I’m so excited. In just three teeny tiny little sleeps I’m off to Italy on holiday (whoop, whoop!) and it goes without saying that the thing that’s at the forefront of my mind is the food. As I mentioned in my recent PDO post, in Italy produce quality is paramount and celebrated. The very best Italian meals, the ones that really stay with you, are the simplest, where the finest quality ingredients are prepared humbly, allowing the flavours to shine. Two such ingredients, which I’m lucky enough to be ambassador for, are the distinctive and historic products, Grana Padano Cheese and Prosciutto di San Daniele.
Tag Archives: Italy
When I mentioned last week on twitter that I was planning to make gnocchi from scratch for dinner I was met by a surprising reaction. Unbeknownst to me, gnocchi has gained the reputation of being a big fat ball-ache not worth attempting because it inevitably ends in total disaster. Just check out the response I received from the twitterverse when I happily tweeted that I was off to make gnocchi from scratch.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m mildly obsessed with Italy (!), so when Bertolli invited me to an evening with Gennaro Contaldo I assented without a moment’s hesitation. As well as being a very successful, talented and well-published chef in his own right, Gennaro is the mentor and friend of our nation’s sweetheart and my cooking heart-throb, Jamie Oliver (who I am also mildly obsessed with). I was in, for shiz. The evening was billed as an Italian Cookery Workshop, so I was excited to see a little bit of Gennaro in action, get some tips and maybe a little taster too.
One of the things I love most about holidaying in Italy is cooking and eating at “home” in the villa. Frequent trips to the local supermarkets give you ample opportunity to be inspired by and experiment with the local produce. Whilst eating out gives you lots of ideas for recreating or rethinking dishes on your own terms back at the villa. On this trip to Puglia we pretty much did a one-night-in and one-night-out routine, and actually some of the meals we ate ‘back at the ranch’ were exceptional. Following on from the theme of pure and bold flavours, we generally kept the meals simple: penne arrabbiatta one night, spaghetti vongole another, and perhaps one of my favourites (but stupid idiot me forgot to take photos) was the calamari followed by spaghetti puttanesca. Beautiful.
I’ve been to Italy dozens of times. My family (my entire family) is completely obsessed with the place and we all dart off there at any given opportunity. Being quarter Italian, my siblings and I have always felt a really strong affinity to the place. The food we ate at home had a strong Italian influence (my mum’s lasagne is still everyone’s favourite meal), which has carried through to my own cooking (as you may have noticed). As a child a holiday to Italy would have had far more sway than a trip to Disneyland or the beach. Some of my fondest memories are set against a backdrop of the rolling valleys and tumbling towns of various parts of Italy. And the connection always felt all the more real to us because of our much beloved grandma, who had a strong Italian accent until her dying day. We loved to be told off by her (lots of “mamma mia” and “manage”) in Italian and to hear stories of her childhood and look at beautiful pictures of her in the old country. My grandma grew up in Sorrento on the picturesque Amalfi coast and, although we’ve been there a few times, it is now so full of American and European tourists that it’s impossible to imagine life there in the 40s and 50s before the hoards descended. We can try to replace the throngs with the black and white photos in our minds, but somehow the loud and rude tourists break through and shatter the image. Puglia on the other hand is so wonderfully bereft of tourists that I finally felt like I had experienced something of the real Southern Italy.
I’m back. Well, I’m not really back. No sooner had I touched down I was gearing up to dash off again for a work trip. So right now I’m sitting in a hotel in Krakow, whiling away a couple of hours before I head off to dinner. But anyway, my trip to Puglia is now in the past tense and after so much gearing and building up, there was no small amount of pressure laid on Puglia’s shoulders to deliver a monumentally good holiday. We were absolutely gagging for it. I had got to the stage at work where someone only needed to begin an email slightly curtly and I was in floods of tears and calling up Sven threatening to quit (we’ve all been there, right?). My poor colleagues had increasingly been getting torrents of expletives on practically an hourly basis. Not good. Holiday muchos needed. Well, my friends, I’ll tell thee what. Puglia did not arf deliver.
Just a very quick note in follow-up to the Hove Champagne Festival which I fully intended to blog about, but have now run out of that elusive commodity: time. Anyway, I thought it worth passing on that we went to the Waitrose Direct tutored tasting and we really liked both of these sparkling wines, both of which are on offer right at this moment (25% off all sparkling wines at Waitrose Direct until 16th June).