Blog / Diario Italiano | Al Dente Italian Cooking Classes & Events | Italian cooking classes, team buildings, hen parties | Page 3
  • Al Dente by Raffaela Delmonte /
  • +64 21 213 9111
Search Menu

Summer festivities

Summer at Villa Romantica stands for large gatherings around the wood-fire pizza oven. It is an occasion to catch up with friends we rarely see throughout the year. The number of invitees has grown over the years, and the question, as always for us Italians, is ‘how am I going to feed them all’?

What’s first?

Martha selected a band called ‘The Recipe’ and organized a huge marquee to cover the dancing area while I planned a series of ‘eating moments’. For the early comers, the table was laid with Italian cheeses, a selection of my best bread (turmeric bread is always a favourite!) and the ‘bagnacauda’ as the center piece.

The grazing table with a selection of cured meats, cheeses, crackers, fresh fruit, sweets, and other nibbles. We decided to feature funky and antique props like my grandfathers first Pasta machine, aged grappa, and the bottle from a 1982 vintage wine (which we opened the day before).

Bagnacauda, which literally translates ‘hot dipping’, is a combination of salted anchovies and garlic – in the same proportions. It sounds almost unpalatable but trust me – it always proves to be a success. The key for its success is not to reveal the ingredients before it has been tasted by your guests! The bagnacauda, which is kept simmering in a cast iron pot, is surrounded by an array of raw vegetables to dip in. Soon after my guests started nibbling, the table became the point of attraction; my guests come to ask me what it’s made of and go back in the queue for more.

Pizza me up!

Meanwhile, the wood fired oven reached the temperature of 300’C. Most of the logs are removed, ashes are wiped off the oven floor and the first rolled pizza dough is ready to go in. Five minutes and the pizza is ready; with its thin crust and slightly burnt edges is simply irresistible. I prepared 100 doughs hoping to satisfy everyone’s cravings for Italian pizza. As for the toppings, the girls have laid a colorful grazing table, to feast the eye on.

100 dough’s lined up ready to be rolled
Our WWOOFer from France rolling out the Pizza dough
Ready for the oven!
La Pizza, ready to be devoured!!

What’s for dessert?

Now my question for this part was… which dessert can I create to surprise and delight our friends this year?  I decided to go with the crostata di frutta – fresh fruit tart, which is our family summer celebration cake. But how many did I need to prepare if there were just over 100 of us? How about making one tart but very large? Let’s say, exactly 800 mm in diameter, so I could present it on my grandmothers round antique table?

Nice idea, but how in the world would I do it? As it can’t be cooked whole (my oven’s not THAT big!) I decided to divide the base into 8 triangle-shaped cakes. Once the cakes where all ready, I realized that joining them together was not a straightforward task as the borders did not match anymore! The problem wasn’t the look; 2.5lt of runny custard cream needs to be poured onto the base. Here’s the idea I went with: a mix of oat flour, sugar and butter proves to be a perfect filler to patch the holes. Once the cake was covered with the custard and topped with berries and mint the result was stunning. If I do say so myself!

My daughter and her husband cutting the cake:
Crostata di frutta (800mm in diameter), presented on my grandmothers antique table

This was the only decent photo we got of the cake.
Crostata di frutta (800mm in diameter), presented on my grandmothers antique table

We danced well passed midnight to the rhythm of the beat, so much so that a jet-lagged tourist was on a nightly stroll and decided to follow the sound of the music… she found Villa Romantica and joined us on the dance floor!

My daughters ‘big fat Italian’ wedding at Villa Romantica

Inviting more than 12 people for dinner at home can be challenging and when the number of guests increases to 75 it becomes stressful, but when the occasion is the wedding of your own daughter… that’s when it gets insane.

But I grew up in Italy, in an extended family of about 10 kids – amongst close and distant cousins – and almost all of us seemed to have birthdays between May and September. The women in the family spent weekends exchanging ideas and recipes and over the years they became consummate birthday party planners. If you need inspiration, you need to watch Enrico Oldoini’s 2004 Italian comedy ‘13dici a tavola’ – ‘13 at the table’.

As we came to age, the step between a birthday party to a wedding reception was surprisingly easy. Our girls where still little when we all went back to Italy for a typical Italian wedding, but the impression must have been a lasting one, as Martha (my middle daughter – 22) decided to replicate it in our home for her own wedding. Self-catered of course. The idea was scary, but we managed to get through brilliantly and even had fun in the process.

So what’s on the menu?

The menu selection took quite a bit of time and presented a few challenges. The guests were a mix of Kiwis and Italians – with a few Greeks, Russians and Australians. To make things a bit more interesting; the season, mid-November is almost summer in New Zealand, this allowed for a limited choice of fresh ingredients. The schedule; by the time the ceremony and the photo shooting session was over, the guests would be famished. Thankfully, Italians invented ‘aperitivo’ – not a mere pre-meal drink, but an array of little delicious morsels that please the eyes and bridges to the meal (to fill the gap).

