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My Favourites/ Summer


My blog has suffered from severe neglect for over a year. Only now do I feel might actually have something to say that might be remotely interesting to anyone other than me and possibly Edoardo, my partner. Even he switches off sometimes, for which I don’t remotely blame him.

The last year has been rather difficult, frequently tedious but sometimes wonderful. Despite the wonderful bits, I stopped my blog for a variety of reasons; I hadn’t quite clarified its purpose or what I wanted to say – indeed if I actually had anything to say at all.

I then found myself living in northern Italy in Edoardo’s apartment in a small Commune just south of Milan. Because an EU directive requires a citizen from another member state to register with their local Comune if they intend to stay longer than three months, I had to do just that: register with my Comune. (Interestingly, successive British Governments have elected not invoke this directive but that is a whole other story).

Now, before you all throw up your hands and gloomily predict that I am going to tell a tale of woe about the horrendous experience of dealing with Italian bureaucracy, stop right there. The people I dealt with were hands down amongst the kindest and most competent people I have encountered in any bureaucratic situation. They tolerated my faltering Italian, were slightly bemused by anyone wanting to come to this corner of Lombardy and were unstintingly helpful and courteous.

So, inspire of having emerged unscathed from my encounters with Italian bureaucracy, I couldn’t feel any enthusiasm for continuing with a blog that was mainly predicated on living and cooking in the UK, with the ingredients available there. I was having to learn how to shop, cook and eat in a whole new way, and that is hugely different to doing it for most of the year, than it is for a few weeks a year.

So there I was pottering along with Twitter and Instagram, plus continuing my interest in and support for Slow Food, but apart from looking forward to participating in Slow Food’s Cheese19 at Bra, Piedmont in September, I couldn’t raise much enthusiasm for anything. Not writing anything longer than an Instagram post had calcified me in some way.

It is said that people and circumstances are sent into your life for a purpose. I guess the trick is recognising them when they happen along. I was about to toddle off to a fabulous annual food event for the third year running, but if you feel you are at the bottom of a well, even the prospect of the terrific Turin Epicurean Capital convention at which there would be marvellous food writers and producers doesn’t give Stella her groove back.

Having said that, I was going to Turin, the city I love most in the world (and I have travelled extensively so have much to compare it with), so yes, I was thinking it would be a good trip. Particularly good as it would be preceded by three days of wine tasting in the Langhe region of Piedmont. And we all now about the truffles of Piedmont but how many of us have the privilege of seeing a young dog being trained?

What I had not anticipated was five specific people I met on the Langhe trip and the effect they had on me, individually and a group. Remarkably, I already knew four of them and I can’t really explain how the group and individual dynamic restored me, but for sure, during that trip I got my mojo back. I have analysed the thing to death but haven’t arrived at a conclusion – what or who was it that worked its magic on me? The three relaxed every-detail-taken-care-of days in the Langhe? Seeing the sheer hard work and hours put in by two of them – bloggers in the USA with big followings – to keep their social media feeds going? The determination of a Torinese colleague to keep her food business going despite health issues? Was it the two Italian guys who started a Slow Food accredited gelateria in Leicester and apart from making delicious gelato, are achieving international recognition and acclaim, despite their worries about the impact of Brexit?

Heaven knows what it was but I do know for sure that something clicked inside my head and my heart; I realised that I missed the act of writing and instead of bemoaning my inactivity, realised too that I have much to be grateful for and probably quite bit to write about. The realisation that it was me, not circumstance, that had put down my pen for a year or more was not easy to face, but now I know that a) I need to write like a plant needs rain and b) I know what I want to write about. I need too, to devote time to this like it’s a corporate job and stop being a dilettante.

I’ll still be the Watchful Cook  as quality, cost and conscience will still be my guiding principles, and lord knows I need to watch my language (in terms of improving my Italian, I mean). I’ll write about learning to live in Italy, studying for my Master of Cheese qualifications (probably just lots of cheese, to be honest), the food for which I shop, then cook and eat, the wine I drink, the places I go, the people I meet and inevitably the mistakes I make as I find myself getting to grips with living in Italy.

PS The group photo is courtesy of the lovely Antonio de Vecchi, who is the happy chap on the right at the back – if you are in or near Leicester, do visit It’s the real deal!

The fantastic people in this picture are:

L – R back row: Daniele Taverna (@cereaneh), Christina Conte (@christinascucina), Antonio de Vecchi (@antonio_de_vecchi)

L – R front row: me, Edoardo, Cynthia McCloud Woodman (@whatagirleats), Benedetta Oggero (@miss_bee_foods)

Spring/ Summer/ Suppers, Dinners & Main Courses


Glorious Vitello Tonnato

I’ll be honest and say that when I first heard about this dish, I wasn’t at all sure that it would be to my taste. Veal and tuna together? Hmm, didn’t sound my kind of combination. If I had not tried it, however, I would have missed out on one of Piedmont’s true glories. I am also very glad that I waited until I was actually in Piedmont to try it. Turin, to be precise and frankly if you can’t find a superb, authentic vitello tonnato there, then something has gone badly wrong with the world. Fortunately, I did find one at the terrific which pointed me in the right direction when it came to finding an authentic recipe and tweaking it to our taste, and on advice from our Piedmontese friends.

