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Cover: Mamma Mia!

May, 2012

29May 12

Pasta and tomato sauce

Pasta and tomato sauceThis past weekend was fun, but extremely busy! Friday I had to stay late at work; Saturday I scrambled to buy a gift, attend my nephew’s birthday party, and take my wife out on our weekly date night; Sunday I had what seemed like a billion odd jobs around the house. Before I knew it, Sunday night had arrived, and just as I thought I could relax, my neighbour called and asked for help changing a flat tyre! I was tired and hungry, but I had to eat in a hurry before rushing to his aid. I didn’t have much food in the house, so I cooked up the ever-so-simple yet classic pasta and tomato sauce.

This one is for all you busy guys and gals. We all have those days when we’re just rushed off our feet, but we still crave something satisfying. One of the many fantastic things about Italian food is how quick and easy it can be. And sometimes simple is also best. This classic combination of pasta and tomato sauce might be basic, but it certainly satisfies when time is short.

For a more deluxe combination, while still keeping it simple, try adding a bit of chicken or seafood for more protein. I recommend this clam linguine.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 roughly chopped garlic cloves (crush them with the flat of your knife blade if you’re really in a hurry)
  • 250ml passata (sieved tomato sauce)
  • 150-200g of whatever pasta you have within an arm’s reach
  • A chunky knob of butter
  • Grated Parmesan
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

1 – In a large pan bring some lightly-salted water to the boil and cook the pasta until al dente.

2 – Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan, and sauté the garlic over a low heat for half a minute. Stir in the passata and increase the heat. Bring the sauce to the boil, season with salt and pepper, then reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes.

4 – By now the pasta is done, so drain it before combining the sauce and the pasta. Add the butter and mix together. Serve with added Parmesan and seasoning to suit your palate.

Time is tight, so just pop open a handy bag of ready-mixed green leafy salad, and crack open a nice cold beer. Job done!

Serves: 2

Time: 20 minutes: 5 minutes preparation, 15 minutes cooking.

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25May 12

Sage and Gorgonzola Fettucine

Sage and Gorgonzola Fettucine

You might notice that I like my ribbon pastas. This one’s also suitable for vegetarians (but not vegans): it’s another delightfully simple pasta dish – almost stupidly so! – with a rich, creamy, meat-free sauce.

Gorgonzola has been around for over a thousand years, is named after a town in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, and is a soft, crumbly, blue-veined cheese made from the milk of goats or cows. Very similar to the French Roquefort, both cheeses are made by the addition of varieties of penicillin bacteria. Whilst this might not sound very appetizing, the results are simply delicious.

Last time my wife and I had this, we experimented with a contrasting side dish. Take 10 or 12 small shallots, boil them for ten minutes in lightly salted water, and then roast under the grill for five minutes (to caramelize). You’ll need to do this before preparing the pasta. Then, whilst the pasta and sauce cook, mix a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, a couple of olive oil, and a small amount (one tablespoon) of brown sugar together. Pour over the roasted shallots, and heat through in a frying pan for about five minutes, making sure they’re covered in the sticky brown sauce. We liked the contrast of this sweet and sour side dish with the creamy pasta. If you try them together, let me know what you think. If you prefer to play it safe, a salad with some bite, such as this curly asparagus salad with goat’s cheese and Medjool dates, will do ideally.

Sage & Gorgonzola Fettucine
Author: 
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
 
This one’s also suitable for vegetarians (but not vegans): it’s another delightfully simple pasta dish
Ingredients
  • 25g butter, cubed
  • 6-8 sage leaves, chopped roughly (set several aside for garnishing)
  • 120g Gorgonzola cheese
  • 80ml double cream
  • 1 tablespoon of dry vermouth
  • 1 teaspoon of fine flour
  • 200g fettuccine pasta
  • 50-100g Parmesan cheese shavings
  • Salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. As the sauce element is so stunningly simple, start off by getting the pasta going: bring a large pan of lightly salted water to the boil, and cook the pasta till al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a good cast iron skillet, or heavy-bottomed frying pan. Crumble the Gorgonzola into the pan, and heat for 2 or 3 minutes until the cheese has melted. Add the cream, vermouth and flour, stirring vigourously and continually, to combine into a smooth sauce.
  3. Add the chopped sage, and continue stirring constantly. Let the sauce reach boiling point and thicken a little, then season and remove from the heat. Drain the pasta, and then return it to the pan. Pour over the sauce, and toss or stir it all together, coating all the pasta. Serve immediately, garnished with the last sage leaves.

