Have you ever wondered why some of the simplest recipes turn out to be the most delicious? Take, for example, prosciutto and melon. This Italian springtime favorite is about as simple as they come. Maybe we can give some credit to the theory of Claudio Galeno. The second century Greek medic studied the composition of food and how finding the equilibrium of ingredients, however simple, can result in a successful dish.
According to Galeno, every product can be described as hot, cold, humid or dry. Ideally, a dish should combine ingredients from each of these categories. Think again about the prosciutto and melon. The combination of the moist, cool melon that contrasts with the dry, warm prosciutto achieves what Galeno describes as equilibrium. The salty/sweet combo pleases tastebuds. Yes, it seems strange to think about foods in a scientific manner, how tastes mix and ingredients combine to deliver smiles and happy palates.
Another example that comes close to equilibrium, a staple in the Italian kitchen, is pasta. Think about how dried pasta and water, thrown together on the stove until the boiling water brings the pasta to the desired cooked, moist consistency reach equilibrium. The simple combination of the ingredients and elements results in an age-old dish.
According to Massimo Montanari, a leading expert in Food and Culture History and professor of Medieval History at the University of Bologna, pizza baked in a wood burning oven, 'nel forno al legno' could be seen as a dream combination of ingredients and elements to achieve the Italian favorite. The moist, freshly tossed dough with your hearts' desire of toppings thrown into the wood burning oven results with a generally crispy crust with a chewy, cheesy center.
Next time you are experimenting in the kitchen, think as Galeno did. Ponder each of the ingredients' qualities and how the best bet might be to pair them with ingredients who have opposite qualities.