Extra virgin olive oil is a staple in recipes of the traditional central and southern Italy cuisine, and it is ever more valued by chefs all over the country. But even then, it is not so common to meet a chef as passionate and competent about this ingredient as Matia Barciulli, the executive chef of the Antinori’ family’s restaurants in Tuscany, including the Michelin-starred Osteria di Passignano.
Set in an historical building, which is part of the Abbey of Passignano, an ancient monastery dating back to 395 and still inhabited by monks, the Osteria is a charming restaurant surrounded by the vineyards belonging to the Italian wine dynasty.
Being born and raised in Tuscany — a region synonymous with excellent olive oils — helped for sure, but Matia devoted extraordinary effort, time and passion in researching the subject.
As he recalls, he was still a student at the hospitality training institute in Florence when one of his classmate’s father asked him to help with organizing food and oil pairings. Matia was young but already experienced having worked in pizzerias and restaurants during school holidays, and the man was really happy with his contribution.
That man was Marco Mugelli, one of the world’s greatest and beloved olive oil experts. “He then became my teacher on extra virgin, and I started to cherish this product as one of the most precious for my cooking,” Matia says. “For me it is not only a seasoning but a proper ingredient and a pillar of my cuisine.”
See Also: In Memory of Marco Mugelli
“Every year, I choose at least 7 different “shades” to be used in different recipes, from Tuscany to Sicily. I do not believe in ‘zero-mile’ food when it comes to quality products.”
Depending on the season, on the Osteria’s menu one can find dishes such as the “Pappa al pomodoro” ravioli, stuffed with the typical mixture of dry bread and ripe tomatoes and served with basil pesto, Grana cheese shavings and a generous drizzle of the fantastic, flower-scented Olivastra Seggianese single variety made by Frantoio Franci; the Monkfish and baby octopus, fake rock of bread with herb bouquet and olive oil with the intense Apulian Don Gioacchino Sabino Leone made with Coratina olives.
And there is the lovely extra virgin ice cream, which he serves in different dessert recipes choosing the appropriate extra virgin according to the overall result. For example, he uses the gentle pitted Casaliva single variety made by Comincioli for his refined “fiord’olio” ice-cream served with hazelnut biscuit and vanilla-scented apricots.
Barciulli arrived at the Osteria di Passignano in 2001, following his meeting with Marcello Crini who had recently launched the restaurant with Allegra Antinori. When, after a few months, chef Marco Stabile — now running his own restaurant Ora d’Aria in Florence — left the helm of the Osteria he took over the kitchen, beginning to travel around and explore places and flavors to create his own style. In 2007, the Michelin star rewarded his efforts.
2013 was another fundamental year in Barciulli’s life and career. Antinori winery launched its new and impressive wine cellar in San Casciano Val di Pesa, in the very heart of the renowned Chianti Classico area: a stunning contemporary and sustainable architectural project, it is barely visible from a distance and has been designed to minimize the impact on the environment and for maximum energy efficiency.
The cellar also hosts the Rinuccio 1180 restaurant, which serves a simpler yet tasty Tuscan cuisine. Barciulli currently is the executive chef of all the Antinori’s hospitality and food properties, leading the kitchens of the different restaurants.
Sadly in 2013 both Marco Mugelli and Massimo Pasquini, another key ambassador for Tuscan extra virgin olive oil, passed away. In their memory Matia Barciulli, together with other friends who share with him the passion for extra virgin and the bond with the two men, founded Il Magnifico International Competition, whose award ceremony in 2015 was held in the Antinori winery.
It was on that occasion that we tasted Matia’s extra virgin ice-cream, which he especially prepared for the ceremony using the winning olive oil.
The extra virgin ice-cream recipe is quite easy, but it is imperative, as in any food you really care about, to use a great extra virgin olive oil:
- low fat yogurt 260 grams
— extra virgin olive oil 100 grams
— sugar syrup (32° Baumè) 115 grams
Mix all the ingredients with a hand blender and process with an ice-cream maker. Keep frozen until serving.