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Eat Italy head to toe with Gino D’Acampo

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— Stream seven seasons of Gino’s Italian Escape

“For Italians, the most important thing in life is food,” says Gino D’Acampo in Gino’s Italian Escape, as he kicks off one of his many journeys around the country where he was born. “Every time you go somewhere, you meet someone, there is always something new that you learn.”
Born and raised in Naples, the chef, now based in the UK, where he has six restaurants, still spends a lot of time in Italy – quite a bit of it filming his delicious food and travel shows. In the seven seasons of Gino’s Italian Escape now streaming at SBS On Demand, he travels the country top to toe, taking in its stunning coastlines, mountain views, sunny islands, small villages and busy cities, sharing the best of the local food traditions and cooking up his own recipes along the way. From “dunky dunky” meatballs to encouraging us to eat chocolate pudding for breakfast, and sharing his grandfather’s tiramisu, it’s a delicious journey. Here’s a selection of the recipe he shares, to power up your armchair travel.

In the north

A cast iron saucepan sits on a blue napkin, on a blue-painted wooden surface. The pan is full of meatballs in a rich tomato sauce. A pale blue plate sits beside the pan, with a serve of meatballs. Three slices of fresh bread sit nearby.

Meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce (polpettine al pomodoro). Credit: Dan Jones / Hodder & Stoughton

Do you get “dunky dunky” with your meatballs? Gino does and after when serving up a meatball feast during his travels in Gino’s Italian Express (the seventh series), we’re all for it. Hand us the warm bread…
“This is the recipe that divides Italy: meatballs. Or as we say in Italian, polpette. If you go to the south of Italy, in the middle of the north, everybody has their own recipe, they add their own ingredients, some people put in onions, some people put in garlic. One thing that you need to know, though, is that Italian people do not eat meatballs with spaghetti. That is an American thing, Italian people have meatballs with tomato sauce and crusty warm bread.” The version Gino cooks up for a group of art students in Verona has pork and beef meatballs in a rich tomato sauce – perfect for mopping up with bread. “Very important to serve with loads of tomato sauce, otherwise you won’t be able to do dunky dunky with the bread,” he says.
A round brown dish sits on a blue-washed wooden surface. It holds a rustic sausage and bean stew, garnished with a sprinkle of chopped green herbs.  Two slices of bread, with grill marks, sit alongside.

Italian sausages and beans with garlic ciabatta (salsicce e fagioli con crostini all’aglio). Credit: Dan Jones / Hodder & Stoughton

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.

A smiling man leans on a table, with two desserts in small pots, on saucers, in his hands. Big bags of rice can be seen behind him.

Gino with his chocolate rice puddings. Credit: Gino’s Italian Express

On his train trip through the north in Gino’s Italian Express, he travels the ancient ‘rice route’ through the fields of the Mantova (Mantua) region. Italy is Europe’s biggest rice producer, and Gino times his visit to take part in a local rice festival in the village of Villampenta. After enjoying the local pork, garlic and parmesan risotto, made with an unusual two-part method, Gino cooks up his own risotto-ish dish, a chocolate rice pudding. And while this might look like dessert, it could also make a fine start to your day. “When it’s done well, you cannot beat a nice rice pudding, especially for breakfast,” he says.

Along the coast

When Gino kicked off the very first series of his Italian travels, the first episode saw him visiting the stunning scenery of the Amalfi Coast, and recalling memories of visits to the town of Amalfi as a child. “There are so many beautiful places in Italy, but this has to be one of my favourites… this is where I used to come on holiday with my family… a lot of memories of when I was a little boy, probably about ten, 11. My mum and dad used to take my sister and me here always, to swim and to have ice creams.” The area is also famous for its lemons, and after enjoying an ice-cold granita flavoured with local lemons, a visit to a local citrus grove, and discovering everything from lemon salt to lemon honey in a local shop, he prepares a .
More memories surface in the second episode of the first series, when Gino heads to the bustling southern Mediterranean city of Naples – the city where he spent his childhood. “If you ask me to name my favourite place in Italy, it has to be Naples. The food, the people and the scenery are so inspiring. Without doubt, my heart truly belongs here, he says. “This is where I was born. Where I grew up when I was a little boy. I study here, to become chef, the catering college. And it’s a lot of memories.” One of those memories is of a unique Neapolitan street food: deep-fired pizza with tomato sauce. “It’s the ultimate Neapolitan street food… I know it sounds a bit strange, but believe me, it is sensational. I grew up with it, and I want everybody to see it.” After a visit to a pizzeria that’s been making them for more than 160 years to find out some of the secrets, Gino shares his own pizza-inspired dish, something dish his mother used to make. “When i was growing up here my mum created something special, just for me. “I used to love pizza and if it was for me I would have pizza every day. So what she did, she came up with this dish, where it uses the same flavours that you would have on a pizza, but using chicken… and even today I still make the same dish for my boys”. Get his recipe for pollo a la pizzaiola, or chicken in breadcrumbs with pizza sauce, .
A spaghetti and seafood dish sits on a wooden table.

Gino’s spaghetti with clams and mussels. Credit: Gino’s Italian Coastal Escape

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.

A smiling man in a blue shirt holds a plate of food.

Gino D’Acampo with his sea bass dish.

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)

Many of the dishes from his travels are to be found in , along with other great Italian recipes. We spotted this cucciolone recipe, from his book Gino’s Italian Coastal Escape, on his FB and had to pop it in here because who doesn’t love the idea of choc-chip cookie ice-cream sandwiches?

