Jacob Kenedy with his Grandmother Ginny, and his Mother, Haidee, in front of one of Ginny’s paintings. Photograph: Harry Borden for Observer Food MonthlyThe Bocca di Lupo chef’s food and family are steeped in the culture of Rome. Here, he shares stories and recipes from his new restaurant, inspired by the Eternal Ci.Mention La Dolce Vita, Fellini's masterpiece, and even today the title conjures a tangible nostalgia for a period whose ghosts still fill the streets of Rome. The film was partly inspired by my grandparents, former Hollywood actor Ginny (still very much alive) and [New York gallerist] John " specifically by the parties they threw at their apartment in Rome. There, in the primo piano of Palazzo Caetani, the beautiful elite, the literati, the glitterati, musicians and artists and actors and singers made and lived and breathed la dolce vita to the backdrop of a Rome very different from today's. Fellini asked Ginny to appear as Steiner's wife, but she declined " instead Steiner's home is a facsimile of her old apartment. My gran's figurine lamps light the scene of Steiner's party, her friends fill it (including Iris Tree), and Ginny's naive paintings decorate the walls in the film. The doll-like portrait behind Marcello's head, one of hers, is of my young mum, Haidee, and Steiner's children stand in the doorway of the party room as my mama used to.
In contrast to Ginny's sometimes surreal compositions my mum's work is visceral and alive. Her paintings adorn my restaurant Bocca di Lupo and define my new venture, Vico, outside and in. She filled me with her love from the day I was born, and she filled me with food while she was at it. I grew up in love with her, in love with Italy, and in love with la dolce vita " the time and place that bore her. I feel at home when I land on Italian soil, though I have never lived there and have no Italian blood in my veins. I admire " covet " Latin social ease, when I myself am too shy to say hello to people even in my own restaurant. And so I take every opportunity to visit, so that I can at least pretend to live "the sweet life", the land where no one is a stranger.
On one visit, Mum and I stop for a day in Rome en route to Sperlonga, the seaside town where John bought a flat to escape Ginny's parties, and which we still keep. We visit her old home, by Largo Argentina, ever overrun by feral cats, and find the doorman's wife, half-deaf and half-blind, ensconced in the gatehouse, mending clothes. She shrieks with delight when she recognises Mama. A few minutes on and we are in the shadow of the Pantheon's dome, at Caff" Sant Eustachio, a little roastery where the coffee is poison nectar and the baristas so intoxicated with caffeine their skin has an eerie green hue. It's only a couple of paces more to Tre Scalini on Piazza Navona, which Domitian built to flood for his boat games. There we scoff infamous tartufo (Italian rocky road gelato slabs) perched on Bernini's fountain. Onwards to Campo de' Fiori, we purchase slabs of pizza al taglio and head towards the ghetto, passing by Filetti di Baccal" where rotund matrons should be frying thin strips of salt cod and we're saved! It's closed. From the ruined arches of the Coliseum we cross the river to Trastevere, and decide we are too full to eat dinner at da Enzo. We pass by to release our reservation, which in any event they have lost. It smells so good we recant, and hang around for a table. Later, we walk along the Tiber for a grattachecca " shaved ice, a frozen relic of Emperor Nero's penchant for snow carried down from the mountains and sweetened with fruit syrups, ours spiked with vodka, to ease us into the evening. Never for a moment have we stopped walking, eating or talking.
This way of eating " proper, rarefied and delicious snacks consumed on the hoof " is typical of Italy. The young gather amicably in the piazza, and everyone takes an evening passeggiata, mingling and talking and showing off. Eating gelati, crespelle (crepes), bombe (donuts), arancini, pizze, panini, polpette. This is street food here " not because it is cooked in the street necessarily, by a pedlar or from a van, but because it is eaten there. And there, in the acts of eating and talking and meeting and walking, is the heart of that Mediterranean social fluidity we are so envious of in England.
Vico, my new restaurant, is my attempt to recreate a slice of that lifestyle I wish were my own. It is not somewhere to go to, but somewhere to pass through, to meet friends, to grab a bite and a glass and move on. Here are a few recipes to enjoy in passing, between one meal and the next"...
Shaved raw asparagus with balsamic vinegar and parmesan
This salad is a celebration of Emilia-Romagna. Choose the fattest stalks.
Served 4 as a starter or a side
asparagus 12 fat spears (about half a kilo)
rocket 100g (1 bunch)
extra virgin olive oil 25ml
good balsamic vinegar 2 tsp
parmesan 75g, shaved with a potato peeler
Break the tough stems from the asparagus and discard. Shave as much of the spears as you can, lengthways with a potato peeler from stalk to tip. Slice the last bit of stem as thinly as you can with a knife.
