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

1

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.

3

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.)

4

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

PART 2 – Preparing the Courgette Sauce

5

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.

IMG_3141

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?

6

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

7

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

9

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.

10

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

12

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

11

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.

12a

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:

13

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/

IMG_7509

 

 

Asparagus and Courgette Risotto for Belinda

 

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

101

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:

IMG_2832

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.

IMG_2833

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.

IMG_2834

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!

Pasta Alfredo Frascati Spring Veggies Style: Peas, Asparagus and Broadbeans

Well, the original title was going to be “Paschal Pasta” because I served it on Easter Sunday a few weeks ago.

The idea of adding fresh peas, broadbeans (fava beans) and asparagus to my version of Pasta Alfredo (see link below) came to me as I sweated over the menu.  There were going to be ten of us for lunch including my in-laws who always expect some kind of pasta course at lunch, especially a festive version for a festive occasion.  There were absolutely loads of nibbles and appetizers and starters which were a meal in itself but I knew the drill – no meal would have been complete without the ‘primo’, the pasta course.  As I pondered how intricately busy our lives have become, a situation I now describe as the “Gulliver Syndrome” (we are all tied down by a barrage of minutiae on a daily basis), I realized that I had to come up with something super simple.  And Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style came to the rescue.

INGREDIENTS – Outlined in Bold below, after the photos

IMG_2376

3

9

 

10I got my greengrocer to shell the peas and broadbeans for me – phew.  Asparagus are easy enough to deal with.  I snipped the end bits of the asparagus spears, and sliced the rest of them into rounds.  I cooked the vegetables in separate batches, because they all have different cooking times.  I thought I was being practical using the same cooking water, and that it would impart a je ne sais quoi to it to when the pasta was going to be added.  And so it was.  The only suprise was the colour of the cooking water once I did add the broadbeans – it went a weird dark pinky-red colour.  Fortunately it did not ruin the end result.  But next time I will cook the broadbeans separately altogether.

I knew that leftovers were going to be hotly fought over the following day so I decided to cook more pasta than was effectively necessary for lunch.  So that came to 1 kg of pasta (600g would have been sensible).  Also, I opted for egg noodles because they take much less time to cook.  I bought two tubs of mascarpone, 500g each.  I ended up using about 750g in the end.  Italian sausages: 6 altogether, skinned.  Some olive oil.  Lots of freshly grated and equal parts of grated parmesan and pecorino, fresh mint, and salt and pepper of course.

DIRECTIONS

Add plenty of water to the pasta pot, add salt (10g of salt per 1 liter of water), and cook the three vegetables in separate batches.

Skin the sausages and start cooking them, mashing them all the while so that it looks liked minced meat.  Add very little olive oil to the saucepan to cook the meat which will release its own fat naturally.

1

If you don’t own a wooden fork like that in the photo, use the tip of a whisk to break up the sausage meat.  I discovered this trick via my colleage, chef Luigi Brunamonti (we both collaborate at the Antico Casale Minardi).

2

You are looking at a large saucepan and the equivalent of six sausages.  It does not take very long for them to cook.  Do NOT overcook, otherwise the texture will be ruined.

4Now add the mascarpone which will be very thick at first.  It needs to be loosened up.  The heat will help.

6Now add all the previously cooked veggies.

7

 

I am not sure, but I think I detect some rosemary? Who knows.  I can’t remember.  But it wouldn’t hurt is all I can say.

8

Meanwhile the fettuccine (egg noodles) have cooked – see what I mean about the weird colour that the broadbeans added to the cooking water?  Drain the fettuccine straight into the saucepan.  Add the parmesan to the sauce as well as some cooking water – so that you end up with a very creamy consistency.

11It doesn’t look very creamy here and that’s because I had to get on with the business of finishing it off and there was no obliging soul in the kitchen to take a photo for me.  All you need to know is that I kept adding cooking water a little at a time until I reached what I wanted.

10Remember this?  This is grated pecorino and fresh mint leaves.  I plated up the pasta and finished each plate off with some pecorino and the mint.

Again – no obliging soul to take any photo once we sat down to eat this pasta.  So I took some photos myself, the next day.

12

13

14I had run out of fresh mint so you are just going to have to use your imagination.

I expect that vegetarians could enjoy a similar version just by cutting out the sausage meat.  In that case, I would add some garlic to the procedure early on.

