I’ve always considered myself adventurous when it came to food and like most people growing up in the UK I’ve been lucky enough to sample dishes from all over the world. Whether its Indian, Chinese, Turkish or Greek. I recently tried Japanese food for the first time, because England is a great country for international restaurants. I’ve also been lucky enough to travel and in doing so I’ve eaten durian fruit in Kuala Lumpur, nasi goreng in Bali, tabouleh in Oman and a thousand year egg in Singapore. Some of these have been culinary delights and others horrors, In fact some of the worst food I’ve ever had the misfortune to be served was in the US. But there is yet one thing I have an aversion to trying, and I’ve been up close and personal with it several times and each time I tell myself I’ll give it a go, and each time I shy away from it. It, being the humble oyster. I’ve been given them fresh in the shell in France and smoked in New Zealand, but for some reason I am just unable to put the darned thing in my mouth. And believe I’ve had number of unmentionable things between my lips over the years.
I’ve always had a passion for Italian food, which is I suppose a good thing considering I chose to live in Italy. I’m not talking about just pasta and pizza, not that there’s anything wrong with a slice of pizza. I mean traditional Italian food. I’m knowledgeable enough to know that there’s no tomato in a ‘proper’ bolognaise sauce and that mussels are served with fettuccini and clams with spaghetti. For many people back in the UK, their first experience with Italian food comes from and encounter with a lasagne; whether pre-packed or in a restaurant, but is it authentic? probably not, in Italy a proper lasagne isn’t made with minced beef, but with minced pork or sometimes a mix of pork and lamb.
Back in the Britain, TV chefs and celebrity restaurants have made Italian cuisine cool again, and plates are leaving kitchens with miniscule portions of ravioli served with truffle oil complete with a top draw price. At one of these restaurants, belonging to a celebrity chef who’ll remain nameless I was served a simple but costly dish of pasta con funghi trifolati. Was it authentic? Was it buggery. (Apologies for my northern roots.) In Piedmonte, funghi trifolati is served with spaghetti or polenta, this was served with pappardalle and the sautéed mushrooms should have chopped parsley in abundance, as it’s a key ingredient not just for garnish. But is this detail important? Yes, especially if you’re paying a chef to prepare it for you while you apply to the bank for a mortgage to pay for it. This said in Italy there’ll be regional variations of most of the dishes we see in restaurants and on supermarket shelves, but what we see in the UK is just a tiny portion of the Italian cuisine. As most of it is regional it would be impossible for suppliers and manufacturers to provide a concise catalogue.
I live just eighteen minutes from the coast so as you’d imagine seafood and fish features highly in the local diet. Now I’ve always been a meat eater and not a big fish eater, I do like some seafood but am not too keen on prawns, so imagine my surprise when recently I was served up squid and octopus. I looked at the baby, purple-coloured octopus on my plate and thought I was in for another oyster moment, but no I popped it into my mouth, chewed and swallowed without any problem. In fact the only problem was I liked it so much I’ve eaten it several times since, who knows maybe one day that darned oyster will go down and stay down.