Kate Ryan, Flavour.ie
All too often, I am drawn to the flavours, colours, textures, freshness and comfort of Italian food. I’ve visited Venice, Rome and Lake Garda over the years, fascinated by how landscape and local culture influences and is influenced by the regionality of its food.
They say Italian food is simple, and I guess in a way it is – few ingredients, picked at their best and cooked well. But it also isn’t so simple. From what it takes to grow, raise or fish the raw ingredients at their absolute best, to the skill of the pasta maker, pizza master or mixologist, their skill is in taking those ingredients and turning them into something that honours culinary traditions, regional recipes, preserves flavour, and delivers comfort and satisfaction. Not so simple!
For all that and more, my tribute to Italian food and drink is this months’ Insta Inspo.
For every pasta shape there is a dish and a sauce. Of course, Italy isn’t the only place in the world we find pasta, but it’s the country most associated with the simple assemblage of flour, eggs and salt to create 400+ pasta shapes – and yes, I know, recipes can vary, so don’t @ me!
The different shapes of pasta used in dishes depend on history and regional culinary culture, texture and how sauce binds to it, flavour, and ultimately enjoyment. Rachel Roddy’s book, An A-Z of Pasta, delves deep into that with recipes, stories and histories weaving together to create a perfect whole of why pasta is so beloved by so many the world throughout.
It makes you want to dig out that squeaky old pasta machine and set to work making your own pasta! Maybe let @domenicacooks inspire you with what to makes, just like she does with her pasta making classes in the US.
Think you can’t find pure daycent pizza in Ireland? Think again! In recent times, Ireland’s appetite for pizza has become insatiable, and with it, pizza slingers everywhere are upping their game to keep standing out from the crowd. So, whether it’s thin crust or thick, pre-fermented, slow prove, stuffed crust, dipped crust, wood fired, blistered or licked by flame, don’t even leave the room without discussing toppings: local, authentic, seasonal – ingenious!
Irish food and travel writers, @gastrogays, know a thing or two about which of those make for a deliciously sinful pizza bite. Always on the look out for hot new openings in Ireland based on their travels abroad, their latest find resulted in chowing down on this gorgeous looking slice of pizza perfection from the recently opened @bambino_dublin. I mean…that’s amore!
Italian breads have suffered much; the least we can say about the naff trend for making pictures on focaccia with thin strips of veg that inevitably burn in the searing hot oven, the better. Ciabatta can be a wonderful thing, too, given the right amount of care and attention. But, just as there are hundreds of different pasta shapes and any number of ways a pizza can be made, so it is too for breads.
Imagine something that’s part bread, part pizza, part pasta dish, all wrapped up into one deeply savoury mouthful? Well, that’s what NY-based food blogger, @chopsticksmeetfork made when she set herself a challenge to bake Scaccia which is, she says, “a type of Sicilian street food…also called lasagne bread, pizza loaf, tomato and cheesy pie.”
I have a weakness for pastry that cannot be denied. And if said pastry happens to be stuffed full to the literal brim with fluffy pillowy, whipped, sweetened ricotta and adorned with pistachio, chocolate, cherries or lemon, then I am here for it completely!
Lucky Corkonians have been devouring freshly made and hand finished cannoli for years thanks to the thoughtful folks at Toons Bridge Dairy who use their own ricotta to generously fill cannoli treats sold at The English Market and other Toons Bridge shops.
For me, cannoli are a quintessential taste of Italy and I love everything about them: sweet but not too sweet, crunchy and silky and totally satisfying. Best eaten beside the turquoise seas of the Italian riviera, just as @erikavendra does in this couldn’t-be-more-Italian-if-it-tried post!
Fitto Misto di Mare
The essence of Italian food is about simple dishes using the best of ingredients cooked well. It’s food that can be savoured and shared, embraces seasonality, and respects the culinary heritage of its most treasured dishes.
And although not an island, it has the good fortune to be a country almost entirely surrounded by sea – 7,600 km in fact, the 14th longest coastline of any country in the world. Italy, therefore, has the very good fortune to enjoy fruits of the sea as well as the land, as Irish food photographer @jenniferocooks recently discovered on an Italian holiday of her own.
