Nick Risidi, of Amici Ristorante in East Parade, Keighley, revisits his Italian roots for another taste of the Mediterranean

THE origin of Italian cuisine is a fascinating one.

The beginnings of the dishes that we know and love today are said to date back to Roman times. The Roman Empire was vast, stretching across the Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa. As the Roman Empire conquered different areas, they picked up different ingredients to use in their cooking, which have shaped the cuisine over the years.

There are staple ingredients that have been used since the beginning and are still used today, such as wine, olive oil, bread, vegetables, legumes and cheeses. Pasta, of course, one of the main ingredients that we still use today, is traced back to when the Etruscans conquered Rome in 800BC. Food historians have identified a mural, found in an Etruscan tomb, which depicts the making of pasta. It depicts cooks mixing flour with water, using tools such as a rolling pin and a cutting machine to prepare it. Another early influence on pasta is said to come from the Greeks, who introduced makrios, an early form of short pasta, thought to be a predecessor of macaroni.

In the Middle Ages, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the region was conquered by many different groups all of which brought their own cuisines and flavours to the country. Religions also started to shape the diets of different groups, especially around a particular day, like religious holidays.

The Renaissance greatly altered cuisine in Italy, seeing more influence coming in from neighbouring European countries. Food started to become more than just something to consume or trade, it was a source of enjoyment and a way to socialise, and the wealthy started staffing their kitchens with professional chefs. It was during this time that the Spanish, who were ruling Naples, introduced tomatoes into Italian cuisine – something that is now a staple in Italian cooking. Other foods introduced at this time include vegetables like courgettes, beans, corn and peppers, as well as things like chocolate, which is also very common in Italian desserts.

The reason why, these days, Italian recipes still differ from region to region, is because of the way history has shaped the country. When Italy unified, in the mid-19th century, the distinct flavours of the different geographical regions of the peninsula formed Italian cuisine as we know it. And since then, this wonderful and varied idea of Italian cuisine has itself been exported to other countries, influencing what is eaten there. The USA, for example, has areas with strong Italian influences.

Without a doubt, no matter where the different elements came from, pasta is a much-loved dish in Italy and around the world. Italians do it well, with so much variety that there is almost always a pasta dish to please everyone.

This week I will be sharing with you a recipe for a creamy vegetable pasta dish, made with spring vegetables and fettuccine. Quick, easy and delicious. Perfect for a spring evening.



Serves 4


350g spaghetti

700g tinned tomatoes

200g tuna in oil, drained

2 tablespoons capers

2 cloves garlic

1 pinch chilli flakes

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Fresh parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

120ml white wine

Parmesan cheese

Salt and black pepper


1. Heat the extra virgin olive oil over a medium heat in a large pan. First, add the capers to the hot oil. To chop your clove of garlic, peel away the skin, crush with the flat side of a knife and then chop the garlic horizontally and then vertically until it is in small pieces. Add the garlic to the pan and cook the contents for one minute.

2. Add the dried oregano and the chilli flakes. Pour in the white wine and cook until the mixture reduces, with around 3 tablespoons of liquid remaining. This should take 2-4 minutes.

3. Stir the tinned tomatoes into the pan and leave to simmer. Season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Reduce the cooking temperature to a medium heat and simmer for around 10 minutes.

4. Stir the drained tuna along with one tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley into the sauce. Use a wooden spoon to break up the tuna, allowing even distribution throughout the sauce. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to simmer for a further 10 minutes.

5. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, adding a little salt to the water. Cook your pasta in accordance with the cooking time suggested on the packet, cooking for the maximum amount of time if you like your pasta soft, or for slightly less time if you prefer your pasta al dente. Once your pasta is cooked, drain well and return to the pan it cooked in.

6. Once both the pasta and the sauce are cooked, pour the tomato sauce over the pasta, stirring to combine the two thoroughly. Once mixed, cover the pan and leave the pasta to stand for 3 minutes before serving. To serve, spoon the pasta into bowls and finish off with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and a little chopped fresh parsley. Flavour with extra salt and pepper to taste and enjoy immediately.