My mother pronounced this the best pasta she had eaten in her life, bless her.  And indeed it was most Eastery and satisfactory … and … as you have seen … relatively easy peasy to make !  I hope I have convinced you?

https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2018/01/29/pasta-alfredo-frascati-style/

 

 

Version 4 Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino tweaked by a Crunch Factor

This being the fourth in succession of the Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino let’s just call the recipe AOP at this stage.   As stated previously, AOP has to be the second simplest pasta dish to make (the first is pasta seasoned with just butter and parmesan).  Even so, it requires a little bit of attention.

OLIVE OIL – The best olive oil you can muster.

GARLIC  – The thinly sliced garlic must ‘stew’, turn golden, and not burn, in plenty of olive oil.  That’s why it is a good idea to heat it over a low heat.  It can be cooked until it is almost brown if you prefer a stronger taste (this is very old school).

PARSELY – The parsely delivers best if it is a) finely chopped and b) also cooked in the olive oil.  I have been known to do neither thing, and just strew a bit of roughly chopped parsely over the cooked and seasoned pasta just before devouring it.  It is still good but, as I said, finely chopping it and letting it sauté in the olive oil takes the recipe to another level.

CHILLI – Dried chilli flakes … as much or as little as you like.  This ingredient also benefits from being included in the recipe from the word go.

PASTA – The ideal spouse for this pasta seasoning, it’s crowning glory, is Spaghetti.

Today’s variation features toasted bread crumbs, just for the fun of it, just for the added frisson of crunch in our mouth-feel.  Except that I didn’t have any bread crumbs to toast. Oh woe is me! Or rather woe would have been me had I not been able to resort to a little trick that is becoming very popular in Italy at the moment.  I don’t know whether you’ve heard of Taralli that hail from Puglia and other parts of Souther Italy?  The closest description I can come up with is  “teensy bagels”.   They are served as snacks at all times of the day and it’s always handy to have some around.  Warning: despite being somewhat bland in taste they are nevertheless very more-ish.

 

img_2156.jpg

So, if you’ve been reading the other posts on AOP you know the drill by now.

IMG_2130Chilli and garlic in plenty of olive oil and don’t let it burn.

IMG_2131

While that’s happening, finely chop some parsely and ‘pulverize’ one or two of the taralli (the little mound you see on the right).  I used a meat pounder to obtain the desired texture.

IMG_2132

I then added the chopped parsely and let it cook for very little time, let’s say one minute?

IMG_2133I took the pan off the heat and removed as much of the garlic as I could find.  You don’t have to do this.  And I personally wouldn’t bother normally but it was just one of those things you do, on a whim, for a very late Sunday lunch when making AOP for my daughter who’d had a late night the night before.

IMG_2134When the pasta was almost cooked and ready to be drained, I put the pan back on the heat and toasted the crushed taralli.  This is a terrible photo, I apologise, but trust me: the ‘stuff’ in the middle is the crushed taralli.

IMG_2135Then in went the cooked spaghetti.

IMG_2136I had to add some of the cooking water to finish the dish off, to get the right texture (and taste).  A bit of tossing went on too but I was unable to photograph that.

IMG_2137And just before serving I added a further sprinling of taralli (that I had toasted in a separate pan).

There you go.  Very nice too.

I would definitely recommend cooking the parsely in the olive oil from the start, whichever of the four AOP recipes you might like to try out some time.

For the rest … Passover and Easter are coming up soon.

Auguri!  Greetings to you all and carry on cooking !

Below is a link to another post concerning the use of toasted breadcrumbs on pasta:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/the-crunch-factor-in-pasta-the-game-of-love/

 

 

Pasta on the Beach: Courgette Concert

IMG_9184

My husband and I decided to spend a day on the beach at Porto Ercole. It’s on Tuscany’s Monte Argentario coast.  That’s what I like about living near Rome, we’re never too far away from a really nice beach.

IMG_9183

 

 

Lovely clear, clean water and – for a wimpy wuss like me who can’t bathe in normal ‘cool’ water – there was the added advantage of the temperature being warm enough for me.

IMG_9178

 

This was late August, and the beach still quite busy.  But not overcrowded as beaches tend to be in many parts of Italy during the June-September holiday season.

A few days before, at work in the kitchen at the Casale Minardi wine estate, I watched as chef Luigi went about making a very simple pasta dish.  Hmmm.  Simple but delicious, so I just had to try it out for myself.

