Ravioli di Zucca – Pasta With Pumpkin Filling (and More) …

As I looked around today, there was a lot of orange about … it is Halloween after all, even here in Italy where the occasion was never celebrated by children in weird costume and get-ups until relatively recently (20 years ago, something like that?).  And yes it has become a consumerist bonanza here as elsewhere but how can one resist the whole idea of “trick or treat” ?

It’s a bit like Christmas presents … as long as Father Christmas/Santa is about, then presents are not a ‘reward’ for which one must say “thank you” and be fake-grateful for.  Santa Claus is ‘magic’ and he and and his elves like to give children presents ‘just because’ … Don’t get me wrong, I love good manners and I think that keeping a grateful outlook on life is good for one’s health (seriously, there has been a lot of research in this field).  But ‘having to be grateful’ for a present that is a reward for good behaviou is very very different from receiving a super present for no reason whatsoever !  Think about it.

I used to absolutely loooove Yuletide and all that that entailed, when our kids were little and still believed in Father Christmas.  My husband and I went to great lengths to dissimulate participation in the parcels that arrived after dinner on Christmas Eve as we all sat and mooched around the table after a special dinner.   At length, the door bell would ring (finally!); one of the dinner party who had to leave the room unnoticed, and never my husband or I, would do this as stealthily as possible after having arranged all the boxes and parcels on the stairs to our front door … and our kids would rush to open the door in eager not to mention frantic anticipation and take in the bounty.  Oh the excitement !  As they grew older, their spoil-sport contemporaries did all they could to disavow them of the magic; didn’t they know, they would proclaim and insist, that Father Christmas did not exist?, that it was the parents who bought all the presents? No way, our kids would answer … “Our parents couldn’t possibly afford all these presents”.  Sweet.  More about our family’s Christmas stories another time.

And so … there was I last Sunday, at home, on my own, after having worked non-stop from 10:20 a.m. to about 3 p.m . with a group of tourists.  I had showed them around town, recounting some of its history (quite a lot of history to Frascati, you’d be surprised), and then we went to the winery (Minardi Winery) where we walked around the vineyard; and then I sat them down to a nice lunch.  We wine and dine ’em, and tell stories, that’s what we do chez Minardi.  And nearly everyone who comes along is in a good frame of mind, either on holday and visiting Italy, or living in Rome and wanting to escape for the day to somewhere more bucolic, to Rome’s nearby countryside.  So the atomosphere is always a jolly one.  But it is still ‘work’ for me, and requires that I keep a sharp look-out on things, making sure that everyone is okay and well fed and that glasses are replenished.  Am I grateful for this job? Of course I am.  Do I like it? Of course I do.  Is it also tiring? … Next question.  You have to give it your all to make it work, and that’s all I’m saying.

Last Sunday, I don’t know what got into me once I got home …  I became all wistful.  Christmas came to mind. The fact that our son lives in Milan came to mind.  That my husband had been away down in Puglia for nearly a week.  Came to mind. That both my sisters live in England (i.e. far away) came to mind.  That our daughter was very busy and I hadn’t seen her in a good while.  Came to mind.  I was sliding down the slippery slope of self pity, wallowing in feelings that never lead to anywhere positive.

What to do, what to do?  My recourse? Cooking.

I decided to make home made pasta.  Not just that.  A pasta recipe that no one in my family likes, because no one in my family likes pumpkin.  Everything from scratch. I patted myself on my back metaphorically speaking when I got around to eating it. There IS compensation in food and eating.  Usually, my joy in cooking derives from cooking for others.  Last Sunday … it was about me.  It was for me.

If you, unlike the rest of my family, like pumpkin/squash and fresh pasta … do please take a look at this recipe.  There are lots of ‘steps’ … but none of them difficult or overly fussy. I don’t ‘do’ fussy.

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INGREDIENTS

FOR THE PASTA: 2 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk plus 200g of flour.  I used 100g of Italy’s famed 00 wheat flour, and 100g of durum wheat, also known as semolina flour.  Extra flour to dust on the work surface/countertop.

FOR THE FILLING: Some pumpkin that needs to be cooked. You could steam it too I suppose but I baked it in the oven.

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Wait for it to cool.  It’s not a bad idea to cook it the day before.  Which is exactly what I did.

Also required are:

Mostarda di Cremona – maybe orange marmalade might do instead of this? If you can’t get hold of mostarda that is.  Parmesan cheese.  Freshly grated nutmeg.  Fresh sage leaves.  Crushed amaretto biscuits.  Grated parmesan.

For the sauce to cook the ravioli in: cream, sausage, fresh sage

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Mostarda is basically all about candied fruit.  Sometimes this mostarda comes in spicy mode – something akin to wasabi or horseradish.4

Pear mostarda is the best choice for this recipe but I just used what I found in the store-cupboard.5

Chop it up.2

Process the cooked pumpkin.7Add salt and pepper and plenty of freshly grated nutmeg.

