Chef Agostino D’ Angelo: Pasta comes in all shapes and sizes

Aatish Nath | Updated on May 30, 2019

A good match Chef Agostino D'Angelo tweaks Sicilian traditional food with modern flavours and techniques   -  Greco Giulio

All over: Sicilian food shows traces of the Greek, Arab and Spanish dominations   -  GRECO GIULIO

Visiting chef Agostino D’ Angelo takes his audience through the flavours of true Sicilian food

At a lunch at The Oberoi, Mumbai’s Vetro restaurant chef Agostino D’Angelo was excited about showing a bunch of us how to make pasta. He heard that vegetarians make up a good number of diners in the city, and so was ready with two pasta recipes — one with and another without egg.

D’Angelo is head chef at the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, a well-known luxury hotel in Mazarro Bay, Sicily. He was cooking some of his family’s recipes for us with local ingredients and slight updates — like the vegetarian pasta. Uncommon additions that are found in some of the pasta dishes back home? Small raisins, for example, that come from Sicily’s Arabic connections. Unfortunately we didn’t get to try them with the sardines that balanced the sweet with a hint of saltiness.

Expanding on the dizzying array of pastas made in Italy, in different shapes and sizes, D’Angelo, who’s adept at using a pasta maker or making each different variant by hand, explains, “Italy has a wide variety of shapes in pasta, as well as many regional specialties. Personal taste has a key role to play in the kind of pasta one likes. People in Italy often choose their preferred type for a dish. However, many dishes in Italy are traditional, and there are sauces that were born in a particular region where a specific shape is typical. Ragout goes with tagliatelle or lasagne (typical from Bologna), basil pesto goes with trofie (typical from Genoa) and sorrentina sauce goes with gnocchi (typical from Sorrento, near Naples).” At the demonstration followed by lunch he made cavatelli, ravioli and other kinds of pasta with fresh dough.

The chef was born in Trapani, in the western part of Sicily and spent his childhood surrounded by a Sicilian family, enjoying traditional flavours and tastes. “As a child, I learnt the secrets of home cooking with my grandmother who used to spend hours preparing handmade traditional cous cous and also learnt local recipes from my uncle in his trattoria. Then I decided to move abroad to learn international techniques and get to know other cuisines and cultures.” Since then he’s cooked in hotels in the UK, before returning to his Italian home.

If the food that he served up later that day is any indication, his cooking relies on quality ingredients, but makes subtle use of spices, a rarity in northern Italian kitchens. This is the food that Vetro’s resident chef Francesco Francavilla treated us to later. So the burrata, sourced from outside Mumbai, is served alongside grilled fruits, a combination that delights more than surprises. Also available to diners was seafood such as marinated sea bass with shaved fennel and orange. For dessert — traditional Sicilian style Cannolo with ricotta cheese and orange preserve.

Speaking about the rich culinary history that’s made Sicily what it is, chef D’Angelo says, “Sicily enjoys a privileged position at the very heart of the Mediterranean Sea and has developed a unique cuisine which shows traces of the Greek, Arab and Spanish dominations, for example, in the use of some techniques and dishes such as sweet and sour sauces or arancini and cous cous that come from the Arabs. Sicilian food traditions are some of the richest in Italy and the locals treat each meal with great importance. Sicilians also pass down the oldest recipes over generations as their common cultural identity.” Like India, the island’s love of food and family is often displayed at the family dining table. But recipes, of course, are tweakedx. D’Angelo explains that while his pasta recipe is from his grandmother, he is changing it a bit to suit Mumbai’s humid air. And that’s how he hopes to bring Sicily to India.

Aatish Nath is a Mumbai-based journalist

Published on May 30, 2019

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