italian

Restaurant Review: Francesca’s Italian Kitchen

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Last night S and I dined at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen as per a good friend of ours’ recommendation. She said it was excellent so we had to try it for ourselves. And overall, it was pretty spectacular!

Several things stood out: the slow-cooked beef (housemade) gnocchi (probably best in town), the tolerable noise level (I am so used to dining at Italian restaurants where I can’t even hear myself), the artsy pasta guide on the inner bathroom doors (who doesn’t like a good read whilst on the toilet), and the physical location of the place (I love anything close to New Regent!).

And of course it wouldn’t be a review if I’m not a slight bitch about it so… We ordered polenta fries as a starter, they were forgotten, and brought to us midway through our mains (yeah, yeah, first world problems). Speaking of polenta fries, they were good but not as amazing as The Bicycle Thief’s. In my opinion, those are much better. As for the pappardelle ragu, I think Cafe Valentino does theirs better, and the pumpkin brûlée, well, it was pretty unique in flavour but also highly diabetic. In other words, too much sugar (you know, even for a brûlée).

Despite the grumble, I’d rate our experience an 8/10!

Dinner at the Dazzis

As promised, Daddy Dazzi’s famous lasagna then Daddy Dazzi’s famous risotto. Washed down with Mama Dazzi’s humble desserts, mocked aplenty by Daddy Dazzi for their simplicity (hehe). Hashtagmarriage. Hashtagdelicious. Hashtagfoodbaby.

Is it an oxymoron if I vow to start my diet in America?
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What even is vegan? Just kidding. Just wanted to express how incredibly flavoursome this was. Wish you could have tasted it, mama! And daddy and Deli and Andy, too.
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Four cheese risotto (very Italian). Curried vegetables (not Italian as the Dazzis specifically pointed out, still V delicious).
Processed with VSCO with c3 presetSorry mama, I’m gonna give your secret away. This is basically a store-bought fall spiced cake, sliced then towered with fresh raspberries, raspberry jam and yoghurt! Could have fooled me!

In The Time French People Sing Hello, A Kiwi Has Told A Whole Story.

So. If you haven’t been keeping up and you don’t know, I am staying in Antibes, in the south of France, in the old town, in an apartment all to my own. The apartment belongs to Anita’s mother’s sister-in-law. Or Anita’s father’s sister.

Anita, is the most beautiful, hard-working and driven Italian girl you’ll ever know. I met her when she started worked for Cafe Valentino. I was her trainer. I still remember sitting her and another young man (Bryn) down and taking them through the menu. “What’s capsicum?” “What’s bacon? “What’s…?” “What’s…?” she mused as Bryn became more and more impatient. The next day, Anita had memorised the entire menu! So, it was no wonder for any of us when she became the restaurant MANAGER so soon. Yes, my boss! But I trained her! My oh my how we joked. And shared pizzas. And talked boys. And ate tiramisu.

Now, I am spending my days with her parents and I love them as I do my own. They are so generous, loving and natural. Daddy Dazzi loves food just as I do, and mama Dazzi knows exactly what to say to make my heart glow.

I really don’t know how I am going to leave. I have fallen in love with Antibes.
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(Pizza for entree and pizza for main.)

On my first evening here, Daddy Dazzi treated us to real French Bouillabaisse, a traditional Provençal fish stew originating from the port city of Marseille. The restaurant Daddy had chosen was by far, the most expensive I’ve ever been to. I felt like a queen and my tongue was on fire. I wish you could have tasted it too.
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(Daddy’s thumb photography.)
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Yesterday, I spent a whole day in Nice with mama. The weather was wonderful and so was she, as per usual. She held my hands, gave me kisses, and loving advice on relationships, marriage, children, and so forth. In between, she gave me a quick French lesson where she taught me to sing my words. She said: in the time a French person sings hello, a Kiwi has told a whole story. Which is so true because the French stretch their words almost as long as the Thai do, and true Kiwis speak without pause.
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(Photos of me are low-quality because they’re taken by Mama Dazzi’s phone.)
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(Behind the scenes food photography)
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(Mama Dazzi working the cheese, olive tapenade and fresh basil like a pro.) This is lunch at Le Pin Parasol. If you find yourself in Antibes, this little brasserie is a definite must-go. It is not everyday you feel this much passion in the taste and presentation of a meal. Click HERE for more info.

Daddy Dazzi is preparing Lasagna for me tomorrow. Apparently, his is the best. You know, seeing as he’s a real Italian and all. Today over lunch, he discussed with his wife, the preparations for tomorrow. They spoke in Italian. They seemed to be arguing. Daddy switched to English: “I am the artist. I am not the worker,” he proclaimed to his wife. What he was referring to, was the shopping for tomorrow’s meal!

So, all I have done this week, has been to eat and eat and eat some more. Which is so bad because I am going to America in a few days and I really wanted to look good…Alas, I have no self control and these two are killing me.

Daddy Dazzi: a little pizza is good for the health. Yeah right. Also gelato, also crepe, also risotto. There is no stopping with Italians and food!

Get this: today, as we worked our way through lunch, Daddy asked his wife (much like my own father asks my mom sometimes) what they would be having for their next meal.

“The next meal?” I screamed.
“Yes the next meal.”
“Nothing for me!”
“What? That’s dangerous,” he warned.

Dangerous. Dangerous! Can you believe it? After eating all of this food! I have never laughed so hard before.

Okayama Table Terra Take Two

Remember this?  My lovely Japanese parents took me to Terra one last time, seeing as I’d previously enjoyed it so much. We had a seven course (yes SEVEN) course meal where only the Pizza pictured was shared. Everything else, is portioned for one. To say that I was full is an underestimate. The first time we visited Terra, we joked that we had gate-crashed a zucchini party because it seemed to be in every dish. This time, to my absolute delight, the zucchini was avocado. As in, most of the dishes were with avocado. Sah yum.

