A few years ago I bought The Art of Pasta, a collaboration between restaurateur Lucio Galletto, writer David Dale and artist Luke Sciberras, just for the beautiful cover – and then fell for the recipes too. Published by Lantern (RIP), a sadly now-defunct imprint of Penguin Australia that published big, beautiful lifestyle books, that collection had a lovely textured matt cover jacket and Sciberras’s sketchy watercolours (apparently whipped up during the photo shoot) scattered throughout. This newer collection from Galletto, The Art of Traditional Italian, adds nine more artists to the credits (all friends of the chef) and expands the focus to include the entire olive oil-glazed, vegetable and seafood laden, garlic-laced cuisine.
‘As we become increasingly preoccupied with the provenance and freshness of our ingredients, we get closer and closer to the real peasant way of looking at food, where hardly anything is bought, because everything comes from just outside the back or front door,’ Galletto says in his introduction to this book. Moving away from the city and apartment-living has enabled us to grow more of our food ourselves and working from home, with no commute time, has allowed me to put more thought into our meals and the ingredients we buy. Despite best efforts we used to buy almost everything from the supermarket; now our meat mostly comes from the butcher and our fruit and veg from the grocer or Saturday market. It may not be from our own back door, but it feels good that it’s a few steps closer to home.
One of the great things about living on an island is the access to fantastic fresh seafood, and while we don’t yet have the means to catch them ourselves (stand by for fish-themed cookbooks once we have our own rods), we’ve been gifted fish by generous friends. Last week we had a peasant-style fisherman’s stew with spear-caught kingfish, and this week we were given some fish stock made using snapper caught off the rocks. I had spent a meditative half-hour collecting cockles at one of the local beaches and wanted to make a dish using these with the deeply flavoursome stock as a base, so I thought I’d elaborate on Galletto’s Risotto ai Muscoli, Pomodoro e Basilico, a summery dairy-free mussel risotto apparently originating in Liguria and the south-west.
Italians baulk at using parmesan with seafood*, and this risotto also snubs butter in favour of olive oil. We added both the cockles and some squid to the rice, transforming it into risotto ai frutti di mare. I thought we might miss the creaminess of dairy but we agreed it was perfect for a warm summer evening, with its abundance of basil and parsley and nice little kick from the fresh chilli.
I am lazy when it comes to making stock, often finding it a bit tasteless and not worth the time and effort when you can buy it so easily. I will persevere though after appreciating the depth of flavour it lent this dish. I’d definitely make this recipe again the next time we have some luscious seafood and with pork and fennel sausages in the fridge to use up, tonight we’ll be making the Orecchiette ai Funghi e Salsiccia. Because though I like to say it’s the abundance of veg that draws me to Italian food, really it’s the pasta.
The Art of Traditional Italian by Lucio Galletto (Lantern, 2014)
*The reasons for this seem to be as various as they are unclear. Much seafood has a delicate flavour and so should be served fairly simply; the umami flavours of cheese can overwhelm the flavours of seafood, sacrificing the integrity of both ingredients. In this way, cheese on a seafood dish is considered unnecessary, excessive, or disrespectful. Another explanation could be that Italy’s cheese-making regions are largely landlocked, meaning they have traditionally focussed on dairying, while the coastal regions naturally focus on fishing. In wine and food pairings, what grows together goes together. Lastly, meat and dairy were traditionally forbidden on Fridays for religious reasons, so fish, the usual protein replacement, evolved in a separate culinary realm from dairy.