London - Nothing says holiday-sharing food to me quite like Italian. From the sun-kissed flavours to the generous and haphazard way ingredients are piled on to serving plates, it's food that's meant to be prepared simply and savoured slowly, preferably with a bottle of wine or two.
Although I discover new favourite dishes all the time, there are certain modern classics that will always be up there in my top hits: artichokes, bagna cauda, a simple veal chop and, of course, pasta with a few seasonal ingredients thrown in.
BAGNA CAUDA WITH SUMMER VEGETABLES
Nothing brings raw veg alive quite like this warm, oily, salty, garlicky dip.
100ml/3½oz olive oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
10 anchovy fillets, chopped
Juice 1 lemon
50g/2oz cold butter, diced
Selection of raw vegetables to serve - try baby fennel, young carrots, onions, radishes, baby leeks and beetroots
Heat the oil and garlic in a small pan over a low heat until the garlic is fragrant. Add the anchovies and stir until melted into the sauce. Add the lemon juice, remove from the heat. Allow to cook for a few minutes before transferring to a food processor. Add the butter and crumbs then pulse to form a thick sauce. Pour into a warm bowl and serve immediately with a large spread of veg to dip in.
ARTICHOKES WITH PEPPER AND-ALMOND SAUCE
Even the way these articholes look is meant for admiring on an al fresco table.
8 small artichokes
1 garlic clove, bashed
Juice 2 lemons
FOR THE SAUCE
100g/3½oz jar roasted peppers, drained
100g/3½oz blanched almonds
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1 garlic clove
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
3 tbsp olive oil
First, make the sauce: put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, season well and set aside.
Now bring a large pan of water to the boil with a tablespoon of salt. When the water is bubbling, add the lemon juice, garlic and artichokes, cook for 10 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender at the base when you insert a small, sharp knife. Drain and serve warm, or leave to cool and serve at room temperature.
To eat the artichokes, pull off the outer leaves, dunk into the sauce then pull your teeth along the bottom to release the soft flesh. When you reach the centre, use a small spoon to discard the choke then savour the heart with lots of the pepper-and-almond sauce.
ORECCHIETTE WITH TOMATOES, COURGETTES AND RICOTTA
I feel slightly embarrassed to admit that my girls had pasta-making lessons when we were last in Italy. They loved making these “little ears”. Here we've used good-quality dried pasta, which works just as well.
400g/13oz dried orecchiette pasta
2 tbsp olive oil
200g/7oz Datterini or cherry tomatoes
2 courgettes, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 chilli, sliced thinly
100g/3½oz baby spinach
Cook the pasta in a large pan of boiling salted water until just tender. Reserve about 100ml/3½oz of cooking water before draining the pasta.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium to high heat. Add the tomatoes and courgettes and cook until starting to soften and blister, tossing occasionally. Add the garlic and fry for a further minute or until fragrant. Add the pasta and the reserved pasta water back to the pan and shake to combine the ingredients. Toss through the chilli and most of the Parmesan before adding the spinach and allowing to wilt slightly.
Serve with big dollops of ricotta, the remaining Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.
VEAL CHOPS WITH BROADBEAN DRAGONCELLO
Salsa verde is so last century; this zesty dragoncello dressing-cum-sauce is made with tarragon so it has a lovely, distinctive flavour.
300g/10oz broad beans, podded weight
2 hard-boiled eggs, whites only, grated
2 veal chops, about 300g/10oz each
FOR THE DRAGONCELLO
4 anchovy fillets
Large bunch tarragon, leave picked
Large bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
Juice and zest 1 lemon
Zest ½ orange, grated, to serve
Start with the sauce. Roughly chop the garlic, anchovy fillets and herbs. Tip into a bowl with the lemon juice and zest and add enough oil to create a spoonable sauce. Set aside so the flavours develop.
Cook the beans in boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Drain then roughly chop a third of the beans. Add all the beans to the dragoncello, along with the grated egg whites and stir to combine.
Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6. Rub the chops with a little oil, salt and pepper. Heat an oven-proof frying pan and cook the chops for 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to the oven for 8 minutes. Allow the meat to rest for 15 minutes before slicing thinly off the bone. Serve with the dragoncello and orange zest. * - The Independent on Sunday