An invitation to dinner is always welcome in the ELTW household and when it’s an invite to an “underground” Italian supper club, well that’s even better! Suresh at Spotlight Toronto recently invited us to participate in a dinner put on by Massimo Bruno, whose supper club, according to the website “explores the regions of Italy each month, as Massimo brings the authentic cuisine of one region of Italy to the table and explains what the region is known for, how the people and culture influence the food and its preparation, and of course, prepares a delicious multi-course meal.”
Sounded great to us so last Thursday, we joined foodies from across Toronto (bloggers, writers, and eaters!) and gathered in the rather unassuming space inside an old warehouse in the east end of the city. Massimo’s kitchen is open plan and the room is setup with two family-style tables so that you can easily share the wine you brought with your tablemates.
(image courtesy Mark and Stacey at Tasting Toronto – thanks guys!)
We were fortunate enough to be attending an event focussing on the cuisine of Puglia, Massimo’s home region and clearly something that is very close to his heart. Throughout the course of the evening, Massimo explained that the Pugliese cuisine is often referred to as “la cucina povera”, meaning cuisine of the poor. This stemmed from the poverty in Italy after the first world war, when people were forced to cook using only what was available in the immediate area and didn’t waste a scrap of food. Massimo explained that his Nonna had a saying “Dal niente si fa tutto” meaning “From nothing you will do everything,” and certainly, the simple ingredients used in our dinner were transformed to produce a stunning meal (of epic proportions!). It was a lesson in what you can do with a few simple, in-season ingredients, and one that I hope to remember in my own kitchen.
As we were enjoying some pre-dinner wine and conversation, we watched the antipasti being assembled.
Whole fresh fior di latte mozzarella (yours to cut)
Insalata di polpo e gamberi (octopus salad with shrimps)
Pecorino e Capocollo with celery jam. This was a great discovery though I admit I only tried the jam with the cheese. I am rather partial to the pairing of jams and chutneys with cheeses so this suited me. The celery jam was sweet and fairly strongly tasting of, well, celery but paired well with the salty pecorino. The capocollo really didn’t need anything else. In fact, I could have just eaten the whole plate and gone home happy!!!
Homemade focaccia barese with olives (beware the pits!!).
Popette d’uova (egg balls). THE crowd pleaser of the night – again, I could have just had a plate full of these… The loner you see above was eventually finished by Joel who was very restrained in making it last until at least the end of the primi… From what I can gather, the main ingredients are egg and breadcrumbs and there’s some frying involved. Might need to get the recipe of Massimo – what a great party food and even devout carnivores (i.e. Neil) were in love with them!
Involtini di peperoni (roasted pepper rolls)
Parmigiana di Melanzane (eggplant rolls)
Funghi gratinati (roasted oyster mushroom)
Frittata di asparagi (asparagus frittata)
Whilst we were occupied with the antipasti, Massimo got cooking. Pastas for the primi:
European seabass to be baked under sea salt:
Pappardelle colle fave bianche (Fresh homemade pappardelle with white fava purée). Simple and curiously satisfying, this pasta dish simple melted in your mouth. You coulda spread it on bread. It was THAT good.
Cavatelli colle cime di rapa (handmade pasta with rapini and anchovy oil). Ok, another “I could have stopped eating here and still gone home happy” dish. I don’t like anchovies and was a bit leery of the addition of anchovy oil but this really worked. It was not terribly fishy at all which was surprising in a good way for me. Perfect. My favourite of the two pastas since it managed to combine two flavours of which I am not a fan (anchovy and rapini) in a dish that I would happily eat every night of the week.
Braciola alla barese (veal rolls in tomato sauce and white wine). Ahem, yes well it seems every dish was one I could have eaten and died happy. The gourmet delights just kept on coming. These tender veal rolls were another highlight.
Spigola al sale (European seabass baked under sea salt). Massimo spent a long time filleting these fish and I had about 100 pictures of the process of which the above three were the best – he was working so fast!!! As those of you who read regularly will know, I am not a big fish eater but am trying to broaden my palate in this area. Clearly I need Massimo to cook this dish for me every night since I devoured my tiny morsel in about 2 seconds flat and went back for seconds and thirds!!! (tiny bites only but a big step for a non fish-lover). This was moist and juicy and so tender it fell apart on your fork. No salty taste at all which one might expect, just pretty much the perfect fish.
There was also a insalata di rucola (arugola salad) which I don’t seem to have a photo of.
Ricotta lemon cake served with roasted figs with almonds and lemon.
This was a beautiful light bite to end the meal, though admittedly, I probably didn’t need to eat the whole slice. Much lighter than a cheesecake made with cream cheese, this reminded me that I have ricotta in the fridge I might have to play with in an Easter dessert…
Thanks Massimo and Suresh for the opportunity to try this (literally) hidden gem. We’ll be back. With friends!