It makes me cheerful to know that right now, the kitchens of San Mario are bustling with Nonnas making their Christmas pasta, cappelletti in brodo. Pasta is being hand rolled by expert hands, and being filled with a mix of beef, pork and chicken with some parmesan and nutmeg (and other family secret ingredients, of course), before being shaped into delicate cappelletti which will be served in a Christmas capon broth (a capon is a castrated cockerel and an incredibly flavourful bird). It is a gorgeous dish, rich and light and delicate all at once. I want it for Christmas lunch also.
Right, where were we? November! That is right. As I look out of my window it is sunny with a sharp blue sky, a light wind is teasing the leaves, bot h golden brown and stubbornly green. Regardless of how unseasonally nice it is, November is still all about fires (if you are lucky enough to have one, I don’t, but I have my Big Green Egg), cheese toasties (so many variations) and soups, stews and rich ragus with supple slicks of fresh pasta. I always love a pop of fire within too in the form of sparks of chilli or a smear of chilli oil. I can’t bear anything flat, I need some brightness.
I tend to turn to Italian soups right now, specifically minestre, a chunky soup with vegetables, pasta or rice, and beans often. You will have heard of minestrone (a version of, which must have a thickening vegetable in it), and one of my favourites, pasta e fagiole. I turn often to pasta e patate too (pasta with potatoes, stay with me, it is awesome) and a version that I like to make with pumpkin. The basis of these are a good stock and a good pasta. I like to go off piste and Irish-ise it with a lick of cream too. Off piste can be a happy place, I like to go there.
My friend Luiz is a terrific cook. He is also a blogger and food writer, that is how we are friends. He runs a wonderful supper club in his house (one of the best in London and in the most beautiful space). Last year his first cookbook was published, on Nikkei cuisine called Nikkei, Japanese Food the South American Way.
Poor pasta. I get so frustrated for it. So misunderstood and maligned. Carbs are on the naughty step generally, and mostly because of misinformation. I want to try and set that right.
I love pasta, fresh and dried. I make my own at home (egg based & water based) and I also use a lot of dried pasta. They are completely different animals though, and one is not better than the other.
Before I start, my background is in Physiology, including nutrition (BSc!), so I do know what I am talking about. Plus: I have visited Italy many times, including exploring pasta regions and seeing how they are made, both fresh and dried, on the streets, in home kitchens, in pasta shops and in factories. I have been to pasta schools, and been taught to make different types of pasta by nonnas, mommas and wonderful ladies making pasta on the street just outside their houses.
Blasting Pasta Myths
Carbohydrates are not unhealthy — first things first, carbohydrates are not unhealthy. They are key in a balanced diet, and important for energy. Carbohydrate is the best source of energy, but carbohydrate stores are limited, so it is important to have some in your diet throughout the day. Best balanced with protein and fat for health, and fat is important too.
I can’t have gluten — you have my sympathies, I struggle with lactose and have coeliac and gluten intolerant friends. I know it is unpleasant. However, if you haven’t been diagnosed and just react to poor quality pasta and bread, do try better quality, you might be able to digest it! I know it makes a difference to me. Especially for bread, but for pasta too.
I love pasta but it is a guilty pleasure / fattening / makes me sleepy — good quality pasta flour is high in protein, and when cooked al dente low GI. No one really talks about GI anymore (Glycaemic Index, which measures the increase in blood glucose two hours after eating), but what it means is that pasta, properly cooked, is broken down and absorbed more slowly into the blood stream resulting in a steady rise in blood sugar and insulin levels and not a spike.
I can’t digest it, I get bloated –There is such a difference between mass produced and artisanal (for want of a better word), in terms of flavour, texture and how you digest it. Good quality dried pasta is dried slowly at a lower temperature allowing a fermentation process which results in better flavour and easier digestion.
Lets talk about fat — We need fat for building cells, for our brains (the myelin sheath surrounding every nerve fibre is a fatty layer), for vitamin digestion (Vitamins A,D,E & K are fat soluble and fat is needed to help the intestine absorb them), for making hormones. People used to be horrified at how many avocados I ate (so fatty! aren’t you worried about that?!). Now, it is recognised that these are good fats and instagram is filled with them. As with everything, steer clear of processed foods (and oils) and you will be fine. (Why do I mention fat? It is important for everything that goes with your pasta, and this is how you introduce balance, with what you serve it with).
