Carbonara: ‘Mayonnaise’ Tip

The origins of the carbonara pasta sauce are a bit of a moot point.  More and more current researchers believe that it came about as a result of American soldiers’ food rations when they liberated Rome and Italy (together with the other Allies let us please not forget ! Brits, Poles, Indians, Aussies, New Zealanders, French and Moroccans, and the Italian Partisans too).  The thread is that the staple bacon and eggs ration of the American GI got morphed into a guanciale OR pancetta and pecorino cheese sauce, liberally sprinkled over with freshly ground pepper.  The reason for this conclusion is that the Carbonara recipe is not to be found in any Italian Cookery book prior to the late 1940s.  So whether the GI Joes really were behind it or not, it can be indisputably ascertained that the Carbonara as we know it today originated some time during WWII.

And in Rome we think we make the best Carbonara.

The four pillars of  the Roman pasta portfolio are: (1) Cacio e Pepe (using only pecorino cheese and pepper), (2) Gricia (pecorino again but this time with the addition of rendered pork jowl aka guanciale);  (3) Amatriciana or Matriciana (basically a Gricia cooked in a tomato sauce and served with Pecorino) and (4) last of all the Carbonara.  The first two are, historically speaking, the ancients.  The third required the use of tomatoes that hailed from the Americas, and that didn’t begin to joyously ‘invade’ Italian recipes until the early 1800s.  So our Carbonara is the new kid on the block and maybe, just as with the tomatoes in the Amatriciana, comes with a bit of an American ‘background’.

Earlier I wrote that Romans like to think that they make the best Carbonara.  And I like to think that the way I make it is representative of its Roman outlook: I don’t like pancetta, I prefer guanciale.  I do not like the mix of  both parmesan and pecorino, I prefer to use pecorino only.  Also, I do not use the egg whites, only the yolks.  Raw egg yolks are good for you, raw egg whites are not.  True, the cooked pasta which is still hot will “cook” the beaten egg mixture but I still think that the egg whites are unnecessary and do not add any flavour whatsoever.  Last, as with any ‘normal’ Italian Carbonara lover, I am of the idea that adding cream or herbs to this hearty pasta is anathema.

INGREDIENTS

Eggs, pecorino cheese, black pepper.  Spaghetti or tonnarelli are all very well and good but short-shaped pastas are easier to handle.

PASTA BRAND

Today, I decided to use Delverde which gets its name from the River Verde.  They draw their water for their pasta-making from the River apparently.  They are geographically very close to the popular De Cecco and Cocco pasta brands, Fara San Martino in the Abbruzzi Region.  http://www.delverde.com/it

 

I decided to weigh the pasta today: 380g for three people (i.e. 125g each – this is a really BIG helping, and 380g would suffice for four people ordinarily.  But but but … Carbonara has a way of being very more-ish).

PLAYING AROUND WITH THE PEPPER

Try this tip if making Cacio e Pepe too.  Those who understand Indian cooking know that it is vital to warm up spices before including them in a recipe, and this is the same idea. I actually read about it for the first time what feels like aeons ago, probably in the late 1990s, in a cacio-e-pepe recipe by Maureen Fant (Partner at Elifant Archaeo-Culinary Tours) who has been living in Rome for decades.  If it works for cacio e pepe it must surely work for Carbonara, I thought.  And it does.

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You’ll need a wee pot or pan (the one in the middle) and a mortar and pestle.  If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, just use a full can/tin of something (baked beans?) or a rolling pin to bash the pepper corns.

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Warm the pepper over a low heat and be sharp and keep an eye on the procedure.  Just last month, I was heating up the pepper and left it to finish watering my plants on the balcony (we women are always multi-tasking even when we’re cooking).  To my horror, when I returned to the kitchen minutes later I could hardly breathe and my eyes began to smart: the essential oils from the pepper had gone beserk.  I had to throw them out and stay away from the kitchen until the ‘smell’ dispersed, cough cough.

5As you bash the warmed pepper in the mortar, the NICE fragrance from the pepper will make you smile.

