Tag Archives: italian

Fiocchetti di Pera e Ricotta with Sage and Walnut Butter

With my girlfriend visiting and some scorching temperatures in Valencia I decided to have a short break from the labour-intensive pig parts and cook some lighter dishes. This is a wonderful flavour combination and inspired by a ludicrously expensive Italian stall in the market. I have been desperately searching for the origins of this pasta but to no avail. Naples, Sicily and Florence are all possibilities but no sign of the Ricotta combination, instead many using Gorgonzola or Taleggio.

I haven’t put a recipe down for fresh pasta because if you have made it before then you probably know what works for you, and if not then there are many resources that can explain the process much better. If you have access to fresh, large eggs then the classic combination of 100g flour : 1 egg should work for you. Most of us will find the need for extra egg yolks to compensate for the industrial quality eggs available. A good knead and rest time will make all the difference. I also find rolling quite satisfying and therefore people shouldn’t be put off if they don’t own a machine, just remember you’re aiming for a level of thinness where anything underneath the dough can be made out when held to up to light.

These pretty little ‘bows’ are a bit more special than the standard ravioli, but of-course this filling can be used to fill any shaped pasta.

Fiocchetti di Pera e Ricotta with Sage and Walnut Butter

serves 4

500g fresh pasta dough, rolled to a thin sheet

3 medium pears, peeled, cored and roughly chopped

40g butter

2 tablespoons brown sugar

100g ricotta, drained

seal salt and black pepper

small handful of sage leaves

small handful walnut kernels

Heat 10g of the butter in a saucepan on a medium heat, add the sugar and a large pinch of sea salt, when dissolved add the pears. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until caramelised and cooked throughout.

Remove from the heat and blend well until a thick liquid consistency. Set aside to cool.

When cool, mix well with the ricotta and season with pepper and a little salt.

Cut the pasta into small rectangles and place a teaspoon of the filling in the centre. Pinch opposite sides together working your way around until the centre above the filling is pinched firmly closed and the pasta above fans out.

But the fiocchetti on a baking tray or plates and leave in the fridge for 30 minutes to dry a little.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil and when ready add the fiocchetti. Stirring carefully once to separate them. Leave on a high heat for around 2 minutes. They should start to rise to the surface when ready.

Whilst cooking, place the rest of the butter on a saucepan on a medium heat.

When cooked, remove carefully with a slotted spoon to a colander set above a large bowl.

Add the walnuts and sage to the now melted butter and combine. Add the pasta, stirring to coat it well but being careful not to break the casing. Taste one and add any further seasoning if  required. Serve.

Eggplant Timballo with Orecchiette al Pomodoro

Continuing with the series of lesser known pasta dishes this one probably rates amongst the more unhealthy and laboured plates of pasta you will make. But it is such a joy to eat and watch people’s faces light up upon cutting into this ‘drum’ that the extra work is well worth it. Besides it makes it dinner party material. My Italian flatmate and I served this to a table of Italians as part of a 5 course ‘fritto’ menu amongst olive all’ascolona, coniglio fritto and around 2 litres of oil – keeping things light.

I cooked this recipe from a picture I had seen but having researched a bit it appears there are hundreds of variations of Timballo (I should have guessed that with it being Italian) with fillings from rice to meat. The common theme being that it is baked, normally in a springform tin, however as you will see from my photo at the bottom, I tried to create individual portions by hand as I didn’t have the smaller tins. If you do, then you can save yourself the hassle of trying to create a leak-proof layer of fried aubergines, alternatively just make a large timballo and slice like a cake to serve!

There’s something so satisfying about making your own tomato sauce, not just in the rich taste but in filling the house with their aromas and making a big batch on the weekend can sort supplies out for months. I normally go along the lines of Marcella Harzan’s Sugo Fresco di Pomodoro – slow-cooked and kept simple. Paired with the ‘little ears’ that are Orecchiette to hold the sauce, some tender and crispy coated eggplant, each mouthful is amazing.

