Thursday, May 31, 2012

Just Gelato

I don’t know which came first; gelato or the passeggiata? Perhaps one was invented to accompany the other because taking a stroll on a summer’s evening in Italy now seems unthinkable without a quick visit to the gelateria (ice-cream parlour). I live in a small town. There’s one gelateria and somewhere in the region of a dozen bars and café’s that sell ice-cream. I seldom make it past the first corner before the children force a pit stop for a cone. We’re not the only ones of course. According to a recent survey, a whopping 95% of the Italian population likes ice-cream. Who the other 5% are, I don’t know – I’ve never met an Italian who doesn’t like ice-cream.

Of course, I’m talking about artisan ice-cream here – not something that comes whizzing out of a machine or something you buy from the frozen section of the supermarket or something that adheres to a stick and pops out of a packet! Artisan ice-cream was invented in Italy some time in the 17th century, exactly when food historians are unsure. The English term, ‘ice-cream’, first appeared in a 1672 document from the court of Charles II, and the first printed recipes appeared in Naples and in France in the latter part of the 17th century.

There was a time in Italy when gelato meant milk, cream, eggs, sugar and very little else. Flavourings were natural - fruit, chocolate, the occasional nut – and colourants were non-existent! It would be wonderful to be able to say that nothing’s changed. But the signs ‘Produzione Propria’ or ‘Produzione Artiginale’ are a clear indicator that times have changed. Sickly sweet, industrially-produced ice-creams, masquerading as the real deal, are now sadly a fact of life and it takes to be something of an ice-cream-sleuth to be able to differentiate between the good and the not so great. But luckily the demand for the genuine article in Italy is such that there remain a few good men who insist on doing things the right way. Artisan producers still make gelato without the assistance of artificial flavourings, preservatives or colours. It’s just a question of finding them!

In the summer, one out of three Italians eats ice-cream between four and five times a week, 55% preferring it in the afternoon and 47% after dinner – the hours of the customary passiagata. In short, we eat ice-cream when it’s hot! My children, on the other hand, are not so fussy – they’ll say ‘yes’ to ice-cream whatever the weather might be doing. My younger son Giuliano follows the herd – he always opts for chocolate, Italy’s most popular flavour. My older son Massimo is much more adventurous – he’s experimented with them all and isn’t entirely satisfied unless he has a combination of at least three flavours protruding from the top of the cone. Personally, I’m a fan of the classics – panna (cream), pistachio and occasionally strawberry – but seldom all at once. A final little titbit for you; Italians like to eat their ice-cream cone slowly, taking on average 7 minutes… truth be told, mine never seems to last quite that long! 

Strawberry, pistachio and cream ice cream
Gelato alla fragola, pistacchio e panna

I have to say that very few Italians admit to making their own ice-cream. It’s too readily available, I guess? However, there’s something to be said for knowing exactly what’s in your ice-cream and the best way to know that is to do it yourself. Making ice-cream is a relatively straightforward process and if you’ve never tried it, give it a go - you’ll be surprised how easy it is and how wonderful it can taste!

Serves 8
Preparation time: 10 minutes + chilling
Cooking time: 5-7 minutes

1 lt double cream
150g caster sugar
6 egg yolks
50g unsalted pistachio nuts
250g strawberries

Divide the cream, caster sugar and egg yolks into 3 equal quantities.  To make the plain ice cream, place the cream over a medium heat and bring to a gentle boil.  Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.  Place the egg yolks in a bowl, whisk together and then slowly pour over the cream, whisking all of the time.  Pour the mixture into an ice-cream maker and follow machine instructions.

To make the pistachio ice cream, place the shelled nuts into a food processor and process until very fine.  Add the nuts to the cream and then bring to the boil.  Then follow the process described for making the plain ice cream. 

To make the strawberry ice cream, blend the strawberries to make a puree and then add this to the cream and sugar mixture before pouring over the egg yolks.  Again, finish the recipe by following the process described for making plain ice cream.

Before serving, scatter a few chopped pistachios and wild strawberries over the top.

