Torta Pasqualina or Easter Monday pie is a very popular dish to have today that has its origins in Liguria. Easter Monday is traditionally a day for picnics and this is often one of the things taken along. This is a slightly simplified version as it uses pre prepared puff pastry. It’s good to know that doctors no longer say eating cholesterol is bad for you as it includes at least 10 eggs. Serves at least 6.
500g puff pastry
500g swiss chard or spinach, stalks removed
1 small onion, finely chopped
80g of parmesan or pecorino romano (or a mixture of both)
1 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram or parsley
300g ricotta, passed through a sieve to remove lumps
1 tbsp of single cream
Torta pasqualina ingredients
Put the swiss chard, the onion and 2 tbsp of oil into a saucepan. Season with salt and people and cook over a medium heat until the chard is completely wilted. Allow to cool and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
Torta pasqualina wilting chard
Chop finely and transfer to a bowl. Add an egg, 50g of cheese and the marjoram or parsley and mix well.
Torta pasqualina filling
In another bowl mix together the ricotta, the cream, 2 eggs and 30g of cheese.
Torta pasqualina assembling pie
Roll out 2/3 of the pastry and use it to line an oiled cake tin. Make a layer with the chard. Cover with the ricotta. Crack 6 eggs, regularly spaced onto the surface.
Torta pasqualina ready for the oven
Roll out the remaining 1/3 of the pastry and use it to close the pie. Trim off the excess pastry and fold over and crimp the edges to seal. Brush with olive oil and bake at 180 °c for 45 minutes.
Cozze ripiene gratinate. This is quite an unusual mussel recipe. Mussels baked on the half shell are a very common antipasto here, but this recipe treats them a bit like the French scallop dish coquilles saint-jacques. They are baked with white sauce, cheese and wine. Serves 4 as a main course, many more as part of an antipasto.
Clean the mussels well. Place them in a pan along with half the clove of garlic, a sprig of parsley and the wine. Open the mussels by placing the pan over a high heat. Drain the mussels and filter and reserve the cooking liquid. Remove them from their shells.
Baked mussels opened with cooking liquid
Mix the mussel meat with 2 tbsp of olive oil, a chopped sprig of parsley, the rest of the garlic, chopped and a tbsp of the cooking liquid. Season with pepper.
Baked mussels removed from their shells
Place each mussel on a half shell.
Baked mussels on the half shell
Mix together the white sauce, the egg yolk and a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Top each shell with some of the mixture.
Baked mussels with white sauce
Sprinkle breadcrumbs on the top and bake at 190°c for 15 minutes.
Spaghetti al cacio e pepe. From Rome. This is another recipe that I cook a lot, but have never got around to posting. Spaghetti (vermicelli is a synonym for spaghetti) with pecorino and black pepper sauce. Anyone who has ever been to Rome will know it. It seems like almost every trattoria there has it on the menu. It is very simple, just three ingredients, but one of my favourite ways to eat pasta. It is always worth spending a little more to get really good quality ingredients, but it is especially important to use good cheese with this dish. Use a good Pecorino Romano DOC (PDO). Serves 4.
Roughly crack the pepper corns. You can use a pestle and mortar, or as I do a coffee grinder. How much you add is a matter of taste, but it’s very important that it should be freshly ground. Don’t grind it too finely.
Cook the pasta until it is al dente and drain, reserving some of the cooking water.
Spaghetti al cacio e pepe mixing the pasta
Mix the pasta together with some of the cooking water and most of the cheese. You should obtain a creamy sauce that coats the spaghetti well. If the sauce is too wet, add some more cheese. Likewise, if the sauce is too dry, add some more cooking water. Add the pepper and mix again. Serve topped with the rest of the cheese.
Panzerotti. From Bari. These are one of the most famous and popular dishes from Bari. They are deep fried pockets of dough stuffed with a variety of fillings. Two of the most common are mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and oregano and ricotta forte (also called skuanda), cherry tomatoes, onion and anchovies. Ricotta forte is a bit of a “Marmite” ingredient. By that I mean it is very strongly flavoured and you either love it or hate it. I am in the first camp, lovely stuff. Rather than cherry tomatoes, “appesi” are more traditional. These are small tomatoes which are picked when still not completely ripe and hung up for later consumption. As these are hard to find, you can use any type. I went to a party here and a lady was employed just to make panzerotti all evening. The last round was filled with Nutella! The size of the panzerotti varies, but I made 12 with this recipe.
For the pastry
500 g 00 flour
100 ml tepid milk
1 cube of fresh yeast
2 tablespoons of olive oil
10 g salt
Dissolve the yeast in the milk. Add the milk to the flour, oil and salt along with enough tepid water to make a smooth dough.
Oil the dough, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for up to 2 hours.
Separate the dough into 12 portions and roll into small balls. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for a further half an hour.
