoy books, music, and art. A place for strolls in the garden and for good food, where one can rest without feeling like a stranger, or come and go as one pleases. It's our version of that “Hotel California,” in honour of Maria Luigia and Luigi Magelli. It's a place as fantastic as it is real, full of stories and recipes, many yet to be written.”

New Hospitality Format

Massimo, who also celebrates the partnership with Illy, of which he has been a chef ambassador for almost a year, reinforced by the support of the Trieste-based company for Food For Soul, is the typical Bottura, speaking a lot and leaving little room for questions (there won't be any in the presentation), inspired. We would say he feels at home, except Bottura seems at home anywhere. "This place," he says, "is proof that one must leave the door open to the unexpected. The Francescana had become too small; we needed new space for hospitality, a place to encourage people who visit us to stay a few days and discover our province, the vinegar cellars, cheese factories, museums, and motors. This house found us; it was in court, we bought it back, and then, bit by bit, we renovated it. And the project continues; this place is magical, a collector of ideas, who knows what it will become."

For Massimo, Casa Maria Luigia is "a new format of hospitality". "I travel a lot, and when I wake up in the morning, I find myself in a beautiful hotel that could be anywhere, and often it takes me a while to figure out where I am. Here, however, I want to give space to who we are." Bottura recalls a day when after a photo shoot, he found himself with David Beckham (Bottura is like that, casually dropping incredible names as if they were his barber; he talks about “my CEO friend” and it was Sergio Marchionne), "we were there in front of that window; the sun was scorching, roses, the golden yellow of the wheat, and David stands up and says to me: but this is paradise! Paradise?" I say, "but it's the countryside of Modena, not the Amalfi Coast or the Dolomites!" But deep down, Bottura implies that he wouldn't trade this flat and serene countryside, with straight roads travelled by fast cars and motorcycles, for anything in the world. A hotel that’s truly a home.

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