 

 

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21May 12

Pizza Dough

Pizza DoughPizza, thought of worldwide as a quintessentially Italian food, actually originated in Greece before spreading all around the Eastern Mediterranean. The word itself derives, in its Italian form, from the Latin term pinsere, meaning “to press”.

This flat form of bread also gives us the root for things like pitta. There are a lot of things you can do with pitta, such as Tamzin’s Taramasalata and Watercress Pitta. But whereas that has evolved into a kind of oval-shaped bread pocket, the Italian ‘pizza pie’ is usually a round base on top of which the ‘filling’ is piled. The modern form we now know worldwide is a Neapolitan creation, and in its authentic form is usually thin.

I favour making my own pizza bases. Making your own pizza from the bottom up makes for a much more satisfying meal than simply buying ready-made pizza bases and then putting your toppings on them.

Note: use ‘00’ pizza-making flour for your bases; it’s milled finer than ordinary bread-making flour and has a higher gluten content, making the perfect soft, light, springy pizza dough.

Ingredients:

  • 650 ml lukewarm water
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of caster sugar
  • 15 g dried yeast
  • 1 kg of ‘00’ pizza flour
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

Method:

1 – Sieve the flour and salt onto a clean work surface, making sure it’s piled into a good little hill. Make a hole in the top of the hill, so it looks like an extinct volcano. Mix the olive oil, yeast and sugar into the warm water and allow to stand for several minutes.

2 – Pour the yeast mix into your dormant flour Vesuvius. With a fork, gradually work the flour into the liquid. Patiently do this step slowly, until all the flour is mixed in and the whole lot aggregates into a sticky ball.

3 – Wash your hands and dust them with flour, then knead the dough into a spongy ball. Pop it in a large flour-coated mixing bowl, and cover the bowl with a damp cloth. Leave this somewhere for an hour, in which time it should double in size.

4 – Make sure your work surface is clean, sprinkle it with a small amount of flour, and knead the dough a second time to remove some of the air from it.

5 – Divide the dough into as many helpings as you want pizza bases, and wrap any you won’t be cooking in clingfilm to refrigerate. You can also freeze the dough if you want to keep it longer. Only roll your bases out when you come to cook the pizza.

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17May 12

Prawn and Courgette Tagliatelli

Prawn with Courgette Tagliatelli

Here’s another simple and delicious pasta meal that takes almost no time to prepare, this time featuring the humble prawn as the star ingredient. You could use any prawns really, but king prawns are ideal, as they’re bigger, chunkier, and have the flavour to stand up against the chilli and garlic. For the pasta you could substitute spaghetti, vermicelli, linguine, tagliolini, or any other long, thin pasta or noodle. (Also try this tagliatelle with salmon pasta dish.)

As for an accompanying salad, we like watercress on its own, perhaps drizzled with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It’s peppery, and fresh, exactly like the pasta dish.

An ideal wine would be a clean, crisp dry white, like a Pinot Grigio. And maybe some soft, crusty white bread would come in handy, to soak up the juices and clean down your plate?

If you decide to grate the courgette, I recommend using the bigger teeth on the grater, because otherwise it will just be a bland pulp and not very appetising.

