Delaney Mes is a food writer and blogger.

Kitchen spy: Giapo Grazioli (+ recipe)

Famed for exquisite gelato, Giapo Grazioli also proves a dab hand with pesto.

Delaney Mes cooks food with Giapo Grazioli and Annarosa Grazioli today. Pictured is Giapo and Delaney picking herbs from his garden. Photo / Doug Sherring
Delaney Mes cooks food with Giapo Grazioli and Annarosa Grazioli today. Pictured is Giapo and Delaney picking herbs from his garden. Photo / Doug Sherring

I have long been a fan of culinary genius Giapo Grazioli's gelato creations coming out of his tiny Queen St store. Open now for eight years, the store has been been pushing the boundaries on ingredients and wacky creations to the point of a cult following and nightly queues out the door. The tiramisu is my absolute favourite, although I have also recently tried and loved the organic Kumeu strawberries and cream. Giapo is a champion of local ingredients and comes from a chef background. He and his wife Annarosa hail from Italy. Curious to know about their culinary history, and how they eat when they're not selling out of organic ice cream, I invited myself over for lunch.

I was welcomed to their beautiful Mission Bay home with an aperitivo Aperol spritz and smoked prosciutto on an antipasti platter. Originally from near Sorrento, Naples, Giapo informs me immediately that it is very important to drink on the job: "You can't cook without drinking," he tells me, and I don't need to be told twice.

Today he and Annarosa are teaching me how to make spaghetti maria grazia, a zucchini and basil spaghetti dish they often make when friends come for dinner.

We start by picking basil in the garden, and then I keep sipping Aperol and pick their brains.
"Music is very important too," Giapo tells me, as he sings loudly along to Creedence Clearwater Revival's Have you Ever Seen the Rain.

They've lived in New Zealand for about 13 years, and have two children aged 4 and 6. Giapo tells me they both cook at home. I stand to the side as they dancing around each other in the kitchen, frying zucchini, weighing cheese, testing pasta. I take in the sights and smells. "It's always a collaboration," he says, but admits Annarosa does most of the cooking for the children.

This dish is an adaptation from a famous seaside town in Italy's south. It's essentially a pesto made of fried zucchini, three kinds of cheese and fresh basil. But there's a twist. The secret to making it taste so good? They both turn to me and grin: "Butter!"

Giapo is proud to make a pesto without olive oil - he doesn't think it is necessary, plus you get a superior flavour with butter. They start blending the pesto, and he calls me over. "Delaney. Smell this." It's so good - the basil, the cheese. He tells me he will "preserve the smell as a taste", which basically means that that amazing smell translates to the flavour we get - and it's great.

I'm curious about the cooking of the pasta. We're always told in recipes to cook "al dente" or "firm to bite". Some people put oil in the water, and usually not enough salt. Giapo likes his spaghetti with crunch: if the packet says cook for 11 minutes, he'll cook it for 7½-8. Plenty of salt is crucial too: 4kg water to 40g salt to 400g spaghetti makes for the perfectly salty, crunchy, spaghetti. Yes, says Giapo - weigh the water. Weight is everything.

It was utterly delicious and an honour to have lunch with these two passionate cooks.

I spied . . .

• Weight is everything and everything gets weighed in this recipe. It's too hard to get continuity with cups and measures. Get good digital scales and weigh everything to the gram.

• A herb garden goes a long way.

• I always thought a deep fryer was just an unnecessary gadget, but the ability
to get an even temperature is a big benefit.

• You don't need oil in your pesto.

• A snack and an aperitivo are something the Italians do incredibly well, and you can't cook without a drink and music.

Spaghetti maria grazia

Spaghetti marla grazia. Photo / Doug Sherring
Spaghetti marla grazia. Photo / Doug Sherring

For the pesto/sauce

• 300g lightly fried zucchini slices
• 50g basil leaves
• 75g parmigianno regiano (aged 24 months)
• 25 pecorino cheese
• 25g provolone cheese
• 50g butter
• 25g cream
• Salt and pepper to taste (about 2g pepper and 1.5g salt)

For the pasta

• 4kg water
• 40g salt
• 400g spaghetti
• 90g (approx) butter

1. Lightly fry the zucchini slices. Annarosa and Giapo used a deep fryer but you could lightly fry in a frying pan, being careful not to colour it.

2. Leave a few fried zucchini aside to garnish. Add the rest to a blender of food processor with all other ingredients and process until combined.

3. Boil the water and add the salt. Add the spaghetti and boil for 7½ to 8 minutes. Drain the spaghetti, then using tongs, stir through the butter.

4. Add the sauce and stir it through the spaghetti.

5. Serve garnished with a few additional fried zucchini slices. Garnish with additional parmesan and salt and pepper.

Serves four

- Spy.co.nz

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