Italian | The Proof of the Pudding

I’m already hankering after summer. This recipe is an ode to hot summers days and dinner in the garden and holidaying abroad. It’s not at all seasonal, but I had to satisfy my cravings for summer somehow, and if I can’t hop on a plane I can certainly track down some sunshine flavours from lands far hotter than this one. The recipe is from BBC Good Food, with just a few changes of my own – the addition of red chilli for a spicy kick and lemon zest instead of juice for ultra-lemony flavour (plus, this dish seems wet enough without adding more liquid). I also find their quantities a bit odd – if you use 4 courgettes you’ll end up with rather a lot more rolls than 24!

This is the ideal bite-size canapé. We had ours with glasses of Prosecco, as nibbles before the main event of homemade pizzas, but they would work really well as part of a big antipasto platter. Buy some good quality cheese and meats, put out bowls of olives and marinated artichokes and a basket of fresh bread, and you’ll have yourself the perfect sharing starter, if not a meal in itself.

Ingredients (makes between 25-35 small rolls) 25g pine nuts 250g ricotta 1 small red chilli, seeds removed and flesh finely chopped Zest of 1 lemon 1 small bunch of basil, finely chopped 2 small courgettes Olive oil Balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper

Method 1. Put the pine nuts into a dry frying pan and turn on a low heat. Keep an eye on the pine nuts, stirring with a wooden spoon, as they can catch and burn in the blink of an eye.

4. Thinly slice the courgettes – to achieve super thin slices that will roll easily use a mandolin or simply a speed peeler.

5. Pour a little oil and balsamic vinegar onto a large plate (or two) and spread out the courgette slices.

Pasta carbonara is one of our staple weekday meals. It’s quick (it will be ready in the time it takes to boil the pasta), easy (the main techniques here are boiling, frying and mixing) and uses mostly store cupboard ingredients (dried pasta, dried chilli flakes, frozen peas). It’s also a handy meal to make after the weekend when you might have some extra bacon or eggs lying around that need using up.

We were taught this recipe by close family friends and have stuck incredibly faithfully to it ever since. This is a no-cream carbonara, which I gather is a more traditional Italian method (though please do correct me if I’m wrong). The sauce is made purely from beaten eggs, which do not require heating over the stove, but simply cook enough from the residual heat of the bacon and pasta. The only alteration we’ve made to the recipe is to add peas to the pasta water near the end of cooking – a suggestion by Jamie Oliver in one of his books (I forget which one!). The sweet peas are a lovely addition to the salty, creamy pasta and a good excuse to get some extra veggies in.

Ingredients (serves 2) 200g dried spaghetti or linguine 4-6 slices of streaky bacon 1-2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped Chilli flakes Small handful of frozen peas A large handful of grated parmesan 2 eggs, well beaten Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Method 1. Put a pan of water on to boil and season generously with salt. Cook the pasta according to the pack instructions (if you’re using fresh pasta then leave this until the last five minutes). 2. Chop the bacon into small pieces. You can use a sharp knife, but kitchen scissors make the job much quicker and easier.

3. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic and a pinch of chilli. Mix in the hot oil for a few seconds.

4. Add the bacon and continue to cook until crisp. Turn the heat to low, or even off, once the bacon is cooked to your liking, to avoid burning while the pasta finishes boiling.

5. Add the peas to the pasta water for the final 3 minutes of cooking. 6. Drain the pasta and return to the pan, adding the bacon and a handful of grated parmesan. Mix well.

7. Slowly add the egg, mixing as you go – a helper in the kitchen is useful at this point! Season to taste with a little salt and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with a green salad or some steamed vegetables, or if you’re having one of those days when only double-carbs will do then some garlic bread might be required. A little extra grated parmesan for sprinkling on top is nice too.

Once you’ve got to grips with this recipe, which I guarantee won’t take long, you can adjust the taste to suit your preferences. Use smoky bacon instead of regular, add extra chilli or garlic, or throw in some sliced mushrooms that are lurking in the fridge. A perfect weeknight dinner.