Prawn and Courgette Tagliatelli
Author: 
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2
 
Here’s another simple and delicious pasta meal that takes almost no time to prepare, this time featuring the humble prawn as the star ingredient.
Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 40g butter, cubed
  • 120g prawns (king prawns are best: big and chunky is good!)
  • 200g courgettes, either chopped or grated
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
  • The finely grated rind of a small lemon (unwaxed)
  • I red chilli (fresh), deseeded and finely chopped
  • 200g dried tagliatelli
  • Salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Cook the pasta as normal, in some lightly salted boiling water, till al dente.
  2. While the pasta cooks, heat the oil in a large heavy based frying pan on a medium to high heat, adding the prawns, garlic, chilli and lemon rind when it’s hot. Season lightly and cook for a couple of minutes, till the prawns lose their translucent quality and turn a nice opaque pink.
  3. Add the butter and courgettes, season and stir, cooking for about a minute, or two at the most. By now your pasta should be done, so drain off the cooking liquid.
  4. Toss the pasta into the frying pan, and stir it all up, combining all the beautiful ingredients. Sniff and savour the briny smell of the sea and the pungent aromas of chilli and garlic!

 

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11May 12

Pork Pappardelle with Thyme and Sage

Pork ParpadelleFood and family are two of the most important blessings in my life, and combining the two makes for a perfect meal. My family is enormous, and we love getting together to enjoy a few bottles of wine and delicious eats. We have been known to squeeze up to 20 people at the dinner table at once! What others may call chaos, I call cosy. When we are all together, there is always love, good cheer, and fantastic food!

Feeding so many people isn’t difficult; pasta is the perfect solution for numerous hungry relatives! It is delicious and plentiful.

Preparing pasta is relatively stress-free, quick and simple; this recipe for Pork Pappardelle with Thyme and Sage is simplicity itself and makes enough for 2 people so just multiply quantities accordingly for bigger groups. Pappardelle ribbons give the truly passionate pasta lover that bit more to bite on, and with the salty pork and the punchy fragrance of the herbs, this is a simple but rich and earthy dish.

For another simple pasta meal, try pasta with egg yolks and walnuts. It was definitely a hit with my big family!

Ingredients:

  • 2-4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, very thinly sliced chopped roughly
  • 4 or 5 leaves of sage
  • A sprig of thyme, roughly chopped
  • 150g sliced smoked pancetta, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 200g pappardelle
  • salt and pepper
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese

Method:

1 – The first thing I do is put the lightly-salted water in a large pan for the pasta. While the water is heating up, you can make a start on the other ingredients. Heat most of the olive oil in a heavy-base frying pan, reserving a little for the pasta, and cook the pork until it starts to caramelise. Add the garlic. When the garlic has begun to colour, add the sage and thyme, cooking gently for a minute or two until the herbs soften and the flavours begin to combine. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm while the pasta cooks.

2 – When the pappardelle is suitably al dente, drain and toss with the remaining olive oil. Combine with the pork and herb mix, check for seasoning, and serve with grated parmesan. For a suitable wine, you could go red for the pork, or white for the pasta and herbs. We like Cuvée Mythique, a French red with a lovely picture of an owl on the label.

Serves: 2

Time: 30 minutes (about 10 minutes prep and 20 minutes cooking)

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07May 12

Braised Rabbit

Braised Rabbit

Nowadays you don’t have to go out with a gun to bag your own bunny; local farmers sell it at market or in their increasingly common farm shops. Most butchers can get it easily if they don’t already have it, and some of the bigger stores might have it on the meat counter.

Farmed rabbit tends to be plumper, whilst wild rabbit is leaner, darker, and might have lead shot in it, depending on how it was killed (make sure you find out!). It’s most convenient to buy rabbit prepared. Cooking a whole rabbit should feed four modestly or provide enough for two meals if cooking for just two. (Also try this English rabbit pie.)

Ingredients:

  • 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 100ml white wine
  • 1 tablespoon of vinegar (balsamic is best!)
  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 stick of celery, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 rabbit (prepared by your butcher), chopped into nugget-sized serving pieces
  • 300ml stock (can be vegetable, chicken or lamb)
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary*
  • 1 teaspoon thyme*
  • 1 teaspoon oregano*
  • 3 or 4 sprigs of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

* These herbs can be fresh or dried.

