Love Italy by Guy Grossi weighs at least 4kg and costs $A100. In this increasingly digital era, I’m amazed publishers continue to produce such books which are visual feasts as well as encyclopedic in content. Clear the coffee table (or the kitchen bench)! This cookbook/travel memoir will make a phenomenal Christmas present for someone. This is a fancy book, with photographs by Mark Chew. But don’t be deceived. It’s also passionately earthy, warm and unpretentious.
Melbourne restaurateur Guy has tapped into his enviable heritage and met the artisans who produce the best ingredients, from Piedmont to Sicily. Some of the 150 recipes have only a handful of ingredients. Very good ingredients such as Azienda le Barbarighe white polenta, Arezzo porcini, Testaroli pasta, Belli balsamic vinegar which is aged for 25 years, and parmesan made by the Boni family in Parma since 1912.
A bit about Guy
He’s one of Australia’s leading authorities on Italian food, has been a judge on our top TV cooking comps, and has written four other best-selling cookbooks. He’s the owner of award-winning Grossi restaurants including Grossi Florentino, Mirka Continental Bistro, Merchant Osteria Veneta, Ombra Salumi Bar and Grossi Trattoria in Bangkok. He’s also a philanthropist and one of his missions is to mentor young people.
He grew up in Melbourne, where a large vegetable garden and fruit trees were part of family life. He helped his father tend the garden while his mother produced feasts from the homegrown bounty. The family ate according to the seasons, something I also passionately believe in. Like other Mediterranean cultures, religious holidays dictated what dishes were served: For example spaghetti with calamari ragu on Good Friday. The Grossi family got together to produce cassata for the winter – a laborious all-day task of processing tomatoes poured into sterilised glass jars.
When Guy began to travel to Italy, it reinforced his belief that no matter how complicated or simple the recipes were, the connections with the sources of produce should be respected and nourished. “I know instinctively that an understanding of what you buy or source gives you respect for your ingredients. This in turn obliges you to take greater care in the preparation and cooking, inevitably yielding better results,” he writes in the introduction to Love Italy.
Back to delicious basics
In researching his book, Guy declined the five-star route and stayed in farmhouse accommodation where he spent time with producers and sampled ingredients made or grown there. His recipes include slow-cooked veal shoulder with porcini, crispy polenta chips with truffle mayonnaise, zucchini pizza, snapper in a salt crust, artichoke tortellini with capers, lemon and olive oil, and strawberry cannoli.
The book is also a lot about the people he met, such as Leonardo and Silvia Gagliardo in Northern Italy who use a traditional stone mill to produce white corn polenta on their farm, Azienda le Barbarighe. White polenta is particularly delicate and creamier in texture than the more yellow variety, but harder to come by. White corn has a lower yield than yellow, so it’s been whittled down to just 50 hectares today. In the industrial fishing town of Goro, he met local fishermen who shared stories about their lives and the history of their close-knit community. The Goro cooperative was created 80 years ago to manage the farming of clams and mussels.
A fisherman shared a delicious recipe for mussels baked with mozzarella. In Sicily Guy met Maria and Giorgio Zocco who run an organic herb farm, which seemed to inspire his recipe for herb-crusted lamb cutlets with mache (lamb’s tongue lettuce) and mint salad. See recipe below.
While in Sicily, Guy discovered the influence of Arabic culture on local dishes, including an unusual but very tasty fish soup brimming with prawns, scallops and scampi and served with with couscous and bruschetta. Also see recipe below. If you can’t go to Italy right now then dive into this book, and you’ll be there anyway.
Costoletta di agnello in crosta
HERB-CRUSTED LAMB CUTLETS WITH MÂCHE AND MINT SALAD
The sweetness of young, full-flavoured lamb works beautifully with fresh herbs. The crunchy coating provides a great texture too. To avoid sogginess, make sure you don’t overcrowd the pan and that the oil is just at the right temperature: too hot and the cutlets will burn quickly; too cool and they’ll absorb too much oil. You can test the temperature by dropping in a tiny bit of crumb before adding the lamb – it should start to sizzle straight away.
12 French-trimmed lamb cutlets, excess fat and sinew removed
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
1 tablespoon finely chopped sage
1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme
1 tablespoon grated parmesan
200 g dried breadcrumbs
sea salt and cracked black pepper
100 g plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
200 ml olive oil
MÂCHE AND MINT SALAD
100 g fresh shelled peas
100 g mâche leaves (lambs’ tongue lettuce)
20 mint leaves
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
50 g marinated goat’s cheese or feta
1 Lightly beat the lamb cutlets until they are about 5 mm thick.
2 Combine the herbs,parmesan and breadcrumbs in a bowl and mix well. Check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. Place the flour in a shallow bowl and the eggs in another. Lightly flour a cutlet, shaking off any excess, then dip it into the beaten egg. Place the cutlet in the herb and crumb mix, pressing the crumbs onto the meat to coat completely. Repeat with the remaining cutlets.
3 Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and add the cutlets. Cook for 1–2 minutes on each side until golden brown. Drain on paper towel.
4 Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and add the peas. Simmer for about 1–2 minutes, then drain immediately and refresh in cold water. When cool, drain the peas again and place in a large bowl with the mâche and mint leaves. 5 Make a dressing by whisking together the olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice. Pour over the leaves and mix well. Crumble in the goat’s cheese or feta and check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.
6 Serve the herb-crusted lamb cutlets with the mâche and mint salad alongside.
Zuppa di pesce con couscous e bruschetta
FISH SOUP WITH COUSCOUS AND BRUSCHETTA
The influence of Arabic culture is evident throughout Sicilian cuisine, but perhaps nowhere more so than in the use of couscous. It is often teamed with meat braises and casseroles, but I really enjoy it with fish, particularly in this fragrant soup.
2 sticks celery
finely diced 1 long red chilli
seeded and chopped
80 g tomato paste
150 ml white wine
1.5 litres fish stock
1 tablespoon chopped marjoram
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
240 g white fish (such as ling or blue-eye trevalla), cut into 1 cm pieces
12 vongole (clams) 12 mussels, scrubbed and debearded
120 g calamari, cut into 3 cm × 5 mm strips
sea salt and cracked black pepper
3 scampi, halved lengthways
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
200 g couscous
6 slices crusty bread
1 clove garlic, peeled
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- Heat olive oil in a rage heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and saute without colouring for 4 mins.
- Add the carrot, celery ad chilli and cook for 5 mins, stirring. Add the tomato paste and stir into the veges.
- Deglaze with the white wine then pour in the fish stock. bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 ins until the veges have softened and the flavours have all come together.
- Add the majoram, parsley, fish, vongole, mussels, calamari, prawns and scallops to the pan and season with salt and pepper.
- Cover and reduce the heat further to a very gentle simmer. Cook for 5 mins or until the prawns change colour, stirring once or twice.
- Then add the scampi and cook for a further min or two until the vongole and mussels have opened.
For the couscous
- Pour 1 cup (250 ml) of water into a small saucepan and add the olive oil and salt. Bring to the boil.
- Place the couscous in a large heatproof bowl and pour in the boiling water. Cover with plastic film and leave the grains to swell for a few mins.
- Fluff with a fork to separate the grains.
For the bruschetta
- Toast the bread under a hot grill until lightly golden.
- Rub each slice with the garlic clove then drizzle with the extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with parsley.
Putting it all together Spoon some warm couscous into each serving bowl. Divide and seafood and broth among the bowls and serve with bruschetta on the side. Serves 6.
Love Italy by Guy Grossi, published by Lantern, an imprint of Penguin Books, $A100. *Images and recipes must be not reproduced without permission.