When ready to serve, toss the asparagus and rocket with the oil and vinegar, and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve scattered with parmesan.
Pickled sardines with pink onions
The onions turn a delightful pink in the pickling, which makes for an attractive plate against the silvery skins of lightly cured sardine fillets. Pickling oily fish is an easy project, and a great way to introduce the sceptical " the acidic soak helps temper the more pungent flavours that some find off-putting, and results in a delicate flavour here balanced with the aroma of fresh oregano and a slight hint of chilli heat. It's best to start this the day before you plan to eat.
Serves 8 as a starter
scaled fillets of sardines 750g, or 16 whole sardines, about 1.5kg, scaled, gutted and butterfly-filleted
fine sea salt 10g
black pepper ½ tsp
red onion 1 small (200g), sliced very very thinly across the grain in half-moons
fresh oregano leaves 1 tbsp
crushed dried chilli flakes ½ tsp
red wine vinegar 200ml
extra virgin olive oil 100ml
Check the sardines are completely scaled and nicely filleted. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper; leave to infuse for a little while in the fridge " about an hour, give or take. Transfer them to a plastic container, layering them with onion, oregano and chilli.
Mix together the vinegar and water and pour it over the sardines. Agitate a little with your fingers to make sure the pickle gets between the fillets. Leave in the fridge for 4 hours (for a light pickle " longer if you like).
Drain the sardines and arrange them flat on a serving dish, silver skins up. Scatter the pickled onions over the fish and drizzle with the oil.
Though you can eat them straight away (best with toast), the drained, oiled sardines improve if refrigerated overnight. Allow them to come to room temperature before serving.
These are the antithesis of healthy eating, and trashy as hell " what more could you want?
Makes about 10
dried egg pappardelle 300g, or leftover cooked egg pasta 600g
bolognese ragu 700g of your favourite recipe, or see below
parmesan 120g, grated
b"échamel sauce 150g, thick, chilled until solid (optional)
flour about 50g, for dusting
eggs 2, beaten
panko breadcrumbs about 100g, milled fine, or 150g normal ones, for coating
vegetable oil for deep frying
Break the nests of dried pasta roughly in your hands, set a pan of salted water on to boil and cook the pasta very al dente " a little undercooked even, to your taste " and drain it. Mix it with the ragu. Spread it out on a tray, sprinkle with the cheese and leave to cool, then refrigerate.
Mix the pasta up with your hands, divide it into 10 portions. Form each into as tight a ball as you can manage, using your hands. If using the b"échamel, put a tablespoon in the centre of each one.
Dust the balls in the flour, then coat in the egg, then in the breadcrumbs. Refrigerate until ready to eat. Deep-fry in oil at 160C for 10 minutes.
minced pork 500g
minced veal (or beef) 500g
chicken livers 100g, finely chopped (optional)
carrot 1 (200g)
celery 2 sticks (200g)
onion 1, medium (200g)
garlic cloves 4
extra virgin olive oil 60ml
pancetta 100g, not smoked, cut in strips
white wine 375ml
chopped tinned tomatoes 400g
beef or chicken stock 250ml (optional, otherwise 250ml more milk)
It is worth having a butcher mince the meats coarsely (8mm), for the improved texture.
Peel and dice the carrot, dice the celery, chop the onion and slice the garlic. Take a very wide frying pan (30cm), and melt the butter in the oil over a medium heat. Add the vegetables and pancetta along with a good pinch of salt and saut"é for 10-15 minutes until softened.
Increase the heat to high and add the meat in four or five additions, allowing time for any water to evaporate, stirring and breaking up any lumps with a spoon. After the last addition, wait until the pan starts to splutter slightly, then decrease the heat to medium and fry, stirring occasionally, until the meat has browned with a fair proportion of crispy bits " about 15-20 minutes.
Deglaze with the wine, then transfer to a saucepan along with the milk, tomatoes and stock as well as a good grinding of pepper and more salt to taste.
Cook at a very gentle simmer, uncovered, for about 4 hours until the sauce is thick, more oil- than water-based (add a little stock or water if it dries too much or too quickly). When ready, the liquor will be as thick as double cream and, stirred up, the whole should be somewhat porridgy. Adjust the seasoning one last time.
The addition of bay and/or dried chilli flakes along with the meat is heretical, but not displeasing.
