I insist on using only seasonal ingredients, says Italian chef
In Castellina, a small village in Chianti, Italy, there’s a unique restaurant. The menu at Ristorante Albergacio changes every month, because they use only seasonal ingredients grown within the village.
For this unique approach and fresh, healthy food, chef Francesco Costagli earned a Michelin star for the restaurant. On a recent visit to Mumbai, he cooked up a meal using the same principle — local ingredients that are easily available in Mumbai.
We caught up with the chef, who was here due to his association with Fratelli Wines and as part of ITC’s Celebrity Chef Series, to chat about the importance of keeping it simple and fresh, and how he earned his moniker — ‘0 km chef’.
Why do you change your menu every month?
In different seasons, you get different ingredients. You may find something in the market, but it won’t have the same flavour if it isn’t in season. This technique also turns out to be more economical. For instance, a pumpkin would cost me less in the summer, and it will taste better too.
That also means that the food is healthier. My land has taught me to use only olive oil — no butter or other kind of oil — to keep the food light. The wines I serve are also local, all produced within 100 km of the restaurant.
Does working with only these few ingredients prove restrictive?
I don’t have a problem opening a fridge, seeing what’s inside and setting the menu for the day. My concept involves using local, fresh ingredients and that’s what my patrons have come to expect from me. To change things around, I try and be creative in my presentation. The same dish, for instance, can be presented in many ways. For example, a main course dish can be converted into a starter by changing the way it is served.
What were the challenges of cooking in India?
I cooked at hotels in four cities and each of them had different equipment. Some of the ingredients turned out to be a bit problematic. I needed artichokes for one of my dishes, but I had to reinvent it without those because I wasn’t happy with the quality I got. My dessert was to have peaches, but since I was offered the canned variety, I switched to fresh strawberries. I insist on using only seasonal ingredients, which is the concept behind the ‘0 km chef’.
Raviolli Agli Asparagi
(Raviolli filled with asparagus)
2 cups of flour
1 pound asparagus trimmed
5 cups rich chicken stock
1 (3-inch) rind from a wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 bay leaf n 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
1 tsp grated lemon zest
MAKE THE RAVIOLlI
Sift flour and salt. Part the flour making a well in the centre. Drop eggs in the well and beat. Then combine eggs, flour and warm water to make stiff dough. Knead until smooth and leave for 15 minutes. Cut dough in half and roll each part into sheets.
Melt butter in a pan. Add olive oil, asparagus paste, pepper, salt and onion/garlic powder. Once reduced, remove from heat and cool. Blend together.
FILL THE RAVIOLlI
Drop about 1 to 1 and 1/2 tsp of filling about 1 and 1/2 inches apart all along the dough. When the sheet of dough is dotted with dabs of filling mixture, cover filling with another sheet of dough. Gently press dough between each dab to seal it. Cut ravioli into squares. Allow them to dry for an hour.
COOK THE RAVIOLlI
Drop the raviolli into six to eight quarts of boiling, salted water and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until dough is tender. Serve hot and enjoy on a base of saffron velvet and garnish with lightly sautéed asparagus.