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Cover: Mamma Mia!

Less than 1 hour

06Jun 12

Pumpkin Fusilli

Pumpkin FusilliYou might remember that I mentioned having a glut of sprouts on our allotment. Well, my wife Teresa loves pumpkins, and we grew quite a few last year. One of the recipes we enjoyed in the Autumn was this delicious pumpkin fusilli.

One of the reasons we love this recipe so much is the memories that it brings whenever we take a bite. We had a very enjoyable and memorable plateful of this on our honeymoon in Varenna, (Italy) by lake Como. Many people wondered why we chose to stay in Italy instead of traveling to a different country, as most newly-weds choose to do. However, we both love Italy so much, and often, we don’t take time to explore our own country. And I’m glad we did, because I had a lovely honeymoon and discovered one of our new favourite dishes!

Ingredients:

  • 400g fusilli pasta
  • 1 medium-sized pumpkin, or 350 ml pumpkin purée
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 onion
  • 350ml vegetable broth
  • 60ml natural yoghurt
  • 60g grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC. Cut the pumpkin into eight equal pieces. Sprinkle a little olive oil on each chunk, and roast in the oven. Remove and allow to cool, before scooping the soft flesh out.
  2. In a bowl, combine the pumpkin flesh with the Parmesan, nutmeg and other spices.
  3. In a frying pan, sautée the onion and garlic until soft. Then add the pumpkin mixture, vegetable broth, butter and brown sugar. Stir well and simmer over a medium heat for 10 minutes.
  4. Bring a pan of lightly-salted water to the boil, and toss in the fusilli pasta. The pasta should be ready in a matter of minutes.
  5. In the pumpkin sauce, add the yoghurt to lighten up the dark orange colour.
  6. Mix in the pasta so that it is completed coated with the sauce.
  7. Serve immediately with salt, pepper and grated Parmesan on top.

I recommend serving this pasta with a side salad like this crunchy sprout salad with pumpkin seeds and balsamic vinegar.

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01Jun 12

Goats’ cheese pizza

Goat Cheese PizzaNow that you’ve got a stock of pizza dough at the ready, here’s one of my personal favourite toppings. I’m absolutely crazy about cheese, and goats’ cheese is one of my most loved varieties. In this recipe the sugary sweetness of caramelized onions complements the richly soft, tart tang of goats’ cheese perfectly.

Goats’ cheese goes well with any type of vegetable. Don’t believe me? After trying my goat cheese pizza, try this goats’ cheese and courgette cannelloni.

Basil can either be added, finely chopped, to the tomato sauce mix or, roughly torn, after cooking (or a bit of both!).

Ingredients:

  • 2 portions of pizza dough
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 100g red bell pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic, very finely sliced
  • 50ml tomato purée
  • 100ml passata (sieved tomato sauce)
  • 50g goats’ cheese, crumbled
  • 100g mozzarella cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Method:

1 – Firstly roll out two balls of pizza dough to the desired size and thickness, roughly quarter of an inch thick and about 10-12 inches in diameter is about what we go for.

2 – Turn the oven on to about 180ºC. Heat the oil over a low-medium heat in a heavy-based pan and add the onion and red pepper. Sauté for 3-4 minutes until golden, adding the garlic a minute or two from the end of the time you allow for the onions and peppers. You want the onion to soften up and turn golden without overcooking the garlic. When ready, remove from the pan and set aside.

3 – Turn up the heat and combine the passata and tomato purée in the frying pan. Over a high-medium heat, allow the tomato paste to combine and reduce, soaking up some of the vegetable flavours as it does so. After 3-4 minutes, the mixture will have thickened and reduced by about a third. Remove the pan and set aside.

4 – Place the rolled pizza bases on sheets of baking paper or foil, and place on baking trays. Spoon the tomato sauce over the bases, spreading evenly to within about half an inch of the edge. Add the onion, red pepper and garlic mix evenly over the tomato sauce before sprinkling the mozzarella and crumbled goats’ cheese over everything. Season with salt and pepper, and if you like add a very small sprinkle of olive oil.

