Archive for the ‘Sydney’s Italian restaurants’ Category

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Top 10 Italian food-related experiences

December 22, 2015

It’s the time of year when ‘Top 10 Lists’ appear everywhere – for books, films, music. I’ve been reminiscing and came up with my best Italian food-related memories for 2015 (in no particular order):

. Discovering a great lunch spot while waiting two hours for my GP’s appointment. The Italian Bar in inner city Sydney is run by two Italian ex-DJ brothers who offer great pizza, antipasti and killer drinks.

Italian Bar Paddington

. Finding Elizabeth David’s Italian Cooking in a second-hand bookshop. First published in 1954, it’s a classic and her prose is good reading even before attempting the recipes.

. Celebrating offal. Trippa alla Romana (Roman style tripe) served at a now defunct suburban restaurant became a winter favourite. Tomatoey, saucy and great while it lasted.

. Experimenting with a deconstructed peperonata. Yes, I took liberties and added eggplant, but the separately oven-cooked ingredients doused with vinaigrette hits the spot.

Italian peperonata

. Closely observing fruit & veg forms while creating a watercolour still life. Borlotti beans in their shells, eggplants, artichokes, fennel, celeriac all got the treatment.

. Coming to the conclusion that the strawberry granita at Sydney’s Cremeria de Luca is almost as good as their coffee granita. And DON’T hold the panna (cream).

. Always ordering the ham and fior di latte mini brioche at Bar Sport in Sydney’s inner west. Small, delicious and everything you want in a mid-morning snack.

Ham and cheese brioche

. Getting my fill of comfort food by copying the restaurant scene in Vittorio de Sica’s film Bicycle Thieves where father and son order a Mozzarella in Carozza (fried mozzarella sandwich).  

. Growing my own wonderful green Lombardo chillies and flash-frying them in oil, garlic and salt. Nothing else required.

Italian green chillies

. Admitting frozen vegetables aren’t always the enemy. The next best things to fresh broad beans are the frozen variety. I concocted a broad bean salad recipe for the NRMA’s Living Well Navigator site 

 

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Working Out for our Mussels

October 30, 2013

The current widespread interest in foraging for food took me back to my family’s attempts at the hunter/gatherer lifestyle.

Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour was a hub of industrial activity when we lived in nearby Balmain in the mid 1960s. Soon there was talk among the Italian community that the action on the island’s shipbuilding facilities was easily matched by what was happening underwater.

The Italian dockyard workers on the island discovered the enormous wooden pylons under the piers were bursting with mussels. My parents had always eaten mussels in their Adriatic seaside hometown but were missing them in Sydney. They’d only eaten them once at Beppi’s Italian restaurant in Sydney after they heard the restaurant owner, Beppi Polese – also a forager- was rowing out to Middle Harbour’s Spit Bridge in a rubber boat for his supply.  

Mussels in Pot

With apologies to Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers (The Triumph of Mussels, 1965). I couldn’t resist

 

Determined not to let this opportunity pass, my father was soon making plans to explore this bounty and mild sunny days in autumn or spring would be perfect for the trip. In a small wooden rowboat hired from a nearby boatshed, my dad, mum and I started making our 20-minute trips across the Parramatta River to mussel HQ. I was only seven or eight, but insisted on helping with the rowing. My skinny arms worked hard, but the heavy timber oars soon had me struggling. We wore no lifejackets, sunscreen or hats – and carried no water – just hessian sacks for the haul and the special mussel harvester invented by my handyman dad.

My father had fashioned a piece of fine wire mesh into a bucket shape and attached it to the bottom of a metal garden rake. When we reached the island, my mother and I stood at one end of the boat, steadying it with our arms wrapped around a pylon while my father, balancing at the other end, lowered the hand-crafted contraption deep into the water. A few upward scrapes against the timber pylon and the mesh collected all the loosened mussels.

Molluscs produce an amino acid that helps them cling tenaciously to piers, rocks and boat hulls, so this was tough work.  Dad was always careful to harvest them deep in the water as he thought they were less likely to be contaminated by fuel spills. This determination to deliver us from food poisoning had him leaning so far out of the boat we always anticipated a man overboard situation. 

Three or four sackfuls (about 30 kilos) later, we’d head home, with my father doing most of the rowing while we nursed our scratches and bruises from hugging the pylons too tightly while he foraged. The homeward journey seemed to take forever and was uncomfortable and cramped with the haul taking up precious leg space. The boat was heavier than it had been during the outward journey, but my father rowed on, dodging passing motorboats and welcoming the occasional splashes of cold water on his white Bonds singlet. 

