The Italian Blog : Part One

The excitement that normally surrounds a wedding in the UK is pretty full on.  Dresses, seating plans, what clanger will great Aunt Mildred wear on her head. And of course, the question on everyone’s lips, ‘Will it rain?’

In Italy, all but the last question applies. And for me, there are a lot more questions about food. Especially knowing in the true Italian way, there will be four courses, rather than three at any dinner, with the Italian penchant for shoving in a pasta course between starter and main. Because yes, that is needed.

My dear friend James, married the love of his life, Robyn, a couple of weeks ago in the stunning Italian coastal town of Maratea in Italy (a piece of coastline famously loved by old Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra and couldn’t have made our rather shitty hire car look any less like Michael Caine’s Lamborghini from the Italian Job). I used to sit next to James at work and I remember the Monday morning, after the Saturday night house party, that he met Robyn 5 years ago. Keen was an understatement. It was an honour to see these pint size stunners get married in such a heavenly spot, surrounded by old friends and a lot of pasta. The 33 degree heat, also allowed us to cling onto the last days of summer longer than my drizzled upon, London based pals. The food naturally was out of this world, with olive oil in abundance and the freshest most delicate seafood on every table.

In true Italian style, the wedding was a generously hosted celebration of a few days with more Aperol Spritzs and Negronis than you can shake an Italian hand gesture at. In the last year both of these have been part of a 1970s cocktail hour resurgence, with Shoreditch barmen, mixing them with too much ice and a lot of bushy beard. Oh boy in Italy, it is a different story. I’ve never seen someone’s gag reflex kick into action quite so quickly on a Negroni (equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth and gin). And on the Aperol Spritz front (2 parts Aperol, 3 parts Prosecco, 1 part soda) or simply ‘Spritz’ if we are being frightfully Italian about it, the soda water apparently, simply is redundant. In short, these bitter orange drinks pack the most pleasing Ferrari accelerated punch. And they always serve them with a barrage of salty snacks. For free – ciao bella!

As with all holidays, especially Italian holidays, one simply seems to roll from one feed to the next. Put a wedding into the occasion and you can see how I can arrived home nearly a stone heavier. The wedding breakfast was a stunner. We were sat outside at sunset with cool wine, and inviting looking swimming pool doomed for drunken skinny dipping later in the evening and an onslaught of Italian fayre.

Top of the dishes was ‘Patate alla lionese’, a crispier, porkier and olive oilier version of the traditionally French Lyonnaise potatoes which blew my little sunburnt head off they were so good. So I thought I would recreate it at home, and for you lot. This is really simple and is a perfect side dish for grilled meats or fishes. I served it alone with a crispy green salad and it was sublime.

Patate alla lionese

Serves 6 - 8:

800g new or Charlotte potatoes

1 red onion sliced

200g vine tomatoes

75g Proscuitto (rip each piece into 2/3 bits)

Olive oil

Salt and Pepper

1)   Bring a pan of water to the boil and season with a good pinch of salt.

2)   Add the potatoes and boil for 15 mins. Test with a knife, they should still be firm when you put the knife through but not crispy. Drain in a colander.

3)   Meanwhile bring a frying pan with a tablespoon of oil up to a medium heat and fry the proscuitto. Fry until just cooked and crinkly – this will only be about 2 minutes.

4)   Remove from the pan and set aside. Add more oil to the pan and add the onions. Fry until soft. Slice each tomato in half and then into slices, remove the wet seeds. Add to the onions and cook for 3-4 mins. Remove and set aside with the proscuitto

5)   Slice each of the potatoes up – the slices should be about half a cm thick.

6)   Add more oil (!) to the pan and heat until bubbling and lay down the slices. Cook for about 5 mins on each side. They should be golden brown and crispy. You may need to cook in batches, depending how big your pan is.

7)   When all potatoes are crispy and cooked, add the onion, tomatoes and prosciutto and stir through until warm. Season with salt and pepper.

8)   Serve with a salad. Mmmm crispy.