Bocca di Lupo opened in Soho 15 years ago, but the regional Italian cuisines we celebrate there are timeless, narrating a storyline that goes back to the Romans, and even before. Here are three recipes that embody late autumn at both the restaurant and my table at home.
Shaved radish salad with pecorino and pomegranate
Sometimes I indulge in a regional romp through Italy, because I relish the diversity and esoteric quirks each landscape has to offer. But sometimes I just cook: this radish salad began its evolution during my earliest days as a trainee chef, and eventually grew into one of the landmarks of Bocca’s menu. I just love it, especially when radishes are at their juiciest, pomegranates at their fruitiest and deepest red, and truffles in season. On Bocca’s menu – where we celebrate Italy’s 20 regions – we keep a special place for dishes from the 21st region, our very own kitchen. Radishes dry out and celeriac discolours very quickly, so prepare the salad just before you serve it.
Prep 25 min
Serves 4 as a starter
For the salad
1 bunch breakfast radishes (ie, about 8 radishes)
½ black radish, or 1 large watermelon radish, 5cm green or white mooli, or kohlrabi – about 150g, in any case
About ¼ very small celeriac (50-60g)
50g pecorino romano
6 tbsp pomegranate seeds, from about ¼ pomegranate
A few sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked
For the dressing
1 tbsp white truffle oil (optional), or olive oil
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
The juice of ¼ lemon, or 2 extra tsp white balsamic
Salt and black pepper
To make the dressing, whisk the oils, vinegar and lemon in a bowl, then season to taste and whisk again.
Wash all the radishes, then slice very thinly, ideally on a mandoline. Use a potato peeler to peel the celeriac, then use the peeler to cut it and the pecorino into thin shavings. Toss these with the pomegranate and parsley, dress lightly and season to taste. Serve in haphazard but tall piles on individual plates, or in a bowl to share from.
Grilled radicchio and grilled polenta
Radicchio and polenta are a yin-yang on the grill: one is bittersweet, feather-light and astringent, the other comfortingly bland and hearty. This is a very Veneto combination, where polenta is popular as a third starch, after rice and pasta (in Lombardy, however, polenta is king as, in some ways, radicchio is in Veneto). Every significant town seems to have its own radicchio – the round chioggia from Chioggia; castelfranco from Castelfranco, treviso from Treviso, and so on. Grilled together, radicchio and polenta make a fine meal by themselves, and also make a brilliant side for grilled or braised meats or mushrooms. You could, of course, make your own polenta from scratch, using 200g polenta cooked in a litre of water with a teaspoon of salt until relatively dry and thick, then poured into a cling-film lined tray and chilled to set. But for a home cook, it’s much easier, not to mention quicker, to buy a block of ready-made, which is widely available in large supermarkets and Italian delis.
Prep 10 min
Cook 15 min
Serves 4 as a starter or side, 2 as a main
2 heads treviso, or round radicchio, halved lengthways
Salt and black pepper
1 x 500g block store-bought cooked polenta
2–3 tbsp olive oil
1½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
Blanch the treviso in boiling, extremely well-salted water for two minutes, then drain and leave cut side down on a clean cloth. This isn’t an essential step, but the blanching softens the lettuce a little, which I prefer to grilling it from raw.
Cut the polenta into 1cm-thick slabs. Heat a barbecue or griddle pan until smoking, but only over a medium heat (so, a medium flame or greyed embers). If using a barbecue, clean the grill bars, first with a wire brush, then with a wet cloth or the cut side of half an onion, then wipe them with oil. Oil the polenta and treviso, season both with salt, then griddle or grill for five to six minutes – do not move the polenta during this time, or the crust will stick to the griddle rather than to the polenta. When both have thick browned grill marks, carefully slide a spatula under the polenta in the direction of the bars, then flip. Do the same with the treviso.
Serve the grilled polenta and treviso with the balsamic vinegar drizzled over the lettuce.
Scaloppine with mushrooms and moscato
Sometimes things just happen. I once read of a chef on Instagram, Jim Fuller, saying it’s better to boil mushrooms before frying them, and thought he was bonkers. Anyway, I tested the theory with white wine, a half-drunk beast of a dry muscat from Terracina, and learned two things: first, that Jim was right, and second that mushrooms with moscato are a revelation. So here we have chicken scaloppine with mushrooms and muscat. It is a good thing.
Prep 10 min
Cook 45 min
500g closed cup mushrooms (white or chestnut), protruding parts of the stalks cut off
4 tbsp olive oil
500ml dry muscat, or dry riesling or gewürztraminer – the richer and more aromatic the better, so long as it is dry or pretty dry
Salt and black pepper
550g skinless chicken breasts (ie, 2-3), or 4 pheasant breasts, or boneless pork loin, or even veal escalopes, if you’re feeling fancy
3 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp chopped parsley
The trick here is to slice the meat very thinly, to brown it well without overcooking, and to balance the wine, water, butter and salt in the sauce. It seems impossible to make too much of this dish, but (and there is always a but) to make a lot does require frying lots of batches so as not to crowd the pan. A low oven will help keep the first ones warm while the later ones cook.
Cut the mushrooms into 3mm-thick slices, put these in a fairly wide pot or pan with half the oil and half the wine, and season with salt and pepper. Set the pan on a high heat and cook, stirring intermittently, for 10 minutes or so, until the mushrooms just start to sizzle; they will give out a lot of water before drying out again. Turn down the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, for three minutes more, until some of the mushrooms turn a lovely gold on one side.
Heat the oven to very low – 90C (70C fan) – and put a serving platter in it to warm up. Cut the chicken into broad, thin escalopes no more than 3mm thick at their widest part, then lay one flat on a board. Steady the upper side of the meat with your weaker hand, then use a long, sharp knife in your dominant hand to cut the thinnest escalopes you safely can, just under the steadying hand. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
Put your widest saute pan on a high heat. Season each leaf of chicken on both sides, then dust lightly with flour on both sides.
When the pan is hot, add the remaining two tablespoons of oil, then put in a single layer of escalopes – you will need to fry them in a few batches. As they start to fry, add a wee knob of butter, which will help brown the meat faster – your goal is to get a good amount of golden-brown colouring on both sides, but do not turn them until the first side is a rich golden brown.
When both sides of each escalope are browned, transfer them to the platter in the warm oven, then fry the next batch, adding a bit more butter as and when you need, but keeping back 40g for later.
When all the escalopes are cooked, return them all to the pan, along with the cooked mushrooms. Toss to distribute, then add the remaining wine and butter, and cook to a luscious, creamy sauce. Taste for seasoning, adding for sure a little pepper and maybe a touch more salt. All the alcohol should burn off, but if the sauce gets too thick, or threatens to split, add a touch of water.
Toss in the parsley and serve from the warmed platter with mashed potato and possibly sauteed spinach on the side.