It’s not everyday that I get invited to a chef’s home for dinner. But……this just happened.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend an event hosted by Food Bloggers of Canada and Foodstarter which showcased a select group of Toronto’s trend setting chefs and innovators. As we made our way from station to station, it was apparent that we were in for a unique “foodie” experience. From sauces and chocolates to crickets and meal-worms (uh huh, you heard me right) there was so much to absorb and sample.
And yes, I tried the sauces that contained insects and other than the fact that I knew they were in there, it wasn’t too “fear factorish” at all.
At the end of our well planned map through the test kitchen, we stopped by Cucina Mauro. He goes by the tagline, REAL. ITALIAN. FOOD.
And that it certainly is.
Mauro’s family originates from Calabria, Italy. Or as he explained, this region is located at the “toe of the boot” in the extreme south of Italy.
Mauro’s story begins when his father, Giovanni Ritacca, left Calabria, Italy, with a trans-Atlantic boat voyage on the Saturnia in 1958, to make a new life for himself in Canada. As proud Canadians, they maintained their Italian customs, and passed them down to their children. As a result, Mauro grew up watching grapes being turned into wine, tomatoes being turned into sauce, capocollo and sopresata being hung to cure, peppers being roasted and peeled, fresh pasta being hand-made, and vegetables and fruit trees growing in the backyard.
His recipes are derived from his mother and nonna’s hand written notes (shown above and framed, which in my opinion, warms the soul to behold) and contain carefully laid out steps with ingredient measurements nowhere in sight.
Very reminiscent of the way my mom taught me how to cook. By feel, by eye and from the heart.
At the beginning of 2016, Mauro decided to follow his passion for food and his desire to pass the Italian customs of his parents down to his own children. Barely six months later, Cucina Mauro Catering was born.
I have to admit, after the macerated insects, I was wondering if Mauro had any surprises hidden in his “Real Italian Food” samples. Before I even had the chance to ask, my Director of Social Media (who accompanied me that evening) was stuffing large meatballs into his mouth faster than you could say “MAMMA MIA”.
I approached his display table with caution and asked Mauro if there was anything unusual going on in his ingredient list.
He quickly responded by letting me know that his meatballs were made with MEAT and his delicious looking sammies housed a piece of VEAL inside a delectable bun.
Whelp, not good for someone who doesn’t eat red meat, so I politely passed while still watching my partner scarf down another meatball and a sandwich simultaneously.
Hang on. Before you start feeling sorry for me. Things took a turn for the better.
Mauro didn’t take but a second to offer a brilliant solution.
“Let me cook for you”, he said.
To which I answered, “WHEN, WHERE AND WHAT TIME?”
He didn’t waste any time. I received an email from him within a couple of days inviting me to his home.
I immediately suggested to make this evening both a culinary tasting event and document the whole shebang for my blog.
A WIN WIN scenario if I ever did see one, right?
He agreed, sent me his coordinates and the day following Yom Kippur (after a 28 hour fast), I was ready and stoked to load up on all the missing carbs I repented for the previous day.
I packed up my camera gear, “host gift” bottle of wine and my husband, who was lucky enough to get an invite because he’s married to me (or wait….maybe I should rephrase that by saying, he’s JUST LUCKY to be MARRIED TO ME…..ya, that’s better), and off we went.
When we arrived at his home, we were greeted by Chef Mauro and escorted into his kitchen.
I couldn’t help but notice something strange…….
It was called SILENCE.
We just assumed that his family would be joining us for this special meal and asked where his wife and kids were.
The chef explained that although they are really cute, there was no way on earth he was going to accomplish the feat of pan handling and deep frying while his kids ran around and well…..acted like little kids.
He made his family disappear.
I’m sensing a bit of Kevin McAllister Syndrome here – #homealone
We began the evening with a lovely antipasto platter and then….the fun began.
Chef Mauro wasn’t fooling around here with his menu. His demeanour was relaxed as he prepared three of his signature dishes for us to try.
