Posts Tagged ‘italian’

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Fresh Pasta – Tortellini

A couple of years ago, or was it last year? I was given a pasta machine for my birthday.  And whether this was a gift given out of love or the thought that I’d be inviting people around to eat fresh pasta on a regular basis I don’t know BUT what I do know is that it is great fun making fresh pasta from scratch.

A great activity for the weekend when you’ve got time to make some space, make a mess and clean up.

Believe it or not, fresh pasta is actually very simple to make; 100g pasta ‘00’ flour to one large egg.  Combine the dough together, let it rest for approx 20mins and then start rolling.

In the past I’ve transformed my fresh pasta into tagliatelle and spaghetti using the attachments on my pasta machine but this time I wanted a hand at stuffed fresh pasta such as ravioli or tortellini.

If you want to know about The Science Behind Fresh Pasta – click on the hyperlink to read about the ingredients to make the best fresh pasta, an article written by Nikki Achitoff-Gray from www.seriouseats.com

Spinach and Goats Cheese Tortellini with Toasted Pine Nuts and Sage Butter

Ingredients (serves 2):
For the Pasta:
100g ‘00’ flour and 1 large egg  

For the Butter:
Pine nuts
50g butter
Sage leaves

 

For the Filling:
100g of wilted spinach
100g of goat’s cheese
30g of grated parmesan cheese
Rasp of fresh nutmeg

 

 

Method:
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1st:
On a clean surface pour your flour and make a well in the centre.  Crack the egg into the well, and either using a fork or your fingers, start to mix the ingredients together.  Once the dough has come together, allow to rest for 20-30mins.  Place under a damp tea-cloth, wrap in cling film or hide under an upturned bowl.

2nd: Whilst the dough is resting make the filling.  Chop the wilted spinach and mix with the goat’s cheese and the parmesan cheese, season and add a rasp of nutmeg.  Taste. Adjust seasoning accordingly.

 

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fresh pasta

3rd: Once the dough has rested start rolling it out- it is much easier with a pasta machine (as you can see in the clip above) as you can get it much thinner than if rolling by hand.  Follow the directions on your machine as each will have its own instructions.

4th: To make tortellini: On a pasta sheet, place teaspoonfuls of the filling at regular intervals.  Put another pasta sheet on top and using your fingers, seal the two pasta sheets expelling any air around the filling.  Note: any trapped air may cause the tortellini to burst on cooking.  Using a circular cutter or wine glass, cut out each tortellini and sprinkle in semolina to avoid them sticking together or the surface they are on.  Repeat the process until all your tortellini are made.

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Fresh Pasta – Tortellini

5th: Boil the tortellini in salted water for 4 mins, this is a good time to make the butter.  In a dry frying pan toast your pine nuts.  Once they are as coloured as you dare, place the butter and the sage leaves in the frying pan.  Add a ladleful of the pasta water and mix to make a sauce.  Serve with grated parmesan and crispy sage leaves.

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Spinach and Goat’s Cheese tortellini with toasted pine nuts and sage butter

Buon appetito!

 

As some of you know I’ve recently been on holiday in Italy.  Of course Italy is drenched in history and there are some quintessential Italian tourist spots that you can’t miss but when you start planning your trip you don’t realise that Italy is quite a large country!  And with all things Italian – eating is a large part of the experience!  Italy is made up of regions with each region bringing their own traditions to Italy’s culinary table.

Eating is a large part of the experience

So where best to go at this time of year? Naples and the Amalfi Coast appealed to my summery needs and may I say, did not disappoint.  Driving along the Amalfi coast with its lemon groves sidewinding from cliff-tops to beaches in the 36°C sunshine was like something out of an old Italian movie.

each region bringing their own traditions to Italy’s culinary table

Having done some research before I travelled to Naples I came across information about Vesuvius and its proximity to Naples – Pompeii (if you pardon the pun) being just a stones throw away.  And it is evident that the volcanic ash that settled on and around the area has created some of the most fertile soil around.

