Britain's enthusiasm for Italian cuisine has made celebrities out of chefs such as Antonio Carluccio and Giorgio Locatelli, who have travelled to these shores in the hope of making a modest living. But now it seems that British cuisine has something to offer the Italians, too.
In what must constitute one of the year's more unexpected new exports, some of Yorkshire's finest foods are proving a hit in Italy courtesy of Giorgio Alessio, a Piedmontese chef who runs the celebrated Lanterna restaurant at Scarborough.
Alessio's newly published book, White Truffle Yorkshire Pudding, blends the best of northern Italy with delights such as Yorkshire pudding, black pudding and Scarborough winkles, and it is selling strongly amongst Italians, whose notoriously parochial approach to cuisine makes McDonald's the main source of foreign food for many.
The book, which has won plaudits in this country from the Slow Food movement and the celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson, might never have crossed the Italians' line of vision had Alessio not taken his ideas to the Italian national truffle fair in October.
Food writers were intrigued and Alessio soon found himself in the national spotlight. "This is a refined cookery book from Lanterna, the English temple of Italian cuisine," said the Italian national newspaper La Stampa. Alessio, from the Piedmontese town of Moncalvo, then found himself on national television discussing his work with Gerry Scotti, the presenter known for his passion for good food.
The book's many Anglo-Italian combinations include pasta with winkles, Yorkshire pudding stuffed with Italian cured meat, and sanguinaccio con cipole (black pudding with onions). Another which Alessio enjoys is tripe, though for this one the product is imported. (He considers the Italian tripe firmer and meatier than the British equivalent, which he says is too jelly-like because it is washed too many times.) He fries (rather than boils) the tripe, seasons it with garlic and parsley and serves it in a tomato-based sauce with bread and rosemary garnish.
The success of the book amongst Italians is particularly unexpected because it is printed only in English. Sales there are through the internet. But Alessio said that the Italians' appreciation of fresh food may have played a part. "I source most of my ingredients locally and Yorkshire has the most fabulous fresh produce, both from the sea and land," he said. "I wanted show the Italian and Piedmontese way of cooking, with Scarborough in the middle, because I live here and can buy wonderful prime local products, which are sometimes taken for granted. There are odd ingredients which aren't local, like truffles, but you can still buy them from specialist shops."
Alessio has been running La Lanterna for 30 years at Scarborough and his regulars know that one of his main Italian philosophies on food is that children should be educated on the subject. "Children should know more about ... where it comes from, and the importance of good food. When children are given salty, convenience foods, like crisps, at an early age they can quickly lose their palate," he said. "In Italy, the only time you see anybody eating crisps is with an aperitivi, certainly not as part of a child's packed lunch box. Parents should lead by example."
Alessio mixes his work with speaking engagements to some of the women of Yorkshire, whom he considers vital to maintaining the supply of ingredients which are vital to his new-found success in Italy. "I want to speak particularly to the older ladies to safeguard the traditional Yorkshire cuisine before it is forgotten," he said. "I live in a town where you can get fish fresh from the sea and meat from the land, but where people go to supermarkets to buy fish from Thailand."
Dishes that unite the flavours of two nations
* STUFATO DI PESCE DI SCARBOROUGH (SCARBOROUGH FISH STEW)
Alessio is a regular at the Scarborough fish market, at which cod, hake and other fish from the North Sea are brought in. For the fish stew dish, these are cooked in onions, garlic, tomato and herbs. The dish uses some of the fish to be bought in Scarborough during the summer months, Alessio says.
* EGG PASTA WITH YORKSHIRE WINKLES IN SAUCE (ABOVE)
Winkles are delicious eaten with hot garlic butter or dipped in vinegar, but Alessio makes an Italian dish out of them by serving them with pasta. This dish is best made with spaghetti, he says.
* BLACK PUDDING WITH ONIONS ON POLENTA
"A very typical northern Italian recipe which reminds me of home," says Alessio. Polenta, made of corn meal, is the staple food of northern Italy. Here it accompanies a quintessential Yorkshire dish.Reuse content