For starters, we watched him make Arancini. These are stuffed rice balls coated with bread crumbs and then deep fried. Um, you know how I feel about anything spherical, especially when they are stuffed with cheese and deep fried. This is when you wish your appetizer would be your main course with no regrets.
Next, he prepared homemade crespelle which were stuffed with a mixture of ricotta cheese, spinach and spices. Crespelle is the Italian version of a blintz or crepe. The crespelle were carefully made, rolled and then placed in a pan with home-style sugo (tomato sauce). This chef’s version of cannelloni can’t be compared to your standard “boil and stuff shells” that you would order in a restaurant. Honestly? I’ve never tasted anything so light, puffy and heavenly. If Chef Mauro’s cannelloni could withstand nature’s elements of wind, rain and snow, I would consider living inside of one. Nice and cozy in my crespelle house.
Oh, and by the way, Chef Mauro only uses fresh homemade ingredients in his dishes. Now that’s AMORE!
For the third course, he chose to make fettini, a lightly breaded cutlet topped with fresh mozzarella and more tomato sauce.
And then there was dessert. Following in the tradition of his ancestors, he wowed us with freshly made cannoli, brimming with a light filling of whipped ricotta and a dusting of confectioners sugar.Of course, every good Italian chef ends the meal with a perfect tiny demitasse of rich espresso made on the stove top. No fancy machines needed here, just good old fashioned brew.
As the evening drew to it’s end, I had two thoughts in mind.
And those were…..I hate when my food is OVER and will Chef Mauro be kind enough to share a recipe for my readers.
Needless to say, he must have read my mind. Like any good Italian (or Jewish mother) he packed up the leftovers and sent us home to enjoy an instant replay of his incredible food for the next day. Then he emailed me his famous Fettini alla Parmigiana recipe below. Yay, and thank you so much Chef Mauro!
- 10 veal or chicken cutlets
- 4 cups tomato sauce
- 12 large eggs
- 4 cups bread crumbs
- 4 cups grated parmigiano cheese
- 3 cloves garlic
- ½ cup finely chopped Italian parsley
- 1 tsp salt
- oil for frying
- Prepare tomato sauce (recipe follows).
- Beat eggs together with salt, garlic, and parsley. Add chicken cutlets to the egg mixture and mix well to cover all of the chicken pieces with the egg mixture. Refrigerate and allow to marinate at least one hour, or as long as overnight.
- Combine bread crumbs and grated parmigianno and mix well. One at a time, pass cutlets through bread crumb mixture to coat fully. A thin coating is best.
- When all cutlets have been coated with bread crumb mixture, add enough oil to pan so that it comes to a height of half inch to an inch and heat over medium heat. Par-cook each cutlet by quickly frying in oil only until they just being to turn golden (about one minute per side).
- Once all cutlets have been par-cooked, add some prepared tomato sauce to a roasting pan to just thinly coat the bottom of the pan. Arrange par-cooked cutlets in a single layer on top of layer of sauce in the roasting pan. Add a slice of mozzarella on top of each cutlet. Sprinkle with black pepper and grated parmigiano. Add more sauce on top, again to thinly coat each cutlet and mozzarella combination.
- Cover roasting pan loosely with foil and roast in preheated 425 degree F oven for approximately 30 – 45 minutes, or until sauce is bubbling.
- 6 cups tomato puree
- 3 cups water (less or more may be needed, depending on consistency of tomato puree and desired consistency of finished sauce)
- pork ribs or other bone-in pork (optional)
- ½ cup tomato paste
- small handful of basil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 small onion
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- Heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add crushed garlic cloves and fry for 30 seconds, then add meat (if using) and brown on all sides. Add salt and pepper.
- Add tomato paste and stir briefly, and then add tomato puree and water. Add basil and onion and stir well.
- Cover partially with lid and bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for approximately one hour, stirring occasionally. Makes approximately 5 cups of sauce.
For further information swing over to cucinamauro.com and check him out on instagram @cucina_mauro
Chef Mauro Ritacca lives in Thornhill, Ontario with his wife and two children. He is a successful caterer/chef located five minutes from my home, which is perfect (for me)…..AND I can even walk there which also works out in my favour.