A beautiful insight into the art making Orrecchiete in Puglia (video by Tailored Media):

http://vimeo.com/32028266

I found it’s also important to really dry the aubergines out before the baking, so drain in between layers of paper towel to absorb residual oil  for at least half an hour. That way they will stay nice and crisp throughout baking.

This is the most basic Timballo around so experiment and let me know the results!

Eggplant with Orecchiette al Pomodoro

serves 4 as individual starters

For the Eggplant

4 eggplants, sliced thinly lengthwise into around 7 slices

2 eggs beaten

250g breadcrumbs

250ml oil for frying

Place eggplant slices in a colander and salt well, rinsing them in fresh water after 20 minutes and then drying with paper towel.

Heat the oil to 180C. Dip the slices in the egg then in the breadcrumbs.

Fry until golden on each side and drain well on paper towel.

To Prepare:

200g orecchiette pasta

200g tomato sauce

handful of basil leaves

3 tbsp parmesan, grated

1 ball of mozzarella, sliced

Oven to 160C

Cook the pasta al dente. Meanwhile heat the tomato sauce adding basil leaves just before mixing with the drained pasta.

Line the prepared eggplant slices how you wish, in a large baking tin or individual moulds. Divide the pasta equally, placing in the centre over the aubergines.

Wrap the eggplant ends around the pasta. Top with a slice of mozzarella and some grated parmesan then bake for 10 minutes until the mozzarella is melted. Remove  from the tin onto a plate, garnishing with basil leaves.

Penne al Pistacchio

I imagine the humble pistachio to be in many eyes as it is in mine, just a humble snack and occupation for bored hands, occasionally stretching its uses to ice cream and fancy biscuits. Probably with good reason, because for any decent quantity that precious commodity time is required: frustrating, nail-breaking shell-breaking. But that is no excuse not to try this recipe, stick on some music, get something to read, reflect and get cracking. This is such a pleasure to eat, it has an amazing nutty flavour and texture whilst the alcohol lends a sweet almost caramel taste all balanced by the fat and saltiness of the pancetta.

Before writing this I thought hard about whether I should post pasta recipes, for everyone knows about pasta and the web is awash with recipes for every kind of pasta imaginable so should I try and stay away from the obvious? But there is such a beautiful simplicity to pasta in all its forms, the story of fuss and controversy over what started as two ingredients has endured over 1000 years and is one full of myth and lore.. It just fascinates me. So I will continue sharing this love here, aiming for the more obscure, unknown and unique dishes from Italy; simple yet interesting and full of flavour and obviously true to the generations of Italians cooking it beforehand.

This recipe is taken from Al Dente by William Black, a truly inspiring read for anyone even slightly interested in Italy and its food. The recipes contained are usually straight from an Italian ‘nonna’ and left unadulterated, so you know it’s the real thing.

As for ingredients in this one, I have read brandy can be substituted for dark rum; I used Jerez and some use white wine. I can’t think of many places that offer a large range, but if you do, aim for the flavoursome Sicilian Bronte variety, whose wonderful red shell gives way to the greenest of nuts – the true King of Pistachios. And feel free to point me in the direction of some more recipes using these please!

Penne al Pistacchio

serves 4

400g penne

30g unsalted butter

1 onion, chopped finely

2 garlic cloves, chopped finely

50g pancetta, diced

1 tablespoon reduced chicken stock

50g pistachios, finely chopped or given a quick whizz in a blender.

100 ml brandy

200ml single cream

salt and pepper

Cook the penne in the normal way until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a large pan on a medium heat melt butter and soften onions, adding garlic after 3 minutes and making sure only slight caramelisation occurs.

Add the pancetta then the stock and a ladel of pasta water. Cook for 5 minutes more. Check the penne.

Stir in pistachios (reserve a sprinkling as a garnish, add brandy and flame with a long match.

Add cream and season to taste then add drained pasta to pan stirring for 1 minute.
Serve.

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Summer is Coming – Home-dried Tomatoes

Welcome news to start this week for all those living in the UK with the prospect of some sun and balmy heights of 25C before the end of the week (well done to the Guardian for putting a downer on things for those living in Scotland though). Underused BBQ’s will be dragged out of sheds throughout the country, Pimm’s opened and pasty bodies exposed as summer finally arrives.

