Cavatelli ‘a mano’ with Molino Quaglia

molino quaglia, petra, eggs, cavatelli and all that summer veg..

I have to hand it to myself, I am really rather cool. I realised this the night I spent counting all the times Pellegrino Artusi included butter in a recipe. I realised that I was at a Fonzie (US Cult TV character, not Nik Nak imposter) level of coolness when I got to 924 and decided I couldn’t risk being any cooler and should probably turn in for the night. Its not just Artusi who favours the use of butter, or indeed its slightly more delicious outlawed cousin, lard; The cruiserweight names of Italian food doyens such as Vincenzo Corrado, Bartolomeo Scappi, Marcella Hazan, Achille Spatuzzi, are just a lipid sized sample of old fashioned animal fat champions. Ask nonno and nonna what they used for fat before the “Economic Miracle” of the 50’s and 60’s when shelves were flooded with olive oil? Unless they were in a mass olive producing region of the old country, they were most likely using lard or butter for their food and oil for the lamps and occasional bribe.

This recipe, I think, came to me in the throws of a drunken dream. After a brutal night in a restaurant that once upon a time lurked round the back of Liverpool Street station, I clutched at the memory of eating tagliarini with tiny cubes of carrot, broad beans, mint, and zucchini and finished with a hint of pecorino. it was delicious, fresh, clean and sweet and my cousin (who was with me at the time) swore we didn’t eat it or anything that resembled this jumble of spring veg and carbs. The next morning I checked the menu to absolutely no avail, and knowing the chef and his lack of creativity, I assumed I had concocted the whole dish out of the stupor of 13 or 14 grappas.

 

Ingredients:
Serves 2

70g Buffalo Milk Butter
Splash of dry white wine
15g Fave beans (shelled)
15g Carrot
15g Zucchini
15g purple potato
Fresh mint
20g Pecorino cheese
Splash of good balsamic (I mean really good, if you don’t have good balsamic just acidulate with a little more white wine)

Cavatelli

200g Petra Pasta Flour
10 egg yolks
Dash of water

Method:

1. Make the pasta by mixing the pasta flour with the egg yolks. I try and use the Burford Brown egg yolks to give the pasta a wonderful golden colour. You can also buy Italian eggs which have a rich yolk… If you need too, add a little water to bring the dough together into a smooth paste, similar to play-dough. Rest for 30 minutes minimum in the fridge
2. Form the cavatelli. Cut the dough in half, or quarters (Whatever you are comfortable working with) and roll out to the thickness of about half an inch. Cut into strips and then centimetre squares. Push down on the pasta dough with your thumb then forward to make something like a mini cannoli.
3. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil.
4. Finely chop all your veggies. I cut them into matchstick sized pieces and then into tiny little cubes that some Gallophiles would call “Brunoise”, I think the Italians would say “Cubettini”
5. Blanch the veggies in the boiling water for 30/40 seconds and remove into ice cold water to stop the cooking process. Keep the water.
6. Place some fo the buffalo butter in a frying pan and gently heat. Place the Cavatelli into the boiling water and cook for 3/4 minutes and then add to the butter in the frying pan.
7. Add the blanched vegetables, a handful of freshly chopped mint, a tiny splash of white wine and a good amount of pecorino. Cook out until a rich emulsion forms and finish with a little more butter
8. Serve with a little more mint and pecorino, your heart may not thank you but your mood will be through the roof.

 

Tuna, tuna, tuna.

callipo, tuna, san francescoI am 4, sitting at a long pine table the colour of petrified tree sap. There are ’s kids everywhere in a dazzling array of technicolour nylon armour, dungarees, vest tops, water paint stained jeans and socks that slip down the ankle to give the impression that the foot is a foot long.

It’s the 90’s so, naturally, there is a finely woven wicker placemat in front of me, the remnants of food from past meals clinging to the fibres like some decaying wattle and daub. I am not hungry, I ate 3, maybe 4, chocolate cookies from a worn blue tin emblazoned with “All Butter Danish Cookies” but I am on the Elvis side of greedy. I like my food and I especially like what my aunt has got in her sun burst orange Le Creuset.