The prime example of this is that nowhere on the Mediterranean do tomatoes (Pomodoro) taste as they do in Italy:

From the simple tomato and ricotta for breakfast (divine), to the tomato sauce used on pasta and pizza!  Ripe plum and cherry tomatoes can be seen growing everywhere around Naples and its surrounding areas – easily grown in pots and off private terraces. Any that don’t make a fresh appearance in the kitchen are dried to increase their longevity.

Naples was also the birthplace of the pizza

An often recounted story holds that in June 1889, to honour the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, the Neapolitan pizzamaker Raffaele Esposito created the “Pizza Margherita,” a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil, to represent the colors of the Italian flag.

IMG_3409And yes, once you’ve eaten a Neapolitan stone-baked  pizza, any other just won’t measure up!

But what strikes you the most about Neapolitan cuisine is how much it is reliant on fresh fish and seafood.

The Tyrrhenian Sea and the Gulf of Naples providing an abundance for everyone’s needs.

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You won’t find Spaghetti Bolognese nor a Ragu on a Neapolitan menu, these a more northern Italian, instead you will find the ubiquitous Spaghetti a la Vongole (spaghetti with clams) a traditional Neapolitan dish, and seeing as I was in Naples it would just be rude not to!

Throughout my week I tried themes and variations on this and found that each restaurant served a beautiful version.  All versions were bianco (without tomato sauce) but some added a few cherry tomatoes to add sweetness to the dish:

My favourite though was the Spaghetti Santa Lucia (Santa Lucia being the area the restaurant was in) with its clams and mussels and a couple of prawns and langoustines hidden under the tangle of pasta.  I know that bread and pasta are a major no-no but who could resist plunging a salty, crusty slice of artesan bread into the garlicky, briny juices – chin drippingly delicious!!

Another delicious concoction was the traditional sweet sfogliatelle ricci – shell-shaped, sweetened ricotta filled pastries.

sfogliatelle ricci

Crunchy on the outside and then sweet and creamy on the inside.  These sfogliatelle make up part of the Pastiera Italiana of which the rum baba is also a big player.  In the hot early evenings everyone dresses up and goes around coffee shops for an espresso and sfogliatelle; filling a hole until it is cool enough to sit down to dinner which with its procession of courses and liqueurs (limoncello and meloncello) may take some time to get through.

But as with everything Italian – food is the centre of the social occasion uniting young and old.

Food is important; not something to be rushed.  Not just fuel for the body.

Looking through my holiday snaps other than those of ruins and columns the rest seem to be about food.  So at least if you cannot make it to Naples and the Amalfi coast you can travel culinarily with me:

Salute! Buon Appetito!!

The recent Horsemeat scandal has left farmers incensed as meat sales have plummeted, supermarkets have lost billions in profits and governments struggle in vain to draw a line under the scandal over horsemeat being sold as beef.

horsemeat

So with consumers ditching beef for veggie ready meals it makes me question why people feel that creating vegetarian dishes can be difficult.  Wouldn’t it be just as easy to buy ingredients to create a vegetarian dish than buying a microwave pre-packed one?

By creating your own dish, you control the quantities, the amount of salt, volume… So why don’t some people cook their own vegetarian dishes?  Simple:

 Vegetarian = Boring!

If you try to convince a non-vegetarian that a meat free meal is delicious and exciting then you’ll just be faced with the deadpan certainty that they are awaiting the punchline in your joke.  Either that or they think you’re going to resurrect the vegetable stir-fry.  It is just a case of changing a mindset.  Question: how can culinary giants such as Italy and Spain create amazing vegetable dishes without the ridicule of their respective nations?  Answer: by never compromising on flavour.

The key to a great vegetable dish is to keep it simple.  Let the product speak for itself such as aubergines and honey; a simple Starter to any meal:

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Aubergine and honey

1st: Heat a griddle pan for approximately 8mins before you start cooking.

2nd: Slice the aubergine however you wish; I tend to favour cutting them in half along their length and then slicing into thin strips along the length of each half.

