IMG_4941After the flooding and mud deluge of last autumn in Genoa, 2015 opens with news that the city’s Pesto al Mortaio is to be recognised as a World Heritage Food by UNESCO. This means the famous basil sauce made in the marble mortar with wooden pestle joins French Cuisine and Japanese Food Culture, the Mediterranean Diet et al.

Liguria is already listed by UNESCO for Genoa’s Strade Nuove, the nearby Portovenere and Cinque Terre. Italy leads the world with 50 UNESCO sites – China coming 2nd with 47.

The genuine, authentic Pesto alla Genovese is made only with DOP Basilico Genovese, 100% guaranteed Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil, DOP Parmigiano Reggiano (24 month) and Pecorino Fiore Sardo, Italian pine nuts, garlic (that from Vessalico preferred) and sea salt from Trapani (Sicily).

roberto pesto (800x464)‘Il Re di Pesto’ (the ‘King of Pesto’) is one Roberto Panizza – no stranger to these pages. With his brother, Sergio, they run ‘Il Genovese’ at 35 via Galata – across from the very special Mercato Orientale. Here one eats the fresh, real food of Liguria. Each morning they make 5 kgs of Pesto alla Genovese in the huge C17th marble mortar which began a Benedictine monastry a few miles outside the city. The pestle is pear wood and needs a man with strong arms to work for the duration of making a batch of pesto.

IMG_4956Roberto says that working with pestle and mortar is ‘like getting to fly one of Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machines’.

.Making a Pesto, even with the correct ingredients, still calls for ‘competenza’ – the is the know-how or savoir faire passed on through families and only achieved by practice, practice and more practice – so says Roberto Panizza.

More news on the UNESCO bid to follow.

I should sign out as the London Ambassador for Pesto alla Genovese Al Mortaio – for that’s what they call me.IMG_8037 (225x300)IMG_7980 (196x250)IMG_7975 (208x250)



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Alpha Bieta and a Beta

Wherever I go I keep meeting up with Lucullus. Since friends acquired the artisan food company, Lucullus France, five or so years ago, I have built a romantic obsession with the man. The Véritable Lucullus – this foie gras mabré entirely special to Nord / Pas-de-Calais – is theirs. Seek out this when next driving through Northern France – www.lucullus-valenciennes.frLUCULLUS_03_HD[1] (300x200)

The triple cream cheese akin to a rich Chaource labelled ‘Lucullus’ seems to have passed by the wayside. That the real Lucullus is buried near Frascati only adds to the magic of my journey.

20131204_160504 (300x235)‘Xerxes in a toga’ was once barracked against him by Pliny and others of high rank. I think that means they thought Lucullus had got above himself – Xerxes having considered himself a Godself when King of the Persians around BC150.

Persia too excites – no Persia, Mesopotamia or Moors and we’d have a very sorry state gastronomy in the Western Mediterranean (and the East given the Mogul invasions of North India). They did for us every bit as much as Columbus and Cortès discovering the America’s in the C16th.

IMG_1265 (300x219)A surprising connection will reveal itself as I am inspired to write on Swiss Chard – the stalwart of farmers’ markets where it has usually sad and past its best as it has little staying power once cut – chard sold ready cut in plastic bags as per our local farmers market does nothing to endear me to the passing trend. Why must London farmers markets all continue to use plastic bags – is that not a fundamental no-go?

IMG_1263 (300x225)The chard leaf, the Beta Vulgaris, is often likened to spinach – about as close as a strawberry is to a raspberry (ie not at all) – and is linked back to the man Lucullus. Vulgaris to me are the new strains of rainbow coloured chards. Attractive as they maybe look to plant breeders and seedsmen when growing and first cut, their colour dies when cooked and they become as sad as the tourist-trap pasta sold in Italian airport shops for travellers keen to find a quirky souvenir.

IMG_1261 (300x220)Fresh, squeaky Swiss Chard, or bieta in Italian, is a treat. The white stems and green leaf are best separated because they cook and eat differently. The stems can be steamed for 2-3′, cooled and served with an olive oil and lemon dressing as a first plate. The green leaf can be stirred into pasta or soups from raw. The less it cooks then the better the flavour and nutrition. The Genovese Easter pie has bieta at its highest ranking – Torta di Pasqua is finished with fresh eggs which cooked within the bieta – the best torta are inflated by the cook blowing through a straw to get a good domed rise on the lid.

We were so thrilled to find the freshest bieta in a local Turkish late night food store that we opted for a pasta dish as follows.

festa pasta 2006I doff my hat to smiley Giuseppe Di Martino here – he gave me the OK to break spaghetti or linguine, much as he would with wider bored candele (zitti) Napolitano way. Di Martino pasta has become a rare sighting in London these past few months, so slightly less than half a pack of linguine was all on offer at No 19 for two diners.IMG_7559 (225x300)

The pasta was broken into 2-3″ lengths and cooked in a large pan of boiling, salted fresh water – please, never use pre-boiled water for pasta and certainly never hot water from the tap. Also never salt until the water comes to the boil – and when you add salt be on the generous side with a 2-3 tsps of coarse sea salt. Whilst being so prescriptive, please only ever use sea salt for cooking and seasoning. Vacuum extracted salt is for clearing icy steps.

