From Puglia with love: Chef Simone Loisi on the universal appeal of authentic Italian food (plus recipes!)

Payel Upreti Majumdar
Chef Simone Loisi, Head Chef at Waterfall Ristorante Italiano, at Shangri-La Singapore had recently hosted a popup at Shangri-La Bengaluru. LuxeBook had the opportunity to have a conversation with the chef on authentic Italian cuisine, its diversity as well as universal popularity at the same time. Chef Loisi belongs to the Puglia region of the country, and his inspiration for cooking was from his family’s old tradition of cooking at home. He additionally shared two delicious recipes with us for a quick fix Italian meal in the end!
Chef Simone Loisi
Photo Courtesy: Shangri-La Singapore
Tell us about Puglia’s cultural significance when it comes to food.
In Puglia, food plays a big part in our lifestyle. Food brings people together every weekend and on special occasions and celebrations. Because Puglia is a maritime region, there is a lot of emphasis on seafood, like fish and octopus, which can be served raw or cooked. The food culture in Puglia features a variety of flavours, which can vary from typical cheeses such as burrata to their rich olive oils and spicy pepperoncini.
How do dishes from the region differ from the rest of the country?
In Puglia, we try to stay authentic and preserve the original flavours. Also, due to Puglia’s sunny climate and fertile soils, many of the ingredients used for the food are grown locally,  making the food very fresh and authentic. Sometimes the simplest dishes are the most difficult to make, but also the best.
Italian food is one of the most reinvented cuisines. What is your take on that?
In Italy, there is an impressive variety of dishes, but with all cuisines, in order to adapt to the tastes of the local people and times of the generation, some dishes might be modified along the way. For instance, where I currently reside right now, which is Singapore, they have their own version of ‘localised’ pasta with their own traditional flavours infused into pasta or lasagne dishes. The same way how pizza in the US or India might not be the same as the ones you find in Italy. However, despite the many variations of Italian food all over the world, Italian cuisine remains one of the best and most relevant cuisines as it is made up of simple and well-balanced dishes, made from fresh top quality products.
Spaghetti Al Nero Di Seppia Con Aragosta, Asparagi, Creme di Burrata
Photo Courtesy: Shangri-La Bengaluru
Tell us a little about your culinary journey.
I have always liked being in the kitchen and seeing my mother or my grandmothers at work while they were cooking. I learned their recipes and techniques because even their simple dishes were delicious and everyone in the family who ate their food felt happy. That inspired me to start cooking because I realised how important food is to bring people together and create happiness when people gather.
I left Puglia to go to France with my brother (to whom I owe a lot, where I got my first full hands-on experience in the kitchen. I then went on to gain different experiences in Malta and Monaco, before clinching the opportunity to work in Singapore, which gave me exposure in a new part of the world. I believe in always being open to taste and experiencing different flavours and learning about different food cultures, and with this enhanced knowledge and passion, I hope to improve my cooking skills and recipes and pass it on to my team, colleagues and clients.
What is the reason, according to you, for Italian cuisine’s sustained popularity?
 The authenticity of Italian food makes a lot of our traditional recipes still relevant and sought after. Italian cuisine uses a lot of fresh herbs and natural ingredients, which contributes to the freshness and authentic feel of the dish.
Your favourite food to eat from Italian cuisine? What other cuisines from the world are you fond of?
I love orecchiette alle cime di rapa (with turnip tops), and raw seafood, like sea urchin, prawn, and langoustine, which I enjoy eating fresh from the sea when I’m in Puglia.
Having lived in Singapore for over 5 years, I have adapted and enjoyed some of their local dishes such as chicken rice. I especially love home-cooked Indonesian dishes such as nasi goreng (fried rice) due to my wife’s cooking influence at home.
There are also many Indian dishes that I have tried and enjoyed in Singapore, such as naan and butter chicken, and biryani. I am excited to try some of the local authentic food here in Bengaluru.
Chef Simone Loisi
Photo Courtesy: Shangri-La Bengaluru
Recipe from Shangri-La Bengaluru, Recipe by Simone Loisi, Head Chef at Waterfall Ristorante Italiano, Shangri-La Singapore
Burrata Pugliese
Chef Simone Loisi Buratta Capresse
Photo Courtesy: Shangri-La Bengaluru
Cucumber 40 gm
Onion 40 gm
Burrata cheese 100 gm
Salt 2 gm
Pepper 2 gm
Extra virgin olive oil 10 ml
Vinegar and sugar (for the pickled onion) 100 ml
Oregano 2 gm
Cherry tomato 10 gm
Croutons 5 gm
Rocket lettuce 80 gm
Note: The Apulian burrata cannot be missing, a cheese now known all over the world. In this case, it is served with cialdedda, a typical salad from Bari (capital of Puglia).
Add the vinegar to the sauce with 5 g of sugar, and heat over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves.
Chill the vinegar mixture and add the shallot onion to the vinegar and leave to macerate.
Take the cubed bread, then add the salt and generous olive oil and bake for about 8 minutes at 170 degrees Celsius.
Take a mixing bowl, add cleaned washed rocket leaves, sliced cucumber and ½ cut cherry tomato and croutons. Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and mix well.
Mix the lettuce and place it on a plate with the burrata on top.
Polpette Al Sugo
Simone Loisi Italian,Traditional,Dish"polpette,Al,Sugo",italian,Meatballs,In,Tomato,Sauce,On
Photo Courtesy: Shangri-La Bengaluru
Hard bread 500 gm
Milk 200 ml
Whole eggs 4
Salt 2 gm
Extra virgin olive oil 10 ml
Parmesan cheese 100 gm
Peeled tomatoes 500 gm
Basil fresh 5
Cloves of garlic 6
Note: This bread ball with sauce is a simple but tasty dish, to offer as an appetizer. A dish that says no to waste, where hard bread from the day before may be used.
In a pan, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and saute until fragrant and lightly golden brown.
Add the peeled tomatoes to the pan and cook over low heat for around 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Crush the tomatoes with a spoon or a fork as they cook.
Add a few sprigs of fresh basil to the pan, season with salt and pepper to taste, and continue to cook for a few more minutes until the sauce thickens. Remove the basil sprigs and discard.
Cut the bread into small cubes and soak them in the milk for around 30 minutes. Squeeze the bread to remove excess milk.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg, grated Parmesan cheese, and some chopped fresh basil. Add the bread cubes and mix well until you get a homogeneous mixture.
Form small balls with the bread mixture, around 100 gm per ball as the preferred size.
Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat until it reaches around 180°C.
Fry the bread balls in the hot oil until they are golden brown and crispy, about 2-3 minutes.
Add the fried bread balls to the tomato sauce and cook for around 5-10 minutes over low heat until they are heated through and have absorbed some of the sauce. Check the internal temperature of the bread balls with a thermometer to ensure they reach 65°C.
Serve the bread balls with the tomato sauce on a plate, garnished with some fresh basil leaves.
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