ASK Italian Amici Kids family dining experience

We were invited to check out the ASK Italian restaurant chain’s new children’s offering Amici Kids – as part of a family meal on them, at our nearest restaurant (conveniently just a few minutes walk away).

Italian restaurants have a reputation for being child friendly, and even a casual dining chain like this is no exception. The new kid’s offering is called Amici Kids, and as well as food it also encompasses a child friendly attitude – the kid’s meal is served first, on cool plates, with small cutlery, plus colouring and other activities as part of their table setting.

Overall, this offering will suit many families. Many restaurants claim to be child friendly, but this is often not reflected in the venue itself. That was not the case here. The manager and waiting staff were very friendly and welcoming. While we have moved beyond that stage, there are change facilities in a unisex bathroom.

But of course, the main aspect of a good dining out experience has to be the food.

Kids Menus at Restaurants

We don’t normally restrict our daughter to order off the kids menu when eating out. One thing I like about dining out is the chance to experience new dishes and flavours, and we encourage the same in our daughter . But kids menus are often far from exciting in their range of dishes.

With Amici Kids the child gets a soft drink, starter, main, dessert, and babycino for a very competitively at £6.95, so it is great value for money. But it only offers a limited series of safe options of the dishes.


Amici Kids has one starter – veg sticks (carrot and cucumber) with thousand island dressing and garlic bread. No complaints, but very little to single out for being more than adequate.

We grown ups had an excellent calamari, and a less successful Bruschetta (ice cold tomatoes).


The main dishes on the Amici Kids menu include a range of basic pizza and pasta dishes. Unfortunately, none of these enticed our daughter. She wanted seafood (there is no seafood on the kids menu) so preferred to eat off the main menu and I wasn’t going to stop her. She ordered a delicious Linguini Frutti Di Mare. ASK have an option to downsize mains to a half portion with the addition of a salad, which is what we did.

Our mains were sadly not as well realised as her dish. My Lobster & King prawn tagliatelle was pretty tasty – but the promised “hint of chilli” was in fact very strong, and overpowered the dish (I have a pretty high tolerance to chilli).

My wife’s Mushroom linguine was ok, lacking a little flavour punch – until she bit into a porcini mushroom that hadn’t been soaked enough. I’m afraid these taste disgusting.

It’s a shame – both these dishes were let down by execution on the day rather than concept.


I asked the waitress to choose a white wine to go with my main, and her selection was perfect. My wife also had a tasty Aperol Sprtiz (Aperol, Prosecco, soda and ice). Our daughter had an apple juice, included in the Amici Kids price.


Ice cream dominated our desserts. Our daughter had the Amici Kids dessert of ice cream with a selection of toppings, I had  2 scoops of ice cream, and my wife went for a gooey chocolate cake also with ice cream – all of which went down well.

The ASK Italian / Amici Kids offering

While it’s unfortunate our meal was let down by some cooking errors, Amici Kids offers great value for money and a restaurant embracing children to join the dining out experience is welcome for any family.

But I remain of the opinion that we need to be more ambitious in terms of the food and flavours we offer our children, and the selection of dishes on the Amici Kids errs too far on the side of caution.

I know many families struggle with fussy eaters, but that’s not all kids – and eating out should be an adventure, not just relying on the familiar.


Disclosure: This family dining experience was provided free of charge by ASK Italian.




Family Fever

Stanley Tucci’s “Big Night” Timpano recipe

You’re a foodie and a film fan who’s seen Big Night. You were wowed by the Timpano. You’ve wanted to make it ever since but find the idea of recreating Stanley Tucci’s Timpano recipe daunting. Intimidating.

Don’t be silly.

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The Big Night Timpano recipe is not your usual baked pasta dish

The Big Night Timpano is just a pasta bake. The ultimate pasta bake. I had wanted to make this since I had seen the movie in the late 90’s.

As my daughter’s 1st birthday party was fast approaching, an event intended as more of a gathering for adults celebrating our first year of parenting, this seemed as special occasion as any to finally get round to making this.

Also known as a Timballo, this Big Night Timpano recipe is based on a family recipe of the movie’s co-star, co-writer, and co-director Stanley Tucci.