6And then, since you can’t bash the pepper to smithereens, put it through a strainer/sieve.  The end result will be so much more refined and also good for avoiding pepper overload.  I saw this tip with the sieve in a Jamie Oliver episode when he was in Rome making cacio e pepe on a roof top.

You can keep any leftovers in a sealed jar.  It will always smell and taste more fragrant than unheated pepper.

Pepper prep finished.

GRATE SOME PECORINO

7If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you’ll know how much I detest grating cheese.  I always try and find someone who wants to be helpful and the task today landed on my obliging husband.  He does ask silly questions, however: “How much should I grate?”.  I don’t know.  Enough for four people.  As it turned out, he grated just the very amount I was after, huh! (Actually a tad too much but that’s not a problem.)

GUANCIALE (PORK JOWL) AND RENDERING THE GUANCIALE

8The rule of thumb – well at least MY rule of thumb – is at least 30g of guanciale per person, 35-40g  being even better.  But I use my eyes a lot too.  As I was slicing, I cut what I thought would be enough for four 100g portions and then added an extra slice – a bit like when making tea in a teapot, you know, 1 teaspoon loose leaf tea per person plus one for the pot.

Think of it this way: 40g guanciale x 100g of pasta per person.  I cut it first and weighed it later, and it came to just under 150g – wow, bang on considering I was cooking 380g of pasta!

9After you’ve sliced the guanciale in match-stick shapes, turn on the heat and let it cook and the fat render very slowly.  I actually started out doing this first,  and then got on with the pepper prepping as the guanciale was cooking.

10Once the guanciale is thoroughly cooked, you will need a sieve and a bowl or something to catch the rendered fat.

11Here we go.

12Transfer the cooked guanciale to a large saucepan.  Later you will be draining the cooked pasta directly into this saucepan – no heat.  You could, if you preferred, use a big fat large bowl instead of a saucepan.

CARBONARA MAYONNAISE

13What you see are: 4 tablespoons of grated pecorino on the left (1 tablespoon per person) and the rendered guanciale fat on the right.  Which has been left to cool.

Carbonara can go horribly wrong if it the egg curdles over the hot pasta.  My way of making carbonara does a great job of avoiding this pitfall.  And basically, it’s like making a sort of mayonnaise – only we are using pork fat instead of a vegetable oil, and adding grated cheese.

14Here are the cheese and the fat.

15Time to add the egg yolks.  These were rather small eggs so I used 1 egg per person plus another for good luck.

16The egg whites are in that terracotta bowl.  (I later put them in a small jar in the freezer. )

So rule of thumb: 30-40g guanciale x 100g pasta x 1 egg yolk per person x 1 tablespoon grated pecorino romano cheese.

17When I mixed everything together, however, my mixture was a bit too liquid for my liking so I added some more pecorino.

18And also a sprinkling of pepper.

The pasta has been cooking for at least 4 minutes at this point …

19I remove some of the cooking water.  That ‘thing’ you see in the cooking water is a bit of guanciale that had accidentally fallen into the pot.  No problem, if anything it adds flavour.

I now wait for the cooking water to cool.

20I add the cooking water a little at a time, a little at a time, until I get a creamy sauce.  This is literally minutes before draining the pasta.

TIME TO BRING IT ALL TOGETHER

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22On the table.

23One last thing.  As always we must always taste, taste, taste.  And the carbonara sauce was VERY tasty.  It needed more cheese but I decided to add parmigiano/parmesan at this point rather than pecorino because otherwise it would have been too strong.

Below is a link to some very short videos showing me make carbonara dating back to March 2014 – more than five years ago!  I have ‘perfected’ the recipe over time, as outlined in today’s post.  There is always something new and wonderful to learn in the world of cookery.

I hope you find my ‘mayonnaise’ approach useful and if you have any other short-cuts and/or tips do let me know, thank you!

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/videos-of-the-carbonara-in-the-making/

Pasta Ulrika following on Pasta Camilla

Here we are.  I seem to be having a courgette/zucchine obsession.  Well, in my defence, they ARE everywhere this time of year and you know what they say, when life hands you lemons, make Limoncello … no no no.  When life presents courgettes, find a way of making them interesting.

