After spending almost a week at Jason Lowe and his wife Lori's Tuscan house, we headed off to Liguria, to Arenzano. Arenzano is a typical Italian Riviera seaside resort and we were right on the edge of it in one of those Fawlty Towers-type hotels where nothing quite made sense. It was very smart indeed, with a roof deck with an Olympic-sized pool and enough sun loungers for over 100 people. Inside, the massive rooms had tiny bathrooms and strange coloured panels, and a reception full of cane furniture and plastic flower arrangements.
Anyway, in a town full of restaurants, we managed to find three worth recommending, one of which – Othello, chef-owned and situated on the unfinished marina – we visited twice. Othello served simple seafood such as giant grilled scampi, salt-baked fish, octopus salad and good fishy pastas. My daughters, Ellie and Lydia, had been getting used to the regional Pici pasta dishes back in Tuscany, so it took a little persuasion to get them to try trofie – the typical Ligurian pasta which is shaped in a rounded length with tapered ends, twisted into a spiral.
Liguria produces fantastic organic olive oil, basil and garlic which combine to make the region's classic pesto sauce. Othello served up one of the best trofie with pesto that I have ever eaten, but instead of the pesto all being tossed in with the pasta, it was just warmed with some green beans and dolloped in the middle of the pasta, so you could mix in as much or as little as you wanted. Another great pasta in the restaurant which the girls loved was a scampi and zucchini tagliolini.
My other favourite find – well, my partner Clare's, actually – was a place called U Caruggiu in Cogoleto, just 10 minutes away. Like a lot of places in the area, it was a butcher's shop by day and restaurant by night, a concept I love. I'd been holding off on the bifsteak alla Fiorentina while in Chianti country and thought this would be the perfect place in which to fulfil my need for a meaty supper. Unfortunately, the reality of the place didn't quite live up to the concept, or maybe we just got them on an off-night. We did spend an awful lot of time eating, as you've probably gathered, but the weather was so bloody lousy we had no choice in the matter.
Chick pea, ham and trotter stew
Jason Lowe brought back an unusual strain of chick pea from his recent travels. The shape of them reminded me of those little savoury snacks that look like triangular black eye peas. They are called cicerchia, and they are a relative of the chick pea from Fondi between Rome and Napoli.
Lori had bought a knuckle of cured local ham and the idea was to simply cook the soaked cicerchia with the ham knuckle in the brick oven overnight, along with the pig's trotters, which we found in the local Co-op. Because of the curing of the ham, the end result was perfectly seasoned and flavoursome – a really cheap and hearty meal.
You could just use a smoked or un-smoked ham hock or ask your local Italian deli to save you the cured ham knuckle.
120-150g dried cicerchia or good-quality chick peas, soaked for at least 24 hours in plenty of cold water
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 cured ham knuckle or a smoked or un-smoked hock
2 small pig's trotters, halved lengthways (optional)
Cut any meat from the knuckle into rough 2cm cubes
A couple sprigs of thyme or oregano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 160°C/Gas mark 3.
Put all of the ingredients into an oven-proof pot with a lid, cover with water, bring to the boil, cover and cook in the oven for about 2-2 hours or until the beans are tender. The beans may well take more cooking. Season if necessary and serve as a hearty soup or stew.
Tripe is commonly eaten all over Italy and what the triperia had on offer back in August was insalata de trippa, which had cherry tomatoes, onions, etc, tossed into shredded pre-blanched tripe – the type generally available in the UK, the white stuff that sadly doesn't have much flavour in it compared to the various other types once readily available in butchers and now non-existent except in specialist tripe shops in the north of England.
Anyway, this type of tripe does suit a salad as you need do nothing to it except wash it and cut it up. I know I'm probably not going to start a new tripe renaissance, but in Liguria it's still a big part of their culture.
400-500g of tripe (blanched, pre-cooked type)
1 red onion, peeled and very thinly sliced
3-4 sticks of celery, preferably with as many leaves as possible, peeled if necessary
1 medium red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
2 firm tomatoes, skinned, seeds removed and flesh finely chopped
2-3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1tbsp good-quality white wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the tripe into strips. Using a mandolin or very sharp knife, cut the celery into 3-4cm lengths and then very thin ribbons lengthways. Mix the tripe, onion, celery, chilli and tomatoes with the olive oil and vinegar and season to taste. Leave to marinade for about 30 minutes, then tear any celery leaves and toss into the salad and scatter a few on top before serving.
