Like most Italians, when it comes to food I have a rather conservative palate, but I am also open to exploring new, less traditional Italian food, as long as it speaks with a clear, authentic voice. Penne with tiny meatballs is a wonderful dish that is both traditional and authentic, but spaghetti with meatballs is not a dish that exists in Italy; and tiramisù, though quintessentially Italian, is a modern invention (from the 1960s), untraditional and yet truly authentic.
Of course I do not eat and cook only Italian, but Italian food is the one I go back to most often, the one that comes to me as naturally as breathing. It is my culture, it is part of my identity, it is my haven and my sustenance.
After writing two books in Italian – one called English Puddings – I decided to try a more active life by opening a restaurant in Lyme Regis. I’m proud of what came out of that tiny kitchen and I learnt an awful lot but restaurant life wasn’t really for me – I missed my books and cooking on a small scale. So after three years, I decided to return to London, moved to the lovely Highbury Fields in Islington and carried on my writing and research.
I did not learn how to cook from my mum (a reluctant cook), I do not have an heirloom of Nonna’s recipes lying in my drawer. I learnt from books, from daily cooking, from writing, from running a restaurant, from mistakes and successes. My mentors are the great writers and cooks: Elizabeth David, Anna del Conte, Marcella Hazan, Pellegrino Artusi, Ada Boni, Anna Gosetti della Salda, Luigi Veronelli, Carol Field, Lynne Rossetto Kasper, among many others. Reading about food gives me as much pleasure as cooking it.
I want to cook the kind of food that is true to Italian home cooking. Italian food is food of the family table – it has never taken the path of French food which can veer from simple, provincial fare to the far reaches of haute cuisine. As Marcella Hazan says: ‘[Italian] food, whether simple or elaborate, is cooked in the style of the family. There is no such thing as Italian haute cuisine because there are no high or low roads in Italian cooking. All roads lead to the home, to la cucina di casa – the only one to be called Italian cooking.’