In this edition of “My Favorite Foodies Series” I’d like to introduce you to Manu of Manu’s Menu. Manu is a passionate cook who was born in Italy and now calls Australia home. Her one year old blog, Manu’s Menu, is a yummy source of authentic Italian home cooking. But it’s not just recipes, her step-by-step photographic guides and background information on the dishes are so helpful. Those of us still learning about authentic Italian cuisine will fall in love with Manu’s Menu, I have. Read Manu’s interview below and you’ll see why I absolutely adore her and her scrumptious blog.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about your blog?
Manu’s Menu is my creative outlet, a place where I can share my passion for cooking. Being Italian, I cook mainly Italian recipes (even though I sometimes experiment with other cuisines too), and I thought it would be fun to show people how to cook authentic Italian food in their own kitchens. This is why I always have recipes with step by step instructions and pictures which can be quite time consuming, yet very useful when you are trying your hands at something completely new!
2. Why do you like to (cook/bake) spend time in your kitchen? Have you always liked spending time in the kitchen?
I have always spent a lot of time in the kitchen. To me cooking means “family” and the kitchen has always been my favourite room of the house. That’s where I would do my homework while my mom was preparing dinner and where we would eat together as a family and chat about our day. Cooking is my way to relax and express my creativity. I come from an artistic family (my father, grandfather and aunts are all artists), so I guess cooking is my art of choice!
3. What is your favorite food to cook or bake, and why?
It will have to be pasta. I love making pasta from scratch. It can be egg pasta like tortellini, durum wheat pasta like orecchiette or malloreddus , or gnocchi. It gives me a great sense of fulfilment to be able to transform a simple piece of dough into different pasta shapes. And then to enjoy them with the “right” sauce, that’s my reward! I know, I said the “right” sauce, that is because pasta shapes and sauces have to match to be enjoyed to the fullest: rough and thicker pasta needs a rustic sauce while thin pasta goes better with delicate sauces for example… Italians can be almost obsessive with pasta!
4. What is your most special or memorable kitchen moment, be it a happy or a disastrous memory?
Many happy memories from my childhood are “food related”. I remember spending hours in the kitchen, helping my parents cook for Christmas or Sunday lunch when we had guests over! It wasn’t only about cooking, it was a way of spending time together and then enjoying the food with family and friends. Nowadays, when I try my hand at something I thought I would never be able to accomplish, and succeed, that becomes a great day!
5. You were born and raised in Italy, and have now made Australia your home. What one food do you miss the most from your homeland?
This is a tough one! When I first moved here I went through many phases. I started off with the “honeymoon” phase, during which I was so busy discovering all the new food (mainly Asian) I had never eaten before that I did not miss anything. Then I “regressed” and just wanted to eat Italian food, but did not as I feared it would not taste the same. It took me a while to find out where to buy original Italian ingredients so that I could restart cooking what I had always cooked before. Still, I cannot find everything I want, so I often have to substitute (or skip altogether) certain products. Italian food is all about regional produce; in fact I sometimes have a hard time talking about “Italian food” as a whole. The same basic recipe can be totally different if eaten in 2 different cities. That’s why I decided to do a series on Regional Italian Cuisine … I’d like people to know that there is more to Italian food than what they find in the restaurants they go to. What I miss the most is this diversity. I miss certain cured meats and cheeses, mainly local produce that I know I will never be able to find here.
6. In your “About Me” section you speak about your husband’s Indian background. Do you like to cook Indian food? And what is your favorite Indian dish to either eat or cook?
The first time I ate Indian food I did not like it one bit. I had tandoori chicken and I found it way too spicy! Now I LOVE it and I eat my food spicier than my husband! Indian cuisine is completely different when compared to Italian cuisine. We tend to use a few herbs and almost no spices, so the world of spices was an amazing discovery for my tastebuds! I do cook some Indian food, even though my everyday cooking is always Italian (I find it much faster as I am more used to it!). I love butter chicken and seekh kebab the most but I am also in love with Indian street food, be it bhajis, samosas , channa batura and all chaats! I love cooking lamb korma the most as I love the way the aroma permeates through the kitchen while the lamb is cooking away on the stove… such a hearty dish!