3rd: Pour olive oil into a dish and soak both sides of the aubergine slices in the oil.  Aubergines are like sponges and will soak up a lot of oil so try not to leave them dunked in the oil for too long.

4th: Griddle until scorch marked and softened from the griddle.

5th: Drizzle honey over just before serving.

Use ingredients to compliment your vegetable:

Mushrooms with garlic, chillies and butter IMG_23271

1st: Make the Garlic, Chillies and Parsley butter found on the recipes page.

2nd: Share between the mushrooms.

3rd: Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and bake at 180°C for 20mins.

Disclaimer:  The butter retains a lot of heat so take care when eating as you don’t want to end up with your palette blistered to shreds!

For the more adventurous cook why not try a Roast Vegetable Lasagne or an impressive melanzane alla parmigiana where instead of using lasagne sheets you use slices of aubergine with plenty of parmesan.  

Toptip: When roasting vegetables don’t add salt until the end otherwise they braise in their own cooking liquid.

Or if you want to impress:

Aubergine rolls filled with spinach, ricotta and pine nuts: 

aubergine rolls

Photo taken from bbcgoodfood.com

1st: Soften the aubergine slices by either griddling or cooking them in the oven.

2nd: Mix the wilted spinach leaves with the ricotta cheese and add a good shaving of parmesan.  Season to taste.

3rd: Either use tomato passata from a jar or create your own.

Start to assemble the dish:

4th: Place a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce into the bottom of the oven dish.

5th: Add a teaspoonful of the mixture to one end of the aubergine slice and roll it.  Repeat this for the remaining aubergine slices.  Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.  To make this a dinner party indulgence why not cover in bechamel sauce before sprinkling with parmesan cheese.

Most of these vegetable dishes make a great accompaniment to any meal.  For example both the mushrooms and the aubergine rolls can be a side dish to meat or chicken if you so wish.  But celebrating them as a main course with some crusty bread is just as rewarding.  Remember, there are plenty of health benefits from eating more vegetables, they are tasty and good on the budget.

Buy vegetables at the height of their season as this will mean you’ll get the best quality product at the best price.  Buy what you need as they have a limited longevity; buy small but buy often.

No, I am not a vegetarian, but I hope through this blog entry I may have given you some ideas as to how to take the jump and cook up simple meat-free dishes that you won’t find boring or predictable.

Give them a try!

Wet, windy Wednesday’s tropical storm (apparently the tail end of Hurricane Nadine) was the herald that Summer was over. Cloudless, cerulean blue skies turning to ghostly grey and the drop in temperature were the clues to make everyone assume that Autumn was on its way.

Patio furniture and BBQ sets have been hidden away until next year.

Our food naturally changes with the seasons. When I think of Autumn, I don’t just think of the obvious gourd. Not that there is anything wrong with a bright orange pumpkin or a seasonal butternut squash used in soups or roasted with maple syrup but characteristically they tend to be associated with Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving.

To me Autumn is more than just this; it is about a return to the food of the forest. Vivid greens having transformed themselves into the colour of the earth. Foraging for the last remaining edible scraps that will eventually be wiped out by the onslaught of cold and rain.

Mushrooms are the ultimate autumnal feast. I know we can get several varieties of white mushroom throughout the year thanks to supermarkets capitalising on our greed, but these tend to be bland and tasteless with a very short storage life.

Truffles, Cepes, Morels, Chanterelles, Portobello

Wild mushrooms are packed full of flavour but are found scant in the wild. Therefore, drying these is the perfect way of extending their shelf life.

My neighbours recently (or maybe not that recently, I can’t remember) gave me a packet of dried porcini mushrooms that they had brought back from Rome for me. So what best to cook with these than Mushroom Risotto!