It’s Pasta Tuna Sweetcorn night in North Hull, just like it is up and down the country for anyone between the ages of 2-102. Tables will be decked with centuries old grissini sticks destined to be lovingly sucked into a saliva pap before being dropped and trodden into the carpet. Yellow tins of grated parmesan husks, swept off the factory floors of Italy and carefully repackaged for the UK consumer will dispense a fine dandruff of insipid beige onto heaped mounds of stodgy conchigle pasta. If that didn’t sound delicious, it’s finished with a flour heavy bescimella, day-glo tinned sweetcorn and anaemic tuna with all the texture (and probably flavour) of anaglypta.

This was the insulting pinnacle of Britalian cooking. A dish that, unlike Spaghetti Bolognese, cream saturated carbonara and the Pollo Sopressa (A more Nato friendly version of Chicken Kiev), that seemingly has absolutely no roots in Italy. What’s more, the very concept of putting a viscous mantle of white sauce over something as delicate at tuna flesh is anathema to the legacy of Italian food as far back as the 4th century BC when Archestratus of Syracuse noted; “the very best way for you to deal with this fish; You need fig leaves and oregano (not very much), no cheese, no nonsense” .

If ever a more motley collection of ingredients could be described as “nonsense”, I am yet to encounter them.

In Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, a play noted for being able to disgust an audience within minutes, Tamora experiences the abject horror of unwittingly consuming her two sons, Chiron and Demetrius in a pie; flesh, blood, bones, hair the lot, a bit like eating at a Little Chef back in the day. I am going to guess that if you are Italian and reading this, thus far, your horror will have been on a level comparable to Tamoras. But I have to make a case for this, on behalf of the time pressed mothers, out of pocket students and child minders with more stroppy mouths to feed than a Parisienne cafe on the day after a national strike. It was simple, cheap and pleased pretty much everyone and anyone who wasn’t genuinely Italian or a food columnist for The Guardian. It could be made in under 20 minutes at a time long before the advent of Jamie’s “Meals in Under a Nano Second” and its inoffensive palate of cream/beige meant that, in a country that mass produces fussy eaters, it will always be a crowd pleaser

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it at the time; , that would be as hypocritical as a former heroin addict turned rehab councillor saying that the nights they spent with the New York Dolls seeing into the future at the end of pipe wasn’t fun. It was a comforting dish, it filled you up, it stuck to your ribs and hugged your throat. The negative side was that it set me on an uncomfortable path with any type of fish based pasta (excluding shellfish) pretty much until today.

As I got older the impact of seminal Italian chefs like Carluccio, Locatelli, Alastair Little, Nino Sassau and the team at the River Café began to ripple up north. The blankets of sloppy bescimella, long thick ragus and clumsy cream dishes began to give way to lighter, sweet fresh tomato based sauces, olive oils and buttery emulsions that found popularity in the late 90’s early 2000’s.

Tuna would be tipped into one of these with maybe a handful of capers, some chopped olives and a little chilli in an ersatz version of a puttanesca minus the anchovies. It would be tossed into linguine with that stylish weed, rocket, and finished with lemon, a crushed clove of garlic, a sprinkle of oregano or finely sliced red onion. All very refined to the eye, but again containing that ever present, seemingly eternal ball of trachea clogging tuna.

Here is where the problem lies, Tuna flesh starts life red, like you see in the fancy unaffordable packs in M&S. When they can it, they bleed it first and then cook it. When you cook it a second time, Bang! You’ve got the edible equivalent of wood chip – , basically an inedible pointless protein. Its curious, delicate flavour gets lost, imparting nothing more than a faeint tang of ozone to any pasta dish. It’s only real legacy, following a long mastication is the feeling of it scraping down your gullet and something equivalent to a test match in the time it takes to swallow.

