Stay at home with these comforting family recipes

What a summer! Post-lockdown Florence is bittersweet, we are wary and careful – masks still on, distances kept, obsessive hand washing and hand sanitizer a prerequisite for entry into any indoor space – the streets and piazze are free of travellers and previously tourist-dependant parts of the city now are left for residents to discover their own city again. It’s great to be able to see friends and family again and even take the odd weekend away (to nearby Maremma or Venice), but to be honest I’m still reluctant to be out in public too much – home is definitely a haven for me, where I feel most comfortable and where food is still providing comfort and nurturing.

With my friends and family in Melbourne back in Lockdown for a further 6 weeks and cases still climbing out of control in the US, it feels a bit too soon to be going outside no matter where you are, so I thought someone might appreciate some simple, satisfying foods to stay at home with. I’ve compiled a list of favourite, comforting, even distracting (for when you need a good project to keep your mind busy with something else) foods, the sort of dishes that have a good satisfaction to maintenance ratio, dishes that are easy anytime but perhaps right now are even inspiring in that they might take you daydreaming to Italy or remind you of a big Italian lunch. Yes, quite a few pasta dishes are here, it’s true, to me there is nothing more comforting!

These recipes all come from my latest cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, which is about home-cooking, inspired by my in-law’s family and their origins in Puglia, Piedmont and Tuscany. It is family-friendly food, but like all homemade dishes, can be made to adjust portions (or simply freeze the leftovers for a day when you don’t feel like cooking – here is a handy, general guide on freezing food from NHS).

If you don’t have the cookbook, I’ve added the links below to where you can find them online so that I can share these all with you easily.

Ziti al Forno

Because pasta is always a winner in our home. It’s what we make when we need something quick, and satisfying, that everyone will be happy with. Ziti al forno is a classic southern Italian dish – basically pasta with tomato sauce and melted cheese baked in the oven. Marco likes to add sausage to it (pull off its casing, roll the sausage meat into tiny meatballs and add to the sauce). If you can’t find ziti, which are long tubes of pasta, you can substitute rigatoni as Nigella Lawson suggests. If you click on the recipe title above, it’ll take you to my recipe on Nigella’s site.

Ditalini con cozze e fagioli (Ditalini pasta with mussels and beans)

I can’t tell you how much I love this dish. Part soup, part pasta, all delicious, this is a classic homestyle dish from the port of Taranto, where all of my in law’s as far as I could trace back to the 1700s are from (side note: here is a rabbit hole you could go down if you have Italian family, try to map your family tree, I’ve created an article with all the resources I used to do ours here). Mussels are a specialty of Taranto and we ate this dish in every trattoria we visited, I could never tire from it. Thrifty, quick, easy and nourishing, this has all the elements I want too when it comes to comfort: broth, pasta, warmth and tasting of home. Clicking on the recipe title will take you to the Australian Good Food Guide site where my recipe is featured.

Agnolotti al plin (pasta stuffed with roast meat)

When you want a project to do, pull out the pasta machine and get to making these delightful little parcels. They are by far my absolute favourite filled pasta to make (and eat), I find them so satisfying! This is the very traditional meat filling from Piedmont – the idea is to use up leftover roast meat – served in the pan sauces with some butter and sage, but you can easily make it vegetarian with a ricotta and spinach filling like this one (from my recipe for tortelli maremmani for delicious magazine), the key is quite a firm filling so make sure you use well-drained ricotta and spinach if you go that way – and serve with a simple sauce of sage wilted in melted butter. If you need to see how to make them, a Pasta Granny can help you with that. Here is the inspiring 93 year old Ida making her agnolotti al plin with the ease and expertise of someone who has been doing it for a lifetime! Click on the recipe title above to go to my recipe on The Canberra Times.

Polpette di Nonna Anna (Nonna Anna’s meatballs)

This is probably one of the most loved dishes at home, one of my personal favourites from the book and definitely the one most made by other people (along with Angela’s apple cake below!). Kids and adults alike love it and if you’ve got leftovers, they are even more delicious the next day. If you eat all the meatballs and find yourself with a lot of leftover tomato sauce, it’s actually (like many good Pugliese dishes) meant to be stretched into another meal, to be served with pasta the next day – the tomato sauce with all the extra flavours from the meatballs and pancetta is so delicious. Click on the title to go to the feature in National Geographic or you can find a version of it here, along with the story behind this recipe in our family — a dish that belonged to my husband’s great-grandmother, a noblewoman who eloped with the postman.

Torta di Mele di Angela (Angela’s Apple Cake)

Baking is my favourite form of distraction when I need it, and I’m sure you already know this but baking is the best therapy, even science says so. While this isn’t a traditional Tuscan apple cake like this one from Florentine, my mother in law, Angela’s apple cake, was the cake she baked through most of the 80s and 90s. It has plenty of butter in it – beware those who try to bake it in a springform tin, as some of the butter might leak out and burn on the bottom of the oven. Please do try it in a cake tin that won’t leak. It is divine, especially still-warm, with some whipped cream. Click on the link to go to my recipe on the Australian Good Food Guide site.

Toast al cioccolato (grilled chocolate-hazelnut sandwiches)

When you need an instant pick me up, literally a food-hug, it is this grilled sandwich with special, gold-foil wrapped gianduiotto chocolates from Turin. Of course you can use any chocolate you have, just don’t feel guilty, take one bite of this and don’t look back. Click on the link for my recipe on

All of these beautiful shots are from the cookbook, with my talented team, styled by Deb Kaloper and photographed by Lauren Bamford with me (4 week old baby wrapped around my chest!), Marco, my intern Helen Johnson and home economist Alice Adams in the kitchen, on location at Valdirose, my friend Irene Berni’s beautiful B&B in Tuscany. More on the behind the scenes/the making of the cookbook here.


  1. bon giorgno( correct spelling?)
    I read your article in food52. I enjoyed reading it, I was curious ot find a recipe for the Cypriot tahinopita you menitoned but not able to find it? please let me know if this is available?