Fresh pasta is better quality than dried — quality dried pasta commands a huge respect in Italy, and deservedly so. As does quality fresh pasta, more accurately handmade pasta or made in small batches with great care and high quality ingredients. When you are going to the supermarket to buy fresh pasta, often what is marketed as fresh pasta is machine made pasta that isn’t dried. It isn’t any better, and it is usually worse than good quality dried pasta. (Obviously this excludes filled pastas which you wouldn’t dry anyway).
All dried pasta is the same — Mass produced pasta is usually produced using poorer quality flour, and quicker, which affects flavour and digestive properties (more below). They also use teflon dies instead of bronze dies as they are cheaper and last longer (a die is the apparatus that the pasta dough is pushed through, resulting in the pasta shapes, an extruder). This results in a shiny smooth pasta which won’t grip on to a sauce in the same way, or at all.
Good pasta is too expensive — Some might roll your eyes now, here she is now telling us to buy expensive pasta. But, listen, expensive pasta is not actually expensive. Consider that the cheap stuff is just not good for your health and pasta should never have been that price anyway. When you consider that a pack that costs £3 (some cost more but you will get an a very good selection of high quality pasta at £3) will serve 4 and you compare that to the price of (not even good) meat? Spend a little more, eat a lot better, and see the difference in flavour and texture. I promise it makes an enormous difference and you won’t go back. There is such a difference between mass produced and artisanal (for want of a better word), in terms of flavour, texture and how you digest it.
To make pasta at home I need all the kit — I used to teach day long pasta classes in London covering 8 pasta shapes and sauces (from different regions), and with not a pasta machine in sight. They are handy, but all you need is a bowl, a board to roll it on, a rolling pin, some pasta flour, some water, some salt and / or some eggs and some time. That is it. This is how it is done in Italy, almost always by hand. The actual pasta making process needs 5 minutes for getting organised, 5 minutes max for pulling everything together, 10 minutes to knead by hand. Then you rest it and you roll it. Just like that you can cut it or you can shape and stuff it. A project for weekends but the simple pasta shapes like malloreddus, maltagliati or tagliatelle? I do these mid week too, when I have a little time. I find it meditative and relaxing too. Honestly! Try it. You get a rhythm over time, and everything gets much easier with practice.
And on that note — I would love to make pasta at home but I don’t have the space! Neither do I, my kitchen is tiny. With 1 cook in there it is busy, with 2 it is packed. But I have no trouble! I can’t fit a proper pasta board but I make do with a small one.
All pasta tastes the same — I think we are all agreed that pasta can be death row dish delicious. And how varied? Different shapes, colours, sizes. Different textures. Different uses, soups, ragus, simple dressed with butter and chilli. Speedy, slow, however you want it. Learning which shape goes with which sauce is a game changer, and what a joyful journey.
I want a healthy diet so I don’t eat pasta — Even after all of the above? Italians have been making pasta for hundreds of years (some claim thousands) and Italians are said to eat 60 pounds of pasta per person per year. Can a whole country be wrong? And so many of the rest of us? Pasta is not a recent fad, fad diets are. Balance, variety in what we eat, care and attention to the details and ingredients, less snacks, some more home cooking and a little bit of exercise, and we will all be hunky dory!
OK, I am sold, but I can’t get good quality dried pasta where I live! — yes, you can! Some supermarkets will surprise you with what they stock. Look for bronze died to start. Check your local deli, and if that fails, there is that wonderful internet. There are many brands in Italy, in the UK look out for Rustichella d’Abruzzo (from Abruzzo and quite affordable with a variety of shapes – I visited them when in Italy and was very impressed, more on that soon*) and Pastificio dei Campo (a premium pasta from Gragnano which I love but it is a treat as it is more expensive).
Trafilata with ‘Nduja, Oregano and a Crispy Egg
Dispatches from Emilia Romagna: Pellegrino Artusi & A Recipe for Perfect Pasta Dough (Photo Illustrated)
- Rustichella d’Abruzzo invited me to Italy to experience their pasta, but I wouldn’t share it here, or use it in my kitchen if I didn’t highly rate it.
The food inspired by hunger, a lack of time and what is available is often the best. Sometimes that is how I come up with my most interesting recipes. Like today.