I gave up with tuna in pasta, or any type of sea fish for that matter, for a long time. I enjoyed both too much to spoil the other with their unholy union, a union I felt was more toxic than a TOWIE wedding.

Maybe some of the boy scouts reading this will be scoffing at even tolerating the idea of using canned tuna, like it’s a no brainer and I should have been using fresh fish all along. The truth is I have and I think it is equally a crime against man and our scaly submerged brethren. I totally believe tuna fish is best served raw, tarted up with nothing more than a little good olive oil and a couple of well dispersed drops of lemon. If it’s going to be cooked then it’s got to have had seconds on a raging hot grill…and then just a drizzle of olive oil and lemon. Take your sauce and sling it in the bin with the Home Pride bescimella and that copy of Nick Knowles vegetarian cookery book. (random mention of NK!!!??!!)

I mentioned at the beginning of this diatribe against such a seemingly inoffensive dish as pasta with tuna, that I couldn’t bear the thought of it….up until now,. Recently I had some kind of Damascene conversion. I didn’t see a stern faced Jesus appearing on an arid dessert track, instead I saw San. Francesco Di Paola dressed in his habit, emerging out of a rip tide staring a bulbous looking blue fin square on. Emblazoned across the Fender Jaguar orange tin in white copperplate the glorious words “Buzzonaglia Di Tonno, Callipo”. For Italians this may not be a new revelation, but for a man brought up on skip jack in spring water it’s like finding the Garden of Eden was behind your compost bin all along.

Funnily enough, on first glances, it bears striking resemblance to the interior of the compost bin. Far from the insipid beige hall-carpet pallor of your everyday tuna, the “Buzz” looks like Operation Dessert Storm camo: a pastiche of meaty white flesh, fatty blacks and browns and the occasional lattice of veins. It’s this inclusion of the dark meat that is the game changer. Italian and especially Sicilian chefs have known for generations that this is the stuff you do match up with pasta. Even Elizabeth David knew it, stating that during her time in Sicily the fishmonger would wrap up the white and dark meat, some fatty ventresca (belly meat) and even the heart of the beast. Like all that is good in this world to eat, the secret ingredient is, lamentably, fat.

I’ve used it a few times now. I’ve cooked my pasta, finished it with olive oil, chopped taggiasche olives and some finely sliced tropea onions, before heaping half a can of this terrifying, oleaginous fish flesh on top with just the slightest squeeze of lemon. I even tried it with a San Marzano sauce, cooking the tomato first before adding the tuna after and it was like eating fois gras. The principle is the same for pizzas, do the cooking separately.  In this case, a Torpedino base with a short kick of oregano on some good dough, and then use the tuna like some indulgent spread over the top when out of the oven.

The possibilities for this can of fishy joy are probably endless, like the Tuna fish itself, nothing goes to waste, not even the can which I have lovingly fashioned into a pen holder. If it were a ship it would pretty much have passed all its sea trials with flying colours and be ready for commission, yet something tells me there is just one more dish it has to conquer before it’s passed fit for service; an old classic, a rule Britalia of a plate beloved by old and young alike…I wonder if Zia Tina still has that Le Creuset dish.

 

Saturday Kitchen… Caponata and Vegan Lamb!

  

I’ve always thought Italian food had that same capacity for lawlessness and personal interpretation as Rock and Roll does with music. Like Rock and Roll, as long as you stick within a very loose, slightly un-codified frame work, it’s hard to make any massive faux pas. There are no great philosophies or sets of rules that govern the relatively wild art that is Italian cooking but maybe Artusi comes close to a general mantra that should go someway in governing a loose mentality amongst those pilgrims who are beginning their journey..

