Melanie Sykes - Joe Hurd

I’ll Start With a Pea Please Bob

A solitary pea is looking up at me from the rusty red ragu of the arancini’s molten core.

In my three years on planet earth, to date this has been the most unusual occurrence and will be a memory burned into my mind for eternity. That lone legume, lost amongst the minced veal, beef and pork of the deep fried rice snack made me sit up, metaphorically of course, according to my mum my posture had been excellent from about 12 months old. My embryonic mind started asking questions, How could this pea be here? why? Is its inclusion the reason each gobful tastes better than the frankly awesome Italian food I get back home from my funny little Calabrian grandpa?

I can remember lots about the food I ate growing up amongst Hull’s Anglo-Italian community, and the food we would have on our annual family trip back to the old country. That time we had the 12 course Easter Sunday dinner in Zia Ciccina’s house, the one where they served a huge pink platter of the most inviting looking Salsiccia Fresca, intertwined amongst heaps of smoky grilled vegetables rubbed over with some cousin or others own olive oil. I can remember diving straight in to one of these pork monsters and immediately spitting it all back onto my plate in juvenile disgust. Unlike the insipid shrink wrapped pink pulp supermarket sausages I was used to back home, these contained a whole new sensation, I think it was called flavour.

From these early trips back to the toe of Italy’s boot, my love for food and more importantly the time honoured acts, traditions and routines around the table that accompany it, have been my greatest passion in life. Wherever I am in the world, the simple act of sourcing, preparing and sharing a meal with friends and family has always been my greatest concern.

It’s no bold statement for me to suggest that 90% of my week is taken up with the task of plotting, planning, sourcing and developing anything edible. It always has been and after enough burnt offerings of pork, beef, lamb, the countless numbers of Pizzas, plates of pasta and loaves of bread, the gods have been kind and finally granted me a living from documenting this.

Food hasn’t always been kind to me. There were the morbidly obese years of university when my weight sky rocketed from a lean 11 stone to a Jabba the Hutt like 17 in the the space of 6 months. I’ve endured countless bouts of food poisoning at home and abroad, sometimes from some of the most delicious plates of food. Would I have forgone those dishes if id have known the days spent getting acquainted with the toilet bowl, probably not?

Melanie Sykes - Joe Hurd - Italian Cooking

I grew up in a family where every morning was firstly met with the sunrise, and secondly an inquisitive “what are we having for dinner tonight?”

Packups, much to my embarrassment, were never just the usual Warburton’s toasty loaf with a slice of billy bear ham sandwiched between, my mum would have packed out a ciabatta with mozzarella, tomato, oregano and olive oil. This may sound great now, even zeitgeist, but in Hull circa 1998, smelly social suicide let me tell you. In the midweek, owing to my dad being at sea and mum working full time at a primary school, my Italian Grandpa would drive his Cub 90 scooter to our with a helmet box packed with Calabrese treats. Home made aubergine parmigiana layered with parsley, breadcrumbs and eggs, stuffed red peppers, spinach from his allotment baked into pasta al forno and all other manner of veg in “Sotto Oglio” (under oil).

My favourite to this day was his scallora, a thin chicken broth, speckled with the pearly white flashes of arborio rice and deep, dark green spinach that had been well overcooked. He’d sprinkle it with parmesan cheese and me and my cousins would search for elusive strands of chicken in a quest to see who had come out trumps.

Simply put, food is and was the best of my family life. I associate all my happiest childhood memories sat around a table and as I’ve got older its thankfully continued. Yep, there have been breakups in restaurants, tears after the pasta course and the occasional fight, but at the end of it, there has always been something tasty to nibble on.

As I am writing this, I am back in my grandpas home in Calabria. My cousin is lying on a sunbed in the 40 degrees, the Tyrrenhean sea is right in front of me and a mosquito is sticking his teeth into my tattoo of St. Francis of Assisi, ironically patron saint of small animals.

Melanie Sykes - Italian Cooking

Sunday Lunch Menu

Every Sunday, no matter where I am or what work I have to do, I make time to have the full Italian Sunday Lunch

A little different to the English Sunday Lunch, we tend to drag ours out over about 4-5 hours, usually with about 4-5 courses broken up and PLENTY of beer, wine and grappa

Here is our usual:

Antipasti

Prosciutto Crudo (Parma Ham) fresh figs, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, mixed salami, maybe some buffalo mozzarella and tomato, olives and bread (we usually have either fresella, which is a hard double baked whole grain rusk, perfect for tomatoes or pane carasau, a thin crisp bread from Sardinia)

Primi

Fresh or dried spaghetti (for my pasta I use 150g semola flour, 150g “00” Farina, and 130g egg yolk. All can be bought from the supermarket) With a meat Ragu sauce or just plain tomato (1 onion, 2 cans of good quality San Marzano tomato, Extra virgin Olive oil, plenty of salt, a pinch of sugar and lots of basil at the end)

Secondi

We do the Southern Italian thing of cooking fresh sausage, bacon ribs, rolled up beef steak filled with cheese, raisin, pine nuts and parsley, in the above tomato sauce for 3-4 hours. The sauce goes with the pasta, and then we eat the slowly stewed meats. This get accompanied with either a green salad, some wilted down spinach with chili and garlic or maybe broccoli done the same way.

Dolci

We don’t have big sweet teeth.  If I make a pudding it might be Sicilian Cannoli (pastry tubes filled with sweet ricotta and orange blossom water) Otherwise, I tend to go to Borough market on a Saturday and get Italian peaches, apples, nectaries and grapes when in season, usually with a little more cheese.

Drinkings

Antipasti – Always a cold one! Favourites are Birra Moretti Regional (Toscana and Friuli rock) or a very cold Budweiser, I am a simple guy after all

Primi – White wine. Verdicchio always goes down well or sometimes a Calabrese Ciro

Secondi – Nero D’Avola, Red, Sicilian every time. Its rough, deep and cheap, a bit like me.

Dolci – More red, see above

Then its Grappa, whisky and out for the count.

Enjoy!

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Profile Photo Credit: Christopher Parkes