Journalist. Cook. Author.
Tishani Doshi is half-Welsh and half-South Indian. The novelist and poet added another mix to her heritage when she married her Italian husband, journalist and author, Carlo Pizzati. She spends her time writing and travelling between the UK, Italy and India, but is especially happy when she is by a body of water – be it the Bay of Bengal that laps against her beach house in Tamil Nadu or the Tyrrhenian sea in Positano. But it’s the latter where she recalls eating the most faultless plate of pasta. “And I should know” she quips, “I have eaten a lot of pasta.”
You can understand the appeal of simple Italian cookery for someone like Doshi, who admits the kitchen is not her natural habitat. “As a child I avoided the kitchen unless someone needed a cake pan licked clean. As an adult I’ve begun enjoying time in the kitchen, although my focus remains on hearty one-pot meals. Still I love it slightly more when someone else is doing the cooking.”
Artists and writers - including Andy Warhol, John Steinbeck and Coco Chanel - have long been drawn to Positano, like moths to a flame. Much like their accomplished predecessors, Tishani and Carlo spent a summer there – Aperol spritz in hand, drowsing in the sun, gazing out over the iridescent turquoise sea, contemplating life and lunch.
“We made friends with a group of English people staying nearby at an Italian friend’s house,” Tishani says. “We would go over to play parlour games with them. It was all very sweet. One day, one of them suggested we go for lunch to Da Adolfo, which is no more than a casual seaside shack on Laurito beach a 10-minute boat ride away from Positano.”
She fell for the restaurant immediately. There is nothing not to love about a place that serves chilled white wine with slices of local peaches floating in it with which to toast the magnificent ocean view. Then there was that pasta, which was enough to tease the hedonist out of even the most tightly buttoned-up out-of-towner.
“The pasta itself was some long, flat, obscure variety only available regionally. It had the most terrific chew and had been tossed in a sunshine-infused sauce made with lemons, fresh herbs, a carefree amount of salty cheese and the most beautiful courgette blossoms. It was shockingly simple, but all the more stunning for it,” enthuses Tishani.
While I can’t recreate the view, I have reimagined her fantasy dish. I fried the courgette flowers till crisp to added a layer of texture, while still keeping the dish relatively unfussy. Even the most celebrated Italian dishes require just a few ingredients of superior quality rather than culinary genius to be utterly squisito.
12 courgette flowers
75ml extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Finely-grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
½ teaspoon of chilli flakes
1 teaspoon dried mint
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
400g dried fettuccine
Large handful of freshly torn mint leaves
75g finely grated pecorino, plus extra to serve
Carefully pull the flowers away from the baby courgettes and slice in half lengthways. Cut the courgettes into thin translucent rounds and set aside.
Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat. Fry the courgette flowers in it for two minutes or until they have crisped up. Remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper. Take the pan off the heat, adding the garlic, chilli, lemon zest and dried mint to the remaining oil inside. Set aside to infuse and when cool, add lemon juice and season.
In the meantime, cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water according to the packet instructions. Drain when ready, reserving three tablespoons of the pasta water. Return the pasta and pasta water to the pan and pour over the infused oil. Add the courgettes, fried flowers, fresh mint and pecorino and toss well. Serve immediately with the extra grated pecorino.