“ I love what is beautiful and good wherever it is found and I am repulsed when I see, as it is often said, the ruination of gods gifts”

A simple adage that should be inscribed on the monument to Italian food. Sure, there are examples of giant error that veritably pole vault over remarkably reasonable boundaries of the Italian kitchen, running in the face of Artusi and arguably, God; cream in carbonara, chicken parmigiana and barbecue base pizzas are a few obvious ones. Personally I’d go as far to say that adding lemon and parsley to Aglio, Olio Pepperoncino, making saltimbocca with pork and not veal or simply calling Tagliatelle Al Ragu, Spag *shudder* Bol are up there too but that’s me being a wailing great pedant.

This is, however, kind of the same as One Direction covering Wonderwall, Girls Aloud and Sugarbabes doing Walk This Way or Hillary Duff doing My Generation. We know they blow, it feels utterly wrong and is more insulting than asking an Italian waiter for a cappuccino after dinner and for his sister’s number written in the foam. Relax though, they are simply a moment of passing madness not connected to the genre, shunned by the Gods at the top and the fans at the bottom, punished in the afterlife with the gnashing of teeth and burning pits of sulphur.

Despite what your ancient Zia or rolling pin waving Mamma may say, when it comes to many dishes, the room for interpretation, exploration and regional deviation is actually pretty vast and it’s what makes Italian food infinitely more exciting than, I don’t know, let’s say the cuisine of a country beginning with F and rhymes with trance…

Many dishes in the Italian repertoire have only recently taken a definitive form, making deviations and interpretations of recipes relatively normal before the economic miracle of the 1950’s and more acceptable today.

Take, for example, the hundreds of differences of basil pesto in Liguria alone with variations in cheese, soft herbs, olive oils, spices etc. The earliest recipes from the 1840’s included garlic, parsley, spices (vague, but possibly just black pepper as this is referred to as a spice in other Italian cook books) marjoram and no mention of pine nuts. Today the Genoese Pesto Consortium, a body ruled over by a Grand Master and PALADINS, state the “legit” ingredients but, in terms of quantities, they are pretty free and easy with the recipe which is refreshing when you think how militant the Cornish can be about a simple pasty.

More relevant to the British, look at the not so humble Spaghetti Bolognese, a dish with more guises than David Bowie. Try making it in a room full of chefs, or anyone from Italy and the same questions will arise; “Should it contain milk?” “Should you use pork, beef and veal? Or follow Noah’s example and only use two of every beast?” “Tomato or no tomato?” “red or white wine? “ The list of variations is endless, but if its done well, its still identifiably Italian (or Emiliano if your being a pedant) just hold on the Bovril cube and Worcestershire sauce..

The best part about this approach to Italian cooking is the reaction you get. Returning to the opening quote from Artusi, if cooked with a care for the ingredients, it can never truly offend your average Italian. So you added red instead of white wine to the ragu? Or decided to dabble in a sprig of Marjoram for the pesto? People will shrug, pull faces, click their tongue, say “Mah!” and make more gestures with their hands than an air craft martial on “hard of hearing pilots day” because it’s not their way but they won’t say “That’s Not Italian Food!” In most cases, they will eat it, pull faces, throw out hand gestures and secretly appreciate it because, when done with a considered approach, you can’t get it wrong.

The reasons for fluidity in a culinary tradition that, on the surface, appear relatively rigid can only be speculated on but it’s probably a subtle mix of Campanilisimo (the Italian art of believing everything your town/village/hamlet does is better than your neighbour one mile down the road) and the Italians’ incredible capacity for pride, self belief and self sufficiency. Indeed, the father of modern Socialism, Alexander Herzen speculated; “they have a sense of respect for themselves, for the individual which is particularly developed in the Italians; they do not simulate democracy as the French do, it is inherent in them” which to me says, don’t tell me how to make pomodoro sauce, back up out my kitchen.

In addition to these factors, I’d add a third. Italy doesn’t really have that totemic toque toting imperator of the kitchen whose words and rules are carved into granite and used as a bench mark for future generations of chefs. Whereas the French will still refer constantly to Careme and Escoffier, men who have had a tremendous, if not domineering, impact on the culinary arts, Italians have the more amiable Artusi, the studious, enigmatic Scappi and the gluttonous philosopher Archestratus (“The Daedalus of tasty dishes”). The works of these men are not solely for reverence, but reference, and yet they still aren’t infallible or highfalutin’.

