• Silvia Colloca flexes her Italian for us all to enjoy. (SBS Food)Source: SBS Food
Sauce from a jar and pineapple on pizza? Three Italian chefs debate the dos and don'ts of traditional Italian cooking.
Dilvin Yasa

14 Apr 2021 - 12:49 PM  UPDATED 21 Apr 2021 - 10:58 AM

--- Want to brush up on your Italian cookery? Catch the brand-new second season of Cook Like an Italian with Silvia Colloca at 8pm, Thursdays on SBS Food and streaming on SBS On Demand ---


Silvia Colloca is not the sort of person you want to swear at, yet I'm worried that's exactly what I'm doing. "So what are your thoughts on pouring a jar of ready-made sauce over a bowl of spaghetti?" I ask, bracing myself for the fallout.

"Oh, I say kudos to them for getting in the kitchen in the first place! When I'm attempting cuisines that are not my own, I probably commit a thousand crimes in the process so you have to be kind, always," Colloca laughs. "It's worth remembering that a lot of people who attempt Italian cooking have probably never been to Italy before so they might not know how things should be done. You only know what you know."

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It's fortunate for those of us who are keen to get an authentic slice of Italy in our kitchens — and in our living rooms — that season two of Colloca's Cook Like An Italian hits our screens this week. Over 10 episodes, Colloca will take viewers on a gastronomic journey, not only showcasing secret family recipes handed down from her mamma and her nonna, but disclosing her own tips and tricks for mastering the art of regional Italian cuisine.

"A huge part of cooking like an Italian is showing respect for the produce."

When pressed on mistakes, Colloca says there are a few things that she'd rather not see. "Carbonara is popular in Australia, but it should never contain cream, garlic or herbs of any kind," she explains. "And overcooking pasta is a common occurrence, so if the packet says 'cook for 11 minutes', you should take it off the heat after nine minutes as it will continue cooking once you add the sauce. A huge part of cooking like an Italian is showing respect for the produce, but also for the authenticity of the recipe."

For 65 years, Darlinghurst institution Beppi's has been the cornerstone of Sydney's Italian dining scene, and if it's one thing owner Marc Polese would love home cooks to learn about Italian cuisine, it's how to make pasta with heart.

"All too often we see pasta sauce dumped on top of the pasta rather than sauteing the pasta with the sauce, and taking time to cook the pasta in the sauce at the end can make all the difference to your guests," he says. "With pizza, balance is important to keep things light but often we see pizza bases loaded with too much sauce and far too many ingredients."

"When you're cooking garlic, you can't take your eyes off the pan for a second or you'll ruin it, for example, so the secret to success every time is giving the dish your time and your respect. Like anything, it's a labour of love."

Polese says he has spent a lot of time pondering what makes for great Italian cuisine and says it often comes down to simplicity and the responsibility that comes with that. "There aren't a lot of ingredients in an Italian dish and many of the techniques look simple at surface level, but I think that's often where people can go wrong. If you write something off as simple, you might not show the same care that you would to a far more complicated dish and this will show in the final product," Polese explains.

"When you're cooking garlic, you can't take your eyes off the pan for a second or you'll ruin it, for example, so the secret to success every time is giving the dish your time and your respect. Like anything, it's a labour of love."

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Someone else who's equally passionate about Italian cuisine is Flavio Carnevale, the restaurateur behind the hugely popular, MARTA  Osteria + Bakery in Sydney's Rushcutters Bay. Just don't make the mistake of kicking off your conversation by mentioning the dreaded pineapple topping on pizza.

Carnevale laughs, "Oh, that really makes me cry! Why would you say that?

"The only time I've ever seen this to work as a flavour profile is when I was in Rome and the pineapple was caramelised on a spit first and added to a pizza with a white base with fresh ham off the bone. If you're taking pineapple out of a can, well then…" (Nope, he can't bring himself to finish the sentence).

Pizza margherita.

Like Polese, Carnevale says improper sauce placement is a common mistake, but one that is easily rectified. "Rather than throwing the water out after you've boiled the pasta, you should add a little to your sauce so that the gluten in it helps the sauce stick to the pasta. Then cook the pasta in the emulsion for a few more minutes," Carnevale says, reiterating Colloca's point about taking the pasta off the boil long before it's cooked.

"Less is more in Italian cooking."

Rather than adding garlic, cheese and chilli to everything, Carnevale recommends being a little more judicious in the kitchen. "I never mix onion and garlic in the same dish, for example, because I like each of these flavours to speak for themselves," he says.

"Just remember that less is more in Italian cooking. These dishes have been refined over hundreds of years and many of us are still refining them. Trust in the authenticity and you'll be cooking like an Italian in no time."

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