TIP: For a lighter version you can substitute 250ml of cream for whole milk. Mix the milk and cream together before separating to use in the recipes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Agriturismo – the Good, the Bad and the not necessarily Ugly

Last year, for a change from the annual summer pilgrimage to the beach, we decided to treat our children to a taste of the ‘good life’ – a week’s stay in a Tuscan agriturismo.  I didn’t do my homework properly and what we got wasn’t exactly a hands-on experience of life in a working Italian farmstead – what an agriturismo should provide – but rather, five days in a characterless apartment two kilometres up a dirt track away from what was supposed to be the main farm but was in fact an excuse for a restaurant during the day and an abandoned building at night. The Dutch couple in the apartment next to ours didn’t seem to mind – just living on a hill must have been novelty enough for them.

 “Don’t let your children throw things in the pool”, the owner said, as he gave us the guided tour. “If you want breakfast you’ll have to order it a day in advance so I can notify the bakery. The restaurant’s only open for lunch and do feel free to use whatever you want from the vegetable garden”. Then, just before leaving, he handed us his mobile contact number and one final piece of advice: “remember, nothing in the pool”!

As it turned out the Italian family that stayed in the apartment before us had harvested everything remotely edible from the narrow strip of an excuse for a vegetable garden. I assume that they too had felt cheated and were seeking compensation in whatever way they could find. We ate once at the restaurant and the food was reasonably good. However, it was over-priced and nothing that was on offer was produced on the non-existent farm. As it happens, even the prettily packaged artisan conserves sold on site were actually made off site. Although there was a pool and a Jacuzzi (which, incidentally, didn’t work), there was no sign of a working farm – indeed there was very little evidence even of the farmer – he lived in a house on the other side of the valley. After 5 days we’d had enough and left. That’s the Bad.

There are an estimated 20,000 agriturismi in Italy. In the past 10 years their number has almost doubled (up by 90%), with Tuscany leading the way with over 4,000, followed by Alto Adige. Despite Italy’s economic woes, every indication suggests the trend is set to continue. When I arrived in Castell’Arquato 7 years ago I knew of one agriturismo situated 10 kilometres from my door in the town of Vernasca. Today there are as many as 10 within a five minute drive. 

The idea of coupling farming and tourism originated as a response to the decline in the 1950s and continuing through the 1970s in small scale farming. As profits eroded, farmers abandoned their holdings and took flight to the cities in search of work. In 1985, in an attempt to halt the trend, a law was passed which enabled farmers to supplement their income with tourism. The law saw the birth of the agriturismo.

Intended as a means to reunite city dwellers with the countryside whilst at the same time providing a financial incentive to safeguard traditional agricultural practices that were in danger of being lost, no one could argue with the spirit of the law. City folk could pick fruit, tend to the animals, help in a country kitchen, learn how to make cheese or water the vegetable patch, knowing that by doing so they’d not only be having a good time, they’d also be helping to foster organic farming practices, help preserve indigenous breeds of livestock, antique varieties of fruit and vegetables and support artisan cheese and salami makers. That’s the Good, and sometimes the Ugly.

When the law was first passed in 1985 to allow farmers to open their doors to tourists, government grants were awarded as an incentive to do so. Herein lay the problem. Some farm owners saw this as an opportunity to cash in. In short, tourism was the primary motivating factor and the farm was maintained (if even that) merely as a façade to disguise what is nothing more than a glorified restaurant. In one case I’ve even heard that the proprietor used the grant allocated to refurbish a dilapidated ancestral family home. He then registered the business in the Yellow Pages, as was the law, and promptly told anyone that happened to call that the establishment was booked solid for the foreseeable future. After 3 months few people bothered calling anymore!

So how do you separate the fraudsters from the genuine article?  How do you tell from the Good, the Bad and the not necessarily Ugly?

  • As for the latter, it’s important to point out that an agriturismo is supposed to be a working farm. Appearances can be deceptive and it’s not necessarily the case that mud and manure equates to a Bad agriturismo. It may be Ugly (and smell a little), but that’s often a good sign that the farmer is following the letter of the law. So the first rule is choose a farm where the given agricultural activity is actually visible and that activity, whatever it may be, is run by the farmer and his family.

  • True farmers are passionate, knowledgeable and proud of what they do and most will appreciate any interest that is shown. Most will also be more than happy to demonstrate their skills and experience. And all genuine farmers, from my experience, tend actually to live on the farm!

