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Holy Bannock Cannoli!

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Photo by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios

Photo by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios

After an inspired trip to Italy this fall, East Coast Chef Stéphane Levac is back in his own kitchen reimaging a few Italian classics with his signature Indigenous flair.

We’re heading into those winter months, and I must say this is my favourite time of year to get into the kitchen and cook up a storm. Whether it’s making a hearty soup for those cold winter nights, entertaining family and friends during the holidays or simply indulging in some sweet treats, winter to me spells COMFORT. I can’t help but feel nostalgic and inspired by my recent trip to Italy, where food is all about comfort and joy.

It was the first time overseas for my wife Sarah and me. It did not disappoint.

Our journey started in Naples, a city known for its pizza, most notably the Neopolitan “Margherita” made with San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. This style of pizza gave rise to the New York-style pizza that was first made by Italian immigrants to the United States in the early 20th century. Funnily enough, pizza is not what we were there for.

We had a reservation at Il Comandante. A one Michelin-star restaurant located on the 10th floor of the Romeo Hotel overlooking the Gulf of Naples. The menu showcased local, creative and refined gourmet cuisine by executive chef Salvatore Bianco. The dishes also showcased his former position as sous-chef at the world renowned Nobu. The eight-course meal was fantastic, as was our conversation with their master sommelier, who instantly recognized Nova Scotia as the home of our famous Vidal ice wine.

The following day we headed to the Amalfi Coast, a stretch of coastline on the Tyrrhenian Sea, located in the Gulf of Salerno in Southern Italy that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Limoncello spritz? Yes please! 

I could talk about how great the cafés were, all the decadent baked goods, the pastas, the perfect little sandwiches, the frutti di mare, the fresh fruit growing on the mountains, yes. But there’s one thing that really and truly was an experience of a lifetime. 

We had been making quite a few Instagram posts of our trip and received numerous messages from friends and strangers on how they were living vicariously through our adventure. And then I received a message from chef Michael Howell, executive director of Devour the Food Film Fest, asking if we were actually on the Amalfi Coast. I replied, “Yes we are!” Michael, having been to Italy numerous times with his “Tempestuous Culinary” adventures, was quick to make some suggestions on what to see and do. The one that really stood out for us was a mozzarella cheese-making class in Ravello.

Caseificio Staiano is located in the center of Ravello, in the Piazza Fontana Moresca. We met master cheesemaker Biagio Staiano a couple of days earlier when we were simply trying to find the place. He didn’t speak English, so we had to communicate with him via email for translation reasons. Our class was booked. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by Biagio and his wife, who is also his translator. She gave an overview of what we were about to experience, as well as walking us step by step through Biagio’s rigorous daily and all-manual routine to make mozzarella. The lesson was followed by a buffet of cheeses that we made, some of his cheeses such as ricotta and provolone all paired with local wine. We had a great conversation; we had some laughs, and the evening created a lasting memory.

Biagio’s delicious ricotta that we tasted that day, creamy and smooth, needing nothing, but all the more amazing with a touch of balsamic, is the inspiration for these holiday recipes, with my own special touches from a foraging chef that I hope you’ll recognize. Enjoy and Buon Natale!

East Coast Living