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Some fresh chilli for instance.  As in the above photo.

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Since I am making pasta, I know I shall want some grated cheese – and I opt for a mixture of pecorino and parmesan.  There is no one about wanting to help me grate the cheeses so I choose to cheat.   This is not the best way to grate cheese because it can’t be fine enough.  But it was fine enough for me that evening.

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What you see are eight slices of thinly sliced (by my butcher) of guanciale, pork jowl.  If anything can make a pasta dish more ‘interesting’, it’s most definitely guanciale: think Amatriciana, think Carbonara, think Gricia.  I cut the guanciale up into smaller portions.

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I cooked the guanciale over a low heat so that its fat would render.  And I waited for it to become a little crispy.

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While the guanciale was cooking, I set about removing most of the pulp from the courgettes.   Talking about kitchen toys as I did in my previous post, that tool you see with a white handle is a courgette corer.  Very handy for when you want to make stuffed courgettes.  You can also use it as an apple corer.

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I slimmed down the courgettes and cut them down to bite size.

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And now it’s almost time to cook.  Pour a generous amount of olive oil into a big saucepan and add garlic, pepper corns and fresh mint.

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Once the courgettes have been slimmed down even more into large cubes, turn the heat on, cook the garlic until it becomes golden, and then add them.

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I added the fresh chilli too.  The veggies were cooking under quite a fiery heat.

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And now I did the porky ‘thing’ of adding the fat rendered from the guanciale to the  mix. Only the fat.  Save the guanciale meat for later.

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I swithched the heat off and blended the courgettes as much as I could.

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The blending became easier after the addition of plenty of cream.

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The last addition was the grated cheese.  Time to test.  Add salt and pepper as required.

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Drain the pasta directly into the large saucepan, add a little cooking water and toss and turn until the pasta is well coated and/or has absorbed some of the sauce.

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See what I mean?  I added yet more fresh mint leaves.  And last, the crispy guanciale.  You could, if you wished, add the guanciale directly onto the pasta served on a plate.  But people were getting hungry, all eight of us and there wasn’t time for such a nicety.  There was some extra grated cheese already on the table for those who wished to add a sprinkling on top of their plate.

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So eager was everyone to dive in, that no one took a photo – not a single photo of the delicious pasta on the plate !  So what you see above is the pasta (what was left of it) the day after.  Sigh.

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The good thing was that someone got to eat these leftovers.  Pasta can indeed by reheated and enjoyed – but only ONCE.  I wrote that in capital letters and will repeat: pasta can be reheated but only once.

Anyway.  The title of this pasta is Pasta Ulrika, in honour of my delightful niece from Sweden who was visiting.

Shame about the lack of photo to show how enticing this humble mix can be – but give it a try anyway, I think you’ll like it very much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Another Summer Tomato Spaghetti Sauce – Almost “Crudaiola”

A “crudaiola” sauce (pronounced croo-dah-yo-lah in English) is essentially a sauce that is made up of raw ingredients.  This pasta recipe is almost raw.  It’s cooked very little.  It is a take on a classic Italian tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes when in season.

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The word for uncooked in Italian is “crudo”.  So, I’m thinking that the word “crude” in English must somehow be embroiled etymologically with this … who knows how or why.  Of course, the Ancient Greeks called everyone who was not Greek a “Barbarian” and barbarians were known NOT to cook their food.  Can we hence assume that the Italian “crudo” (uncooked) had something to do with the English “crude” (i.e. unsophisticated) ?

Understated in the extreme as this recipe may be, there is nothing unsophisticated about it whatsover.  And as with the luxury of understated and refined goods, the secret lies in the quality of the ingredients.  I wouldn’t dream of making this recipe during the colder times of the year.  It requires the best of Summer tomatoes.

INGREDIENTS

San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, parsely stalks, extra virgin olive oil, basil, spaghetti

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I like kitchen toys – they make life a lot more interesting when cooking.  That little black thing you see on the right?  It’s a tomato peeler.  Yes, not a potato peeler – a tomato peeler.  And it does a wonderful job of peeling tomato skins.  If you don’t own one of these (and why would you?), then … then plunge your tomatoes in boiling water and let them sit there for a couple of minutes – after which, remove them and plunge them into very cold water, so that you don’t scorch your fingers when removing the skins.

