Escape to Italy with Jess Nguyen
In the spirit of adventures to Italy and those spontaneous dinners that turn into nights to remember, we find ourselves dreaming about throwing together a delicious Italian feast... and who better to script the perfect pasta and playlist combination than Jess Nguyen @jessica_nguyen, who without missing a beat effortlessly pulls together the kind of dinners you absolutely want to sit down to.
Flavours are perfection, outfits are dreamy, the tunes take you to another place and the tablescapes are as eclectic and interesting as Jess herself. Keep reading to find out how to recreate this relaxed, special evening at home.
Q&A WITH JESSICA NGUYEN
1. Ultimate celebrity dinner party, who’s invited?
Stanley Tucci because he appreciates a good cocktail and food, Roy Choi because I love his cooking, Jack Whitehall and Ali Wong for the laughs and banter, Kelly Wearstler and Aimee Song because I love their style in fashion and interiors. I’d also bring back and invite Anthony Bourdain because I’d love to pick his brain about all the places, faces, food and wine he’s loved from all over the world.
2. From the six Ceramica Salerno designs, what’s your favourite fruit to eat or use as an ingredient?
It has to be lemon. Lemon provides the much needed acidity in a dish, it’s the missing piece of the puzzle to elevate a dish. Drizzled on top just before serving, it will make your dish zing and sing!
3. What is your go-to pasta shape?
Spaghetti because it’s equally a staple and an icon. You never regretti using or eating spaghetti.
4. What is an essential ingredient to your table settings at home?
A bit of effort and a lot of colour. People ultimately eat with their eyes and when you take a bit of time to set the table and make a meal out of it, whatever you cook whether it’s toast or a three course meal will taste so much better plated on an intentional table. I also love adding colour to my home and table and I’m obsessed with colourful and printed plates. They add a bit of fun and pizzazz that a plain white dish cannot.
5. How do you approach a menu when entertaining?
Start with a hero dish and work backwards / start with a theme… etc I generally like to come up with a theme first, thinking about my guests and what they like too. Sometimes it can be based on a country (Italy), an occasion (Friendsgiving) or a season (Summer). Once that’s decided, I come up with the food menu and then the drinks to support it. For a menu, I think about the food that my guests like to eat, taking into consideration their favourite things they love to eat and any dietary requirements. A hero dish is definitely a good way to anchor the menu and then think of complimentary sides to go with it. For example, if my theme is ‘European Summer on the Amalfi Coast’ I’d probably plan a pasta inspired by the region like a beautiful prawn or even squid ink pasta, a ‘Pasta Al Limone’ for vegetarian guests as an option and then do sides like a fresh caprese salad, some bruschetta with fresh burrata, maybe a tuna carpaccio, some spritzes and a nice white wine to match like a Fiano. Dessert would then be a lemon granita served inside a lemon inspired by all the lemons on the Amalfi Coast.
6. Do you have any favourite playlists for your dinner parties?
What’s the vibe? Sure do! I have an Italian Cooking & Dining Spotify Playlist I usually play. Feel free to play this next time you’re cooking Italian or hosting a party. It will transport you to European summers in Italy!
Squid Linguine - Linguine Al Nero Di Seppia Q&A with Jessica Nguyen
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 15 mins
- 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 brown onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon of chilli oil/a pinch of chilli flakes
- 1 tube of squid/calamari200g of squid ink long pasta (linguine, spaghetti)
- 1 tablespoon of Nduja, optional
- ½ cup of tomato puree
- 1 punnet of cherry tomatoes
- 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon of fish roe, optional
- 1 small bunch of fresh basil and or parsley leaves
- 1 hour before you want to cook this recipe, place your squid tube into the freezer to firm up. This will allow you to finely slice the squid easier. Use a knife, mandolin or meat cutter to cut into fine strips, as thick as linguine.
- Boil a pot of generously salted water and place your pasta in to cook for about 7 minutes or until just al dente.
- Meanwhile, heat a pan with a few glugs of olive and once shimmering, add in your onion and sweat for a few minutes. Add in the garlic, chilli oil/chilli flakes and nduja and cook for a further minute to infuse.
- Add in the pureed tomatoes and cherry tomatoes and cook for another 2 minutes until the cherry tomatoes are starting to soften.
- Spoon in a few ladles of pasta water and allow to emulsify to create a sauce.
- Add in your squid and cook for 30 seconds.
- Add in your pasta and allow to cook for a further minute to soak in the sauce.
- Throw in some fresh chopped parsley and or basil and stir through.
- Transfer to a platter and garnish with the juice of half a lemon, some grated lemon zest, optional fish roe on top for a bit of crunch and some fresh basil and/or parsley leaves.