I agree with Jennifer’s sentiment that there are fewer better pleasures in life than a cooling glass of wine sipped with a plate of uber fresh fritto misto, a selection of seafood dipped in a light batter and deep fried served simply with wedges of lemon.
Crackling. You know what I mean: blistered, golden, teeth shattering crunchy, slightly gooey deliciousness. Good crackling is the stuff of my dreams and is why porchetta is one of my all-time favourite dishes. Meaning “little pig”, porchetta is pork belly flavoured with herbs, sometimes fruits and nuts too, rolled, tied and cooked until meltingly soft on the inside with perfect crackling on the outside.
It looks like you’ve spent ages on it but really the oven does all the work for you. Porchetta utilises one of the cheapest pork meats so you can dine like a king whilst being kind to your pocket. It’s proving popular too as an alternative celebration dish, especially at Christmas time, when it is a no-brainer replacement for dry, boring turkey. And if you’ve never had a porchetta hot roll, well…
I love this version by @fish_fire_food_bbq_by_kristian – porchetta stuffed with goats’ cheese and walnuts.
The humble tomato. Where would we be without them? What would Italian food be without them either? There’s a renewed interest in tomatoes thanks to the trend for heirloom tomatoes by chefs and growers and we began to see tomatoes of all shapes, sizes and colours appearing. We learned tomatoes can taste differently, too: some super sweet, some herbaceous, some tart and tangy, others fruity.
Growing tomatoes should be a GIY ambition for everyone, because nothing tastes better than a well-tended, slowly grown, vine ripened tomato!
I couldn’t choose between two images for this entry, so I’ve included both! I love this image by @plantasticblondie for showing off a tomato technicolour, how their sunny, vibrant colours instantly brighten everything up.
But I also love this moody image by @bakingmydays, particularly her use of light to make these huge, juicy orbs look other-worldly, almost alien-like and meaty. I guess that’s the point: tomatoes are never just one thing; they can transform themselves and other foods around them, and that is why they are so magical!
Peaches in Wine
I remember sitting in the sunshine in 2018 reading Diana Henry’s book, How to Eat a Peach, a beautiful melange of memories, stories and menus. The titular chapter recounted memories of a couple dropping peaches into glasses of Moscato wine at the end of dinner in a restaurant, allowing them to sit and mingle with the sweet wine, eating Moscato-drenched peach slices and sipping peach-infused Moscato wine.
As I read her words, imagined the scene, and conjured up those flavours in my mouth, I realised how utterly perfect it was! Elegant but not restrained, simple yet complex, luxurious but not inaccessible. In other words, very Italian!
When I came across this post by @the_little_italian_school it took me straight back to that day sat in the sunshine reading about peaches in wine.
When life gives you lemons…
…Make Limoncello! The first time I ever visited Italy was to Venice, far away from where Limoncello originates from in southern Italy. Bright yellow, I didn’t really know what it was, but bought a bottle anyway and used it to make deliciously flavoured boozy lemony desserts and cocktails, and now I always have a bottle to hand.
I think really, unless you’re out living your best life on a boat floating on the crystal blue waters of Med near the island of Capri, it probably just doesn’t taste the same. But thank goodness I can live vicariously via @amazingcapritour in the meantime!
“Have a Negroni”, said Anthony Bourdain, and, like most things, he was right. Keep your Aperol Spritz, real adults sip on a Negroni. It’s a cocktail that’s got nothing but alcohol in it: Campari, gin and vermouth are the trilogy of spirits combined in the perfect aperitif. For lovers of all things bitter, this is just the punch to the palate you need; great for sundowners, great pre meal, great post meal, too.
Far from sun-drenched Italy, it is to often rain-drenched Valentia Island I look when I’m preparing my Negroni, and from where Ireland’s only vermouth is produced inspired by the island’s yellow gorse covered landscape.
But, to help us wrap up this months’ Insta Inspo, I’ll raise my glass to @theginquest with this post that includes a recipe for a classic version of this mighty imbibe. Salute!