An Italian August
This hot weather shows little sign of abating and with August on the horizon, my thoughts have turned to the Italian way of life, and of course their fabulous food. Italians love August – it is a time for holidays, family, friends and the beach. With temperatures here on a par with those in Italy, perhaps we should celebrate August 15 - or Ferragosto - when almost everyone in Italy takes a holiday. The week around Ferragosto is usually celebrated with concerts, outdoor festivals, and lots of food. This ancient tradition dates back to 18 BC when Emperor Augustus created a holiday ‘Feriae Augusti’ or ‘Festivals of Augustus’. And in Catholicism August 15 is special, as it is Assumption Day or the day when the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven.
So, with Ferragosto in mind, I needed no excuse to check out some Italian foodie favourites. We started with a meal at Carluccio’s, where you know you will always be served reliable Italian fare at reasonable prices. Locally there are branches in Teddington, Richmond and Kingston (two there in fact) and more branches all over the country. Their summer menu has something for all tastes and budgets (the set meal is stonking value at £12.95 for a two-course lunch or £15.95 at dinner. Desserts are a further £3)
We had a lovely evening in the Teddington branch earlier this month – the chef’s specials change on a weekly basis, so do check that menu when you go. We had crab bruschetta and prawns marinara, followed by risotto ai funghi and swordfish Muddica (fried in breadcrumbs). It was all great, but I have to confess to being disappointed with my swordfish, as I feel this superb fish should just be grilled and enjoyed at its simple best. That said, we enjoyed our meal: there is a great atmosphere in Carluccio’s. Of course, we’ve many other excellent independent Italian restaurants locally – and I hear that Church Street’s Masaniello has recently opened a branch in Surbiton.
Carluccio’s are hosting a fantastic Italian supper club for one night only at selected sites with a really competitive price to celebrate the Italian festival of Ferragosto – for just £25 for adults tickets, or £15 for children, guests can enjoy a three-course meal with drinks included. Tickets available here
But in this hot weather, many of us want a picnic (we often enjoy a meal on our little boat on the river). If you want a true taste of Italian ‘al fresco’ I’d recommend a company called NifeisLife. Despite its rather strange name (Nice Italian Food Everyday), it is one of the best-kept secrets of the London Italian community. At least three of my Italian friends are regular customers and fresh produce is flown in twice weekly from Italy. Minimum order £30 but delivery isn’t expensive and can be free to our area with same-day delivery (minimum order £60 for that) so do check it out. The truffle burrata is to die for!
If your budget is tight and you just want a simple taste of Italy at home, then do try the Sacla pestos. I have mentioned before the delicious truffle pesto (from Waitrose and most major supermarkets rrp of £2.60) and they have recently launched a Nduja (pronounced ‘Nuja’) one. This spicy Italian sausage is from Calabria (right on the toe of Italy) and contains lots of fiery red Calabrian chilli peppers. Is it sensational! Serve it with pasta, as base for scrambled or poached eggs, on crostini...or just spoon it from the jar! But you have been warned - it is addictive! There are more usage suggestions and recipes on the Sacla website here. Ciao!