5 – Bake for 10 minutes, then serve immediately.

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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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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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14Apr 12

Bacon and Avocado Strozzapreti

Bacon and Avocado StrozzaprettiBacon and avocado make a wonderful combination: intensely rich, dark and naturally salty, the flavour of the bacon combines perfectly with the soft, smooth and light, but equally rich avocado, whilst the rough crunch of the former contrasts nicely with the buttery smoothness of the latter.

For a more rustic Italian feel, use lardons, or thick slices of bacon chopped into roughly equal sized and fairly small cubes. If you’re using thinner bacon slices, chop the pieces slightly larger, about 2.5 cm square.

Strozzapreti is traditionally hand-made, so why not try it with homemade pasta dough? Being very rustic irregular shapes and sizes are part of its peasant charm.

The etymology of this pasta is fascinating: ‘strozzapreti’ literally translates as ‘strangle-priest’ or, rendered less clumsily, ‘priest-choker’! There are numerous explanations as to how the pasta got this rather alarming anti-clerical sounding name.

The least dramatic is that the chef is ‘choking’ the pasta dough by the actions required to make it. Much juicier and more thrilling are these more complex or comedic explanations: that this was a form of pasta cooked by peasants in part payment of church rents, or best of all, that the clergy are so gluttonous that they stuff down this delicious pasta so quickly they choke themselves!

On that last count, who can blame them? (I’m sure they would have also loved this pasta salad with broccoli and bacon. Different veggies, but still a great flavour!)

Ingredients:

  • 30g butter
  •  200g strozzapretti pasta (or similar, e.g. fusilli)
  • 100g bacon (uncooked)
  •  1/2  medium-sized onion, finely chopped.
  •  1 large ripe avocado, diced.
  •  Several cloves of cloves of garlic (according to taste), peeled, crushed against the blade of a knife, and coarsely chopped.
  •  150ml cream*
  •  100g grated Parmesan cheese.
  •  Salt and pepper.
  •  Optional tablespoon or two of olive oil for the pasta

* You can use either single or double cream, depending how rich and creamy you want it to be; remember though that avocados have both these qualities to begin with!

Method:

1 – Start your water for the pasta. In a frying pan, melt one-third of the butter and fry the bacon till it’s taken on a rich dark tone, as the sugars begin to caramelize, releasing those fabulous aromas and flavours (it was my wife frying bacon in the mornings that ended my experiment with vegetarianism!). Ideally you want the bacon to have some crunch in this dish.

2 – By the time the bacon’s starting to crisp a little, the water should be boiling, so drop your pasta into the pan, cover and reduce to a low medium heat to cook the pasta. Add half of the remaining butter and fry the onion until golden. Now add what’s left of the butter and drop in the garlic. Lower the heat a little and cook gently for a couple of minutes.

3 – Making sure the heat is now very low, pour in the cream and the stir the mixture to combine with any remaining butter. When the mix is a silky smooth delight, add the chopped avocado and grated Parmesan, gently stirring and allowing all the ingredients and flavours to combine for a couple more minutes. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

4 – Drain the pasta and serve into generous deep plates or bowls, before spooning over your richly delicious bacon and avocado mix. Grate a little more Parmesan over it all, and perhaps a little freshly ground pepper, and dive in!

Serves: 2

Total time: 35-40 minutes (15 minutes preparation; 25 minutes cooking)

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28Mar 12

Pesto Sauce

Fresh Pesto SauceAs well as sharing some of my favourite mouth-watering recipes, I’m trying to cover the rudiments of Italian cooking, one of which is pesto sauce. The rich green sauce from Genoa is so tasty, the Beastie Boys rap about it on their track ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’.

B + P + P = Pure Pleasure. This equation for taste bud pleasure begins with B for basil (and plenty of it) to which you add P, for pine nuts, and then more P, this time for pecorino (or Parmesan). The ubiquitous olive oil and garlic, and a little squeeze of lemon juice, and that’s it! You can use it for countless recipes, including this tagliatelle with pesto and pine nuts.

