When guests sit down on a plastic chair, behind a long table on the back veranda at the Sydney home-turned-restaurant, Cucina Casareccia, they not only get to indulge in Italian cuisine but savour a slice of nostalgia.
“Although dining outdoors is very Italian, the back veranda is such an Australian symbol,” says 59-year-old Lucia Di Luca, whose parents migrated to Australia from Italy in the 1950s.
“So many people who come to eat at our place tell us that the dining experience reminds them of how they used to eat in Australia in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s – as immigrants or first generation Australians – sitting on the back veranda on those same plastic chairs, having a slow, long lunch.
“People have actually started crying from the memories that our place has evoked in them.”
First generation Italian-Australian, Di Luca recalls growing up in a “fibro shack” near Cucina Casareccia in Sydney’s west, regularly eating lunch and dinner outdoors with her family and dear friends.
Di Luca left home to go and study and later, in 1979, her parents sold the family house to build a new one on a five-acre block in Orchard Hills. She now lives and works in the family’s 40-year-old home – also the site of the restaurant – where she used to visit her parents for long Australian-Italian lunches as a young adult.
“While our friends had small blocks of land, we had acreage at Orchard Hills. So when people would come to visit us for lunch, they just felt like they were somewhere back in Italy, on a property with lots of land. And we always sat on the back veranda to eat. It was just wonderful.”
Old school slow food
Di Luca opened Cucina Casareccia at the Orchard Hills property with her three siblings in 2012. Now operating on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the family-run restaurant currently feeds over 30 guests at each sitting on the back veranda.
The humble makeshift restaurant serves a four-course seasonal menu, designed to be savoured with family and friends, and enjoyed in the traditional style of an Italian celebration.
“Our menu is reminiscent of Italian weddings and christenings and holy communions and confirmation celebrations of olden times.”
Lunch or dinner on the property starts with five antipasti, plus bread fired in the oven. Homemade pasta is served next, followed by meat with vegetables and desert.
Most of the ingredients either come from the family’s garden, local markets or growers. “We serve nice simple Italian food. It’s not overworked or highly stylised on the plate. It’s just rustic, hearty, good quality and fresh.”
The only limitation to operating a restaurant from an older home is that the menu has to be formulated to accommodate a 1979 domestic kitchen.
“For example, we can’t do a baked meat dish and a lasagne as we only have one oven. We can do lasagne for 50 people then a meat dish cooked on the hot plate. So we plan the menu around the equipment we have.”
This month, the menu features a lasagne of buckwheat flour, inspired by the northern Italian dish called pizzoccheri – a type of flat ribbon pasta made with 80 per cent buckwheat flour and 20 per cent wheat flour.
Also on the menu is pasta al curry using homemade fettuccine – a dish discovered by the family when visiting Italy in 1982. “It’s got triple smoked ham in it, mushrooms, cream, curry powder and passata. It’s a subtle combination of East meets West.”
Main comprises of chicken breast stuffed with smoked fior di latte, spinach from the garden, sun dried tomato paste, garlic and onion, finished in a white wine sauce.
The other main menu feature is time. Di Luca stresses that guests who visit shouldn’t be in a hurry to eat. Food at Cucina Casareccia should be eaten slowly while guests appreciate the open space and rolling views on the property.
“Our lunch is long because we believe eating should be about taking your time, celebrating your day, enjoying the food and talking to the people you are with. We welcome people to get up between courses and sit on the grassy areas and relax under a tree on the property.
“What’s the point of going out to lunch if you’re going to rush?”
EAT LIKE AN ITALIAN