The weekend just gone here in Valencia was hot, nothing unusual there, clocking 34C on Saturday but for me it was the start of Summer with my first BBQ of the year. Prawns with alioli, squid, garlic and rosemary butterflied leg of lamb, chorizos and of course bananas on the coals. What it did miss however was some tomatoes, not your bland supermarket tomato, nor the popular sun-dried tomato (whose texture or taste is really not that great when bought in a jar?), but the semi-dry, over-priced, full-flavoured morsels of goodness that are sun-blushed tomatoes.  Ok so done in the oven isn’t the same as the sun, but let’s not put too much confidence in British weather to stay good and leave them outside, besides when these come out you won’t be going to that deli counter any more.

Get to a grocer or market this weekend and grab a few kilos of very ripe tomatoes, preferably English as imported ones will lack that sweet-savoury caramel flavour that comes from being picked ripe. Even better if you have a bumper garden crop.

I used this recipe from the brilliant Heston Blumenthal at home, a must-have book for any ambitious home cook. The flavours are pretty provencal but obviously this type of recipe calls for individual taste so play around with herbs  and quantities to personal taste. The recipe forms part of a tomato tart which is  probably the best I have ever eaten, think tapenade, caramelised onions, pesto… salivating?

Removing the pulp and seeds first means a shorter time in the oven, and in my opinion removing the skin first leaves such a lovely, smooth texture at the end which is very worth the effort (for less hassle and less pleasure just leave them be, season and dry for 4-5 hours instead).

Oven-dried tomatoes 

medium to large very ripe tomatoes

cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced

bay leaves, finely sliced

thyme sprigs

salt

caster sugar

olive oil

  • Peel tomatoes.
  • Cut in half and scoop out pulp and seeds.
  • Drain on kitchen paper for around 2 hours.
  • Oven at 100C.
  • Line baking tray(s) with parchment , place tomatoes cut-side up and add to each some garlic, bay and thyme. Season with salt and sugar.
  • Drizzle with olive oil and place in oven for 3 hours.

After 3 hours the result should be a dry but soft tomato, for me the texture was almost that of a dried apricot but less chewy. Eat that day drizzled with some good oil or store in a sterilized jar covered with oil – find endless uses for these in pastas, salads, tarts etc.. enjoy!

Caponata with Seared Cod and Mussels

I recently read about Caponata’s sweet and sour flavour but for me that does this dish no justice and conjures up images of a greasy Chinese, paling in comparison to this ‘aubergine stew’ which serves up some of the best Sicily has to offer. I do admit that the Arab influenced combination of aubergines, celery, capers, vinegar and sugar does have a sweet and sour contrast but it is much subtler and well-balanced.

Like most classic Italian dishes there are 1001 variations and you could spend hours trawling through books and the internet deciding on one. I used a mix of a few recipes including Carluccio’s one which seems to be quite well regarded but whose cooking time I think is too short as I really wanted this to have a compote texture. Other recipes add spice or sweetness through chilli or raisins . Personal preference and how you will serve it will probably dictate that. Being used as everything from a pickle to a main dish it has a lot of scope. The idea to serve it with seafood came from Wikipedia as before I hadn’t seen anyone suggest it as a side to fish and I thought that cod and mussels would go well due to one’s quite subtle taste and the others bolder, salty one. I would probably also use clams next time to add another element to the dish.

To quote Jamie Oliver (who also has a seemingly good recipe) it is really important to try and get aubergines which have few seeds, these are normally firmer, and also not to be tempted to cut the chunks too small or they will take on too much oil.

As with most stew-like things, its flavours improve overnight so make it the day before and whether you are using it as part of this dish or as a salad it will be worth the wait. There looks like there is a lot to this dish but it is SO simple, plus if the caponata is done the day before you only need to reheat it and meanwhile prep the seafood. You could serve this in summer or winter maybe adding some more spice and sweetness for extra warmth in winter .