  • A further clue is always on the menu. Ask if any of the dishes are based on ingredients grown or produced on the farm? Ask if they bake their own bread, make their own conserves, grow their own vegetables, rear their own meat, make their own cheese, hams, sausages or salami? Check also that dishes are seasonal and local – if the restaurant is only cooking Barilla pasta covered in a jar of sauce, then there’s something wrong. Not that I have anything against Barilla, but if I want a bowl of dried pasta, I’ll make it at home. 

  • Finally ask the farmer about what recreational activities the farm has to offer. A wandering donkey is not evidence of a working farm and although a pool might offer welcome respite from the Summer sun, if that’s all they can offer, find a hotel!
I’d be most interested in hearing your stories, your experiences – whether good, bad or ugly! In the mean time, the owner of one good agriturismo that I had the fortune to stay in once gave me a great piece of advice. To separate the wheat from the chaff, ask if they bake their own bread or make home made cakes for breakfast? If they do, it’s always a sign that you are on the right track. So here’s the recipe for an Italian country classic.

Country ring cake
Ciambella Rustica

I’ve eaten some great meals at true agriturismi in and around the country and the menu always differs depending on where you happen to be. However, one thing that I’ve found is that most good agriturismi will often prepare a cake or tart of sorts for breakfast. The three most common are the ciambella rustica, the crostata or the torta di frutta (the fruit depending on whatever’s in season). Simple to prepare, in the countryside a slice of ciambella or tart is often eaten as an alternative to brioche. Ciambella tends to be dry and when eaten for breakfast is usually accompanied with a caffelatte.  It’s also eaten at the end of a meal, most often on Sunday’s with a glass of white wine, or as a mid-afternoon snack for the children after school.

Makes 1 26cm ring cake
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 40-45 minutes

400g self raising flour
180g caster sugar
160g unsalted butter at room temperature
3 free-range eggs
150ml tepid milk
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

This cake is simplicity itself… just throw all the ingredients into a large bowl and whisk together well!  Grease and dust a ring-shaped baking tin with flour and add the cake mix.  Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180°C for 40-45 minutes.  If you wish, you can decorate the top of the cake with sugar sprinkles or chocolate drops; simply sprinkle these on top of the cake before baking. Once cooked, allow to cool on a baking rack.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Popular Bites

It’s official. A poll conducted by YouGov on behalf of Holiday Hypermarket (, a UK-based holiday comparison site, has found that for Britain’s, Italy’s cuisine is the most popular in Europe.  In a poll of over 2,000 UK residents, 30% said that Italy has the best national cuisine. It’s most popular among the younger generation, with 42% of respondents between the ages of 18-24 preferring Italian food to other European cuisines. Although both men and women prefer Italian food overall, Italian food is more popular with women than men (33% versus 27%).

The second most popular food is British. 22% of respondents most prefer British food, 12% prefer French food, 6% Spanish and 3% Greek. Food has become synonymous with travel. Calum MacDonald, Marketing Manager at Holiday Hypermarket says: “Food is an integral part of any trip abroad, and sharing meals with your fellow travellers is often where memories are made. There are so many fantastic foods in Europe that it can be hard to decide where to visit, so we thought we’d make it easier and find out which cuisines people like the best.”

Gastrotourism is nothing new to Italy. Italians have always seen food as an important and integral aspect of a holiday. Italian food lends itself to this way of thinking. The diversity of the country’s cuisine is such that Italians will travel to a certain destination often with the specific aim of eating particular dishes and specialties that they can’t eat at home.

The results of the survey, in my opinion, don’t come as much of a surprise. But then as an Italian food blogger and writer, I probably would say that. The real question for me is; what is it about Italian food that makes it so popular?  Pizza and pasta are no doubt a winning combination, one whose popularity extends well beyond Europe’s borders. But there’s more to Italian food than that. For me, Italian food wins over time and time again because it’s a cuisine that’s easy to live with. We keep things simple, we keep it seasonal and we keep it local. But more than this, what makes Italian food stand out for me is the experience of eating. In Italy, even the most simple dish of pasta is always more than just the sum of the ingredients on the plate. It’s always an experience. And I’m not alone in thinking this way. I suspect I could find something in the region of 55 million of my neighbours who will agree with me. As for whoever is reading this, tell me what you think: what makes Italian cuisine special for you?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Goat’s cheese, dogs, pasta and the sound of music

