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Cover: Mamma Mia!

Main Courses

14Jun 12

Roast Courgette Ruote

Roast Courgette RuoteThis dish matches wheel-shaped pasta (ruote simply means wheel) with round slices of roast courgette, and pesto if you’ve got any in the fridge.

Despite its earthy simplicity, this dish is somehow light and refreshing, and makes an ideal pairing with cold beer, a good dry white wine, or even prosecco. Eaten outdoors on a balmy night, with a cool refreshing beverage – by water is idyllic – this is a simple, subtly-flavoured food that leaves you quite satisfied.

For more courgette goodness, try these courgette and tomato pizzettas.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large courgette, cut into thin (2-3mm) slices
  • 200g of ruote pasta, or any other fun alternative such as fiori or croxetti
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/2 a medium-sized onion, fairly coarsely chopped (small stamp-sized pieces)
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons of pesto (optional)

Method:

1 – Heat your grill to 200ºC, and place the chopped courgette on a baking/roasting tray, on a sheet of foil if need be, but certainly with a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil sprinkled over them. Get them under the heat, as close as safely and reasonably possible, without setting them alight! Keep an attentive eye on them, and turn over when necessary. Lay the courgette slices out so they overlap slightly, as this will mean some of the soft flesh roasts whilst other parts stay tender.

2 – Whilst the courgettes are roasting, get the pasta cooking. The time this recipe takes depends on two things: how long your courgettes take to roast, and how long your pasta needs. Assuming your courgettes char quickly and you time your pasta right, you should be able to get this done in 30 minutes.

3 – With your courgettes roasting and the pasta cooking, in a heavy-based frying pan, heat two tablespoons of oil, fry the onion till golden, adding the garlic after a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat when the onions are well caramelised and the garlic has started to turn golden, and set aside.

4 – Drain the pasta and return to the pan. Mix in the onion and garlic and, if the courgettes aren’t ready yet, keep warm. But hopefully your courgettes are now nicely roasted. Mix them into the pasta, onion and garlic, season with salt and pepper and serve. You might like to have a little bowl of pesto handy, and plop a dollop on top of your pasta.

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14Jun 12

Italian Classics – Lasagne

Lasagne

 

A classic Italian dish known all around the world, there’s no need to wonder why lasagne is so popular… it’s simply delicious! This recipe assumes you have some ready-made Bolognese sauce to hand. So, if you need help with that, look back through my posts for my spaghetti Bolognese recipe, and use that.

This recipe also calls for béchamel sauce, delicious and creamy. You can buy it at the store, but as always, I prefer to make mine from scratch. So the first step in the recipe below explains the method of preparation for the sauce using bay leaf, milk, butter and nutmeg. That is the first part of the recipe, and you´ll want to start with that.

Now the fun bit: assembling your lasagne. I like to imagine I’m laying the strata of rocks and earth in an imaginary edible geological cross-section!

Have a piquant peppery green-leaf salad with your lasagne, a salad with a bit of bite! Oh, and don’t forget, a hearty and robust red wine is an essential accompaniment. I know I should probably recommend an Italian wine, but I love Chateaneuf du Pape, when I can afford it! And afterwards, you can savour this Negroni cocktail, another Italian favourite!

Italian Classics - Lasagne
Author: 
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
A classic Italian dish known all around the world
Ingredients
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 500ml milk
  • 40g butter
  • 40g flour
  • ½ teaspoonful of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 350ml (i.e. approx 4 servings) of Bolognese sauce
  • 160g dried lasagne sheets*
  • 100g grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • * Or you could roll out your pasta dough if you have some you’ve made yourself.
Instructions
  1. To make the béchamel sauce, bring the milk to a simmer in a pan with the bay leaf in it. Take off the heat and stand for 15-20 minutes to infuse the milk with the flavour of the bay leaf. Melt the butter in another pan, over a low heat. Add the flour and stir.
  2. Watch closely and monitor the heat. In a minute or two, the flour and butter mixture will have combined and ‘cooked’. Remove from the heat and slowly and gradually add the infused milk, having first strained it through a sieve to get rid of the bay leaf (and anything else that might make the sauce lumpy!), stirring all the while.
  3. Once it’s all combined and you’re sure it’s mixed smoothly, return to the heat and gently simmer until it thickens, which should only take a minute or two. Add the grated nutmeg and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Next, get started on your pasta. I’m assuming the use of dried pasta sheets for this recipe. Cook them in batches in salted boiling water, until al dente, as usual.
  5. As you take each batch out, drain off excess water, rinse in cold water to refresh, and lay on a kitchen towel or tea towel, to absorb any moisture.
  6. While you’re doing this, you can reheat your Bolognese sauce in a pan or microwave.
  7. In a suitably sized ovenproof dish, start with the Bolognese sauce: go for three layers - you should have the perfect amount of everything enabling you to divide the pasta, Bolognese and béchamel sauces in thirds. So on top of one-third of your meaty sauce, put one-third of the béchamel, then a layer of pasta. Repeat the process two more times, reserving a little béchamel for the top of the last layer of pasta, before finally sprinkling over the Parmesan. We sometimes add small amounts of Parmesan in each layer as well, over the béchamel sauce, for added cheesiness.
  8. Bake at 220ºC until the top turns a beautiful golden brown, which should take 15-20 minutes, and then remove from the oven and let stand for about 5 minutes, before serving.

 

 

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12Jun 12

Pasta Dough

Pasta DoughNowadays, when we want pasta, we’re spoiled with choices as we can buy it ready-made either in its dried or fresh form. But the best is when we can make it ourselves! In order to do this fine food justice, you need to take on another of the essential basics for any budding Italian chef: making fresh pasta.

Use this fresh pasta in any of my delicious recipes or with others such as this pasta with chestnut mushrooms and Grana Padano Cream.

Ingredients:

  • 400g Tipo ‘00’ flour (plus a little extra for dusting the work surface)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of fine salt

Method:

1 – Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl. I do it in a bowl instead of a flat surface as I find it easier and a little less messy. Just as we did for pizza dough last week, make a big dip in the top of your ‘hill’.

2 – Break the eggs, either into the hole or a bowl, and beat with a fork till smoothly combined. Then, using your fingertips, gradually work the eggs into the flour. Once it’s all combined into a big ball, knead it thoroughly. Really work the dough, pounding it, stretching it, rolling, folding and recombining it. The initially floury texture should ultimately become smoother, taking on an almost satin sheen.

3 – Divide the pasta into generous fist-sized portions, rolling each into smooth balls and wrapping them in clingfilm. Rest the pasta dough somewhere cool for a full hour. Whatever you’re using right away is then ready for step four. What’s left over can be frozen in sealed plastic bags.

4 – Now it’s time to roll out the dough. If you’ve got a pasta-making machine, simply follow the instructions for making wide thin sheets. I roll mine out with a rolling pin because that way I feel more in control. Dust the worktop with some of the extra flour, and roll out a full fistful of dough at a time, into something as near rectangular as you can manage, aiming for pasta as thin as you can get it, dusting the pasta afresh with each pass.

Technology can speed things up: you could use a food processor on ‘pulse’ to mix your dough. But when it comes to rolling the pasta, whether you go the old-fashioned rollingpin route, or use a modern pasta-making machine, either way will take a bit of time. Just be patient and think of the lovely fresh pasta you’ll have as a result of all your efforts.

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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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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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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.