Pasta & Rice

Veneto Book Trailer + A Recipe Preview

spaghetti alla busara

I am coming to you today as an old friend you don’t see for a while would: I’m full of things to tell you. The excitement is such that I might speak quickly and jump from one thing to the next without much of a connection. But  I’d rather be overflowing than forgetful. So please stick with me, and we’ll get to the recipe before you know it.

First and foremost, I meant to tell you about Veneto, my cookbook, which will be released this Thursday. I feel like I’ve talked about it for so long now, that I’m struggling to fathom how fast time has passed. One week and those of you who preordered it in Europe will have a copy at their doorstep. I’m excited and terrified. Most of all, though, I just can’t wait for you to see it. It’s time.

Then, the book trailers.

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A New Cookbook & a Recipe Preview (Risi e Bisi)

risi e bisi

The Premise

When I first moved to university and started to cook for myself, it wasn’t from a cookbook. It wasn’t from a hand-scribbled recipe notebook either, because no one in my family ever kept one. I mostly played it by ear, using the few basic skills I had picked up from Mum. I knew, among other things, how to make a decent plate of pasta in a small array of fashions; a good risotto with a few variations (pumpkin, peas, radicchio, asparagus or mushrooms); a fine roasted chicken; and a balanced salad dressing. I liked cooking, but I also liked not cooking. I loved having the luxury of eating cheese on toast for four days in a row, because I was finally living alone, playing adult, and responding to no one other than myself. Stirring pots interested me to a point; I had stronger urges.

Then again, food wasn’t yet the ever-embracing trend that it is now. Back then, properly written recipe books were spare and rare, particularly in Italy, where many households owned, if any, one or two tomes at most (Artusi and The Silver Spoon). In my family, for instance, I have never seen a cookbook circulating; certainly not on our coffee table, and definitely not in the kitchen. We might have owned a couple, but never used them. Mum liked to cook on a whim, make stuff up, wing it a lot, rely on classics. She, too, had stronger urges. Rather than cookbooks, she bought novels. She found following recipes somewhat tedious and cooking a distraction from her devouring passion for fictional characters. The less time spent in the kitchen, the more time with her nose buried in books.

In this instance, I turned out to be very much my mother’s daughter. I grew up loving fiction books to bits and had enrolled in a foreign language degree at university with the ambition to become a literary translator. I spent a good part of my spare time consuming British and American literature of all calibre while chasing the dream of mastering the English language as it was my own. Of course, I failed. I realised pretty soon that I was failing – struggling, stumbling on accents and sentences – and instead of pushing harder, I lost momentum, preserving my interest in reading but not my ambition in translating.  Around then, my dreams took an abrupt U-turn.

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Girolle Mushroom and Speck Risotto


“The elementary rules once grasped, it remains only to be borne in mind that the simpler the risotto the better.” says the wise Elizabeth David in her brilliant book called Italian Food. Indeed, apart from the basics (oil and butter, onion, rice, wine and stock) a couple of add-ins are usually enough. The best risotti have just one or two dominant flavours, sometimes complementary, others contrasting, but never colliding.

Wild mushrooms like finferli (girolles) are in full swing right now. Sweet and fruity, they grab your attention with their bright golden cap and scruffy look. In risotto they work wonders on their own, but I like them paired with some speck, too, for added savouriness.

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Bucatini with Vignarola and Burrata


The decadence and totally over-the-top nature of this pasta are what makes it so very good. I don’t say this lightheartedly: usually, Italian recipes are very much about the ‘less is more’ approach, and this is what I love about them the most. Yet, sometimes, piling it all up high is just the right thing to do. In the case of this recipe, for example, it works.


The base is a Roman-inspired spring concoction called vignarola. This is a dish made of fresh peas, broad beans, artichokes, sometimes lettuce, sometimes fresh herbs, others bits of guanciale for extra flavour – all braised in oil and white wine until tender and utterly flavoursome. Vignarola is often served on bread, which has the double purpose of carrier and sponge for absorbing the delightful juices left at the end. You can sometimes find vignarola served alongside some fresh ricotta, but mostly, it can hold the stage on its own.

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Summer Roasted Tomato Fregola


Fregola is a favourite summer thing to have – at home, at the park, at the beach, you name it.

Similar in shape and texture to pearl couscous, fregola consists of small balls of durum wheat flour, dried and toasted, and comes in a mix of colours, from pale golden to sienna. The flavour is pleasantly sweet and nutty, the texture firm, holding its shape perfectly in soups and stews. It is traditionally eaten in a saffron broth with clams, but it is equally good in salads.

Here, I tossed it with roasted aubergines and cherry tomatoes, garlic, lots of basil, pine nuts and Parmesan, but I encourage you to experiment and find your favourite combination.

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