Mushroom Risotto

Ingredients:

  • Dried mushrooms
  • Button/chestnut mushrooms
  • Risotto Rice
  • Chicken stock
  • Onions/shallots
  • butter
  • olive oil
  • dry white wine
  • parmesan
  • salt & pepper
  • parsley

1st: Prepare a litre of stock and keep it warm on the hob. Use any stock you wish – I prefer chicken and not vegetable stock and generally use either a cube or those new stock pots. Both need to be mixed with hot water. I most certainly don’t make my own stock as have neither the incling nor the need to have to make everything from scratch!

2nd: Place the dried Porcini mushrooms into a bowl and cover with hot water from a recently boiled kettle to reconstitute. Leave for 10mins.

3rd: In a saucepan add some butter and olive oil. Once foamy, add a finely chopped medium onion or if you prefer to use shallots do so (shallots are more authentic in a risotto than onions). Sautée until the onions are soft and translucent.

4th: Add the risotto rice to the saucepan and slick with the oniony, buttery mixture. Keep stirring the mixture so that it won’t catch on the bottom of the pan. Once you hear the rice begin to fry in the pan, pour in a glass of dry white wine. Mix into the rice mixture and let the alcohol boil off.

5th: Chop the fresh mushrooms and add to the mixture.

6th: Now you can start adding ladelfuls of warm stock to the rice. As one ladelful of stock is absorbed add the next. Don’t let the rice become waterlogged as what you want is the rice to slowly cook whilst at the same time releasing its sweet, creamy starch. This stage will take approx 15mins unitl all the stock is absorbed but do not let this faze you; remain calm and relaxed.

I tend to find the repetitive stirring very reassuring and almost lulling.

7th: Drain the porcini mushrooms and add to the risotto. Take off the heat and mix in some more butter and parmesan cheese. Check for seasoning. Clamp on a lid and let it sit for at least 2mins before serving. Serve with a ribbon of olive oil and chopped parsely to add another level of taste as well as colour.

If you want to be extravagant but not show-offy, replace the olive oil at the end for truffle oil! A tiny bottle costs around £10 but a little goes a very long way.

NB The risotto should be one homogenous mixture.  The liquid should not be oozing away from the rice.  Neither should the risotto be so dry that a spoonful remains stoic in the centre of your plate!

Buon Appetito!

Biscotti, more correctly known as biscotti di Prato, also known as cantuccini (little corners), are twice-baked biscuits originating in the Italian city of Prato. The biscuits are oblong-shaped almond biscuits that are baked twice to give them their dry texture and quintessential snap.

Due to their dry nature, they have an increased shelf life and were thus very useful for wars and long journeys.

Biscotti can be eaten as you would an ordinary biscuit but due to their dry quality the biscotti

come into their own as you resuscitate them back to life when dunked! Now where you dunk them is up to you – personally a sweet wine (vin santo) or an ice cold limoncello is best but if eating these for breakfast: coffee, not tea, is advisable.

Traditionally the mixture is composed exclusively of eggs, sugar, flour and almonds, however, modern variations of biscotti are easily found. Any variety of nuts are used as well as dried fruits and spices such as anise and cardamom. This mixture is then baked twice – first as a loaf and then each loaf is cut into oblong shapes along the diagonal which are then placed back into the oven to dry further. As a final flourish, some biscotti are also glazed with chocolate!

Having more time on my hands for baking than I would normally have and having a penchant for biscotti, I decided to spend my summer exploring various recipes.

So where to start? Using social media, I tweeted foodies asking if anyone had any sure fire recipes for biscotti.  Nonni’s Biscotti replied back with a link to several of Martha Stewart’s biscotti recipes. Online, I also found a Jamie Oliver recipe for an almond and orange biscotti, and a pistachio and cranberry biscotti at http://www.joyofbaking.com. In “Desserts” by James Martin was a recipe for biscotti and limoncello (also found online).

Click on the links below to be directed to the recipe pages.

Pistachio and Cranberry Biscotti

Biscotti and Limoncello

Almond and Orange Biscotti 

Making biscotti is surprisingly easy and not much can go wrong (famous last words)!  With the three recipes above I changed ingredients and cooking times/temps.  The balance of sugar, flour and eggs were maintained but the actual flavours I adapted to suit the ingredients I had at home and or wanted.