‘Don’t get out of the car’, Roberto warned, ‘toot the horn, I’ll come and get you’.
‘Sure, I got it’ I replied, hurriedly scribbling directions. Carlo, who was standing next to me, was mumbling something in thick Piacentine dialect about being eaten by dogs and I couldn’t make out what Roberto was saying. Did he say turn left or right after the town?
‘Do you want to drive’? I asked Carlo, with a tone that said shut it old man. He didn’t take the hint.
‘Stay in the car’, Roberto repeated for the umpteenth time and put the phone down. I’m no stranger to the Cisa Pass, a winding mountain road in the Apennines that connects the provinces of Parma in Emilia Romagna with Pontremoli, a town in the province of Massa-Carrara in Tuscany. I take the pass every year on trips to Pontremoli when I go mushroom picking. That said, the farm we were going to supposedly was off the beaten path – well off!

It doesn’t take much to coax me to go on a road trip – especially when there’s cheese involved. Good goat’s cheese is much prized in Italy, especially those made by small artisan producers and it’s generally better to buy direct from source. Plus, when Carlo offered to throw in lunch at Da Giovanni, a restaurant/ hotel just outside Pontremoli, I didn’t hesitate. The pasta, always home made, is an absolute favourite of mine. When in season they make a tagliatelle with fresh porcini mushrooms that is hard to beat. Local specialties of the Lunigiana such as testaroli (a type of pancake served with a pesto sauce) and herb pie are also excellent. On this occasion I opted for lasagnette (small ribbons of pasta) served with a meat ragù. It didn’t disappoint. The food was everything I remembered it to be. Giovanni’s food defies time.

By 2.30 we were on the road again and starting the winding 1,040 meter (3,414 feet) ascent to the top of the Cisa Pass. Records of the road date back to 109BC. In medieval times, it was one of the main thoroughfares for pilgrims on their way from northern Europe to Rome. You could say we were pilgrims of a kind – the Holy Grail of cheese.

After 10 kilometres of constantly winding road I began to regret that third… I mean second… bowl of pasta! Roberto’s directions to the farm were good but we still managed to miss our turn off. We doubled back a few miles down the road, passed it again and eventually took a left hand turn that led to nowhere. I crumpled up the useless directions, scowled at Carlo and looked for signs of life. An old lady hanging her washing told us we should have turned right.

The Mulino della Vaccarezza farm is situated at the very bottom of a steep valley. As we crept slowly down the hill I opened the passenger side window. Carlo, who has a thing about dogs, almost had a fit! Porco mariana and a string of obscenities followed. As we pulled up outside the gate I was still laughing. Immediately, out of habit more than foolish bravado, I opened the door. I couldn’t see the dog but the growl was enough. I slammed the door shut, checked my window was closed and tooted the horn. By the time Roberto arrived five very large dogs were circling our wagon. We were surrounded.

Roberto and his partner Elena make goat and sheep’s milk cheese and salami. The bulk of what he makes he sells to a couple of nearby restaurants. What’s left he sells direct to the public from the farm – to anyone able to find the place and get past the dogs that is. But once you’ve tasted his cheese, the risk of being eaten seems a small price to pay. He beckons towards the small farmhouse and we follow quickly, the dogs on our tail. I’m forty years younger than Carlo but the 80-year-old still makes it through the door two steps ahead of me. Inside it’s dim and cool – the perfect conditions for cheese. We each buy three medium-sized rounds for ourselves and Carlo buys what’s left to fill the orders from his neighbours. A few would just have to wait until our next trip.

Back outside the dogs have been joined by a crowd of goats. Several are sniffing around my car – one has its nose in the boot and is eating through Carlo’s emergency supply of sandwiches. Roberto pays it no attention. Somewhat eccentric, he starts barking orders to one of the dogs, a border collie, in heavily-accented English. Apparently the dog was trained back in England and to this day only responds to instructions in English. Despite Roberto’s less than fluent command of the language the dog understands and enthusiastically bounds off up a steep slope to retrieve the rest of the herd. Within moments the valley comes alive – not exactly with the sound of music – but goat’s bells.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A car loaded with Grana Padano

Every couple of weeks I get in the car and drive the 5 or 6 kilometres to a local cheese producer to buy a kilo or two of fresh cheese – more specifically, Grana. A hard, long-keeping cheese, it’s difficult to imagine where the Italian kitchen would be without Grana. We grate it fresh over our pasta every day of the week, use it as an ingredient in stuffing and sometimes we just eat it in chunks as a snack. Simply put, we can’t do without it!