It is a dish that any foodie and/or film fan should make at least once in their life. Everything you need is likely available from your local butcher, deli, or supermarket – except, the 14″ Timpano Bowl. It’s the best thing for baking this in.

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I had to order this enamel Timpano basin from US Amazon, and it was perfect for this.

Take your time with this dish. To get it right, I would give yourself two days.

Analyse this Stanley Tucci Timpano recipe. Spend a long afternoon shopping for ingredients. Make the sauce ahead of time. Prepare the eggs, cheese, and salami a day before. Early morning, boil the pasta and cool it ready for assembly.

After assembling, then baking it – let it rest. And rest.

A good hour will allow this settle nicely and let the treasure trove of flavours be absorbed by pasta inside. But don’t leave it to rest in the kitchen. Have it on display to your guests. Let the anticipation build about what delights await inside.

This is a dish that deserves to be eagerly anticipated, not least because of the effort you’ve put into it.

NB: As this ‘Big Night’ Timpano was adapted from Tucci’s American recipe, I’ve updated the imperial measurements to metric (sorry America, but you had a revolution – why are you still using imperial measurements!)

Also, confession time – I used meatballs made by the butcher. If you want to be REALLY authentic, you can use Stanley Tucci’s meatball recipe.

The Big Night Timpano recipe


  • 60 ml olive oil
  • 450 g stewing beef, trimmed of fat and cut into pieces
  • 450 g spareribs (pref. meaty shoulder ribs), trimmed of fat and cut in half
  • Onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 20 ml red wine
  • 170 g can tomato paste
  • 2 x 1kg can plum tomatoes, sieved or blitzed in processor OR 2ltr passata (much easier!)
  • 3 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried
  1. Warm the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Brown beef until coloured on all sides, about 10 minutes. Set aside in a bowl.
  3. Add spareribs to pot and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside in bowl with beef. (If your pot is big enough to hold all the meat in a single layer, it can be cooked at the same time.)
  4. Stir onions and garlic into pot. Reduce heat to low and cook until onions begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
  5. Stir in wine, scraping bottom of the pot clean.
  6. Add tomato paste and 125ml cup warm water into tomato paste can to loosen any residual paste and then pour into pot. Cook to warm the paste through, about 2 minutes.
  7. Add tomatoes along with additional 250ml warm water. Stir in basil and oregano. Cover with lid partially on and simmer about 30 minutes.
  8. Return meat to pot, along with any juices that accumulated in bowl. Cover partially with lid and simmer, stirring frequently, until meat is very tender and tomatoes are cooked, about 2 hours. Warm water may be added to sauce, in 125ml portions, if it becomes too thick.


  • 450 gram 00 flour, more for dusting
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, more for greasing bowl Butter (for greasing bowl)
  1. Mix flour, eggs, salt and olive oil in mixer bowl with a dough hook.
  2. Add 3 tbsp water and mix – add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until mixture comes together and forms a ball.
  3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead to make sure it is well mixed, about 10 minutes.
  4. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes (the dough may be made in advance and refrigerated overnight; return to room temperature before rolling out).
  5. Flatten dough on a lightly floured work surface. Dust top with flour and roll it out, dusting with flour and flipping the dough over from time to time, until it is about 1/16-inch thick and is the desired diameter (to calculate the diameter for the dough round, add the diameter of the bottom of your timpano basin the diameter of the top of the pan and twice the height of the pan).
  6. Grease the baking pan generously with butter and olive oil. Fold dough in half and then in half again, to form a triangle, and place in pan. Open dough and arrange it in the pan, gently pressing it against the bottom and the sides, draping extra dough over the sides. Set aside.
Timpano - dough in timpano pan


  • 450 g thick Genoa salami pieces, cut into small squares
  • 450 g sharp provolone cheese, evenly diced
  • 12 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and quartered lengthwise, each quarter cut in half
  • 450 g small meatballs
  • 1.8 l Ragu sauce (meat removed and reserved for another use)
  • 1.4 kg ziti or similar pasta, cooked very al dente (about half the time recommended on the package)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 115 gram finely grated Pecorino Romano
  • 6 large eggs, beaten

1. Heat oven to 180c. Have salami, provolone, hard-boiled eggs, meatballs and ragù sauce at room temperature. Stir 125ml water into sauce to thin it. Toss pasta with olive oil and allow to cool slightly before tossing with 500ml sauce.

