Fitzroy Street, St Kilda. To the untrained eye, this particular strip of Melbourne might not seem to shimmer with what Rinaldo Di Stasio calls "Italianality". And yet it was here, in 1988, that Di Stasio chose to create his oasis of Italy, Café Di Stasio. A restaurateur's restaurant, it has not merely weathered fashions outside its doors, it has shaped them. Di Stasio the man has a reputation for being opaque, even mercurial, but if his motives are sometimes obscure, his actions can be more readily appreciated, whether it's in his involvement with the arts (as an early supporter of photographer Bill Henson or a prime mover in Australia's pavilion at the Venice Biennale) or in the transporting world he has created at Café Di Stasio and Bar Di Stasio. "You know how good music makes you want to dance?" he asks. "Good restaurants should make you feel like you've come to the right place. That's why I do this."
- 300 gm “00” flour (2 cups)
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing
- 1 litre milk (4 cups)
- 1 onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 4 cloves
- 100 gm butter, diced
- 100 gm plain flour (2/3 cup)
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 fennel bulb, finely chopped, plus extra, thinly sliced, to serve
- 100 gm butter, diced
- 100 ml olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 300 gm uncooked lobster meat, diced
- 100 ml Pernod
- 200 ml fish stock
- 200 ml tomato passata
- 100 gm finely grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
- 1Sieve flour onto a bench, forming a pile and make a shallow well in the centre. Combine eggs and olive oil in a jug, add to well and incorporate flour into the centre with your fingers until combined. Knead until a smooth dough forms, adding extra flour as necessary. Wrap dough with plastic wrap and set aside for 20 minutes to rest. Divide dough into 8, then, working with a piece at a time, roll through a pasta machine, starting at the widest setting, then reducing settings notch by notch as you repeat rolling until 3mm thick. Cut sheets into 11cm squares to fit eight 12cm-diameter shallow baking dishes, setting aside in a single layer on a floured tray while working with remaining dough.
- 2For béchamel sauce, bring milk, onion, bay leaves, cloves and nutmeg to the boil in a saucepan, then remove from heat and strain into a jug. Melt butter in a separate saucepan over low heat, add flour and stir continuously until flour starts to colour (5-6 minutes). Gradually add milk, stirring continuously to prevent lumps, then stir over low heat until thickened (about 10 minutes). Cover surface directly with plastic wrap and set aside until required.
- 3For lobster sauce, fry onion and chopped fennel in butter and oil in a saucepan over medium heat until soft and translucent (12-14 minutes). Add garlic and cook until softened (2 minutes). Add lobster and sauté until just cooked (2 minutes), then add Pernod (be careful, it may ignite) and stir briefly (1 minute). Add stock and passata and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavours combine (5 minutes), then season to taste and stir in parmesan and béchamel. Bring to the boil, then remove from heat.
- 4Cook pasta sheets in a saucepan of boiling salted water until soft (1-2 minutes). Drain and refresh in iced water, then drain well, lightly brush with oil and place on a lightly oiled tray.
- 5Preheat oven to 180C. Layer pasta sheets and lobster sauce alternately in each dish, adding torn basil leaves to each layer, and finish with a thin layer of sauce. Sprinkle with sliced fennel and extra parmesan, and bake on a baking tray until hot and turning golden (20-25 minutes). Increase oven to 200C and bake until golden on top (3-5 minutes; or do this under a hot grill). Serve hot with a mixed-leaf salad.
Drink Suggestion: Yarra Valley chardonnay – from Rinaldo Di Stasio’s vineyard, natch. Drink suggestion by Max Allen