There is nothing that pleases me more than to tuck into a bowl of fresh pasta, an arrangement of fresh salumi or the very finest of balsamic and extra virgin olive oil. Now the UK is to welcome 30 champions of Italian food that have quite rightly made their individual mark in Italy and have now come across the water to the UK.

I was cordially invited to meet the members of the newly founded ‘Ciao Gusto‘ team and club at the very beautiful ‘Giovanni Rana’ restaurant in London. A speech was made and an elaborate dinner was served , which highlighted the best of Italian food. 30 well know brands have now joined forces and have come together under one umbrella, named ‘Ciao Gusto

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I smile to myself as these are brands that I have grown up with. For as long as I can remember my mother Solidea has always made our family sugo with ‘Cirio’ and we have grated fresh Parmesan liberally for years over our pasta. The launch of Ciao Gusto is only the beginning I believe of what’s to come from Italy.

Here’s a full list of the about thirty Italian brands you’ll be able to enjoy via Ciao Gusto:

  • Pasta – Barilla
  • Fresh pasta – Rana
  • Rice – Riso Gallo
  • Flours – Polenta Valsugana
  • Tomato and vegetable conserves – Cirio, Valfrutta
  • Cheese and dairies- Auricchio, Parmareggio
  • Fish – Delicius, Regnoli/Medusa
  • Tuna – Rio Mare
  • Cured meats – Negroni
  • Soy and rice products – Valsoia
  • Olive oil – Filippo Berio
  • Vinegar – Ponti
  • Bakery – Bauli, Colussi
  • Snacks – Amica Chips
  • Dehydrated fruits – Noberasco
  • Honey – Ambrosoli?Jams – Santa Rosa
  • Candies and chocolate – Elah Dufour/Novi
  • Coffee – Lavazza
  • Herbal teas – Bonomelli
  • Water and fruit juices – San Benedetto, Parmalat
  • Wine – Casa Vinicola Zonin, Santa Margherita
  • Alcoholic beverages – Vecchia Romagna
  • Sour cherries and syrups: Fabbri
  • The range of products will be available to buy through a specially designed shop on the ‘Ocado’ site.

Now it’s your chance to shop with ease for the very best of Italy in one place – Visit the Ciao Gusto shop at Ocado

I will be developing a range of recipes using the range offered by Ciao Gusto. So I thought i’d begin with a warming bowl of soft polenta and Italian sausage:

Soft polenta with Italian sausage.

Polenta echoes cucina povera cooking from the Northern plains and regions of Italy. Delicious when cooked and seasoned well whilst making a great alternative to pasta, potatoes and rice. Polenta – is gluten free and is very much a staple ingredients in my kitchen larder with two main varieties. One being the golden glow of yellow polenta and the other hailing from the Veneto region of Italy, ‘white polenta’.

White polenta is delicious and my preference when making cicchetti style tasters, ‘Polenta al baccala’ however standard polenta is more than capable to handle the job too. Polenta makes a great added ingredient when sprinkled into cake and biscuits batters, breadcrumb mixes and also makes a perfect base to lay fresh pasta onto dry or sprinkle the grains on your pizza peel before lifting your pizza into a pizza oven.

You really can’t go far wrong when making soft polenta, just ensure you season and finish it well as there’s nothing worse than bland under seasoned polenta! You are able to have polenta served as a soft mash consistency but also it can be transferred into a dish, chilled, sliced and pan-fried. Then topped with fish, roasted vegetables or a simple sauce. Options are truly endless. Normally polenta is cooked in water and seasoned with salt, I however love to also cook it in milk or a stock for added flavour.

There are 2 forms of polenta. Fast cook which is ready in around 5 minutes (sometimes frowned upon in Italy) and the traditional slow stirred version which will take around an hours gently stirring. I’m a kind of express lady at the moment, but the choice is yours. Here’s a simple recipe to start you off.

325g polenta (quick cook)

1 litre water or stock

70g Parmesan, grated

30g butter

Sugo or ragu of your choice

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  1. Prepare your sauce. I opted for a slow cooked sausage sugo but a simple tomato or vegetable sauce would work well too.
  2. Heat the water (salt well) or stock and tumble in the polenta and stir well for approx. 5 minutes. Cook the polenta grains out. If the polenta is a little too firm, simply add a little more water.
  3. A minute before the polenta is ready add the Parmesan and butter. Continue to stir. Season with a little pepper and taste. Check for additional seasoning.
  4. Spoon the polenta into bowls and top with your sauce.
  5. Sprinkle over additional Parmesan and enjoy.

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