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Now that the tomatoes have been skinned, they need to be quartered.  And then the quarters need to be halved.

IMG_3753And then … and then you want to get rid of the ‘inside’ of the tomatoes so that all you are left with is the pulp.  The stuff on the left, in the bowl on the left, is the ‘inside’ of the tomato.  And will be thrown away.  The stuff on the right is the good stuff, the pulp.

IMG_3754Job done.

IMG_3755Job almost done because it’s a good idea to slice the tomato pulp now, into thinner slices.

IMG_3756And to finish off the job, sprinkle salt over the slithers of tomato pulp.

IMG_3758People sometimes ask me to recommend pasta brands.  This is a brand I like. It’s called Pasta Cocco  and comes from the region of Abbruzzo.  If you want to read a little bit more about it, here is a link: https://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/making-pasta-pope-abruzzos-mastri-pastai  Here is their website but there is no translation in English it would seem? https://www.pastacocco.com/ .

TIME TO GET COOKING

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Bring the water to the boil, add salt (10g of salt per liter of water) and when the water returns to a rolling boil, lower the spaghetti into it.   Avail yourselves of a nice big saucepan and generously pour extra virgin olive oil into it.  Add as much or as little garlic as you like.  A handful of parsely stalks.  And some fresh chilli – or dry chilli flakes if you don’t have fresh.

IMG_3760Unlike other occasions when the garlic needs to be cooked to a golden colour before adding other ingredients, this time everything gets thrown in together – à la crudaiola. Boom.

IMG_3761And only now do we turn the heat on.

IMG_3762Cook for a few minutes.

IMG_3763Then add basil and cook some more.

IMG_3764Then add the cooked spaghetti and some more fresh basil and any other fresh herb you fancy and finish off cooking the pasta.

IMG_3765Toss and toss to finish cooking the pasta and then switch off the heat.

IMG_3767Can’t say this presentation looks like much.

IMG_3768Nor this.  But can I say?

It tasted just mmmmmm.

PS I was inspired to do this recipe by a similar one outlined in the book called “Faccia da Chef” written by comedian and cook Andy Luotto.

 

Making Mushrooms Sexy

Well, not really.  But you know what I mean, don’t you?  Mushrooms, ordinary button mushrooms, that are called “champignons” in Italian (which is of course a French word actually), aren’t exactly thriling now are they.  I can’t imagine people getting all excited about eating a plate of these mushrooms.  They seem to have gone out of fashion – I don’t even see them on Italian menus in family-run restaurants any more.  Sometimes as part of a pizza topping but that’s about it.  I wonder why, poor things.  They are quite tasty after all and surely, unless you hate mushrooms or are allergic to them, you don’t mind having them as a side dish, sautéed in olive oil and garlic and finely minced parsely.  But again, the operative word is “don’t mind” (which of course are two words but let’s not quibble here) as opposed to “hanker after” or “crave”.  Mmmmm.

As my children were growing up, I had to account for differing tastes when it came to vegetables and since I love vegetables myself – all of them I hasten to add – I did not mind putting at least two and usually three vegetable side dishes on the dinner table every evening. (potatoes often being the common denominator).  Favourite daughter can’t bear mushrooms, and might even be slightly allergic to them.  Whereas favourite son likes them, even the lowly button-mushroom kind.  Favourite husband is usually easy to please but he has never waxed lyrical over them.  So the bottom line, now that both kids have left home, is that I rarely cook mushrooms (except for the porcini kind, when they are in season).

