I guess having had my share of lackluster renditions of pasta, leathery slices
of salty prosciutto, mundane olives, bland pizza and starch-laden risotto, I
missed what the soul of first-rate, wholesome Italian cooking is all about.
Watching Giuseppe cook for three hours was awe-inspiring. His performance was
not glittery in that gut wrenching manner of Bobby Flay, or full of smiley
pre-scripted Rachel Ray styled verbal diarrhea.
Instead, this man took time to talk about the attributes of every single
ingredient he used with sense and passion. Maybe not every ingredient he asked
us to shop for was as good as what one can find in the markets of the Provincia
di Brescia, but try getting zucchini blossoms in the middle of an Ontario
winter. They actually arrived from a shipper who brought them in from Israel!
With help from his translator, Maffioli discussed the three dishes he composed,
all of which can be found on the menu of his restaurant, Carlo
Brescia, a province of Lombardy.
With gusto, Maffioli explained what pasta really is, a paste, nothing more, but
a paste in many forms and guises. He rationalized why noodles are shaped the way
they are, to hold a sauce perhaps, or to give substance to a broth. More
importantly, the flavour of the pasta must show true.
He verbally deconstructed a plate of pasta with tomato sauce and basil by
stating the following. One needs to taste the simplicity of the pasta first,
then allow the flavour of the simmered tomatoes to rush across the palate and to
finish, a little kick from the herb. In this case the sauce does not need to be
adulterated or overpowering, it just needs to do its job and that comes from
using the best tomatoes that one can find; not an easy task at this time of the
Gnocchi di patate aromatizzati al limone
con crema di fiori di zucca e
(Lemon zest infused potato gnocchi with zucchini blossom and
click here for recipe
While demonstrating his
first dish, potato gnocchi, he stressed the importance
of working with the right potato. High starch is preferable, no salt in the
water as it impedes even cooking, and peeling occurs only when the tuber is
cooked and cooling. Once pureed, a minimal amount of flour was worked in, along
with ample salt and several egg yolks.
After a partial mixing the dough was rolled into cylinders and cut. They hit
salted boiling water bobbing wildly for a few seconds once they surfaced.
The gnocchi were larger than what most North Americans are used to. His
appetizer portion has four of the dumplings sitting in a pool of acidulated
zucchini blossom puree, topped with deftly cut candied tomato wedges and
I thought the lemon zest really added a nice dimension and the citrus element in
the sauce worked with the shrimp. There are a lot of flavour components to this
dish and matching a wine could be tricky. I would really focus on the acidity
level of the sauce and go with a locally made bubbly such as a Ca' dei Frati
Cuvee Dei Frati or just pop the cork on your favorite sparkler.
Pappardelle all’aglio dolce, timo e “bagoss” con Coniglio e funghi trombette
(Pappardelle with sweet garlic, thyme and “bagoss” cheese
and Rabbit with chanterelles mushrooms)
click here for recipe
While starting his second dish, Maffioli described the different textures of pasta
one can produce by using different grades and types of flours, whole eggs, yolks
alone, or water. He made mention of pasta made with wine as the only source of
Masterly mixing and kneading the dough by hand, Maffioli explained why there was
such a low degree of sodium in the recipe. Salt creates an uneven texture in the
finished noodle and it is far better to simply add plenty of salt to the boiling
After a light kneading, the silky smooth dough was run through the rollers of a
pasta machine. Half of the resulting paper-thin noodles were sprinkled with
Grana Padano, the other half of the pasta was folded over, and both layers were
fed once more through the finest setting of the pasta machine producing a thin
sheet of pasta that was then hand cut into ribbons, coated with semolina and
left to rest.
Meanwhile, simmering away on the back burner, a rabbit ragu had reduced enough
to concentrate its flavour and develop a deep brown shiny colour and its aroma
had permeated the room. The noodles hit boiling salt water and returned to the
surface in seconds. When asked about precooking pasta, it was clear this is not
something Maffioli chooses to practice as the mere mention of such a procedure
produced a statement his translator chose not to share.
The cooked noodles - not “al dente”, but plastica, the new buzzword Italian
cooks now use - was drained. The rabbit and its sauce were carefully ladled over
the top. The glistening blade of Maffioli’s truffle slicer delivered the final
complement, ultra thin slivers of black truffle. This truly was one of the best
pasta dishes I have been privileged to sample.
The sauce for this is rich and it demands a wine with god body and structure.
Keeping with the local theme, a Sforzato di Valtellina, a wine made from well
ripened Nebbiolo grapes, should prove to be a satisfying match.
Risotto mantecato al Franciacorta con ostriche di pollo fondenti
(Risotto “mantecato” with Franciacorta sparkling wine and braised
click here for recipe
last dish to prepare was a risotto using
Vialone Nano rice, grown close to Maffioli’s home. He began by talking about the varying degrees of starch one
finds in the different levels and grades of Italian short grain rice.
The rice was toasted in a combination of olive oil and butter. Although it is
toasted to improve the depth of flavour, more importantly it is to get the rice
hot enough so that when wine is added, it comes to a boil immediately.
Onion was the only aromatic added, at least at this stage of cooking.
Boiling vegetable stock was added, in greater quantities than I have been shown
to add, until the rice was soft but still with a fair degree of crunch.
Some risotto aficionados on this side of the pond might find this underdone, but
to me it was perfect. Then the process of “Mancheria”, a verb used to describe
vast quantities of ice-cold butter added to a relatively small amount of
risotto, was performed. Freshly grated Reggiano was also stirred in. I was
surprised how wet the risotto was at this stage of cooking. It can be tossed up
in the air creating a wave effect.
As the risotto was cooking, a sauce made of
chicken oysters and brown veal stock
had been simmering on the stove. Chicken oysters are small fava bean-sized
muscles found on the backbone of the bird at the point where the thighbone is
I remember getting grief from many a chef during my apprentice days for eating
those tasty morsels from roasted birds fresh from the oven waiting to be carved
for a banquet. It is the best tasting part of a chicken, and what a perfect
means to utilize them. I now keep a bag in my freezer and when I process a
chicken for stock, I remove the raw oyster and pop them into the bag.
The risotto was spooned to the centre of the plate and a few firm taps on the
underside ensured even distribution of the finished rice. Some sauce was
drizzled over the top and the dish was complete.
As for a wine, this time I would go with a white wine, something that will not
over power the rice, but be bold enough to work with the sauce on the chicken.
The wine will need a good degree of acidity to cut through the richness of the
butter and the fat of the cheese. Maybe a glass or two of Chablis, with its
mineral and citrus flavours would work well. I am sure a medium bodied Sauvignon
Blanc, a Riesling or an Italian Pinot Grigio would also fit the bill quite
It was a fascinating way to pass three hours. My respect of Italian foods has
hit a new pinnacle. When I finally get to Italy again, this man’s kitchen will
be top priority on my list of things to see and to eat in.
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