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Amanda Tabberer

12 December 2012

It’s the curse of the famous relative and both women agree it’s fun when the tables are turned.

Perhaps it’s also why, having worked in the Australian fashion industry when she first began as a designer, Amanda chose to go to Paris, where she worked in the industry there, returning to Australia for a short stint before moving to Italy in 1983.

“Initially, I worked in fashion travelling between Florence, Milan and Paris,” explains Amanda. She then met her partner Sergio in around 1985 and moved to the Amalfi Coast to be with him.

In 2003, she returned to Australia with her son for his schooling, but has very close ties with Italy and Positano, and still runs a holiday villa rental agency, events and tours business centred on the area.

“I ran five businesses when I lived there,” says Amanda, “including screen printing and selling T-shirts that weren’t your run of the mill garish tourist garments. Moving to the Amalfi Coast was the most drastic and fantastic change I made to my life. I gave up the high heels and the glamorous fashion life, travelling between Florence and Milan and Paris, to get about in a bikini and sandals, and serve pasta at my father-in-law’s restaurant where Sergio worked.

The restaurant is an institution: “It’s named after my father-in-law who began it and it’s been around since God was a child. It’s one of those brilliant seaside places you arrive at by boat, five minutes up the coast. My husband, my father-in-law, even my brother-in-law, all cooked. I washed up. Imagine my dilemma when I arrived back in Sydney with my son, and thought: I’ve never cooked. What am I going to do?”

Necessity, as they say in the classics, is the mother of invention, and Amanda soon found herself preparing a very passable spaghetti pomodoro.

“All those years of watching and listening had sunk in, just like the flavours of Italian food,” she recounts, explaining her learn-by-osmosis-cooking process.

Today, we are at Hugos Manly restaurant on the wharf, where Massimo Mele, Hugos award winning chef and Amalfi Coast food aficionado, has prepared a selection of recipes from Amanda’s book. The lunch, part of the Crave Food Festival in Sydney during October, is a sell-out – a resounding success of flat sparkling blue waters and Italian fare. Sardine Incinte arrive in schools, accompanied by fluffy Crocche’ di Patate, among other antipasto. Filetto di Pesce sul Foglio di Limone follows in hot pursuit. Bigne con Crema al Limone wrap up the proceedings.

“Just like the Amalfi Coast,” notes one guest, with a slight frown, “as long as I don’t look behind me,” indicating the suburban sprawl of Manly’s waterfront, and its surf-shop-ice-cream-parlour-supermarket-lined Corso.

The book is the culmination of Amanda’s learning process: “Recipes for the best of everything I’ve ever eaten in Italy, whether it was prepared by a chef or the lady who cleaned who lived down the road. In fact, her chocolate almond torte recipe is the best I’ve ever tasted. I’ve had the cake made by chefs with Michelin Stars, but nothing beats her recipe, which is why she is in the book.”

As to the new book’s genesis: it was a natural follow on to Amanda’s first book, which detailed her experiences of the Amalfi lifestyle.

“I grew up with a mother who is the queen of the ‘less is more’ style ethic. The Italy I know is very much in synch with that: good bread, olive oil, cheese, a glass of wine, equals lunch. What else do you need? It’s that simple, which makes me think: my mother must have designed Italy.”

Having whittled the number of possible recipes for her book down to a neat 110, Amanda had chefs and cooks prepare each of the dishes and then had them photographed by Simon Griffiths – all in 12 days – using private villas, courtyards and trattorias along the Amalfi Coast as her backdrops.

“It was intense. It’s the part I love best about doing a book – the collaboration – the putting it all together. The writing can be so lonely – although worth the read at the end.

“Part of the 12-day photo shoot process was to try everything we prepared,” Amanda continues, going on to admit she found sardines at 10 in the morning a little hard to stomach.

“I have my favourites,” says Amanda, reeling off the recipe for the stuffed flying squid, and the fish baked under salt. The pasta with zucchini, she says, is easy and wonderfully flavoured.

As for the lemon éclairs on the lunch menu we sampled at Hugos: Father’s Day in Italy, as a predominantly Catholic country, is held on the Feast of St Joseph, March 19. The Feast day is associated with a number of dishes, including sweet éclair style puffs filled with crema pasticcera. The Bigne con Crema al Limone in Amanda’s book are a perfect example of such a dish.

It says something about the levelling nature of food, when a cream puff makes it on the list of typical Father’s Day dishes.

Extract from the book Amalfi Coast Recipes by Amanda Tabberer and photography by Simon Griffiths, published by Lantern rrp $49.99
(portrait of Amanda Tabberer by Michael Wickham)

Zucchini Spaghetti by Rosetta D’Urso
Originally seen in the area of Nerano many decades ago, this dish has
been interpreted by every cook on the coastline, including some of the
best restaurants. But Rosetta’s recipe stands out. Her trick? I believe
it’s the two different ways she prepares the zucchini before bringing
them together, and her ample quantity of basil. Be generous: zucchini
and basil are a match made in heaven!

SERVES 6
500 ml peanut oil
2 kg zucchini (courgettes), cut into 5 mm thick rounds
30 g butter
1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ small onion, chopped
1 heaped tablespoon salt
200 ml thickened cream
100 g parmesan, grated
30 young and tender basil leaves
500 g spaghetti

Heat the peanut oil in a large deep frying pan over medium–high heat until hot but not smoking. Add half the zucchini and cook until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander.
Combine the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat until the butter has melted. Add the onion and cook until transparent. Add the remaining zucchini, the salt and 125 ml water and cook gently for about
20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, then stir in the fried zucchini and set aside.
Roughly tear 10 basil leaves and combine in a large bowl with the cream and parmesan. Stir in the zucchini mixture.
Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water for 7–8 minutes. Keep an eye on it as you want to remove it 2 minutes before it is ready. Drain, reserving a cup of the cooking water as you will need some for the sauce. This is very important as the zucchini paste can be dry.
Add the pasta and a little pasta water to the zucchini paste and toss until well mixed.
OR, using a pasta fork, you can fish the pasta out of the hot water directly into the bowl with the zucchini, which will automatically take some liquid with it, then toss everything together.
Divide the pasta among serving bowls and garnish with the remaining basil leaves. Eat immediately.

To order Amanda’s book, go to:
http://www.penguin.com.au/

Amanda Tabberer
 

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