2. Layering the filling: Distribute 4 generous cups of pasta on bottom of timpano. Top with 1 cup salami, 1 cup provolone, 3 eggs, 1 cup meatballs and 1/3 cup Romano cheese. Pour 2 cups sauce over ingredients.

Layering the Timpano
Layering the Timpano

Repeat process to create additional layers….

Layering the Timpano
Filled Timpano

…until filling comes within 1 inch of the top of the pan. End with 2 cups sauce and pour beaten eggs over the filling.

3. Fold pasta dough over filling to seal completely. Trim away and discard any double layers of dough. Make sure timpano is tightly sealed. If you notice any small openings cut a piece of trimmed dough to fit over opening. Use a small amount of water to moisten these scraps of dough to ensure that a tight seal has been made.

Wrapped up and ready to bake Timpano

4. Bake until lightly browned, about 1 hour. Cover with foil and continue baking until the timpano is cooked through and the dough is golden brown (and reaches an internal temperature of 120c), about 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to rest for 30 or more minutes to allow timpano to cool and contract before attempting to remove from pan. The baked timpano should not stick to the pan.

To test, gently shake pan to the left and then to the right. It should slightly spin in the pan. If any part is still attached, carefully detach with a knife.

5. To remove timpano from pan:

  • Place a baking sheet or thin cutting board that covers the entire diameter on the pan on top of the timpano.
  • Grasp the baking sheet or cutting board and the rim of the pan firmly and invert timpano.
  • Remove pan and allow timpano to cool for at least 30 minutes.
  • After 30 mins, use a long, sharp knife to cut a circle about 8cm in diameter in the center of the timpano, making sure to cut all the way through to the bottom.
  • Then slice timpano as you would a pie into individual portions, leaving the center circle as a support for the remaining pieces.
  • The cut pieces should hold together, revealing the layers of filling you built up earlier.


The finished Big Night Timpano, stanley tucci, timbale, Stanley Tucci Timpano recipe
Enjoy your Timpano!

For more great recipes from Stanley Tucci, check out The Tucci Cookbook: Family, Friends and Food (with the Timpano recipe) and his most recent book The Tucci Table: Cooking with Family and Friends.


And revisit Big Night the movie that inspired it all

Prawn Linguine With Chilli (aka Linguine ai Gamberi) Recipe

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This Linguine ai gambrel, aka shrimp or prawn linguine with chilli, is a sumptuous seafood delight.

Prawn Linguine With Chilli (aka Linguine ai Gamberi) is a glorious pasta dish.

Whether you call this crustacean a shrimp or a prawn, what we can all agree on is that you must – if at all possible – make a stock with the heads & shells.

I first had this seafood pasta dish on honeymoon on the Italian island of Ponza, a favourite Mediterranean getaway for Romans seeking respite from the capital’s summer inferno. Delicious Italian seafood dishes top the menus of eateries across the island.

What ensures that this seemingly simple dish evokes the sea is the rich prawn stock, layered with the other flavours, all unified at the end by finishing the linguine in the seafood sauce. For an extra sumptuous seafood pasta dish use butter as well as oil to make the stock, and add a glug of wine when simmering tomatoes. You could also sieve the tomatoes before cooking for a smoother texture.

I have been generous with the serving size. The depth of flavour is incredibly moreish, so you should make plenty. It’s also advisable to have some nice bread on standby. However full you may be, you will likely still feel an overwhelming need to mop up any excess sauce.

Prawn Linguine With Chilli (aka Linguine ai Gamberi) recipe

Serves 4


  • 500g linguine
  • 800g large raw prawns/shrimp, shelled & deveined (retain heads & shells for stock)
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1-6 cloves garlic, finely chopped (adjust to taste)
  • 1-2 chillies, deseeded and finely chopped (adjust to taste)
  • 500g sweet cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • Stock (see below)
  • Juice & zest of 2 lemons
  • Large handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • Glass white wine (optional)


  • Olive oil
  • Prawn heads & shells
  • Large glass white wine
  • 250 ml water
  • Salt & pepper
  • 50g butter (optional)


