Nino Zoccali’s obsession with Venice began many years ago, when at just 21, he visited the floating city for the first time. Born in Western Australia to a first-generation Italian migrant, he grew up with a love of Italian cuisine and embarked on a career as a chef.
Today, he and his wife Krissoula, own two of Australia’s most awarded Italian restaurants, The Restaurant Pendolino and La Rosa The Strand, both in Sydney. While building his career as a chef, he has also fostered a keen interest in art, music and history, and there is perhaps nowhere in the world where these are more beautifully represented and nurtured than in Venice.
His passion for the city runs deep, so it’s hardly surprising that it has become the focus for his cookbook, Venetian Republic: Recipes from the Veneto, Adriatic Croatia and the Greek Islands, published by Murdoch Books.
Zoccali has personal and professional links with regions that were once under Venetian rule. His wife is from the Greek island of Ithaca that became part of the Venetian Republic in the 16th century, while close friends are from Croatia which continues to have many culinary links.
In this book, which is part cookbook, part culinary and cultural journey, he explores how the small city state of Venice came to rule the waters of the Mediterranean, its ships and merchants dominating salt, silk and spice trade routes for a thousand years.
Venetian Republic: shaped its neighbours
The Venetian Republic played a defining role in shaping the cuisine, culture and architecture of its Mediterranean neighbours. The food from this region is diverse, as Zoccali’s book amply demonstrates: Prosecco and snapper risotto, Croatian roast lamb shoulder with olive oil potatoes, the sweet and sour red mullet of Crete, zabaglione from Corfu, or Dubrovnik’s ricotta and rose liqueur crepes.
They are recipes steeped in history, and they are accompanied by rich and evocative stories, along with stunning location and food photography. Zoccali says the recipe here is an absolute joy but also a labour of love.
“Key to getting it right is ensuring you remove as much liquid as you can from the ricotta and the pumpkin, by pat-drying with tea towels. As with any Northern Italian gnocchi, you want to avoid adding too much flour, so the more moisture you can remove, the softer and more pillowy your gnocchi will be. Have a few tea towels on hand and set some time aside. Trust me, it’ll be worth the effort, and the laundry. In Italy, Berici Hills black truffles are used in this dish, but any quality black truffle will be delicious,” he says.
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PUMPKIN AND RICOTTA GNOCCHI with BLACK TRUFFLE, BURNT BUTTER AND PARMIGIANO REGGIANO
350 g (12 oz) pumpkin
250 g (generous 1 cup) ricotta
25 g (¼ cup) finely grated pecorino cheese
2 teaspoons sea salt
110 g (¾ cup) 00 flour
4 tablespoons butter
10 g (½ cup) sage leaves
4 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 piece truffle (at least 20 g/¾ oz)
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
Cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds, place on a baking tray and bake for 35–40 minutes or until completely soft.
Using a spoon, scrape out the flesh to give you 250 g (9 oz) pumpkin pulp. Pat dry with tea towels as much as possible. Drain the ricotta cheese and, like the pumpkin, pat dry with tea towels as much as possible.
Place the pumpkin, ricotta, eggs, pecorino and sea salt in a large bowl and mix together with your hands until you have a very sticky dough. Add the flour and gently fold through to make a pliable dough. If the mix is too wet, the dough will require more flour: this can make the gnocchi harder though, so add cautiously.
Separate the dough into four equal parts and roll into logs. Using a knife, cut each one into 2.5 cm (1 inch) pieces. With the back of a fork or a wooden gnocchi tool, press each piece gently into the fork or tool to make an indentation.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the gnocchi. When the gnocchi is cooked it will rise to the surface – lift out with a strainer spoon as it floats up and drain carefully.
Meanwhile, heat the butter and sage leaves in a frying pan over medium heat. Cook until the butter is nutty brown and the sage is crisp.
Arrange the gnocchi on serving plates, sprinkle with the Parmigiano Reggiano and spoon the brown butter and sage over the top. Shave black truffle over each plate and serve.
Recipe and images from Venetian Republic, by Nino Zoccali. Food photography by Alan Benson, location photography by Andrea Butti. Published by Murdoch Books and reproduced with the publisher’s permission.
This story originally appeared in PS News.