After the rich feasting of Christmas — all that wine and chocolate, all those complicated sauces, stuffings and puddings — one turns with relief to something lighter, simpler and completely different. Yesterday, looking out at the first snowfall of the season, I thought nostalgically of a summer a few years ago, when we spent a fortnight eating our way through Sicily. What can I say about Sicilian food and drink? It's glorious — the fish, the arancini, the limoncello, the amaro, all those Greek and North African influences. Hoping to recapture a little taste of sunny Sicily in the midst of this cold snap, I shopped for the best vine tomatoes I could find. I also bought a packet of dried linguine (De Cecco is one of the best brands) and a jar of caper berries (capers are the buds of the Mediterranean caper bush, and caper berries the larger fruit, which have a slightly less intense, more rounded flavour).
Sometimes the simplest meals are the best, and this dish can be knocked up in an instant. Cook the linguine in furiously boiling salted water for ten minutes or until al dente. In the meantime sauté some crushed garlic in olive oil, then remove the garlic from the pan (you just want to flavour the oil). Halve the tomatoes, squeeze out the juice (you're aiming for a 'dry' sauce), chop roughly, then put them in the pan with some chilli flakes. Add some capers or chopped caper berries, chopped parsley and lots of chopped mint. Season and stir. Mix the pasta with the sauce. Top with grated parmesan and there you have it. You could include all sorts of other things — tuna, aubergine, olives, sultanas — but I kept it simple. The key lies in the quality of the ingredients. Naturally this won't be as good as using fresh Italian foodstuffs, but it should be a fair approximation, and will bring a warm ray of Sicilian sunshine into your winter kitchen.
The garlic bread and wine in the picture aren't really necessary, but, hey, it's still Christmas! For the bread I made deep scores into a small baguette and filled with a crushed garlic/oregano/parsley/melted butter mixture. Then I wrapped the bread in foil and put it in a hot oven for ten minutes. The wine is Trinacria Bianco, a cheap but perfectly drinkable rustic Sicilian wine from Waitrose.
(The above is adapted from a recipe by Rick Stein.)