Artusi is like that eccentric old uncle with the enthusiasm for food of Toad of Toad Hall. The latter most humbly claims of his own recipes that; “With this practical manual you only need to know how to grab hold of a ladle and you’ll muddle through” For a man held in high esteem by both professional and domestic cooks, his work is brutally honest (on success and failures) recipes vary wildly and his allowances for interpretation and adaptation are refreshing.

Caponata is another recipe which rolls out the gilt lined red carpet for Mr and Mrs interpretation. Locatelli is probably the only writer who sets this out clearly in English but he makes reference to at least four variations accepted in Sicily, stressing that every other person has their own take on the dish. Personally, I’ve had multiple variations, witnessed so many pointless, impassioned debates on how it should be made, tasted ratatouille-like slop and others where every ingredient was as noticeable if it walked out onto your tongue under a little spotlight and took a bow.

And personally that’s the key for me. I’m going with the well trodden adage that less veg is more and stick to a rule of three. You want soft, crunch and crisp which, in this version, comes from the sweet, softened onion, the al dente celery and the fried aubergine but really the choice is probably going to be made on what disintegrating veggies you have in your salad crisper.

Caponata wouldn’t be caponata if it didn’t punch you in the mouth and say “I am sweet and sour, call me your Daddy” It’s not just a few fried veggies and a deluge of sweet chopped tomato. To be honest, I think the tomato is the keyboard player in the band, useful but no one’s going to throw their bra at it. Yes, you will get a sweetness from it but the main body of that will come from the onion and aubergine. I have literally spliced a few torpedino in this recipe and pan roasted them to give you a nod to their sulphurous, deep rich joys.

The hook for the caponata really comes from the delicate mix of the vinegar, honey, capers, almonds and fresh mint, the stage crew to the front men. What sets caponata aside from a ratatouille or clumpy veg stew is this injection of tongue pontificating condiments. This is alchemy and not an exact science. I like my caponata acidulated to high hell only because I use it more as a compliment to something else on the plate rather than a dish in its own right. Either way, if you want something a little more traditional use the recipe which follows this article.

Ozzy Osbourne said that rock music is not meant to be perfect and I don’t think good Italian food is or should be either. Perfect is boring, ’’ts predictable, repetitive and lacks soul and none of those, outside the high street chains, are applicable to the Italian kitchen. I’ve always thought the capacity for a wonderful mistake, a bit of a wobble, a considered yet un-expected experimentation is what makes things kind of beautiful and can fuel innovation.

Look at Bottura and his “Ooops I dropped the lemon cake”; a mistake, an imperfection that becomes legendary, like a bum note in an iconic guitar solo or the kind of out of tune wailing you would get from a crowd thumping New York Dolls track. No one got their hand slammed in an oven for that, had the strings on their apron cut or fined the cost of the outrageously priced plate…no like Johnny Cash kicking out the lights at the Grand Ol Opry, Jerry Lee Lewis setting fire to a grand piano or the ringing clock you can hear in “A Day In The Life” it became legendary and part of a cooking tradition that enjoys global popularity in every nook and cranny of the globe.

 

 

 

 

A Caponata for all seasons

Caponata , aptly nicknamed “A Hungry Mans Dream”, is quite possibly one of the best meals you can make if you are a body toning nut job who doesn’t want to compromise on the flavour and morale that is usually associated with “Health” food. Its very simply a vegetable stew, but one which allows each vegetable its own little spotlight. People may scoff at the thought of It being healthy as its best made when fried, but it can also be done under the grill or even blanched (maybe for those suffering from Orthorexia)

 

Caponata is the pinnacle of Sicilian baroque fantasy cooking, with its roots pretty much dipping in and out of nearly all the major culinary influencers (a term I cannot stand) that set up shop on the island.

