Spaghetti al cartoccio (in a package)

puglia crestFrom Puglia. This dish looks fairly impressive, but is in fact quite easy to do. Spaghetti or linguine is mixed with seafood, and baked in the oven. The pasta absorbs the flavours from the seafood and the sauce is concentrated wonderfully. I had this dish at a restaurant near here “Zia Teresa” in Torre a Mare a while back. They served it using foil packets, but some people use greaseproof paper. Make one large package, or as I prerfer, one package per person. The recipe is really just a guide. The seafood is different from chef to chef and from day to day, depending on what is available. Include some kind of mollusc, like mussels or clams, something from the squid family, like calamari or octopus and something from the prawn family like prawns, scampi and shrimps. Some people also include a little fish, about 200 g, such as red mullet, sea bream or bass. Serves 4.

  • 350 g spaghetti
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and bruised
  • 1 kg of fresh tomatoes
  • 200 g unpeeled raw prawns/shrimps
  • 350 g clams (vongole veraci)
  • 500 g mussels
  • 200 g baby octopus or baby squid
  • A large sprig of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 2 chillis (optional, use the chillis which you are used to. It is usually made quite mild here)
  • Dry white wine

Wash the mussels and clams under cold running water and pull the beards off. Put them into a large pan along with a clove of garlic, the parsley and half a glass of wine. Put on a high heat until all the shellfish are open. Remove  most of them from the shells (you leave a few whole for garnish, if you like)  and reserve the cooking liquid, strained if need be.

Blanch the tomatoes for a few seconds in boiling water, and then peel and deseed them. Roughly chop.

Heat about 4 tablespoons of oil in a large pan with the remaining 2 cloves of garlic. When they have browned, remove them from the oil. Add the octopus or squid, and cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes.

 

 

Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the cooking liquid from the shell-fish and the chopped chillis (leave them whole if you want to remove them at the end of cooking)  and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the unpeeled prawns and cook for a further 5 minutes. If you’d prefer to peel the prawns you can, but you’ll be losing quite a lot of flavour.

Cook the pasta about half the time recommended time on the packet. Drain and mix with the sauce.

Use a large square of kitchen foil, or 4 smaller ones for individual portions. Bring all 4 sides up and pinch together the corners, so you have a sort of foil “basket”. Fill each pouch with the pasta and fold over the top to close. Dont close them too tightly, leave some room. Bake in an oven preheated to 200°c for about 10 minutes.

Unwrap the package or packages at the table and have some finger bowls and napkins handy.

Cutlets alla Palermitana

Cotolette alla Palmermitana finished dish

Cotolette alla Palmermitana finished dish

A lot of people know the recipe for cotolette alla milanese.  This much lighter version comes from Palermo in Sicily. It uses a lot less oil as it is baked, not fried and no egg is used.

  • 500 g sliced ​​meat (beef, pork or chicken)
  • 300 g breadcrumbs
  • 30g capers desalted and chopped
  • 50g black olives, stoned and chopped  (I only had green available, but it didn’t make too much difference)
  • 50g Cacio cavallo , Parmesan or pecorino Romano, grated
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • Chopped parsley to taste and/or chopped mint
  • 30g chopped almonds (optional)
Cotolette alla Palmermitana ingredients

Cotolette alla Palmermitana ingredients

Prepare the coating by mixing together the breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley,cheese, olives and capers.

Cotolette alla Palmermitana bread mixture

Cotolette alla Palmermitana bread mixture

Beat the steaks so they are thin and an even thickness. Coat them first in oil, and then the bread mixture.

Cotolette alla Palmermitana ready for oven

Cotolette alla Palmermitana ready for oven

Place the cutlets on a baking tray that you have first lined with greaseproof paper.

Bake in a preheated oven at 200°c until they are golden brown. About 10 minutes.

