If you had to free associate around food and the words "unusual" or "challenging", I wonder what images would come to your mind. For me, there’s a flash of a table of four of us hoeing into our first black pasta.
By
Maeve O'Meara, Guy Grossi

8 Jan 2014 - 12:05 PM  UPDATED 30 Jun 2015 - 5:49 PM

It was many years ago and we couldn't stop whooping and laughing while our mouths got blacker and more pirate-like. We were savouring the wonderful viscous black sauce of ink squid with little pieces of seafood in it. In this episode, you'll learn how to remove the ink sacs from squid or cuttlefish if you want to make your own sauce, though you can also buy the ink pasteurised in jars at seafood retailers.

We met up with one of Western Australia’s well known seafarers – a larger-than-life character named Claude Basile. He goes by the name of the Godfather. His mobile rings with the theme from the movie (yes, really!) and I’ve got him listed in my phone as the Godfather. His recipe for black pasta is easy and delicious and you’ll enjoy meeting Claude (real name Cologino) Basile, descended from the first Italian fishermen on that coastline.

It’s interesting that in the not-too-distant past, much of the seafood we love to eat now was considered shuddersome by the Anglo Aussies. Our taste education has often come through restaurateurs who have gradually introduced new flavours to the spectrum. One of them is Sydney’s Beppi Polese, who started his restaurant Beppi’s in East Sydney in the late 1950s. He started by telling his non-Italian customers what they were eating and then decided it was better they taste first and then find out ...calamari, squid, mussels all became popular this way.

Decades later, he is still introducing the new and when we visited he was whipping up his latest favourite taste – baccala or dried salt cod into a thick rich pate called baccala mantecato, which is what Beppi serves when diners come to his warm welcoming domain. We were intrigued to find that Beppi’s favourite hobby away from the restaurant is mixing perfume. It seems a good fit: beautiful aromas, food, wine and good company.

When people talk about Italian food, they’re really talking about an amalgam of great regional dishes, each representing the region and its produce. Risotto is one of those famous dishes that we have taken to our hearts. We tracked down a chef who is from the region where the essential arborio rice is grown and who became famous in Italy when he won a major risotto cooking competition.

Alessandro Pavoni is from Brescia and genuinely loves the produce from his home region. He uses his favourite brand of rice, called Acquerello, which is aged for a year to give it both flavour and exactly the right texture when cooked and tossed to release its magic. One of my revelations was the number of technical words that accompany risotto. As you toast the rice to coat the grains and cook evenly, that’s the "tostatura” stage.  When the rice is al dente, it's rested for a minute before adding butter and grana padano – that’s “mantecatura”.

And when a perfect consistency has been achieved, the risotto is tossed in the pan and should make a wave shape – in fact, it should ripple like the waves of the sea. And that’s called “all’onda” – the wave. It's beautiful and the result is delicious. Alessandro always has a risotto on the menu at his restaurant Ormeggio right on Middle Harbour in the shadow of the Spit Bridge.

Pork-and-fennel sausages are always on my Italian shopping list. They’re great grilled or barbecued and are incredibly useful as the basis for all sorts of meals – from Alessandro’s sausage and pea risotto that you see in this episode to ragu. Guy vists his favourite butcher Roger Largo, whose recipe for pork and fennel sausages has been handed down to him from his father and who makes hundreds of kilos of these lovely chunky sausages every every week in his shop in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.

For me, there is nothing closer to heaven than a true Italian pasticceria or pastry shop. And I can say I’ve sampled and swooned over many yummy offerings. One I’d seen and never tried – hard for me to believe – is crostoli. These are long golden ribbons of fried pastry dusted with icing sugar. I thought they’d be nice but always had other yummy things in my sights first.
 
It wasn’t until I joined our friend Vanessa Martin, one of Sydney’s fabulous young Italo-Australian chefs, that I realised what I was missing. Vanessa is a wonder with sweets, so she seemed a natural to do an Italian sweet. She said, “What about crostoli?” and I thought great – now I know I’ll be trying a beautiful version.
 
Vanessa’s crostoli starts with a dough laced with grappa and fine orange zest. Once the dough had rested, Vanessa showed another use for her pasta machine – making sheets for cutting crostoli. When they were cooked and dusted, the crostoli were so fragrant and so light you could imagine the angels had made them.