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Giorgio Armani’s favourite dish, and his Easter treat

The Italian Easter cake Colomba is delicious, and Giorgio Armani makes a great example of this classic in his Armani/Dolci collection of desserts and sweet treats. But this, as he tells us, is all part of a wider love of Italian cuisine.

7 April 2022

Armani/Dolci's Colomba cake 

Although we associate Armani with Milan, which is where the fashion house is based and the designer has made his home, the young Giorgio grew up in the nearby city of Piacenza. His mother Maria was a good cook and instilled a fondness for Italian dishes in her son and his two siblings. 

“I love simple Italian cuisine, made from fresh ingredients,” says Giorgio Armani. Grilled fish with grilled vegetables is regularly on his menu, as is spaghetti al pomodoro (with tomatoes), made with fresh pasta, cooked al dente, with fresh tomatoes and basil. “Of course, I’m Italian after all!” he asserts. “And I think I am a very Italian Italian – I like simple fresh pasta with pomodoro.” 

When it comes to travel, he admits to a hankering after home cooking: “I have to confess that I am not that keen on unfamiliar food… When the local cuisine is very alien, I find I start to crave a simple dish of pasta al pomodoro.” Other dishes he namechecks as regulars are “the Caprese salad with Neapolitan tomatoes and fresh basil, risotto alla Milanese and salted sea bass with sautéed potatoes.”

But the designer’s all-time favourite is a dish with happy childhood memories. Piacenza, the city of his birth, lies in the Emilia-Romagna region, and tortelli alla piacentina is a classic of the area.

“This is a famous main dish of Emilian cuisine, which in my opinion is the absolute best region in Italy (and therefore the world!) in terms of pasta dishes,” enthuses Armani. “But though simple, it is not a robust type of meal, as a delicate hand is needed to prepare and cook it. So much so that when the tortelli are done cooking, you have to take them out of the boiling water one by one so as not to break them.”

Tortelli alla piacentina was served to the designer as a child. “My mother made this wonderfully well, seasoning the pasta with melted butter and covering it with an abundance of Parmesan cheese; the whole family enjoyed it. When I eat it now, it brings back happy memories of lunch at home on Sundays; we’d then go to the cinema in the afternoon. This is where I fell in love with the work of the Neorealists, so the whole experience of eating tortelli alla piacentina is tied up with my cultural awakening and my lifelong love of film. Even now, I like to serve this dish when my sister comes over. As good Emilians, we have a passion for pasta, even if we do everything possible to control it!”

Giorgio Armani’s interest in food is what led him to pioneer the notion that a fashion house could open cafés and restaurants. The first Armani Caffè launched in Paris back in 1998. Today there are Armani restaurants too, and in 2018, the one in the French capital received its first Michelin star. 

In 2002, the designer’s interest in cuisine extended to the launch of Armani/Dolci, a collection of desserts, teas, coffees and chocolates. For Easter, Armani/Dolci offers a traditional Colomba cake, baked by artisans. With a light consistency, it is made using French butter, but everything else is purely Italian: free-range eggs sourced exclusively from Italian farms and Italian candied fruit. Notably, Navel oranges, grown in the southwest of the country – the ‘toe’ of Italy’s ‘boot’ – in the orchards of Calabria, are the source of the peel that contributes not only to the Colomba’s memorable taste, but also its fragrance. The aroma of Madagascan vanilla adds to the appeal and sultana raisins finish off the special recipe for this Easter treat.

The Colomba di Pasqua (“Dove of Easter”) is so called because it is baked in the shape of a dove. It comes in many different versions, flavoured with a variety of ingredients, including chocolate, hazelnuts or cherries. The appeal lies in the fact that it is not too sweet, and can be eaten neat with coffee, or with a spread of jam or honey.

There are many stories about this distinctive bake: that it commemorates the battle of Legnano in 1176 where two doves appeared and the Lombardians from the north of Italy defeated the Holy Roman Empire; that it was first made by a girl in the sixth century as a peace offering to the Lombard King Albion; and that an Irish abbot, Saint Columbanus, blessed a royal feast on a visit to Lombardy in 612AD, transforming dishes into loaves in the shape of doves.

In reality, it seems the truth about its origins are pretty mundane. Though the Colomba certainly celebrates Easter, it was, in fact, the creation of the clever director of advertising at the Milanese confectionery company Motta in the 1930s. His brainwave: the firm sold panettone at Christmas and would benefit from another seasonal cake for a different time of year – one that could be made with ingredients similar to those of the yuletide favourite.

But though this is less romantic than the ancient tales, the idea took off, and now Colomba is an established fixture in Italy at this time of year. Enjoy with that cup of coffee or a glass of sweet wine. And do so safe in the knowledge that Giorgio Armani will be doing the same in Milan, in what turns out to be the true home of the dove-shaped sweet.

 

Giorgio Armani and Armani/Casa are at 37-42 Sloane Street SW1X 9LP
armanidolci.com/en/colomba-artigianale-1kg.html

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