I first travelled to Italy when I was 12. My family won four flights at our local shopping centre, and swapped the annual camping trip by the beach in Australia for a European adventure that meant a couple of weeks off school. We were thrilled.
We touched down in Rome and drove north, up the furiously fast motorway, excited to catch glimpses of vineyards, rolling hills and tiny towns. After being held up by a wild boar who sat stubbornly on the driveway, we settled into a house in a tiny Tuscan village. We spent the week dipping in and out of the pool, exploring the local markets, and cooking feasts to enjoy around our wooden dining table. I loved it, and felt immediately at home.
Happily, I have been back since, for a wedding in Chieti, a summer road trip through Bologna, Florence, Rome and the Cinque Terra, and a week spent in Lucca with family. With each visit, I have focused the bulk of my time, energy and budget on the food – pasta that made me desperate to make my own, tomatoes that burst with the taste of summer, pastry filled with wonderfully fragrant custard, peppery olive oil and the best ice-cream in the world. Next year, I will return for my mum’s 60th, and my 30th. It’s the only place I can imagine us celebrating together.
After a chance discovery at the London Review Bookshop last year, I spent the autumn reading my way through Ferrante’s extraordinary Neapolitan novels. Though I have yet to visit Naples, the vivid picture of Italy that Ferrante draws is an extraordinary one. This feast, then, is in response to that picture. It is a feast I hope Elena and Lila would enjoy, and a collection of some of my favourite Italian dishes.
I do hope you’ll join us.