The pasta needs around 10′ – add the vegetables 2-3′ before the pasta is perfectly al-dente.

IMG_1350The bieta dish was bulked out with flageolet beans – these were labelled last year’s harvest and soaked for just a couple of hours before gently cooking in plain water until soft but not broken. They were ‘frightened’ three times during the early stages – meaning a wine glass of cold water is thrown into the pan to arrest the cooking. That’s another hat doffed – that time to my late brother-in-law, a Spanish cook and gourmet extraordinaire from Valencia. He would always ‘frighten’ the beans and they become creamier for the scare. Get scary when you next cook beans.

So we have broken linguine, beans, the freshest, squeakiest trimmed bieta white stems and green leaf – all dosed in olive oil. But wait, what else to give that savoury note?

IMG_1342 (196x300)Back to the Romans and their preparation of fermented fish, best of all from anchovies and known to them as garum or liquamen. Splitting hairs, the two are not precisely the same – but close enough to the centuries old process continued today around Amalfi (Campania) on the gulf of Salento – and the result is a rich, clear golden elixir called Colatura di Alici.

IMG_1336 (300x225)Sadly not sold in England – like much I write about (this will change this year). Purists will note that garum was actually a steal from the Ancient Greeks, but that’s become somewhat lost over the centuries. Colatura is pure umami – and please, must never be substituted with Thai or Vietnamese fish sauces. They are, most literally, world’s apart.

IMG_9457 (300x225)IMG_9558 (200x150)IMG_9613 (300x225)IMG_9606 (300x225)IMG_7753 (231x300)We imagined ourselves back in the time of Lucullus as we dressed our pasta with Colatura. We also dreamt of being in Amalfi looking across the Salento bay as we ate our dinner. Actually, I split my dream and mused at being back in Frascati or Vietri to buy the larger bottle.

Now you can tell the difference between Bieta and a Beta.

IMG_7749 (300x300)

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Lentils, Shiny Gold and Strong Hopes

‘Turn out the lights, the party’s over

They say that, ‘All good things must end’

Let’s call it a night, the party’s over

And tomorrow starts the same old thing again’

So sang Willie Nelson. One year ends and another begins – ‘Bonne Continuation’ say the French and they’re right. We cook and eat our lentils with cotechino – no zampone this year. We talk about the year past and the one ahead of us. Exciting times – what are our wishes and hopes?IMG_1329 (300x225)

Time has come to set some stuff straight on real food. Without See Woo’s weekly Thursday delivery of the Gascon poulets fermiers, we would be starved of chickens to cook.

IMG_2487 (225x300)We need a major retailer to take the challenge of an upgrade to a genuine chicken supply line – and Blue Collar Gastronomy will be campaigning that through 2015.

Dream 2 would be to return to an English supermarket and not have to compromise with hard come-by cash. Until that day comes, I’ll choose to stay away.

From the feasts of Christmas Eve and Day, onto New Year’s Eve, the season ends with Epiphany or King’s Night on January 6th. Researching over the years has never thrown up any typical savoury dishes, but spice seems to be right as Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar came from the East. Some say that without the Magi we’d probably not exchange presents at Christmas time either.

Across Northern France, the Galette des Rois has its place at table.  This Pithiviers filled with frangipane contains a ‘fève’ – literally a bean because in times gone by it would have been just that. I wrote around this time in 2011 about the Musée de la Fève in Blain – a little town I’ve never visited between St Nazaire and Nantes in Brittany -

The Galette des Rois (King’s Cake) has Spanish and Portuguese equivalents – the Spanish have their Roscón de Reyes and in Portugal, theirs is a French-inspired sweet bread called Bolo Rei. In Southern France their King’s Night cake is a sweet brioche adorned with glacé fruits – a tradition that crosses the frontier into Italy. All have their ‘fèves’ hidden within. We’ll pass over the sad PC world of warnings from shop staff  in England about the talisman hidden within the cakes. It’s as bad as being told chickens have bones, but such is the price to be paid for living in this dumbed down, litigious society.

Another tradition is the little cellophane bags of 12 white grapes (with seeds) at every place setting. In Spain around Alicante there are farmers who prune their vines so as to harvest a perfect 12 grape bunch.  Bunched or loose, the 12 grapes must be consumed between the start and end of the 12 chimes of midnight. I know of family in Spain who’d be surreptitiously de-seeding and peeling theirs under the table in the run up to midnight.

IMG_1139 (225x300)The New Year lentils tradition stays with us at No 19. This I first experienced when cooked by a Milanese friend, Gioella, who’d returned from her Christmas in Italy with lentils and a fresh zampone. This large boned, stuffed and spiced pig’s foot was first swaddled in bandages before a long gentle simmer in hot water.

IMG_1334 (300x225)We ate slices of the Modenese zampone with lentils soon after midnight, as is the Italian tradition. Little did I know how important Italy would be so much part of my future back then.

