“My parents cooked a lot, so I always felt comfortable in the kitchen, but it was that transition from being asked to peel a potato or chop something, to the whole production of creating a meal,” says the food writer.
“I was always planning supper – who I was going to have over, or what I was going to cook – when I probably should have been more focused on my studies.”
Born in London, she moved to Venice with her parents (her father is the late businessman and politician Lord McAlpine) when she was six, enrolling in a local school and picking up Italian within a year.
Fast forward to Freshers Week at Oxford. After a chance encounter in the college bar, the then-18-year-old began dating the man who would become her husband, Anthony Santospirito – and that wasn’t her only burgeoning passion at the time.
“That’s when my love affair with cookbooks really started,” says McAlpine, who now splits her time between Italy and the UK. “I bought a couple to learn to cook, and just loved reading them. Then I started collecting them, and spent a lot of time cooking.”
Completing undergraduate and master’s degrees in classics, she was partway through a PhD, focusing on English translations of 17th- and 18th-century Latin love poetry, when she became pregnant. And it was while on maternity leave that McAlpine started a food blog.
“By the time I’d completed my PhD a year-and-a-half later, the blog had gained momentum, and I’d been commissioned to write some freelance pieces. I also had my first cookbook commissioned.”
Now the proud author of three titles, the 38-year-old hatched the idea for her latest book, A Table Full Of Love, during lockdown in 2020.
White chocolate and pistachio tortini
100g salted butter, plus more for the ramekins
100g white chocolate, finely chopped
60g caster sugar
2tbsp (level) plain flour
2tsp (heaped) pistachio butter, shop-bought pistachio cream, or chocolate-hazelnut spread, such as Nutella
Icing sugar, to dust (optional)
Finely chopped pistachios, to serve (optional)
1. Butter two 10-centimetre ramekins, making sure to liberally coat the bases.
2. Combine the butter, white chocolate and sugar in a small saucepan and set over a low heat to melt. Stir regularly to stop the chocolate from catching, and take the pan off the heat as soon as it is melted.
3. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the eggs to the melted chocolate and stir vigorously until well combined. Now add the flour to the chocolate and stir vigorously until you have a smooth, chocolatey cream.
4. Pour a quarter of the mixture into each of the prepared ramekins. Spoon a dollop of pistachio butter, pistachio cream or chocolate spread into the middle of each, then pour over the remaining white chocolate mix, dividing it equally between each ramekin so the pistachio or chocolate is completely covered. Cover and set in the freezer for a couple of hours (longer if you like).
5. When you are ready to serve, heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6.
6. Bake the tortini straight from the freezer, in the middle of the oven, for 25 minutes, until lightly golden on top and slightly risen in the middle. They should feel firm to the touch. Dust with icing sugar and/or a scattering of pistachios, if you like, before serving while still warm.
Pollo alla Pizzaiola
2tbsp olive oil
4 chicken breasts
460ml tomato sauce
Leaves from a small bunch of basil, chopped
200g mozzarella cheese, sliced
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan that has a lid; you want a pan that is large enough to fit the four chicken breasts. Brown the meat on both sides over a medium heat, then take the pan off the heat. Take the breasts out of the pan, set on a plate, and season generously with salt and pepper.
2. Put the tomato sauce in the frying pan while the pan is still off the heat, so the difference in temperature between sauce and hot pan doesn’t cause the sauce to spit, then put the pan back over the heat to warm through. Add the capers and basil. When the tomato begins to bubble, nestle the seasoned chicken in the pan.
3. Cook the chicken in the pan over a medium heat for seven to eight minutes, turning the breasts every now and then, until cooked through.
4. Lay a slice or two of mozzarella over each piece of chicken and cover the pan with its lid, or, if you don’t have a lid big enough, you can cover the pan with foil. Cook for a further minute or two, until the cheese is melted. Serve immediately.
Rhubarb and Cheddar tart
325g sheet of ready-rolled all-butter puff pastry
1 egg, lightly beaten
2tbsp finely grated Parmesan cheese
400g thin stems of bright pink rhubarb
1tbsp caster sugar
130g Cheddar cheese, grated
Small bunch of thyme
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6. Line a baking tray with baking parchment and unroll the sheet of pastry on to the tray. Use a sharp knife to score a two to three-centimetre border around the edge, then prick all over the centre part with a fork.
2. Brush the pastry edge with the egg, then line with baking parchment and baking beans. Blind-bake in the oven for 10 minutes, until dry to the touch and lightly golden at the edges. Take out of the oven and leave to cool for 10 minutes or so.
3. In a small bowl, combine the mascarpone with the Parmesan and season generously with salt and pepper. Spoon the mascarpone over the middle of the tart, and spread it out as evenly as you can. If the pastry is puffed up in the middle, don’t worry, just press it down gently with your hands and spoon the mascarpone on top. Cut the rhubarb into long-ish pieces, roughly 16 centimetres long, and arrange them snugly, side by side like soldiers, over the mascarpone. Sprinkle the sugar over the rhubarb, then top with the grated Cheddar. Lastly, scatter over a few thyme leaves.
4. Set in the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the rhubarb is tender. Serve warm.
A Table Full Of Love by Skye McAlpine is published by Bloomsbury