In print November 2018
This summer we had a trip to my favourite southern Italian town, Amalfi. The drive along La Costa Amalfitana is one of nature’s miracles with UNESCO World heritage status. The Italian bus drivers who snake you up and down and through Sorrento down to Ravello must be part time stunt men for Mission Impossible, you can lose pounds in nerves sweats just standing on the bus as you get to your destination. Thousands of lemon trees planted over the last century to stop the precarious cliffs from crumbling into the Mediterranean Sea below. A sustainable triumph in agricultural engineering and an abundance of one of the best citrus fruits in the world as a by-product. The Italians are good at making things practical, beautiful and delicious edible.
If you’ve never been to Amalfi it really is a gem. You can arrive by boat, if your yacht is not moored in Monaco for the season or by road. Either takes you into the medieval town of narrow streets all drawing you in with smells of coffee and sfogliatelle (a traditional ricotta filled pastry), vibrant hand painted artisan pottery and crisp white linen dresses and strappy leather sandals that you know you don’t need but can’t resist.
My favourite restaurant in Italy is in Amalfi. Our first visited over 20 years ago and it’s still perfect in every way. Da Gemma. Classic southern Italian dishes. Loads of fresh seafood that will cost you the same as your mooring fee in Monaco and home made pasta to take you to the angels.
Sitting on the tiny terrace of the restaurant you can hear the bells of the Duomo St Andrea (St Andrew). A picture postcard 11th century cathedral, bell tower and convent.
As an Italian Scot it has an extra special place in our hearts. The body of our very own Patron Saint Andrew is buried here. That Italian Scots connection is everywhere. And in 1879 the archbishop of Amalfi gifted the shoulder blade of St Andrew to St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh. Not sure Andrew was happy about that one but if I was him I’d be very happy to have a little bit of me in Scotland and a little bit in Amalfi for eternity.
(Relics of St Andrew also exist in Greece and Poland – he’s a lucky man)
scotch barley & bean broth with almond pesto
This traditional barley and vegetable soup has been made for thousands of years. Who knows maybe the Romans brought it over and St Andrew just gave it its place as one of our national favourites. I add a bit of our Italian heritage which I’m sure St Andrew would approve of.
100g cannellini beans
100g red kidney beans
100g split green peas
100g pearl barley
2 litres mutton stock orvegetable stock
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 baby turnips, finely chopped
2 leeks, finely chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
200g curly kale, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground blackpepper
- The day before, put the cannellini beans, red kidney beans and split peasin a large bowl and cover with cold water. Leave to soak overnight.
- The next day, rinse in fresh water and put in a pan. Add the barley and cold water to cover. Bring to the boil.
- Meanwhile, put the stock in a large pan over a medium heat.
- Drain the beans, peas and barley and add to the hot stock.
- Add the carrot, turnips, leeks and onions and simmer for 1 hour until the beans are tender.
- Add the kale and cook for 15 minutes more until it has disintegrated and the soup is thick. The kale adds the most wonderful colour and really brings the soup to life.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
100g whole blanched almonds
4-6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 small garlic cloves
25g basil leaves
25g flat-leaf parsley leaves
zest of 1⁄2 unwaxed lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
To transform the character of this broth, add a tablespoon of thisalmond pesto and serve it with some garlic toast. It’s a Decemberholiday served up in a bowl.
- Preheat the oven to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4.
- Put the almonds on a baking trayand toast in the preheated oven until golden but not brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
- Put the almonds, olive oil and rapeseed oil in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
- Add the garlic, basil, parsley and lemon zest, and blend again.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
The pesto can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week. Cover with a little extra oil to stop it oxidizing.