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These are amaretto biscuits – made with bitter almonds.  Very crisp and just the business and TOTALLY called for in this recipe.

10Bash the biscuits to pulverise them.11

Add them to the mix.

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Add some fresh sage – sliced up.

Put it in the fridge.  The firmer the mixture the better and the easier to stuff the ravioli later on.  You could, indeed, make this stuffing the day before.

MAKING THE PASTA

13Once you’ve made the fresh pasta, let it rest in a bowl for about half an hour to one hour, covered with a tea towel.  Allowing it to ‘rest’ will make it a lot easier to stretch it with the rolling pin later on. The resting time makes it more elastic.

14I love how my pasta sheet got so big, I had to ‘dangle’ it over the edge of my countertop.

16Use a glass to cut out some circles.  Discs.  Whatever you want to call ’em.  You could use a cookie-cutter if you preferred.17Fun, hey?  And what a lovely color the pasta is.

1918Out comes the filling, out of the fridge.  Use two spoons .. and spoon the mixture into the middle of the discs.  Then fold them in half.  The shape will now be a half-moon.  Join the corners of the half moon together and fold the edge over.20

And this is what you end up with.  YOU might end up with somethine prettier than this. I was happy enough with what I managed that evening.

MAKING THE SAUCE

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Olive oil in the saucepan, a sausage taken out of its casing … some fresh sage … half a glass of wine.

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Hubble bubble … toil and … add some tomato sauce.  Even out of a tube.  Mine was home-made.

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Taste and add some salt and pepper, as required.

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A splash of fresh cream and a good dollop of butter.  Butter always helps.  It brings everything together.  The Italians use the word ‘legare’ for this, and ‘legare’ means to tie together.  Butter helps to ‘tie together’ the sauce.

COOKING THE RAVIOLI

Cook the ravioli in boiling salted water – only a few minutes, since this is fresh pasta we are talking about.

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Then drain the ravioli straight into the saucepan with the simmering sauce.

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We are talking about a minute or two to reach perfection.

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Plate up.  Spray with freshly milled pepper.  Some parmesan.

28-scaled-2560.jpgI can’t tell you just how good these ravioli are … they are redolent of a medieval cuisine when sweet and savoury were part and parcel of the same food course.  There was no distinction as such in those days.  Yet there IS a distinction in this mix – and that’s what makes this a choice for  a sophisticated palate.

29Deeply, deeply yummy.

Comfort food in the extreme.

Pasta col Tonno Sfiziosa – ‘Fussy’ Pasta with Tuna

I am reposting another version of the classic pasta with tuna – one that can’t be made in a hurry and that requires a little attention to detail in the prepping phase.  Definitely worth the trouble, however, if you have the time and inclination.  I wrote the post in December 2014, that’s quite a while ago !

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It is very traditional to have a fish-only themed menu on Christmas Eve in most parts of Italy, including Rome.  Also traditional are foods fried in batter such as artichokes, cauliflower, broccolo, apples, cod fish etc.  Spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti in a clam sauce) are always a big hit.  And so is pasta with tuna – not fresh tuna but tuna packed in olive oil.

I stopped buying tuna a few years ago, after reading about the parlous state of this particular fishing industry.  I don’t want to sound all holier than thou over this decision and I am sure I am not the only one.  However, I also keep an optimistic attitude and look into reports on improvements (in Italy’s Mediterranean waters at least) and it would appear that the numbers of tuna have grown to the point that I can now resume eating it without feeling guilty (and being careful, of course, to choose the right brand).

The photos on today’s post were taken at the end of last summer, the tuna being a present from friends who had just returned from a holiday in Puglia.

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This tuna was A-star stuff, packed in proper olive oil and not some other substandard seed oil, and presented in a glass jar.

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Some tomatoes, a couple of cloves of garlic … and my new kitchen ‘toy’ – a tomato peeler.

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You don’t have to peel the tomatoes but I was in raptures of reverent tomato peeling activity and enjoying myself the way little children do when trying out a new toy …

IMG_9621IMG_9622A couple of anchovy fillets … and some lemon zest (for freshness).

Chop and de-seed the peeled tomatoes …

 

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Cook the garlic (careful that it doesn’t burn, it must cook until it is golden).

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Sprinkle salt all over the chopped tomatoes while the garlic is cooking …

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Get your pasta out (spaghetti would have been nice but I didn’t have any that day) …


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Add the tomatoes to the frying pan …

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After a few minutes, add the anchovy fillets …

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Taste … and add a pinch of sugar if necessary.


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It won’t take more than 10 minutes to have this sauce ready.  At that point, add some torn basil leaves and the lemon zest.  Switch off the heat.