Traditions & treasures

A man stands outdoors at a table, with mountain views behind him. He grates cheese into a pot on a portable cooktop on the table.

Gino cooks his paccheri with four cheeses (paccheri ai quattro formaggi). Credit: Gino’s Italian Adriatic Escape

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.

Three glasses filled with a creamy dessert sit on a table covered with a checked cloth. Lemons, a vase with flowers and a bottle of yellow liqueur also sit on the table.

Gino’s lemon tiramisù with limoncello. Credit: Gino’s Italian Express

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).

A wedge-shaped slice of cheesecake sits on a pretty plate with a textured and blue-patterned edge. The cheesecake is rich and lush, with a biscuit base, a deep middle layer and a thin darker top layer, sprinkled with chopped nuts. Two silver forks sit in front of the plate. Two more plates, with slices of cheesecakes, can be seen in the background.

No-bake chocolate and hazelnut cheesecake (cheesecake a freddo alla crema di cioccolato e noccioline). Credit: Dan Jones / Hodder & Stoughton

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.

Island hopping

Two pieces of crumbed fish and a tomato and olive salad sit on a wide, vribrant blue plate.

Gino D’Acampo’s tuna steaks in a punchy tomato and olive sauce. Credit: Gino’s Italian Escape / ITV

For the third Escape series, the theme was ‘Islands in the Sun’, with Gino visiting different spots around Sardinia and Sicily. After exploring some of the coastal bounty of Sardinia (which are plentiful! “Sardinia has more than 1000 miles of shore, with turquoise waters lapping golden sand, secluded coves, and rugged cliffs with hidden caves. And with all that coastline comes a sea full of sea life!” he says), and visiting the huge San Benedetto market in the capital, Cagliari, in he cooks up tuna in punchy tomato and olive sauce. For more recipes inspired by his island travels, take a look at these recipes from his books Gino’s Islands in the Sun and Gino’s Italian Coastal Escape, which he has shared on his website: ; , which embraces Sicily’s love of chestnuts; , which he made while filming on the island of Elba; ; and Sicily-inspired .

Southern stars

Gino D'Acampo stands behind a table, holding a glass of sparkling wine and a plate of food. A long sunny beach stretches away into the distance behind him.

Gino cooks swordfish steaks and potato. Credit: Gino’s Italian Adriatic Escape.

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.

Spicy fish soup with tomatoes and orange zest

Credit: Haarala Hamilton / Bloomsbury

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

Two men and a woman sit at a table under a tree, with an old stone building behind them. The table has a white and red striped tablecloth, and the three are eating a meal. A vase with fresh flowers sits on the table.

Gino with Cosima and Mimmo in Alberobello, enjoying a meal. Credit: Gino’s Italian Adriatic Escape.

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.

Family favourites

A smiling man in a dark shirt stands in front of a stone wall, with trees hind the wall. He holds a white plate, piled with a vibrant pasta dish.

Gino D’Acampo cooks Gragnano’s legendary pasta with salmon in a spicy arrabbiata sauce in a corner of an orchard. Credit: Gino’s Italian Escape / ITV

In the very first series, Gino Gragnano, a town about 30 kilometres south of Naples. The town is famous for pasta – “If you ask any Italian about Gragnano, the first thing that they will say to you is pasta because Gragnano is the home of pasta,” he explains – but that’s not why Gino is here. “It’s impossible for me to return to my home country without coming to Campagna, the beautiful region where I was born and where my family still call home,” he says. And he’s come to Gragnano to visit his aunt, Rita, and while he’s there he’s cooking a meal for her. “I have to admit, I’m a little bit nervous because, I know that it sounds quite strange, but I’ve never cooked for my Italian family before. And, you know, whenever I come here, they always cook for me.” Unsurprisingly, pasta is on the menu, and after learning more about what makes the local pasta so good, he cooks up pasta arrabbiata with salmon. “If you want to translate arrabbiatta into English, it means upset, when somebody gets really angry. And the reason is because in the arrabbiata sauce, you have chilli and chilli makes the upset thing. The salmon with the arrabiatta, it works perfectly,” he says. Italians wouldn’t normally cook salmon in arrabbiata sauce, he says, but his family give it the thumbs up.
A man in a pink shirt and sunglasses sits at a table on a boat, making a salad.

Gino makes caprese salad. Credit: Gino’s Italian Coastal Escape

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.

A smiling man in a dark shirt stands behind a table, holding a white ceramic dish. A tree archs over him on one side, and the background is full of trees and other greenery.

Gino with tiramisu. Credit: Gino’s Italian Adriatic Escape

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).

Season two sees Gino , and of course, he couldn’t visit the city without finding out more about its world-famous sauce. At a local trattoria, he meets an Italian cook who has been honing her ragu la Bolognese for almost thirty years, based on a recipe passed down by her grandmother. After Gino enjoys a dish of her sauce, with hand-made tagliatelle, he heads up to the rooftops of Bologna and cooks up his grandfather’s recipe of tagliatelle alla Bolognese and shares some of the D’Acampo family’s secret sauce tips. “My grandfather showed it to me when I was a little boy, and I’ve been using the same recipe since then,” he says. (For a different family ragu recipe, try the Neapolitan recipe from his mother’s family that you can find .)
My mother’s vanilla breakfast cake

Credit: Haarala Hamilton / Bloomsbury

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!”

Find more Italian inspiration in SBS Food’s .

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