It was exciting just to walk around these great gardens and be handed a fig so fresh that biting into it was like drinking nectar, jammy and delicious. Honestly, I could have spent the day out there but getting in the kitchen with Lina and the day’s fresh produce was just as much fun.
She calls herself a cook, not a chef, because she cooks her passionately grown produce with love and care. It’s from the heart, not from a cookbook. She has her own quirky techniques developed over years of cooking for the people she loves. If that’s the definition, then I want to be known as a cook too.
The dried hind leg of a swine! Would you ever think such a thing could give you one of the sweetest and most pleasurable of smallgood experiences? The perfect prosciutto, aged for the correct amount of time, is certainly a wait that's well worth it for the palate. One of the simplest of cured meats but yet, to me, one of the noblest. Prosciutto can be dressed down with some simple crusty bread and olive oil or turned into an elegant affair at the beginning of a very fancy meal. I love it!
Armando Percuoco is one of the greatest characters of our industry. He is a personable, hospitable, Neapolitan gentleman, who's not shy about sharing his opinion on food, art, politics and anything else you could think of. He's usually right or will convince you he is by the end of the conversation. He's been my friend for many years and that's something I am proud of.
Armando is not only a brilliant chef, he's a statesman for Italian food traditions. I was delighted to learn that he would cook pasta fagioli for us in this episode. He certainly is talented enough to lift this peasant home-style dish to dramatic heights with the addition of prosciutto rind for incredible depth of flavour. I grew up eating pasta fagioli; it’s one of my favourite dishes and it still is comforting when a bowl is place in front of me.
Boy, these cheese makers get up early. I was up at 3am and at the cheese factory by 4. Giorgio Linguanti was already hard at work and looking chipper; it seemed he'd been up for hours. The crew and myself didn’t look quite so spritely. Waiting for milk to heat is almost as exciting as watching water boil. Enthusiasm was slipping, but this all changed when Giorgio made his magic happen and the whey started to slip away from the curd, and from one moment to the next we had the beginnings of our cheese.
I had one similar experience when I was just a boy in the south of Italy and it was at a similar time of day and my uncle took me to a local cheese maker. There we drank fresh ricotta out of cups of freshly brewed curd. The flavour! The freshness! It is a memory that will be forever with me. Giorgio works hard at his craft to produce his beautiful mozzarella, ricotta and burrata. It’s a tough job but I guess that’s amore!
I’ve worked with Loretta Sartori in the past from time to time and she is truly one of the best pastry chefs I have ever seen. So the idea of making an Italian ricotta cheesecake on this episode excited me. I love her simple techniques that make so much sense and her care for simple fresh produce.
I’m not much of a sweet tooth, but it's hard to resist this silky smooth cake when it's freshly made with love. This ricotta cake is a classic that can still be found in Italy wherever you go. Whether it's plain ricotta or laden with candied fruit, this cake is sure to be a crowd pleaser.