There are probably over a dozen producers of Grana Padano within a 10 kilometre radius of my house. Yet I always go to the same producer. It’s like a dentist – when you find a good one, you stick with them. My neighbour Carlo took me over 5 years back to try this particular cheese. It was good and I have been going back ever since. And I’m not the only one that thinks so. Yesterday when I mentioned to Carlo that I had to go and get some cheese he immediately said he’d like to tag along. By the morning, another 4 of our neighbours who’d passed by the bar had placed an order with Carlo. Buying direct from the producer is cheaper than buying from the supermarket and you can choose the specific producer you want to buy from. Plus, there’s the added bonus that someone else was going to do the leg work – on this occasion, that someone is me. I don’t mind. The way I see it, I’m doing my part for ethical eating – I’m buying local and I’m saving 5 other would-be cheese shoppers from making the same journey. ‘That’ll be twelve kilos of Grana, please’. 

To find out more about shopping for grana padano, click on the shopper’s basket to the right.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Fish Soup

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that there are more variations on zuppa di pesce (fish soup) in Italy than there are fish in the sea. Many restaurants won’t list zuppa di pesce on their menus. They will call it by its regional name, thereby differentiating it from all other, invariably inferior, fish soups. Brodetto, buridda, quadaru, guazzetto, cacciucco, ciuppin are just a handful of the more commonly used names. But, all told, it’s just fish soup!

With the sheer variety of fish on offer in the country, coupled with regional, provincial and town loyalties, everyone thinks that they hold the secret to the best fish soup. It’s a subject of much heated debate. Italians not only argue about how best a fish soup should be cooked, in places they even argue about how it’s spelled! In Livorno in northern Tuscany the local variation of fish soup, cacciucco, is spelled with 5 ‘C’s. Travel just a few miles further down the coast and it’s often spelled with just 4 ‘C’s. Some say this is a deliberate slant designed to irritate and provoke the neighbours – and it works!  

The one broad generalization that can be made about all fish soups in Italy is that they are a legacy of Italian cucina povera – poor people’s food or peasant food. In its original form, fish soup would always have been made with a variety of different fish, sometimes up to 13 types, and with fish of less commercial value. Most fish soups were the creation of fishermen who would sell the more prestigious fish and use what was leftover to make a soup.

Recipes abound. In Sicily it’s often made with capers and olives. In Liguria, herbs and pine nuts are often added. In Romagna, peas are used and it is made sometimes with tomatoes and sometimes without. Italians can and do argue passionately over who makes the best fish soup – I’ve witnessed this on more than one occasion. The fact of the matter is there is no secret ingredient and there are no hard-and-fast rules. 

My advice is simply to use the best fish available – and by that I don’t mean expensive, I mean the freshest! The key in the cooking is to add the fish, in sequence, according to cooking times. Again, depending on the type of fish used, the cooking time will vary – so it does require a little experimentation. However, although the dish may look elaborate, like all good Italian food it’s actually very simple. 

Fish Soup
Zuppa di pesce

Serves 4
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

700g fish pieces (such as sea bass, scorpion fish, shark, monkfish, sea bream)
10 prawns
6 squid
500g mussels (already cleaned)
350g clams (already cleaned)
250ml finely chopped plum tomatoes
100g fresh peas
150ml dry white wine
2 garlic cloves
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

For this recipe you will need a saucepan large enough to fit all the fish and shellfish with a tight fitting lid.  Begin by cleaning and preparing your fish – discarding any mussels or clams with broken shells. Cut the larger fish into pieces (not too small) and rinse under cold water.  

Heat the olive oil gently in the pan and infuse with the garlic (either left whole or crushed depending on taste).  Next add the fish pieces and the squid, which has been roughly chopped.  Cook these for a few minutes until just turning brown. Next add the white wine and allow this to evaporate for a minute.  Then add the tomatoes and peas and continue to simmer for about five minutes. Finally add the mussels, clams and prawns, cover with the lid and cook for 2-3 minutes. When all the shells have opened the fish is cooked. Finish by adding the chopped parsley.  Serve immediately with bruschetta or crusty ciabatta bread.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Under The Spaghetti Tree: Part 2

Sophia Loren once said that “everything you see, I owe to spaghetti”. It’s a maxim that could well apply to a nation. Virtually every person in the country, whatever their generation, whatever their background, has grown up with spaghetti. A collective memory, spaghetti is intrinsic to the national psyche. It is one of the few great unifying forces in a country of regional dialects.

