‘Most of my life is tomato-based’: Silvia Colloca’s love of Italian food

Silvia Colloca is back for a third season of the bright and joyous SBS food show Cook Like An Italian.

As this is the third season of Cook Like An Italian, shouldn’t we be able to by now?

Well, the thing about Cook Like An Italian is you can start the course at any season. You can start at any time, just pick at random, it’s another 10 episodes and another 30 recipes that showcase the simplicity and the wholesomeness of Italian cooking, but also the power it has to glue families together and to create beautiful family moments.

I adore Italian food, it’s my favourite cuisine.

Do you cook it?

I mostly eat it.

That’s a good start, that’s a solid start. Knowing what you like and what tastes good is the first step. And hopefully that’s enough to make you want to get in the kitchen and try to replicate those flavours.

But it is true that when I think of Italian food I don’t just think of the dishes, there really are associations of family, generations handing down traditions to new generations. That’s a big part of Italian cooking, isn’t it, that atmosphere?

It definitely is. It’s almost like the food’s just the excuse to create family moments and provide the opportunity for those moments to happen and for that congregation to be encouraged.

Is it in those family moments that you learnt all you know?

I think so, I’ve learnt by absorption, as happens with every single child of every single culture: whatever they see made in the familial kitchen, that’s how they learn to do things. But I suppose in the case of Italian cuisine it’s really a cultural pass-down because so much of our identity as a nation is centred around the food ritual. So in this season we’ve tried to show that.

The first episode features Passata Day. Fill us in on what that is.

Oh my gosh. Passata is the base of 95 per cent of Italian home cooking – our red sauce that Italians create at the end of summer, with the end of summer tomatoes when they’re so ripe they burst in your hands. They all go into this wind-up tomato press, where the juice is extracted, the seeds and the skins are separated, and then the process is repeated, so you extract every single bit of flavour and colour from the skins. Then they’re bottled. They can last up to three years in a pantry, but that’s never happened to me because I honestly can say that most of my life is tomato-based.

When you’re making a TV show, you’re cooking, you’re teaching us how to cook: is it hard to perform the tasks of cooking and entertaining at the same time?

Well, I would say that for an Italian, that’s pretty much what happens in any kitchen, just minus the cameras. The way I try to think of it, because cameras can be a bit intimidating and they can also become a barrier between you and the people who watch you, I try to just speak to the camera like it’s a person. There are no autocues, nothing is scripted: what I want to say about a particular recipe, or moment or memory, I’ll say in the words that come into my head at the time. And with English not being my first language, there are stumbles and sometimes the director will say, Actually I didn’t understand that, we’ll have to go again. But mostly it’s completely spontaneous.

English isn’t your first language, but I’m trying to learn Italian right now and I’m in awe – I couldn’t have guessed English isn’t your first language just from speaking to you.

Shall we continue this conversation in Italian?

It’s going to be very one-sided if we do.

I’ll spare you this time, but if we speak again in the future I’ll remember.

I’ll work really hard to impress you next time. The reason I’m learning Italian is I’m planning a trip to Italy: so I’ll ask you, when eating in Italy, what should a visitor look for?

That’s a really good question, because I think there’s a general idea of what comprises Italian cuisine, and those are the famous dishes: but Italian cuisine is so intrinsically regional, and even within the same regions there are differences in the way the produce is made or the land is fertilised. The cuisine of the north is nothing like the cuisine of the south. So what I would say is, no matter where you go, trust the locals. Look for the trattoria that doesn’t have a menu in English, or doesn’t even have a menu, and you’re more likely to be served the local specialities.

You’re not just a chef and TV presenter: you have a new movie coming out, Little Tornadoes. You’ve been very busy.

Well, you have to hustle. The arts is a tricky industry, and you have to create your opportunities, and ultimately if you’ve got a creative spark in you, you’ve got to cultivate it, whether it’s through writing recipes and stories about your culture, whether it’s acting, it’s all the same, it’s a way to communicate.

It’s an exciting time for you right now then.

In this climate, where only Marvel movies get to be screened in cinemas, we’re getting a movie theatre release. I’m not sure how long, but that’s pretty exciting. And this is like the antidote to Marvel movies, it’s the complete opposite.

The palate cleanser.

The lemon sorbet between courses.

Would you do a Marvel movie if they come knocking?

Oh my god, yeah! Absolutely. I did a fair few vampire movies back in the day, so I think I need a cape at some point.

Cook Like An Italian is on SBS Food, Tuesday, 8pm. Little Tornadoes is in cinemas now.

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