Andrea Fioriti is from the Umbrian city of Perugia, located between Rome and Florence. "Umbria is called the heart of Italy because it's right at the centre," he explains.
Like many Italians, food was an integral part of his upbringing. "We have a big family and my four grandparents lived upstairs. I grew up doing three things; going to school, playing soccer and helping my family with the garden, the animals and the cooking," he says.
Fioriti has partnered with restaurateur Anthony LoPiccolo to relaunch Piccolino in Fitzroy North. "We share the same philosophy on food, wine and people," says LoPiccolo of the partnership.
"My grandma used to make it at home, especially on Sunday before I'd play soccer."
The menu still features homemade pasta, but the pizzas are now cooked in a wood-fired oven. When he came on board a few months ago, Fioriti was adamant that a dish from his region, torta al testo, join the menu.
"My grandma used to make it at home, especially on Sunday before I'd play soccer. I'd go down to the garden and she would be making torta al testo, gnocchi or grilling rabbits over the flames. It was the life," he remembers fondly.
Torta al testo is a flatbread that is cut open and fillings are placed between two slices. In Umbria, it's big enough to make a satisfying meal. But at Piccolino, Fioriti makes his torta al testo snack-sized so you can enjoy them for aperitivo or antipasto.
The chef has brought back a special testo from Perugia that allows him to make his mini torta al testo."The dough is made with a different flour than pizza dough, it's wetter and more like a bread dough," he explains, without revealing his exact recipe.
He puts the dough in the cast iron testo and grills the bread over a burner. "Once it's cooked, you slice it in half. You can put whatever you want inside… Well, any vegetables, Italian cheese and salumi. We don't use sauce like tomato sauce or aioli."
Torta al testo fillings change regularly at Piccolino, but you'll usually find one vegetarian option, like mozzarella and spinach, and one with meat and cheese, such as mortadella and scamorza.
Fioriti has also brought back a regular-sized testo from Perugia and intends to eventually make regular size torta al testo if there's interest.
The chef promises that Piccolino's aperitivo is not just any assortment of cheese, cured meat and marinated veggies that you could put together yourself. He goes to the market every day to pick the best ingredients to make bites like marinated capsicum with pickled onions, grissini with prosciutto and supplì.
"Supplì are typically eaten in Rome. It's similar to a croquette or arancini, but it's not exactly the same," says Fioriti.
Like arancini, supplì are rice balls that have been filled, coated in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. The shape of supplì is more oblong than arancini, and the fillings different. Offal used to be common, but these days, they're most often filled with tomato sauce and mozzarella. When we visited, the supplì were flavoured with lemon butter.
For something more substantial, look to the wood-fired pizza and homemade pasta menu. It's hard to go past the gnocchi, handmade by LoPiccolo's father.
The board will let you know what's on offer that day, from carbonara to crab, chilli and tomato sauce pasta. Our choice would fall on pasta alla norma (tomato, fried eggplant, ricotta salata and basil), a nod to LoPicollo's Sicilian heritage.
If you'd prefer a double-dose of carbs, the spag bowl, a pizza dough bowl filled with spaghetti Bolognese, is what you want.
148 Scotchmer St, Fitzroy North
Leave it to the Italians to figure out a way to turn stale, dry bread into a decadent, moist cake that's almost pudding-like.
I like these served simply with a dust of icing sugar but they’re also perfect topped with a dollop of mascarpone and a cascade of fresh berries.
If it's an Italian nona's recipe, you know that it shall be three things: delicious; comforting and served in a quantity that far exceeds the capacity of ones stomach. This stew served atop a bed of creamy polenta very much hits that mark!
Grated potato subs in for breadcrumbs in this meatball recipe and ensures they retain a nice tender texture.