There is something about a crispy egg with a runny yolk. And what is the point of a runny yolk if you don’t have something gorgeous to drag through it? Something that will grab on to it and greedily try and entice some of that yolk and pull is with it as it is dragged through. The crispy egg was the first thing I craved as I was at my desk this morning.
Pasta. Good pasta. In this case fusillo, a spiral noodle extricated using a bronze die so it has a firm grip and superb texture. It has great texture when cooked al dente and I just know that the bends in it will show that egg yolk who is boss, but what to have with the pasta?
I thought herbs, and contemplated sage. Something fragrant and light. But then I remembered the fiesty ‘nduja lurking in my fridge waiting for its moment. Firey and rich, a Calabrrian spreadable sausage made with pork, hot Calabrian chillies and lard. So good. And perfect for this dish. ‘Nduja makes an instant sauce, is wonderful to boost a tomato sauce, and is perfect just on bread, or fried with some seafood like scallops or prawns.
This is easy and speedy and the best reward for 15 minutes work. Make it and enjoy it. And be prepared to make more immediately after.
Note: feel free to substitute spaghetti or linguine for the fusillo. I used Iberico lard as a cooking fat because I had it and I love it, I encourage you to seek it out. But also feel free to substitute with any other fat (butter, oil). Lard is misunderstood and is not unhealthy when used in small amounts. It is a real food, it isn’t processed, and it is a wonderful base oil for cooking. The best savoury pastries are made with lard too. If you can’t find ‘nduja (you should be able to source it online), substitute with chorizo, and chop it small.
Other ‘nduja recipes:
Potato & Tomato Hash with an Egg & ‘Nduja Onions
‘Nduja Ragu with Eggs for a Perfect Brunch
Pimp My Piri Piri Poussin
Naughty But Nice ‘Nduja Devilled Eggs
Love at First Sight: My Gorgeous ‘Nduja Pig
Recipe: Fusillo with ‘Nduja, Oregano and a Crispy Egg
serves one hungry person
takes 15 minutes
prepare to make more immediately after
100g fusillo pasta (or spaghetti / linguine)
1 tsp dried oregano leaves (Italian or Greek wild oregano are best)
one good egg
some light oil or – do it! – Iberico lard or normal pork lard
Cook the pasta according to packet instructions.
While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tsp of oil or lard and add the ‘nduja and oregano. Cook until melted down and fluid, and reduce the heat to the lowest.
When the pasta is almost al dente with just a couple of minutes to go, heat 1 tablespoon of oil or lard in a frying pan over a high heat. When very hot, crack the egg into it, and step back as it may splatter. Sprinkle a little sea salt over the egg and leave to cook.
When the pasta is al dente, drain and add to the ‘nduja. When the egg white is set and crisp and the yolk is still runny serve it on top of the pasta.
Eat immediately and enjoy every bite. So good, right?!
Photography: Louise Hagger for The Guardian
For 4 more new Mexican recipes from me, head over to The Guardian to see some recipes that I developed for their Old El Paso Restaurante feature. Frijoles (Mexican beans), Elotes (the best cheesy corn on the cob), Spicy Slaw & a Chorizo, Red Pepper and Kale Quesadilla. Enjoy!
Have you got plans for the weekend yet? No? Right, get your pencil ready and write this list:
squid ink spaghetti (or just great pasta)
the best chorizo you can find
lots of lovely fresh clams
drinkable dry white wine (some for the pot & the rest for you)
and then make this. Do! I promise you won’t regret it.
This dish is perfect for an Autumn Saturday. It is speedy and it is so flavoursome. The chorizo gives the gorgeous briney clams a rich lightly spiced depth, the chorizo itself the colour of Autumn leaves. The squid ink noodles make it all very deep and rich (predominantly visually). It is speedy. The whole thing will be ready start to finish in 15 – 20 minutes. And you will want more, so prepare to have enough for seconds. You might even think of sharing it, with someone you like very much. Maybe.
Clams seem complicated but they are the easiest thing to cook, and the flavours are perfect, especially when you have the rumble of chorizo and the finely chopped parsley to keep it all in line. White wine helps make a gorgeous sauce with the garlic and the sea water released from the clams. And all you are doing is heating them until they cook and release the tight catch on their shells. The sauce coats the pasta beautifully and it is all so very good.