 

serves 4 with plenty of Caponata left over for the next day!

Caponata

1kg aubergines, in 2cm dice

500g celery and their leaves, roughly chopped

2 onions, roughly chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

400g tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped or blended OR use tinned chopped tomatoes

350g green pitted olives

40g salted capers

40ml red wine vinegar (I used a good sherry vinegar which worked really well)

1tbsp caster sugar

400g tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped or blended OR use tinned chopped tomatoes

90g basil

100ml olive oil

  • Salt the aubergines in a colander for 15mins, meanwhile prep the other ingredients. Rinse well and dry with kitchen towel.
  • Heat most of the oil in a large casserole dish and on a high heat brown the aubergines in batches. Remove and set aside. Adding more oil to pan if too dry.
  • Reduce the heat to low and wait for olive oil to cool down a bit before adding the onions and celery with their leaves too. Soften for 10 minutes.
  • Add the garlic for 2 minutes before returning the aubergines and adding the tomatoes, olives and capers (reserve a few olives and capers to add at the end for a different texture and to garnish plate). Season and cook gently on a low heat for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile mix the vinegar and sugar together in a small pan, bring to the boil and remove from heat. This should hold a pleasant sweet and sour taste, if not add either to your preference. Add to the stew and cook for a further hour stirring occasionally.
  • 5 minutes before the end add the olives, capers, basil (reserving some leaves) and cooked mussels (see below) and check seasoning.

Cod

4 fillets with skin

olive oil

salt

  • Heat the oil until smoking in a heavy bottomed pan, salt the fillets well on both sides add skin side down and sear on high heat for 2 minutes before carefully turning over for another minute. Remove and set aside.

Mussels

500g mussels

1 glass white wine

1 garlic clove, peeled and quartered

  • Clean mussels thoroughly under cold water using a small knife or hard brush. Discard broken shells and close open ones by tapping  fairly hard 3 times with the back of a knife, if not closing discard them.
  • Bring wine to boil in large pan with garlic and a splash of water over a high heat, add mussels and cover with lid, shaking the pan well every 30 seconds until all the shells are open. Drain and discard unopened shells.
  • Remove half of the mussels from the shells (optional) and add to Caponata 5 minutes before finished cooking.
Gremolata (optional)
hanful of parsley, finely chopped
zest of one lemon
  • combine parsley and lemon
To plate, lay fillet skin side down and spoon over caponata and mussels. Scatter remaining olives, capers and basil leaves and spoon over some gremolata. SERVE.

Spaghetti al Limone

A few weeks ago I returned from my first ever skiing holiday, I had loved every part of it from the beautiful scenery to the wonderful sense of freedom derived from throwing oneself down a mountain. But after my 8 days there I seriously needed some sunshine and fresh food.

I strolled through the Mercado Central the next morning amongst what seemed the freshest, most colourful produce I’d ever seen and was drawn by a huge mound of lemons. The yellow page of The River Cafe Cook Book sprung to mind and I knew what I’d be having for lunch.

A dish that fills the air with unctuous parmigiana, fresh citrus and basil, ticking all the boxes for a fresh summer dish

Spaghetti al Limone

Adapted from the fantastic River Cafe Cook Book by Rose Gray and Ruth Rodgers

Serves 4

400g spaghetti

Juice of 3 lemons, zest of 1-2

150ml ml olive oil

130g Parmigiano

Sea salt and black pepper

Small bunch fresh basil chopped

Drop the pasta in boiling salted water (around a 1:5 ratio of pasta:water), stirring once submerged, leave to cook.

In an empty screw-top jar add the juice of the lemons and the olive oil, shake vigorously until well combined and emulsified.

Pour this mix into a new saucepan and stir in the grated parmesan (reserving a small amount to garnish) until thick, creamy consistency. Season well.

When al dente, pick spaghetti straight from water using pasta tongs, hold 3 seconds for some water to drain off then add to the saucepan containing lemon oil.

Once spaghetti added, place this saucepan on a low-med heat, stir well so pasta well coated whilst adding zest and basil. Serve.