It’s probably a no brainer that if you’re going to make your home into a great restaurant, you’d be heavily influenced by the type of cuisine that epitomises the very core of family-based cooking – that time-honoured, community-driven affair that is Italian fare.
In this beautiful new book, authors Armando Percuoco and David Dale indeed take a focus on the home, with Chapter 2 – Family Fun – featuring easy ways every member of the family can be involved in the precious preparation of good food. Pizza, of course, is featured, but there are also recipes such as calzone, ragu, crocchette (potato croquettes) and semifreddo, that will draw in even the most reluctant chef – both as a way to become involved in the multifarious ways cooking brings us together – and in the eating.
But let’s start at the very beginning – with an introduction that probably rightfully describes Australians as quite sophisticated restaurant customers, yet whom remain ‘sadly distanced from their food when they’re at home’. Absolutely, Australians do ‘understand the cuisines of many nations’ and ‘know eight different ways to ask for coffee’, but the authors are really hitting the artichoke in the heart when they say families rarely share meals any more – that we are a fragmented society whose nightly meal often comprises ready-made freezer-stuff, gobbled between work, social and sporting engagements.
So, how do we bring back that sense of togetherness and involvement – from growing foods to preparing them from scratch to devouring them during delicious repasts that hark back to a simpler time – and arguably a time when we were not only living more balanced lives but were probably considerably happier. It’s clear that the authors of Buon Ricordo know the answer to this – we take time. Not great hulking slabs of time that compromise our sanity and the very running of our households, but carefully reserved time that allows us to fully engage in and experience one of humankind’s most delectable gift – the appreciation of good food… and of course, the memory of good food from times past; our good memories or ‘buon ricordo’.
In Chapter 1 – Basic Beginnings, Percuoco takes us through the core elements – or essential ingredients – of his cooking. Beginning with the ubiquitous olive oil and taking us through onions and garlic, tomatoes, herbs and salad, vegetables, pasta and more – I defy your tastebuds to lay inert at the mouthwatering way these vital elements are tied into the foundation of Italian food.
Chapter 3 – Traditions and Twists – hauls us into the 21st Century from more traditional times, taking magnificent, time-honoured dishes and adding individual twists to plates of yore, adding a popular nuova cucina flavour to such favourites as zuppa di pesce (fish stew), arancini (rice balls) and ossobuco alla genovese. Even tiramisu is fancified and bundled into a fig and mascapone tart that will have your tongue curling in ecstasy.
Chapter 4 – Spectacular Sensations – is reserved for those who want to push their gastronomic boundaries a little – and won’t shy from the challenge of creating a restaurant masterpiece on home turf. From tortino di patate (potato, olive and anchovy tortino) to chiacchiere (cinnamon pastries), wannabe chefs will be sharpening their knives in glee at the thought of their next dinner party. Definitely designed to impress.
In keeping with a tendency for many to overindulge, Chapter 5 – Hearty Health – provides especially heart- and body-conscious recipes to tempt those on limited diets or those who simply wish to keep calorie content in check. Indeed, the authors take pains to mention the fact that Italians have one of the lowest rates of strokes and heart attacks in the world. Using fresh, vital ingredients, plenty of olive oil, tomatoes and lean meats, Italian cuisine does not have to be a cheese-laden morass of joules. Recipes in this chapter include ceci farciti (chickpea salad), calamari con pomodori (calamari with tomatoes and peas) and pesche ripiene (poached peaches).
The final chapter – Restaurant Rules – is a real treat, as it reveals a menu devised by the various chefs at Buon Ricordo – arguably the finest Italian restaurant in the country. This ‘menu’ features a collection of recipes shared by various cooks at Buon Ricordo – recipes shared amongs themselves at the closing of the day – a time for recapping and celebrating the restaurant’s successes and direction. The recipes draw on various themes and nationalities from Mr Pong’s Thai fish salad to Alexandra’s baked kibbeh.
With a beautifully bound and designed hard cover and delicious photographs by Greg Elms, this is a cookbook for both collectors of simply beautiful books and for those wanting to delve into recipes that will take their family’s and friends’ repasting moments to new heights. Sure, anyone cooking from this book may not find themselves atop a Tuscan village at summertime (alas), but this stunning book will take you darn close. Buon appetito!
About the Authors
Armando Percuoco was born in Naples, part of a family of cooks and waiters, and started his restaurant training at the age of 14. He came to Australia in 1972 and, with his family, opened Pulcinella restaurant, named after the mischievous Neapolitan of classic comedy, in 1979. It soon became the favourite eatery of Sydney’s lawyers, politicians, journalists, actors and criminals. In 1987 he brought his audience with him to a more polished establishment, Buon Ricordo, which has received multiple awards as Australia’s top Italian restaurant. Armando’s previous books, co-authored with David Dale, are The Secrets of Pulcinella and La Cucina Italiana.
David Dale is a xenophiliac. In books and columns, he analyses fads, foods, media, culture, the power of places and the peculiarities of people. His books include The Obsessive Traveller, or Why I Don’t Steal Towels from Great Hotels Any More; Who We Are: A Snapshot of Australia Today; The 10.
Buon Ricordo is published by Allen & Unwin, A$65RRP.