If you have never cooked with clams before do try this, and let me know how you get on with it. And don’t worry about it being fishy. This is light and briney and like getting a delicious splash of sea water on a seaside frolic.
Recipe: Spaghetti with Clams & Chorizo
200g squid ink pasta (I uses tonnarelli al nero di seppia from Rustichella d’Abruzzo) or good spaghetti or linguine will do well too
500g clams, fresh and in the shell
100g diced chorizo (fresh or cured)
A handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped very fine
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
a small glass of white wine
a little light oil or extra virgin olive oil for cooking
sea salt (if necessary)
Soak the clams for up to an hour in room temperature water to remove any grit. Rinse thoroughly and remove any open shells that don’t close again when you tap them (they are dead and not good to eat).
Cook the pasta according to packet instructions and while it is cooking heat a tablespoon of oil in a large frying or sauté pan with a lid over a medium/high heat. Cook the chorizo until releasing its oils, then add the garlic and cook for a minute. Then add the clams and the wine and stir through. Allow the wine to reduce by half over a few minutes, then put the lid on and allow to cook for a few minutes until the shells have opened and the clams are cooked. Stir again. This should time nicely with the pasta being ready.
Drain the pasta when done and add to the clams with the parsley. Toss so that the pasta is covered with the lovely sauce and season with salt if necessary (it will likely be salty enough)>
This post is a carefully selected sponsored post, in partnership with Galbani. I went to Galbani HQ to cook fonduta with Joe Hurd, a very talented Anglo-Italian chef (see video below for recipe). They also tasked me with coming with a recipe of my own, using one of their products. I chose dolcelatte, a gentle blue cheese created by Galbani, and a cheese that I love to nibble on.
Gnocchi drive the fear into most home cooks. I know, I have been there. Afraid of over working the dough and making them heavy, most people don’t work the dough enough (and it is a dough) and end up with something fluffy and despairing. I have been there too. What I realised, is that you need to show the gnocchi who is boss, while retaining a lightness of touch. Great cooking is all about taking control whilst retaining attention to detail. Lightness of touch, taking your time (when you can) and small details like fine chopping give best results. Of course, Italians will tell you too that cooking with love and care is all you really need, but love and care means cooking with tenderness and attention to detail so it all makes sense really.
I love gnocchi, so I made it my mission to figure these out. Both classic potato gnocchi and pumpkin gnocchi (you can find a recipe for these in Comfort & Spice), and sweet potato gnocchi too. Sweet potatoes work so well here, very soft and easy to work with, there is no need to put the sweet potatoes through a mouli or potato ricer, all you need to do is cool them down a little, and then mix in the flour, salt and nutmeg, kneading it in until fully incorporated and forming a dough. As the sweet potatoes are quite wet compared to normal white potatoes, I use semolina flour (specifically that used for pasta, semola di grano duro) to make the gnocchi. This is a little coarser than normal 00 pasta flour, and does a better job of forming a dough which still has a lovely sweet potato flavour.
When I first made these, I simply boiled them and finished them in the sauce, as is normal for gnocchi, but then I tried gnocchi al forno (gnocchi cooked in the oven) The blue cheese sauce reduced beautifully, the gnocchi crisped just a touch and the kale loved it. And who I am to deprive some kale of some oven action. You all know how much I love oven crisped kale chips.
For the blue cheese sauce, I used dolcelatte, a creamy blue cheese from Galbani. The dolcelatte goes so well with the kale and the sweet potato, like an autumnal holy trinity. This is rich but it is Autumn. Give yourself a break and enjoy some indulgent gnocchi.
Note on the recipe: the sweet potato gnocchi dough is delicate but don’t be afraid to show it who is boss. Allowing it to rest before making the gnocchi and before you boil it helps it hold its shape and results in a better texture.
I also cooked a fonduta recipe with Joe Hurd – a very easy and delicious Italian take on fondue. Details in the video!
Recipe: Baked Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Dolcelatte and Kale
Sweet Potato Gnocchi
250g roasted sweet potato flesh (approx 2 reasonably sized sweet potatoes, peeled weight)
125g semola di gran duro (a type of pasta flour – easy to source in Italian delis or online)
nutmeg, freshly grated
a little butter, diced
Dolcelatte and Kale Sauce
250g single cream
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
a generous handful of kale, torn from the stem and roughly chopped
2 individual roasting dishes, about 6-8 inches long, lightly buttered or one larger one
Roast your sweet potatoes by pricking a fork in them and then putting them in a lightly oiled tray. Roast for approximately an hour until soft the whole way through. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little before peeling.