Polpette "cacio e uva'
In Abruzzo, around Easter, they make a dish that is all-things-Eastery in one " slow-cooked lamb, its sauce thickened with eggs and lemon and pecorino. It is rich, refreshing, meaty, cheesy, eggy, lemony, comforting, exciting.
Makes a dozen meatballs
leftover cooked lamb 400g, preferably braised, pot-roasted or slow-roast shoulder or leg meat, diced 1cm or slightly smaller
pan juices from the lamb 2 tbsp
breadcrumbs 10g (about 2 tbsp)
lemon 1, zest and juice
fresh rosemary leaves 1 dsp, finely chopped
egg yolks 4
pecorino romano 150g, grated
flour about 50g, for dusting
eggs 2, beaten
panko breadcrumbs about 100g, or 150g normal ones, milled fine, for coating
vegetable oil for deep frying
Pound together (or whizz in a food processor) about a quarter of the lamb with the lamb pan juice, breadcrumbs, lemon zest and juice, rosemary and egg yolk. Mix together with the remaining diced lamb and the pecorino, and season with salt and pepper.
The texture should be gloopy, but thick enough to form into balls. Make about a dozen, each the size of a golf ball. As you go, roll them in the flour, then the egg and finally the breadcrumb.
Refrigerate until ready to cook, then deep fry for 8 minutes in 160C oil.
Octopus and potato salad
It was at Moro I first learned to dress potato salads with vinegar, while the potatoes are warm. They absorb the dressing, and develop a depth of flavour that is lifted by the acidity.
Serves 4 as a light meal
raw octopus 1 medium (1-1.5kg), best are from frozen, Mediterranean double-sucker (defrosted)
new potatoes 1kg largeish, skin on
red wine vinegar 60ml
extra virgin olive oil 50ml
celery 3 stalks, sliced across in 5mm crescent moons
capers 50g, soaked in water, if salted
red onion ½ a very small, thinly sliced across the grain
flat-leaf parsley a few sprigs, roughly chopped
Boil the octopus for 40 minutes in lightly salted water. Drain it, and leave it to cool on a tray. Reserve the water, leaving it on the heat.
Boil the potatoes in the octopussy water until tender. Drain them, and cut them, still warm, in 2-3cm chunks. Dress the potatoes with the vinegar and oil.
Cut the octopus into 2cm chunks (discard the beak and eyes if they're still there). Toss it with the potatoes, leave to cool to room temperature.
Add the remaining ingredients, toss and season to taste.
Anchovy and mozzarella crostini
Most pizzeria bake or at least serve bread too, and what's left at the end of the day goes stale. For reasons of economy, and to earn an extra euro, they make bruschetta (toasted bread with toppings) and crostini (open toasties) in the pizza oven. The former is best with raw tomato on top, but my favourite crostino is laden with gooey mozzarella and salty, savoury anchovy.
Makes 8, enough for 4 as a starter or snack
ciabatta bread 8 slices, fresh or stale, 1½cm thick (or baguette sliced on the bias)
extra virgin olive oil 50ml (about 3 tbsp)
buffalo mozzarella 350-400g
plump salted anchovy fillets 8 (buy the very best you can find)
freshly ground black pepper lots
Preheat the oven to maximum, with the fan on if it has one.
Lay the bread on a baking tray and drizzle with half the oil. Tear or slice the mozzarella and arrange it over the slices of bread, to more or less cover each slice. Lay an anchovy fillet on each.
Drizzle with the remaining oil, and scatter liberally with pepper.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until the cheese is browning and bubbling, and the bread toasty underneath. Serve hot.
Strawberry granita and cream
This is a very simple cheat's way to make a granita " blending frozen fruit, instead of all that faff of forking, freezing and fluffing. While granita is typically Italian, particularly the coffee or orange or mulberry flavours so typical of Sicily, strawberries and cream is so very English.
Just as all Sicilian cuisine is a fusion " of Roman and Arabic and Jewish and French " so this is a fusion of England and Sicily. Civilised, but refreshing.
frozen strawberries 500g
cold water 250ml
caster sugar 60g
whipping cream 150ml, whipped with caster sugar 15g (1 tbsp)
Put the strawberries, water and sugar in an upright blender. Blend until smooth and slushy. The mixture is very thick and, at least until most of the strawberries have broken down, very hard for the blade to turn. You may need to shake the blender, or turn it off every few seconds to stir before giving another pulse. Serve topped with the whipped cream.
Vico, 1 Cambridge Circus, London, WC2 opens mid-August. www.eatvico.com