Blog

One Italian family's (+ 1 Kiwi) take on the Italian food culture and how truly easy it is to make the real (Italian) McCoy! Plus some very cool musings from an "outsider's" point of view...

We're in London now, so you might discover some insider tips on where to find good Italian food here, as well as around the world.

Our Beginnings... - and good coffee!

We’ve been working on That Really Cool Italian Cookbook since 2001. We printed off the very first version of the book, not realising how truly important a good proof-read is… We had a few little designs, but the general layout looked like something from the ’70’s. Even the Introduction page was apologetic. And it was called “Mamma Alda’s Cook Book”. Truly exhilarating stuff!  Let’s just say that even though we had big dreams, it was still pretty much a spare-time thing.But we really did believe in the book regardless! The recipes are good! Some easy, some requiring more thought & effort, but all easy to follow. So, we took our book around the New Zealand publishing circuit where we were greeted very well. A couple of publishing houses said the only reason they wouldn’t take us on was because we didn’t live in NZ and wouldn’t be available for any promotional activities etc. One referred us to their UK counter-parts, but again, we were based in Italy at the time and not the UK.

Meanwhile, 3 of us (Livio, Ire & Joe) had all moved into La Villa Scatola, in Le Marche, Italy. It was blissfully peaceful out there, with the closest neighbours literally 2 rolling hills away. Heaven! With more time on our hands, and still coming to terms with the fact that our wee book wasn’t moving mole hills, let alone mountains, we decided it needed an overhaul. We’d already put countless hours into it, and it deserved to be taken seriously. Little did we know what that simple decision would mean for us….                                                                                                                             

It required hours & hours & hours of: refining the recipes, drawing & painting, researching facts & writing numerous articles, photographing (inevitably cold) food, loads of arguments about which recipes should/shouldn’t be in the final version of the book, playing with the layout, and then playing some more until we couldn’t see what we thought was right anymore…  We were really lucky because all three of us were able to dedicate all of that time & effort to this baby of ours - literally 1000’s of hours…!

One day, a very good friend of ours, who happens to be a lecturer at one of the local universities, suggested we go along with her to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the 2nd largest book fair in Europe. Clearly our book was not meant to be there, but it would give us a good idea about how publishing in general works. At least at a ground floor level.                                                          So… we decided we should go there as our characters from the book…! Apart from being the ONLY  people there in any kind of costume, it created the impact we were hoping to make! From that one event alone, not only did we get to meet and talk with industry experts, but we were invited to Sharjah UAE, to the International Children’s Book Fair! All expenses paid, to showcase our wares and well, basically to see if they really do like Italian cuisine as much as we’d heard. What a fantastic week we had there!!! Such friendly, welcoming people! Very generous in every way!

Many hungry mouths in Sharjah, UAE

Many hungry mouths in Sharjah, UAE

That fuelled our hope to finish this project, and to well & truly dive into a whole new world of culinary delights, techniques, indulgences and new adventures! (have a look at the videos on our media page)

 

SO… Here we are in London! What a city!! If anyone ever tells you, “I know London like the back of my hand”, they’re either lying/exaggerating or they just plain don’t know London at all. London resembles more a nation than a city. It’s massive! And it’s jam-packed…! Not even running at full speed, backpack packed with water & reserves, could you visit every café in town, for example. And there’s always a new one opening somewhere.

There are the usual chains, like Costa, or Starbucks (which aren’t too bad if you’re on the run between appointments), and then there is the myriad of boutique coffee houses that offer a great atmosphere, often with original, well-executed decor, complete with plush sofas, nifty cups & mugs, the coolest magazines and, more often than not, homemade cakes & delectables. But there is a common vein running through (almost) all of these: great coffee!

Coffee is, believe it, or not, actually quite poisonous. We’re not meant to drink it, really. But hey, there are worse vices to be indulged. And quite frankly, numerous generations of coffee guzzling Italians would prove otherwise. Sometimes there’s just nothing more satisfying than a good, rich cup of coffee.

These days there’s an ever-growing list of different types of coffees available, and London is home to the newest addition to the coffee menu: the Flat White! Basically a Latte with a double shot of espresso. That being the only item on the menu you’re likely to query, let’s move on to a great example of a ‘typical’ London coffee house, Hunter Gather. Typical in the sense that they just don’t offer great coffee, they’re dripping with individualism and great ideas. In this case, their Shoreditch ‘café’ fronts the image below: high-end fashion. So you can do a spot of shopping after a good boost of caffeine. Both the coffee and the clothes are of the highest quality. And this is just one example of how Londoners satisfy their urges conveniently.

 - If I was going to give one gripe, though,  it would be that the cups are reasonably small. That said,  the coffee’s awesome and the staff are really friendly and welcoming. You really do feel like you’ve just walked into someone’s home.

But that’s if you’re lucky enough to get atmosphere with your hard earned caffeine break. If you want a decent coffee at home, get yourself a mocca. It’s the easiest, low-cost way of getting the real McCoy. Every household in Italy has at least 2 mocca machines: a smaller one for 2 people (shots), and a larger one for serving more people after meals. It makes great espresso coffee, so if you’re after a longer version, add boiling water to make a long “American” coffee. Tastes much better than any instant coffee and the aromas warmly permeate through your house. 

 

Image by aliexpress.com

Image by aliexpress.com

So you’ll need good coffee grains. If you’re not used to rich coffee at home, go for something warm & full bodied. If I’m not sure of the brand/flavour/quality, I tend toward the mid-price range, and I take the time to read the packet. It should give a brief description of the flavour, plus it should also say where the coffee is from. Italian coffee is supreme, and Arabic is great, too. I did hear once that Spanish coffee is a mix of both European coffee and Arabic - one of my favourites, actually.

There are loads of tips on how to keep your coffee grains fresh & full-flavoured, but really, all you need a sealable jar. Simple. 

Keep an eye on your mocca, and remove it from the heat as soon as the coffee has completely risen to the top compartment, otherwise it’ll burn.

BIG NOTE: Never wash your mocca in soapy water. Just rinse it well under running water. Otherwise the rubber seals will take on some of that delicious soapy taste and taint your next coffee. Don’t worry, the mocca will eventually look kind of gross, but the coffee it’ll produce will be great!

Coffee grinders (found in That Really Cool Italian Cookbook))

Coffee grinders (found in That Really Cool Italian Cookbook))