Asparagus risotto with Parmesan crackers. Making a good risotto is tricky: the proportion of liquid to rice; when to add on the add-ons; how to score the precise result between tough grains and a slop bucket; whether to use a wooden spoon or a whisk in the absence of the magical girariso and how much butter it REALLY needs.
Raw asparagus salad with lemon and olive oil dressing. This is a simple salad and of course you can choose not to bother with the peeling, but it makes for a good contrast of textures. The dressing marinates the asparagus a bit and the Parmesan complements them nicely. As fresh green shoots as you can get – and it’s spring by the mouthful!
Aubergine parmigiana in homemade tomato sauce, with mozarella, Parmesan and basil - the classic. It's a delicious standalone dish but also a good side to a steak.
Creamy pasta with bacon and Parmesan made irresistible with a blast under the grill. It is not carbonara but it’s incredibly gorgeous.
Baked ziti, penne or rigatoni with bacon and roasted aubergine: it does not drown in cheese, there is no tomato sauce, and it is not a million calories like your usual pasta bake.
Baked fennel with tomatoes and plums: three ingredients and what a burst of flavour. It makes a good vegetarian lunch or an interesting side for meat or fish.
Orzo pasta baked in the oven with porcini mushrooms and pancetta. Those Italians! Not enough for them to make pasta in the shape of radiators, ears, bow ties, wagon wheels – they also make pasta that masquerades as rice.
Baked scamorza with grilled bruschetta, the simplest way to eat Italian scamorza affumicata – smoked, aged mozzarella cheese.
Sweet focaccia-style tea bread topped with blueberries and crumble. Ordinarily, thinking focaccia will bring to mind an image of flat, thin bread decorated sparsely with whatever, preferably savoury, preferably olives.
Cabbage lasagne, a vegetarian dish of pasta layered with a filling of lightly cooked cabbage with tomatoes. Surprisingly flavourful and delicious!
Carbonara pasta bake, with bacon, Pecorino and egg yolks. No cream added and only a little cheese make the dish a little skinnier but just as delicious.
Chicken Fiorentina, or petto di pollo alla fiorentina. Chicken Florentine style, with creamy spinach sauce, is an easy and incredibly tasty dish, ready in minutes.
Crispy chicken Milanese with tarragon flavour, traditionally served with just a rocket salad. Marinate the chicken in buttermilk before coating in breadcrumbs, that’s the secret to extra crisp crust and succulent meat.
Chicken saltimbocca, thin escalopes of chicken fillet layered with sage leaves, Parmesan and Parma ham. Saltimbocca is classically made with veal but chicken is great cooked like this.
Chunky vegetable lasagne, with peppers, courgettes and tomatoes. Coated with creamy white sauce with mozzarella layer, it will cook to a bubbling, gorgeous perfection.
Ciabatta bread - a terror to make but delicious. The end product tasted great though, definitely authentic, even though it looked like nothing at all. Excellent toasted. Delishhh hot-pressed into a panino. It is a ‘panino’, mind – you only ever order a single one, don’t you? Well, it’s a ‘panino’ in singular, ‘panini’ what the place has on offer, plural.
Crusty and airy ciabatta loaves. Why ‘coccodrillo’? Oh please - don’t these loaves look just like gnarly little crocodiles?
Colomba di Pasqua, Easter Dove is the traditional Italian cake baked for Easter in cases shaped like a dove. A gorgeous, almond studded and orange flavoured panettone equivalent for Easter.
Jumbo pasta shells, conchiglioni, stuffed with ground beef and baked with mozzarella and parmesan. There are only so many things you can do with minced meat; and depending on whereabouts you are, the flavourings, additions and textures will change subject to available produce.
Oven baked creamy orzo pasta with wild chanterelle mushroom topping is a wonderful vegetarian main course or a luxurious side for Italian chicken or veal.
The best crusty Italian white bread made with a slow fermenting biga, Italian starter dough, following a recipe by Ottolenghi.
Fennel and gorgonzola fettucine - I love pasta. I could eat pasta every day, if it only didn’t contain carbs. Since it does (hell, what other reason it tastes so good?), it’s an occasional treat.
Fresh, raw porcini salad with minimal seasoning is an epic treat. Sliced porcini, aka ceps or penny buns only need a sprinkling of salt and a drop of olive oil.
Courgette flowers (fiori di zuccha) in light batter, shallow fried in olive oil with a touch of mint inside each blossom. It’s pan-fried poetry!