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Sssssh … don’t tell anyone but I didn’t do such a good job of de-seeding the tomatoes.  Never mind.  I am still alive.

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Grate some pecorino cheese.  I think anyone who has been reading my blog for a while is fully aware of my reluctance to engage in cheese grating which is why I do my level best to fob this job off to any other family member or friend who happens to be in the vicinity.  It is important to have someone else grate your cheese for you, yes … but it is also important to make sure that the proper sized cheese grater is used.  See the photo above? The holes in the grater are too big … the grated cheese is not ‘fine’ enough for a pasta.  The finer the cheese grated, the easier it will be for the cheese to ‘melt’ completely into the sauce.  I know it sounds silly but it makes all the difference.

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While the pasta is cooking … drain the tuna.

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When the pasta is just about cooked, transfer it it to the pan with the tomato sauce.  Turn the heat on again and allow the pasta to finish its cooking time directly in the sauce.  If the sauce looks like it’s going to dry out, add some of the cooking water.

 

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Add the tuna last …

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Combine all the ingredients and switch off heat.
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The green bits are, I think, a mixture of mint and marjoram.  Parsely would be great too.

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Add the grated cheese last.

It is not ‘normal’ in Italian cuisine to mix cheese and fish together.  This recipe is one of the exceptions.  As is pasta with mussels and pecorino.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/pasta-al-tonno-variation/

Pasta col Tonno – Classic Pasta Recipe with Pre-Cooked Tuna

I am reposting a recipe I wrote back in March 2011.  It is a classic and it’s worthwhile keeping in mind when time is of the essence.  So think of this variation as the “quick and easy one”.

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At a restaurant not far from home last night, I was surprised to be served a dish made up of polenta accompanied by a tomato sauce and tuna – most unusual and very good too. Upon closer inspection, it transpired that that the tuna was not the fresh kind but, rather, the tuna that is packed in oil – you know, the kind one always keeps in the pantry for salads or for those just-in-case emergency occasions when a very hungry stomach (or two) will fight a very convincing battle with the brain when it presumes to think that cooking can’t be paramount on one’s list of priorities. And that is time to make a pasta and tuna dish so that both stomach and brain will be appeased.

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The ingrediens: some pasta, a jar of tuna packed in olive oil, a jar of tomato sauce, garlic, anchovy fillets and any fresh, green herb you may have around … in this case it was some marjoram.

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When one is in a hurry, it is best to think slowly and act quickly … so take a moment to ‘orchestrate’ the necessary steps.  First things first: put the water on to boil and pour some olive oil into a good-sized saucepan.

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Peel some garlic and cut in half and put it into the saucepan together with one anchovy fillet.  Turn the heat on a low heat (we don’t want the garlic to burn to a crisp) … and then open the jar of tuna and put it through a colander, and open the jar of tomato sauce.

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When the garlic has turned golden and the anchovy fillet has sort of dissolved …

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Add the tomato sauce.

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Put the pasta into the boiling water …

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Add some salt …

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Add a pinch of sugar too … it is the sugar and the salt that really ‘add’ taste to any tomato sauce because both ingredients are enhancers of taste: i.e. both ingredients make any flavour taste better !  That is why a little bit of salt is added even to sweet dishes.

I defy any chef worth his or her hat to deny that salt has no place in the kitchen ! People are absolutely terrified of salt and this is very silly indeed.  The important thing is to use only a small amount … in fact, only the RIGHT amount.

And as for those who worry about high blood pressure and all that that entails … please take the time to google around on the merits of untreated sea salt versus the very nasty chemically cleaned sodium chloride (here is one easy link to get you started: http://www.ecomall.com/greenshopping/salt.htm ).

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As the sauce sputters away merrily, add a sprig of your herbs …

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Followed by the tuna, drained of the oil it was preserved in …

Give it a good stir, gently breaking up the tuna so that it thickens the sauce.

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When the pasta is almost ready (i.e. two to three minutes before the cooking time recommended on the packet), you can drain it directly into the saucepan …

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If the sauce is a little too thick, you can ladle in a little of the cooking water … and keep cooking the whole lot until the pasta has ‘absorbed’ all the sauce and is ready to be served.

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The reason I insert this somewhat unappealing photo is to show that a jar of tuna and a jar of tomato sauce and 500 g of pasta can go a long way !  It can definitely feed four very hungry people …

 

 

Ready to eat … and it took just over 15 minutes from start to finish.  (For your information, the above pasta is the kind that takes 12 minutes to cook.)

There is nothing like a plate of pasta to placate a hungry belly AND a brain that thinks it’s too busy to cook …

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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

IMG_3757

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.

 

0

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.

6

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).

1

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

2

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.

7

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.