There was one other aspect we had to take into consideration… the mother of the bride (me!) needed to stay out of the kitchen! Every detail, from the presentation of the platters to the timing the food was to be served, needed to be pre-organized and rehearsed.

Me, oh my

The choice of desserts – buffet style – proved to be the most demanding. The expectation for a typical Italian dessert, the tiramisu above all, was obvious, but what else?  We wanted the dessert table to look not only scrumptious but choreographically impressive. It took me quite a bit of thinking and a number of family discussions at the dinner table

Once again, the dessert idea stemmed from the memory of a happy family occasion. Fifteen years ago, at my sister’s wedding in Greece, the dessert was a dense and creamy Greek yogurt topped with local honey and fresh peaches. As I wanted to create a center piece, I decided to use a whole honeycomb on its frame. I gave the idea a NZ twist by choosing Manuka honey. We placed the frame on a book stand, so it could ooze onto a large bowl of buffalo yogurt, surrounded by an abundance of fresh strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.

What a success! One daughter down, two to go!

You can watch her wedding video here.

Rotolo di spinaci
Ricotta and spinach thinly wrapped in pasta, served with sage, butter and grated cheese (slightly melted)
One of three food tables with a selection of salads (garden salad, potato curry salad, and chickpea & pumpkin salad) with glazed ham and smoked salmon
Cake made by Ryan’s Aunty
Three tier – 1st Chocolate cake, 2nd Lemon, 3rd Carrot cake
The Bride and Groom cutting the cake
Our secluded home: The Villa Romantica venue

For someone born in a country where the earliest inscription dates back more than two and a half millennia, there is a certain fascination in this entirely-planned city, that is just over 100 years old.

A sort  of “utopian city” where everything works efficiently and everybody has time for a chat and a smile.

With this in mind, we set up for a brief walk from our hotel to the chosen restaurant.

The streets in the trendy Manuka neighbourhood have large footpaths bordered with trees and bushes. But there are no streetlights, only a few cars parked and not a single human being.

Konoba is the award winning restaurant at the Hotel Realm.

We like the simple yet elegant charm. The menu is not very large, but its selection of char-grilled special beef cuts is noteworthy.

The service is unsophisticated but excellent.

Both the Cape Grim grass fed rib eye with Cabernet jus and the Robbins Island full blood marble with green peppercorn sauce (no cream, yippee!) were cooked to perfection and served with a soft potato mash and a fresh and tasty green leaf salad.

Our waiter helped us selecting the wines by giving us a little tasting of the wines of the region. Opening each bottle in front of us.

The dessert list looked mouthwatering, but we choose the cheese platter with the honey from the hotel “roof-hives”.

Breakfast before discovering the city.

Urban Pantry is the perfect reproduction of an Italian cafe’. The constant noise of the espresso machine, the unmistakably Italians crowding the inside tables, the correct spelling on the menu made me feel at home.

My travelling companion  knows me well enough to wait till I’ve finished my first coffee before discussing the plan for the day.

I order a second one (I needed to make sure it was really as good as I thought- ha ha). This one comes accompanied by two Italian bomboloni (doughnuts). One simple and one filled with crema pasticcera (custard).

The plan for the day includes some of  the trademarks of the city.

      • The Parliament House, with its boomerang-shaped design, the relaxing “Parliament garden walk” and the panoramic view of the city from its terrace.
      • The Museum of of Australian democracy at the Old Parliament House with the charm of its neoclassical architecture and the view to Mount Ainslie from the front steps.
    • The James Turrell exhibition at the National Gallery.

With two great stops for lunch and coffee.


In the heart of the New Acton precinct, just behind the sustainably designed Hotel.

It serves breakfast, lunch and coffees all day, with fresh home baked bread, charcuterie, and cheese.

In the evening it becomes a meeting place to enjoy a selection of craft beers and cider.

We chose two salads:  the octopus and buckwheat salad, and the duck salad with maple, carrot and orange. They were presented as for a photo shoot and the ingredients were exceptionally fresh.

For the coffee break we were torned between The Coffee Lab and The Londsale Street Roaster.

We decided to try the “new” coffee technology of the Coffee Lab.

“The machine uses a siphon brewing process, where water vapor transfers from a lower chamber into an upper chamber and makes contact with coffee grounds before being extracted through a filter.”

More sophisticated, but this is how coffee has been done for centuries in Naples. In the humble napoletana, Neapolitan style coffee pot.

No time for more visits? No problem! It’s worth leaving something behind to come back for.

Konoba at Hotel Realm
26 Narellan Place, Canberra ACT

Urban Pantry
5 Bougainville Street, Manuka, Canberra ACT

5 Edinburgh Avenue, Canberra ACT

The Coffe Lab
26 Narellan Place, Canberra ACT

Lonsdale Street Roasters
7 Lonsdale Street, Braddon Canberra ACT

The name Canberra comes from the aboriginal language: ”the Hollow between a woman’s breasts”. The breasts being the Mount Ainslie and the Black Mountain