- Danilo Cortellini, head chef at the Italian Embassy in London and MasterChef: The Professionals finalist, discusses the Italian deli scene in London
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As head chef of the Italian Embassy, I’m extremely busy and don’t get that much opportunity to shop for myself or my family. However, when I do have free time in between cooking at important events at the Embassy and running my own catering company, I tend to source my Italian products at well-established Italian delis that stock gourmet artisanal ingredients like Prezzemolo & Vitale (now on King’s Road in Chelsea, but was previously at the Mercato Metropolitano food market in South London), and the Bellavita shop on Dock Street in Whitechapel. Prezzemolo & Vitale have a great trofie pasta which is useful for making quick and convenient pesto dishes after a long day.
As a shopper, going to an independent retailer or food market gives you the opportunity to try products that are unique, and in most cases that means artisanal products from smaller-scale operations. The love and care that a producer puts into these products really comes through with the taste and quality.
Whenever I’m not working I rely on simple, regional recipes. In my eyes, the simpler the food the better – so that the ingredients can’t hide. One product that I really enjoy using is chickpeas, and I pick up chickpea flour from Prezzemolo & Vitale and use it to make a super easy recipe called Farinata, found in my cookbook 4 Grosvenor Square. It is traditionally from the Liguria region, where Genoa is. It is a sort of thin pie, like a flat focaccia, and is made with chickpea flour, water, extra virgin olive oil, rosemary and salt – it’s a great gluten-free alternative to bread.
I recently found out that there is a production of Mozzarella and fresh Ricotta right in the middle of Battersea that is run by an Italian company aimed at the hospitality sector. If you are an Italian living in London, you can’t help but feel like this is a fantastic idea – my ravioli has never tasted better. My mission is to now convince them to open a retail shop!