The best pizza made at home is born between the frying pan and the grill. Easy dough, basic toppings, thin crust; no pizza stone, no wood fired oven. Beats takeaway every time!
Fresh clams cooked with plenty of garlic and white wine. And then – off they go into spaghetti or linguine, or soup or chowder , or just as a splendid dish of little morsels of saltiness with the juices mopped by some good bread.
Jumbo pasta shells stuffed with ricotta and walnuts, baked in tomato sauce. This is not a quick weeknight dish: the pasta shells need to be pre-cooked unless you pour in floods of really watery tomato sauce – which you don’t want to do as drowning the pasta will dilute the filling.
Gingerbread biscotti spiced with Christmas flavour, crunchy and dunkable, with mixed nuts and cinnamon sugar coating. Honey and spice and a festive spirit twice cooked!
Focaccia with olive oil, fresh grapes and crumbled blue cheese. I am not quite sure why grapes are not popular as cake ingredients. All summer berries, cherries, stone fruit and apples get to play, jumping into soft sponge, orderly marching onto tarts, drowning in runny clafoutis and sweating gently underneath crumbles
Grilled radicchio salad with Parmesan. Radicchio loses its bitterness when attacked with heat, salt and acid so that’s what I’ve done to make it collapse in a delicious heap.
Hazelnut ricotta cake, with poppy seeds and an apricot jam and grated chocolate topping. A grownup cake - none of that bish bash mix-everything-together nonsense: you have to separate the eggs...
Herby courgette pasta bake, with roasted garlic and Pecorino, simple and super-tasty. The best thing to do with courgettes? Bake them with pasta!
Ciambella, Italian breakfast lemon cake shaped like a doughnut, with an occasional berry, is the Roman way to meet the day. With a cappuccino and a smile.
Italian ricotta cookies, soft and tender lemon biscuits made with ricotta cheese and butter. Soft and pillowy, the icing is optional and the sprinkles even more so.
Oven baked fresh sardine fillets with herbs, garlic and lemon, Italian style. Sandwiched in pairs, they only take 13 minutes to cook.
Italian yoghurt cake or torta allo yogurt, also known as torta 7 vasetti. Simple but genius: use the yoghurt pot to measure all the other ingredients.
Lemon polenta cake, tender and not too sweet; wonderfully crunchy on the bite. It’s gluten free, easy to whip up and it looks like a round of delicious sunshine on the plate.
Lemon ricotta cake Italian style. This is a very good baked cheesecake, not overly cheesy and not too sweet. I’ll say whack in even more lemon – it doesn’t come through that much.
Linguine with smoked salmon and homemade pesto - and lots of parmesan. This recipe uses, admittedly, fancy pasta from Carluccio. But to be honest, any good quality linguine will do, even if not sexily stripy pink, yellow and green…
Pancetta wrapped meatloaf with a maple syrup and mustard glaze. Use pork and beef and plenty of fillers so it keeps its shape and slices well!
Meatball casserole with courgettes, red peppers and tomato sauce. So okay, wait until you’ve made so many meatballs for one dinner you’ll have a pile left over for a casserole for another.
Mushroom risotto made with dried, rehydrated porcini and masses of Parmesan and butter is a royal feast. I love it just with a green salad.
Orange flavoured ciambella with dark chocolate glaze is Italian ring-shaped breakfast cake. This one is made without butter but with olive oil; serve it for an indulgent breakfast or for dessert.
Osso buco - shin of veal, slow cooked with porcini and tomato sauce. The shin of veal is a delicious cut, actually much better than a lamb shank, equally cheap, cooks all by itself and is a joy to eat – just leave the marrow to me.
Oven baked arancini, mushroom risotto balls filled with prosciutto and mozzarella. It’s the starter you wish was a main. It’s the leftovers dish that’s better than the original.
Pandoro, Italian festive 'golden bread', the sweet buttery panettone's rival. Come on, Italians - just have both. I’m having both this year, although my pandoro is baked in a panettone tin - and my recipe is a somewhat hacked version of an Italian one.
Panettone - classic Italian Christmas sweet bread. Yes – it’s doable. A word of warning though: it’s a fickle, capricious beast in the truly Italian style, la donna è mobile and so is panettone.
Classic creamy panna cotta, the simple and exquisite Italian dessert. Vanilla flavoured, with whole milk and cream and only enough gelatine to keep it in the cup, served with passion fruit puree.
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