Of all the chefs I have written about on Saucy Dressings, Davide Oldani, is one of the most interesting.
He’s a designer as much as a chef. And, like all great chefs, fixated on the dining experience as a whole. But he is also a respected entrepreneur, as well as a sports writer.
A rounded man of many talents.
Oldani hails from Cornaredo, near Milan. Having trained with a stellar cast of chefs including Gualtiero Marchesi, Albert Roux, Alain Ducasse and Pierre Hermé, he returned, in 2003, to his home town and opened D’O, a restaurant which, within a year, had earned awards and accolades worldwide. He’s given lectures at Harvard, and Paris’s University of Business. He’s done his season on television (on The Chef).
But arguably his greatest contribution is in terms of his philosophy, his Cucina POP, with regards to the dining experience. For example, he has designed his own restaurant chairs – not only to conveniently accommodate handbags, phones, spectacles – but also to facilitate digestion (they are 5cm higher than the norm). The chairs are also sustainable, made of local elm.
Above all, Oldani believes in balance. He aims to combine the essential with the well-made, tradition with innovation. He aims for harmony by balancing contrasting elements, which, as he explains on his website,
“for me means not only the promise of sweetness in something savoury and a ‘memory’ of savoury in something sweet, but also the harmonious co-existence in each dish of elements that stimulate the palate, crisp, soft, hot, cold, sweet, bitter…”
The result is food which is at the same time light and full of flavour…simple but surprising.
The concept of this simple pudding is an example. It comes from Massimo Bottura’s ever-inspiring tome, Bread is Gold. The book is a collection of recipes produced as part of Bottura’s Food for Soul project to set up soup kitchens using food waste around the world. Bottura roped in a dazzling array of celebrity chef collegues, and one of them was Oldani. In the book, Oldani’s arrival at one of the events as follows:
“Davide pulled up on his bicycle not looking like a chef at all….”, Bottura writes, “I came out and warned Davide that there was a problem: the gas wasn’t working….so he turned his attention to making a dessert. He found mascarpone and decided to prepare a mousse….”
Davide Oldani was using up ‘leftover’ mascarpone. But I always keep a tub in my fridge as it’s so useful for adding to all kinds of things when an element of rich-but-subtle creaminess is required, so I never have leftover mascarpone! I admit, occasionally it might get a little elderly.
This pud is simple. But it looks sophisticated, the aerated mascarpone forms meringue-like, Mont Blanc shapes, and provides a savoury balance to the sweet apple. Elegantly simple before, I have simplified it further (yes, it took courage!) to make it foolproof. And I’ve added a taste of quince and of bitter chocolate, because I happened to have both gently aging in my fridge.
I just hope Oldani would approve.
Recipe for Mont Blanc look-alike mascarpone mousse with caramelised fruit
- 500g/1 lb 2 oz mascarpone
- 2 tbsps whipping cream
- 2 eggs
- 50g/4 tbsps/¼ cup granulated sugar; plus an additional 100g/½ cup
- 3 apples – or about 250g/9 oz hard fruit – could also be pears, whatever windfall you may be enjoying – I have even mixed in some stewed quince – wonderful!
- 1 tbsp brandy
- 1 tbsp water
- knob of butter
- a little grated dark chocolate
- Separate the eggs, putting the whites into a large, dry mixing bowl, and the yolks into a reasonably sized heatproof bowl – ready to be suspended over a medium-sized saucepan of simmering water – the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Get the water simmering, but don’t put the bowl with the egg yolks on top just yet.
- Line a baking tray with silicone paper.
- Using an electric whisk, beat the egg whites with two generous tablespoons of sugar until stiff.
- In another bowl, beat the mascarpone with the cream, using the electric whisk, to loosen it up.
- Add two generous tbsps. of sugar to the yolks in the bain marie, and put it over the simmering water. Whisk (with the same whisk) until frothy – take off the heat immediately.
- Using a spatula, fold first the mascarpone into the egg yolks; and then the stiff egg whites.
- Drop 18 golf-ball-sized amounts of the mixture onto the prepared baking tray and chill in the fridge for an hour – or overnight if you want to make these the day before.
- Put a knob of butter into a saucepan, and melt it gently.
- Core and peel the fruit, and cut into chunks. Add to the saucepan. Add the water and brandy, and then mix in the sugar. Cook for a few minutes until the fruit has caramelised. At this stage you can set aside for a day or two until you are ready.
- Reheat the stewed fruit if you need to. Put three mascarpone mini-mountains on each plate, and, using a slotted spoon, spoon over the stewed fruit. Drizzle over the remaining syrup, and grate over a little chocolate.
- Serve with a flourish!
For other recipes inspired by Massimo Bottura’s Bread Is Gold see:
- herbed and charred cabbage salad with three cheeses and walnuts
- golden couscous, sour cream, meatballs, and a magnificent medley of seeds and nuts
You can listen to Oldani explaining his kitchen philosophy in the clip below: