Chef Q&A: Paulo Davies-Romano

Paola Romano, The Larder, Burwash Manor

Paola Romano, The Larder, Burwash Manor - Credit: Archant

The owner-chef at The Larder at Burwash Manor, Burton gives an insight into her kitchen

Paola's Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage Butter

Paola's Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage Butter - Credit: Archant

Describe your style Inventive, simple and intrepid. The food I cook has definite European influences; this is mainly as a result of being brought up in an Italian restaurant. I really love taking simple, good local produce and turning it into something everyone wants to eat.

How do you decide your menu? mostly decided by what is in season. I alsO always take into conisderation what the customer wants to eat and trust my experience of what foods are popular.

Which menu dish do you most enjoy preparing? I enjoy preparing all of the dishes, oherwise, I can assure you, I wouldn’t cook them. If it’s not something that meets my standards or a dish that I wouldn’t eat myself, then it doesn’t appear on our menu. A dish that I delight in cooking is the very popular lasagna alla Romano (Neapolitan style), the rich three-meat ragu sauce takes upto to four hours to cook. The flavours produced are worth the effort!

What ingredient is most important to your cooking? There’s nothing quite like a ripe, sweet, juicy tomato. The possibilities are endless with so many varieties to choose from. In the summer you can’t beat a refreshing panzanella: day old ciabatta bread, red onion, fresh torn basil leaves, lots of ripe tomatoes and lashings of extra virgin olive oil. In the winter, a hearty, tomatoey goulash is so satisfying.

What’s been your best culinary idea? I enjoy experimenting to improve every thing I cook from modern to traditional classics.

Who did you train under and what did they teach you? I was brought up in an Italian 150 cover restaurant. From the age of nine I was at my dad’s side, watching, asking and learning. In my eyes, he was the best cook I have ever had the pleasure of working with. His motto was that if the food wasn’t good enough for him, then it wasn’t good enough to serve to the customers. The passion he had for the food he prepared was not one I have encountered since. He taught me not be frightened of experimenting and that the best flavours are the simplest.

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Next food trend? Smoked foods are on the up, hot smoked salmon and smoked chicken are really delicious when combined with other ingredients. Larder stockists Chapel and Swan Smokehouse produce delicious smoked wares. Also, a revival of heirloom varieties of vegetables like kale, parsnips and artichokes. I can also see foods being stripped back to to basics – simple, good tasting honest foods with fewer ingredients.

What’s in your fridge at home? Prosciutto, salame, hard cheese and arctichoke hearts in brine for a quick nibble. Lots of fresh vegetables and a variety of mustards and jams.

Favourite quick meal? Spaghetti all’amatriciana

Top three tips for amateur chefs? Keep your work area clean at all times, it will keep your mind organised and on the task at hand. Be passionate about the food you cook. And listen!

Best cookbook? Mary Berry’s Desserts and Confections and anything by Michael Roux – he inpires me.

Recipe: Butternut Squash Risotto with Sage Butter

‘Roasted squash gives this vegetarian supper a deep autumnal flavor and the sage butter adds a wonderfully woody note to the finished dish.’

Ingredients (serves 2/4) 300g prepared weight butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into 3cm cubes, roasted in the oven with 1tbsp olive oil and good pinch of black pepper; 1 tbsp olive oil; 50g salted butter; 1.3l good vegetable stock; 1 medium onion, chopped, 350g risotto rice (arborio or carnaroli); 100g mascarpone cheese; 6/8 sage leaves, finely shredded; 90g peas, cooked; 200g manchego cheese, grated. (To turn into a meaty dish, add 2tbsp crispy pancetta or smoked bacon pieces).

Method 1. Prepare the butternut squash, roast and set aside to cool. 2. Have the stock ready and boiling in a different saucepan. 3. Heat the olive oil and 20g of the butter in a deep, large frying pan, add the onion and fry gently for about seven minutes. 4. Stir the rice into the onion and add one ladle of stock at a time, ensuring the liquid absorbs before each addition. When rice is cooked, it should be al dente. 5. Add the cooked peas and half of the roasted butternut squash. Combine gently. 6. Mix in the mascarpone and 150g of the manchego and stir until the cheeses have melted – the end result shouldn’t be dry but beautifully creamy. 7. Heat the remaining butter with the shredded sage leaves for about 1 minute, until starting to fry. 8. Serve the risotto, with the rest of the butternut squash chunks scattered over the top. Just before serving pour a tbsp of the sage butter all over the top and a good sprinkle of the remaining grated manchego.