It is true to say that there is still some reluctance to eat veal in the UK. Whilst I absolutely would not eat crate reared veal, free range rose veal is one of life’s true delights. And to be brutally frank, if you eat dairy, you are contributing to the creation of bull calves as a by-product. Sorry to be obvious but to lactate, a cow must be pregnant and deliver a calf. A heifer calf will become a dairy cow but a poor little bull calf, in industrial dairy production, faces a brutally short existence. We are talking hours. So to square with my conscience, all our dairy produce – milk, cream, yogurt, cheese – comes from high welfare farms (usually organic) that then rear the bull calves compassionately for rose veal. If you eat cheese, you should eat veal.

A good vitello tonnato also requires good tuna. It doesn’t have to be fresh and in fact I have never seen an Italian recipe that calls for it. I use Brindisa Ortiz Bonito Tuna Fillets which is line caught in the Bay of Biscay and comes in good size chunks which are also fabulous in other recipes. The flavour is superb and although it can be a bit tricky to track down, Ocado stock it and I’ve seen it in independent food stores too. Please don’t use that tinned tuna that strongly resembles cat food in looks, texture and smell. You know the stuff I’m talking about.

Another major component that I am going to be a tad militant about is the mayonnaise. It must be homemade with a mild olive oil and good eggs. That calf and that fish did not die for you to insult it with industrially made “mayonnaise”; the UK’s best selling brand is made with – amongst other things – rapeseed oil, calcium disodium and paprika extract. I don’t want to eat that in an egg mayonnaise sandwich, let alone vitello tonnato.

You will also need a butcher, one who knows his onions and can supply humanely reared rose veal and who knows how to cut and tie it. I will be astonished if you can find a supermarket that can do this, so do your best to either find a local butcher or use an on-line supplier. If you can’t do either of these things, make something else.

This dish, done properly, is a significant financial commitment so do it right, even if you only make it once a year! My version owes a huge debt to the late, great Marcella Hazan and I‘ve tweaked it on advice from Piedmont friends.

Vitello Tonnato

Print Recipe
Serves: 6 - 8 Cooking Time: Including all prep time, 3 hours


  • For me, this is two day recipe. Day One I make the mayo and cook the veal. You don’t need me to tell you how to make mayo but can I please, however, make a plea that you use olive oil and ONLY olive oil. I occasionally make mayonnaise with sunflower oil but never for this recipe. Day Two I make the tuna sauce and put the dish together
  • Day One
  • Your favourite home made mayonnaise recipe made with 2 egg yolks, 300ml olive oil and two tablespoons or so of fresh lemon juice
  • The mayo needs to be a tad on the sharp side to cope with the other flavours that will mingle with it, so don’t be afraid to use a little more than you might otherwise
  • And for the veal 900g - 1.25kg lean boneless veal tied firmly into a roll
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2 sticks of celery, minus leaves
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 sprigs parsley, including the stalks where so much of the flavour resides
  • 2 bayleaves
  • Day Two
  • The mayo you made yesterday
  • The veal joint you cooked yesterday
  • 200g tinned Italian or Spanish mediterranean tuna
  • 5 flat anchovy fillets, preferably in olive oil and patted dry (if they are salted, rinse them throughly in cold water)
  • 300ml mild olive oil
  • 3 - 4 tbsp lemon juice
  • 4 tbsp capers, rinsed



Day One


Choose a flameproof pot just big enough to contain the veal; I use an ancient oval Le Creuset pot


Put in the veal, carrots, celery, onion, parsley and bayleaves and just cover with cold water


Now take out the veal and put it to one side (no, I’m serious)


Bring the water to the boil and add the meat again


Bring the contents of the pot to just under the boil, cover the pot and reduce to a barely perceptible simmer


At the point, I have found that none of the burners on my hob allow the low simmer I need for this so I do use a reducer plate which I now don’t know how I lived without


Simmer for about two hours, using your judgement if it needs a bit more or less - don’t wander off and have a nap while this is cooking. It does need you to keep an eye on it and it is way too high an investment to allow to simmer dry.


When the meat is cooked - you should be able to easily slide a skewer into it - remove the pot from the heat and allow everything to cool at its own pace


Day Two


Drain the tuna and put in a blender or food processor with the anchovies, olive oil, lemon juice and capers and run at a high speed until a creamy consistency is achieved


Now fold it carefully into the mayonnaise (not the other way around!) and test for salt; I find it is rarely required because of the anchovies and capers


Having drained the meat (don’t discard the stock - it makes fabulous soup or risotto) and ensured it is patted dry, slice it into thin slices


Arrange artfully on a serving dish and cover completely with the tuna sauce; if you need to layer the meat, ensure each layer is covered with some sauce and and cover the final layer completely


I like to keep the finishing very traditional so usually garnish with boughs of rosemary, lemon slices or parsley leaves, as per the photograph. I have been told by my Piemontese friends that this keeps for up to two weeks in the fridge; never last that long in our house!


I love this dish and will happily invest the time and money to create it. If I can’t afford either the time or the money, I make something else; it really isn’t worth trying to make a budget version as it will be disappointing and I really can’t stress that enough. If you do make it, I promise you, you will become addicted!