The secrets of Carlo Grossi's Ombra restaurant

Octopus, potato, green beans. Picture: Mark Chew
Octopus, potato, green beans. Picture: Mark Chew

In Venice you'll often hear the phrase Andiamo per un ombra? (Shall we go for a drink?). And it's this "ombra", the Venetian name for a small tumbler of wine, that inspired Carlo Grossi's restaurant - a modern take on an authentic Italian salumi bar right in the bustling heart of Melbourne.

Any time is a good time for a drink at Ombra, and when you step in the door at 76 Bourke Street you'll always find a warm and hospitable welcome (and something delicious to eat). It's an intimate, energetic place where all walks of life can drop by and come together over plates of finely cured meats and cheese, bringing with them a great sense of community - a community that thrives at the bar; that argues, loves and lives between slurps of white wine and Aperol.

The Ombra cookbook brings together the very best of Grossi's food and hospitality, from lovingly aged meats and homemade sausages to mouth-watering pizzas, all sorts of irresistible bar snacks (cicchetti), hearty evening meals, fermented and pickled vegetables and fruits, and delectable desserts to finish off the evening. With family heirloom recipes and dishes inspired by his travels all over Italy, the Italian ideals of preservation and quality produce are on proud display in this collection of familiar and tasty food that's made for sharing over a lively conversation.

So pull up a seat - it's time for un ombra!

  • Ombra: Recipes from the salumi bar, by Carlo Grossi. Lantern, $39.99. Photography: Mark Chew
Ombra: Recipes from the salumi bar, by Carlo Grossi. Lantern, $39.99. Photography: Mark Chew

Ombra: Recipes from the salumi bar, by Carlo Grossi. Lantern, $39.99. Photography: Mark Chew

Octopus, potato, green beans

Octopus can vary greatly in taste and texture and we are really lucky here in Australia to have such a diverse offering of the species across all our waters. Personally, I love the octopus from Fremantle as its texture and flavour are always sumptuous. This recipe gives you a soft, tender, melt-in-the-mouth octopus. Lightly boiled potatoes add a little starch while the green beans bring just a touch of crunch. I always find a spicier style of extra virgin olive oil really brings things together. The octopus looks impressive when presented whole, but you can also chop it into 2cm pieces before warming it with the vegetables.

Ingredients

500g octopus tentacles

1 large onion, roughly chopped

2 sticks celery, roughly chopped

1 large carrot, roughly chopped

3 bay leaves

3 sprigs thyme

2 cloves garlic

200ml white wine

2 potatoes, boiled until tender then peeled and cut in cubes

100g green beans, blanched

5 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

5-6 basil leaves

extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

1 lemon, cut into wedges

salt and cracked black pepper

Method

1. Place the octopus in a large saucepan with the onion, celery, carrot, bay leaves, thyme and garlic. Pour in enough water until the octopus is just covered. Add the white wine and bring just to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and poach for 1 hour or until the octopus is tender.

2. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the octopus to cool in the poaching liquid.

3. Once cooled, drain the octopus (and chop into 2cm pieces, if desired), then toss gently in a saucepan over low heat with the potato, beans, parsley, basil and olive oil until warmed through.

4. Serve warm or cold with a squeeze of lemon, and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Serves 4.

Suckling lamb, pomodoro

Suckling lamb, pomodoro. Picture: Mark Chew

Suckling lamb, pomodoro. Picture: Mark Chew

This dish is one of those ones that screams comfort. It's bowl food, the kind you can tuck into with some soft polenta or crusty bread to mop up the sauce. It will make you feel good, both cooking it and consuming it.

Ingredients

1 1.2kg piece boneless suckling lamb shoulder

3/4 tsp whole cloves

3/4 tsp toasted fennel seeds

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 tsp salt

500g Dutch cream potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges

1 onion, finely chopped

cup oregano, chopped

2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

50ml olive oil

150ml white wine

350ml passata

350ml chicken stock

30g packaged breadcrumbs

1/2 cup grated Grana Padano

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170C (fan-forced).

2. Cut the lamb into roughly 4cm pieces and place in an earthenware dish or roasting tin. Grind the cloves, fennel seeds and peppercorns into a powder with a mortar and pestle, then mix in the salt. Rub the mixture into the lamb.

