Buying local key to Italian cooking
THE SMELL of fresh bread on the table. Food lovingly cooked with fresh local produce.
Sharing food, celebrating food, this is Sardinian culture. And Sardinia is where Giovanni Pilu grew up.
A small island of Italy, Sardinia is renowned for its regional flavours which dominate the Italian cuisine.
It is little wonder that this love for his homeland turned Pilu into one of Australia's most successful Italian chefs.
Pilu arrived in Australia 20 years ago, bright eyes and full of passion for the food of his homeland.
He now owns and runs a successful restaurant, Sydney's Pilu at Freshwater, and this week launched his first cook book, A Sardinian Cookbook, at Noosa's Berardo's restaurant.
"I can never say no to Berardo's," Pilu laughed.
"I love it so much, we come to Noosa two to three times a year for a holiday and also for the festival."
Those lucky enough to attend the book launch were in for a treat.
Pilu had put together an all Sardinian menu using recipes from his book and starting with his favourite food: bread.
"Bread and cheese for me, bread is my favourite thing," Pilu said.
"I grew up with bread always on the table, and cheese is one of those things where you can open the fridge and cut a piece of cheese, you have great bread and a glass of wine, nothing to cook, it's very easy."
The rest of the menu included a simple, yet mouth-watering pasta with calamari sauce, a two-in-one dish of poultry cooked in broth where the broth is served separately as an entree and to finish a vanilla Panna cotta with a caramel-style sauce.
Pilu, who has featured on Masterchef, said the key to great Italian cooking was to use local produce.
"Buying local ingredients, fruit and vegies, from where you live that's what makes Italian cooking so good," Pilu explained.
"As long as you respect that, you can cook great Italian food anywhere in the world."
He also said by cooking with foods that are in season you get a tastier end result.
Pilu's book is full of great recipes and also includes a snapshot of his Sardinian heritage.
"The book is not only about recipes it's about my background, my heritage, I was telling people about Sardinia as well as the food," he said.
"That's what I wanted to talk about, that and a little bit about me coming here to Australia."
The end result is a delightful combination of facts and food and readers can't help but feel the passion Pilu has for the country and its cuisine.
The recipes themselves are simple, the food Pilu grew up with: "It's a book that I think guys can cook as well," Pilu said, "because guys don't really cook apart from a barbeque," he joked.
As for a great recipe to cook for those who have very little time, Pilu said you can't go past pasta.
"I think a pasta dish with garlic, chilli, olive oil and spaghetti," Pilu said.
"You always have a pack of pasta at home, just cook it off and mix it together."
When it comes to Italian cuisine, Pilu proved keeping it simple is always the best.
Ciciones pasta with pork sausage sauce
Fresh pasta dough with saffron, not rolled through pasta machine
Tipo oo flour for dusting
1/4 cup (60ml) extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 small brown onion, finely diced
1 small carrot peeled and finely diced
1 stalk celery heart, finely diced
250g Italian-style pork sausages, skins removed
1 tablespoon tomato paste (puree)
¼ teaspoon saffron threads
2 bay leaves
1 sprig rosemary
400g canned peeled tomatoes, drained and squashed
5 basil leaves, torn
Salt flakes, to taste
Fine sea salt, for pasta water
80g aged Pecorino Sardo freshly grated
Place pasta dough on a clean, dry workbench and using the palms of your hands, roll it into logs about 1cm wide, only if dough starts to stick to the bench, dust bench very lightly with a little flour.
If it starts to slip on the bench rather than roll, put a drop of water on your hands.
Cut pasta logs into small pieces about the size of a chickpea. Sprinkle with flour and set aside.
Heat a large frying pan over medium heat, add oil and when hot, add onion, carrot and celery and cook until soft and slightly coloured.
Add sausage meat, spread it out evenly in the pan and cook without stirring for 5 minutes. Then, using a wooden spoon to break it up, turn the meat over and cook the other side for a few minutes, until browned all over.
Stir in tomato paste, saffron, bay leaves and rosemary and cook for a further minute.
Add tomatoes, basil and 1 cup water and bring to the boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and crushing the meat slightly, until sauce is quite thick, if it dries out too much, add a little more water. Taste and season lightly with salt flakes, if needed.
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add fine sea salt, then pasta and boil for about 10-12 minutes from the time the water returns to the boil, until tender.
Drain well, reserving some of the cooking water.
Toss the pecorino through the pasta, a little at a time, then add the sauce and toss for a minute or two to coat well.
If it seems a bit dry, add a couple of tablespoons of reserved cooking water and stir it through well, adding a little more if necessary to give a glossy appearance.
Drizzle with olive oil and serve immediately.