It occurred to me when trying out this recipe that it would be lovely to have a teenager or two at the table. Just for dinner mind, I would very much like to give them back before they take over my bathroom. Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that this is a recipe with a grisly story best served with a dramatic flourish. Along the lines of; “The last time I ate this for dinner was in the house of a mean Sicilian mafia boss who once dissolved a body in acid”. (The unpleasant gangster in question was of course behind bars at the time I visited his home address, a minor detail which I may or may not reveal depending on the reaction of my audience). However I feel that the frisson of this tale is somewhat lost when you’re eating with a 4 year old wearing fairy wings. Instead; “Here’s some yummy chicken with a lovely ham and cheese surprise in the middle” … really not the same is it.Read More
This quick and healthy recipe comes from a school dinner menu in Naples. I once interviewed the headmistress there about the challenges she faced dealing with kids from warring mafia clans. I doubt they sat together eating this stew at lunch time, but I’m told that it’s one of the most popular school meals. I’ve tested and tweaked the recipe, and I have to say that I’m impressed with how soft the meat is, and how sweet the peas are. I’m also big fan of easy dinners that tick both protein and veg boxes, but don’t make a lot of mess, or create a lot of washing up. This is definitely one of those ‘one pan wonders’. Serve with a jacket potato (no more pans needed). Also goes well with a dollop of mash or scoop of brown rice. Do let me know what you think.Read More
A little good quality meat, a lot of vegetables, and a zing of fennel that’ll make your family’s tastebuds sit up and take notice. This quick but delicious pasta dish I learned in Sicily is a revelation and I’m really excited to share it with you. Sicilian sausages are often flavoured with fennel, but as I couldn’t find any like these in butchers and supermarkets near me, I added fennel seeds instead whilst cooking and the end result tastes just as good. You can add less if you want to introduce the flavour more gently, but my 3 year old loved the taste and only frowned at a stray spinach stalk that escaped the blender. If you have spinach rebels in the house, then try carrot, courgette or any other veg instead, as long as its softened enough to whizz up. Let me know what you think!Read More
This is uncomplicated comfort food from the woman who has been Silvio Berlusconi’s image consultant for the past 20 years and is now between jobs. I first met her in Rome several years ago when she described how she has been instrumental in everything from the choice of his suits, to the presentation of his speeches. Presumably he didn’t always follow her advice and latterly her job became a rather stressful whirlwind of damage limitation. She told me that she often arrived home from the office exhausted with little time to cook but enjoyed the nostalgic ritual of making a bowl of this parmesan semolina. There’s no spin involved here, unless you count gentle stirring. It’s a simple recipe that her grandmother and mother cooked for her as a child. And when she makes it for her 4 year old niece she loves it just like this. In a bowl, with a spoon. This recipe is very versatile and can be frozen in little portions. It’s great for babies under a year (without the egg of course). For older children and adults it makes a delicious filling for a baked potato or a more sustaining alternative to traditional cheese sauce on cauliflower or broccoli.Read More
You might look at this picture, and think “where are the meatballs”? They’re there. I promise. More like little mini flat burgers just peeping out from between 2 thin courgette slices. The original recipe involves cooking the meat sandwiched between two glossy lemon leaves, leaving it infused with a delicate fresh taste of citrus. The lovely family who showed me exactly how to make this dish live in the fertile foothills of Mount Etna. They just pop out of their back door to gather the lemon leaves from their own trees. Something I definitely can’t recreate at home, unless you’d like me to try it with some rather unappetising yellow leaves from my fig tree, or a brown curled up fern? Thought not.
After several attempts I found that thin slices of courgette sprinkled with lemon zest are the best alternative. It really works, even if it’s a bit less attractive. The meat inside is still lemony and very soft. It’s easy for small people to chew, a great way to introduce new flavours, and it also makes an original lunch or supper for the whole family.
“But my kids don’t like courgette” might be your next thought. Don’t worry, it’s mainly there to hold the lemon flavour and to help recreate the fun of discovering the meatball hiding between two leaves. My daughter calls these ‘hide and seek meatballs’. She likes uncovering the meat, and then of course neatly discarding the courgette on the side of the plate. Of course, bravo to you if your children do snaffle up courgettes with gusto. You won’t need to cook extra vegetables like I do!Read More
Packed with protein, these ‘poor man’s meatballs’ are a traditional peasant dish from Calabria (the toe of Italy’s boot). When meat was scarce and costly, many families replaced it in recipes like this using fresh ricotta cheese which was cheap and plentiful. The lovely lady from Calabria who ran a tiny grocers shop opposite my flat in Rome was always extolling the virtues of ricotta, as well as telling me off for going out with wet hair and no make up, and asking when I was going to stop travelling around Italy on my own and get married. It’s not easy or cheap to get genuine fresh ricotta in the UK, but that doesn’t matter. Tubs of the supermarket stuff still work brilliantly to create this tasty nutritious dinner for all the family. I’ve also discovered this is a really useful recipe for teething toddlers as it’s incredibly soft to eat. Serve with pasta for an even heartier meal.Read More
Sweet, satisfying and simple. Pasta e piselli is one of those dishes that brings comfort after a long day. This recipe is from a dear Italian friend I met at University in Paris. I won’t tell you how many years ago that was. But when I worked in Rome, her friends and family became mine, and her house a sanely insane refuge from the slightly surreal existence of being a foreign correspondent. We would talk, eat, drink and talk and drink some more. Did I interview her? Of course. Her English is huskily impeccable. And whenever I ended up covering an anti-war demonstration I knew she’d provide a passionate quote at a relatively sensible distance from the front line of baton wielding police and tear gas. Usually supping a cool beer, placard at her feet.Read More
Chicken, ham, omelette and herbs. Simple ingredients, presented in an original way. This recipe comes from a man I once interviewed in the mafia heartlands of Sicily who knows a thing or two about presentation. The state handed him charge of an isolated and unremarkable farmhouse whose gangster owner had been jailed. He then turned it into a holiday home, attracting tourists craving a frisson of excitement from eating their dinner in the kitchen of a mafia boss.Read More