I had the pleasure of meeting and cooking with the delightfully sweet and brilliant Sardinian Chef, Roberto Petza of Michelin-starred restaurant S’Apposentu in an evening organised by Great Italian Chefs. His restaurant resides in Siddi, a peaceful, bounteous, mountainous paradise in the centre of the island – far from the tourist hordes and better known beach resorts – a calm tranquil and earthy terrain dotted with sheep and donkeys and fertile soils giving rise to a wild array of native herbs and vegetables of which Roberto makes stars on his menus. He is here in London as part of an initiative between Great Italian Chefs and Lavazza Coffee – and their new Kafa single origin range from Ethiopia, to promote Italian cuisine and excellence to the Brits, with Petza being a former winner of the Lavazza Prime Award for excellence. We are in the somewhat ironic location of Le Cordon Bleu school, a bastion of French classic tradition. Which seems somewhat odd considering this slightly bashful, bemused and elfin-faced Chef with his cheeky Italian smile and childlike, beaming curiosity and excitement – showing our little group how to cook his dishes and waving Jerusalem artichokes about with gusto, hand gestures and passionate giggles rather than the expected stoic French rules, technique and discipline.
Needless to say – spatula in hand, fires burning and a host of Chefs toques around me I am in my element and loving every minute – and Le Cordon Bleu’s facilities are an envy.
Petza’s Jerusalem artichoke dish is deceptively simple, but crowned by the glory of an unusual, tangy but oddly fitting Espresso Vinaigrette made from a single shot of Lavazza. It is a show-stoppingly visual main but easy for a home cook to whip up and requiring few ingredients: as always with Italian food, the dish exists to enhance and show off the already wonderful flavours of prime quality ingredients, not hide them under layers of show and faff.
The artichokes are picked from his land, as are the nasturtiums and other edible flowers we plate-up with, the pancetta cubes, the fresh herbs and the shallots. The ‘chokes are steamed with a little olive oil (a pungeant, herbaceous affair redolent of Sardinian hillsides), shallots, rosemary, oregano, and the thick cubes of fatty pancetta. After twnty minutes they are softened and infused. A vinaigrette is beaten from a shot of espresso, olive oil, salt and pepper.
Fennel, celery and bitter radishes are cubed and dressed with alittle oil, lemon juice and salt. The chokes are then plated, dressed with the cubed raw veggies, topped with the fried crispy pancetta and edible flowers, then carefully dressed with the rich, syrupy coffee vinaigrette. The entire plateful is a rich, earthy mouthful – the delicate sweetness of the chokes lifted by a spiky, bitter sauce. It also looks damn pretty.
We wash the lot down with a Georgian orange wine – a traditional method of wine-making from Georgia which has been untouched in millenia (the grape ferment is aged in clay amphora or “qvevri” buried underground) – producing an Aperol-tinged, bone dry wine with peculiar notes which suit the sweet and bitter contrasts in the dish perfectly.
Jerusalem artichoke with coffee dressing
Cooking time: 60 minutes
- 300g Jerusalem artichokes, washed
- 50g shallots, sliced
- 100g radishes, washed
- 0.5tsp coriander seeds
- 1.5tbsp rosemary
- 1tbsp thyme
- 10g mustard seeds
- 2.5tbsp marjoram
- 1 clove garlic, sliced
- 20ml Lavazza Kafa espresso
- 1tbsp flaked almonds
- 1 celery stick
- 1 fennel
- 200g Pancetta lardons
- 6tbsp extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Salt to taste
- Heat a frying pan over a medium heat with 3tbsp of oil.
- Add the Jerusalem artichokes with the shallots, garlic, herbs and spices. Season and cook over a low heat for 15-20 minutes, until cooked through.
- Fry the pancetta in a separate pan until crispy and then add the cooked Jerusalem artichokes, coat in the pancetta fat and keep them warm until ready to serve.
- Finely chop the fennel, celery and radishes into 0.5cm cubes. Roughly chop the almonds and mix everything together in a bowl with a salt and pepper.
- Whisk together the coffee, 3 remaining tbsp of oil and salt.
- Cut the Jerusalem artichokes in half and arrange on a plate. Dress the raw vegetables with the dressing and spoon around. Add the bacon lardons and garnish with edible flowers.