The Secret “Magic of the Caffe Abbracci Menu….Zia Giuseppina
I think it is true of all great cooks – and by ‘great cooks’ I mean those who learn in the kitchen, by watching their senior relatives, mostly female but occasionally male, too, and then by doing what they have seen and tasting what they have prepared. These are my ‘great cooks’ – anyhow, I think it is true of them that they all develop an innate sense of food and that recipes are generally stored between their ears and in their hearts, not in a file somewhere. These cooks just know. They know what works with what; they know how much of one thing is right for this dish or that; they know how long to braise and at what heat the flavors just explode from the fresh ingredients that they are using. They know because for years they have been producing those happy smiles and sighs of satisfaction from their families and friends meal after extraordinary meal.
My sister-in-law Giuseppina, “Zia Giuseppina” as she is known, is one of those incredible great cooks and I had the marvelous experience of being able to watch her perform her magic on my most recent visit to my home town of Salo’, Lake Garda, in Northern Italy. Now I must begin by admitting that Giuseppina does have some recipes written on note cards but I think these are more to distract the curious interloper in her kitchen, such as I was, while she gets down to the actual work of preparing the mouth-watering meals. I had asked her, as I have before, if I might collect a recipe or two from her incredible repertoire, was handed a stack of note cards and told to stay out of the way. She then took total control of her kitchen – including my two daughters, Katerina and Tatiana, whom she dispatched on various errands, like collecting fresh eggs from the hen house or cutting fresh herbs from her prosperous and aromatic garden – and did her best to ensure that I couldn’t actually see what she was up to. Clever, secretive woman! But I only pretended to read her cards, peeking around or above them so that I can observe her wizardry in action. It is a sight to see, I can tell you.
Actually, Giuseppina knows full well what I am up to as she simply ties on her impeccable white apron, tightens the scarf on her head and starts cooking without ever looking at her recipes.
I know she is happy that I paid such close attention so that I can share with my guests at Caffé Abbracci some of the wonderful, truly authentic dishes that come straight from her kitchen – and her heart.
Among the treasures I brought back with me this time are:
- Sea Bass Carpaccio with extra virgin olive oil, citrus, coriander and fennel.
- Pappardelle del Bosco which is a braised rabbit ragu with wild mushrooms,
- Grilled Swordfish topped with parsley, fennel, scallions, capers and extra virgin olive oil,
- Pan Roasted Halibut with wine braised fennel, oven roasted tomatoes and a demi-glace,
- Grilled Tuna Steak paired with oven roasted cipolini onions and drizzled with an aged balsamic vinegar,
- Branzino with prosecco, orange juice, saffron butter and julienne leeks,
- Veal Scaloppine “Della Donna” with fresh lemon, sage and mascarpone cheese,
- Oven Roasted Rabbit with green olives and diced tomatoes