He was looking for someone who could develop a recipe for an unusual, yet delicious dessert, in a TV programme named 'Britain's Best Dishes'.
The programme focus is on representatives from different regions in the UK showcasing their best recipes.
I did explain, at the time, that I was no longer living in the North East of England but rather in the North of Italy.
Nevertheless, he asked me to send him a detailed, step by step recipe, with pictures, that he would put forward to the judges. If the recipe demonstrated enough skill, creativity and flavour, then they would ask me to participate in the programme.
I have to admit it felt bit weird at the time. I was excited at the prospect of cooking on National television but apprehensive at the idea of knowing that, because I wasn't living in the UK at the time, things would not be as transparent and honest as they should be. Something didn't feel right.
How would they justify the fact that one of Britain's Best Dishes was made by someone not residing in Britain at the time.
After much thought, I decided to accept the invitation.
I had just managed to cater a full birthday weekend for 30 that had been very successful, so I felt confident enough to produce a reasonable dessert on national television.
The cooking challenge appealled to me and I assumed they would explain my circumstances to the audience once on air.
The key, according to the ITV representative, was to demonstrate a knowledge of different cooking skills. Something complex yet incredibly tasty.
I searched for inspiration in the many amazing coffee shops in the centre of Modena.
It evoked many discussions with Northern Italians about the difference between the North and South of Italy.
Still, writing this post, nearly 2 years on, places me all the way back there...
A warm evening...
I'm sat surrounded by the people that one hour ago I was standing in front of, in a classroom, teaching them English. But it is them, now, who teach me.
There is passion in their voices. One nation on paper and yet many nations in reality.
We eat pizza. Freshly made in a Neapolitan restaurant. It's delicious.
I miss the food in Italy. Not because of the food itself but because it was a ritual that brought everyone together, crossed borders and any cultural divides.
As I searched for inspiration for my dessert, I thought of how popular cannoli is in the North of Italy, in spite of the fact that it is a Sicillian dessert.
It crossed all borders and I wished to honour it by taking it one step further, and giving it a British twist.
.I thought of the Summer in Britain and of Strawberries and Cream. If Cannoli can cross the borders in Italy, it can certainly cross the borders into the UK.
My recipe did end up impressing the TV judges and I did go on on the show but, to be honest with you, I hated the whole experience, and vowed never to go back. It felt too hypocritical.
They never even mentioned the fact I was living in Italy!
But looking back now, as I write this post-my last about my experiences in Italy-I have to say that, 2 years down the line, I will always miss the political discussions I had in Italy with my students.
The banter, the post-lesson pizza ritual and how they made me feel so welcomed.
I have learned so much from them and have taken so much with me that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
For me, there will always be One Italy. A nation of honest folk with dreams, ideals and a true passionate love for food.
So here is my homage to Italy and Britain, two nations united in one and my thanks to all the people in Italy who made the experience help me become the person I am today.
Buon Apettito e Grazie a Tutti!
Sicillian Strawberry and Cream Tart
250gs of plain flour
750gs of fresh strawberries
250gs of Italian Sheep’s Ricotta
250gs of fresh Mascarpone
275gs of sugar
15ml of Italian Dry Marsala Wine
2.50ml of fresh lemon juice
2.5gs of cinnamon
5gs of unsweetened cocoa powder
5gs of salt
125gs of unsalted butter
1 litre of vegetable oil
Add the butter to the flour.
Crumble the butter into the flour, until it's all incorporated
Add the cinnamon, cocoa powder, salt and ½ a tablespoon of sugar and mix well.
Next, add your liquids. The Marsala wine, 1.25 mls of lemon juice and one egg.
Mix it all very well and knead it to form a dough ball. Wrap it up in cling film and place it in the fridge for 2 hours.
In the meantime, prepare your filling. Slice 500gs of strawberries and measure 250gs of sugar.
Dissolve the sugar with half a cup of water in a pan over a medium heat.
Add the strawberries and 1.25mls of lemon juice to the sugar and cook on a medium heat for 20 minutes until the mixture become sirupy.
Set the mixture aside and allow it to cool at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes.
Then place the mixture, in a bowl, reserving a little of the juice aside, and add your ricotta and mascarpone to the strawberries.
Fold it all in very well-be careful not to mix too vigurously or th chees will split- until the cheeses have fully incorporated the strawberry syrup. Taste and add more sugar if necessary. It should taste like a very sweet version of strawberries and cream.
When the dough has rested in the fridge for 2 hours, remove it and roll it out until fairly thin.
Cut the dough into saucer size circles .Use some muffin ramekins to shape your dough, making sure that you brush some eggwash on the edges first. Wrap the dough around the outside of the ramekin.
It should look like this:
Heat your oil in a deep frying pan and when it has reached a high temperature, place your ramekin (wrapped in dough) in the oil-dough side down- and press it down with a spoon. Cook for 1 1/2 minutes.
Remove, allow it to cool slightly and remove the pastry from the ramekin. It should look golden and crispy.
Allow it to cool completely, pour some of your strawberry and cheeses mixture into it and drizzle with your strawberry syrup juice.
Garnish with some fresh strawberries and get stuck in!