We must thank our two researchers who made all this possible – Georgie Neal and Jacinta Dunn. They would call all over Australia and chat with people standing in paddocks or fancy restaurants, juggling children and grandchildren or batches of biscuits or herds of goats. The girls would find out what they cooked, what they held dear and when they were going to hold their next big get-together.
It's important that we choose the right people – it's like the ultimate blind date, really. But the researchers would establish such a good relationship with the people we wanted to film that there was always a sense of disappointment when we turned up to film without Georgie or Jacinta. Thank you, girls. You missed some amazing food but found us gold.
In Episode 5, we went to one of the most western points of Australia – the Abrolhos Islands off Geraldton, where Italians have been fishing for a couple of generations. The Pirrotina family have fished for western rock lobster or "crays" for many years now, spending part of every year living in comfortable houses perched on the limestone and coral on one of the islands, surrounded by another 30 or so houses and looking out over impossibly turquoise waters to another island on which there’s a small pub and a school where the children go to school by boat.
Justin was generous enough to put some crays on the barbie in the late afternoon when we arrived by light plane – he shelled them, then crumbed them and they were sweet and delicious. When night falls there, it's black and the sky full of stars. We were each given a torch for our early morning start to head out to the cray pots. Once the generator was turned off, that was it. No lights or electricity until the following evening. What an adventure!
It was much more civilised seeing Maurizio Esposito adding crayfish to his beautiful gnocchi, though certainly less scenic. We met Maurizio when we filmed Food Safari’s Italian episode and still remember his great cooking. You really have to admire people who have so loved the first job they ever did and never changed; they just got better and better at it.
Alessandro D’Auria was born into a pizza-making family and has perfected his art in both Italy and Australia, where he’s now lived for 10 years, setting up his own wood-fired pizza restaurant in Melbourne’s Kew.
I learnt how a good pizza should look when it's sliced: it's not overloaded with toppings (two or three at most) and it has a lovely crust which is called the cornicione or frame of the pizza. So when you hold a slice of pizza, its nose droops slightly like the nose of a Concorde. Ideally, that slice should be eaten within a minute or two of it coming out of the wood-fired oven.
In this episode, you’ll also learn about artichokes and how versatile they are in Italian hands – in this case grown by the Faranda family in Werribee, Melbourne. Artichokes can be pickled in brine or oil, baked or cooked with a lovely breadcrumb mix wedged between their leaves. Also, the very talented Guy Grossi shares his beloved home recipe learnt from his dad – a recipe that results in the best artichokes on earth. Simple and delicious.
And, finally, something so delicious is almost needs its own food group! A scoop of gelato is guaranteed to change the temperature of your day. The first gelato is said to have been made by mixing the snows on Sicily’s Mt Etna with honey and fruit juice. In many ways, this is still a very pure food, using either fresh fruit, and sugar or milk as a base.
Through my treasured Italian connection Sam Cosentino – Sydney’s Italian Mr Six Degrees, as there seems to be no-one that Sam doesn’t know – I was lucky enough to meet the La Rosa brothers. Salvatore and Ciccio make great gelato. Their background is Sicilian, and Salvatore went to Sicily to learn the craft. Now they churn out fresh gelato every day at their popular haunt in Sydney’s Newtown – Gelatomassi. It's life-changing.
Enjoy exploring and try some of the recipes from the show.
All the best,