Features & Stories

Behind the Cookbook: A Sardinian Cookbook, A Lombardian Cookbook and Wild Weed Pie

By Roberta Muir

They say there are two types of people in the world: Italians and those who wish they were. Despite a very Italian first name, I fall firmly into the second group.

I’ve loved Italy since I spent six weeks backpacking down the Mediterranean coast from Rome to Sicily in the early 90s, discovering cacio e pepe pasta, buffalo mozzarella, authentic cannoli and Campari soda. I love its food, wine, architecture and history, but most of all I love its people and the way they embrace life and share it with whoever happens to be nearby, most often around the table.

So, having spent most of my career running cooking classes; writing about food, wine and restaurants; and creating recipes, it’s no surprise that I’ve been drawn to Italian restaurants and chefs. I’ve formed firm friendships with many of them and been privileged to write cookbooks with two of the best.


In 2010, Giovanni Pilu and I travelled to his home island of Sardinia to give me an insight into the culture that shapes the food I love at his restaurant on Sydney’s northern beaches. We wrote A Sardinian Cookbook to celebrate the unique flavours of his island, where people have always foraged in the mountains and forests for wild fennel, asparagus, chicory, nettles, chestnuts, berries and honey; where rabbit and wild boar are still hunted in the traditional way and wild juniper, mint, sage, and the characteristic Sardinian myrtle scent many dishes. More than just a collection of recipes – including my favourite malloreddus with clams, bottarga and zucchini flowers, and Giovanni’s roast suckling pig with scented apple sauce – this book is filled with details of Sardinia’s unique produce and culinary heritage and stories of Giovanni’s youth among the forests and hills of his island home. A Sardinian Cookbook is an authentic and fascinating introduction to Sardinian food and culture, where hospitality is at the core of daily life and no meal is complete without cheese and bread on the table. 


While regions like Sardinia are instantly recognised, a few of Italy’s 20 regions are overshadowed by powerful capital cities and barely known by name. So it is with Italy’s wealthiest region, industrial Lombardy with fashion capital Milan at its heart, a region also rich in agricultural land. In 2012, Alessandro Pavoni (chef/owner of Sydney’s Ormeggio at The Spit and a’Mare in the Crown Casino) led me on a whirlwind trip around his home region of Lombardy to explore the fabulous produce, rich culture and cuisine of his little-known corner of Italy. In A Lombardian Cookbook we created a celebration of Lombardy’s traditional food, as diverse as the Alps, lakes, hills and plains that make up this landlocked region. Lakes such as Como and Garda provide fish and a micro-climate that nurtures olive trees, citrus and grapes further north than seems possible, while the rib-sticking dishes of the Alps have more in common with bordering Switzerland than sunny southern Italy. Wooded hills provide boar, pheasant and other game plus mushrooms and chestnuts, and the fertile plains of the River Po produce corn for polenta, rice for risotto and pastures for cattle, making dishes like osso bucco popular and producing some of Italy’s most famous cheeses, including mascarpone, gorgonzola and taleggio. Baking is also popular and sweets include Italy’s famous Christmas bread, panettone, and delicious cakes, nougat and deep-fried Carnevale treats


The first cookbook I ever worked on was Wild Weed Pie, with one of the most talented and influential chefs of the late 20th century: Janni Kyritsis. Although I didn’t experience Janni’s food at the iconic Berowra Waters Inn in the ‘80s, I dined at his Surry Hills restaurant MG Garage almost weekly in the early noughties. As we became friends I regularly harassed him to record his recipes for a wider audience to enjoy. When he retired, in 2002, he decided it was time and we spent a couple of years working through his detailed index box of recipes cards that spanned over 20 years, from his time at Stephanie’s and Berowra Waters to Bennelong and finally MG Garage. From homely garlic soup with poached egg and parmesan (my personal favourite), to stuffed pig’s trotters (one of Janni’s favourites) and the extraordinary gold-leaf-coated chocolate pyramid cake, Wild Weed Pie is a book full of remarkable cooking at its most innovative and delicious as well as a retrospective of the people and stories that defined modern Australian cuisine.


Gold-leaf chocolate pyramid from Wild Weed Pie


Roberta Muir now runs small-group food and wine tours to her beloved Italy. For details visit BeInspired.au.
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Wild Weed Pie, A Sardinian Cookbook and A Lombardian Cookbook with ckbk Premium Membership.


Giovanni Pilu, Alessandro Pavoni and Janni Kyritsis


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