I have been boycotting supermarkets for over ten years, a decision I came to after reading the book “Not on the Label – What Really Goes into the Food in your Plate” by British journalist Felicity  Lawrence.  I have been guiding tours around Frascati for almost two years and this piece of information pops into the tour when I show our clients my shopping street and the town’s market.  And I tell them, the way I write to you now, that I cannot get on my moral high horse about this – because food shopping is incredibly easy to do in Frascati and I have access within walking distance to everything I could possibly want (except for fresh coriander – for that I have to go into Rome.  Coriander/cilantro still not big in these parts).  As life would ironically have it,  however, it turns out that I have had to  frequent supermarkets on a regular basis (weekly!) ever since my mother stopped driving last year and I have to take her shopping (she turns 93 in December bless her).  I kid you not, I have been more often to the supermarket this past year than I have all together in the previous ten or more.  Oh – and by the way it’s not the idea of a supermarket that I am against.  It’s the fact that they don’t pay the producers well.  That and lots more but let’s drop the subject now and get back to the recipe for today’s post.

So there I was looking at the fresh foods at the supermarket with her the other day and turning my nose up disdainfully.  The aubergines/eggplants looked okay, I suppose.  The salads all came in plastic bags.  I’ll admit the cucumber looked good.  But for the rest I was really underwhelmed.  I went for the button mushrooms in a desultory bid to avoid coming home empty-handed.  I had to make dinner after all.

By the time I did get home, my husband told me he’d be late that night … so it was a case of my being on my own.  And that’s when I decided I would make a pasta dish with these champignons and let’s see if I could raise the bar here, and make them a bit special?

In the fridge I had some fresh tomatoes that I had cooked down in order to make a tomato sauce, and which I had put through a food mill.  A home-made tomato sauce is always good for adding ooomph to a recipe.  For the rest it was a case of the usual suspects: olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs.

On the other hand, since I WAS trying to make this a bit special, I knew I had to bring out some big guns.  Follow me.

 

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The pasta brand. This pasta brand.  Verrigni.  One of the best in Italy, full stop.  From Abbruzzo.

3A secret ingredient – dried porcini mushrooms.  Please ignore that lovely onion from Tropea in the foreground.  I used that to cook something else.

4I poured boiling water over the funghi porcini and let them soak until they were tender.

5Once they were totally rehydrated, I used a pair of scissors to cut them up.  And don’t even think about throwing away that porcini-infused water!  That’s what was to give the dish a bit of ooomph.

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Not too shabby either was this home-made tomato salsa I had prepared the day before. I skinned the tomatoes, chopped them up very roughly, and just cooked them down for about 15 minutes.  Afterwards I put them through a food mill and added salt and olive oil (extra virgin olive oil, naturally).

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The mushrooms soaking in a bowl of water.  They needed a good soak, it was very hot that day.

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The same mushrooms, a little later, roughly cut up and ready to be cooked.

TIME TO COOK

I put the water onto the boil for the pasta.

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I am recently very much ‘into’ this big frying pan – don’t ask me why.  I certainly didn’t need anything this big for my recipe but for some reason this was the only pan that ‘spoke’ to me that evening.   Made me feel a little cheffy, I suppose.  As you can see there is plenty of garlic, and plenty of olive oil.  There are, also, a few pepper corns (no, they are not mouse droppings).  And the green herb that you see is what we call “mentuccia” and which, I think is what is known as “calamint” in English (the official name in Latin is Clinopodium nepeta).  It is very strong, very.  Think mint on steroids.  And it goes wonderfully well with mushrooms. You could always substitute with marjoram, or tarragon, or thyme, or mint or even plain parsely.  Mentuccia is very easy to grow (I grow don’t have green fingers, trust me).

8I had the garlic cooking on a stronger heat that I would normally use.

9The minute the garlic started to turn golden, I added the mushrooms.

10And shortly after I added the porcini mushrooms and the water in which they had been soaking.

11Here you see everything bubbling away over a high heat.

12Time to cook the pasta too.

13I now added my tomato salsa.

14A thick slice of a beautiful lemon from the Amalfi Coast (they are famous for their lemons there).

15I tasted the sauce, added some salt, a bit more mentuccia and … yes … even some freshly squeezed lemon juice.  A little at a time.  A little goes a long way.

16I added a little bit of freshly grated pecorino cheese and switched the heat off.   The cheese melted easily even with the heat switched off.

