Chef Lino Sauro grew up on the Sicilian countryside in Palermo, working on his family farm alongside his parents and six brothers and sisters. Those idyllic beginnings now feel like a long time ago for the award-winning executive chef and owner of upmarket restaurant Olio in Chippendale.
Sauro tells SBS Food, "I remember we kids would wake up at 5am to help my dad milk the sheep and start making cheese. We just had enough time to eat the warm tuma, (fresh, unsalted pecorino) on bread before going to school. At 8am our teacher would pick us up in his Fiat 500 and drive us to school."
The tiny car would fit up to six children. "We were very little and at that time there wasn't any problem with seatbelts," he says, laughing. "In the afternoon we came home, did our homework then helped dad collect the sheep or prepare the fields for new crops."
The family was mostly self-sufficient, raising the meat they ate, growing the wheat to make bread and pasta, making cheese and even using wood from felled trees on the property for fuel for the wood fire stove. Life was simple and full of fresh, organic food.
"In the springtime, we got to collect wild fennel – it was all around my farm – and we used to make frittata with salted anchovy and wild fennel, or fava beans and artichoke."
Occasionally a trip to the village was required.
"We went to the shop every two weeks to buy things like sugar, batteries or light bulbs," he says. "It was a 45-minute walk, and it was the best thing when our mum would ask us to go. We'd disappear for a couple of hours and bring the mule or the horse."
Baking bread was a three-day ritual that happened every fortnight. "My mum started on a Friday. She'd prepare the biga [sourdough starter] for 24 hours. On Saturday she would mix the dough and prepare these beautiful loaves. Each one was two kilos and she'd make around 10 to 15 loaves."
The loaves were rested side by side in a long, wooden container and covered overnight with a heavy, handmade blanket.
"The bread would slowly, slowly increase in size. At 5am, she would wake and prepare the wood fire oven. It needed to warm up [for] at least four hours, and then she put in the bread to cook for three hours, slowly, slowly."
In the afternoon, Sauro's dad would make cheese while his siblings prepared the house for a late lunch.
"My dad would kill a chicken, or sometimes we would have lamb, and most of the time we'd have some relatives come over. I can still remember the smell of the warm bread. The crust was so thick, the inside would stay soft and last for two weeks."
Baking and breaking bread for Sunday lunches was an important family ritual, but to the children, making off with an unbaked, risen loaf to make cuddura patedda was more fun. "We would get a loaf from my mum and split it into 14 portions. Half were cooked in an iron pan with lard and seasoned with EVOO [extra virgin olive oil], salt, pepper, rosemary and fresh ricotta. The other half were fried in vegetable oil and once very crispy and golden, we covered them with sugar, kind of like rough doughnuts."
"The crust was so thick, the inside would stay soft and last for two weeks."
Today, the farm is still in the family, although Sauro's dad passed away last year. "Mum is 82, still doing the same things she did 50 years ago, taking care of family."
Sauro's eldest brother left a banking job in Milan and returned to manage the farm. The flock of sheep is gone, replaced by beehives, and the only crops that grow are olives to make the delicately sweet, fragrant olive oil that Sauro sells at Olio.
Although Sauro has worked and travelled all over the world, he has great affection for life on the farm. "Now with technology, it's easier to have a farm, there's more entertainment. When I was young it was just fatigue and hard work.
"My dream is one day to be back there, back to where I came from."
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Normally cuddura patedda is made from a fresh sourdough loaf, that rises but is not baked. The recipe below is a simple, delicious variation.
- 300 g semolina flour
- 200 g Tipo 1 (00) flour, found at Italian grocery stores
- 30 g active yeast
- 280 ml water, room temperature
- 40 g extra virgin olive oil
- 20 g salt
- Grapeseed oil for frying
1. Combine yeast with ½ cup of warm water in a bowl. Let rest for 10 minutes so the yeast dissolves.
2. Put the flour into a large bowl with the salt and mix roughly with your fingers. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the dissolved yeast and water mixture. Add 1 cup of cool water and 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Using a wooden spoon, combine the ingredients until they come together in a rough dough. If necessary, add more cool water, but do this gradually in very small quantities. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it for about 10 minutes, until it is silky smooth.
3. Place the dough into a large, lightly floured bowl and turn it so that the entire surface of the dough is lightly coated with the flour. Cover the bowl with a kitchen cloth and place in a warm area of your kitchen, and let rest until it has doubled in size, about 1 ½ hours.
4. When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and knead for 1 minute in the bowl. On a lightly floured work surface, and using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a large rectangle, about 1 cm thick. Using a sharp knife, cut the rectangle into squares, 20 - 30 cm large.
5. Fill a deep pot no more than halfway with grapeseed oil. Heat oil over medium-high heat until it reaches a temperature of 180°C. The oil should remain at or around this temperature throughout the cooking process.
6. Working in batches of six, fry the dough until golden brown. Use a slotted spoon or spider to gently drop the dough into the oil, being careful not to splatter the hot oil.
7. Place fried bread on a plate lined with paper towels.
Serve immediately in one of five ways
1. Sprinkle with caster sugar
2. Sprinkle with salt flakes, fresh rosemary and lard
3. Top with fresh burrata, cherry tomatoes and basil
4. Top with salted anchovies and fresh pecorino cheese
5. Eat with frittedda (recipe to follow).
This fried dough can also form the base of a pizza with any toppings you wish.
In Sicily, this dish of sautéed spring vegetables is usually made at the beginning of spring, around the feast day of San Giuseppe (19 March) when the first peas and broad beans come into season.
- 2 scallions, washed and cut into 5 cm pieces
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 200 g fresh fava beans
- 2 big artichokes already cleaned and soaked water and lemon
- 1 tsp salt
- 100 g wild asparagus
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 2 cups fresh peas removed from the pod
- Handful fresh mint leaves
1. Clean artichoke; rest in lemon water until ready to use. Boil 2 minutes and set aside.
2. Parboil asparagus with peas until slightly undercooked, i.e. still crisp and green. Add artichokes and favas; cook till desired tenderness.
3. Cook scallion with salt in oil until soft. Add cooked vegetables and stir to heat through. Add mint, adjust seasoning to taste.