 

Genovese Ragù

Genovese finished dish

Genovese finished dish

Napoli crestThis dish, paradoxically, is from Naples. It is a bit of an institution there. Many families cook it for Sunday lunch. It is a type of “white” ragù, that is it is cooked for a long time without tomatoes. It will taste even better if you make it the day before, and heat it up before serving. It is usually served with ziti, broken in half, but any tubular pasta, such as penne or rigatoni will do. Some versions cook the beef as a whole piece, and serve the meat as the main course, but this recipe cooks it until it breaks down into the sauce.
The origins of the name are a bit of a mystery. Some say it was first prepared in the port of Naples, where it was popular with sailors from Genoa. Others say it is a dish originally prepared by cooks from Genoa.

Genovese ingredients

Genovese ingredients

  • 500 g beef (topside or rump)
  • 450 g onions
  • 60 g celery
  • 60 g carrots
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 litre beef stock

Finely chop the carrots and celery and thinly slice the onions.

Genovese chopped veg

Genovese chopped veg

Chop the beef into large cubes.

Genovese meat

Genovese meat

Saute the carrot and celery for a few minutes in a pan big enough to take all the beef.

Genovese browning veg

Genovese browning veg

When they have taken some colour, turn down the heat and add the onions. Stir With a wooden spoon until the onions have softened.

Genovese onions

Genovese onions

Add the beef, rosemary and bay leaf. Cook over a very low heat for at least 3 hours. Check every half and hour or so, and add a little stock if it starts to get dry.

Genovese adding beef

Genovese adding beef

After 3 hours add the rest of the stock and continue cooking until the beef has completely disintegrated and the sauce is thick and tasty.

Genovese end of cooking

Genovese end of cooking

Serve with ziti, snapped in half before cooking.

Rabbit with polenta

Polenta cuni finished dish

Polenta cuni finished dish

bergamo crestFrom Bergamo. Polenta e cüní. This is the most common Sunday lunch in Bergamo, and is one of the dishes I miss from my time living there. The are many variations on the recipe. This one comes from Slow Food Italy.  Serves 4

Polenta cuni ingredients

Polenta cuni ingredients

  • 1 rabbit, cut into portions
  • 50g lardo, guanciale or fatty pancetta
  • 100g butter
  • 2 glasses of dry white wine (Slow Food recommends Valcalepio)
  • 4 sage leaves
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 1 clove

Put the rabbit in a pan large enough to contain it in a single layer. Place over a high heat for a few minutes to completely dry out the pieces.

Polenta cuni lardo

Polenta cuni lardo

Reduce the heat a little and add the lardo, butter, clove and sage. Brown the meat.

Polenta cuni browning the rabbit

Polenta cuni browning the rabbit

Add the wine and let it evaporate, stirring from time to time.

Polenta cuni with wine

Polenta cuni with wine

Reduce the heat to low, cover and continue cooking until the rabbit is tender. There shouldn’t be a lot of liquid while it’s cooking, but if it looks like drying out, add a little stock. The cooking time will vary according to the rabbit, but it will be at least two hours, maybe longer.

About five minutes from the end of cooking, add the remaining butter and the chopped rosemary. The rabbit should be quite dry, almost crispy on the outside, and moist on the inside.
Serve it with polenta made according to the instructions on the packet. If I don’t have a polenta machine available to stir it, I usually use the quick cooking variety. A lot of Bergamasci regard this as a heinous crime though :)

Polenta fritters – Sgagliozze

Sgagliozze finished dish

Sgagliozze finished dish

Bari crestSgagliozze. From Bari. They don’t generally eat polenta in the south of Italy. In fact a nick name here for northerners is “polentone” which roughly translated means “polenta eaters”. One of the exceptions is this dish from Bari. It is often available as a street food, especially in the old town. Many thanks to Memma for the recipe. She says they are her husband Michele’s favourite.

  • 250g polenta flour, the quick cooking kind is fine.
  • 1 l water
  • salt
  • oil for deep-frying
Sgagliozze ingredients

Sgagliozze ingredients

Boil the salted water, add the flour and mix it with a wooden spoon without making lumps.

