This deliciously oily, salty flat bread comes from the sunny region of Liguria on the Italian Riviera. Focaccia can be thick or thin, stuffed, topped or plain – finished off with just oil and coarse salt. Everyone has their own favourite!
This savoury courgette cake is a delicious starter or a dish substantial enough for a light lunch with a salad. You could also use artichokes, fennel or a combination of potatoes and onions to make this lovely speciality dish.
A wonderfully simple recipe, these deep-fried sardines are often served in piles at parties, because they're great finger foods.
Fresh prawns, in all sizes, are one of the most delicious and precious treasures from the sea. They can be enjoyed in a variety of simple ways that really allow the freshness and sweetness of the prawns to stand out. This roasted prawns recipe is one favourite.
This pretty salad has a lovely combination of flavours. The sweetness of the pears really highlights the peppery quality of the rocket and the saltiness of the Parmesan brings the whole thing together.
The marriage of asparagus with the sweet-yet-salty taste of Parma ham is like a match made in heaven. Keep the asparagus slightly crisp so you get a real contrast of textures as well as flavours. The cool blandness of the mozzarella serves as the perfect background.
This lovely, light Tuscan salad makes fantastic use of what was once a most precious commodity – stale bread. In Tuscany, this is essential summer eating, as it is light and delicious while still being filling enough to stave off hunger pangs.
This absolutely classic salad originates on the beautiful island of Capri and is truly an unforgettable dish when made with the local richly flavoured tomatoes, the soft and silky local buffalo mozzarella and the intensely perfumed basil grown on the volcanic terrain. It is a lesson in the use of very few but perfect ingredients put together with simple skill.
Minestrone means ‘big soup’ – it is designed to fill you up. The vegetables used can vary according to personal taste and availability, but this is the classic recipe.
This risotto with chicken is a typically Venetian risotto, very wet and runny, but also very rich and filling. Make sure the chicken stock is very flavoursome to ensure that the finished risotto tastes properly rich. Although traditionally the risotto is served without any added colour, you could stir a bit of parsley into the finished dish if you feel it needs a touch of green.
This very filling, meaty risotto uses delicious Italian sausages and is a great favourite as a rustic dish.
One of the best things about cannelloni is that they are so versatile and can be filled with almost anything (such as this mushroom filling) before being coated with sauce and baked. You can prepare it in advance and then bake just before serving.
This classic pasta dish is traditionally served with either spaghetti or bucatini. It relies on the flavour of the pancetta and plenty of freshly ground black pepper for the best results.
The word primavera, which means ‘spring’ in Italian, is often used to identify various pasta dishes dressed with a vegetable-based sauce. There are many different versions of the basic recipe.
This is the wonderful pesto from the Trapani area on the west coast of Sicily, where the salt flats lie. Fabulous on pasta, this lovely pesto is also great on grilled chicken, baked fish, and as a quick topping to make a crust. This pesto can be made in a food processor, in which case the oil should be added at the beginning.
This is the classic, original recipe for the rich meaty sauce from the city of Bologna. It uses only a little tomato purée and several different kinds of finely chopped meat, which give the sauce a stew-like texture. Offer freshly grated Parmesan at the table.
Paccheri are a pasta shape native to the city of Naples. They are like square, flat macaroni, with a fine rib to help catch the sauce.
These pumpkin gnocchi taste sweet and delicious and look gorgeous with their deep orange colour. They are especially delectable when served with sage butter.
Scaloppina is an integral part of every Italian kitchen. There are many versions – with wine, with herbs with orange or lemon juice and zest, Vin Santo, Marsala and more. Here is the classic Marsala version from Piedmont.
This is a traditional Tuscan recipe. The olives should be small and tasty to give the dish its authentic flavour. Traditionally this is served with triangles of golden fried polenta and braised peas.
Braising quail is a very easy way to cook these tender little birds because they cook quickly and end up moist and succulent. Traditionally, the birds would be served whole on a thick slice of grilled polenta or toasted bread rubbed with a clove of garlic.
This delicious way of serving tender lamb cutlets is typical of the rich and succulent cooking style of the region of Emilia-Romagna. Take care when pounding the meat not to tear it off the bone.
When serving these cheese-stuffed chicken breasts, you can add a simple tomato sauce, either served separately or poured over and around the finished dish.
This very simple and delicious recipe for stewed squid can also be made using cuttlefish or octopus. Traditionally, very small, young and tender fish are used, but larger fish can be cut to size as required.
