Delving into Italy’s rich and long-matured cuisine doesn’t always require the next flight to Campania or Emilia-Romagna. You can find some of Italy’s most celebrated dishes right here in London.
Pappardelle al ragu
A dish that continues to flood our Instagram feeds, it was the likes of Trullo who introduced one of Italy’s staple dishes to us fickle London types. It shouldn’t have been a hard ask – a slow-cooked meat ragu, be it beef shin, lamb shoulder, or sausage meat, is as comforting as food gets.
Cacio e pepe
Literally ‘cheese and pepper’, this is one of Italy’s oldest and simplest dishes. Dating back to the Roman Empire, the recipe requires Pecorino, cracked black pepper, and spaghetti. Evelyn’s Table know all too well of the elegance in its simplicity – you can enjoy steaming plates of it at their 11-seater kitchen bar in Soho.
Carbonara, relating to ‘charcoal burners’ as its translation would suggest, is thought to be a reference to the workmen who fuelled up on the dish. Not difficult to imagine when pepper is so reminiscent of flaked coal. A more modern version of its cacio e pepe cousin, carbonara has the addition of egg yolks and pancetta. At Osteria Romana – one of Knightsbridge’s newest dining destinations – it’s among its most popular dishes.
For such a simple snack – deep-fried rice balls with various fillings (a decent purpose given to yesterday’s risotto) – it’s so often done wrong. Over at Robin Gill’s Sorella, ‘wrong’ is not a word often used – especially when truffle arancini are on the menu.
A good risotto often provides, aside from the general pleasure, a taste of the time. Bocca di Lupo’s seasonal iterations on the theme certainly do just that – look out especially for their saffron risotto with gremolata and marrow bones, wild asparagus risotto in spring, or chestnut and pumpkin risotto in autumn.
In shape and format, would it be fair to say folded pizza is Naples’ equivalent to Cornwall’s pasty? They’re both a product of an industrial need to eat on the hoof, after all. Over in Borough, O’ver takes the simple concept and makes it beautiful, with mozzarella, ricotta, salami, San Marzano tomato sauce, and basil.
Legend has it that back in the day – 1889, that is – Queen Margherita of Italy was presented with a pizza topped with colours from the Italian flag: mozzarella, tomato, and basil. True or not, the dish is embedded in history. Helping make sure it stays there is Santa Maria, a mini chain of pizzerias dishing out Margheritas just as good as those you’d find in Naples.
Gnocchi’s exact origin is unknown, but embraced in Italy all over nonetheless – ask for a serving of gnocchi in two different regions and you’ll end up with something different. This side of The Channel, Locanda Locatelli’s morel mushroom gnocchi, usually involving shaved truffle, is one to scope out – Sunday Times critic Marina O’Loughlin recently deemed it ‘sexily soporific’.
Of Northern Italian beginnings, ossobuco involves veal shanks cooked nice and slow with vegetables, wine and stock. Margot’s ossobuco on a saffron risotto, served with the marrow bone as the centrepiece, is an example all should follow.
Ciao Bella, which has been around since the 80s, is regarded in these parts (Bloomsbury) as a local institution. Over the years they’ve refined their recipes, one of many conclusions is that the classic lasagne alla Bolognese, when prepared with enough care, cannot be outdone.
This is a guest post from freelance food journalist Hugh Thomas. He’s contributed to Foodism, Time Out, Great British Chefs, and is part of British Street Food’s small team of vigilant writers. Find him on twitter @hughwrites.