I have to confess that my love Italiphilia goes beyond the fabulous motorcycles that have sprung from those shores - I also love the food. Now a lot of people say that but much Italian cooking in this country has been spiced up to cater for Englishmen raised on Balti and green Thai curry. Sure, southern Italian food – especially as you get down to the far south and Sicily – can be rich with a chilli hit, but more often food is surprisingly subtle and, by the time the overseas mass producers have homogenised it – Holland, I’m looking at you – it can be dull and bland.
Mozzarella’s a good example. The cheapo mass produced stuff is fine on pizza, but not a shadow of what true mozzarella – made with buffalo milk – can be. I still vividly remember coming round a blind corner in Tuscany to find one of these beasts loose, and their milk is every bit as a much of a surprise. Served at room temperature with good tomatoes, fresh basil and a splash of balsamic it is a joyful light lunch or starter. Tear it up, rather than slice it, and go for big tasty tomatoes. The Italians call it insalate caprese; salad from Capri (the island, not the 1970s Ford icon).
But where to buy it? Not in the mainstream supermarkets, though Lidl’s occasionally have good stuff. But hey, this is the internet age and I can heartily recommend Nife is Life (weird name, apparently meaning “nice Italian food everyday”). Not expensive, free delivery if you spend over £60 (rather too easy) and great service. They were mortified when a courier cocked up, offering refunds and heartfelt apologies.
I can also recommend their artichokes at the moment - £1.60 each, again ideal as a lunch or starter. They don’t have chokes (the thistle bit, not the carburettor component) so just poach for 30 minutes, and pick away, dipping the leaves in melted butter with a splash of lemon juice and then tucking into the meaty heart.
I feel a recipe coming on; time to go shopping