Gracious, whatever is the Daily Spud coming to? Not only do we have Spud-Sunday-on-a-Monday again (oops, yes, too much out-and-abouting by the blogger-in-chief will do that) but what’s all of this pasta and pesto business? Never fear, I am still a spud lover at heart (as if you doubted it for a second) and I promise that the pasta, pesto and potatoes will all live quite happily together in the end.
I finally did it.
I threw out the three sad, barely alive basil plants that have been languishing on my windowsill for months. It was really the only course of action, having been, not six days ago, to see the lush green basil fields of Alessandria in Italy. Even in their prime, no basil grown on my windowsill was ever likely to compare.
Basil, the not-on-my-windowsill Italian kind
I did consider scooping up a truckload of Italian basil to bring back with me (and it would have been some fun trying to explain that one to the customs officers if I’d had), but, in the end, I settled for the fact that, until such time as I restock my windowsill with new basil plants, I can at least take myself to the nearest supermarket and buy a jar (or several) of pesto made from that Italian basil, and no passport required. Indeed, it was pesto and specifically Saclà – who produce a whopping 40 million jars of the stuff every year, or around 150,000 jars per day – which had brought me to northern Italy and the basil fields in the first place.
Basil, basil everywhere:
fields of basil on the Amateis farm in the province of Alessandria in northern Italy - the Amateis family have been supplying basil and other leaf vegetables to Saclà since the 1980s
I think that my name is on a list somewhere. Some Italian food mafia list.
And make no mistake, they are out to feed me.
First, Milano’s invite me to come and taste their new Francesco Mazzei range. All of it. Two starters, a pasta dish and three pizzas. In one sitting.
Let me tell you that the word full doesn’t remotely cover it.
Milano's Francesco Mazzei Pizzas:
Calabrese (sweet, chili-hot and sausagey, the crowd favourite), Mia Sofia (a thin-based pizza blanca that is all about the mushrooms) and Rustichella (which, let's face it, people will love for the pancetta)
Then, when I had finished digesting that, they sent their guys around with dough balls and pizza from the new Milano At Home range (eh, don’t mind if I do, grazie mille). Perhaps they’re out to change my spudly ways (after all, with the noble exception of gnocchi, Italians don’t seem to go in much for the whole potatoes thing). Or maybe they wondered if I had opinions to share, which, when it comes to food, I generally do.
In my capacity as a self-confessed potato anorak, I’m not entirely sure that I should admit to the following, but I see that I am going to have to come clean and reveal to the world (or to you lot, at least) the embarrassing truth.
The fact of the matter is that, until this weekend, I’d never, ever made gnocchi.
[cue momentary pause while this information sinks in]
As far as my potato repertoire went, lack of gnocchi experience had been sitting squarely in the glaring omissions category for the longest time. There was really nothing to do but face the fact and give these Italian potato dumplings a much belated whirl. And it seemed like the least I could do to make up for their much-delayed debut was to see to it that they would be washed down with some proper Italian wines. Following our most enjoyable French excursion, the guys at Curious Wines were happy to oblige with recommendations and samples for same. Things were looking good for the gnocchi launch.
There you are my little dumpling