A few miles from where I live, just outside Parma, there’s a huge Barilla pasta factory. As we return from a long journey, it looms up from the side of the road like a beacon and I know we are minutes from home. A few years back Barilla launched an advertising campaign with the catchphrase ‘Dové C’é Barilla, C’è Casa’ – where there is Barilla, there’s home. Like all good advertising campaigns it bore more than a modicum of truth. The sentimental chord struck by the advertisement was the notion that pasta and home are somehow synonymous.

I never did eat spaghetti freshly picked from the spaghetti tree (see my last post) – I just assumed it wasn’t in season.  But that never stopped my mother. On the annual family pilgrimage from the north of Ireland down to the south of Italy my mother would always pack a few packets of spaghetti in the boot of the car for the trip – enough to get us from Belfast to the outskirts of Naples. At the time it never occurred to me how odd we must have looked to other motorists passing by: three children sitting around a fold-up table in a lay-by somewhere on the other side of Dublin watching as my mother, stooped over a camper’s stove,  ladled spaghetti onto plastic plates while my father grated pecorino cheese directly over the top. We were eating spaghetti cacio e pepe (the classic spaghetti with pecorino and pepper), but to my brother, sister and I at the time, it was just ‘spaghetti cheese’.  

Spaghetti was just as much a part of my childhood as bedtime stories, the school playground and Saturday night baths. We must have looked every bit the mangiamaccheroni – macaroni eaters – who used to eat spaghetti with their hands on the streets of Naples (we used forks, of course!). The invention of the mechanised press in the latter part of the 18th century meant that dried pasta, for the first time, could be produced in large quantities and at lower cost. The population of Naples was rising rapidly and the people were hungry. In a few short years, pasta secca (dried pasta) became the symbol of the city. It was cucina povera (poor people’s food) for the masses. In 1840 the first industrial pasta plant opened in Torre Annunziata, just south of Naples. A few years later, in 1844, the first recipe for pasta with a tomato sauce appeared in a Neapolitan cookbook.

Versatile, inexpensive and nutritious, the craze that defined a city quickly engulfed a nation. Large industrial dried pasta factories in Liguria and Sicily shipped pasta to every port in the country. A string of others were soon established in and around Naples. And Italians, a nation of emigrants, carried it with them in their suitcases to every corner of the globe. I like to think of my grandparents, years ago when they first came to Ireland, disembarking from a ship onto Belfast docks, a strange and unfamiliar city, with nothing but the clothes they owned and a few packets of spaghetti – a taste of home.

Spaghetti with Pecorino Cheese and Ground Black Pepper

Spaghetti cacio e pepe

The origins of this classic dish are disputed. It is popularly considered of Roman origin but both the Sicilians and the Neapolitans claim that it was in fact invented either on the streets of Palermo or Naples. There may be some truth in the claims. The mangiamaccheroni of Naples would have eaten their pasta simply, straight from the cauldron and certainly without the addition of tomato sauce (which came later). Pecorino cheese was common to the city and it may well have been added to the pasta as a dressing for flavour, as might pepper.

Wherever it came from, this dish is as simple as dried pasta gets (so easy, in fact, it can hardly be called a recipe!). There are variations on the dish. Some advocate not using any extra virgin olive oil. Others suggest using an equal mix of pecorino cheese and parmesan. In the north of Italy a similar dish is made using butter instead of oil and just parmesan cheese. Personally I prefer the following recipe but that’s just a question of taste.

Serves 4
Preparation time:  5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes

320g spaghetti
250g semi-mature pecorino cheese, grated
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and cook until just al dente. Once the pasta is cooked, drain, reserving a small amount (a few tablespoons) of the cooking water. Place the pasta back in the pot and add the water, the olive oil, the cheese and plenty of black pepper. Toss well and serve immediately (for a truly authentic Neapolitan experience, try eating with your hands!).