Mash the sweet potatoes and add a generous sprinkle of sea salt, a grating of fresh nutmeg and the flour. Mix until well combined and knead lightly for just a minute or so. Cover the bowl with cling film or a damp tea towel and leave to rest for half an hour.
Dust a wooden chopping board (or similar) with some further semola di grano duro and roll into a log that is no more than an inch wide. Cut into small segments, less than an inch, and using a floured gnocchi paddle or fork, roll gently over the ridges, shaping the gnocchi with your thumb as you do. When you have shaped all of the gnocchi, cover with cling film or a tea towel for half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 200 deg C. Boil some salted water and add the gnocchi in batches, removing with a slotted spoon a minute after they rise to the surface. Leave in a bowl to the side with a little butter to keep them separate as you cook the rest.
Sauté the garlic in a little butter or oil for a minute over a medium heat, then add the cream, dolcelatte and kale. Season to taste with sea salt. When the cheese is melted and the kale is softening take off the heat and divide between the roasting dishes (or add to one dish) and finish with the kale and dolcelatte sauce. Stir gently so that some of the gnocchi is on top.
Roast for 20 minutes and serve immediately.
So you made a big batch of ragu, and you have leftovers, or you are about to. And you don’t want to eat the same meal every day, several days in a row. People fret about leftover pasta, reheating means it loses its al dente texture, and it might get all flabby. Don’t worry, help is here. Turning leftover pasta into a frittata is a joyful thing to do.
I first described this idea in recipe form with a papardelle and ragu leftover frittata in Comfort & Spice (my first cookbook) in 2011. Recently, I had a fabulous spaghetti carbonara frittata at Vico in Cambridge Circus (the new outpost from Jacob Kenedy and team in Cambridge Circus). It got me thinking as I stared at my bowl of leftovers yesterday.
Normally, I would have parmesan with my spaghetti and ragu but I envisioned a cheesy frittata, and I needed something that would melt beautifully and that was also sharp, so I chose cheddar. This is so so simple, and intensely gratifying. The pasta on top becomes lovely and crisp encouraged by its cheesy chaperone. If you have fresh herbs feel free to add them too.
Recipe: Cheesy Spaghetti and Ragu Frittata
leftover spaghetti and ragu (or similar) – about 2/3 of a portion per person
2 eggs, beaten lightly
50g grated cheddar cheese
a pinch of sea salt
optional: some chopped tomato, fresh herbs like thyme or basil
light oil for frying
small frying pan / skillet – I used a 20cm / 8 inch frying pan (I recommend a pan this size if you regularly cook for one person)
Add half the cheese and a pinch of salt to the eggs and beat lightly. Add the leftover spaghetti and ragu and stir through. If using tomato or herbs add now too.
You can fry or bake it at this point – I have done both. Frying is quicker but requires a little more attention (if baking bake at 180 deg C for about 10 minutes).
Add a little oil to your frying pan. Add the frittata mix and cook over a medium heat for 4 – 5 minutes.
Cover the top with the rest of the cheese and put it under a hot grill to finish. When the cheese is bubbling and starting to crisp it is ready to eat.
There is no point making a little ragu. Proper ragu is about time and patience and a glass of red wine and a book while you wait for it, inhaling those gorgeous smells all the way. So I make a lot, even if I am making it just for myself. I eat it in different ways over the following days, ragu just gets better and better the day after, and the day after that. Have it with pasta, put it in an empanada, or make a terrific frittata with the leftover spaghetti and ragu.
I have written about authentic Italian ragu in the past (Making Tagliatelle with Ragu with Anna – an Emilia Romagna Recipe), authentic in that the recipes that I sourced were all from Italians, and mainly people from Emilia Romagna, the home of Tagliatelle with Ragu. What I learned is that ragu varies, not just regionally (Romagnola ragu is heavy on the tomato, Emilia ragu is heavy on the meat), but from house to house.
