Food should be enjoyed using all of your senses. I spend many weekends in Italy just wandering around the rustic farmers’ markets, soaking up the aromas and atmosphere while letting my nose guide me to the freshest produce.
We don’t quite boast as many of these markets in Scotland, but the ones we do have offer a great place to pick up your meat, vegetables, dairy and fish for the week ahead.
It’s how we Italians love to shop and it’s the perfect way to discover new ingredients and recipe ideas – don’t be afraid to ask the suppliers for a taste of their wares, or advice on how to prepare their products. In my experience, they’re always more than happy to help you.
In Italy, this time of year is made for dining outdoors. Here in Scotland, though, there’s still a chill in the air, which means it’s important to create recipes such as the ones I give you here, which bring a little bit of warmth, colour and comfort to the table.
Many people associate Italian cuisine with pasta, and while it forms the foundations of many meals, there is so much more on offer. I love spending quality time in the kitchen mixing and matching ingredients to create something new and special.
ASPARAGUS SALAD WITH SHAVED PARMESAN
At this time of year, I look forward to welcoming fresh green stalks of asparagus to my kitchen. The season for asparagus in the UK is very short, but being such a versatile ingredient I make sure to use it as much as possible. This dish is simple to make and delicious. The balance of succulent stalks, oozing egg yolk and rich Parmesan shavings creates a dish which appears indulgent but is actually incredibly light.
1 Peel the asparagus from just under the top of the stem and snap off the woody part.
2 Bring some salted water to the boil. Cook the asparagus in the boiling water for about 3 to 4 minutes depending on the size of the spears. Refresh in iced water until cold, then set aside.
3 To make the dressing, add the oils, water and vinegar to a bowl and mix.
4 Dress the asparagus with salt and pepper.
5 Arrange the stalks and salad leaves on four plates, then dress with the vinegar and oil mixture.
6 Fry the eggs, then place them on top of the asparagus and finish with Parmesan shavings.
MONKFISH ALL’ACQUA PAZZA
Fish is essential on my menu as it is so versatile. Translated literally, the accompanying broth, all’acqua pazza, means “crazy water”. The mixture of the smoky broth and medallions of fish combined with the rich red cherry tomatoes and ripe green olives makes it light, yet comforting.
1 Pre-heat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4.
2 Heat an ovenproof nonstick pan to a medium heat on the hob. Drizzle some vegetable oil into the pan, add the fish and season with salt and black pepper.
3 Cook for about 2 minutes on each side depending on the thickness of the fillet. Place in the oven for a further 3 minutes on each side.
4 Take the pan out of the oven, pour the wine into the pan and let it evaporate, then add the fish stock, the diced tomato and green olives. Let the sauce reduce for a few minutes.
5 Take the fish out of the pan and let it rest on a chopping board.
6 Cook the cos lettuce in boiling water for a few seconds and drain well. Season with salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. Quarter the lettuce and place at the centre of each plate before serving the fish on top.
7 Finish the sauce by reducing it a bit more, if needed, and season with salt, black pepper and the extra virgin olive oil. Add a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. Then spoon the sauce over the fish and garnish with the parsley.
For the perfect end to any meal you can’t beat the classic tiramisu, translated as “pick me up”. This rich and punchy dish is the ultimate Italian finale and my portion sizes are great for ending a springtime feast.
1 To make the gelatine coffee Savoiardi, wash a quarter of the gelatine leaves in cold water and ice. While the espresso is still warm, add the gelatine and whisk until it has dissolved. When this mixture reaches room temperature, soak the Savoiardi in it, then place in the fridge.
2 Crush 8 of the amaretti biscuits and divide them between the bottoms of 4 glasses.
3 Put the mascarpone in a bowl. Gently warm the Marsala and Amaretto in a pan. Wash the remainder of the gelatine leaves with cold water and ice, then add to the pan and whisk until it is melted, then add this to the mascarpone.
4 To make the mousse (always make this just before serving), place the eggs and caster sugar into a food mixer and whip it until it reaches a foamy sabayon texture.
5 Add the egg mixture, pouring into the mascarpone a bit at a time, to ensure little air is lost.
6 Layer the Savoiardi over the crumble in the glasses. Add some mascarpone mousse, then another layer of Savoiardi and again with the mousse. Rest in the fridge. When serving, add 2 more crushed amaretti biscuits on top and dust with cocoa powder.
1 bunch asparagus
50g mixed leaf salad
30g Parmesan shavings
375ml olive oil
2 tbsp vegetable oil
100ml white wine vinegar
60ml red wine vinegar
salt and black pepper
about 150g-200g monkfish per person
1 head cos lettuce
300g diced fresh tomatoes
80g diced green olives
100ml white wine
400ml fish stock
2 tbsp vegetable oil
40ml extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
30g chopped parsley
salt and black pepper
2 large eggs
55g caster sugar
10g gelatine leaves
8 Savoiardi biscuits
10 amaretti biscuits
1 tsp cocoa powder