Italian Summer Food

Welcome to part one of our four-part series on great summer food. Each week we bring you delicious menus by acclaimed chefs. Here Angela Hartnett celebrates the simple fare and good quality ingredients that inspire us to cook Italian.
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What is Italian food about? It's not complex; it's just about looking around you, understanding what's best, and treating it simply. Most of the genius of Italian cooks, whether they're in Emilia Romagna or Sicily, lies in that simple approach.

What is Italian food about? It's not complex; it's just about looking around you, understanding what's best, and treating it simply. Most of the genius of Italian cooks, whether they're in Emilia Romagna or Sicily, lies in that simple approach.

There has been a trend to make some of the food more intricate - many restaurants there are heading away from the traditional home-cooking styles that have prevailed for so long, and serving smaller, more numerous courses of more evolved food.

And despite evolution, Italian chefs still love authenticity, and everything in the right context. So if you've had a great pasta dish in Italy, and want to replicate it at home, you go to the shop and try it with any old Joe Bloggs semolina flour, and it doesn't work. I have friends who lug back bags of semolina flour to the US just because of that.

Everyone in Italy believes their region is the best for food - that they produce the best cheeses or whatever - which speaks about how proud they are of what they produce. But I think one of the best things is that Italians eat as families. One half of my family is from Italy, and it's something we certainly still do: the TV is turned off, and we eat together. Ultimately, I think it instils an appreciation of food and taking time to enjoy it.

In fact, that part of my family comes from what is arguably the greatest food region in Italy, Emilia Romagna. Look at the names on the map - there's Bologna, which has always been a wealthy city, which is reflected in the richness of the cooking, and Parma with its incredible cheeses and hams, and Cremona where the mostarda di frutta comes from. And the valleys, with the Po running through the centre, with their endless wheat fields, it's the world capital of pasta!

But it's impossible to ignore the riches from elsewhere too: the brilliant fish of the Adriatic coast, the fantastic vegetables from the south that just seem to soak up the sun and say so much about the land in which they're grown. And I couldn't cook without Tuscan olive oil - I know Liguria, and Umbria, and just about everywhere from Greece to Australia thinks theirs is the best. But when you've found what you want, and what's good, there's no point trying to reinvent the wheel every time you reach for the olive oil bottle - which, I suppose, is a very Italian mindset!

Angela Hartnett is chef patron of MENU and The Grill at The Connaught, Carlos Place, Mayfair, London W1K 2AL, Tel: 020 7592 1222. Angela was awarded her first Michelin star in January this year.

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