This recipe for baked swordfish can also be used for tuna steaks, or even fillets or steaks of another kind of fish, although the cooking times may need to be slightly adjusted depending upon the type of fish and how thickly the slices are cut.
This is an excellent way to use the tastier, cheap cuts of beef, turning them into a delicious dish that is perfect with boiled rice or mashed potatoes.
Polenta is a staple of the Northern Italian diet. You can buy a quick-cook version, which you mix up in just 5 minutes. Using traditional polenta, you need to stir constantly for about 50 minutes, but the end result is very different from the quick-cook kind. Because it is such a time-consuming operation, it’s easier to make a large batch, serve it fresh the first time and then let it set before slicing to be fried or grilled in subsequent days.
This delicious Piedmontese speciality is gaining in popularity and fame all over Italy and beyond. The skill of the dessert lies in getting it to set without being at all rubbery, so just the right amount of gelatine needs to be used. I prefer to use gelatine sheets for this recipe; if you must use powdered gelatine, it may be a bit tricky to get the right consistency at first. Here is the basic plain vanilla panna cotta.
To poach pears in red wine, you need to use pears that are not so soft that they will fall apart while cooking. This is a really easy dessert that continues to be hugely popular throughout Italy.
When it comes to desserts, this is the great Italian favourite. It was reputedly created in the city of Treviso in the Veneto region of northeast Italy. The name means ‘pick me up’ or ‘lift me up’ and it is supposed to be the best way to cheer up!
The name of this classic dish means semi-cold, meaning an ice cream that is softer than normal. This is due to the addition of alcohol, which slows down the freezing process. Because you can’t make a semifreddo without adding alcohol, this makes it a grown-up dessert. This recipe is for a white chocolate and raspberry semifreddo, but you can use other berries, such as blueberries. To serve, decorate wedges with a few fresh berries, a sweet herb sprig or a few edible flowers and a dusting of icing sugar.
I have adapted this recipe from the more complicated and long-winded version that ends up with a mountain of cream, chestnut purée and chocolate on a large platter. You’ll need a potato ricer or mouli food mill to make this version.
This rich, creamy mixture of egg yolks, sugar, Marsala and, quite simply, lots of air (thanks to the painstaking whisking process) is one of Italy’s classic, elegant desserts.
The rich, eggy, sticky quality of this very traditional Tuscan rice cake makes it delicious and incredibly filling. It is like a homemade version of those little oval rice cakes you can buy at all Tuscan cafés and patisseries, called simply budino, which translates as ‘pudding’. This is a very substantial cake, so a little will go a long way. Don’t worry about how liquid the mixture seems when you pour it into the pan; the cake will set, but it should remain wet and sticky, although firm enough to slice neatly.
This deliciously nutty almond cake with a hint of amaretto liqueur makes for a lovely teatime treat. Make sure the ground almonds are really fresh so that they bring plenty of moisture to the cake.
This Italian-style cake is moist and orangey with a slightly gritty texture and a hint of cardamom that makes it quite yummy cold or warm with low-fat crème fraîche.
Panettone is Italy’s answer to fruit cake, a deliciously light yet rich cross between a cake and a sweetened bread, studded with candied fruit and golden raisins. Created in Milan, it is first cousin to the pandoro, which comes from Verona.
Salami is one of the most ancient elements in the wide gastronomic range of Italian products. It has very old traditions that have evolved over the centuries, with many distinct regional specialities, which can be identified by the way in which the meat has been minced – fine, medium or coarse – and by the addition of other flavourings such as garlic, chilli, fennel seeds or wine. Generally speaking, salamis have a long, rounded sausage shape and come in many different sizes according to type.
An elegant bruschetta that is full of classic Italian flavours. You can also make in bulk as a canapé.
This is a real classic and the flavours need to be really well balanced so you can taste them all. It is traditionally served over freshly cooked spaghetti, tossed together with a little extra olive oil and chopped parsley.
A warming rich beef stew, full of vegetables and hearty enough to satisfy on the coldest winter night.
Literally translating from Italian as ‘mini pizzas’, these are smaller than a regular pizza, although they sometimes can be up to 10 centimetres (4 inches) across. But in this case, they are only 5 centimetres (2 inches) across or smaller, to serve as a canapé.
This bread is especially delicious when sliced and buttered to accompany an omelette.
This is the classic way to serve this popular green sauce, with green beans and potatoes as well as pasta. It is not usual to serve extra cheese at the table with pesto.
Amatrice, where this dish comes from, is a small town near Rome which is famous for its fantastic pork products. This is a real classic, rich and piquant, flavoured with deliciously smoky pancetta. One of the few traditional sauces that uses garlic and onion.
