Valeria Necchio is the author of the cookbook Veneto, where she shares her cooking and travel adventures. Raised in the countryside of Venice, she is now based in the city of London. We talk to Valeria about her favourite places in Italy for food, her love for English green asparagus, and her go-to places for gelato in London.
What do you feel defines Italian cuisine?
Quality raw ingredients, seasonality, simple flavours and regional differences.
What do you feel are the most common misconceptions about Italian food?
That it’s always the same stuff – pizza, lasagne, spaghetti – from North to South. I will never stress this enough: every region has some amazing dishes and specialities that are unique to that area and are worth trying. Be adventurous and ask the locals!
Sfogliatelle, a type of pastry filled with ricotta cream and sweet citrus, that can be found in Naples. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food
In your opinion, which parts of Italy has the best food?
It would be really hard to pick one, because there are so very many regional differences, and every region has such great food! I am of course fond of the food of my origins – Venice and the surrounding countryside – with its abundance of seafood and its focus on great seasonal produce.
Yet, if I had to pick one, Sicily would be my second region of choice – their granite, fresh ricotta and range of great seafood is truly hard to beat.
Pane cunzato, a Sicilian sandwich made from a loaf of bread. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food
Freshly caught seafood in Sicily. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food
Panini in Sicily. Photo: Valeria Necchio/Life Love Food
What are some Venetian dishes you feel travellers can’t leave Venice without trying?
Squid ink risotto is a great classic, but also baccalà mantecato (a sort of cream made with stockfish), and sarde in saor are great examples of Venetian cuisine. The latter is a dish made of fried sardines topped with cooked slices of sweet and sour white onion, often punctuated with pine nuts and raisins. It is served as a cold starter or bite-size snack in many traditional restaurants or osterie in the city – it’s my absolute favourite.
As a Venetian, what do you feel most travellers miss out on when they are visiting Venice?
The city offers hidden gems to whoever dares to venture beyond the beaten path, without the fear of getting lost. The real charm of Venice is in its decadent beauty made of crumbling walls and empty small squares. Sure enough, the big attractions are worth seeing, but there is so much more to the city than St Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge.
Now that you are based in London, can you share with us your thoughts on the difference between British food and Italian food?
Italy, perhaps because of its location and its favourable climate, has a broader variety of raw ingredients available throughout the seasons. This leads to a cuisine that is varied and deeply seasonal, changing from one month to the other. Britain seems to have less of this variety – at least from a consumer perspective. It also has less regional differences. In this sense, a typical dish usually plays around the theme of ‘meat and two veg’.
That said, there is a great generation of British chefs who are changing the way people eat, and exploring new routes while making local ingredients shine.
Could you share with us some of the English food you fell in love with while you are living in London?
English green asparagus are just on a league of their own – the best asparagus I have ever tasted. There are also some truly outstanding cheese makers producing some fantastic artisan cheese, most of which can be found at Neal’s Yard Dairy.
Where are your favourite restaurants or cafés in London for Italian food?
I love Artusi in Peckham – straightforward, well-thought seasonal Italian food with great wines to pair. The River Cafe is, of course, an institution in the city, and the best place to treat yourself to a quintessential, simple-yet-sophisticated Italian meal.
Where are your favourite spots in London for a good gelato?
Where are your favourite food markets in London?
Spa Terminus in Bermondsey on a Saturday morning – the best food artisans in the area open their warehouses and sell their goods to a crown of food lovers. You can find cheese, bread, fruit and vegetables, beer, gin, honey, etc. It feels a bit like a treasure hunt.