  1. In a large saucepan on a medium heat, fry prawn heads & shells in generous glug of olive oil. When pink, add white wine. After a few minutes when alcohol has evaporated, add equal amount of water and simmer for approx 10 minutes. Crush heads & shells while cooking to release as much flavour as possible. Top up water if necessary, and season to taste. Strain and retain stock.
  2. In a large wide bottomed pan, fry shallot on a medium heat. After 5 minutes, add garlic & chilli and cook for a few more minutes. Add tomatoes and gently simmer for at least 15 minutes, gradually adding strained stock.
  3. Cook linguine in salted water (allegedly should be as salty as the Mediterranean) to about a minute or 2 less than packet instructions. If sauce gets too thick during pasta cooking, add some of the linguine water, tbsp at a time. Retain a cup of water before draining for same reason.
  4. Add prawns to sauce – for larger prawns cook for couple of minutes.
  5. Drain and stir in the linguine, add lemon zest, season to taste, and cook for further couple of minutes until pasta is al dente. Loosen sauce with some retained pasta water if necessary.
  6. Stir in lemon juice and remove from heat. Cover and leave for five minutes. Pasta will absorb even more flavour from the sauce, but without cooking further.
  7. Add parsley, and serve the sumptuous seafood pasta in warmed pasta bowls.


Assistance in recreating this recipe came from Frankie Dettori’s Italian Family Cookbook, which surprisingly has loads of other great Italian recipes.


Linguine with Clams and Cherry Tomatoes Recipe (Linguine con Vongole e Pomodorini)

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Linguine con Vongole e Pomodorini (Linguine with clams and cherry tomatoes)

A slight twist on this Italian classic seafood pasta dish, cherry tomatoes add a dash of summer colour & flavour to the Linguine Vongole recipe.

I would like to say I first ate this Linguine with clams and cherry tomatoes while holidaying in Italy, but I’m pretty sure it was at Wellington Italian eatery Mari Luca.

While I’m no longer a Kiwi resident, my clam of choice is still the New Zealand Little Neck. It is the Iron Man of clams, with an armoured shell to rival Tony Stark’s, which gives the molluscs the best chance of withstanding the journey from sea to your saucepan intact. They taste great too.

Make sure you use the sweetest tomatoes you can find, so they complement the sweet & salty clams. You won’t need to chop them as they should break down just enough while cooking, but if you prefer you can give the skin a little slice before cooking – they’ll be reminiscent of a tomato that’s burst with ripeness.

While the butter adds a smooth richness to this sumptuous seafood pasta dish, the key to getting this linguine vongole recipe right is balancing the garlic, anchovy, shallot and chilli to enhance the delicious salty clam & sweet tomato combo. If in doubt, err on the side of caution. It would be a shame to overpower the clams – even Iron Clam cannot withstand a mass flavour assault.

Linguine with Clams and Cherry Tomatoes (Linguine con Vongole e Pomodosrini) Recipe

Serves 4-6


  • 500g linguine
  • 1kg fresh clams, washed & cleaned
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1-2 chillies, finely chopped
  • 250g very sweet cherry tomatoes
  • 1-2 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • Large handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Large glass white wine
  • 50g butter
  • Salt


  1. In large pan, cook linguine in salted water. It needs to be al dente, so about a minute or so less than packet instructions.
  1. At the same time, in a larger pan on a medium heat, fry the shallot, garlic, chilli, tomatoes, and anchovy in generous glug of olive oil. After a couple minutes add a splash of wine and cook a further 5 or so mins.
  1. Add the clams and the rest of the wine. Cover pan with a tight fitting lid and cook for about 2-3 mins, or until all the clams have opened. Give the pan a good shake – it’ll help the clams open up and tear the tomato skins just enough.
  1. Drain the pasta, and toss into the clam mixture with the parsley and butter.*
  1. Return lid, turn off the heat, and leave everything to sit in the pan for a couple of minutes. The linguine will soak up lots of the delicious cooking liquor, without cooking any further itself.
  1. Serve in warmed pasta bowls, spooning over any remaining cooking liquor.

* You will have of course timed this to perfection, so that the clams and the linguine are ready at the same time to mix together. But if unsure about timings, it is much better to have the linguine ready before the clams. The pasta can sit a while and be heated up again with the clams, but vice versa would lead to the clams becoming tough and rubbery from overcooking.