It also didn’t take long for my holiday freckles and ‘perche no’ attitude to fade after a trip to Italy a few weeks ago.
Photographs are a poor substitute for the actual experience of sitting in my gin and tonic chair
pulling vegetables for dinner from my friend’s garden
But one of the wonderful things about cooking, is that I can hold on to the smells and taste of Italy in a more satisfying way. With the daylight hours starting to get shorter in London and my next holiday a small dot on a distant horizon, I’m feeling in need of a forkful of Italy.
Of all the meals I ate in Italy these stood out for their classic Italian-ness; good quality ingredients, simple flavour combinations, served without fuss.
A rocket and pecorino salad with toasted walnuts and honey
Baked polenta with tomato sauce
200g instant polenta
1 tsp salt
1 litre water
1 tbls oil
75g grated parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 200C. Oil and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. In a small pan bring the water and salt to the boil. Pour in the polenta gradually, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon to prevent large lumps forming. Reduce the heat and keep stirring for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the oil and two thirds of the parmesan. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Spread the polenta mix evenly across the prepared baking tray so you get a layer 1.5cm to 2cm deep. Leave to cool.
Once it has cooled, tip the set polenta onto a board and cut into triangles then cut a third of the triangles into smaller bite sized pieces. Use the other half two thirds for other recipes- like the mushroom one below.
Tomato sauce (enough for 2 serves)
400g can plum tomatoes
1 fat clove of garlic sliced thinly
little dried chilli
Fry garlic in olive oil over a gentle heat until it just starts to colour (don’t let it brown or it will become bitter). Add tomatoes, chilli and salt and pepper. Break up tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Turn heat right down, put a lid on the pan and leave sauce to cook for 30minutes to an hour until it is nice and thick. Add a good handful of torn basil leaves.
To serve, spoon the sauce over the polenta in bowls and top with grated pecorino.
Polenta with sauteed mushrooms and goat’s cheese (2 serves)
1 tbls butter
1 tbls olive oil
good splash of verjuice
Slice mushrooms. Heat oil and butter in pan. Add mushrooms and toss over high heat until they brown lightly. Add verjuice and remove from the heat. Stir through parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Heat fry pan with a tablespoon of olive oil until it gets quite hot. Fry polenta triangles in batches for a couple of minutes each side until golden brown. Place polenta on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Spoon some of the mushroom mixture over each triangle then crumble some goat's cheese over the top. Bake in the oven for a couple of minutes until cheese melts.