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Ricotta salata and polenta

Ricotta salata is a firm cheese that behaves like halloumi in the grill or pan, i.e. it browns rather than melts so long as you treat it kindly.

I use instant polenta grain to save preparation time. Once you have it dissolved into a thick paste according to the instructions you should spread it about 1 cm thick on a baking tray, and dry it in a 50 degree oven until it is firm enough to cut it into rough 1 cm cubes. Cut the cheese into similar 1 cm cubes. Then lightly fry the polenta and cheese together in two tablespoons of olive oil.

While this concoction is cooling (it should be served warm, not hot) make your dressing using a mortar and pestle to crush basil leaves with extra virgin olive oil, perhaps a tiny red chilli, and a little salt.

Lay out some wild rocket leaves around a plate or serving dish and display the cheese and polenta in the middle. Then drizzle the dressing around the whole display.


Orecchiette with cime di rapa

Cime di rapa is turnip leaf. If you can't lay your hands on it, try young broccoli sprouts instead. They are from the same family. Try to get proper Italian sausages which are less held together with starches than their north European counterparts. Best of all, in fact, are 'luganighe' from Lugano in Italian-speaking Switzerland. Your first job is to skin the sausages and break them up into small pieces. If the sausages are right they will do the breaking up for themselves.

While you are boiling the water for the pasta, fry the sausage pieces gently with some garlic, a small shallot, and a little chilli (unless the sausages are already spicy). Then pour in half a bottle of white wine and turn the heat up a bit so that it comes to the boil. That is also the moment to get the pasta cooking.

Simmer and stir the sausage and wine for a few minutes. While there is still a decent amount of liquid in the pan, add the raw cime. Top up with more wine if it gets too dry, and stir frequently to stop the solids sticking or burning. The cime should be tender in at most two minutes, just ahead of the pasta. Drain the pasta, saving a bit of the water. Stir it together to serve, pasta, water, wine, and all. Plenty of grated parmesan or pecorino to finish.


Pollo milanese

Flatten a couple of chicken breasts between foil sheets using a rolling pin (being careful not to break them). Make a plate of flour and water batter - I recommend using sparkling water, and an egg whisked in as well for extra adhesion - and then make a plate of fine seasoned breadcrumbs. Dunk the chicken in both, in that order. Gently fry. Now lightly dress some rocket and mizuna in olive oil and lemon, and put a heap in the middle of your plates. Put the chicken on top and serve with a wedge of lemon.

If you make enough of the flour and water batter you can also use it for a side dish of deep fried courgettes. Slice the courgettes into 5 mm rounds, coat them with the batter, and cook them fast in a skillet, using just enough oil to immerse them.


Two great sandwiches

1. Chicken, mozarella and pesto on ciabatta. Slightly flatten a chicken breast (to about 1 cm thick), fry in a little olive oil in a non-stick pan, spread one side with fresh basil pesto, and slices of fresh mozarella. Now the daring part - flip it over in the pan so that the cheese and pesto and underneath, and fry hard for about 30 seconds - it should brown the cheese quickly and leave lots of juice in the pan. Now get it out. Slice a half ciabatta lengthwise and put it in the pan for a few moments so that it absorbs the basil gravy. Put the chicken in the bread with some spicy leaves and some lemon juice.

2. Goat's cheese and chorizo panini. You need big misshapen French rolls (pains rustiques) from the supermarket - not too high-bake, mind you, or they won't squash well. You need rocket, crumbly goat's cheese log, good sliced chorizo and - here's the secret - a spicy tapenade from the deli (no anchovy in it, just olives and hot peppers, that kind of thing). Well all you do is slam all that in the rolls according to taste and toast them in a sandwich grill until the cheese starts to make an escape.


Lime risotto with goats cheese

Begin with your basic white risotto. Mine is red onions, fried in olive oil, then add the rice, then one glass of white wine per person, then as much vegetable stock as you need. When the rice is a couple of minutes away from being ready, stir in the juice of one lime, a good handful of lemon thyme, and lots of grated pecorino. It should have a strong citrus flavour. If you like it more intense still you can substitute lime oil, or add lime zest as well as the juice. Serve into warm bowls. Then crumble goat's cheese on top then some chopped rocket leaves. Carnivores like it with a thin slice or two of speck (prosciutto from Trentino/Südtirol) laid on top as well.


Papardelle with salsicce and prosecco

A really easy recipe based on a dish that I once ate at a tiny osteria in Pistoia. The best bit: you can justify drinking the rest of the prosecco. All the key ingredients are mentioned in the name of the dish. You need wide noodles. If you can't get papardelle, try lasagne broken by hand into uneven strips and shards.

Start by putting the pasta on to cook in plenty of salted water. This means you have about 10 minutes to do everything else! The sausage (allow about 3 for 2 people) should be a loosely packed Italian type that crumbles in the pan, and ideally it should be a bit spicy. (If not, drop a touch of garlic and red chilli into the pan with the sausage.)

Begin by releasing the sausage meat from its skin and browning it lightly in a non-stick pan without drying it out (break it into pieces if it doesn't break up by itself). When it's cooked through (or very nearly) pour in about one glass of Prosecco per sausage and watch it fizz. Reduce gently with the sausage juice until you have an intense liquid with just enough volume to coat the pasta (say, half the original volume of the Prosecco). Just stir it into the drained pasta with a little of the pasta water left behind, and that's your dinner.

Looks too colourless? Roughly chop up some rocket and scatter over the top. Don't forget the parmesan. And don't forget your glass of Prosecco to accompany it.