17When the pasta was ready, I drained it directly  into my beefy saucepan and turned on the heat to a fierce temperature as I mixed in the sauce with the pasta.  I even did a bit of showing-off tossing – but couldn’t photograph that of course.

18I served it with some freshly grated parmigiano (parmesan).

19I added some chilli flakes just after I took this photo because I like a bit of heat.

I thought it was rather nice, thank you very much.  See?  There WAS  a way to make button mushrooms sexy after all.  Or so I thought.

The next day, while I was away, my husband had some leftovers for lunch.  When I got back, I enquired as to his liking of the dish.  He scrunched up his nose, took in a deep breath and pronounced it “unconvincing”.  I mean, he ate a whole plate of the stuff but it wasn’t exactly ‘good’ according to him.  He wasn’t being mean, by the way, just offering an honest opinion.

Yet.  You can imagine how crestfallen I felt.

“Did you add freshly grated parmigiano to it?” I asked.  He answered that no, he had not.

That must have been it then, I said to myself, trying to cheer myself up.  Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

PS – if you leave the cheese out, this recipe is fit for vegans.

PPS – It’s always a good idea to add some lemon juice to mushroom soup too.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/mushroom-soup-for-parties/

PPPS – Here is a little background on Mint (https://www.summerdownmint.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Food-Wine-Sept-2011.pdf)

More Mint Mythology
In Roman mythology Minthe was a
lovely young nymph who caught
the eye of Pluto, the ruler of the
underworld. When his wife Persephone found out about his love
for the beautiful nymph, she was
enraged and changed Minthe into
a lowly plant, to be trodden underfoot. Pluto couldn’t reverse Persephone’s curse, but he did soften
the spell somewhat by making the
smell that Minthe gave off all the
sweeter when she was trodden
upon. The name Minthe has
changed to Mentha and become
the name of the herb, mint.
In ancient Greece, mint was used
in funerary rites, together with
rosemary and myrtle, not simply
to offset the smell of decay but
mint was an element in the fermented barley drink called the
kykeon that was an essential brew
for participants in the Eleusinian
mysteries, which offered hope in
the afterlife for initiates.

 

 

Pasta Camilla: Courgette Advice and All Things Nice

We have “Pasta Alfredo”, I said to myself, so why can’t we have a “Pasta Camilla” (named after my favourite daughter …. and yes, I do have a favourite son too.  I’m so lucky that way) ?

When life deals you lemons they say you should make lemonade, hmmm.  Well, as it happened,  the other day,  I had a market shop and cooking class in Rome which saw me take the 7:30 train from Frascati to Rome and return at after 4 p.m.  My obliging husband came to pick me up the the last metro station closest to Frascati and reminded me that we had guests for dinner that evening, to celebrate our daughter Camilla’s birthday (one of several celebrations this past week).  I had completely forgotten and my initial reaction was one of dismay.  I was tired, and when I say ‘tired’ I mean really really tired.  The idea of having to cook for guests that evening presented me with a huge hospitality hiccough – and let’s not forget that I had to go and do some shopping for it too!  You get the picture.

Anyway … there is always some alchemical magic when it comes to cooking for people you love.  I wanted to cook something easy and special at the same time.  We ended up having the nicest of evenings.  And this was the pasta result.  We all loved it and, if you omit the sausage, it can also be vegetarian.  Omit the cheese and it’s vegan.

This is one of those recipes that are almost easier to make than to describe.  Try it, you won’t be disappointed.

Ingredients

Courgettes (think at least 1 per person), garlic, extra virgin olive oil, Italian sausages, skinned (I used 2), freshly grated parmigiano, fresh  mint and basil

PART 1 – Cooking One Half the Courgettes

PART 2 – Preparing the Courgette Sauce

PART 3 –  Cooking the other Half of the Courgettes

PART 4 – Bringing it all together

Here we go:

PART 1 – Cooking One Half the Courgettes

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The courgettes/zucchini on the left, two skinned Italian sausages on the right which I proceeded to roughly chop.2While the chopping of the sausage and the slicing of the courgettes was going on, I cooked a couple of garlic cloves in a puddle of olive oil.  I tilted the pan at one point, so that the cloves and the oil coverged into a ‘corner’ of the saucepan – that way the garlic cooked faster and better and I was able to control the cookingiand make sure the garlic did not go brown, only golden.