1: A trio of corn pudding with lemon cream sauce, Tottori tuna, avocado and ratatouille caprese, and grilled vegetables.
2: Raw veggies with an anchovy sauce
3: Cold cream of potato soup
4: Gluten-free pizza margarita on a rice-flour base
5: Main dish of pork with panko (Japanese bread-crumbs), potato salad stuffed grilled tomato and avocado and roe eggplant pizza.
6: Vegan hand-made fettuccine with avocado, tomato and burdock.
7: Tea cake with vanilla ice.

Most ingredients local. All ingredients yum.

Thank you so much Terra! Oishikata (it was delicious).

PS the head chef walked us to the parking lot to say goodbye! Now that’s service, am I right?!
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Italian Night and a *Stolen* Recipe

If you follow my blog’s Facebook and/or Instagram accounts then you might know that I made Italian food for my Japanese friends last night. Now, how does a Persian-Kiwi learn to cook Italian? By working jobs. At 15 I worked at La Porchetta, a chain Italian restaurant then at 17 I waitress-ed at iconic Cafe Valentino which was destroyed from the devastating Christchurch earthquakes whilst I was living in Israel. When Cafe Valentino reopened on St. Asaph Street, I immediately returned, this time as Duty Manager. That’s right, GIRL BOSS. I loved the actual boss, I loved the head chef and I loved the pizza (not specifically in that order).

Working at Cafe Valentino, I learnt so much from Chef Karren. Not only is she extremely talented but also so utterly passionate and committed. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than a person who sacrifices day in and day out for their art.

During “the calm before the storm” (quiet mornings before lunch) at Cafe Valentino, I’d often have the opportunity to watch the chef’s preparations. Though I couldn’t ever know exactly how they made what they did or what exactly went into it, let’s just say, I can take a pretty accurate stab in the dark. Today I share with you an idiot-proof *stolen* recipe from the famous Cafe Valentino:

Tomato Freakin’ Bruschetta.

1 medium red onion, chopped small
about 3 medium tomatoes , chopped small – I used a punnet of mixed colored tomatoes whcih included red, maroon, green, yellow and orange ones.
bunch of fresh basil leaves – chopped small
dollop of good quality olive oil
dollop of good quality balsamic
pinch of sea salt
pinch of pepper

Bread – Cafe Valentino would use freshly baked ciabatta, I used store-bought French baguette.

Finely chop vegetables and herb.

Add a dollop of oil then balsamic – I guess Cafe Val used a balsamic reduction but I ain’t got time (or skills) for that.

Season with a little salt and pepper.

Mix well then refrigerate (you can do this well in advance to serving, if you wish).

For serving, slice bread, toast in a toaster or toaster oven then top each bread with big spoonfuls of tomato/onion mixture letting it fall everywhere (as in on the plate).
***HOT TIP from Rosie Blakely of Gaikokumama: “I usually cut a fresh garlic clove in half, rub the open-side over the bread, then lightly toast by frying the bread with a little olive oil. Yummy. Try it if you fancy!”
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Vegetable Lasagna

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250g wholemeal lasagna sheets
2 tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 capsicum (any colour)
1 punnet of white button mushrooms
2 small eggplants
handful of fresh spinach
small broccoli head
(all veggies chopped medium to small)
400g can all-natural diced tomatoes
4 tbsp tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
750g smooth ricotta cheese
3 free-range eggs
3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Vegetable sauce:
Heat oil over medium heat in a large saucepan, add onion and garlic and cook, stirring for 5 minutes.

Add capsicum, mushroom, eggplant, spinach and broccoli, cover and cook gently for 5 minutes.

Add canned tomatoes and tomato paste, cook for 3 minutes, season with salt and pepper.

Ricotta:
Mix ricotta, eggs and basil, season with salt and pepper

Assembly: 
Preheat oven to 180C

Pour 1/2 cup of vegetables sauce into a lightly greased baking dish then alternate layers of lasagna, vegetable sauce and ricotta, ending with ricotta layer (allow for 4 layers).

Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Bake in oven for 45 minutes (25 if using white lasagna sheets).

Let stand for  5 minutes before serving.

TIP: the trick to delicious lasagna is AMPLE SAUCE and that the lasagna sheets, are completely covered with/in it. So for extra yum-factor, make sure your lasagna retains a high level of moisture.

For The Love Of Spaghetti

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Working in an Italian restaurant requires some serious self-control. Honestly, I want to eat everything. Don’t take that lightly, by everything, I mean everything (parmesan shakers and pizza boards included). No, I am not insane, I’m simply drunk on the intoxicating fragrance that is cooked PASTA. But, of all the pastas, my absolute favourite (and the one my entire being lusts after) is spaghetti.

Spaghetti is my rock. Spaghetti is romantic (I’m referring to Lady and the Tramp styles) it’s fun to eat (slurrrrp), it doesn’t take too long to prepare and it more than satisfies my tumtum. What I’m trying to say is, if I only had time to save one pantry item during a zombie apocalypse, it’d be spaghetti. This morning I woke up with spaghetti on my mind (naturally) and I felt it’d only be fair if you joined my delirious cravings also. So, here’s a short (yet powerful) collection of four spaghetti quotes that’ll have you cancelling your current evening plans in order to make an impromptu reservation at your local Italian restaurant. Buon Appetito!

“Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”-Sophia Loren

“No man is lonely eating spaghetti; it requires so much attention.” -Christopher Morley

“Spaghetti can be eaten most successfully if you inhale it like a vacuum cleaner.” -Sophia Loren

“I like my spaghetti like I like my women. All over my shirt.” ― Jarod Kintz