3. Add the potato, onion, oregano, parsley, garlic, olive oil and white wine to the lamb. Pour in the passata and stock and mix to combine. Cover the top with the breadcrumbs and cheese and, using your fingers, push some of the crumbs and cheese into the liquid, not disturbing the top of the lamb which will form a crust as it cooks.

4. Bake for 75 minutes or until the meat is tender.

Serves 6.

Asparagus, burnt butter, fior di burrata

Asparagus, burnt butter, fior di burrata. Picture: Mark Chew

Asparagus, burnt butter, fior di burrata. Picture: Mark Chew

This dish is stunning for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a midnight supper. I love to use Koo Wee Rup asparagus as they are juicy and fat - almost like eating a steak. The burnt butter sauce is just decadent enough to make you happy you're eating vegetables. Have plenty of iced water ready to cool down both the eggs and asparagus later.

Ingredients

36 fat asparagus spears

2 tbsp olive oil

40g unsalted butter

6 fior di burrata

salt and cracked black pepper

Burnt butter sauce:

400 g unsalted butter

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

pinch of salt

3 eggs, at room temperature

Method

1. To make the burnt butter sauce, place the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook slowly, whisking every so often, for about 15 minutes or until it has browned slightly and developed a nutty flavour. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Whisk in the vinegar and salt.

2. Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil. Gently place the eggs in the water, being careful not to break them, and cook for four minutes (you want them to be soft-boiled). Remove and refresh in iced water. Peel the eggs gently without breaking them. Blend the eggs with a stick blender in a jug until smooth. Gradually add the burnt butter mixture with the stick blender running until the sauce becomes thick and creamy.

3. Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Trim the asparagus ends if woody, then add the asparagus to the boiling water and blanch for one minute. Drain and place into iced water to refresh. Drain and set aside.

4. Working in batches if necessary, heat the olive oil and butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the asparagus and cook gently for about two minutes or until slightly caramelised. Remove from the heat.

5. To serve, spoon some butter sauce onto a serving dish and place the asparagus on top. Gently tear the burrata with your hands and put on top of the asparagus. Season with salt and pepper.

Serves 6.

Mussels, paprika, vinegar, whipped 'nduja

Mussels, paprika, vinegar, whipped 'nduja. Picture: Mark Chew

Mussels, paprika, vinegar, whipped 'nduja. Picture: Mark Chew

The allure of preserved seafood is something that I can never seem to escape and luckily for me the southern Italians (and, of course, the Spanish) have this craft down to an exquisite art form. Oilier fish such as mackerel and sardines are stunning when preserved but there is something about the saltiness of mussels that just works so well. This dish is somewhat inspired by the Calabrians - they like things hot, but you can dial the heat up or down with the 'nduja as you like.

Ingredients

150ml white wine

500g local mussels, scrubbed and debearded

50ml extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, smashed

1 small red chilli

5 tsp smoked paprika

50g tomato paste

50ml white wine vinegar

salt and cracked black pepper

150g 'Nduja, at room temperature

50 ml olive oil

crusty bread, to serve

Method

1. Heat a large saucepan over high heat. Pour in one-third of the white wine, then add the mussels and cover and cook for a couple of minutes. Holding down the lid, carefully shake the pan to help open the mussels. Remove from the heat and scoop out the mussels. Strain the liquid and keep for later use. You'll need about 100ml. Remove the mussels from their shells and set them aside, discarding the shells.

2. Heat the extra virgin olive oil with the garlic and chilli in a frying pan over low heat for about two minutes. Mix in the paprika and cook without burning for 30 seconds. Add the tomato paste and cook for a further two minutes. Deglaze the pan with the remaining wine, the vinegar and the reserved mussel juice. Allow to simmer and reduce by one-third. Add the mussels and cook over low heat to infuse for about five minutes. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper.

3. Transfer the mussels and cooking liquid to an airtight container and allow to cool. Cover and refrigerate overnight for the flavours to develop. Store in the fridge for up to seven days.

4. To finish, strain the mussels from the sauce, reserving the sauce. Combine the 'nduja olive oil in a bowl and stir vigorously to lighten the mixture. Using your fingers, stuff a small amount of 'nduja into the cavity of each mussel to make them plump.

5. Serve the filled mussels on a serving plate or in a bowl and cover with the sauce. Serve with crusty bread.

Serves 6.

This story It's time for un ombra with Carlo Grossi first appeared on The Canberra Times.