In this household we have an addiction and we’re admitting to it: we love pizza. And when I say we love it I mean it, in every shape and form that pizza can take. From authentic Italian pizza eaten in candle-lit restaurants in the heart of Naples to fancy Edinburgh delivery pizzas that come with bags of rocket and Parma ham to add to your pizza at the last second (you know the one I mean), we enjoy the fancier side of pizza. But we’re not ashamed to admit to enjoying a $1 pizza slice on the streets of New York, a greasy Dominos when we’re feeling particularly delicate or a cardboard-packaged supermarket pizza when we’re feeling particularly lazy. This is the wonder of pizza: it can be as humble or as extravagant as you like.

Although it may seem that the pizza base is just a vessel for stringy cheese and a multitude of toppings, it is so much more than that. A good base can be just as tasty as the other parts of a pizza and, after quite a few trials (I’m so good to you), I think I’ve found a base that is crisp, chewy and full of flavour. Use strong bread flour, or even 00, if you have it in the house, but this will work just as well with plain (Tesco Value) flour which is what I used. Of course, all this said, we can’t forget about the toppings, but I’ll keep faith in you that you know what you’re doing when it comes to this. You know what you want.

Although it is guzzled with equal gratification by adults, pizza is an ideal recipe to make with kids. I’ve made pizza quite a few times with my younger cousins and they always loved the hands-on process of kneading and rolling, the creativity when it comes to topping the pizza or making leftover dough into garlic bread or dough balls and, obviously, the final result.

Ingredients (makes 4 large pizzas) 7g sachet of dried yeast 1 tbsp sugar 330ml warm water 500g plain flour 2 tsp salt

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tin of tomatoes 2 garlic cloves 1 tbsp olive oil 2 tsp oregano

Salt and pepper

Pizza toppings of your choice
Semolina for baking

Method 1. Mix the yeast, water and sugar together and set aside for a few minutes.

2. Measure out the flour and salt into a large bowl and make a well in the middle.

3. Pour the yeast mixture and olive oil into the middle and mix well with a wooden spoon until you have a thick, sticky dough.

4. Tip the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead with floured hands for 10-15 minutes, until you have a soft, smooth dough. You may need to add a little more flour as you knead, but try not to add too much as it will change the balance of liquid to flour in the dough. I always try to knead in the way that I saw baking guru and silver fox Paul Hollywood demonstrate it, where you start with an oblong, fold down a couple of times with the palm of your hand, turn by 90 degrees and repeat (this is difficult to explain in words but watch here if you want to see the master at work!). This process is necessary to build up the gluten strands in the dough and Paul Hollywood makes it look ridiculously easy. I usually get bored of being so restrained after about five minutes, so end up bashing the dough about with my fists. I’d say that when it comes to kneading, as long as you give it enough time, anything goes – particularly if you’re cooking with kids. I mean, this is the fun, messy part right?

5. Lightly oil a large bowl and place the kneaded dough inside. Cover in cling film and then a dish cloth or towel and place somewhere warm for 2 hours. 6. Meanwhile you can make the pizza sauce, which simply involves bunging the tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and oregano in a blender, seasoning and blitzing until smooth. One tin of tomatoes makes enough sauce for 5-6 large pizzas, but it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, and even freezes well.

7. Preheat the oven to 220C fan/240C/Gas Mark 8. If you have a pizza stone then pop it in the oven to heat up; if not then pre-heating a baking tray will achieve a similar effect. The dough should now have risen so that it is about double in size. Tip out onto a floured surface and “knock back” – give the dough a quick 30 seconds of kneading.

8. Divide the dough into 4, or more, pieces and roll out to the thickness of base that you like. Place the base on a piece of tin foil sprinkled with semolina.

9. Now is your chance to get creative with the toppings. This time I went for mozzarella, pesto, mushrooms, olives and Parma ham, but as you well know the options are endless.

10. Transfer the foil and pizza onto your pizza stone or baking tray and cook for 8-10 minutes until bubbling and crisp.

I hope this post has inspired you to get your hands dirty and whip up some homemade pizzas. It might seem like a lot of processes, but the end meal is incredibly satisfying.

What’s your favourite kind of pizza: greasy takeout, thin crust, deep pan American-style? And what would your perfect pizza topping be? For me, my pizza essentials are always cheese and mushrooms. Anything else is a bonus.