Ragu usually starts with a soffrito (celery, carrot and onion). After that the meat varies (usually pork and veal but often beef and sometimes including sausage), some use milk, some use red wine, others use white wine. One person I cooked with used red and white wine, because that is how is father does it (white first and red later), there is always tomato but the amount varies. For seasonings some use bay, most use rosemary. I had a wonderful ragu in a countryside restaurant made with lard and white pepper. One thing that they all agree on is that there is definitely never any garlic and any Italian will fight you about that. But they don’t have black garlic, and if they did, I bet they would stick it in there. Controversial, right? Not when you taste it.
Black garlic is cured garlic from Korea. It isn’t fermented (as kimchi is) but it is cooked gently at a very low temperature over a number of weeks so that it caramelises, resulting in sticky black garlic that is rich, deep, savoury and sweet. It tastes a little like liquorice, a lot like molasses and balsamic vinegar, a little like roast garlic. It is a flavour bomb, and you know how much I love them.
I have never tried to make my own. I thought about it, I do love a bonkers project like this, but everywhere I read that it stinks your flat out, and I didn’t think that even I could cope with that in my small old London apartment. It is easy to buy now, besides. I have bought some in pharmacies in Asia, it is viewed as a health food there, and while I have not seen any scientific evidence, anecdotally it is referred to as a super garlic and is said to boost the immune system and lower cholesterol. They also make a tea with the husks. There are producers in the UK now too, and it is easy to source online (Ottolenghi uses it a lot and black garlic is available from their online shop too).
Black garlic is terrific with lots of things, but I love it with beef. I make marinades for BBQ steaks with it, and I love sneaking some into a ragu. I say sneaking because nobody actually knows it is there, they just know that they love that deep lovely flavour.
Give this a try, and come back tomorrow for a lovely recipe for the leftovers, it is worth making this just to make my lovely cheesey spaghetti and ragu frittata. Enjoy!
Note on the recipe: this takes time, give it at least two hours. Ragu tastes of little until it comes together, and then it tastes of everything, all at once. Worth the wait!
Spaghetti with Beef and Black Garlic Ragu
Makes enough for 6 – 8 people but use as much as you need and store the remainders in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer for a month
1kg minced beef (fat is flavour – don’t go for a lean one)
2 red onions, finely chopped
4 sticks of celery, finely chopped
4 carrots, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
8 cloves black garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp worcester sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 x 400g tins good tomatoes
light oil for frying
1 tbsp fine grated parmesan per person, to finish
fresh basil leaves
100g spaghetti per person
large sauté pan or frying pan / skillet that will accommodate the volume
Make your soffrito by gently sweating the carrot, onion and celery in a tablespoon of oil over a gentle heat until starting to soften, about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and leave to the side.
Add another tablespoon of oil and cook the beef in batches so it isn’t crowded over a medium heat until brown. Return all of the beef and soffrito to the pan and add the black garlic. Stir for a couple of minutes, then add the tomatoes, worcester sauce, soy sauce and bay leaves. Bring just to the boil, reduce the heat to low and cook for at least two hours. Season to taste when done.
When you are happy with your ragu, cook your spaghetti according to packet instructions. Add a ladleful of ragu per portion and mix completely. Top with parmesan, and the fresh basil leaves.
Eat immediately. The ragu keeps very well in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer for a month.
Yeah, that is right, the 9 minute one pot pasta dish from Puglia that is taking the internet by storm. It surely can’t be good, can it? I mean, really?
I gave it a try and I was pleasantly surprised. I will make it again, and again. I am obsessed with pasta and all the good carbohydrate things (hello potato!), but I like to do things properly, and well. This doesn’t mean that they need to take a long time. I love geekery and tricks, I love surprising new ways of doing things. I like to cook something really good in just a few minutes (my first book has a chapter on Speedy Suppers which are a regular feature of my week).
It is easy to be suspicious of simplicity, but I think we are all agreed that simple good things, taste really, well, good. My curiosity around this pasta dish was based mainly in the fact that nothing was sautéed first. Wouldn’t that affect the flavour? Most dishes require a little bit of sauté, whether that for pasta is simply starting with a speedy hot oil bath for garlic or pancetta to release their joy and goodness.
It was in Asia that I first realised that this is not essential for flavour. I have cooked with home cooks and restaurant chefs there who don’t sauté a thing, not even the meat, and the finished dishes don’t miss a thing. What about the lack of sauté here? Well, you don’t get any browning and the garlic slices leave a pungent (and gorgeous) taste, but when this dish is finished, you top it all off with some glorious extra virgin olive oil and parmesan. When you use good tomatoes, the flavour is so round, you don’t miss a thing.
