On a balmy day, a special evening is about to unfold.

Chef Massimo, ITC Grand Chola has invited a few guests to dinner as a prelude to the formal inauguration of Cucina Italiana, or, the cuisine of Italy, at Ottimo. 

A challenge beckons. The chefs have donned their hats and started their preparations to create enduring first impressions of Italian flavours on the Indian palate. In the open kitchen an assortment of handmade pastas are drying on the pasta stand, fresh vegetables are being washed, dough is being kneaded, a variety of cheeses are being readied, while a beautiful large lobster rests on the counter. 

Activity gains momentum around the majestic centre pieces, the brick oven that has already been fired, and the custom made Molteni – “the Ferrari of the kitchen”, Chef Massimo tells you with pride, between sips of coffee and commandeering his battalion. It is easy to strike up a conversation, but extremely difficult to get him or any of the affable chefs to reveal the menu. Any inquiry is met with an offer to a tasting – a brilliant risotto maybe, or the extremely delicious spinach schiacciata – an enclosed pizza filled with spinach, spring onions, sun-dried tomatoes and black olives, liberally garnished with cheese. The schiacciata has to its credit, the distinction of winning over the affections and patronage of many who proclaimed to shun pizzas. 

As the day wears on the ristorante begins to come into its own. The chefs pick up pace and aromas become full-bodied. The sommelier arrives and the team goes into an elaborate discussion on wine pairing. Chef Massimo insists on the best Italian wine for the evening. In Italy he says a meal is complete when “you have a glass of fine wine with your food”. 

What else is important? “Ingredients, only the freshest, only the best”, he obliges with a pronounced authority and accent. Simple culinary techniques embraced in Italian cooking make it imperative that the ingredients, the combination of flavours and the texture make all the difference, contributing to the final taste. There is no room for an error in judgment or a lesser degree of perfection to arrive at the authentic Italian taste, he says. Many of the ingredients in the Ottimo kitchen – the seafood, meats, cheeses and olive oil are sourced from Italy. He’s particularly pleased about the white asparagus import in the kitchen today. 

When it’s time, Ottimo transforms into a gallery of culinary arts, slipping from its relatively casual bearing by day into fine elegance by evening. Masterpieces like the lobster served in its shell with squid ink linguini, trancio di baccala avvolto in prosciutto di parma in salsa allo zafferano e basilico – fillet of cod wrapped in parma ham in saffron sauce and basil, stinco di agnello alla Milanese – shank of lamb with saffron, vegetarian and non-vegetarian antipasti like zucchini wrapped asparagus and prawn wrapped parma ham, served with delicate pastas and fresh breads emerge as a symphony of flavours waiting to be savoured. 

A complete bouquet of irresistible appetisers, pastas and risottos, offerings from the boulangerie and desserts, a selection of the choicest wines from the enoteca like the Ti Amo, Sartori di Verona, Prosecco Brut, Danzante, Marchesi de Frescobaldi, Pinot Grigio delle Venezie, Villa Novare, Bertani, Vaplolicella Classico Ripasso Superiore adorn the tables. 

Food, contentment and expectant smiles enliven an ambience that is warm and welcoming. Wherever you take a seat, you find yourself comfortably placed around the live-kitchen, involved in the goings-on and in a position to appreciate, right until the final flourish, the preparation of your meal. Just like it is in Italy, you’re made to feel like a part of one large family that is happiest when gathered together at the table! 

Experience the enchantment at Ottimo, the promise of an Italian culinary indulgence so profound that you might need a moment to reorient yourself as you step out and find the cobblestone path missing. 

Here’s a little something, with love from Ottimo. 

Pizza Schiacciata Spinaci e Formaggi 

INGREDIENTS 

Dough 
High gluten refined flour – 1kg 
Fresh yeast – 14gms 
Bread improver (shortening) – 30 gm 
Extra virgin olive oil – 30ml 
Water – 500 ml 
Salt – 20 gm 
Using 220 gm dough for a pizza 

Stuffing 
Blanched spinach – 30 gm 
Sliced garlic – 3 gm 
Salt – 3 gm 
Black pepper powder – 2 gm 
Extra virgin olive oil – 5 ml 
Kalamata olives – 5 gm 
Sundried tomatoes – 5 gm 
Spring onion bulbs – 10 gm 
Fresh red chillies – 2 
Parmesan cheese – 3 gm 
Emmental cheese – 10 gm 
Shredded mozzarella – 20 gm 

METHOD 

  1. Sieve the refined flour and mix all the ingredients together to make a smooth dough. Divide the dough into 220 gm portions and set aside to rest for two hours.
  2. Sauté garlic in extra virgin olive oil. Add blanched spinach to the pan and sauté till thoroughly heated. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Roll out the two portions of dough into 12 inch circles with a rolling pin.
  4. Spread one of the circles with the sautéed spinach, Kalamata olive halves, juliennes of red chillies, juliennes of spring onion bulbs, strips of sundried tomatoes. Add the cheese - Emmental, mozzarella and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan.
  5. Now wet the edge of the base sheet of dough and cover with the other circle of dough. Using your fingers, crimp the edges of the pizza to tightly seal the edges.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees till crust turns light brown and appears cooked and firm.
  7. Pull out the pizza from the oven and dust off the excess flour from the base and sides.
  8. Brush the sides with extra virgin olive oil.
  9. Cut into 8 pieces and serve hot. 

Mangia Bene and do visit us soon! 

*(inspired from the following - The Italian Republic does not have an official motto, but it does have a common phrase: "L'Italia e' una Repubblica democratica, fondata sul lavoro" (Italy is a democratic Republic, founded on labor).)