Last week, our Bolton offices here at AO were transformed into Little Italy as our friends at Zanussi took over for the day with a very special host, Gino D’Acampo.
It was a great day as we sampled Gino’s recipes in the staff canteen and watched as he demonstrated his cooking finesse, teaching the staff of AO how to whip up fabulous Italian dishes quickly and easily.
Oh and of course, our staff took the opportunity to take endless selfies with the celebrity chef.
I had the chance to chat with Gino while he was visiting, about his latest book, what ingredients every kitchen should have and how he comes up with his fantastic recipe ideas.
You launched My Pasta Bar last year which looks amazing. Tell us about the most popular meal on the menu.
It’s Fettuccine Bolognese, a classic dish with minced beef, carrots, celery and caramelised onions with tomato sauce. Oh and the other one that’s really popular is Gemelli Arrabbiata, pasta with red chillies, garlic, parsley, extra virgin olive oil and tomato sauce.
I’m always looking for really simple meal ideas when I get home from work that I can just throw together with fresh ingredients. As the head of Zanuzzi’s Easy Team, can you give me any tips or a recipe that I can whack together to create something simple and really tasty?
Have you got my latest book? It’s how to cook an Italian in 20 minutes. You buy the book, you flip through, you look at some of the pictures that are there and then it’s all right! [laughs]
Oh that’s the book!
Ha! I’ll have to pick that one up! Are there any particular recipes in there that are a favourite?
A quick meal for me is always pasta because by the time I cook the pasta which only takes 10 minutes, I prepare a very quick and easy sauce with tomato sauce, a bit of garlic, a bit of courgettes … and the job is done. To me the ultimate fast food and fastest thing to cook will always be pasta.
Do you prefer to cook or be cooked for?
I prefer to cook.
Do you ever get nervous cooking for anyone?
No, no, I don’t get nervous at all. Because I cook very simply – I don’t cook to impress people. I cook because my friends come around and they’re hungry and they want to have something to eat. So there are no nerves.
What basic ingredients do you think should be in every kitchen?
A good bottle of extra virgin olive oil, tinned chopped tomatoes, a packet of pasta, eggs, a block of parmesan cheese [thinks for a moment] Oh, and Balsamic vinegar.
I’m pretty happy to say I have most of these things in my kitchen so I think I’m doing all right!
Have you ever had any massive kitchen disasters?
Yes! I was trying to make a meringue and instead of using sugar, I used salt. It wasn’t my fault, it was my wife’s fault! We have a red jar for sugar and a blue jar for salt. Well, she changed them! I was trying to mix it and I was like, why is it not getting all shiny? Well, she decided to change the colour without telling anyone. I had to make it again!
Where do you get inspiration for new dishes that you come up with?
I travel a lot in Italy. The island of Sardinia is particularly inspiring and I like the region of Campania, where I come from. Italy is very big on food so you don’t have to travel a lot to find beautiful, different things.
What’s the latest thing that you’ve discovered that you’ve taken back from your travels in Italy?
An ingredient called culatello – it’s a cured meat that comes from the leg of the pork. So when you make parma ham, they will completely trim the parma ham down into this beautiful kind of ham. And it’s amazing, an amazing ingredient.
What do you use it in?
It’s like pancetta. You can use it in anything – anything!
What’s the process that you use to create a new recipe?
Creating a good recipe just happens but it happens when I’m relaxed. It happens when I’ve had a couple of glasses of wine and the music is on and I’m in a relaxing mood.
Chiara is one of our food writers at AO Life – she has an Italian grandmother and we had a bit of a friendly debate recently on how to make a simple tomato sauce. I’ve always used tinned chopped tomatoes and a tomato purée and she swears by passata. I was wondering if you could settle the argument for us.
I would always make a tomato sauce with tinned chopped tomatoes. Passata is good but not as good as tinned chopped tomatoes. So you win.
(Yay!) Any tips you can share with our readers that we can take away from Gino’s visit to AO today?
Okay, a couple tips. For perfect al dente, always cook pasta 1 minute less than what’s on the packet instructions. Simple as that.
Also, sneak anchovies into your pasta sauce – I fry them in olive oil until they completely melt, it’s a very good way to use anchovies if you don’t otherwise like them. They add a natural saltiness to the dish without adding any more salt. Capers will do the same. Just fry them up in the anchovies and the oil.
Oh, and I always use olives. I’m a very big fan of olives but they need to be good olives. I hate those kind of plastic black olives that you find on pizzas and stuff like that, tasteless olives, I don’t like them.
A very big thank you to Gino for taking time out of his busy day to speak to me!