“Cooking, to me, is like a desire. When you miss something, you want to cook it.”
This is how Italian chef Fabio Bongianni described his favorite food. It’s whatever he is longing for at the moment, and he cooks what he is hungry for, which often means seafood.
Bongianni spent four days last week teaching classes at the Cucina at Gervasi Vineyard in Canton. He was lured to Ohio to teach after Gervasi owner Ted Swaldo ate at Bongianni’s restaurant in Rome, That’s Amore, just steps from the Trevi Fountain.
Bongianni also teaches cooking classes at his home in Rome and his country home in Tuscany. After returning to dine at That’s Amore several times during his trip, Swaldo insisted that Bongianni come to Canton to teach at Gervasi’s new cooking school.
Bongianni, 50, was actually training to become a lawyer when he decided to abandon that career for his true passion, food. After training at the Ritz Escoffier, he began opening restaurants in Rome. His first two, successful American-style steak-houses, came to an end when mad cow disease took hold in Europe. That’s Amore followed in 2004.
This wasn’t Bongianni’s first visit to the United States, but it was the first time he had gone beyond New York City, and he was excited about coming to middle America and especially about the snow on the ground, which he rarely sees in Italy.
Teaching American students was nothing new for Bongianni. Most of his clients in Italy are American tourists.
Bongianni said he tries to teach techniques, rather than recipes, so that students will learn how to prepare dishes that can be adapted to “what you have in your refrigerator or what you buy at the market,” he said.
Bongianni said he has eaten good Italian cuisine in the United States and the not-so-real-Italian as well. The difference is in the ingredients, he said. Authentic Italian cooking is a challenge for Americans because the essential ingredients aren’t always available here.
“What makes the difference are the ingredient — that tomato, that eggplant, that artichoke, that zucchini,” he said.
For his classes in Canton, one of Bongianni’s biggest challenges, and that of the Cucina Director Jennifer Wolfe Webb, was finding meat with bones in it. Most meat suppliers remove the bones for preparation in restaurants. Not being able to cook with bones will dramatically affect the flavor of sauces, soups and other dishes, he said.
The reality of coming to landlocked middle America also was surprising to Bongianni, when he discovered how far removed he was from fresh seafood. Finding it, particularly whole small fish like sardines, posed problems. Fish stock made without bones will have no taste, he said.
Two of the dishes Bongianni was teaching to students here were a risotto made with red wine instead of white, and an easy veal stew.
Here are the recipes to try for an authentic taste of Italy at home.
RISOTTO WITH ABBRACCIO?AND SAUSAGES
2 medium yellow or white onions, minced
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
2 cups carnaroli rice
1 bottle hearty red wine, warmed in a saucepan over low heat
1 quart simmering lamb or beef broth
3 uncooked mild Italian sausages (about 1¼ lbs. total) peeled and crumbled
¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Salt to taste
Sauté the onions in 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan. When they have browned lightly, remove from the pot with a slotted spoon, leaving behind as much of the butter as possible, and set aside.
Next sauté the rice in the pot, stirring briskly, for 5 to 7 minutes, then return the onions to the pot and stir in the warmed wine, a ladle at a time. Once the wine has evaporated, begin adding broth a ladle at a time. When the rice is about half done, stir in the minced sausage.
Continue stirring in the broth until the rice reaches the al dente stage, then stir in the remaining butter and the cheese. Season to taste with salt. Turn off the heat and let the risotto sit covered for a couple of minutes, then serve with additional Parmesan cheese.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
CIAO BELLA VEAL STEW
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved and seeded
Extra virgin olive oil
2 cups chardonnay
1 cup white wine vinegar
7 cloves garlic
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1½ lbs. boneless veal shoulder, chuck, or sirloin
Flour for dredging
Spread out the cherry tomato halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet. Sprinkle them with salt and brown sugar. Add a splash of extra-virgin olive oil and bake the tomatoes at 250 degrees for about 1½ hours, or until they dry.
Combine the wine, vinegar, garlic and rosemary in a bowl and let it stand 1 hour to marinate.
In the meantime cut the veal into walnut-size pieces, then dredge them in flour and brown them just a few minutes in olive oil in a stew pot. Add the wine mixture, bring the liquid just to a simmer and continue cooking.
When the liquid has reduced and the veal is cooked through, add the dried cherry tomatoes and stir to combine.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Makes 3 to 4 servings.
Lisa Abraham can be reached at 330-996-3737 or email@example.com.