Cooking pasta by absorption, another great pasta trick and one that is similar to what is used here, is a superb way of cooking pasta. In Italy this is called pasta risottata (cooking pasta like risotto), and it simply means that in the same length of cooking time and with a little more care, you can create a perfectly textured pasta dish by adding hot water a little at a time and letting the pasta absorb it. The flour that coats the surface of the pasta remains in the sauce instead of in the water in the pot that you throw away. For this, you need very good pasta for it to work well.
The advantages of this dish? Speed, flavour, and it really delivers. But you must use good pasta, you must pay attention and stir it regularly, and ensure you finish just as the pasta is al dente and no later. Like all simple dishes, the quality of your ingredients will determine the end results, so best tomatoes and best everything else. I always have a stash of great pasta in my pantry, it is a worthwhile investment, and there is no going back once you start using it. Hit your local Italian deli and ask their advice, or seek out Rustichella d’Abruzzo* (which you can buy from Odysea in the UK) or Pastificio dei Campi (which you can buy online from Food in the City). Both cost a little more but are worth every penny.
*I visited Puglia with Rustichella d’Abruzzo recently but this did only served to reinforce my faith in their product. I highly recommend it. They have lots of gluten free pastas too but more on that soon.
Nine Minute One Pan Linguine with Tomatoes, Chilli and Basil
Based on the original Martha Stewart One Pan Pasta recipe, as told to Nora Singley in Puglia. The story of which is detailed nicely here on Food52 (along with 7 further recipes).
Adapted to serve 2 people (generously) and with metric measurements, I didn’t include onion in mine
200g cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if large or a diced peeled great tomato
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
a pinch of chilli flakes (to taste)
2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
500ml water (you may need to top it up a little – I didn’t – have some water boiled just in case)
freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
a large pan that will fit the linguine horizontally, I used my sauté pan
Combine the dried pasta, tomatoes, garlic, chilli flakes, basil, oil, 1 teaspoon salt, a pinch of pepper and the water in a large shallow pan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil the mixture, stirring and turning pasta frequently with tongs, until the pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes. But keep an eye on it.
Season to taste with salt and pepper, divide among 2 bowls, and garnish with fresh torn basil. Serve with a drizzle of oil and Parmesan.
This post is about vongole (clams) but we must first talk about guanciale, the magical bacon that is cured from the jowl of the pig. It has a flavour that is different to all others. It is bacon, sure, but it has a volume to it, a roundness that consumes you when you eat it. It is big, it is present, and it is one of the best things that you can eat. It is traditionally Italian, and can be tricky to find here, I think because in the main we are so nervous about fat, which is ridiculous as fat is flavour, and we are built to digest it. Partially, it may be because it was traditional to eat the whole of the pigs head here, and maybe not cure it. Guanciale is perfection, eat it, just don’t have it every day.
Clams are perfect with pasta and so good with pork. There is something about the subtle brine and flavour of the sea released from each shell, the slick saline sauce that coats the pasta and compliments the sweet pork meat. The pop that is each small clam as you retrieve it as you eat.
I have made many versions of vongole (Italian for clams) with linguine or spaghetti over the years. This time I had a gorgeous plump sweet Roman tomato, so I put that in. Peeled and deseeded, which is so worth the effort, so that you just get the purity and intensity of the tomato flesh. And who wants to pull tomato skin out from between their teeth? Chilli, because I love it, and it is a perfect flavour enhancer plus it gives a vibrance to the dish. Guanciale is perfection wherever it sits, and it is brilliant here. Peter Hannon makes a terrific guanciale which is stocked at Fortnum & Mason in London, and any decent Italian deli will have it too. If you can’t get guanciale, I would suggest looking online for it, or substitute with pancetta or streaky bacon.
Recipe: Linguine Vongole with Guanciale, Tomato & Chilli
takes 30 minutes
350g fresh vongole / clams
1 gorgeous fresh tomato, peeled and deseeded (peel by cutting a cross in the base & covering with boiling water for 30 seconds, drain and peel skin)
1 mild chilli or some fruity dried chilli, deseeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
50g guanciale, chopped into 1 cm dice
a handful of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
a little fresh cracked black pepper
Soak the clams in water for as long as you have, up to an hour, although just 10 minutes will be ok too. Just to remove any sand that might be still in them. Then drain, discard any that are open and won’t close when you tap them (these are dead) and leave the remaining to the side.
