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Melbourne Italian - a cookbook gift

"Go into the kitchen and cook for someone you love. The pleasure will be mine." Guy Grossi

"The oil, the flame, the onion ... You can trace it back for thousands of years, to the ancient Roman days. It's the base of Italian cooking, the soffritto. This is the beginning of the cooking, the beginning of the kitchen, the beginning of the philosophy in the kitchen." Guy Grossi

For those of you who don't live in Melbourne the Grossi family is one of the big Italian cuisine families of Melbourne. We have a lot of Italians here in Melbourne - almost as many as the Greeks - well they are Italian/Australians now - the original migrants are now even older than me. The Grossi's have owned several restaurants in the past, including one in Eltham, named for Guy Grossi's father - Pietro - and where Guy Grossi cooked. Alas for Eltham they sold it so that they could buy Florentino's at the top of Bourke Street.

Florentino's was always a Melbourne institution although it went into a period of decline perhaps in the 80s. I remember in fact one occasion when my older son took his first love to dinner there - in the posh section and they either persuaded them, or gave them, with the impression that it was free - a glass of very expensive champagne. I never really forgave them for that.

However, it is now in the hands of the Grossi family and called Grossi Florentino just to emphasise that fact. The food in the posh room upstairs - shown here - is very expensive and divine. We have been there once. Just like the long-lost Eltham Pietro's which was somewhat cheaper, so we went there a few times. But do not despair because you can also dine at the Grill downstairs which is super - have dined there a few times, and more approachable in price - the Cellar Bar next door is even cheaper although more limited in what there is. He also now has others nearby as well I think, and has made a few television shows - most notably Italian Food Safari with Maeve O'Meara - and I have that book too. A celebrity chef with a small empire.

But back to the book. Published back in 2005 with a cover and internal section drawings from a famous and much loved by the cognoscenti, Melbourne artist - Mirka Mora who paints a little like Marc Chagall it seems to me. There is another Melbourne restaurant institution called Tolarno - in which we have also eaten, and which was owned by the Grossis for a time, which has murals painted by her.

Each section is prefaced by one of her line drawings and an introduction from the man himself. He writes quite well but not superbly, and I guess there is a lot of the general Italian food clichés in there - extended family, tradition, love, etc. plus a chef's insistence on high quality ingredients that are not always that easy to source. But I'll forgive him because although very Italian, every dish has some, at least tiny, personal touch.

The book also contains lavish photographs by Adrian Lander - so it's a delight. Almost a coffee table book although Grossi implores you to take it into the kitchen and to not treat it as a coffee table book. This one perhaps is the one that really caught my eye and made me remember some of the sumptuous meat dishes that we have tasted at Pietro and Grossi Florentino. The dish is Rabbit Cannelloni with wild mushroom sauce, and I won't be making it any time soon I'm guessing. It's doable but not easy, even though he describes it as 'homely'. Besides first find your rabbit. I'm not even sure it's a particularly typical Italian dish, but that's what he is so good at - taking an Italian concept, even a peasant Italian concept and turning it into something magnificent. Maybe one day when I'm looking for something special for friends ...

It might be interesting here to just insert a recipe I bookmarked from the latest Coles Magazine from another celebrity chef - Curtis Stone. Also with a twist in that the cannelloni themselves are actually slices of sweet potato so it's called Curtis Stone's Sweet potato cannelloni - note the emphasis on the chef's name - well he's famous too.

Interestingly when I finished my read through of this book I felt that it was beautiful, but that I was unlikely to make anything from it, but now having looked at it a little more closely for this post I think that maybe I will try a few - such as (pictures below): Pizza al prosciutto e gorgonzola - although maybe not as I don't like gorgonzola - however, he did have an interesting tip on the prosciutto:

"we lay prosciutto on it when it comes out of the oven and the heat from the pizza warms it up and the prosciutto almost melts into the crust. It's sensual and flavoursome, and when you eat it you're biting through clean prosciutto that hasn't dried up and gone hard."

Then there's the incredibly simple Bruschetta con acciughe e capperi (Bruschetta with anchovies and capers) - for me though, not for David, and finally - literally - as it is a sort of postscript on the back flap of the cover - Cioccolato caldo (Hot chocolate). Make your chocolate sauce and put in a jug, heat milk and put into a cup then let everyone add as much chocolate as they like.

And just to demonstrate how he is not really traditional Italian, here are two more offerings. First this Sicilian pasta dish - Spaghetti alla carrettiera - Spaghetti with tuna and porcini mushrooms. His presentation here is of a massive amount of spaghetti in the hollowed out shell of a round of Parmiggiano Reggiano. Now who has one of those handy - even if you have got a lot of people to feed? One of those wheels of cheese is massive. I think we were told they weigh 25kg.

Also it seems that the dish of that name is a sort of Sicilian pasta aglio e olio - oil and garlic. No tuna or porcini mushrooms in sight. Just breadcrumbs, garlic, a hint of chilli, parsley and olive oil. I found lots of versions online - and they mostly look just like this. But I did find one Italian site that did say that these days people are messing with it including adding tuna and mushrooms - maybe he'd seen Guy Grossi's recipe.

To take this a step further here is another recipe I might try some time - it's called Sfoglia all'acciuga (Anchovy pastries) - so he loves anchovies. Very simple - lay anchovies over some puff pastry, roll it up, cut it into pieces, roll them out, cook and sprinkle with paprika. I had a look at this one online too and found there are an enormous number of things you can do with just those two ingredients - puff pastry and anchovies - well sometimes they add something else:

Oh the creativity of cooks - from the greatest chefs in the world to humble bloggers. Being a celebrity chef of course he makes his own puff pastry.

And one last thing which I now cannot find - a small tip for what to do with leftover risotto other than arancini. Press it into a frypan and cook - I can't quite remember now, but I'm guessing you must have to flip it over at some point - so you end up with a kind of slice or cake rather than little balls. His recipe for pasta with potatoes and truffles looked good too.

Lovely book - I shouldn't just put it on the shelf and forget all about it.


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