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Mangia! (Let’s eat!)

Say a heartfelt “Ciao!” to authentic Italian cuisine.

By Adrienne Dy, M.D.
Photos by Raneil Ibay


When it comes to good food, the Italians know their stuff. As the Filipinos of Europe in terms of strong family ties and huge appetites, they’re the masters of hearty cuisine. The boot-shaped country—with all its iconic, movie-scene landmarks—may be oceans away, but you can still get a slice of Italy right at home, starting from your kitchen.


Italian cuisine is surprisingly simple, despite its complex flavors. Most dishes have only four to eight ingredients and shun elaborate preparation. For all the gastronomical gusto it packs, it’s incredibly healthy and falls under Mediterranean cuisine—reputed to ensure longevity among those who partake of it.

What makes this cuisine distinct? Italian-Filipino chef John Joseph “JJ” Viel, head chef of Cucina Rusticana, answers: “It’s the ingredients and cooking methods.” He counts garlic, onions, tomatoes, basil, and that all-important olive oil as key ingredients for many dishes from the region. “Italian cuisine is all about simplicity. Yet with simple ingredients … you bring out maximum flavor.”

He also highlights how the cooking methods define the cuisine—and its health benefits. “Most Italian dishes are composed of either boiling [for pasta], braising [for sauces], or baking. Rarely do we have anything deep-fried. If ever something has to be cooked in oil, it’s either baked or sautéed.”

“[T]he trick to watching your diet when eating Italian is simply eating a decent portion size,” says the chef. “Normally, pasta is served at 180 to 200 grams a portion, so don’t go over that. Know the food you’re eating, so if you know you can’t eat red meat, don’t go eat[ing] osso bucco or bistecca Fiorentina.” Moderation is key; so is knowing your health status.

That said, it’s off to the cucina! Chef JJ serves up oven-baked fish swimming in infused olive oil—a main entrée your heart will love. Buon appetito!

Filetto di solia al forno (Oven-baked sole fillet)


50 ml infused olive oil (recipe below)
40 g green bell pepper, julienned
40 g red bell pepper, julienned
30 g red onions, sliced into half rings
1 kg sole fish fillet (You can use other fish fillets, such as tilapia—but make sure you know that the fish is fresh and comes from reputable sources.)
Salt and pepper as needed
45 ml white wine
Grated parmesan cheese, as needed


1. Preheat oven to 350°C for 15 minutes.

2. Prepare a baking sheet or glass baking dish and grease with some infused olive oil. Line the bottom with half of the bell peppers and onions.

3. Rub the fish with salt and pepper to season it well. Place it on top of the bed of peppers and onions.

4. Pour the remaining infused olive oil over the fish, followed by white wine. Cover the fish with the rest of the bell peppers and onions.

5. Bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. You can tell that the fish is thoroughly cooked when it offers no resistance when pressed lightly with a finger.

6. Garnish with grated parmesan cheese and serve warm.

Serves six

Infused olive oil

Chef JJ advocates infused olive oil, a multi-purpose ingredient for cooking or flavoring dishes like salads. Rosemary can be replaced with other herbs, such as thyme, basil or oregano.


1 liter extra virgin olive oil
100 g whole, peeled garlic
25 g dried rosemary


    1. In a heavy bottom pot, pour olive oil. Add garlic and rosemary.

    2. Heat oil over lowest possible heat for fifteen minutes.

    3. Remove from heat and let mixture rest for another 30 minutes.

    4. Transfer all ingredients into a glass bottle or container and let rest again overnight. Oil is now ready to be used.

    Makes 1 liter.

    [About the chef] Chef John Joseph “JJ” Viel is half-Italian, half-Filipino, and proudly claims, “I pretty much grew up watching my mom and dad cook, hence the interest in pursuing a culinary career.” He got his degree in BS HRIM, major in culinary arts from the De La Salle University-College of St. Benilde, and completed a course in Mediterranean-Italian Cookery at the International School of Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management. He set up Cucina Rusticana and currently offers the restaurant’s specialties on a pre-order basis for pick-up. Contact him at (0917) 894 9945, email him at, or look him up on

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