From Agastache Anisata and Atriplice Rossa to Tulbaghia and Virginica. Passing through the more complacent Tarragon, Nasturtium and Pimpinella. There are 100 herbs that make up the salad with which Enrico Crippa celebrates 100 numbers of How to spend it. Defining this elaborate dish as a salad, a real signature dish, as the Anglo-Saxons say, is an understatement. Here we talk about haute cuisine. The result of the work of three people in the garden and four in the restaurant. «The herbs are harvested around five in the morning», says the chef of the three-starred Piazza Duomo in Alba. «It must be done before the sun rises to keep firmness and crunchiness intact. When they arrive in the kitchen, we take care of them for three to four hours. The flowers cannot be wet, they must be cleaned one by one, the herbs cannot pass through the centrifuge, we dry them with the twist, as our grandmothers did ».
A painstaking work that culminates in the composition. “By now we have reached a very high degree of manual skills”, explains Crippa. “We know how to overlap and interlock the various herbs and we have our little tricks: for example, chervil, with its large leaf, helps to consolidate and retain”. The result, as well as the taste, is different every time. It depends on the season, but also on the way of consumption. “The salad is served with tongs, because the fork would crush the leaves. The idea came to us when we first served it to Ferran Adrià ». The great Spanish cook, enthusiastic about the dish, caught every leaf and sprout with his hands.
«Each staple is unique: four people at the same table will have totally different taste sensations; a delicate bite, a spicy one, immediately after an intense aromatic scent. A stevia leaf covers the palate with sweetness, savory is a whip of bitterness, the leaf of Sichuan pepper anesthetizes, a rose petal brings to mind the scent of the mother who says goodnight “. Like a madeleine, the salad of a hundred herbs awakens taste memories. “One of our clients told us about the great emotion she felt with the burnet: it was the grass that she collected as a child on walks with her grandfather and associated it with the cigar scent he kept between her lips”.
Four seasons, four salad families. «The spring one has a herbaceous taste, is full of new shoots, spontaneous salads, hop sprouts; in summer the taste is much more floral, warm, there are also fruits; in autumn, as well as in winter, the flavors are more bitter, radicchio, mustard, cabbage leaves that give spiciness ».
When the idea of putting salad on the menu was born, almost sixteen years ago, no one imagined what a success it would be. “Sometimes I’ve tried to take it off: impossible, it’s too much in demand.” In the beginning it was a way to satisfy the demand for a light dish. Crippa, mindful of the long experience in Asia, decided to follow the Kaiseki philosophy, which starts the meal with something raw. In Japan it is a fish sashimi. «In season, to follow the imperatives of purity and beauty that their tradition is infused with. The fish is cut into very fine strips and placed on precious ceramic plates: the more transparent and thin it is, the better the decorations emerge ». Also in Piazza Duomo the salad container is chosen with care: in glass and placed on a green plate, while a saucer contains dashi, the Japanese broth with which the course ends, flavored with mandarin. At the base, a dressing of Barolo vinegar, Ligurian oil, nori seaweed and sesame seeds.