Recipe with: Franco Murgia from the Portofino Italian Restaurant and Wine Bar

SPEAKING to Franco Murgia, owner and head chef of Portofino Italian Restaurant in Colchester, he tells me with typical Italian spirit that his restaurant reflects his character in being very light and open with its floor to ceiling windows. After 40 years in the business he has an easy confidence with his customers, which has them returning time after time. Originally from Apulia in south eastern Italy, Franco first went to catering college before gaining experience around various resorts throughout Italy. During one of these placements in Rimini he grabbed the opportunity to work abroad in the completely different world of the Savoy Hotel in London over the winter season. Although he enjoyed working with the legendary 1970's chef, fellow Italian Silvano Trompetto, Franco naturally found the position intimidating. 'It was very nerve-racking. I was just a number in a big kitchen brigade. It was an old fashioned kitchen where we all had to speak French and follow strict rules. Earning only �5.50 a week I eventually moved on to a series of different Italian restaurants,' he explains. Lady luck struck again while he was working in Uxbridge, meeting his future wife, Gill, for the first time. The couple eventually moved to her home territory around Colchester, setting up their own restaurant, Franco's, which was a continued success for more than six years. Now open for more than 18 months, success at Portofino is based purely on simple, fresh food. As Franco says: 'We choose the best ingredients, be they Dover sole or scallops, and just give them a lift to balance the flavour.' This simplicity of allowing the main ingredient to shine through converts to best-selling dishes such as wild sea bass baked in sea salt and served with fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil as well as aubergine Parmigiana, which is served with a roquette salad. Similar to moussaka, the dish has an Adriatic feel, combining mozzarella, basil and tomato. As for desserts Franco wouldn't dream of removing his tiramisu from the menu. I ask him what the secret is. 'You have to use very fresh double cream and marscapone, along with good masala and Tia Maria,' Franco replies. 'You also have to use the correct sponge fingers - we use savoiardi.' Franco offers this simple, light summer dish recipe, which uses one of Italy's most popular soft cheeses, Dolcelatte. Avocado Dolcelatte with celery and summer vinegrette Ingredients 2 servings 1 firm but ripe large avocado 1 wedge of Dolcelatte cheese The tender part of a head of small celery 6 ripe cherry vine tomatoes lemon 5 tablespoons of virgin olive oil 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar salt and pepper for seasoning 2 leaves of radicchio a few roquette leaves for decoration 1. Cut the avocado in half and remove the stone and the outer skin 2. Cut a thin slice off the base of each avocado half and place on a leaf of radicchio so it lies flat 3. Cut the Dolcelatte into small cubes and chop the celery, but not too small 4. Place an equal amount of the chopped celery in the cavity of each half avocado followed by the Dolcelatte cubes 5. Pour the virgin olive oil into a small mixing bowl and squeeze in the juice of the half lemon. Add the balsamic vinegar along with salt and pepper to your taste 6. Whisk briskly until it is mixed together and pour equally over the two halves of avocado 7. Decorate with summer ripe vine tomatoes and some roquette leaves

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