Method:

1 – Season the rabbit with salt and fresh ground black pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large cast iron casserole dish (or similar), at a medium setting. Once the oil has heated, brown the rabbit in batches, turning to ensure that both sides are cooked. Remove the rabbit and place on kitchen towel in a bowl.

2 – Put the onions, celery and garlic into the casserole, checking that enough oil remains, and add a drop if need be. There should be some delicious residue left from browning the rabbit, so scrape it from the casserole into the veg mix. An optional pinch of salt can be added at this stage if desired. Sauté over a low heat for several minutes.

3 – Add the wine and vinegar and stir. Increase the heat to a high-medium, and bring the wine and vinegar to the boil for a couple of minutes. Next add the stock and all the herbs, save the parsley.

4 – Finally, add the rabbit, stirring it into the vegetables and broth to combine everything. Take the casserole off the heat (and remember to turn it off!), cover with the lid, and place into a preheated oven (180°C). Cook for between an hour and an hour and a half, or until the rabbit is tender. Taste, and if necessary, adjust the seasoning, finally adding the parsley. Let stand for 15 minutes, to let the rabbit meat rest, and then serve.

Serves: 2-4

Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes (15 mins prep; 1 1/2 hrs cooking)

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02May 12

Sprout, Chestnut and Thyme Tagliatelle

Sprout_Chestnut_and_Thyme_TagliatelleThis one’s a little more unusual, mainly due to the sprouts. It’s a vegetarian pasta dish, but it packs a very full-flavour punch! We had a large crop of Brussel sprouts on our allotment last autumn, and decided to try them in place of meat in one of our favourite dishes. We think they work a treat: the sprouts have a really strong flavour (and aroma), as do the chestnuts. We had to lessen the amount of thyme from the meat version of this dish, as otherwise there’s simply too much flavour! Give it a try and tell us what you think.

Ingredients

  • 25g butter
  • 2 small shallots, chopped roughly
  • 150g Brussel sprouts: peel and cut an ‘x’ in the top
  • 50-75g vacuum-packed ready-to-cook chestnuts, chopped into halves
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped thyme
  • small glass dry white wine
  • 150ml double cream
  • 200g tagliatelle
  • salt and pepper
  • grated parmesan cheese

Method

1 – Before you get the whole meal started, part-cook the Brussel sprouts: about 10 mins in very lightly salted boiling water should be enough, but it depends on the size of the sprouts. Then chop them up roughly, so that the sprout pieces are just a bit larger than the chopped chestnuts.

2 – Melt the butter in a large heavy bottomed pan, add the shallots and fry for 2 mins. Add the sprouts, chestnuts and thyme, cooking for 1 or 2 minutes (a little colour/caramelisation looks nice and adds flavour). Add the white wine and cook for 2-3 minutes to reduce. Add the cream and simmer gently for a couple of minutes to reduce further. Now is a good time for seasoning, but be careful, these ingredients already have a lot of powerful flavour!

3 – Whilst the main ingredients are cooking, start the pasta: bring sufficient lightly salted water to the boil, and cook your tagliatelle till al dente. Drain the pasta, and combine with the sauce. Check the seasoning and serve, adding grated parmesan. This dish is great with dry peppery white wine, like a Gruner Veltliner, or Gewurtztraminer.

Notes: if you don’t like sprouts, and I know quite a lot of people don’t, then instead use sausages: using Italian salciccia you can either cut them lengthways, and then roughly chop them up, or just cut slice them transversely, but a bit thinner.

Serves 2

Time: 30 mins – about 10 mins prep & 20 mins cooking

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About Gianluca Dievole

My Badge: Assistant

About

Buon' giorno! Welcome to my Italian food blog. I am Italian, and proud of it! Italy has so much going for it: with one foot quite literally in the beautiful Mediterranean, my country’s climate and location give us an amazing cornucopia of ingredients, which is why our culture is steeped in a hearty romantic culinary tradition. My wife and I love our food, so all my recipes are designed for two. If you're cooking for an average sized modern family - perhaps not the traditional extended Italian family - just double the quantities.