The Australian gold rush and disruption caused by the World Wars throughout Europe saw thousands of Italians migrate to Australia, and in particular, to Victoria. The northern suburbs of Melbourne attracted the highest rate of Italian migrants in the mid 1900’s, and a stroll down Sydney Road or Lygon Street is proof of the significant influence Italians have had on the formation of Brunswick as a cultural hub. So, what better way to kick off the series than with a good old Italian banquet?
‘La festa’ means ‘a party’ in Italian; this is my favourite cuisine to cook when I’m trying to impress someone—there’s nothing like some pasta, cheese and wine to spark a flame (or keep a flame lit). So, this edition of the series is less dinner ‘party’, more dinner ‘date’, but is still a ‘festa’ of sorts! When you’re cooking Italian food, don’t forget to put some love and attention into your side dishes. While we all enjoy a big hearty meal of pasta and jammy, saucy deliciousness, it’s important to include some crisp, fresh greens, good quality bread for mopping up all the oils, and salty snacks to balance everything out. I’ll take you through the streets of Brunswick and my go-to menu for an Italian feast, starting with a caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella, a rocket, fennel and parmesan salad and fennel seed and orange olives, moving on to a classic lasagna for the main and ending with a rich tiramisu for dessert.
Ovens Street Bakery
To start, the first place I head to is Ovens Street Bakery. Tucked away on the aptly named Ovens Street, just off of Hope Street, this tiny bakery packs a mighty punch. There you’ll find some freshly baked classics like pain au levain, baguettes and crossaints, alongside some unique treats like polish donuts, kouign amann and carraway and coriander loaves. To sit nicely alongside your simple caprese salad, grab a loaf of the pain au levain. While you’re there, try and get your hands on the Mount Zero olive oil they sell. No Italian meal is complete without a good quality olive oil!
For fresh produce, head straight to Brunswick Market. This unassuming warehouse is packed full of all the fruits and vegetables you’ll need, all for a great price. Pick up some rocket, fennel, red onion and a couple of oranges for the rocket salad and grab tomatoes and a bunch of basil for the caprese salad and lasagna sauce. If you don’t have any pantry staples like garlic, onion and chilli at home, make sure you stock up while you’re here.
The next place to venture to is Mediterranean Wholesalers. Walking in, you’ll be met with rows of shelves packed with pickles, canned staples, pasta, biscuits, olive oil and flour—enough to make any chef’s heart race. They have a huge selection of cheese and deli items for an antipasti platter that goes a step above a wheel of brie and smattering of fig biscuits. Grab some fresh buffalo mozzarella for your caprese salad, a small block of parmesan or pecorino for your rocket salad, and some mozzarella (again, but a different kind) to sprinkle on top of your lasagna. Don’t forget to get a jar of plain olives—jazz them up with some fennel seeds, olive oil and orange peels as a tangy side. If you don’t have the patience to make your own pasta dough for the lasagna (no judgement here), Mediterranean Wholesalers also sell fresh lasagna sheets at an impressive price of four dollars for 500 grams. For the tiramisu, grab a pack of savoiardi biscuits, Italian coffee, mascarpone, eggs and cream.
If you’ve opted out of making your own dessert, pop down to Pulcinella on your way home. This newly opened Pasticceria found on Sydney Road is home to some seriously tasty pastries, biscuits and desserts. A lot of their biscuits are sold on a per kilo basis so you can choose from a selection of different flavours, including pistachio, strawberry and Nutella.
Blackhearts & Sparrows and Rascal
Finally, when it comes to drink pairings you’ve got a few options. If you shop for convenience, grab a bottle of Italian wine while you’re at Mediterranean Wholesalers. You’ve got a choice of a range of price points and palettes, though you may need the help of google translate or a trusty Italian friend to help you read the labels. For more of a boutique bottle, head to Blackhearts & Sparrows where you can grab a locally made organic wine or pet nat. Or pop your head into Rascal, a fun, atmospheric wine bar and bottle shop specialising in low intervention wines. I’d suggest a pinot noir, it’ll go down a treat with a rich lasagna.
With all of these ingredients in your grocery bag, you’ll have no trouble whipping up a fresh, tasty Italian meal for your guest (or guests!), paired with a local wine and finished with a generous dollop of tiramisu (see below for some recipes, tips and tricks to help you prepare your feast). Mangia!
Estimated total cost: $35-$40 (excluding wine)
Use this recipe as a guide for the fennel and orange olives (feel free to change the herbs and spices as you like—try adding chilli flakes, or using oregano instead of rosemary).
For some handy lasagna tips, watch this Pasta Grannies video.
And finally, head to the recipe section of the Dine in Brunswick series here for my mum’s secret tiramisu recipe.
Have you got a cuisine in mind that you’d like me to cover? Or even a particular recipe that you’re finding hard to source ingredients for? Let me know in the comments below!