Ever since I came back from Modena, I’ve been dreaming of this pie. Having grown up in England, I love big, traditional, English pies such as pork pies and the game pies you see in TV costume dramas weighing down many a seventeenth-century table. This is the closest thing I’ve found in Italian cuisine to those pies and is just as delicious as well as being remarkably simple to make.
One of the things that surprises most English-speaking tourists, when coming to Italy for the first time, is that in restaurants main dishes don’t come with vegetables. That’s not to say that Italians don’t eat vegetables with main dishes, but you have to order them separately. You find them on the menu in a little section of their own called contorno, which translates approximately as side dish.
This recipe is from Puglia.
To fully understand Italian cuisine, it’s important to note the major difference between it and, for example, French cuisine.
French cuisine is the cuisine of the chef. Home cooks spend a lot of time trying to live up to the creations and recipes coming out of the important restaurants in Paris and beyond. In France, chefs are celebrities: household names that everyone has heard of whether or not you can afford to eat in one of their stellar establishments. The publication of a new Michelin Guide makes the national headlines.
Italian cuisine is the cuisine of the mamma, or even la nonna (grandmother). Chefs in restaurants spend a lot of time trying to live up the the food their mothers and grandmothers cooked for them when they were young. Restaurants need to equal the standards of the dishes prepared by their customers’ mamme and nonne, which as you can imagine, is not easy.
Radicchio tardivo di Treviso is an extraordinary looking vegetable, rather like a red and white octopus. Once cut, it is a kaleidoscope of red and white leaves which are extraordinarily beautiful.
Grown in the provinces of Treviso and Venice, this plant now has protected name status from the European Union. It differs from other radicchio not only in appearance but also in its mild taste, which is not bitter at all.
When the seasons change in Tuscany it happens with a bang. In the case of autumn, quite literally. Every year on August 31 we are treated to a thunderstorm which sends cool winds down the valley on September 1, shushing the leaves from the trees.
This week it was the turn of spring. Overnight the April showers stopped and someone flipped the switch that activates the cricket soundtrack. The fields have been sprayed with buttercups to order, and my irises are waving their purple flags saying ‘Hooray it’s spring!’