Sauté the guanciale in its own fat for a few minutes over a medium heat, stirring as you do. Add the garlic and chilli and fry for a minute, then add the tomato.
Cook your linguine in salted water until al dente. When there is just a few minutes to go, add a ladle of the pasta water to the tomato and guanciale mix, then add the clams. Cover with a lid for a couple of minutes or until the clams open.
When the pasta has a minute or two to go, drain it and add the pasta to the clams. Stir through ensuring the linguine is well coated in the sauce.
Add the parsley, stir through, check the seasoning and add salt if necessary (with the guanciale and clams you may not need to), and finish with a little black pepper.
My first taste of this dish in Emilia Romagna awoke a hunger in me that I didn’t know I had. A new desire was immediately satisfied. Spoonfuls of broth, some gorgeous textured parmesan noodles, and repeat. Until the bowl is empty and the world feels sad. But, then you have more, and the cycle starts again. Passatelli in brodo is rich and light, sustaining and so satisfying.
I adore chicken soup but this is so much more. This is chicken broth with noodles made from parmesan, nutmeg and breadcrumbs coasting inside. Why aren’t we all obsessed with this? Why isn’t it one of those dishes that every one talks about? Deeply flavoured and rich in umami, passatelli bring this chicken soup to life and soothe unlike any other.
I first learned to make this in a hands on pasta class at La Piazzetta del Gusto in Nonantola, a gorgeous local restaurant in a pretty small town near Modena. The town square is full of elderly men chatting and passing the time jovially. Just beyond it is La Piazzetta del Gusto, a restaurant and a pasta shop. All the pasta is rolled by hand every day, and the restaurant itself specialises in passatelli.
Passatelli? I was intrigued. We started with hand rolled tortelloni, then out came the breadcrumbs, parmesan, flour, eggs and nutmeg, which we kneaded lightly to makes passatelli dough. These are so easy. Once the dough is made, you push it through a passatelli press, old style or more commonly now a potato press with large holes, also used for passatelli, and snip the noodles over and into the water. So good.
There are many ways that you can serve them, my favourite is with a classic chicken broth. A winter dish in Emilia Romagna, primarily, I think it suits our 4 seasons in a day summer quite well too.
Passatelli recipe adapted from La Piazzetta del Gusto in Nonantola, Emilia Romagna
Recipe: Passatelli in Brodo (AKA Parmesan Noodles in Wonderful Chicken Broth)
Passatelli (enough for two generous portions)
25g pasta flour
fresh grated nutmeg
a passatelli press / potato press (I bought this passatelli press on Amazon)
Chicken broth (more than you need – you can freeze leftovers!)
a large pot – I have a home stock pot which I use lots and recommending investing in
Raw chicken – approx 1.5kg carcasses, whole chicken (save the meat for another use if using this) or chicken wings (perfect as have lots of skin and fat so superb flavour)
6 carrots, coarsely chopped
4 sticks celery, coarsely chopped
3 onions, peeled & coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
a teaspoon of peppercorns (I used white as that is what I had, black are good too)
Make your chicken broth by putting all ingredients into a pot that will fit them, and topping up with water until everything is just covered. Cover with a lit and boil for at least 2 hours, the longer the better. Strain when done and season to taste with sea salt.
Leave to the side. (If using a whole chicken, remove the meat from the carcass and save for another use).
Make your passatelli by combining everything in a bowl and bringing together to a soft pliable dough.
Heat enough stock for more than two bowls of soup and press the passatelli into it, cutting with a knife when a few inches long. The passatelli will rise to the top, and will be ready to eat a couple of minutes later. If you are making just for one, only press enough into the soup for you, and then press them onto a board, lightly flour, and store on a single layer to use within 3 days. The passatelli become flabby when left in the broth, so best to do it this way.
Now eat. How good is that?!
I visited Emilia Romagna as part of Blogville, sponsored by the Emilia Romagna Tourist Board in partnership with iambassador. I maintain full editorial control of the content published, as always. I wouldn’t waste your time, or my own!