I spent the last week of May on holiday in Italy, in and around Sorrento, with the other half. As is usual when two gastronomes go travelling together we spent pretty much the whole time eating, drinking, and wondering where to eat next - although we did manage to visit some incredible Roman ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum between meals. If you can't get to Italy, get to the related exhibition at the British Museum this summer: they're incredible sites despite being surrounded by fairly horrific bits of modern urban Italy.
If you ever go to Sorrento, go forearmed with the knowledge that it is an efficient, tightly-run machine for making money out of tourists, but underpinned with the natural affinity for food and instinct for hospitality that gives Italy its well-deserved reputation as a holiday destination. It is more expensive than other places in Italy, but that's only normal in a place where demand is high - and rightly so, because it is a beautiful place.
The only time we felt a bit ripped-off was on the first day when, weary from a cheapo red-eye Squeezyjet flight, we were daft enough to order bottled beer with our pizza, sitting outside, and paid €16 for a 750ml bottle of beer. Having said that the pizza was excellent, the beer was excellent, and later in the week we found the same beer for €12 in a shop (admittedly a touristy shop - and it was a limited edition local beer) so the markup wasn't outrageous.
Italy would be so much nicer if every move wasn't hindered by a badly-ridden scooter buzzing past at slightly-higher-than-sensible speed... there's a reason why they're called Wasps. Outdoor eating especially carries a hint of danger and a whiff of unburnt petrol from the exhaust of many a Vespa. The constant pull of waiters out front trying to pull you into their establishment is exhausting, too. Don't worry about being rude, just brush them off.
Despite all this, we did have some amazing food. The ice cream probably had the most consistent WOW factor but the savoury food was surprisingly good too.
Menus in Italy do make you realise how lucky we are in Britain to have our diversity of food; Italian food is ace, but you need a cigarette paper to insert the difference between one menu and another, needing other clues to tell you whether or not one will be better than another. I reckon wherever you live, you have a Chinese, an Indian, an Italian, a pub, maybe a Thai place, probably even somewhere Mexican and definitely a kebab shop within striking distance: wouldn't it be dull if you only had a bog-standard pub menu, with differing degrees of quality and price, to choose from? The mean quality is higher: you know that wherever you go, you're going to get food as good as the best local British pubs and you're unlikely to see anything as bad as standard Wetherspoons fare.
In the interests of impartial reporting I have to say we had one crap pizza the whole week, and it was really minging, but when the waiter came to clear the plates I explained how it was so horrible (someone had apparently poured a bottle of vinegar over it to put it out when it had caught fire) and he took it off the bill without a word of disagreement.
One of the best meals we had was a special nel Ristorante Pozzo, an unprepossessing place tucked away in the back streets. We liked it so much we went back, twice.
Here is my attempt to rip off their gnocchi stuffed with provolone cheese with courgette and shrimp.
Well... I'm not about to make stuffed gnocchi. So I'm just going to cook bought gnocchi and serve it up in provolone sauce with prawns and courgette.
Here's the provolone, as smuggled home from Italy in my suitcase.
And here are the prawns. I've got to be honest... I think prawns in their shell are tastier than those bought without, but only in the same way that I think £8.99 Taste The Difference Red Wine is nicer than £4.99 Sainsbury's Red Wine: worth it if you want to make the investment, but otherwise the cheaper version will do just fine.
There's also the investment of time: it takes forever to shell prawns so unless you're doing it for the love of doing it, don't bother.
Slice up a courgette, as fine as you like.
Make cheese sauce from the provolone, in the usual way. On this occasion I used all the provolone and a good chunk of cheddar from the fridge too: I wanted it cheeeeeeesy.
While the cheese sauce is thickening up, throw in the sliced courgette and the peeled prawns, cook the gnocchi (it only needs 4 minutes in boiling water, until it comes to the top) and add that too.
Serve. Eat. Ask your girlfriend, anxiously, if it's as good as what she had in Italy. Apparently the gnocchi was obviously inferior (obviously: I'm not in a position to learn to make provolone-stuffed gnocchi) but otherwise it was equal. Result!