The lovely, creamy richness is offset by the salty bacon in this classic Italian recipe. As the egg is barely cooked, this dish is best avoided by pregnant women and anyone who is immune-suppressed.
This recipe is called "penne al'arrabiata" in Italian. Serve with crusty bread and a side salad.
A fruity variation on the Italian specialty that has become one of the world’s favourite desserts. If you prefer, you can make it in a larger dish to share.
Choose the biggest mushrooms you can find for these baked stuffed mushrooms. Autumn in Italy heralds the start of the porcini season and you can find huge fresh ones for sale at virtually every street vegetable stall, but any tasty mushroom with a good dense texture will work very well. You can, of course, vary the type of cheese according to your own preferences.
When you’re craving a lasagne but don’t have time to make one, this recipe will make an excellent stand-in.
This very simple and delicious recipe for stewed squid can also be made using cuttlefish or octopus. Traditionally, very small, young and tender fish are used, but larger fish can be cut to size as required.
When making a frittata, the ratio of vegetable to egg varies enormously, depending upon the vegetable you are using. The basic rule of thumb is that there has to be enough egg to hold the whole thing together, but there must be enough vegetable to form the main part of the finished frittata. It’s best to use about 2⁄3 vegetable and 1⁄3 eggs. Be very careful not to add too much cheese, as it will make the frittata stick and thus make it impossible to turn successfully. The amount of time it takes to cook the frittata will depend on how thick it is and what kind and size of pan you choose.
This broad bean soup is one of the simplest soups and absolutely delicious as long as the dried beans have not become stale and the olive oil is really flavoursome. Use skinless dried beans, which are creamy white in colour.
This delicious raw courgette salad is perfect as a starter or served as a main course with a platter of cured meats. Make sure the slices are very thin and well coated with the other ingredients.
This rice salad is an absolute classic that appears on countless menus throughout the whole country. Especially popular in summertime, it is a lovely light way to start a meal.
This recipe for stuffed cabbage leaves from Friuli–Venezia Giulia has a dialect name that means ‘escaped birds’, as the swollen leaves are supposed to look like little birds hiding from hunters’ guns. You’ll need only the green leaves, some of which will be large enough to cut in half once you have blanched them. This makes a satisfying winter dish and only needs boiled potatoes and good red wine to make it into a delicious supper.
This is the original classic Tuscan recipe for crostini, reputedly from the Medici kitchens, which some say is the original recipe for pâté. It has given rise to a plethora of other crostini recipes.
One of the simplest pasta sauces, very easy to make and fresh and delicious. Make sure the ricotta is as fresh as possible for the best possible results. Using ewe’s milk ricotta will give the sauce a stronger flavour.
This is the basic tomato sauce from which so many favourites are created. As with all recipes that rely on the quality of a few ingredients for the best results, this sauce needs good olive oil and the sweetest tomatoes for the most perfect flavour.
The great Neapolitan classic, the pizzaiola sauce is normally used with thin beef or veal escalopes. The word pizzaiola means the sauce has a flavour reminiscent of a pizza, which in Naples means plenty of fresh-tasting tomato, garlic and the intense taste of oregano. It works beautifully with fish fillets.
For the most flavourful beef stew, make sure the meat you start with is of the best possible quality and full of flavour. Be sure to give the meat sufficient time to cook so that it becomes really tender – you should almost be able to cut through it with a spoon. Keep the heat so low that the liquid around the meat barely moves to keep the meat from boiling as it cooks.
Everybody loves chocolate cake and this one is light and delicious and perfect with whipped cream or sweetened mascarpone or, of course, with vanilla ice cream.
This very simple plum cake can be made with a variety of different fruits. Serve it warm or cold. It is delicious with a little custard or cream.
This is the jam tart that is made as a teatime treat for children of all ages the length and breadth of Italy. The pastry traditionally tends to be rather sweet, but you can reduce the amount of sugar if you prefer.
One of the simplest desserts, this is a wonderful way to enjoy really fresh, good-quality ricotta. It is very soft in texture, which makes it perfect for dunking biscotti.
Putting polenta into bread dough with wheat flour to make polenta bread means that the bread will take on a slightly grainier texture, have a lovely golden yellow appearance and will also last longer before becoming stale.
Lots of different fresh vegetables, carefully grilled and dressed with olive oil, make a delicious and very light main dish that can be turned into a filling meal by adding a few simple extras. You can, of course, leave out any of the following vegetables or use others too.
