‘CHOP!’ Rino says to me. I take a seat at the table and mince the sage and rosemary needles as instructed. ‘Pan,’ he says, and I hand him the industrial-sized frying pan hanging on the wall behind me. He smashes his fist down on two unsuspecting cloves of garlic and soon the kitchen smells irresistibly of olive oil infused with garlic and herbs.

Lamb bones are hacked into pieces and flung into a hot oven to roast as a base for his fondo bruno which will later be used to enrich a ragout, and at the back of the stove, chestnuts are simmering away with bay leaves, fennel and celery as preparation for a soup. Rino’s an out-and-out gourmet, as able in the kitchen as he is at a restaurant table. It started off in his mother’s kitchen but soon expanded to encompass eateries in the whole of Italy and beyond.

He’s the kind of chap you call when you find yourself wandering around the backstreets of a little-known village on the Sicilian coast or at the foot of the Dolomites, asking him where you should eat. ‘You see the main piazza?’ he asks you. ‘Take the road that leads off to the left and walk until you see a blue sign on your right saying Da Tonino. That’s where to go. Tell him Rino sent you. Oh, and you’ll want the marinated amberjack and stuffed cuttlefish.’

Torta di noci al cacao

This is a wonderfully simple cake that doesn’t take much preparation, and it keeps well for days if you wrap it in foil. Eat a slice along with a cup of tea or, for special occasions, serve it with a little whipped cream and a scattering of chopped walnuts.

Ingredients

(for one cake)
300 g 00 type (or plain) flour; pinch salt;
1 rounded teaspoon baking powder;
300 g sugar; 4 eggs;
250 ml milk; 75 g best plain cocoa powder;
1/2 tsp cinnamon; 200 g walnuts, finely chopped;
125 ml sunflower oil; icing sugar for decoration.

Preparation

Preheat oven to 180°C, then butter and flour a 28cm round cake tin. Sieve the flour, salt, and baking powder into a bowl and mix well. In a different bowl, beat the sugar and eggs together. Slowly incorporate the flour, adding the milk a little at a time to keep mixture moist. Sieve in the cocoa powder and the cinnamon, stir in the walnuts, and lastly, mix in the oil until the batter is well mixed and smooth.

Pour batter into prepared cake tin and bake for 40 – 45 mins, testing to see when it’s cooked by inserting a skewer or piece of spaghetti into the centre. Be careful not to overcook as this makes the cake dry instead of keeping it moist. Leave to stand for 15 minutes then remove cake from tin and leave to cool. Just before serving, decorate with a dusting of icing sugar.
PS:If you do it too far in advance, the cake’s moist surface will absorb the icing sugar.