Tag Archives: pasta

Gnocchi al Forno

gnocchi-4One of life’s simplest pleasures must be watching someone skilled working with their hands. It should be something we don’t see as much anymore in an age of supposedly being so far removed from production. Yet more and more, kitchens open up so we can see fish filleted and dishes dressed, and Instagram welcomes us into studios to see potters throwing pots, or wood being whittled. Yet nothing quite compares to seeing it in person, when it isn’t a fabricated moment, but something that happens naturally. And crucially, nothing quite compares to when it fulfils the stereotype of an Italian rolling pasta.

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Back in 2012, I posted a video to accompany my timballo recipe of la signora delle orecchiette. The simplicity of the video, the monotony of the process and the effortlessness of the whole situation gripped me. It not only served to show how to roll the orecchiette, but to transport you to this perfect, almost otherworldly setting to sit with these ladies and join their conversation.

So earlier this year, in the depths of a Roman winter, when it was suggested that gnocchi al forno should be made, and zia Anna started rolling out the dough as if she did it everyday (she doesn’t), I found myself mesmerised again by the whole moment. I pulled out the camera to film her at work. It takes me back to the whole calmness of it: the saxophone soundtrack to our impromptu pasta class, the satisfying sounds of dough being rolled, scraped and cut, and Anna’s pointers that capture such a laidback approach to cooking. All of these just about get me past the blurriness and shakiness of the recording on a prime lens!

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Gnocchi – farina e acqua from mwkitchen on Vimeo.

This is a next level pasta bake, and this no-egg gnocchi is so simple to make that there’s no excuse not to try and make something with your own hands. Good quality tinned tomatoes and mozzarella (smoked if you can get hold of it) will make the dish.

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Gnocchi

Scale up to quantity needed – the below works for two hungry people.

100g water

100g plain flour

Dissolve a large pinch of salt into the boiled water

Make a well in the flour and add the water. Mix with a spoon to form a dough

Tip onto a board and knead to form a tighter dough, around 3-5 minutes, adding more flour if it is too wet. Form into a round ball on the board. It should sag a little when left, but not a lot.

Cover with the mixing bowl you used and leave to rest for 20 minutes.

Shaping gnocchi

Better than me explaining it is to watch the video above.

Have a baking tray lined with a tea towel ready. Dust this liberally with flour.

With a dough cutter or knife, cut off a handful of dough from the rested ball.

On a large board or work surface, begin rolling the separated dough, starting in the middle and working your hands outwards to form sausages. Make sure there is little to no flour on this part of the board or the sausages will slip and not roll thinner. Put the rolled sausages to one side on a little flour.

Repeat with small amounts of dough until you have a few long sausages. Line them up and use the dough scraper to into cut 2cm rectangles.

With two fingertips, press down on the rectangles and roll towards you.

Dust the rolled gnocchi with flour, pick up as gently as possible so they maintain their shape and transfer to the floured tea towels.

Gnocchi al forno

Quantity of gnocchi as above

Quantity of your favourite homemade tomato sauce

Mozzarella (or Provola – smoked mozzarella) – in chunks

Preheat the oven to 180C

Drop the gnocchi into salted boiling water and cook for until they rise to the surface – 2-3 minutes. Drain.

In a baking dish, mix the drained gnocchi with the tomato sauce and mozzarella. Scatter parmesan on top.

Bake for 20 minutes. Rest for 10. Serve.

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Gnocchi – farina e acqua from mwkitchen on Vimeo.

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Tortellone of beetroot leaves and ricotta with beetroot puree and walnut paste

MW Kitchen - tortellone beetroot-8Pasta in Italy is a wonderful demonstration of adapting to the ingredients one has to hand. Fillings, shapes, sauces and even the names attributed to this commodity reflect the diversity of the country’s ingredients, people and cultures from the snow-peaked mountains of the North to the sun-drenched expanses of the South. With that in mind and having transformed half of the garden into a vegetable patch confused as to whether summer was coming or going, it was time for some homegrown beets to get the Italian treatment.

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The diversity of pasta lends itself to something that can be wonderfully humble and unpretentious – spaghetti aglio e olio or spaghetti al limone, for example – through to more complex and delicate filled pastas. In this dish, the filling of leaves provides an earthy and crunchy contrast to the creamy cheese and pasta parcel, a silky puree of beetroot adds a sweet touch and a touch of nutty walnut paste tops it all off.

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Serves 4

Walnut Paste

Recipe a reduced version from Giorgio Locatelli’s excellent Made In Italy: Food and Stories

300g shelled walnuts (double if not shelled)

1 small garlic clove

good olive oil

Prep the walnuts by toasting them in a 170C oven for 4-5 minutes, wrap in a cloth and rub to loosen the skins. Shake and pick out walnuts to cool, removing any large remaining pieces of skin with a knife.

Crush the garlic in a mortar, add the walnuts and work to a smooth-ish paste. Stir in olive oil slowly (around 2 tablespooons) to loosen and create a lovely texture.

This can be stored in sterilised jars for around 4 weeks.

 

Beetroot Puree

400g raw beetroot, leaves and stalks removed (or spinach, kale, swiss chard etc)

good olive oil

salt, pepper

Cook the beetroot in your preferred way – I roasted for one hour in a 180C oven with some oil and seasoning. I’m sure boiling them would be just as good.

Remove skins and roughly chop. Blend the flesh adding a slow trickle of olive oil at the end to emulsify slightly. Season to taste and set aside.

For an extra fine puree, pass mix through a fine sieve before adding oil.

 

Tortellone

400g fresh pasta dough (see here for a good start)

Leaves and stalks from beetroots, roughly chopped

1 garlic clove

100g ricotta or queso fresco (this worked really well and worth trying at home – a world apart from supermarket ricotta), seasoned with pepper

Lightly fry the garlic in olive oil and add the leaves, stirring on a medium-high heat. Once slightly wilted, take off the heat and set aside.

Roll the pasta dough a handful at a time, leaving the remainder wrapped in the fridge. Roll through each setting of the machine before folding over 3 times and repeating until you have a silky textured sheet with smooth edges, as thin as possible without it breaking during filling.

Lay the sheet on a floured surface and cut a few squares from it. Place a teaspoon of the cheese and of the beetroot in each and fold over into a triangle, getting as much air out as possible. Use a little water to moisten finger if to dry to seal. Join the two long corners together to form a ring. Set aside on a floured surface.

When all the parcels are made (I’d do four at a time and then bring out the remaining dough to start again to avoid drying out), drop into salted water at a rolling boil. Leave for 2-3 minutes until cooked before draining.

Toss in a little olive oil or melted butter to prevent the tortellone from sticking.

 

To serve

Quickly reheat beetroot puree and place a large spoonful onto each plate followed by pasta. Add drops of walnut paste and fried sage leaves.

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Cesena, Italy

Some snaps I got on my trip to Cesena last week (click an image to open gallery), got some more to put up soon. Next posts should be some recipes and ideas I picked up in my time spent in this beautiful part of the world.

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.

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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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.