Roast peppers and red onions
Walking around the market is the best thing for inspiration and I often end up just using one or two ingredients that are at their best. The market in Arenzano had these delicious long green peppers, similar to the ones you find in Turkish shops and that look like giant chillies. There were also lovely bulbous new season red onions that are similar in shape to the long shallots that us chefs use for cooking.
Ingredients like this really need very little doing to them except a good grilling on a barbecue or ribbed griddle plate and a drizzling with olive oil.
If you're struggling to find either or both of these ingredients, then just quarter some green peppers and quarter or thickly slice some peeled red onions.
8-12 long red peppers
8-12 new season red onions, halved or whole if small
3-4tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat a barbecue or ribbed griddle and lightly brush with olive oil. Cook the peppers and onions for 4-5 minutes, seasoning them half-way through cooking and turning them a couple of times, until tender. Arrange on a serving dish and drizzle with more olive oil.
Trofie with pesto
Pesto turns up everywhere now, but the best traditionally comes from Liguria, as the basil on this part of the coast tends to be sweeter and more aromatic than elsewhere. I know it's sold in jars all over the place, but it's worth making your own, and then you can vary your recipe and even customise it with walnuts instead of pine nuts. If you want to make a large batch of pesto to last you through the winter, store it in small sterilised kilner jars and top it up with a little extra olive oil.
400-500g of trofie, trenette or similar pasta
For the pesto 60g butter
20g pine nuts, lightly toasted
50g fresh basil leaves and any soft stalks
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
A good pinch of sea salt
4tbsp freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan
100-120ml extra virgin olive oil (preferably a sweeter olive oil)
120g green or Borlotti beans
Put the pine nuts, basil, garlic and salt in a liquidiser and coarsely blend. Add the cheese and blend again briefly, then transfer to bowl. Cook the pasta and beans, drain and toss together with the pesto, spooning all into the middle of the buttered pasta.
The 5 Best wines from northern Italy
By Anthony Rose
2006 Roero Arneis, Malvira, Piemonte
From vineyards in the heart of the Roero region, this dry native Piemontese white from the arneis grape is fragrant with the scent of white flowers, and borders on the tropical with a refreshingly bitter aftertaste. A fine match for seafood.
£7.20-£7.99, Waitrose, Italian Continental Stores, Maidenhead (01628 770110), Define Food and Wines, Sandiway (01606 882101)
2006 Pinot Bianco, Castello di Spessa
Pinot bianco can be pretty ordinary, but this vivid dry white from Captiva proves the exception: aged on its grape lees for seven months, it shows apple and pear richness, a hint of liquorice, and a crisp blade of acidity.
£16.99-£17.99, HS Fine Wines, Cambridge (01223 234604), Philglas & Swiggot (020-7924 4494), Uncorked (020-7638 5988), Marc 1 Wines, Aldeburgh (01728 453977)
2005 Manna Cru, Alto Adige, Franz Haas
In the mountainous province of Bolzano, Franz Haas produces wines of great purity and intensity, such as this distinctive blend of riesling, traminer, chardonnay and sauvignon.
Around £16.95 per bottle, Andrew Chapman Fine Wines (01235 821539), Valvona & Crolla (0131 556 6066), Fortnum & Mason
2005 Dolcetto d'Alba 'Vilot', Ca'Viola, Piemonte
Selected from younger vines in Beppe Viola's south-facing Barturot vineyard in Piemonte's Montelupo, this refined, low-yielding dolcetto is made only in stainless steel in order to preserve the purity of its cherryish fruitiness. A moreishly drinkable style.
Around £13, Daylesford Organic, Glos (01608 731700), J and S Wines, Teddington (020-8943 8865), Field and Fawcett, York (01904 489073)
2001 Barbaresco Vanotu, Giorgio Pelissero
Giorgio Pelissero is one of the north-western Italian region's finest producers of Barbaresco and his nebbiolo grapes performed particularly well in the 2001 vintage to produce a classic Piemontese red with leathery aromas and a trace of vanilla on the one hand, and, on the other, a core of muscular, raspberry fruit with an elegant spine of tannin and acidity.
Around £39.99, Wimbledon Wine Cellars (020-8540 9979), Speck, London W11 (020-7229 7005)Reuse content