The open courtyard of the Italian fine-dining restaurant San Gimignano, The Imperial, provided the perfect al fresco setting for a back-to-basics masterclass in Italian cooking. The class, which offered three simple staples of Italian homes on the menu — Fiesole-style Potato Dumplings with Fresh Tomato and Basil, Asparagus Risotto and Tiramisu — was conducted by executive chefs Attilio di Fabrizio, from Belmond Villa San Michele, Florence, and Roberto Gatto from Belmond Hotel Cipriani. They have prepared a special spread in collaboration with The Imperial’s executive chef of Prem Pogakula, which will be available at the restaurant till February 11.
Following this, Chef Pogakula will head to Italy to host an Indian food festival.
“There are a lot of similarities between Indian and Italian ways of cooking. I think when Marco Polo visited India, he was inspired. That’s how I think we got these many influences that we still practise,” says Chef Fabrizio, kneading the dough gently to prepare the potato dumplings. “What we are sharing with you today is very basic food, which most homes in Italy eat. Simple dishes which can be whipped up with the most basic ingredients and are so comforting for the soul,” he adds.
The Fiesole-style potato dumplings is a simple main course dish, in which boiled potatoes are mashed with eggs, flour and salt and made into dumplings. They are then boiled and tempered with chopped tomatoes, garlic and basil leaves. “We need to enjoy the natural, subtle flavours of the ingredients. Basil will set of the earthy texture of the potatoes dumplings perfectly, and the cherry tomatoes will provide the acidic touch. Why do we need 50 complicated ingredients, I don’t understand,” adds the chef, with a heavy Italian accent.
Chef Gatto echoes these sentiments. “There is this insane drive towards gastronomy, and other such cooking and eating techniques. Why? You nowadays go to any restaurant in London, Tokyo or New Delhi, the food will taste the same. We are forgetting the very important role played by seasonal and local produce…I am making asparagus risotto – which is made during this time in Italy – because it’s readily available. But why should we make this in November, when asparagus doesn’t grow. We tend to use frozen stuff, but what’s the joy in that?” questions Chef Gatto, who has trained under the renowned Alain Ducasse at his restaurant Hotel de Paris, in Monte Carlo.
The risotto in question is a simple preparation, but cooked slowly in liberal portions of dry white wine, butter, vegetable broth and Parmesan. “Use Carnaroli rice,” insists Chef Gatto, adding, “please don’t use Basmati.” The risotto is a labour of love and patience as it takes a considerable time to cook, but the super consistent and creamy texture of the preparation is worth the wait. “All this thing about fusion food – it’s all confusion,” says Chef Gatto.
The last item on the board is Tiramisu. “Yes, it’s the most loved and best known Italian dessert in the world,” stresses Chef Fabrizio. “This is my own recipe.” The dessert involves all things distinctly Italian – eggs, espresso, mascarpone cheese and lots of elbow grease, as Chef Fabrizio whips the sugar and egg whites until the bowl is filled with a firm, white, frothy concoction. The egg yolks and mascarpone cheese are delegated to the electric blender. The preparation is then layered and topped off with thin finger shaped biscuits that are dipped in espresso. On a sweet Tiramisu note, the master class ended. “We all really need to start cooking more. We are unnecessarily burdening us with gourmet this, gourmet that. Comfort food — that’s all life is about,” signs off Chef Fabrizio. Our taste buds couldn’t agree more.
By Chef Attilio Di Fabrizio
Ingredients (Serves 4)
3 — Eggs
250g — Mascarpone cheese
150g — Sugar
3 — Long espressos
6 — Ladyfinger biscuits
Cocoa — To taste
* Prepare the espresso and put it in a bowl to cool. Cut the ladyfinger biscuits in half, horizontally.
* Separate the egg yolks from the whites and place them in separate 2-litre size bowls.
* Add 100g of sugar to the yolks and whip them with a whisk or electric beater. When the mixture is frothy, add the mascarpone cheese and continue to stir for a couple of minutes.
* Add the remaining sugar to the bowl with the whites and whip until stiff with a whisk or an electric beater.
* Gently mix together the contents of both bowls with a whisk.
* Take four small bowls (about the size of a cappuccino cup), possibly with the upper border more open than the bottom one. Put a layer of cream in the bottom of the bowl (filling about one-fourth of it). Quickly dip the ladyfingers one at a time in the coffee and place three of them over the cream mixture in each bowl. Cover with more cream and sprinkle with cocoa.
* The tiramisu portions can be prepared in advance and placed in the refrigerator for a few hours until ready to serve. The cocoa should be added only moments before serving.
The special menu is available at San Gimignano, The Imperial, New Delhi, till February 11. Price for two: Rs 6,000 + taxes (without alcohol).