INGREDIENTS: courgettes/zucchine, olive oil, an onion, some pork jowl (guanciale) – I suppose pancetta or bacon would do, lemon zest, grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, almonds.  P.S.  Remove the guanciale and this is easily a vegetarian recipe.

 

3

 

I snapped the courgette blossoms off and placed them in a bowl of fairly warm but not hot water.  By the way, if you can’t find courgette blossoms, this pasta will still taste good.  And, as a piece of perhaps not very vital information, I can also tell you that these were female flowers.  The male flowers have a little stem to them.

4I removed the flowers after about 15 minutes and left them to dry out for a bit.  Notice how they have plumped out by a good soak in the water. Set aside.

Chop up some almonds.  You could toast them first if you liked.  I couldn’t be bothered. Set aside.

7Grate some pecorino cheese.  If you can’t find pecorino, parmesan will do very nicely.  Set aside.

Get a packet of pasta ready.  Set aside.

Slice some guanciale very thinly, set aside.

Enough with all this setting aside!  Time to get cooking.

Put the water onto boil.

8

Roughly chop an onion and cook it with some olive oil.  It must not brown, okay?  Low and steady heat.  Go for a blond colour.

9Now add the slices of guanciale.

10Give the guanciale enough time to render its fat and then add the courgettes.

11Cook the courgettes until you are happy with their texture and now add some lemon zest – in slices, not cut up finely.  Because you will remove the lemon zest before serving the pasta.  If you are a lemon zest fiend, as Luigi the chef most definitely is, you could chop it very very finely and leave it in.

12Time to add the almonds.  Combine the ingredients.

13Tear the courgette blossoms and add them too.

14Mix them in and turn the heat off until you are ready to drain the pasta directly into the saucepan.  Next time, I would add the blossoms last.

15Here we go.

Turn the heat on and add some of the cooking water.  Finish cooking the pasta. Then take the saucepan away from the source of heat.

16Add some of the pecorino and mix it in.

17Taste.

18Add some more.  Taste.

19Add a little bit more cooking water if necessary.  And yes, it was necessary.  It helped to make everything come together.

Remove the lemon zest and serve.  Keep some for leftovers.

20Enjoy some the next day on the beach – an essential secret ingredient for this recipe.

 

Pasta alla Norma

I made pasta alla Norma a couple of weeks ago and a Summer would never be complete without having it at least once.

I wrote extensively about this recipe in a previous post which I would invite you to read, if only because I talk about its provenance and history as well as the steps to making it.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/the-diva-pasta-pasta-alla-norma/

img_8756.jpg

The main difference between the way I cooked it then and more recently is that I salted the aubergines before frying them this time.  A little more work, yes, but worth it.

IMG_8755Another difference is that I used onions instead of garlic to make up the tomato sauce.

IMG_8753IMG_8752img_8772.jpgWhat can never be changed is the type of oil with which to fry the slices of aubergine – only extra virgin olive oil can be used for this dish.

IMG_8771Once the pasta was on the boil, it was time to ready the sauce into welcoming it within the confines of a large saucepan.  I began by throwing in some fresh basil and a little olive oil.

IMG_8773

I then poured the sauce in and turned the heat on.

I also grated some Ricotta Salata cheese.  This is a ricotta that has been salted and allowed to age and dry off.  Sorry, I didn’t take a photo.

IMG_8774If you look closely, you can see some white ‘bits’ in amongst the pasta – that is the ricotta salata.  What I did was drain the pasta directly into the saucepan add a little of the cooking water and finish off cooking the pasta there.  Only afterwards did I add the fried aubergine slices (so as not to damage them) and, lastly, the roughly grated ricotta salata – together with extra basil.  I was having a bit of a basil frenzy.

IMG_8776It was a casual outdoor dinner at a friend’s house and she was okay about bringing the pasta to the table in the saucepan.

IMG_8777img_8775.jpgOnce we had plated up, everyone was free to add more ricotta salata to their plate.

Oh … sigh … how I love al fresco meals and Summer in general.

P.S.  It has been the weirdest late July/August ever around here in the Castelli Romani – we’ve had nothing but buckets of rain late in the afternoon.  Not my idea of Summer evenings at all.  But, still, a Pasta alla Normal is an uber-summery pasta dish and is best enjoyed this time of year.