It was Gioella who also taught me how to make the perfect Sugo where the tomato splits from the olive oil – and so dressing the pasta perfectly. My teacher would only ever use canned plum tomatoes from the south of Italy. This was long before we learned of San Marzano.

IMG_1331 (300x225)Ten or so years later I was to meet the Levoni family at a London food fair. They came from Mantova – and to this day I try and find a Levoni zampone or cotechino wherever possible (Partridge’s on King’s Road, Chelsea has been a loyal stockist of Levoni™ these past few years).

IMG_1169 (225x300)This is not content advertising which I violently disagree with – the Levoni’s have stayed friends since that first encounter. They have recently celebrated their centenary.

More on the Levoni’s when I talk of how their business blossomed from a chance encounter with Mr Peck in 1911 and soon after the Prosciutto di Praga came to be – and is still an anti-pasti in Harry’s Bar to this day.

For those over-faced at the thought of a graphic pig’s foot, cotechino or the Italian sausage option is perfectly acceptable. Find coarse-cut pork salsiccia flavoured with fennel and everyone will be happy – good Cypriot loukanico sausage make a good substitute and the Italians even have a pork sausage with a similar name, luganega.

IMG_9597My soon-to-come celebratory exclusive on the Queen of Soho Restaurants has had her telling me of her children’s favourite meal being salsiccia with polenta – a dish she still makes today for her grand children and great grand children at her home where she’s lived since the 1920s. My article will first appear in Italy’s premier food website –

image_01_big (300x215)Like sun-dried tomatoes (seen here in Basilicata), polenta is all too often mistakenly credited as being part of the Granita Pact of summer 1994 when the hideous non-comedy duo of Blair and Brown cooked up the deal that brought New Labour to power and the country to its knees.

This is untrue. Bianchi’s on Frith Street (Soho) had both on the menu back in the late 1960s when I first arrived in London.

IMG_6828Polenta is much misunderstood outside the Italian community. White polenta, Veneto-style, is as far as I know unknown in England. Harry’s Bar will serve it dramatically with squids cooked in their ink for the perfect monochrome plate.

As Arrigo Cipriani said: “Harry’s Bar was the first luxury restaurant to serve polenta……it had long been despised by the wealthy as peasant food, but it now joined squid, baccalà and dried beans on menu’s of chic restaurants in Europe and the United States.

IMG_6826 (188x250)For some reason yellow polenta is still considered too humble, so most Italian restaurants (now) use the more refined white cornmeal.”  I take this quote from ‘The Harry’s Bar Cookbook’ – first published in 1991 (ISBN 1-85685-046-3) – a bar and kitchen we must revisit in 2015. Jan Morris, writing the introduction, said of Harry’s: ‘I can immediately reconjure (the atmosphere), wherever I am in the world, simply by imagining myself opening those doors’. So very true.

IMG_1178 (225x300)Edging into 2015 I hope for all our food to stay true, honest and simple. Lentils with salsiccia or cottechino might be a start. Baked potatoes served with a slice of foie gras another.

IMG_1119A dish of trofie and potatoes dressed only with Roberto Panizza’s Pesto alla Genovese is another reminder of a good future and one where an English supermarket might choose to stock a real pesto rather than the crude ersatz pastes originating from nowhere near Genoa that they each have on their shelves right now – ‘privet hedge trimmings’ best described one we tasted.

IMG_1091The choucroute tradition has been maintained as it was served on Boxing Day – and was the reminder that Jeffrey Steingarten’s article in US Vogue in the late 1980s got me scribbling away about food these years later. Everything links – except the genuine Italian luganega which come without twists.

IMG_1277 (300x225)A soup of large French leeks and potato, creamy with pearl barley is on today’s menu as the Christmas ‘fridge winds down as the party’s over. No 19 is intrigued by the monastic – it was the route that took my partner from her travels and experiences in Japan and Asia, so leading to and her book ‘Too Busy to Live Your Life?’ (£14.95 inc postage in Europe).IMG_0261 - Copy - Copy (300x177)

Without the Medieval monastic tradition, the chapon might not have stayed as popular as it remains in France.

IMG_6783The rich stock from our bird becomes our New Year risotto served only with farm butter and Pecorino.

Comes end-January and some celebrate Burn’s Night. Haggis is served whenever we have game birds or duck – why more people don’t serve the two together is a mystery. Carrot, swede and potato, mashed with butter and finished in the oven is another dish that carries game well.IMG_1199 (300x225)

IMG_1230 (300x225)I hope you enjoyed my sharing this ramble through to the conclusion of the wonderous Christmas Feast.

As the late Dave Allen, who continues to amuse us each Christmas, says: ‘May your God go with you’ through 2015.

From yesterday’s horror, ‘Je suis Charlie‘.


IMG_0260 - Copy (2) (300x184)Order copies of ‘Too Busy to Live Your Life?’ by Joy Davies, £14.95 (inc P&P in Europe) from – perfect timing, post- Christmas and with 28 days of February looming. 





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