The earliest recipe for the dish comes from Agrigento, which is apt, as the city like the recipe, was fought and debated over for hundreds of years and by a variety of invaders. A tapestry of Byzantine/Roman sweet and sour (or Agro Dolce), the veg comes courtesy from Arabic and Carthaginian influence and the simplicity is possibly Hellenic. The Norman influence is lacking, I can only assume they were developing that most inferior cousin to Caponata, the Ratatouille.

I have added a touch of honey to this recipe to increase the length of the flavour, plus bees and honey have a wonderful historical significance in Sicily for bringing good luck and fortune.

 

Ingredients:

1 aubergine (I like the round purple aubergines from Sicily for this)
1 stick of fresh celery
1 bunch of fresh mint
Handful of sliced almonds
1 Onion (Tropea are fantastic)
Half a teaspoon of honey
7-8 Torpedino tomatoes
2 litres of sunflower oil
Good extra virgin olive oil
Handful of capers
1.5 Tablespoon red wine vinegar

 

Method:

1. Start by finely dicing your onion and sautéing in a little olive oil on a low heat, and half a tablespoon of the vinegar. You want to cook this until its translucent and without any signs of colouring
2. Peel the celery of its strings, finely chop. Bring a pan of slated water to the boil and blanche the celery in the water for 20 seconds before plunging into cold water. Do not throw this water away
3. Heat up some sunflower oil in a pan. Chop an aubergine to your liking, by this I mean a small, medium or large chunk. I personally like a medium/small chop. Salt a little and pat dry. Shallow fry until golden brown and set aside on kitchen paper.
4. In the boiling water, drop the tomatoes in for 20 seconds and carefully remove and skin.
5. Once the Torpedino tomatoes are skinned, roast them in a dry frying pan until a little coloured and removed.
6. Mix the vegetables with finely chopped mint, toasted almonds, capers, some celery leaves, honey, vinegar, olive oil and allow to marinate for 30 minutes minimum, before serving. Tastes better at room temperature.

 

 

Joe Hurd – A nostalgic look on my love affair with Stracchino

stacchino, joe hurd, holidaysThe Thomas Cook middle England “Pilgrimage of The Sun” route

I never did holiday romances growing up, not in the conventional sense, but the closest I got was a story that makes Heathcliff and Cathy look like Alex Reid and Jordan.

When Calabria started getting too hot for my fur lined Yorkshire father, we switched up and would go to the cooler Adriatic climes of Cattolica, a tributary party town of the once great 70’s package holiday Mecca, Rimini. It was a brilliant melange of amusement arcades, knock off football shirts, granita stands, seasonally burnt German tourists, pastel tablecloths and sticky plastic garden chairs – perfect for a teenager from Hull.

Of course, being on the Thomas Cook middle England “Pilgrimage of The Sun” route, you got plenty of opportunities to meet girls and I reckon many of the lads, with whom I would spend my days smacking a 99p flyer* backwards and forwards across the luminous green pool,did.

Not I.

No, back in those days I had one main occupation on holiday -eating. I was like a horse with blinkers and a nose bag attached. From the morning buffet of salami, prosciutto cotto, hot rolls and Nutella brioche to the evening 6 course meals of Salumi, giardineri, veal, passatelli, during the whole shebang with various interruptions throughout the day of Stracciatella gelato and granita, I grazed merrily under the Italian sun like a fatted lazarini.

It was on one of these trips, however, I arguably fell in love with a cheese that had about as much affect on my life as Helen did on the history of Troy.

Stracchino is that shy, shrinking wall flower of the cheese world. It’s hard to find in the UK, difficult to contain and has a reputation for not travelling well. It arrives begrudgingly, from tired (Stracche is a Lombard colloquialism for “tired”) stressed cows brought down from their summer vacation in the lush mountain pastures of Lombardy and Piedemonte. The first milk they produce is slightly fatty, rich and bitter and this is where Stracchino gets it trademark boozy aroma from. It makes for the perfect turophile love story.

