"It's the bomb, it really is," says Eugenio Maiale. "You just can't get more Italian than that." He's talking about maccheroni alla chittara: hand-cut pasta tossed with a slow-cooked lamb ragù. "Whenever I think of it," he adds, "I think of my relatives sitting along a long table under the vines, my uncle playing the squeezebox, and everyone just hoeing into this pasta." [ED'S NOTE: To get the recipe for maccheroni alla chittara, and watch Eugenio make it from scratch, click here.]
Maiale knows a thing or two about pasta - he makes 80 kilos of it a week himself at A Tavola, in Sydney's Darlinghurst, and the silky, supple qualities of his creations are chief among his restaurant's charms. (He still thinks mum's is better, nonetheless.)
Adelaide-born Maiale has strong ties to his family in Italy. Regular trips to Palmoli, in Abruzzo, provided him with constant inspiration. "I consider myself to be quite Italian," he says. "That's where I've picked up most of my techniques and my love and humility towards Italian food."
After apprenticing with 12 Italian "mamas" at Adelaide's Rigoni's, Maiale opened Auge and Citrus, respected establishments both. He then decided to try his hand in Sydney, working with first Robert Marchetti at Icebergs, then Steve Manfredi at Manta, all the while keeping an eye out for his own little site.
The recipes you see here aren't a million miles from the A Tavola menu, but the focus is more squarely on Maiale's Abruzzese heritage and the ingredients and dishes he grew up with. "Peppers are abundant in the Abruzzo, and stuffed with tuna they're really commonplace," he says. "The scamorza [the mozzarella-style cheese], the Abruzzese have their name on it, and the cicerchiata is pretty much the big finale. At carnivale, when everyone dresses up, that's what they'll serve. There's always a competition to see who makes the best."
For now, the opening of his first wine bar, Omertà, in mid-2009 is keeping Maiale busy. "I just want to try doing a little bar," he says. "That, and keep cooking." The opening coincides with another arrival, that of his first child. "I think it's going to be a girl," he says. "I can't wait to cook my little one her first pastina."
A Tavola, 348 Victoria St, Darlinghurst, NSW, (02) 9331 7871.