Sgagliozze cooking polenta

Sgagliozze cooking polenta

When it is cooked (follow the instructions on the packet) pour it onto a board and form it into a thick rectangle. Let it cool down.

Sgagliozze cooked polenta

Sgagliozze cooked polenta

Cut the polenta into squares about 2cm thick. Allow them to dry out a little.

Sgagliozze sliced

Sgagliozze sliced

Fry the sgagliozze in very hot oil until crispy.

Sgagliozze frying

Sgagliozze frying

Angel wings – Chiacchiere – carnival biscuits

Chiacchiere finished dish

Chiacchiere finished dish

Like in most catholic countries, the start of lent is a big occasion in Italy. Carnival (carnivale) runs from “fat Thursday , giovedi grasso” until “fat Tuesday, martedi grasso”. Traditionally people dress up in masks and costumes, but outside of Venice, this is mostly only done by small children. However everybody uses it as an excuse to eat lots of sweet things. This is Italy after all :) This recipe is for one of the most common biscuits. They have many regional names,  bugie,  cenci,  crostoli,  frappe,  galani,  sfrappole ,but here they are known as chiacchiere. A rough translation would be “chatty biscuits”. There are many variations on the basic recipe, some include  grappa or wine, or lemon zest, but this is one of the simplest.

Chiacchere ingredients

Chiacchere ingredients

  • 280g plain flour
  • 70g potato starch (if you can’t find this, use all plain flour)
  • 20g unsalted butter
  • 20g icing sugar
  • 3 medium eggs
  • A few drops of vanilla essence or a sachet of vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • Oil for deep frying

Mix all the ingredients together to form a dough.

Chiacchere mixing dough

Chiacchere mixing dough

Knead it for a couple of minutes until it’s smooth.

Chiacchere dough

Chiacchere dough

Roll it out very thinly. If the dough is too sticky, dust with a little flour. You are aiming for about the thickness of lasagne. In fact, if you have a pasta rolling machine, that would be perfect.

Chiacchere ready to fry

Chiacchere ready to fry

Cut out rectangles of about 6×3 cm (2×1 inch) and make a slit in the middle. A pastry wheel is good for this.

Chiacchere frying

Chiacchere frying

Deep fry in hot oil (about 190°c 375°f) until they are puffed up and lightly golden.

Drain on kitchen paper and dust with icing sugar.

Insalata Caprese – Authentic recipe

Insalata Caprese finished dish

Insalata Caprese finished dish

campania crestFrom Campania. This salad is named after the island of Capri, in the Gulf of Naples, near to Sorrento. Versions of this dish can be now be found in “Italian” restaurants all over the world. It is extremely simple, just “mozzarella”, tomatoes and good extra virgin olive oil.

As always, the quality of the ingredients is very important. First the “mozzarella”. The name should technically be reserved for buffalo milk cheese. Cows milk cheese is known as “fior di latte”. The milk used is not as important as the freshness. In fact Accademia Italiana della Cucina recommends using a cow’s milk cheese from Agerola or Sorrento. Most people here insist on eating it on the day it is made. Mozzarella made the day before is only good for pizza. If all you can find is supermarket cheese with a shelf life of up to a month, it wont be worth making this dish, make a pizza instead :) Slice into fairly thin slices, about half a centimetre or a quarter of an inch.

Next, the tomatoes. Again, use the best you can find. Try to find them about the same size as the cheese. This makes the presentation nicer. Slice crossways into slices of about the same size as the cheese.

Arrange them on a plate, alternating the tomato and mozzarella. Add a generous amount of fresh basil and drizzle with olive oil. You can season with a little salt if you like.

The Academia suggests an alternative method where the cheese and tomatoes are diced.

The salad will taste much better if you serve it at room temperature, not straight from the fridge.

Unlike most salads in Italy, this is served as a main course, rather than a side dish.

Insalata Caprese ingredients

Insalata Caprese ingredients