Fratelli Fresh executive chef Gabor Denes says the building blocks of Italian dining are simple. So simple, in fact, they can be distilled into five key components: seasonality, PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) produce, regionality, simplicity, and one essential key ingredient: good olive oil. It’s how you mix them together, and which you embrace or ignore, that Denes says will determine the quality of your dish.
Denes believes what makes an Italian meal authentic depends on whether you’re aiming for regional accuracy or a general Italian experience. “Italy is dissected into many small little areas and each of these have their own unique dishes and flavours,” he says. “A lot of these dishes carry the name of the town, city or region: risotto alla Milanese, arancini Sicilani, pesto Genovese and so on. So traditional authentic cooking focuses very specifically onto the regions.”
He says you can play with commonly known ingredients such as tomato, garlic, basil, parmesan, and prosciutto to give you “something that reminds you of Italy”, but it won’t be the same.
Drinks and starters
What you drink with your meal is almost as important as the food itself says Denes. An ideal Italian experience begins with an aperitive. “Italy has a broad variety, from Aperol spritz, to Negroni, Bellini and Campari and Soda,” says Denes. “We do it so well.”
That’s your lead-in to the starters or antipasti plates – dishes designed not as an entree but an integral part of the meal. “For example, we have a wide range of starters, from our classic antipasti board, to arancini and with five-cheeses-stuffed zucchini flowers,” he says of his offerings at Fratelli Fresh. Then you go for a classic. “Spaghetti with bolognese, and margherita pizza are always some of our top sellers,” he says. “The Parma ham with rock melon is one of our favourite seasonal dishes, and the banoffee pie with a shot of limoncello is a signature finisher.”
Simplicity – and seasonality – is key
Not everyone has access to authentic ingredients to cook like an Italian at home. But Denes has a few tips to get you going.
Italian food is based on simplicity and no flavours are hidden. “We work with the best ingredients we can get here in Australia,” says Denes. “After that, less is more. For example, our crab spaghettini is pretty much just crab, olive oil, garlic, tomato and a hint of chilli. But the outcome is an amazing pasta dish that’s very deep and intense in its flavours.”
From there you can use a couple of key accessories to lift your dish. “I love to add a lot of fresh herbs into the food,” says Denes. “Basil, parsley and rosemary are just a few. They have an incredible impact and can change the entire dish.” The second ingredient is oil. “What would good food be without good extra-virgin olive oil?” he says. “I finish almost every dish with a few drops of Italy's liquid gold.”
An Italian meal wouldn’t feel true without a spirit of sharing and community at the table. Denes says there are ways to promote this on the plate. “Cured meats, cheese, olives and a big main meal to share for everyone,” he says. “You want it to be a good family atmosphere where a lot of people come together at a large table.” You also need to set aside a moment to relax. “Take your time, lean back and enjoy the atmosphere of good music drinks and food.”
Joy of the table
Denes says Fratelli Fresh prides itself on being an extension of the Italian family table. “Italian life revolves around the family dinner table,” says Denes. His restaurants aim to be “your second home. The idea is it’s where great conversation combines with delicious food and wine to create gioie della tavola, or ‘the joys of the table’.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Rockpool Group.