With the joyofbaking’s pistachio and cranberry biscotti I didn’t have enough dried cranberries left so I added currants to make up the required weight.

With James Martin’s biscotti and limoncello, I don’t particularly like dates and I couldn’t get hold of dried strawberries so I added extra dried apricots and pistachios.

In Jamie Oliver’s recipe I didn’t have star anise so left this flavour out.

All three recipes have been tested with everyone picking different ones as their favourite.  Some prefer them drier and crunchier than others.  But what is for certain is that the test group want me to bake all of them again!

Considering the plethora of biscotti recipes out there I shall continue on my exploration.  My only rule is not to use butter or oil, as traditional biscotti recipes were not made with this.

Let me know if you’ve got any flavour combinations you’d like tested.

L’explorazione continua

Buon Appetito

“Good company, good food and good wine!”

That was the welcome and introduction that we received at El Capote’s 5th wine and food matching held Thursday 7th June.

The theme for this evening’s dining experience was Italian.  As pretty much everyone had already been to at least one of the previous four evenings, they knew the ritual that we were about to partake in.  And a most enjoyable ritual it was!  From the familiar board advertising the wines and food we were to enjoy to the charismatic interaction from Ian Gareze (and ourselves) about the sumptuous offerings we were about to be treated to.

To get our Mediterranean pallets going we were welcomed to an aperitif of sweet mosto (Manilva).  We all know this was not Italian but it most certainly got everyone in the mood for a great night of delicious food and wine, and we were proved right, once again.

1) Prosecco Teresa Rizzi with Gambones Frito and a Pesto Dip

The Prosecco, light, floral and fruity was very well suited to the gambones.  Admittedly I could drink sparkling wine as if it were water!  However, they were very well matched.  The Prosecco’s citrus notes cutting through the fried gambones almost cleansing the pallet with each sip (glug!).

The homemade pesto was delicate but heady with basil; bringing out the Prosecco’s floral notes.  I would have perhaps added more olive oil to slacken this and it would have gone a lot further, leaving it on the table to accompany several of the other dishes.

The gambones (King Prawns) were beautifully cooked.  Crispy on the outside but ever so delicate in the centre.  Every mouthful a feast!  The only downside of this was that there were only two gambones per person.  My voracious appetite desperately wanted more but the next course was nothing to be sneered at.

“Every mouthful a feast!”

2) Santi Pinot Grigio de Venezie with Calamares a la Plancha served with a tomato and olive salad

Simple; the natural culinary beauty and taste of this dish’s only ingredient was sublime.  Fresh, succulent and beautiful; to top it off caught be a local fisherman!

What an exultation of a dish – calamares a la plancha (grilled squid).  From cooking to tasting this dish was delicious.  The smell of grilled squid permeating every corner of El Capote; arousing the senses as we chatted and even attracting passers-by to venture inside to marvel at the delicious spectacle.

When it finally arrived to the table, with everyone in the room salivating like Pavlovian dogs, it was heralded by a metaphorical sounding of trumpets.

The calamares were so good the wine had no choice but to know that it was not the star of the show – hence keeping a very low profile throughout this pairing.  After discussing this dish with the other diners at my table – the tomato and olive salad, although fresh and light, also went severely unnoticed.  When considering the time spent on food preparation as part of the whole evening’s menu, the calamares a la plancha needed nothing else to make this a triumphant dish, therefore tumbling some lemon wedges around the dish would have been the way to say,

“Calamares a la plancha – enjoy!”

3) Melini Sangiovese, Toscana 2006 served with Sarde a Beccafacio & Caponata

A good unobtrusive red wine to be complimented with fish.  There is much wine snobbery that fish should only be matched with white wine.  Whilst the command is ridiculous, the sentiment is not.  Reds tend to be slightly more full bodied and overpowering than white hence its partnership with fish needs to be carefully monitored.