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It was then that I added the sliced courgettes.  Sprinkled salt over them. (Notice that the courgettes are sliced rather thickly.  There’s a reason for that.  Read on.)

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Once they were cooked, I transferred them to a bowl and set them aside.

PART 2 – Preparing the Courgette Sauce

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I cooked the sausage meat in the same saucepan.  I have a big wooden ‘fork’ – this is excellent for breaking up sausage meat, which is a bit ‘sticky’ at first and wants to clump together.

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If you don’t own a wooden fork, you can use the tip of a whisk to break up the sausage meat – works wonders, you’d be surprised.  I learnt this tip just recently from my friend Chef Luigi Brunamonti.  He does this to break up the meat when making a ragù.

Remember the courgettes I had cooked previously?

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I added a little water (about half a glass I suppose) to the bowl.

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And then I processed them with an immersion blender.8

I added the processed courgettes to the cooked sausages.  Switch the heat off and set aside for now.  Lovely bright green colour, don’t you think.

PART 3 –  Cooking the other Half of the Courgettes

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Please notice that I sliced these courgettes a lot thinner than the previous batch.  These are not going to be blended once cooked, that’s the reason why.

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Another saucepan.  Extra virgin olive oil, again, in the saucepan.

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Cook them for a little bit over quite a high heat.  Sprinkle salt over them.

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Then lower the heat and finish cooking them with a lid on.  Just for a few minutes, and do take the lid off now and then to keep an eye on them.

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I had a few courgette blossoms and shredded them a little and added them to the cooked slices of courgette.  Add salt and set aside.

While all this was going on, I had put the pasta water onto the boil and was cooking the pasta:

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All I had to hand is a type of pasta known as “paccheri” (pronounced pack-kerr-ee in English) which are actually not the easiest of pasta shapes to cook.

PART 4 – Bringing it all together

14I transferred the cooked pasta (well, it was slightly undercooked at this point) directly into the saucepan with the courgette and sausage sauce.

15The heat was on, and I kept adding a ladle of the pasta water to the mix, and tossing and/or stirring the pasta with the wooden spoon, until it was indeed cooked to a texture we call “al dente” in Italian.

16Now was the time to add the courgette slices.

17I switched the heat off.  And added basil and mint – just roughly torn with my fingers.

18A good grating of parmigiano (parmesan cheese).

19A twist of pepper, if you fancy it.

20And … job done! Ready to be served and gobbled up.

No one took a photo of the pasta served on the plate.  Sorry about that.  But I reckon you can get an idea of how delicious it was?  Courgettes aren’t the tastiest of vegetables, let’s face it, but they can be tarted up beautifully like this and deliver a deep gustatory satisfaction.

Let’s hear it for Pasta Camilla !!!

Pasta alla Checca

Following the worst May in Italy since 1957, with plummeting temperatures and buckets of rain, the weather is finally beginning to make seasonal sense.

And I can’t wait for it to be hot enough to  make pasta alla checca.

Here is a link, containing yet another link – a little bit like those Russian Matryoshka dolls – from long ago.  I read both posts and am glad to report that no editing or tweaking was necessary.  That’s the beauty of the pasta alla checca recipe.  Its utter simplicity.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/liar-liar-pants-on-fire-pasta-alla-checca-demographic/

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Asparagus and Courgette Risotto for Belinda

 

Today’s post is about every cloud having a silver lining when dinner needs to be made.

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The ‘cloud’ in question was the lack of an ingredient – proper, nice locally grown romanesque courgettes/zucchine such as the ones shown in the photo above.  The ‘silver’ turned out to be my having to add asparagus to the recipe, in order to bolster the overall taste, and the result is the recipe I am writing about today.

