Time's Table with Tiella's Dara Klein - Passatelli in brodo, pasta pomodoro and grilled octopus gilda

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Every now and then a meal becomes more than just a meal. It could be innovative and exciting – the kind that shapes your cooking going forward. But there’s something equally magic about the dish your mum used to cook you growing up, or even the reliable weekly staple you knock together on repeat.

In this new series, Time’s Table, we chat to people about the food that has left an impact on a time in their life – be it their past, present or future. Trust us, you can learn a lot about someone through what’s on their plate. 

Time’s Table with… Dara Klein

It’s no great surprise that Dara Klein’s Italian pop-up concept, Tiella, is making waves across London’s food scene. 

Growing up in New Zealand, she spent much of her youth in her parents’ trattoria, Maria Pia’s – a local institution – and before that, her family owned a deli selling hot Italian food. 

It wasn’t just their eateries that made a name for themselves. Inspired by the food in her hometown of Puglia, Dara’s mother [Maria Pia de Razza] is today regarded as a celebrity of Italian home cooking, and even has recipes featured in The Silver Spoon, which is considered the most influential Italian cookbook of the last 50 years. 

Dara Klein is founder of north London's Tiella (Credit: Twisted)

RECIPE: Try Dara Klein's Pomodoro and Smoked Scamorza Crostino Recipe

To say that cooking is part of this chef’s DNA is no exaggeration. So, when she eventually travelled to London with a culinary career in her sights, she was well equipped to stand out from the masses. 

First, she pitched up at the likes of Rubedo, Brawn and Sager and Wilde, but now she’s running her own operation, Tiella, at north London’s Compton Arms, serving food that is a love letter to the rustic, comforting, traditional Italian fare that she was brought up around. 

But how much has Dara’s mother rubbed off on her cooking style? And what other influences have made her the chef she is today? To gain a better insight at the woman behind the brand, we asked her to share a nostalgic dish from her past, a present staple and a recent inspiration.

Past - Passatelli in brodo

“Every region of Italy has strong food traditions, but my mum comes from Puglia, which is even more headstrong. 

“Her family has cooks and bakers going down the generations! My aunties and my grandmother actually opened the second fresh, Pastificio, which is a pasta shop. 

“So, obviously my mum is an amazing pasta maker. She would make tortellini to have in broth, and I have this memory of just yanking them off the tray and eating them, raw. 

“Even to this day, if I if I'm making tortellini I will have a few of them raw because it takes me back to being a kid! 

“That memory is very much in Italy, where I was born, but my core food memories are all in New Zealand [where I grew up].

“Before my parents had the restaurant, they had the deli, which was actually down the road from my primary school. Then, when they opened the restaurant it was across the road from my house, so food was always at the centre of [my life]!

“Mum made tortellini in the restaurant, but if I had to choose one dish that really sticks out in my mind, it’s a dish called passatelli in brodo. It’s actually one of my favourite foods on the face of the earth. 

“It's a noodle that's made out of bread crumbs, parmesan and nutmeg, and it gets simmered in broth. It’s usually eaten around winter time, because of the beautiful, warming, cheesy broth. My mum used to make it at home, and it’s such a nostalgic dish for me. 

“Part of the joy is the texture. It’s basicallty a sturdy noodle. The broth my mum usually made was one with chicken and beef bones, and it was really clear – she was an expert broth maker. 

Passatelli in brodo is Dara's favourite dish of all time (Credit: Getty)

“I think I've only made passatelli in brodo once in five years of living in the UK, because I like to wait until I'm back [in Italy]. My sister lives in Bologna, and every time I go and see her she makes it for me using my mum’s cookbook. 

“Going back to Italy really reinvigorates my soul as a person and as a chef. I spent more of my life away from Italy than I have being there, and most Italians don't consider me Italian, but in my heart I feel so connected to my foods and my culture. 

“I always come back with loads of ideas for the menu. I've thought about bringing [passatelli in brodo] to Tiella loads, but it's quite a physically intensive dish to make, because the dough is quite dry and you essentially have to crank it through handcrank. 

“Maybe one day it’ll do it as a special, though!” 

Present - Pasta pomodoro

“I used to find cooking therapeutic, but now that I own a business, it depends on the day! 

“On most days off, I often try not to cook, and I’m not afraid to go to like my beloved places in my neighbourhood and let them feed me!

“Once a week, without fail, I’ll have pasta pomodoro, though. It’s just a very classic, old school method of making tomato sauce, and I’ve noticed that if I don’t eat it for a couple of weeks, I’ll really start to crave it. 

“I usually make it in summertime, when we’ve got fresh tomatoes. I’ve pretty much perfected a quick version, but if it’s a day off and I’m being lazy and not leaving the house, I might spend hours making one. 

Dara's gnocchi pomodoro, as served at Tiella (Credit: Tiella)

“For me, it's always a base of really slowly cooked onions, a little bit of garlic, white wine, bay leaves, good quality olive oil and good quality tomatoes. 

“However – I’ll say this – you can wing a tomato sauce without using the best of the best ingredients, so long as the method’s right. 

“The trick is to cook your base really slowly, letting your onions go really soft without catching, then add your wine and tomatoes. 

“For about an hour, you play this game of cat mouse. You're basically just almost letting the pan catch at the bottom, but just before it does you move it around and stir the sauce. It’s something my mom taught me – a good cook doesn’t stir their food too often. 

“You actually allow all the flavours and ingredients to meld together and and let that create magic. I’m very passionate about my method for making tomato sauce!

“I think that’s [a reflection of my cooking style]. Just simplicity. Don't let your ego as a chef flex, just pay attention to what the ingredient is asking you to do. 

Pomodoro sauce is one of Dara's go-tos (Credit: Getty)

“Nowadays the days cooking pasta pomodoro are less frequent, but I do think it's important to feed yourself. It's the most love that you can show yourself. So, I do try, and it’s one of those recipes I always fall back on.”

Future - Grilled octopus 

“I would say it's evident that I was raised in New Zealand and I also have the Italian and American sides [of my family], because I'm not in some ways I'm a massive purist, and in other ways I'm a really broad eater.

“If it's good quality, I enjoy it. I recently went for an amazing dinner at Midland Grand Dining Room in Kings Cross. It’s in the Renaissance hotel, and my friend Patrick [Powell] is the head chef – he took over the kitchen a year ago. 

“I’d say Patrick’s food offers hearty flavour with a refined edge, and that’s something that I don't perceive my own food to be. Perhaps that’s something I’m seeking a little bit.

Dara is inspired by all her friends in the industry (Credit: Instagram/ Dara Klein)

“Maybe others see it, but I don’t, compared to some of my friends who are the best chefs in the country… and I’ll say that with my chest!

“Some of his cooking is super classically French, and other dishes are slightly more Spanish leaning. 

“To me, it doesn’t matter the culture of the food or where I am in the world, I always want balance, and this one dish to me was just perfect. 

“It was this gilda, made of grilled octopus. There were olives, I think there was a pickled element, like a pickled chilli pepper. 

“It was smoky, fresh, invigorating…one of those dishes that just sung balance.

“Developing recipes for Tiella, I know that can take time to achieve. Mum also taught me a really good cook uses all of their senses, not just how something looks, or smells, or tastes. You have to allow things to lead you intuitively. 

“I tend to find that if I over-intellectualise a dish, it doesn’t work as well. With this dish, everything just complemented the other. It was definitely inspiring!”

Featured image: Twisted