You need a big family to wash, cut, puree, bottle and cook boxes and boxes of tomatoes. Many Italian friends say they used to dread this day when they were growing up, because it was always at a really hot time of the year and they would rather have been at the beach. Now they treasure it, and the skills they’ve amassed and can pass on to the next generation.
We joined the Cipri family in Sydney’s Croydon Park for their annual tomato day. Forty-five years ago, Severio and Maria Cipri bottled tomatoes in the summer of their first year in Australia. It was important for them to continue the tradition, and every year they’ve continued; their immediate family and friends now number around 30 and everyone pitches in for a few hours before a big lunch using some of the beautiful fresh tomato puree. It's up there as one of the best meals of my life - pasta with sauce made that day; baked capretto and Severio’s homemade wine.
Tomato day is a tradition said to be dying out in Italy, but around Italian Australia, it's still going strong. Maybe in years to come Australia will be a museum of food traditions – and not just in the Italian realm.
We spent a lovely day with one of South Australia’s food legends, Rosa Matto. She is an ABI – Australian-born Italian – who grew up in Adelaide, trained as a teacher and was then posted to the state’s remote regions where she introduced good Italian home cooking to her fellow staff and local families. She later set up her own cooking school and has taught legions of people to cook some great Italian dishes, including one of her classics: eggplant parmigiana, which we feature in this episode.
It’s said there is not an Italian cuisine as such, but many regional cuisines. The most remote is that of Sardinia where the chefs proudly cook food that is quite different from the rest of Italy. When we spoke of filming with two top chefs both from Sardinia, it was the really rustic dishes that they suggested. Pietro Porcu (Da Noi and Tearooms at Yarck) and Giovanni Pilu (Pilu at Sydney’s Harbord Beach) then decided a country shoot would be perfect, but this was the time of the terrible bushfires throughout Victoria, so they had to cook in urban Melbourne instead. The result is delicious, rustic and very Sardinian.
Also in the very delicious category – one of Italy’s most famous desserts – the luscious tiramisu, which translates as “pick me up”. It's so good to be in a kitchen and see techniques you haven’t seen before – it all seems to make so much more sense than reading a long explanation in a cookbook. So when our friend Grace (Graziella Alessi) showed how Italian meringue was made – one of the parts that goes into making up the filling – there was a real wow factor.
Creating a high-grade tiramisu is all in the timing; you start whipping egg whites as you put your syrup on the boil. That way, the eggs are at stiff peaks when the syrup is ready and poured in a thin stream, and you get this glossy warm egg white as it comes together. The metal bowl of the mixer gets hot and there is a smell of eggs cooking. But get the timing wrong and you miss out on the colossal fabulousness of the finished tiramisu, an incredible amalgam of coffee and liqueur-soaked biscuits, luscious mascarpone and Italian meringue, cream and grated chocolate. Sheer heaven. Don’t miss this recipe!