The food served to complement this red was rolled sardine fillets with a pine nut stuffing.  Never having heard of this before I discussed its origin with Ian (who having done his homework) explained that it was a Sicilian dish and were meant to represent birds.  Were they served with mouths pointing upwards and gaping at the diner?  No.  My research explained that warblers (beccafacio) were hunted in ancient time from Sicilian nobles and cooked with their own entrails. Common people began to copy this luxury dish adapting it with sardines and swapped the entrails with the filling that is currently used.

I thoroughly enjoyed this but would have preferred this served with the pesto as it would have matched the sardines’ pine nut filling, with its lemon backnotes cutting through the richness of the sardines.

Many of the other diners were raving about the Caponata.  I have to say, whenever I make Caponata, I take the easy way out and plonk all the veg into a saucepan and let it reduce gently until I’m happy that it’s the consistency that I like.  Ian, I could tell, followed the stages properly.  The aubergine was fried before being added to the onion and tomato mixture.  There were also acidic tones to this so I imagine that vinegar must have been used to help this dish develop the depth of flavour that is required of its simplicity.  However, what we were all in agreement with was that the Caponata was a dish in itself.  It just needed some bread sticks or Italian crostinis.

“This was a double-dish.”

4) Prunotto Dolcetto D’Alba, Piemonte (2005) served with Polpete al Forno

What wasn’t to like in this pairing?!  Meatballs in tomato sauce with penne pasta and finished in the oven with a soft, fruity red to go with.

Sadly we were all so full by this stage many of us could not eat another bite.  Everyone would have been happy to have finished on the previous course and go straight to the last pairing.  The noise levels in the room dropped a bit whilst everyone considered how full they were and realistically how much more they were going to be able to eat.

Nonetheless people did manage to eat and drink their way through this course.  Myself included!

I dare say that as a result of us taking a bit too long on the previous courses this overcooked in the oven.  I say this as I found the meatballs on the dry side of cooked.  Oh and some grated parmesan at the table would have earned some brownie points, but considering the veritable banquet we had just gorged ourselves with this was an error we were all more that willing to forgive.

5) Antinori Peppoli, Chianti Classico (2007) served with Roasted Rack of Cerdo Iberico and Patatas a lo Pobre

As I watched Ian bring this joint of meat out and carve it infront of us I was once again taken over by greed.  I immediately forgot how full-up I was.  I also pushed to the back of my mind how Spanish this part of the menu sounded!

The pork was succulent and flavoursome.  Rubbed and sealed with herbs and seasoned well.

I could imagine this dish served as a main course at a wedding.

The Chianti; rich, fruity with vanilla on the nose was a beautiful wine to drink in support of this dish.

6) Limoncello and Biscotti

My first comment to Ian as this came to the table was that these were not biscotti!  In fact they were clearly amaretti biscuits as the smell of amaretto filled the air and was present in every bite of these delicious biscuits.

Traditionally, biscotti are oblong shaped almond studded biscuits and dry from being baked twice in the oven.  Limoncello is served with the biscotti as they absorb the alcohol without it changing the flavour of the biscotti.

Indeed it was a shame that they were amaretti biscuits as I do have a fondness for biscotti, and ending the evening dunking my biscotti into a glass of chilled limoncello would truly have been Italian bliss.

Not that I didn’t drop several of these into my glass and sip the limoncello whilst having them bobbing around my upper lip!  Delicious!!

“Less really is more.”

As always, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening at El Capote.  Ian once again outdid himself with the food he cooked for us and the whole evening was great fun but I have to be honest; there was too much food.  I can’t believe I’ve just said that.  The polpete al forno was one dish too many.  In reality the Sarde a Beccafacio should have been served independently from the Caponata as these were two dishes which were tasty, delicious and could have stood proudly by themselves.

Not very often but sometimes, less really is more.

Well done to Ian Gareze and everyone at the Capote who made the evening possible.  I honestly can’t wait for the next one.