7. What is your favorite spice and why?
As I was saying, I haven’t grown up eating many spices, but I do have a couple of all-time favourites: nutmeg as my mom would always put some in her delicious stuffed meatloaf. And cinnamon as I always associate it with the delicious sweet fritters you buy at winter fairs and Christmas markets in Europe. I am a big winter and snow lover… not much luck with that here in Sydney!
8. What food or ingredient repulses you?
There are very few things I do not eat (and do not cook)… shrimp and boiled eggs are on top of the list.
9. When you want to treat yourself or loved ones what do you prepare or splurge on?
I like sweets, but I have always been more of a savoury fan. So, when I want to treat myself I usually make Pizzoccheri which is buckwheat pasta cooked with cabbage and potatoes and tossed in browned butter, garlic and sage and mixed with LOTS of cheese! If I want to treat my husband instead, I make Baked Anelletti, the most popular “pasta bake” in Palermo (Sicily) made with ring shape pasta, meat sauce, fried eggplant and cheese. TOTAL COMFORT FOOD!
10. When you go out to eat what do you go for?
I usually go out to eat something I cannot easily make at home. I love Southeast Asian food, but I seldom cook it, so whenever I can I like to go to Thai, Malay or Indonesian restaurants. Or, when I miss Italy, I have a good pizza baked in a wood fire oven. There’s nothing better than that to cheer me up!
11. What food is your food vice? You know, one you sneak in a little extra of when no one is looking.
CHEESE! Any cheese, but gorgonzola and goat’s cheese are my absolute favourites. I could have a whole meal made with cheese, from starters to dessert and not get tired of it. In fact, I did have such a meal once. There is a restaurant in Milan that serves only cheese based dishes and it was an out-of-this-world experience!
12. Who are the people that inspire your culinary journey? (whether professional, enthusiast or novice)
My parents have always been my primary inspiration… they are both great cooks (my dad is extremely good with cakes!) and I inherited the love for cooking from them. Since I started blogging I also found a new source of inspiration in my fellow bloggers. It is amazing how much talent is out there and in the last year I have learnt so much! I don’t really follow any celebrity chef.
13. Besides getting to eat all of your delicious food, what is your favorite thing about being a food blogger?
I love all the things you learn from others… Be it new recipes, techniques, photography tips or computer skills. Reading other people’s experiences also pushed me to try and conquer techniques and dishes I had always been afraid to try! And then obviously, I love making new friends who share my same passion for food! I have met some incredible people along the way! It is unfortunate we all live far away from one another, or I am sure we would have a blast!
14. What is your goal or what do you hope to accomplish with your blog ?
I started blogging as a means to share my love for cooking with friends and family who live far away. However when I started to work on my blog, I realised that I wanted it to be something more. I am very passionate about food, and above all about Italian food. I have always been very surprised by the “un-authentic” way Italian food is seen and reproduced outside of Italy. After moving to Australia, I have felt the need to help spread a more authentic Italian cuisine, the way we actually cook at home. So Manu’s Menu became a space where, besides sharing international recipes, I try to promote real Italian cuisine.
15. Anything else you would like to say or share with us, tips or advice for fellow blogger?
On a practical note, I suggest you copyright your blog content and all your pictures. There are many people out there who take content and photos from other people’s blogs without permission. I just recently had this happen to me… so, beware and know that you have the right to ask for your content/picture to be removed and/or linked back to your site! On a more general note, blogging is lots of fun and I think that should be the spirit: sharing experiences and knowledge with similar minded people. So, don’t get too worried about competition… there is space for everyone to express themselves and shine! Just have fun!
Grazie mille Manu, it has been a pleasure. Now everyone head over, say hi and pick out a recipe to try out tonight.
Recipes for images in the graphic can be found in the links below. Recipes in the larger images should be clicked for corresponding recipes.
– Panna Cotta “Tricolore”
– Olive All’Ascolana
– Osso Buco Milanese
– Iced Espresso
– Supplì al telefono: fried rice balls filled with mozzarella