When we think of Italian cuisine, pasta is the first thing that comes to mind, and for good reason: it’s delicious, easy to prepare, and there’s a variation for any taste, diet, and budget. But we would be wrong to assume that is all Italian cuisine can offer.
In this month’s Chef’s Tips, we gave six Alberta chefs one simple guideline when it came to choosing a recipe: no pasta. Here you’ll find everything from appetizers to main dishes, with nary a noodle in sight. From family recipes to new twists on tradition, you’ll be delighted with the simplicity of preparation that allows each ingredient to shine.
Jeremy Hube, owner and pizzaiolo at Calgary’s Pizza Culture YYC, has been working in restaurants since he was a teenager. Ten years ago, it was his dream to open a pizzeria - and today it’s a reality. Using a traditional wood-fired oven and long-fermented dough as the base of Neapolitan-style pizzas, Hube says, “We’re off to a pretty banging start.”
The menu boasts more than just pizza. As Hube explains, “Italian food is very diverse, just like anywhere else in the world. A lot of people think it’s just pizza and pasta, but that’s just not the case.” No matter the dish however, the focus should remain on ingredients. “Italian food is simple, with only a few ingredients in a dish. So we look for the highest-quality ingredients. When treated properly, there’s no comparison.”
Hube’s recipe for Lentils with Broccolini and Burrata is a take on more traditional dishes that use beans and sausage. “You get a nice contrast: a little bit salty with the lentils, and the creamy freshness of the cheese on top. It’s one of those things that you just need to eat.”
Find Pizzaiolo Hube's recipe for Lentils with Burrata and Broccolini here
Kathryn Joel is chef and owner at Edmonton’s Get Cooking, a private culinary school which she founded in 2011. A student at Le Cordon Bleu in London and Leiths School of Food and Wine, Joel says she never worked in restaurants after culinary school. She instead landed on teaching by chance while in a work placement at The Seafood Training School in London. “I discovered an affinity for teaching and have followed that path ever since.”
“I love Italian food because it’s uncomplicated,” says Joel, which is important when teaching. “Chefs and at-home cooks can draw on what grows in their regions, and that speaks to me and my philosophy on food.”
A classic Italian dish, ossobuco, or braised veal shank, was a favourite of Joel’s father. Be certain to caramelize the meat, Joel adds. “The fond in the pan that is the result (those little browned bits that are stuck to the bottom) is the start of the sauce.” And anchovies are a must. “They add an umami savoury note that you don’t really notice is there, but you might miss if it wasn’t.”
Find Chef Kathryn Joel's recipe for Ossobuco in Bianco here
Like many chefs, Alessandro ‘Sandro’ Chinea started his culinary career washing dishes as a summer job. This evolved to moving into the kitchen proper where Chinea’s interest in cooking grew, leading him to SAIT’s culinary program. After graduating, he worked in hotels, golf courses, and downtown restaurants. Since September 2021, he’s the Head Chef at Calgary’s DOP.
“I like cooking all sorts of cuisine, from all over,” says Chinea. “When it came to DOP, it was very much owner Tony Migliarese’s vision. He’d tell me, ‘I want people to eat what I ate as a kid with my family.’” Migliarese’s mother, Rose, is also a presence in DOP’s kitchen, as many of the recipes or variations of, are hers, and she worked alongside Chinea to perfect each one.
“Italian food is so simple,” says Chinea. “For this recipe, it’s one ingredient, green tomatoes. We do a few things to it – salt it, brine it, press it – and the result is this beautiful, pickled condiment. If you treat an ingredient well, it speaks for itself.”
Find Chef Chinea's recipe for Pickled Green Tomatoes here
Chef Marcel Bondea has been cooking for more than 30 years. With a background in French cuisine, he came to Canada in 1982 and a short while later enrolled in the culinary arts program at SAIT. After graduating, he worked in several restaurants in Calgary, and today is the chef at Grande Amore.
For Bondea, Italian is the kind of cuisine you can eat every day and not get bored of. “It’s so simple. You can use some extra virgin olive oil, a tomato, an onion, some garlic, and some basil, and you are done. It’s such a beautiful cuisine.”
During those earlier years, Bondea gained experience using alforno ovens and learning the basics of pizza dough, and in turn, focaccia. “I’ve been working on my focaccia recipe for 25 years,” he explains. “It’s like a never-ending story. I always try to make the same recipe, but I’m also thinking, ‘How can I make it better next time?’” He suggests infusing the olive oil with rosemary or other herbs.
Find Chef Marcel Bondea's recipe for Focaccia here
Edmonton’s Panini’s Italian Cucina is a family affair. Started by chef and co-owner Robert Caruso, his father, Roberto, and his brothers Tony and Jamie, much of what is created reflects how Caruso and his family ate at home while he was growing up. “In the early days of the business, we put a lot of time and effort into researching traditional methods and techniques, as well as developing systems to produce classic dishes in a commercial kitchen,” Caruso explains.
Inspired by innovation, Caruso enjoys putting his own twist on tradition. “I love exploring what I can do to bend a dish into something that may surprise a guest and treat them to an experience they may not get anywhere else.”
“To be a great Italian cook is simply to know, recognize, and understand the quality of a basic ingredient.” Arborio rice will create the best risotto, along with trusting the process. “The method isn’t difficult, but you cannot set and forget risotto,” he says. “You must be there to stir, but I promise the result will be second to none.”
Find Chef Rob Caruso's recipe for Risotto Milanese here
Executive Chef Chris Barton, at Calgary’s Trullo Trattoria, says ingredients influence much of what he cooks. “I don’t always know what I would like to make until I see the product and then determine how I will cook and prepare them,” he says. So, when it comes to Italian cuisine, Barton loves the simplicity of preparation. “Many dishes contain only 3 or 4 ingredients, and everything must be perfect to achieve the correct results.”
A graduate of SAIT’s Professional Culinary Program, Barton also has his Diploma from ESCF Ferrandi in Paris, France. He loves artichokes, and when it comes to using them in dishes, Barton credits his French education and experience. “It taught me how much work actually goes into preparing them, but how delightful they can be when eaten.”
While fresh artichokes are best, Barton explains, “It can be difficult to find decent fresh ones, and they can be a little tricky to prepare if you have no experience with them.” In this case, jarred or tinned work just as well.
Find Chef Chris Barton's recipe for Artichoke Frito Misto with Spicy Caponata here