In the north
Gino tries his hand at many things on his journeys around Italy, from making pasta to whitewashing walls. At Lake Garda, the biggest of the Italian lakes, he meets a team of rowers and after having a go at rowing, cooks up a hearty, protein-packed bean and sausage casserole for the team. “Once you learn how to do this recipe you will do it over and over again. Because everybody likes sausages, and everybody likes beans,” he says of this recipe, which also appears in his book, Gino’s Italian Express.
Along the coast
While stunning coastal scenery, towns and seafood of Italy feature in many of Gino’s stops, two of the ‘Italian Escape’ series are specifically focussed on coastal travels: his fifth series, Gino’s Italian Coastal Escape, and the sixth, Gino’s Italian Adriatic Escape. Gino makes a return to Naples in Gino’s Italian Coastal Escape, and this time there’s seafood on the menu – no surprise given this busy, high-energy city sits on the magnificent Bay of Naples, also called the Gulf of Naples. “Naples is famous for fantastic fish and seafood. In the bay itself, you can catch around 20 edible species and as a city by the sea, there are fish shops in every neighbourhood,” Gino explains. After a trip to the foothills of nearby Mount Vesuvius to meet a farmer who grows a type of cherry tomato that the region is famous for – the pomodorino del piennolo del Vesuvio, which flourishes in the rich volcanic soil of the area – Gino cooks up a dish that marries sweet yellow pomodorini with local seafood: spaghetti with clams and mussels.
Fish is on the menu when Gino visits the fishing town of Camogli in Liguria . After a trip to sea in a fishing boat, including a lunch made by the boat’s captain from some of the morning‘s catch, Gino sets up his mobile kitchen in a spot with views of the Ligurian coast to cook up sea bass in caper and butter sauce with grilled carrots. This is also a great episode for bread lovers, as Gino also visits the town of Recco to discover how the focaccia the town is known for, a thin, crisp flatbread stuffed with oozing creamy cheese, is made (after seeing the local focaccia maker showing Gino how to stretch out a round of dough, we will forever remember to ‘swim like a frog’!)
Cucciolone (ice-cream sandwiches)
Traditions & treasures
On many of his stops, Gino tastes and learns about regional specialties and traditional recipes, and when he “one of Italy’s best-kept secrets”, the Conero Riviera, there’s a lot to explore. “This coastal paradise stretches for 22 miles [35 kilometres] and centres around the magnificent Mount Conero – the only mountain on the Adriatic that rises straight from the sea. This limestone peak has created the white pebble beaches, emerald green waters and fertile soil of this fruit farming region. This is the part of Italy I have never visited. It’s still relatively undiscovered.” Along with a visit to the oldest vineyard in the area, to meet an eighth-generation winemaker, and a visit to the medieval town of Castelfidardo, the birthplace of the accordion, he also cooks up paccheri ai quattro formaggi, using the region’s traditional tube-shaped pasta. “Every region you go to in Italy, there is always a shape of pasta that defines that region and right here this is the shape. These are called paccheri. What I like about these is that whatever sauce you’re gonna do with it, all the sauce is gonna get into the paccheri and it’s just gonna be beautiful and delicious,” he says.
The seventh season of the series, which aired under the title Gino’s Italian Express, sees Gino journey around northern Italy by train, enjoying some incredible scenery as well as local food. Taking the train from town to town in the Cinque Terre, Gino meets an opera-singing florist at a market in Corniglia, hikes up a hillside above the town of Manarola for spectacular views and finds out about a project working to maintain the rows upon rows of stone walls preserving the hillsides, and catches a monorail to a vineyard high above Vernazza, before making a tiramisu with a twist. “I know it’s not a classic, the classic one will have the espresso but believe you me, there is still a lot of people who don’t like coffee. So, I came up with the limoncello tiramisu and it’s much more delicate.” (For those who prefer the classic version, scroll down).
Gino makes his no-bake chocolate and hazelnut cheesecake (cheesecake a freddo alla crema di cioccolato e noccioline) after the town of La Morra, in Piedmont. The area is famous for its hazelnut trees, and the famous hazelnut spread, Nutella, was born in Piedmont, so our wandering chef was inspired to make a chocolate cheesecake that features chocolate spread in the filling and the topping.
When Gino “the town between two seas”, Santa Maria Di Leuca, located on the tip of the heel of Italy’s ‘boot’ and thus the point where the Adriatic meets the Ionian sea, and nearby Pescoluse, he cooks locally caught swordfish with sautéed potatoes and gremolata. “The sea completely defines life here,” he says, so it’s only appropriate he cooks one of his favourite fish dishes.
Gino shares this recipe in his book, Gino’s Italy: Like Mamma Used to Make. “There are many variations of fish soup in the South of Italy, but this zuppa di pesce piccante con pomodori e scorzetta di arance has to be my favourite because the flavour of the red mullet makes it unique,” he says.
Orecchiete with cime di rape and sausage
In Puglia, Gino visits Alberobello, a town famous for trulli, centuries-old little houses with cone-shaped stone roofs. Here, he gets a lesson in making orecchiette from a nonna in her backyard (watch it ); she makes this ear-shaped little pasta from a simple dough of hot water and semolina flour, using just a knife and her fingers to shape each orecchiette. Gino then cooks up his take on a classic Puglian pasta dish, orecchiette con cime di rapa, adding some salcicce and pecorino to the classic (you’ll find the recipe in his book Gino’s Italian Adriatic Escape, and a version of it , too), before serving it to Cosima and her some Mimmo, who has been helping to show Gino around town.
Gino makes several visits to the Amalfi coast throughout the seven seasons, and when, he hops on a boat to see the coastal scenery from the open water, he also cooks up a simple dish that has a special place in his heart. “Simple ingredients define Italian cooking and… Amalfi ingredients are full of flavour,” he says. “A dish that shows them off is a Caprese salad and it’s also very special to me. The last time I saw my dad before he passed away, we both ordered a Caprese salad, so I’m going to dedicate this beautiful salad to my dad, hi daddy, and, look, if I can do this on a sailing boat as I’m sailing, you should be able to do this at home. It’s very simple.” The key, he says is the right ingredients – good tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella and basil, and good extra virgin olive oil.
When Gino the stunning walled city of Ostuni – known as the white city, due to the white paint used on the buildings – he makes an Italian classic: “the king of all Italian desserts – the coffee and cream classic, Tiramisu…. this is a recipe that has been given to me by my grandfather, okay, and let me tell you, every time I do it, it never fails.” Some of the secrets: a good dose of amaretto, and cold coffee (“Whenever I make a Tiramisu, I always make sure that I make myself a good espresso because I like the coffee to be strong. If you don’t want the coffee to be too strong, you can use instant coffee but trust me it’s not the same. But whatever you do, the most important thing is to make sure that the coffee is cold.”) and dusting with the cocoa powder after the layered dessert has chilled not before (the cocoa goes bitter if it’s added before the tiramisu goes in the fridge, he says).
Finally, we couldn’t talk about his family recipes without sharing this, which is a recipe shared with SBS from his recent book, Gino’s Italy: Ike Mamma Used to Make. “I have called this a breakfast cake because my mother, Alba, always used to make it on a weekend and serve it for breakfast with a pot of chocolate hazelnut spread and a glass of cold milk. I have kept the tradition going with my children. … Serve with a glass of cold milk and do not forget the chocolate spread!”