I come from that “borderland” where Tuscany and Liguria meet each other and intertwine, creating a diverse mix of cultures and traditions that merge and diverge at the same time: that is Lunigiana. An ancient land, rich in traditions and history. And it is right from these roots of mine that I took the idea of the “J&J mortar”; from my childhood memories when my granny used to make “panigacci” with pesto sauce, a poor but very tasty dish, prepared using ancient and rather forgotten tools like the “testo” for panigacci and the “mortar” for pesto. How delicious granny Orlandina’s panigacci were! She never referred to recipes as she used to make them just with her eye and did not need a timer as she perfectly knew the number of “testi” to be stacked and the time for a perfect cooking. A true art that she learned over the years and with experience, so much as to become capable of recognising a good quality terracotta-made “testo” by its sound… when you tap on it, depending on how it sounds – she used to say – then you can tell if it is well made!
I chose the mortar because it is a solid item, meant to last over time and to be handed down from generation to generation. So why not trying to re-design and transfer it into the XXI century?
A challenge which I would not evade from: re-thinking a “traditional tool” to make it more modern and practical, also suitable for the needs of an international cuisine and not only for the Italian one. The “J&J” mortar, in its structure, has been designed to prepare delicious sauces, typical of the Italian tradition, as well as a mix of spices for instance, and much much more.
The local tradition requires marble from Carrara and that is a non-negotiable condition. Therefore the J&J is a block of White Carrara marble in which a traditionally shaped mortar has been carved out, paired with a smaller Portoro mortar and a pestle, all closed by a yellow element that also serves as base for the smaller mortar.
I decided to name this project “J&J” because I was inspired by the deep bond between two great American artists, Johnny Cash and June Carter. So different from one another and yet at the same time so complementary, according to the opinion of many they gave life to the most beautiful love-story of the 20th century. A story lived, fuelled and defended with tenacity despite the problems that Johnny’s dissolute life posed to them. But real life is made of lights and shadows, of great happiness and deep sadness, of contrasting colours and opposites attracting, sometimes in an indissoluble way. It just took their first encounter in 1961 for him to choose her… “One day you and me will get married”…and so it was, many years later but for ever. Johnny once wrote in a letter dedicated to June:
“We read each others minds, we think alike. We know what the other wants without even asking. (…) You influence me for the better. You are the object of my desire, the first earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much”.
In the same way the contrast of colours, the complementarity of the shapes of the two mortars and the consistency of the materials make this object a harmonious and inseparable single whole, destined to last for ever just like the love between Johnny and June.
I invite you to try two typical sauces of the traditional Ligurian cuisine, both excellent as a condiment for pasta: the Genoese pesto and the walnut sauce…without forgetting the fantastic panigacci. And if you liked to keep on enjoying yourselves in the kitchen, here are some Italian regional recipes.
The Genoese pesto is a cold sauce, mainly used to mix with pasta, and a traditional dish that is prepared in Liguarian households without recipe…according to each one’s habit and taste. The first written recipe, found in the book “La vera cuciniera genovese” (The real Genoese cook) by Emanuele Rossi, goes back to 1800. However its origin is even older and some believe it may descend from the “agliata”, an ancient sauce made of crushed garlic, breadcrumbs, wine, vinegard and olive oil, and used as a condiment for fish.
Here is the official recipe of the Consortium of Genoese pesto:
- 25 g leaves of Ligurian basil
- 50 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 35 g grated Parmesan cheese (pdo)
- 15 g grated Pecorino cheese
- 8 g pine-nuts
- ½ clove of garlic
- 1 pinch of coarse salt
Using your pestle, crush up the garlic in the mortar until you obtain a sort of cream, then add basil and coarse salt. When the basil will be well crumbled, add the pine-nuts and keep crushing up. Gradually incorporate the cheeses, ultimately drizzle the olive oil then carefully mix all the ingredients.
Mainly used to condiment pasta, this sauce is another Ligurian delicacy that often goes with the equally typical “pansotti”, herbs and ricotta-cheese ravioli.
- 160 g walnuts
- 70 g extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic
- 20 g pine-nuts
- 30 g grated Parmesan cheese (pdo)
- 160 g whole milk
- 4 g marjoram
- 30 g breadcrumbs
Place the peeled walnuts, the pine-nuts, the marjoram and the garlic in the mortar, then reduce everything to pulp. Add the bread, soaked in milk and then squeezed, finally drizzle some olive oil.
Pesto alla trapanese
Another renowned pesto sauce is the tomato-based one typical of the Trapanese cuisine. An ancient recipe born in the port of Trapani where once Genoeseships, coming from the Orient and carrying products and preparation, used to moor. It seems that the same Genoese sailors brought l’agliata to Sicily, a sauce considered the ancient Genoese pesto. The Trapanese people modified the recipe using typical local products like tomatoes, almonds, pecorino cheese, red garlic and basil.
- 30 g basil
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 40 g peeled almonds
- 4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
- 200 ml extra virgin olive oil
Gently crush the basil with garlic in a mortar, drizzle 100 ml of olive oil. Add the almonds, the chopped tomatoes and the remaining olive oil. Keep working everything to obtain a grainy but well thickened sauce.
The Ligurian green sauce that some call “bagnetto” is a preparation of the Ligurian culinary tradition which is generally used as accompaniment to stew.
- 300 g parsley
- 20 g salted capers
- 1 tablespoon of white vinegar
- 20 g pine-nuts
- 30 ml milk
- Salt to taste
- 250 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 4 salted anchovy fillets
- 1 lemon juice
- 1 bread crumb
1 clove of garlic
Crush the parsley leaves (previously washed and dried), the garlic without its core and the pine-nuts in a mortar, then add the bread crumb, soaked in milk and then squeezed, the anchovies, the desalted capers, the lemon juice keeping still crushing all up in order to mix with the other ingredients. Gradually add olive oil, crushing up until you obtain a smooth and creamy mixture. Taste and season with salt.