In 2001 my parents finally liberated me from the hotel’s poolside lunch menu of stomach cramping lasagna, chlorine spattered imitation beef burgers and a Salad Nicoise solely designed as a threat to punish any infant miscreant. I was free to wander through the lunchtime human tide of sweltering shimmering Germans, willowy red Dutchmen and English families perpetually on the hunt for “Spag *shudder* Bol” .

The one place that seemed to cater for any of the actual inhabitants of Cattolica was a blue garden shed run by a mother and son team flipping out hot Piadina by the truck load. For a greedy teen boy, or anyone this side of vegetarian, what isn’t to love about hot flat bread made from strutto (good time pig juice/lard) with a thick white mantle of rich, acidic spreadable cheese with a yeasty back taste? I didn’t know what I was asking for but my now honed technique of pointing and moving my head in a culinary direction landed me with Stracchino and prosciutto day after day.

Stracchino was a revelation. It’s not a cheese that slaps you round the face and leaves you drooling on the floor, no Stracchino is dairy humility. It’s the cheese equivalent to Barry Manilow’s “Mandy”; It gives a lot, you overlook it, maybe even dismiss it…then a few days later realise it’s possibly one of the best things to have ever entered your mouth. The flavour is one of persistance, it builds and grows before registering in your brain as something quite unreal and moreish.

It’s an oddball cheese to be fair. The texture, when straight out the fridge is satisfyingly gelatinous but give it time at room temperature and it acquires the solemn ooze of lava, letting itself spread out much like a midriff on a fat man following a 12 course dinner. On the palate it’s thick, sticky and heavy, you could even say a little bit boozy? It coats every corner of the mouth with a satisfying earthy, acidic farm yard flavour, before dissipating into sweet, milky vapours that remind you of a young grana padano.

 

Italian restaurants named after cooking utensils joe hurd, spaghetti bbc saturday kitchen lamb chops with stracchino

I was hooked, but I didn’t realise it until my return to the UK. I had taken my alabaster goddess, with her un-sculpted lines and love handles that make it look more like some flabby bread dough than cheese, totally for granted. In the UK, circa 2001, it was nowhere to be found.
I remember clearly going into our local branch of Safeways and keeping my eyes partially closed in Christmas morning-like anticipation,hoping that maybe one of those featureless tubs, nestled amongst the spiky bergs of Parmiggiano Reggiano, would be my creamy Holy Grail but only to be totally disappointed on finding largely insipid pots of supermarket mascarpone and ricotta.
Later, when I was a little older, we hooked up in Bologna. Shunning the opportunity to catch up on some underage drinking round the back of the Conad supermarket, I’d wander the colonnades of the old town tucking into this block of alabaster cheese tang like it was an apple.
I even got bold, smuggling as much stracchino wrapped in cling film through customs at the height of the foot and mouth scare like a crazed dairy obsessed Howard Marks as I could fit in an Umbro duffel bag. The border control didn’t scupper me but the intense heat in my bag generated in the near greenhouse conditions of Charles de Gaulle airport transformed the cheese into a fizzing ball of milk funk. I was gutted.
It would be years later I saw stracchino again, sitting prettily in the shop window of one of London’s outrageously priced Italian delis. She was still the same, pearl white, plain and unassuming, hiding the mysteries contained within but now with a price tag of nearing five quid and rendering it way out my league.
We are older now. Stracchino is becoming more available to the public, whereas with abs to maintain, I’m becoming less available to cheese. I see it now and again; in place of Mozzarella on a Pizza, where its beautiful melting abilities and subtle richness outshine the best buffalo and burrata. Occasionally she pops up tucked into a tortellini or stuffed into a veal chop by recent converts with Italian restaurants named after cooking utensils, sat jauntily on a blue rimmed plate atop a marble counter. Soon the East end hipsters will come and elevate it to lofty cheese heights, waddling West London food bloggers will rave and strike their piggy little flags into its terra un-firma. But me and Stracchino will always have that summer, in Cattolica.

JH

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