Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Peek Inside Fabio's Italian Kitchen

Last weekend I was invited to attend a cooking demo and cookbook signing for Chef Fabio Viviani at Firenze Osteria in Toluca Lake. Now, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit but before the event, I didn’t know who Fabio was, but after a bit a Googling and YouTube clips of Top Chef (Season 5) the charming Italian quickly captured my interest! I soon learned that the only thing more delicious than his accent was his food!

I arrived at the Toluca Lake restaurant early Saturday morning (by early, I mean 10am. That’s L.A. early) and was greeted by my host, Lisa Long who is one of the owners at Firenze Osteria. She was so delightful and welcoming! Lisa quickly introduced me to the man of the hour, Fabio Viviani. Right away, I was captivated. He was so genuine and made me feel right at home, he showed me to a prime seat to watch the demo and thanked me for coming.

When it was time for the demo to begin, Fabio stood in the open kitchen of Firenze and began talking about his latest cookbook, Fabio’s Italian Kitchen. He explained the difficulty of having to write out measurements for American cookbooks, “I don’t use a cup, a teaspoon, or whatever. I use a handful of sugar and sprinkle of salt and how long do you cook it? You cook it until it looks done!”. Obviously the crowd fed off of Fabio’s electric spirit, laughing the whole time. “I don’t understand why you American’s need to measure everything. You’re afraid of messing it up” he explained, “My friend Martha Stewart bought a giant home in Connecticut because you all go out and buy measuring cups!”. Fabio continued to joke saying, “Recipes are like traffic laws. They are there as a guideline but if you change it up a bit, you’ll still be ok!”.

We were all treated to a wonderful three-course lunch by Fabio. For each dish, he would show us how to prepare it and then we got to dig in! We started with his mom’s famous meatballs (the recipe is below, so don’t miss that!) which were hands down the best meatballs I’ve ever had in my life. You can bet I’ll be adding that recipe into my repertoire very soon!
Next up was a Pork Milanese. Fabio explained how the technique of pounding out meat was not to “tenderize it”, but it was to spread it out and make it look like you’re eating more than you actually are, a technique he mastered as part of his very humble upbringing in Italy. “I had two choices on my table every night as a kid. Take it... or... leave it” he explained. As he continued to tell stories of his childhood, including knocking off the Pope’s hat (yes, that happened), we were presented with a delicious golden brown, breaded pork cutlet with a delicate arugula salad dressed with roasted lemon. It was exceptional. So clean, fresh and Fabio explained, only 250 calories! I think that the best line of the day came from the young lady sitting next to me when she confessed that she was a vegetarian but it looked so good she ate it anyway!

By the time dessert came around, I was ready to be rolled out to my car but there was no way I was passing up homemade tiramisu! I was shocked by the simplicity of this dish. Fabio started with egg yolks and sugar and whipped them in a stand mixer (which he likes to kiss before he uses it) until it formed a thick cream. Now don’t freak out, he explained that the motion and the friction with the sugar actually “cooks” the eggs and makes it completely safe to eat. This tiramisu was out of this world and totally shook out the fear I had of trying to master it on my own.

I am thrilled that I had the chance to partake in this experience! A huge thanks to Fabio, Lisa and their team for making it so much fun! Don’t forget to check out the recipe below!

Fabio's Mom's Meatballs

1 lb. ground beef
4 oz. whole milk ricotta cheese
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 egg
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
1 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 cups Fabio’s Tomato Sauce (see recipe on page 18)
Fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Place all ingredients except the tomato sauce, the parsley, and the extra-virgin olive oil in a medium-size bowl and mix thoroughly by hand until they are completely combined and the mixture is uniformly firm.
Coat your hands in olive oil, and form balls slightly bigger than a golf ball.
Heat the tomato sauce in a saucepan over medium heat, then drop the meatballs into the sauce and add enough water to allow the sauce to reduce and simmer but not so much that the sauce is totally liquid. Cook for about 10 minutes on one side, then turn the meatballs over, add some more water, and cook for another 10 minutes, using a spoon to cover the meatballs with the sauce as they simmer. Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
Serve with chopped parsley, salt and pepper, more Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, of course!

TIP: Don’t waste expensive cuts of meat on meatballs! If prepared correctly, a cheaper cut of meat like beef shoulder/chuck, or even scraps will work perfectly.

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