This pretty pepper and mozzarella terrine is cooked in just over half an hour. Make sure that there are no gaps between the layers, as this will prevent the terrine from being turned out successfully. Also, use a really sharp knife to slice the finished terrine neatly.
To make Venetian-style liver, make sure the liver is very lightly and quickly cooked. It must not be allowed to become leathery and tough. Serve with the sweet red onions and a pile of creamy mashed potatoes.
This classic pea with pancetta dish makes a delicious side dish. It is also a wonderful filling for an omelette or mixed with freshly cooked pasta and a little cream.
This classic seafood salad is good served just warm, or it can be made a few hours ahead and served cold. Vary the choice of seafood according to personal taste.
This veal and tuna dish tastes much better when made with homemade mayonnaise. Whisk one egg untill pale yellow. Gradually add 125 ml (4 fl. oz) each of sunflower oil and extra-virgin olive oil in a thin, slow, steady stream. Gradually, the oil and egg will emulsify and acquire a thick, smooth texture. Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and season to taste.
Cheese and butter risotto is the basic recipe from which all other risotto variations are created. Making risotto successfully is all about texture, so it is important to master a simple version like this one before moving on to more complicated recipes. Make sure you have the right kind of chalky rice for making risotto and that you have a good, tasty stock. Risotto takes 20 minutes to make, from the moment the rice is added to the pan. For a risotto to be perfect, the rice needs to remain slightly chewy, with no trace of chalkiness.
This dish, ‘Pasta con le Sarde,’ is delicious hot, but possibly even better cold the next day.
This is a real favourite, popular with children as well as adults. Do make sure the tuna is canned in olive oil and is of the best possible quality for the most wonderful results. It's lovely with bucatini, but any shape of pasta will work, just use your favourite or whatever you have in the cupboard!
Taleggio is a deliciously creamy, soft cheese from Northern Italy, but any similar kind of cheese will also work well. Bucatini are big, fat, hollow spaghetti. This pasta bake is a great combination of flavours.
This is a lovely speciality from the south of Italy, with lots of flavour and wonderful colours.
This way of flavouring olives is very traditional in Sicily, where it is known as olive cunsati. The longer the olives are left in their marinade, the stronger the flavour they will take on, but they can be equally delicious served almost immediately after being dressed. Add a handful of these olives to any dish of cured meats for an easy antipasto.
This method of slowly braising pheasant with lots of red wine works especially well with an older bird that would be too dry if roasted. Finished off with the cream and the truffle, this is a truly luxurious and sumptuous dish.
Burrata is the king of the mozzarella-type cheeses. It is bigger than a normal mozzarella and has a hard exterior skin (which is edible) which hides an amazingly creamy, fragrant, and delicious center. This recipe makes a warm pasta salad, perfect for summer days.
A dish full of sun-drenched Sicilian flavour. To get the best out of the dish, the aubergine must be a deep golden colour and silky smooth inside. Fresh basil is essential.
This delicious way of serving artichokes is typical of the cooking style of the city of Rome, with plenty of strong, robust flavours like garlic, lemon and mint to really bring the taste of the vegetable to life.
This is the ultimate in comfort food, a delicately flavoured dish of rounded gnocchi made out of cooked semolina, coated in butter and cheese and baked until golden.
Please do make sure the vongole are as clean as possible before you cook them to avoid an unpleasant muddy taste or a gritty sensation under your teeth. Rinse them in several changes of clean, fresh water until the water runs clear.
A classic combination, this is definitely worth a little effort for a special occasion.
This classic pasta sauce is usually used to dress tagliatelle rather than spaghetti. Keep the meat relatively chunky, so that the end result looks like a delicate stew.
In Italy, the word orecchiette means ‘little ears’, which perfectly describes these domed pasta shapes. They require slightly longer cooking than regular pasta and have a deliciously chewy texture.
It is always best, if you can, to buy your bresaola (an air-cured beef) from a whole piece of meat, which is then sliced professionally in front of you. This will always taste better than buying bresaola in a neat plastic packet. The secret with cured meats is to try to eat them as soon as possible after slicing. This recipe for bresaola–rocket rolls is a really lovely way to enjoy this delicious speciality from the Valtellina area of Lombardy, in Northern Italy. Don’t be tempted to make it too far in advance, or the dressing on the rocket leaves will cause them to wilt and lose their crispness.
For this deliciously simple way of enjoying lamb, which in Italian is called ‘finger burn’ (agnello a scottadito) because you must eat it piping hot with your fingers, you need tender little lamb cutlets and a lovely hot, even heat with which to cook them to perfection. You could follow the same recipe using small chicken drumsticks or pork spareribs.