Monday, April 24, 2017

Massimo Bruno Special Supper Club with 'Mamma'

A popular Italian chef, teacher and media personality who was raised in the southern Italian region of Puglia before emigrating to Toronto in 2001, Massimo Bruno learned the art of Italian cooking from some its finest practitioners, like his mother, Francesca Bruno, his aunt Rosa and any of the other mothers in his hometown Bitritto who would let him into their kitchens. Each month, Massimo holds a series of 'family style' supper clubs with a particular theme, such as the special supper club we attended recently featuring Bruno's own mamma, with an extensive Pugliese menu of six antipasti, including Massimo's wildly addictive Focaccia Barese, Insalata di Polpo, Riso, Patate e Cozze, a typical Pugliese dish with mussels, rice and potato, platters of Salumi e Pecorino, creamy Cuore di Burrata and Mamma Francesca's delicious Parmigiana di Melanzane. And that's just to start.

All the while, mamma is busy making homemade pasta for the following two courses: Spaghetti con Pomodori al Forno - Massimo's favourite pasta growing up - and Cavatelli colle Rape, one of Puglia’s most famous dish. Cotolette di Vitello con fungi e peperoni, veal cutlet with mushroom, peppers and white wine follow with Asparagi alla griglia e zucchini, lovely platters of grilled asparagus and sliced zucchini. After ten courses, the homemade dolci are served: Pizza di Ricotta, Francesca's flourless Ricotta Lemon Cake and Sporcamuss, warm puff pastry with Chantilly cream dusted with icing sugar - the name means 'dirty chin' because it's impossible to eat it without getting sugar all over! The evening was great fun enjoying Mamma's traditional Pugliese cuisine and chatting with fellow diners, many of whom come to most of Massimo's regionally-inspired dinners which generally sell out as soon as they're posted online.

Massimo's Mamma, Francesca Bruno, rolling out pasta for the evening's Cavatelli con Rape

Mamma rolling out the pasta for cavatelli

Massimo's Focaccia Barese with all the flavours of Puglia

The supper club evenings are BYOB, so we brought a 
Papale Linea Oro Primitivo di Mandria 2013 from Puglia

Cuore di burrata, creamy homemade burrata - more like stracciatella - with roasted cherry tomatoes and basil pesto 

Insalata di polio - old-style octopus salad with lemon and olive oil

Riso, patate e cozen, a typical Pugliese dish with mussels, rice and potato

Our end of the table at the dinner with friendly fellow foodies

Salami e Pecorino

Fig Jam to accompany the pecorino 

Francesca Bruno’s outstanding parmigiana di melanzane

Massimo wandered around the table to chat with everyone during the dinner, sharing stories about his mamma and the cuisine of Puglia

Spaghetti con pomodori al forno, Bruno's favourite pasta growing up, simple and rustic

Peperoncini Piccanti

Grated Pecorino

All the dishes are served family-style — one big dish is shared between groups of about four

Francesca Bruno’s Cavatelli with Rapini and Anchovies, her version of Puglia’s most famous dish

Domenic Pede assists in the kitchen

Verdure of grilled Asparagus and Zucchini with Balsamic drizzle

Guests sit together at a long harvest table for 30-40 people and everyone brings a bottle of their favourite vino 

Cotolette di vitello con funghi, pepperoni  - veal cutlet with mushroom, peppers and white wine

Sporcamuss, warm puff pastry with Chantilly cream dusted with icing sugar - the name means 'dirty chin' because it's impossible to eat it without getting sugar all over!

Torta di Ricotta (Ricotta Lemon Cake)
Serves 12
Recipe courtesy of Massimo Bruno

2 1/4 lb fresh ricotta cheese
12 large eggs
10 oz of sugar
2 small packs of vanillina, an Italian vanilla powder yeast*
Grated zest of 1 lemon
A pinch of cinnamon
4 tbsp Limoncello

Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a deep, round 12-inch aluminum pan with parchment paper. Add the eggs, vanillina, lemon zest, cinnamon and sugar to a standing mixer and mix well to combine. Add the fresh ricotta and 1 tablespoon or so of limoncello. Keep mixing until you have a creamy consistency. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and lightly sprinkle the top with more sugar. Bake until the top is lightly golden, about 60-75 mins, depending on the oven. Remove from heat and gently sprinkle the limoncello over top of the cake. Let sit and cool completely before serving.

* Massimo uses Pane degli angeli or Bertolini brand, although it can be substituted with 2 tsp baking powder and a  touch of vanilla extract.

Involtini di Melanzane (Eggplant Rolls)

Involtini di melanzane was one of my favourite dishes growing up in southern Italy, we had it at every family occasion. So when I get back from my culinary tour to my home region of Puglia I always include it on the menu of next my supper club – makes be feel like I'm still back home. You can make this dish up to two hours in advance of serving, or fry the eggplant the day before if that’s more convenient. The dish is also very versatile: you can have it hot or at room temperature, and can also make it as rolls or lay it flat in the pan like a classic parmigiana.

Eggplant rolls:
1 large eggplant
1/2 cup of fresh mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese  
15 basil leaves
3 large eggs
Olive oil for frying
Fine sea salt - QB
Flour for dusting

Tomato sauce:
1 bottle of Italian passata
2 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 handful of  basil leaves 1/4 cup olive oil 
Fine seasalt to taste

Peel and slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/4” slices, then place in a strainer, set in a large bowl to catch the liquid as it is released, and make them “sweat” by sprinkling generously with sea salt. Allow them to sit for 30 minutes at the very minimum. 

In a medium-sized sauce pot add 1/4 cup of olive oil and lightly pan fry the whole garlic and onion together, cooking until lightly brown. Add the cherry tomatoes and add little salt to help release their juice and flavour, and let it cook for 3-5 minutes. Add the tomato passata. Rinse the empty bottle with 1 cup of water and add to the sauce. The sauce should be a little watery so feel free to add more water if it looks dense – it will thicken during the baking process. 
Add the basil, mixing it into the sauce so it’s completely submerged in liquid. Add a good pinch of fine sea salt and give it a quick stir. Allow the sauce to come to a boil with the lid slightly ajar. Once boiling has begun, stir gently and reduce heat to low simmer. It should bubble lightly for an half hour or so. 

Meanwhile, prepare a plate or dish lined with paper towel ready to receive the hot fried eggplant. Beat the eggs in a medium sized bowl. Place flour in a shallow dish and coat each piece of eggplant lightly with flour. Place 2 inches of frying oil in a frying pan and turn on to a high heat so that you will be ready to fry once coating eggplant has been completed. If the oil begins to smoke it is too high; if it sizzles when you sprinkle a little flour into it, it’s just the right temperature. Next, dip the coated eggplant slices into the beaten egg and you are ready to fry. Once oil is ready, begin to fry by gently placing several pieces of your coated eggplant into the frying pan. Do not overlap your pieces – give each its space. Fry until golden brown, turning only once. Normally you will need a couple of minutes for each side. If in doubt, taste to see if it’s cooked to your liking.  

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lay the cooled fried eggplant slices on a flat work surface. Dice the mozzarella and place evenly across the middle of each slice
Sprinkle the grated Romano cheese evenly across the middle of each slice
Tear the remaining pieces of basil into little bits and place across the middle of each slice. Prepare a shallow baking dish with 2 scoops of tomato sauce enough to cover the bottom. Roll the slices into “involtini” (rolls) and place in your baking dish next to each other. Cover the rolls with the remaining tomato sauce, don’t drown them, but generously cover and if quantity allows, save some sauce aside if needed. Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly roasted on top.