The trip finished, we unloaded the boat on the beach while the Anglo-Australian fishermen shook their heads, yelling to us that the mussels were not fit for human consumption. My parents told me not to worry about ‘gli Australiani’ and reassured me it was their loss.

Back at our house, the crowds started gathering. Our family friends had all come round to collect their share, some staying for lunch or dinner. After cold beers, it was time for rinsing off, scrubbing and de-bearding – of the mussels, not the crew. We cooked up a feast and ate them stuffed, steamed, crumbed and fried, added to a risotto, tossed into a pot of pasta. With plenty of leftovers, we were in mussel heaven for days.

These days I buy mussels wrapped in plastic and paper from a trusted fishmonger but I miss the days of bringing them home in wet hessian sacks, with their distinctive sea-salt smell.

One of my favourite ways to eat them is as the Venetians do – stuffed and baked in the oven and called Muscoli or ‘pedoci’ al Pangrattato.

 

Fried mussels

For four people:

2 kgs medium sized mussels ….. 1 cup breadcrumbs ….. 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley ….. 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped ….. pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper ….. 1/4 cup olive oil ….. lemon juice to taste
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Scrub mussels well and using a small knife inserted between the shells, open each one and remove beard.  Scrape mussel flesh and its water into one shell only and discard other shell. Arrange mussel-filled shells onto baking tray and pile a small amount of breadcrumb mixture onto each, just covering the flesh. Drizzle with olive oil and bake for approximately 10 minutes or until browned. Serve hot with a squeeze of lemon.

(Working out for our Mussels was short-listed in the 2014 Life Writing competition held annually by Melaleuca Blue Publishing. It’s included in an anthology of short stories titled You’ll Eat Worse than that Before You Die published in print and ebook form).

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Lurking in the Cupboard #2: Toothpick Holders

October 4, 2012

An occasional post about long-forgotten household gems in my mother’s kitchen

The two swans are finally getting some attention. I hear they can get a bit haughty, so I’m extra careful before I shoot photograph them.

As novelty toothpick holders go, these little beauties are very covetable, but sadly have sat untouched in the china cabinet for many years.  Once regular stars at my parents’ dinner parties, they were for a while surpassed by a newer model – a square ‘80s timber veneer Port Macquarie souvenir, but it too sits abandoned.

Swan-shaped toothpick holders

It used to be perfectly acceptable to wield toothpicks after a meal, one hand over the mouth while the digging and poking took place with the other. They’re said to be the oldest instrument for dental cleaning, with skulls of Neanderthals showing clear signs of having teeth picked with a tool, but if they’re so useful, when was the last time you put toothpicks out for a dinner party? And when did you last see them on a restaurant table?

Every neighbourhood Italian eatery we frequented in Sydney’s inner-west in the ’60s and ’70s set their tables with toothpicks. The Tre Venezie, Moro and Miramare restaurants in Stanmore and (I’m sure) Beppi’s in East Sydney offered them beside the salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar.

Sally Galletto, manager of one of my favourite restaurants – Lucio’s in Paddington – tells me they still have them, but at the waiters’ stations, not on tables.

If the demise of the toothpick as dental accessory is complete, let’s at least pay homage to its other uses. Here’s my Top 10:

.            stabbed through cubed cheese with red pickled onions as 1960s party food

.            decorating a hotel Club Sandwich (topped with curly cellophane)

.            as a fastener for Devils on Horseback and Italian veal involtini

.            holding together a cocktail orange slice and a Maraschino cherry

.            speared through the heart of two green olives in a classic Martini

.            poked vertically on everything in an antipasto platter, creating a mini forest

.            Ray’s (Dustin Hoffman) preferred utensil for eating pancakes in Rain Man

.            as a character nickname in Some Like it Hot: ‘Toothpick Charlie’

.            as a mouth prop for cinema mobsters and cowboys

.            Ryan Gosling chewing one in 2011’s Drive to emulate James Dean              

Have I forgotten any?

But back to the beginning. In case you’re keen to start using toothpicks, I recommend honing your skills with actor/cabaret star Paul Capsis’s chance conversation webisodes ‘Toothpick Etiquette’ 101, 102 and 103.

Related posts on retro household items: 

https://ambradambra.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/lurking-in-the-cupboard-nutcracker-the-utensil-not-the-ballet-2/

https://ambradambra.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/lurking-in-the-cupboard-4-metal-food-tins/

♦ I welcome your thoughts or retorts. The Comments button is only a click away…

 

 
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