Ingredients:

  • 175ml olive oil
  • 2 large bunches of basil
  • 200g pine nuts
  • 150g of Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • The juice of one lemon
  • 1 to 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped (Vary the amount according to your personal preferences: we like plenty, to keep the vampires off!)

Method:

1 – With a generous splash of olive oil, gently fry the pine nuts over a low-to-moderate heat, for about two minutes. Remove from the heat and throw in the chopped garlic, which will cook a little in the residual warmth, suffusing the oil with its beautiful yet powerful flavour.

2 – Coarsely chop all the basil, including the stalks, and either chuck it in a food processor or a good large pestle and mortar. I have to confess that whilst I often make my own pasta and tomato sauce the old-fashioned way, when it comes to pesto, I let technology speed things up. I also prefer the smoother consistency a machine gives. But you might prefer the rustic unevenness of the ‘by-hand’ method, which can also be messy and fun!

3 – Toss in all your other ingredients (including all the oil you fried your pine nuts and garlic in, plus the oil you set aside), and either blitz with the blender, or work that pestle and mortar! And presto, you’ve got pesto! You should find it absolutely delicious as is, but we sometimes add a tiny amount of salt and/or pepper.

Serves – approx 500g of pesto sauce

Time – 10-15 minutes if using a food processor, longer if using pestle and mortar

Note: Fresh pesto won’t keep long, partly ‘cause there are no preservatives in it, and partly because it tastes so good, you’ll eat it all immediately! But if you pop it in a sealable airtight jar, smooth it over and add a layer of olive oil on the top, it’ll keep a little longer.

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24Mar 12

Pancetta and Pea Penne

Pancetta and Pea GemelliHam, peas and mint are a classic Italian combination, and after a cold winter, and with spring in the air, they have a fresh, zingy lightness, whilst packing a flavoursome punch. I like this dish with a number of different pastas. I suggest penne here, but you could also use fusilli, gemelli or rigatoni. Dry white wine such as a Sauvignon Blanc brings out the spring zing, whilst cream softens that transition out of winter.

Ingredients

• Olive oil: as needed (2 or 3 tablespoons should be about right)
• 20g butter
• 1 clove of garlic
• 1 small onion, or better still 2 shallots
• Small glass dry white wine
• 75-100g pancetta, in little chunks or strips
• 200g peas
• 1 small handful of mint: 1/2 chopped for cooking, and half to garnish the finished dish
• 150-200ml single cream
• 200-300g penne pasta – 200g is for a leaner, lighter meal, 300g if you’re really hungry
• salt and pepper
• Parmesan shavings

Method

1 – This is quite a quick and easy dish, so the first thing I do is get the pasta pan and water started. In a decent sized pan, pour in sufficient water for the amount of pasta you’re cooking, add a little salt, and bring to a boil.

2 – Meanwhile, crush the garlic with the flat of your knife to release those oils, and chop finely. Chop your onions into chunky pieces. Melt the butter in a heavy frying pan and add the olive oil. Toss in your garlic and onions and cook on a low-medium heat till the onions become translucent. Add the white wine and simmer for a couple of minutes to reduce.

3 – Put the pancetta in with the onions, turn the heat up a fraction, and in two or three minutes that lovely pork should start to crisp and caramelize a little. Be careful not to overdo the heat; the onions and garlic might turn a little bitter if burned.

4 – Keeping watch over your pasta, add the peas and chopped mint to the onions and pancetta. Remember, fresh peas will need a bit longer than frozen. Season with salt and pepper, and check that the flavours are just right. Add the cream and simmer gently for a couple more minutes.

5 – Once the pasta is al dente, drain it and toss it over your peas and pancetta, mixing it all up. Garnish with Parmesan shavings and the remaining mint and serve immediately.

6 – Eat and enjoy with the rest of that dry white wine!

