Discover the True Taste of Italy With 3 Recipes From Celebrity Chef Massimo Capra

Massimo Capra

For a fall-inspired dish, try this recipe for flavourful squash in saor from beloved Canadian chef Massimo Capra. Photo: Ana Rocio Garcia Franco / GettyImages

If any Canadian chef is to be described as beloved, Massimo Capra deserves a spot among the top 20.

Maybe even the top 10.

Capra’s cookbooks are cherished, his TV appearances are charmingly energetic and his current GTA (and beyond) restaurants are local favourites. He’s also one of the hardest working chefs around, though he always finds time to have a good time while making sure his customers are having a great time.

Capra, who was born in Italy, began training to be a chef at a young age in the town of Salsomaggiore, Parma. He worked his way around resorts and restaurants in Italy before coming to Toronto in 1982.

Once here, he helmed the kitchen for nine years at star-gazing ground zero: Prego della Piazza in Yorkville, beginning in 1989. Since then, he opened the elegant Mistura on Davenport, with the Sopra Upper Lounge located, quite naturally, up the stairs. Those restaurants are now closed, but in the 2000s, he branched out with the Rainbow Room in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Niagara Falls, along with Boccone in the Pearson Airport and Soprafino at Hamad International Airport in Doha Qatar. 

This is a guy who’s so passionate about authenticity that he’s made it his mission to educate diners at his Mississauga restaurant, Capra’s, on the true ingredients in a pasta carbonara. That means no substitutions or changes are allowed, never mind what you ate at Olive Garden. 

While he’s not above modifying dishes to suit the seasons, but bristles at “compromises.”

“Italian food embraces the philosophy of seasonal and local,” says Capra. “However, since we are not in Italy and things are not replicate-able or replicated properly, for various reasons, I believe that having PDO [Protected Designation of Origin] products from Italy along with local products will allow anyone to produce a very authentic Italian feast.” 

Just don’t serve fresh tomatoes out of season. That makes him angry.

And for anyone thinking of opening an Italian restaurant, he offers this advice: “Don’t! The market is saturated with generic Italian restaurants. It’s a tragedy to see Italian food being butchered so badly by so many people — all it does is contribute to the confusion of what it should really be.”

New from Capra is a line of frozen Roman-style pizza called Crokkia and a Halal gourmet Italian pizza in partnership with Paramount Fine Foods. As for TV, he says: “I never look for a TV appearance, but it would be nice to continue.”

Until then, he’s indulging in the natural pleasures to which he’s grown accustomed.

“Having a great meal gives me plenty of joy, Travelling also hits the right notes. Sitting at a coffee bar patio in Italy relaxing with my friends, having a conversation and watching people stroll on a late afternoon. It’s what I miss the most about Italy.”

And, to help you discover the true taste of Italy, Capra offers these three tasty recipes.

Spiced Quails

Massimo Capra
Photo: Chef Massimo Capra

 

Serves 4/6 people

 

Ingredients:

12 boneless quails 

¼ tsp (1 ml) ground fennel seed

¼ tsp (1 ml) ground coriander

½ tsp (1 ml) paprika

¼ tsp (1 ml) ground cardamom

¼ tsp (1 ml) allspice

½ tsp (2.5 ml) ground fresh ginger

1 clove of minced garlic 

1 tsp (5 ml) brown sugar

2 tbsp (30 ml) vegetable oil

salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions:

  1. Use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to powder the spices; or use pre-ground. 
  2. Add the spices to the ginger, garlic, sugar, salt, and oil. Mix well.
  3. Coat the quails with the spice blend and set aside for at least a half hour.
  4. Preheat a skillet and add oil and butter. Place the quails skin side down and sear until the skin is golden, then flip and finish cooking on low, for about five minutes. 

 

Acquacotta

Massimo Capra
Photo: Chef Massimo Capra

 

Serves 4 (healthy portions)

 

Ingredients:

4 large ripe field tomatoes

1 cup (250 ml) onions, julienne

1 tbsp (15 ml) garlic minced

1 cup (250 ml) celery

1 cup (250 ml) carrots

½ bunch parsley, optional

6 to 8 leaves basil, fresh only (if not available don’t use)

1 chili pepper, optional seeded and chopped

2½ L water

4 eggs

1 cup (250 ml) pecorino Toscano, grated

olive oil as needed

salt and pepper

 

Directions:

  1. Chop the ripe tomatoes in large chunks and set aside. Chop the carrots, onion, garlic, and celery thinly and set aside.
  2. Preheat a pot, add a couple of spoons of oil, then carrots, garlic, onion and celery. Sauté until fragrant. 
  3. Add the tomato, basil and chili peppers and cook for a minute. 
  4. Add the water and simmer for at least 15 minutes.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. The soup should be dense and with a little broth. Taste and correct seasoning.
  7. Crack the eggs in and simmer until done to your liking. Add the chopped parsley.
  8. Scoop and serve on toasted bread — try to showcase the egg. Drizzle with olive oil and a generous amount of grated cheese.

Serves 4 (healthy portions)

Tips:

Rub toast with a garlic clove on both sides.

Break the egg white with a chopstick so it cooks faster.

Vegan option:

Use miso for flavouring instead of egg and replace bread with ramen noodles

 

Squash in Saor

Massimo Capra
Photo: Chef Massimo Capra

 

Serves 6/8 people

 

Ingredients:

1 ½ lb buttercup squash 

salt and pepper to taste

3 oz olive oil

2 cups sweet onions (Vidalia or white), julienne

3 tbsp raisins 

2 tbsp pine nuts

2 oz white wine vinegar

4 oz white wine

½ cup water

1 tbsp sugar 

 

Directions:

  1. Clean the squash and cut into thin wedges about ½-inch thick.
  2. Preheat oven at 375F.
  3. Preheat a skillet and add in some olive oil. Add the onions, sugar and season with a little salt and pepper. Sauté on medium-to-low heat until the onions are translucent. Add the raisins and the pine nut, sprinkle the wine and the vinegar and evaporate for a few minutes then add the water and cook for five minutes more.
  4. Line a baking tray with parchment and oil lightly. Lay the squash evenly and brush  some oil on each slice, season with a little salt and pepper and bake for 15 minutes or until the squash is fork tender. Remove from the oven and place in a dish nice and flat.
  5. Pour the onions and all the juices over the squash, wrap and store in the refrigerator for at least eight hours before serving.

Tip:

This recipe is excellent served on grilled polenta or accompanied by a radicchio salad.

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