As a non-pasta-eater I am not the biggest fan of Italian food. Yes, I know there is a lot more to Italian cuisine than durum wheat but, you have to admit, many of the greatest recipes revolve around it. Which leaves me a tad out in the culinary cold. Gnocchi is a close second to pasta, in terms of carrying a sauce, but spooning it up isn’t as much fun as twirling spaghetti round a fork. So when I worked on this book during the summer I wasn’t expecting to have much use for it.
Reader, I was wrong. It is, of course, full of lovely recipes but it is also a primer for anyone wanting to know more about Sicily which, if the gorgeous photographs are anything to go by, looks like a small European paradise. Although it’s evidently poor, downtrodden and full of people who have yet to learn that ‘moobs’ are rather undesirable, there is a spirit of pure delight that pours out of the stories about food and the families who make it. What’s more, weirdly, this book from a Michelin-starred chef is full of ideas for simple and cheap food. How about pasta with anchovies and breadcrumbs, pork mince meatballs with lemon or chickpea fritters? Granted, there are some fiendishly difficult recipes, mostly in the dessert section (I won’t be making cassata or cannoli any time soon), but its overall message is that, with a few ingredients, you can make something both simple yet complex in flavour, the sort of food that you always find on holiday but can rarely re-create.
Last night, for example, I made something called ‘Truck Drivers’ Pasta’ though, in my case, it was ‘Truck Drivers’ Gnocchi’. I chose it for two reasons: one, I had most of the ingredients bar the pecorino (I used parmesan) and two, it is one of the simplest, and most adaptable, in the book. So, although I really enjoyed the fresh flavour of the mint, basil and tomatoes I might add a little red chilli next time, or a chopped anchovy or two. And I bet that, if I didn’t have any mint, a little lemon zest would brighten it as well. I won’t be eating at Locanda Locatelli any time soon, since a freelance editing salary doesn’t really stretch to such delights, but this book makes its food accessible to all, whatever your location or your means. Highly recommended.
Truck drivers’ pasta (adapted from Made in Sicily)
For two you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have):
extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon
garlic clove, 1
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
pasta or gnocchi, 200g
fresh tomatoes (nice and ripe), 200g
fresh basil leaves, 5
fresh mint leaves, 2
pecorino (or parmesan in my case) 20g
1. Peel and finely chop the garlic, rinse and chop the tomatoes and herbs and mix all of them together in a bowl with the olive oil. Season and leave for an hour.
2. Meanwhile, grate the cheese.
3. After an hour, bring a pan of salted water to boil for your pasta/gnocchi, cook according to the instructions/your preference (who knows how soft/crunchy you like it…!), drain (reserving a spoonful or two of the cooking water) then mix the drained pasta/gnocchi with the tomatoes and most of the cheese. Mix together well, adding a spoonful of the cooking water if the sauce seems too thick.
4. Season and serve with the rest of the grated cheese. Now, how easy was that?