Serves 2

Time: 30 mins – about 15 mins prep and 15 mins cooking

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05Mar 12

Soft cheese and celery pasta

Soft Cheese and Celery PastaWith a comforting richness, this soft cheese and celery pasta is really refreshing on a warm day, eaten in the shade with some chilled water or fruit juice on hand.

Although some may not consider cheese a “light” dish, I think it is quite healthy and a delicious source of calcium.

Simplicity itself, this is a good recipe when you’re short of time.

If you want to give the dish more kick, add a clove or two of garlic when you fry the shallots and celery. This dish is also nice with tinned tuna and mayonnaise instead of the soft cheese and yoghurt, although obviously the method will differ if you change the ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 finely chopped shallots
  • 75g soft cheese, such as Brie or Camembert
  • 75g plain yoghurt
  • 1 celery stick trimmed and finely sliced
  • 150-200g penne or similar tubular pasta
  • Small handful of finely chopped parsley
  • Pinch of grated nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 a lime

Method:

1 – In a large pan, bring some lightly-salted water to the boil and cook the pasta until it’s al dente. If you’ve got the right pans, you can steam the chopped celery over the pasta for the first three or four minutes of its cooking time.

2 – While that lot is bubbling away, combine the soft cheese and yoghurt in a bowl, adding the grated nutmeg and some salt and pepper, set aside.

3 – As the pasta nears completion, heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan, and sauté the celery, shallots and most of the chopped parsley, over a medium-low heat for about five minutes, until softened. By this time the pasta should be ready: drain the pasta and combine it with the vegetables.

4 – Remove the pan from the heat and add the cheese and yoghurt mixture, combining well. Return to a low heat and gently warm through for three to five minutes. Serve with a leafy Caesar salad, squeezing some lime juice and sprinkling the remaining parsley over the pasta, if desired.

Serves: 2

Time: 30 minutes: 10 minutes preparation, 20 minutes cooking.

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05Mar 12

Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti CarbonaraSpaghetti Carbonara is a modern Italian classic, but there are some people who get quite stressed about doing this the ‘authentic’ way. I know it’s a terrible cliché, but I really do love it ‘like my mamma used to make it’. My mother always put a lot of cream in. Others have told me that I shouldn’t use cream at all. I say: Mamma knows best!

Although the classic spaghetti carbonara is made with pork, you can make a spaghetti fish supper that is also quite nice.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 2 or 3 cloves of roughly chopped garlic
  • 150g pancetta, cut into ‘lardons’ (generous little rectangles, but not too small!)
  • 2 large eggs
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (We’re cheese-mad, and so we grate a big pile and put it in a little bowl so we can have as much as we fancy!)
  • 75 ml double cream
  • 200-250g spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons of parsley chopped fairly finely, and 2 sprigs to garnish

Method:

1 – Cook the pasta in lightly-salted water with the olive oil.

2 – Heat the pancetta in a heavy-bottomed frying pan: good fatty pancetta should cook in its own fat, but add a little butter or olive oil if you feel you should. The meat will caramelise slightly for maximum rich sugary sweetness. This should take about five minutes. Add the garlic about halfway through, and let soften without burning it, to avoid it tasting bitter. If you like, you can throw in a little chopped parsley as well.

3 – Meanwhile, mix the eggs with the cream and four generous tablespoons of grated Pecorino. Add the finely chopped parsley to the mixture, season well with salt and pepper, and stir with a fork to combine.

4 – Drain the pasta and put it back into the pan in which you cooked it. Add the pancetta, and pour over the egg, cream and cheese mixture. The eggs will cook sufficiently from the heat of the pasta and pancetta. The resulting sauce should have a smooth satin texture.

5 – Serve in deep plates or bowls, garnished with a sprig of parsley, with salt, pepper and plenty more cheese.

It really is as easy as that!

Serves: 2

Time: 20-30 minutes: 5-10 minutes preparation, 15-20 minutes 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.