Almost 30 years ago, I spent a year going all'avventura through every corner of Italy. At that time, Italian restaurants in Britain offered the same menu of spaghetti, pizza and a few dishes such as vitello tonnato and calf's liver with onions. You had to go to Soho to buy products such as ricotta.
I felt at home because when I was a girl in Egypt we had a Slovenian-Italian nanny with whom we spoke Italian. My father imported printed silks from a factory in Como and each year took us to Italy for long summer months. Also, my first job in London was for Alitalia. I was paid £7 a week, but could travel free to Italy any time I liked if there were seats on planes.
I spent a lot of time in restaurants ordering a quarter portion of everything, but my aim was to find what people cooked at home. I asked everyone I met for recipes - in the pensione where I stayed, at wine tastings, hunting lodges, on trains, on a bench... everywhere.
The series of articles I wrote afterwards had a huge impact here and encouraged restaurants to serve Italian regional foods. My book The Food of Italy, region by region, was based on that series. For this illustrated 25th-anniversary edition, I had to update it as so much is available now that had not been, because so much has changed in the way we cook and eat, and because Italy, too, has changed. Italians pull from tradition what suits them best. They want to update and revitalise old dishes, not embalm them. Chicken with grapes and sweet wine
Serve the chicken pieces over slices of toasted bread or grilled polenta.
Heat the butter with 1 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan or casserole large enough to hold the chicken pieces in one layer. When the butter has melted, put in the rosemary and the chicken pieces. Cook over medium heat until lightly brown. Turn the pieces once and add salt and pepper. Put in the garlic cloves and let them colour slightly, then pour in the wine and a little salt. Simmer, covered, until the chicken is tender, turning the pieces at least once more. Take the breasts out when they are done, in about 15 minutes, and leave the legs to cook for another 10-15 minutes. Cook uncovered towards the end to reduce the sauce. Taste for seasoning - you need enough salt and pepper to balance the sweetness of the wine.
At the same time, in another wide frying pan, heat the remaining oil and put in the grapes. Cook over low heat for about 10-20 minutes, turning them over. Watch them. If you leave them too long they may caramelise - you might love that. Pour them over the chicken pieces and heat through together. Burrata and aubergines with honey
The burrata of Apulia is a heavenly pear-shaped pouch of cow's-milk mozzarella filled with a mix of rich cream and stringy bits. It is very difficult to get outside Italy, but a good alternative is mozzarella, preferably di bufala, bathed in double cream. Eat it with a bunch of little salad leaves and cherry tomatoes drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with chopped basil or mint and a little salt. You must try it with aubergines flavoured with a mix of honey, vinegar and salt.
Serves 4mozzarellas 4 (125g each)double cream 170-200mlaubergines 3 (about 750g) olive oilsaltrunny aromatic honey orange blossom or acacia, 3 tbsp wine vinegar 1½ tbspextra virgin olive oil 2 tbsp bruschetta 4 slices (see below)
To make bruschetta, cut slices from a crusty white loaf, about 1 cm thick, and toast them on both sides. Rub one side lightly with a cut garlic clove and drizzle with olive oil.
Next, cut the mozzarellas into slices, put them in a bowl with the cream, season with salt, and turn them so they are well covered.
Peel the aubergines and cut each into four slices longways. Put them on a baking sheet lined with foil, brush lightly with oil, and cook under the grill until soft and lightly browned (about 8 minutes), turning them over once. Season with a little salt and let them cool.
Divide the mozzarella slices between each individual plate, pour a little cream over each pile. Arrange three aubergine slices on each plate. Mix the honey and vinegar well and spread on each slice. Sprinkle with very little salt. The secret is to have the right balance of sweet, sour and savoury. Drizzle a little more oil over the mozzarella slices and cream. Artichokes stuffed with mozzarella and ham
This makes a lovely first course. I use the frozen artichoke bottoms from Egypt sold in Middle Eastern stores in packets weighing 400g. There are usually around eight artichoke bottoms in various sizes. If you want to use four large fresh artichokes see below on how to deal with them.
Serves 4frozen artichoke bottoms 8, defrostedmozzarella di bufala 180g, cut into pieces ham 80g, cooked and chopped salt and peppergarlic 1 clove crushed (optional) flat-leaf parsley 2 tbsp, chopped parmesan 2 tbsp, grated
To prepare from fresh, use medium or large globe artichokes. Cut off the stalks at the base. Pull off or cut away the outer leaves, cutting around the base spirally. Scrape off and discard the choke and drop the artichokes into a bowl of water acidulated with lemon juice or vinegar as you go.
Boil the artichoke bottoms in salted water for about 10 minutes, until tender. Drain and arrange them in a baking dish that holds them snugly. You may need to shave the backs of one or two, so that they sit well.
For the filling, put the mozzarella and ham in a bowl. Add salt and pepper, garlic and parsley, mix well and work to a soft mass with your hand. Take eight lumps of the mixture, roll them into balls and press them firmly in the hollows of the artichoke bottoms. Sprinkle a little parmesan over each.
Pour 150ml of water into the baking dish and bake in a preheated oven at 180C/gas mark 4 for 15-20 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned. Serve hot. Spaghetti with clams and tomatoes
Spaghetti with clams is the most popular pasta dish on the southern coasts. Other pasta, such as linguine and vermicelli, and other shellfish, such as cozze (mussels) or datteri (sea dates), are also used, and the sauce is made with or without tomatoes.
You can keep clams (uncleaned) for a day in the refrigerator or longer in a bucket of cold, salted water. To clean, scrub them in cold, salted water then leave them for 20 minutes in fresh cold water - as they breathe they will push sand out of their shells. Lift them out and rinse in one or two changes of cold water. Test if the clams are alive. Discard any that are chipped or broken, those that are too heavy or too light. Throw away any that are open and do not close tightly when they are tapped on the sink or dipped in ice-cold water.
Put the cleaned clams in a large pan with a lid and finger of water, ready to steam them open while the pasta is cooking.
Cut the tomatoes in quarters and blend them to a cream in a food processor (no need to peel them). Fry the garlic in 1 tbsp of oil over a low heat until it begins to colour. Add the blended tomato, season with salt, pepper and sugar, and cook for 15 minutes over a medium heat. When the pasta is ready add the parsley.
Cook the spaghetti in plenty of vigorously boiling salted water. While the water is boiling, put the lid on the pan with clams and bring this to the boil, too. Take the clams off the heat as soon as they open. They will be cooked in 1-4 minutes. Discard any that remain closed.
When the pasta is al dente, drain and mix well with the sauce and the remaining oil. Serve each portion topped with clams and the strained cooking water from the clams. Do not serve grated cheese.
To order a copy of the 25th-anniversary edition of Claudia Roden's The Food of Italy (published by Square Peg at £25) for £16.99, with free UK p&p, go to http://ift.tt/1eBqGM5 or call 0330 333 6846. On 13 April we publish another selection of her delicious recipes
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