Bellissimo Italia!

Simon Gault’s love of Italy and Italian cooking has influenced his menus and individual recipe creations for many years. He has also teamed up with Smeg, which has just introduced the bright and colourful Portofino cooker range, the equal of the most vibrant Italian dishes.

“We just don’t have enough olive oil in our cooking in New Zealand,” says Simon Gault, as he prepares a signature tuna and buffalo mozzarella salad in his home kitchen for 66 Magazine.

A huge fan of Italian cuisine – not to mention a passionate traveler with a love of the country itself – Simon is an advocate for fresh ingredients and healthful combinations on the plate. He reckons you only need to look to Italian cooking in general to get an idea of how good food promotes longer life. 

“The average Kiwi consumes about 200ml of olive oil over the course a year. The average Italian? Around 25-litres per person,” he says. 

“There are lots of antioxidants in olive oil and so much flavour. We really should be including it in our cooking so much more than we tend to now.” 

Similarly, since spending time on the island of Pantelleria, which lies between Sicily and Tunisia in the Mediterranean, Simon has developed a passion for all varieties of tomato; another item crucial to classic Italian cooking. 

“We should be living on tomatoes. You can never get bored adding them as an ingredient. They’re such an abundant source of nutrients and there are so many varieties available to us; they’re easy to grow too. 

“When I was staying with friends on Pantelleria, we met a chef from Napoli who had the most unlikely way of drying tomatoes in the sun; he used the windscreen from a car he found at the local wrecker’s yard. All he would do was lie his locally-grown tomatoes out in the sun and add salt and olive oil; the flavours were fantastic, and that really is all it took to create them.”

Simon believes there is so much joy when cooking in Italy; to the Italians, he says, the act of cooking is something of a celebration in itself. 

“I saw it again and again while I spent time there; Italians are so happy when they are preparing a meal. And as a result, it is such a well-taught skill through all walks of life. Even truck drivers are great cooks in Italy!” he laughs. 

“The Italians tend to eat as families more too, with the distractions of the day set aside. I know this sounds like a simple thing, but it’s something we tend to do less of these days. The whole idea of every meal as an event is such a central tenet of the way Italians live though; I think it is a way of life Kiwis should aspire to.” 


Simon’s keen on the Portofino range of cookers as an extension of the vibrancy he associates with Italian cooking. 

“Anything with such colour and vibrancy in the kitchen has to be a good thing. It reflects the personality of Italy and injects some of that colour and character into the kitchen. If it helps inspire the home cook, then what a wonderful advent it is,” he says. 

The Portofino cooker range, which has just been unveiled in New Zealand by Smeg, takes its inspiration from the beautiful brightly-coloured residences in the famous Italian fishing village of the same name.  

Situated on the Italian Riviera coastline just south of Genoa, Portofino is home to myriad seafood restaurants with views out onto a harbour where traditional fishing boats vie for space with super-yachts. 

As soon as you take a look at Smeg’s Portofino range of freestanding cookers, you know you’ve got an entirely fresh take on the conventional freestanding cooker in front of you.  

The Portofino range is available in a variety of bright hues – red, white, yellow, orange, olive green, black, anthracite and inox stainless steel – that will create a vibrant focal point to an existing kitchen or serve as design inspiration for any brand-new family home’s food prep space.  

And you can bet that fresh and simple Italian fare will look right at home on them too. 


Yellowfin Tuna and Buffalo Mozzarella Salad

"I included this dish on the first-ever menu at my restaurant Euro, and it’s been there ever since. One of my most popular dishes, it relies on top-quality Italian buffalo mozzarella or bocconcini (or use the locally made bocconcini from Clevedon Valley Buffalo Company; the best mozzarella in the country). The secret to cooking tuna is to take it out of the refrigerator an hour before cooking so it reaches room temperature in the middle. Sear the tuna for 20 seconds only on each side otherwise it will be dry."

  • 70ml extra virgin olive oil 
  • 12 small vine-ripened tomatoes, halved 
  • 3 tbsp capers (if salted, soak in cold water) 
  • 24 fresh basil leaves, torn 
  • 36 fresh marjoram leaves, roughly torn 
  • 375g Italian buffalo mozzarella, cut into 18 pieces (or use whole bocconcini) 
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced 
  • Juice of 2 lemons 
  • 900g yellowfin tuna, cut into 150g portions, at room temperature 
  • Serves 6 

To store tuna, remove packaging, rinse the fish under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Fish deteriorates when it sits in its own juices, so place it on a cake rack in a shallow pan filled with crushed ice. Cover with cling wrap or foil and set in the coldest part of the refrigerator. The tuna will keep well this way for up to 2 days.” 

In a bowl place 50ml of the olive oil, tomatoes, capers, basil and marjoram. Add the mozzarella along with the garlic and lemon juice. Season with salt and cracked black pepper and gently combine. This can be done up to 3 hours in advance. 

Remove the tuna from the refrigerator an hour before cooking. Coat the tuna pieces in the remaining olive oil, then place on the hot chargrill of the barbeque for 20 seconds each side. Remove, slice in half and season. 

Divide the tuna and salad equally among the plates, then pour the juice that has accumulated in the bowl over the salad for dressing. 

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