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Good Food Month: The Neapolitan Festa @ Casa Ciuccio

A Southern Italian experience that motivates you to jump on the next plane

It’s a Tuesday night and the wine is flowing. Laughter is in the air and the conversation throughout the room is engaging and stimulating. Yes, it’s a Tuesday night! By anyone standards this is clearly within “school night” parameters. If there is one fantastic element to the Italian lifestyle, it’s that they know how to enjoy life. Dinner parties on nights we would consider a dull midday night is full of life ’til the wee hours of the next day. Italians know how to throw a dinner party and this is exactly what we experience at Casa Ciuccio!

To celebrate all things Southern Italian and partnership of The Good Food Month, Casa Ciuccio threw together a feast and night to enjoy. The Neapolitan Festa at Casa Ciuccio on Gertrude Street, Fitzroy was one of the month’s Private Dining events. It’s an event to allow patrons to get up close and person with chefs and staff as they engage with cooking philosophy, inspiration and techniques. Matt McConnell was our host and explained the dining course was inspired by a selection of Neapolitan and Mediterranean family recipes. It was an unique dining experience with a touch of gypsy music and engaging stories.

We started with casual drinks out on the balcony and being a warm introduction to Casa Ciuccio. It allowed guest to relax and mingling with one and another before the feast.

As we sat in the private dining area, Matt told us a little story about grapes. There is about 3,000 types of grapes in this world and 2,000 are from Italy! Most types are not grown for export, rather being cared and harvest on small parcels of land. The villages use the grapes to make wine not knowing the type of grape, let alone whether its suitable for wine making! Once the wine was bottled, the village would celebrate with a festa. It’s this idea that Casa Ciccio is all about, providing quality but less known wines that are matched with good food.

The first two courses were burrata (mozzarella & cream) – a lovely palate cleanser – and baccala (salted cod) and cauliflower. Whilst these two dishes were matched with a soft white (2012 Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino) with a nutty aroma, the general consensus was that the cauliflower dish was perhaps an acquired taste. The wine helped cut through the saltiness of the dish and allowed the cod flavours to come through.

Before swapping to the reds, we were served with an intriguing dish of squid ink and cuttlefish. The presentation was stunning and playful as the ink was poured over the pastina and well-matched with the soft cuttlefish.

With the transition to the Red (2009 Chalmers Aglianico), saw the introduction of the meats. First up was a very Italian and simply satisfying grilled house pork salsicce with spiced peppers and anchovies. The pork and fat combination was simple but authentic. The slightly bloody sauce worked well and the peppers were refreshing, cutting through the dense sausages.

The star of the show had arrived with the slow coal roasted suckling lamb shoulder served with potatoes, peas and sugo. The festa element were in full swing by this point. The lamb was succulent and perfectly moist throughout. It was clear that a lot of time and preparation went into perfecting the lamb. The full bodied red was sensational with the lamb. The side of potato and peas were well prepared, with fluffy Dutch potatoes.

To draw a close to the night festivities, we were provided a very alcoholic dessert – baba and limoncello with a shot of whiskey, distilled from the unlikely suburb of Bayswater (Ciucci Amaro). Suffice to say, it was an exceptionally smooth whiskey and was a delightful night cap. The dessert, whilst being deceiving simple was very moist and had a distinct whiskey flavour.

With the playful Gispsy tunes being intermittently played throughout the night and the conversation of food flowing effortlessly, it’s moments like these that need to be remembered. Before sitting down, we were just a group of people about to embarking on a dinner. By the end of the night, the conversation was effortless and inviting, drawing from all personal opinions and experiences that extended beyond food. The food was exceptional, but what really made the night was the experience of the companionship of the table.

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