• Stir It Up: Sumptuous Italian fare from a Brit
     | May 10,2013
    Manos Chatzikonstantis Photo

    An Italian classic from a London-born cook: pasta with eggplant, anchovies, olives, capers and tomatoes. The recipe and photo are from “Recipes and Dreams From an Italian Life” by Tessa Kiros.

    Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Nigel Slater, Gordon Ramsay — all are British chefs who have made a splash on this side of the pond. A Brit who has flown under the radar is Tessa Kiros, who writes startlingly beautiful cookbooks full of recipes that inspire — and work. For some reason, Kiros has not quite made the leap to culinary icon status in the United States.

    Perhaps it’s because she’s a bit hard to pin down. Born in London to a Finnish mother and a Greek-Cypriot father, she moved with her family to South Africa at the age of 4. At 18, she set out to travel the world and wound up cooking professionally in London, Australia, Greece and Mexico. She met her husband on a trip to Italy and now lives in Tuscany with him and their two daughters.

    Perhaps it’s because she doesn’t have a television presence. Or maybe her popularity has failed to soar here because she can be a bit cloying. Her writing is frequently too whimsical (“the children’s laughter ... flutter(s) through my open window, falling over my shoulders like fairy dust”). Her relentless domesticity can be a tad wearing; in her latest tome, she advises readers on organizing linen and offers directions for making lavender water and sewing jasmine garlands. She has a habit of scattering flower petals on way too many dishes.

    But to cook her recipes is to forgive all. I still make the meringue cake from “Apples for Jam” (2006), the polenta and sausage dish from “Venezia” (2009) and the souvlaki from “Falling Cloudberries” (2004). Her latest effort, “Recipes and Dreams From an Italian Life,” hooked me immediately with Giovanna’s Spaghetti, which tastes as good as it looks. Her Milk and Mint Ice Cream is simplicity itself.

    While many of her recipes are traditional, some seem to be pure inventions: a grilled steak with rose-scented salt, salmon with a tarragon salsa verde, a soup of chickpeas and shrimp. For a domestic type, she has an adventurous streak, and she’s happy to invite us along for the ride.

    Giovanna’s Spaghetti

    Yield: 5 servings

    Salt, as needed

    5 tablespoons olive oil, plus a little extra, to serve

    1 cup red onion, chopped

    3½ ounces red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch chunks

    6¼ ounces eggplant, cut into ½-inch chunks

    4 anchovy fillets, chopped

    2 medium cloves garlic, chopped

    1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes

    2½ tablespoons chopped parsley

    1½ heaping tablespoons each of pitted green and black olives, chopped

    Pinch of chili powder

    Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

    1 tablespoon small capers in vinegar, drained

    14 ounces uncooked spaghetti

    1 heaping tablespoon marjoram leaves

    Freshly shredded Parmesan, to serve

    Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.

    Heat the oil in a skillet that’s large enough to hold your spaghetti after it is cooked. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until softened and light golden. Add the bell pepper and eggplant and stir until softened and a bit sticky. Add the anchovies and garlic, stirring briefly but well to make sure they simmer in the oil. When they smell good, add the tomatoes, parsley, olives and a little salt (remember the olives and anchovies are salty). Add the chili powder and a couple of grinds of pepper. Swish out the tomato can with a little water and pour it in. Cover and simmer for just under 10 minutes, until the sauce is loosely together but not too reduced. Add the capers when it is almost ready, then check the seasoning.

    While the mixture is simmering, cook the spaghetti in the boiling water until al dente. Scoop out the pasta with a spaghetti fork directly into the pan of sauce, along with some of the cooking water so it’s nice and loose but not too watered down. Tear up the marjoram leaves and toss well with the pasta. Divide among warm, wide pasta bowls. Serve hot with a small drizzle of olive oil, a scattering of Parmesan and an extra grind of pepper.

    Milk and Mint Ice Cream

    Yield: about 6 servings

    2 cups milk

    ½ cup sugar

    About 16 mint leaves

    1 cup heavy whipping cream

    Heat the milk and sugar in a large saucepan. Just as it is coming to a boil, toss in the mint and remove the pot from the heat. Leave it to cool completely; the mint will infuse its flavor as the mixture cools.

    Remove the mint leaves with a slotted spoon and cover and refrigerate until well chilled. Whisk in the heavy cream. Pour into an ice cream maker and process following the manufacturer’s directions.

    (Both recipes from “Recipes and Dreams From an Italian Life” by Tessa Kiros; Andrews McMeel, 2013)

    Marialisa Calta is a syndicated food writer who lives in Calais.

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