Food & Wine

Buon appetito!

Buon appetito!

With nothing but a suitcase full of dreams and her faithful friend ‘the cello’, Cecilia Di Cecco left Italy to work as a musician with the KZNPO in Durban. Here she learnt to cultivate her music and at the same time began a love affair with food that eventually led to the recent launch of her first cookbook, Cucina in South Africa.

A culmination of an insatiable curiosity around food and the urge to satisfy her taste buds, Cecilia’s cookbook includes tantalizing Italian recipes that are suited to all kinds of diets. These include vegetarian and vegan dishes and of course some original dishes from her home province Abruzzo in Italy. Fiercely loyal and proud of her Italian roots, Cecilia has combined her love of local SA food experiences to create dishes with a special flair.

“I inherited my eating habits from my parents, who were both great cooks and always competing with each other to make the best dish. My father, Franco, was a teacher who specialized in sweet pastries and cakes, while my mother, Teresa, excelled in savoury dishes. My father was born and raised in a small village called Fara San Martino – very famous for its production of some of the best pastas in Italy, most probably as the result of the quality of fresh water coming from the nearby mountains. During his spare time, with the help of a close friend, Antonio, he would experiment with various foods in the kitchen. Some of my best childhood memories were spent at Antonio’s farm house making the best cakes and their very own special wine. When two men share a passion for food and good eating you can definitely expect great dishes! They were continually arguing and discussing the quantity of sugar, olive oil and the cooking time, but in the end – each dish was a tantalising feast.”

To this day Cecilia attributes her culinary passion to having had her father’s dedicated supervision in the kitchen. He was a perfectionist, always very precise, ensuring that each dish was not only tasty but beautifully presented.

“From the age of nine I remember helping him in the kitchen and my passion for cooking grew from there. Sometimes he would get impatient with me for tasting the cake batter too much, but as a child it was too tempting and so delicious. After many years of working and travelling the world, the happiness I felt at receiving compliments from my dad’s numerous guests about the delicious flavours of the meals prepared is still so vivid. His food was always healthy and flavourful. The only downside was that he often left the kitchen in a complete mess! That’s also one of the reasons my mother would try and cook our meals before he got home from work.”

Thanks to her profession as a musician, Cecilia performed at weddings, funerals, private functions and even political events, all of which provided the perfect opportunity to travel and taste different foods.

“When I arrived in South Africa I discovered new spices and herbs, especially after I met my husband. From there I started to experiment more in the kitchen trying to introduce local spices into traditional Italian dishes. My culinary horizons broadened, especially when I discovered Oxtail Stew with pap, Bobotie, Indian curries and Soji. I shared my passion for this tasty food with my husband, who was adventurous enough to substitute some of his favourite curry dishes for Italian ones. I then started mixing local products and spices with imported Italian food trying to cook traditional recipes from my region with a more exotic flavour.”


“I’m delighted that I can now reproduce some of my father’s best recipes. For every special occasion he would prepare Fusilli Alla Carbonara, Cannoli Siciliani and a Walnut Chocolate Cake. These three recipes were undoubtedly some of his best.”

The first dish is a very traditional recipe usually done with spaghetti pasta and allows for many variations. Franco‘s secret was to add onion and parmesan to the traditional ingredients: eggs, pancetta and pecorino. He often substituted the spaghetti with fusilli, which is a short pasta. The Cannoli is a tasty dessert from Sicily. The difference is that the original dish is cooked with sheep ricotta but Cecilia’s father would use cow ricotta instead because it was easier to easy to find.

“The Walnut Chocolate Cake recipe is one he is still very secretive about. However, living so far away I managed to convince him to send it to me, which I now finally have the privilege of using and sharing, along with a few others which I do hope that you enjoy as much as I do.”


Walnut Chocolate Cake Recipe



300g walnut

300g sugar

75g cocoa

125ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil

8 extra large eggs

1 tbsp cinnamon

1tsp vanilla

Zest of 1 lemon

Icing sugar



In a food processor whisk the egg yolks with the icing sugar until it has doubled in volume. Then combine the mixture with the cocoa, cinnamon, vanilla and roughly chopped walnuts. Whisk the egg whites and add gently to the cake batter. Bake in a tray 22/24cm at 150°C for 50 minutes. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve at room temperature with cream or vanilla ice cream.



Cannoli Siciliani (Sicilian cannoli)

Makes 30



Cannoli dough

250g cake flour

1 egg yolk

200ml white wine

20ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 tsp sugar

oil for the cannoli tubes and for frying


Filling & decoration

1kg ricotta cheese

350g sugar

100g dark chocolate

50g of unsalted pistachios

10 glazed cherries

60ml brandy

50ml full-cream milk

2 tbsp candied citrus cubes

icing sugar



Whisk the ricotta with sugar, brandy and milk until very smooth. Add the candied citrus cubes and dark chocolate (cut in small pieces) and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. In a cake mixer, combine all the ingredients for the dough and mix at low speed. Knead into a ball, cover with cling wrap and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes. With a pasta machine extend the dough to 3mm in thickness, thereafter cut into 10×10 cm squares. Oil cannoli metal tubes and roll the dough, diagonally overlapping the ends. Press and seal well to avoid the cannoli from opening during the cooking process. In a frying pan, heat the oil and deep-fry each cannolo until golden brown. Remove excess oil with kitchen paper and, once cooled, remove from the metal tube. Fill each cannolo with the ricotta mixture using a spoon or piping bag. Decorate with crushed pistachios and chopped cherries. Serve sprinkled with icing sugar.

Photo by Mark Lanning

Fusilli a la carbonara (Franco’s Recipe)

Serves 4



350g fusilli pasta

200g smoked pancetta or bacon

50g Parmesan

3 large eggs

1 medium onion

50ml fresh cream

50ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil





In a medium pan with Extra Virgin Olive Oil sauté the chopped onion until translucent, add the cubed pancetta and cook at medium heat until gold and crispy. In a medium pot with salted boiled water cook the fusilli until al dente. In a bowl whisk the eggs with the cream and season with salt and pepper. Add the pasta in the pan with the pancetta and toss with the eggs mixture and the Parmesan. Serve immediately top with extra Parmesan.


About the book

“I believe that by working with a team you can always achieve more”, says Cecilia. “With Cucina in South Africa being my first cookbook I decided to do a collaboration with Werner Adendorf (South Africa), Andrea Giampiccoli (Italy), Nash Munien (South Africa) and Primrose Kuwarika (Zimbabwe). Each person brought their fantastic experience and insights of the culinary world to the table that has helped create a book full of helpful, healthy – and most of all, tasty dishes. Highly esteemed photographers, Mark Lanning and Val Adamson were involved in photographing each recipe and the overall fun in the kitchen that appears in the book. Cucina in South Africa is available in all mainstream bookstores including Exclusive Books and retails for R495.


We got two copies of Cucina in South Africa to giveaway. To enter, visit before 25 June, find the competition on our home page, fill in the entry form and hold thumbs.


Photo credits: Mark Lanning and Val Adamson





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