Home by Nico’s Cooking Tuscany: A culinary passport to classic Italian flavours
The dreaded cap for household mixing; the doomed wives of Henry VIII; the sign of the devil himself: over the years, the number six has earnt something of a bad reputation. However, slowly but surely, Nico Simeone is restoring the digit’s honour. The Scottish chef’s concept restaurant Six by Nico achieved remarkable success pre-pandemic thanks to its fresh and simple premise: a six-weekly tasting menu serving up six courses, each inspired by a changing theme. Though branches in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast, Manchester, Liverpool and London (six really is the magic number) have been closed by the coronavirus, the open-minded chef has since extended his unique culinary experience nationwide with Home by Nico, a delivery service which allows diners to travel to a new destination each month without violating lockdown rules.
Simeone may have set himself a bigger challenge by speeding up the cycle a little and tackling a new region every four weeks, but thankfully, he hasn’t lost sight of what matters. The new March menu, Cooking Tuscany, pays homage to the chef’s Italian heritage with such loving attention to detail that it feels almost like a nostalgia trip for a holiday you never even went on. Though at the start of our journey we sit down at a table that has become painfully familiar over the past year, from the first mouthful of crusty Pane Toscano, we are transported to a noisy taverna on a warm summer’s evening (pre-2020). This traditional rosemary and raisin bread is sweet and soft, revivified by a few minutes in the oven and a generous dipping pot of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The simple pleasure of quality ingredients continues with dish number two, a Ribollita with Salsa al Dragoncello (a salty tomato broth accompanied by a feisty tarragon salsa verde). Then the real Italian indulgence begins with a bowl of fresh pici pasta and creamy hazelnut ragù. Though the vegetarian version is hearty enough, there’s also a classic option involving a meaty sauce made with Tuscan sausage – either way, there’s nothing so intimate as sharing a spiral of pasta for two.
The plant-based main delivers layer upon layer of flavour. Peeling back the cabbage reveals walnut cream and stringy mozzarella, while the bed of borlotti beans below is fragrant and flavoursome. However, the star is really the side: roasted tenderstem broccoli finds its voice alongside a walnut and basil pesto, promoted from shy backing vegetable to soloist.
But if the broccoli is the lead in this drama, the dessert plays out like a cameo from Meryl Streep: far too short but still taking home the trophy. Though there are six bomboloni each – naturally – they are over a lot sooner than we’d like. On the plus side, the plates are so clean they barely need washing up. Unlike your classic Italian doughnut, Simeone’s adaptation uses deep-fried gnocchi, ingeniously bringing another iconic national dish into the mix and resulting in one on of the most heavenly hybrids around. Each bite-size treat is filled with a molten chocolate chestnut sauce and rests on a bed of fluffy mascarpone – but beware, if you don’t make it in one mouthful, it could get messy.
Home by Nico’s Cooking Tuscany feels something like diving into a fond account of a historic honeymoon. But more than a romantic ode to past memories, it’s a form of escapism – a way of creating new stories in troubling times, six courses at a time.
Photos: Azhul Mohamed
Home by Nico’s April menu, Cooking Vietnam, is now available to preorder. A special Easter menu is also available. To order visit the website here.