It is very easy to find the romanesque cougettes where I live, the markets and veggie shops sell them all the time (sometimes even when they are theoretically out of season).  It just so happened that for various reasons of busyness and business, I had to perforce opt for my least favourite place for sourcing vegetables – the supermarket.  You should have seen my face, I was hardly able to contain a surly stance as I looked around.  Most of the veggies looked sad or came in plastic packaging.  The artihcokes were floppy instead of firm.  Onions hailing from Argentina and Egypt???? What, we can’t grow onions in Italy?  Garlic from Morocco.  Don’t get me started.  And, just as I had surmised, there wasn’t a local romanesque courgette to be seen, only those dark green tasteless kind, very fleshy, very watery and seriously unappetising unless you choose to jolly them up with all kinds of gastronomic bells and whistles.  Yes, I do boycott supermarkets because I think their policies towards producers are thoroughly reprehensible but that is not the only reason:  you simply cannot compare their produce with the good stuff sold at markets and greengrocers.  No contest.  Harumphm, sniff and snort, thus spake Frascati Cooking That’s Amore.  I had to grudgingly admit that the asparagus weren’t bad looking, so I bought two bunches.

Once home, I got on with the risotto.  Since the end result was actually very good indeed, I have to do an about-turn and say to myself that it was thanks to the forced option of dark green courgettes that I came up with the recipe in the first place.  There you go, always a bit of Pollyanna lurking about in me.

This risotto was in honour of visitors from New Zealand, Belinda and her husband Peter, together with friends Alison and Gary.  That’s why I am calling this the “Belinda Risotto”.

Okay on with the recipe now.

INGREDIENTS:

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Courgettes/zucchine, asparagus, 1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 celery stalk, carnaroli or vialone nano rice (arborio will do it that’s all you can find), olive oil, half a lemon, mascarpone, one apple, parmesan, fresh mint, a teensy amount of fresh rosemary.

COURGETTES: I started by slicing HALF the courgettes into rounds which I set aside, and slicing the other HALF into rounds which I then roasted in the oven until they were cooked.

ASPARAGUS: I trimmed the asparagus of its points, then cut the rest of the asparagus spear also into thick rounds.  I used what was left of the asparagus spears to boil into an aparagus ‘stock’  of sorts.

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On the left … I chopped up the carrot, onion and celery and sweated them down in extra virgin olive oil before adding the courgettes.  On the right, are the tough part of the asparagus spears that I was simmering for about 15 minutes.

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I threw them away and kept the cooked water to use as stock for the risotto.

img_2836.jpgI transferred the cooked courgettes into a saucepan and added the asparagus stock – and proceeded to blend all the ingredients into a thick creamy stock.  I added a little squeeze of lemon juice.

While all this was going on, in the meantime, this is what I was doing with the OTHER HALF of the courgettes:

IMG_2837I coated them with olive oil.

IMG_2839And roasted them in the oven until they went a nice golden colour.

 

IMG_2840I added more water to the asparagus and courgette stock and got it simmering.  I dropped a large tablespoon of butter into it for good measure.

IMG_2841And now I could get cracking the the risotto.  As you can see from this photo, the stock is simmering away in the background and the risotto is being toasted in the foreground.  Please notice: no olive oil, no butter, no nuffink.  Once the rice turns pearly white, add a ladle of the hot stock, let it get absorbed, and add more.

IMG_2842A risotto will take about 18-20 minutes to cook.  Once you are getting close to the end, add the asparagus that you chopped up, as well as the spears.  Keeping stirring and keep adding the stock.  Taste and add salt and pepper.

IMG_2843Add the roasted courgette rounds, the mint and the rosemary.  Nearly there.

IMG_2844And here is the touch of cheat’s genius: a good dollop of mascarpone. Add some of the grated parmesan too, at this point, and taste.  You might need more salt, a twist of white pepper would not go astray.  A little bit of butter will also help.

img_2845.jpgThis was a serving of the risotto the next day, i.e. the leftovers.  I didn’t get a chance to take photos as I was serving the risotto, there was too much chatting going on and people’s appetites were more than ready for quick relief.  Those pretty flowers are flowers that I picked from my chives on the balcony.  Look closely and you’ll see a couple of little cubes: those are bits of apple. The apple complemented the dish really well.

img_2846.jpgThank you for inspiring me Belinda!