It’s the start of the summer holidays, and a fitting moment to start our escapist mini-series that will whisk you to sunnier shores. Take a holiday to Italy this week, wherever you are, with Letitia Clark’s guide to La Dolce Vita:
In 2017 I packed up a single suitcase and left London for Sardinia. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I needed to get out of the city, and after 10 years in and out of work in hospitality I’d had enough. I craved the sun, the sea and good, simple food. I met a Sardinian chef, Luca, who became my partner in love as well as work and we decided to take the plunge and to move back to his home. Three years, one pandemic, one Brexit and one book later and here I am, now single, but still living La Dolce Vita (more or less) in Sardinia.
I first fell for Italy way back in 2009, when I studied History of Art in Venice. Over the years the love, like all types of love, has changed, been shaped by experiences good and bad, but ultimately endured. Most importantly it has been captured in my first cookbook, Bitter Honey, which is a love letter to the island of Sardinia and the simple joys of Italian food.
What with a global pandemic, many people’s holidays to Italy this year have been cancelled, so I thought it would be a good thing to provide a slice of La Dolce Vita for you to enjoy from your own home: whether it take the form of a delicious pasta dish, a classic film, or a nearby café where you can pretend you’re in Italy.
‘To make time to eat as Italians do is to share in their inexhaustible gift for making art out of life’ Marcella Hazan.
One of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite writers on Italian food. This sums up not just the Italian attitude to food, but to life in general. Life is made into art. Sitting in a piazza sipping an aperitivo, strolling leisurely through sun-dappled streets lazily licking a gelato: the beauty of Italy is the exquisite ‘art’ in these everyday moments. The time taken to enjoy everyday pleasures such as eating is something which I talk a lot about in Bitter Honey.
I’m currently obsessed with Sicilian ceramic earrings, specifically those from Etna Bijoux, who you can find on Etsy.
Food and Drink
When I lived in Hackney Campania & Jones was a favourite haunt, and even now I miss it. It feels more Italian than many places in Italy. The River Café, though expensive, is a classic and a London institution. The food is reliably delicious, and the Negroni’s good and strong. Former River Café chef, Tim Siadatan went on to create Trullo, a wonderful local London restaurant which feels simultaneously very London and very Italian. It was one of the only UK Italian restaurants Luca deemed acceptable. Stefano Vallebona, a good friend from Sardinia, runs the lovely Vallebona. They have both a warehouse in Earlsfield and an online delivery service. They stock many high-quality Sardinian ingredients, and if you drop by Stefano will shower you with samples and drinks. He is incredibly generous and very knowledgeable, and also one of the best cooks I’ve ever met. Kitty Travers of La Grotta Ices makes English-style gelato in a range of enticing flavours. The best ice cream/gelato in London, without exception. And Natoora delivers the best of the Milan markets all over the UK. Lemons and citrus galore.
Italy on Screen
My latest discovery is The Big Night, featuring a young, and very sexy Stanley Tucci. Though American, and featuring some really dubious Italian accents, it is sad, funny and charming, and chronicles the trials of two Italian brothers who run a traditional trattoria in America.
Since moving here I’ve read nothing but literature about Italy, so I have a million recommendations. Tim Parks chronicles everyday life with warmth, wit and charm, whilst Matthew Fort’s food writing around Sicily and the islands is a good read. I have also enjoyed Eric Newby’s A Small Place in Italy. Food-wise, you can’t go wrong with anything by Rachel Roddy, Marcella Hazan, or Sophia Loren, all of whom write about Italy and Italian food with great passion and insight.
Songs and Radio
Volare by Domenica Modugno must have been used in a thousand films about Italy but, cliché or not, it still has infinite charm. The classic book by Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard, was recently read on Radio 4. It makes great listening.
It has to be a Campari spritz, or for me, a simple Campari soda. I love the premix bottles, and I collect them to use as vases and many other things. Drink over ice with a vivid slice of orange and some salty green olives or crisps. Heaven.
These three recipes taken from Bitter Honey are just right for now. Buon Appetito.
Letitia Clark is an illustrator, writer and cook. Her first cook book Bitter Honey: Recipes and Stories from the Island of Sardinia was published on 30 April 2020, £26 from amazon.co.uk. Find her work on her website and follow @letitia_ann_clark.