Cook what you grow... Arezzo-style soup

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IF I had to choose one country’s cuisine above any other, it would be Italy.

Not the ubiquitous pizza or lasagne, but its wealth of regional styles and dishes.

It’s proof you can make mouth-watering food simply, on a budget, as long as you have good-quality ingredients.

I’d advise anyone with an interest in food or cooking what they grow to invest in La Cucina (The Regional Cooking of Italy), compiled by the Accademia Italiana Della Cucina (The Italian Academy of Cuisine). You can get it from Amazon for £19.16 (instead of £29.95).

This is the real deal – more than 900 pages and 2,000 recipes, with history, customs and traditions.

And it’s not just vegetables it deals with. If you want to know the definitive way to braise your donkey steaks or what to do with your leftover chamois, this is the book for you.

ANOTHER lovely source of authentic Italian recipes is Frances Mayes’ book In Tuscany. This is where the Arezzo soup oddity came from, named after the Tuscan town.

You cook it in the oven but it’s gorgeous and, as ever, I’ve adapted it. It’s great (if pungent) made with leftover garlic bead with an added layer of sautéed mushrooms, and a good way to use up your store of onions.

2lb/1kg onions, sliced

2oz/60g butter

2pts/1litre veg broth/stock (best made with fresh vegetables)

Salt and pepper

20 slices rustic bread

8 slices Fontina cheese (Gouda or Gruyère will do)

Fresh Parmesan grated, to taste

Sauté the sliced onions in the butter until soft.

Add the onions to the broth and simmer for about 10 minutes, adding salt and pepper.

Line a large ovenproof dish (or non-stick roasting tin) with half the bread and spoon over half the onions and broth.

Add the Fontina slices, then another layer of bread and broth. Spinkle generously with parmesan.

Bake in the oven for 30 mins at 350ºF, 175ºC, gas mark 4.

It knocks the socks off French onion soup and is even better the second day around.