There’s some comfort for those dreaming wistfully of a trip to Sicily as overseas travel remains on hold in Australia.
And it’s all in the pages of a beautiful new cook book produced in Perth.
Armchair travellers might just get a fix of seratonin through authentic Italian recipes and photographs to transport them to an instant holiday on the sun-drenched island.
The Table of Us, is the first publishing venture from Perth couple, Simone and Dan Agostino, who pay tribute to their Italian heritage in this work which is much, much more than just a recipe book.
“We wanted it to be something that is a beautiful gift,” says Simone, a natural home cook who features her beloved late Nonna’s recipes along with others collected from the couple’s travels.
“Food is all about sharing, evoking memories, bringing laughter and joy to the table. And that’s what we wanted to do in the book. There are lots of photographs from our trips in there along with pictures of our children, pics of my Mum, to create a very family feel.”
Simone says her Nonna, Maria, had a magical ability to unite people around the dinner table.
“She was an amazing cook,” she says. “She would prepare a three-course meal seemingly effortlessly using quality ingredients. There was no such thing as fast food.”
Dan, who is head of design at The Brand Agency, was a natural choice for the overall layout of the hard cover book which spreads over 208 pages.
The pair have enjoyed several trips to the regions in Italy where their families came from – Sicily, Abruzzo and Calabria – where Simone also collected many recipes.
Along with lovingly-prepared dishes such as slow-roasted goat, pesto made with bread, milk and walnuts and cannoli, both fondly remember their childhoods in suburban Perth taking part in family traditions such as tomato sauce bottling, sausage making, pasta rolling, tending the vegie garden and producing wine in the garage.
They are serious about passing on those traditions to their three sons who are already helping out in the kitchen.
“We are very conscious of preserving those traditions,” says Simone. “A lot of these things are slipping away now. It is important to keep them alive. Hopefully, the book will do that as well.”
The book has been five years in the making and the couple spent the past 18 months putting it together.
Simone, who has her hands full with three young boys, also finds time to run cooking classes and does corporate workshops with small classes.
“I just illustrate how easy it is to put together a meal from scratch,” she says. “Cooking doesn’t have to be hard. I am just giving people the skills to make things like a fresh handmade pesto. So easy. Nobody entertains any more, thinking it is too hard or they don’t have the time. These classes and this book show how easy it can be.”
One of her favourite recipes is a very simple roasted goat dish (see below) which is cooked in an oven bag with oil, rosemary, bay leaves, sea salt and wine.”
Says Simone. “I serve it with caramelised beans and balsamic vinegar. I just put it all on the table and open up the bag and all the aromas come out. People just help themselves and go back for more.”
The Table of Us is on sale for $59.95 at 35 outlets around Australia including Dymocks, Empire Homewares, some wineries and other independent book stores.
The couple had planned to tour Italy with their boys and Simone’s Mum and Dad last year but Covid stepped in. So they sent copies of the book to relatives in Italy and Germany where it was received to glowing praise.
“Everybody is so proud and overjoyed at the tribute,” she says.
And Simone is already planning her next book which will focus on regional recipes and the traditional Italian fare that she serves on her table.
“One of the most important aspects of many European cultures is the idea of the feast and sharing of food amongst friends and family. This book will help demonstrate, not only how to make simple, yet remarkable, regional dishes, but how to combine them together to share and create your own feast.”
Enjoy slow cooked capretto in white wine
- 1 kg baby goat
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large handful parsley leaves roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and crushed
- 4 small whole shallots thinly sliced
- 1 punnet cherry tomatoes left whole
- 2 bay leaves
- 200 ml white wine
- 1/4 cup water
- Preheat the oven to 160°C.
- Ask your butcher to cut the baby goat for you in the most even and perfect-sized pieces for slow roasting.
- Marinate the pieces of goat with the extra virgin olive oil, parsley, garlic and shallots. Season generously. Marinate the meat for at least two hours, ideally over night, to allow the flavours to really infuse. Allow the meat to come to room temperature before cooking.
- Transfer the goat and all its remaining marinade into a large oven bag placed in a heavy based roasting dish. Toss in the cherry tomatoes, bay leaves, white wine and a splash of water. Seal the bag and, using a sharp knife, pierce a small hole in the top to allow the steam to escape.
- Place the roasting dish into the preheated oven and slow roast for 1½ to 2 hours. Check the goat every 30 minutes and shuffle the pieces around amongst the juices to avoid the top layer drying out.
- Remove from the oven. Carefully transfer the oven bag onto a shallow serving plate. Cut the bag open to release the tender pieces of goat and all of its juices. Be careful of the steam. Discard the bag and serve immediately.