Panzerotti balls of dough
Take one ball of dough and roll it into a large disc. Place a large tablespoon of filling in the middle of each one. Fold the dough over to form a half moon shape. Press down well and try to exclude as much air as possible. Either fold over and crimp the edges or cut off the excess pastry with a pasty wheel and seal the edges with a fork.
Panzerotti ready to cook
Deep fry the panzerotti until they are lightly golden. Some people use extra virgin olive oil and some people use regular vegetable oil. You can also bake them in an oven at 200 °C for 15 minutes, but the result is quite different.
Panzerotti finished dish
200 g mozzarella
300 g cherry tomatoes
Chop and drain the tomatoes. Cube the mozzarella. Mix together with a generous amount of mozzarella.
Polpettone pugliese. This is another recipe that I cook a lot. Other recipes cook the meatloaf in a tomato sauce, but this one roasts it dry. It uses minced veal, but if you can’t find it then minced beef will be fine. Italians don’t use the crated “white” variety anyway, so the veal is very pink. This is often served with roast potatoes. Serves 6.
Basil is very much in season here at the moment, so I bought a couple of bunches at the market and decided to make pesto.I dug out the official recipe from Consorzio Pesto Genovese. It’s very specific about exactly where the ingredients should come from. I’m providing the original recipe, but feel free to substitute ingredients from another region. eg. Basil not from Genoa :-) The recipe also calls for a pestle and mortar. This is undoubtably the best way, but you can get very acceptable results using a blender. Just put all the ingredients in a blender and blitz until almost smooth. Serves 6
2 Tbsp Pecorino (romano, toscano, sardo or siciliano)
2 cloves of garlic (can be omitted)
1 Tbsp pine kernels (from the Mediterranean area)
1 tbsp chopped walnuts can be substituted for the pine kernels (must be European from the species “Juglans regia”)
Coarse sea salt
The traditional method uses a wooden pestle(where the dish gets its name from in a round about way) and a marble mortar. Start by pounding the garlic and salt until you get a smooth paste.
Add the basil, a handful at a time, and keep grinding using a circular motion until each batch of the leaves is incorporated. To preserve the essential oils in the basil, you shouldn’t be too rough with it.
Add the pine kernel and grind some more.
Add the cheese and mix well.
Add the oil, little by little, until the pesto has the right consistency – a matter of taste.
Serve with pasta or added to minestrone. The recommended pastas are troffie, trofiette or trenette, but it goes with just about any pasta. I usually serve it with spaghetti or linguine.
Alici arraganate. From Puglia. There is probably not much chance of finding fresh anchovies in the UK, but if you do, this is a good recipe to try. It takes a fair bit of preparation, but it’s worth it in the end. You need to clean them as soon as you get them home as they will spoil extremely quickly. Do not do as I did this morning and leave yourself 30 minutes to clean a couple of hundred anchovies before you have to go to work :-) To clean them, snap the back bone just behind the head and pull. The guts should come out with the head. If you can’t get the hang of that, use a small sharp knife to cut through the back bone, taking care not to cut all the way through and pull. Next remove the backbone by running your thumb along the spine of the fish, flattening it out into two fillets. The backbone should then be easy to pull out. “Close” the fillets by folding them along the line of the backbone. The recipe says this will feed 4 as an antipasto, but it would feed at least that number as a British style starter.
Bucatini e cozze all’amatriciana. This is a new twist on the classic amatriciana. The addition of mussels works surprisingly well. It is adapted from “Sale e Pepe” which is something like the Italian equivalent of “Good Food Magazine”. The original recipe calls for guanciale, but as this is hard to find, even in Italy, this is my version using pancetta. Serves 4
Polpettone alla napoletana. This is a tasty and economical recipe. In Naples it is also known as ‘polpettone in salsetta’ – meatloaf in sauce. The sauce is used to dress pasta for the first course and the meat is eaten as the second course. The recipe calls for buffalo mozzarella and Neapolitan salami, but I’m sure it would be fine with whatever you have handy. Thank to Gino for the advice. Serves 4-6.
IMHO :-) Pasta al forno Pugliese. Baked pasta is popular all over Italy. This version comes from Puglia. It uses Scamorza cheese instead of mozzarella. If you can’t find scamorza you can use mozzarella, but make sure it’s not too fresh as it will make the dish too wet. Actually, that probably wouldn’t be a problem outside Italy ;-) It is traditionally made with pecorino, but nowadays most people use parmesan. There is a lighter meatless version that leaves out the meatballs. Thanks to Grazia and Tiziana for the advice. Serves 6
From Lazio. What is Carbonara? If You ask an Englishman they’ll probably tell you it’s a dish prepared with cream and ham! Nooooooo!!!!! ;-) More crimes against Italian food have been committed under the name of Carbonara than any other dish.
So, in an attempt to set the records straight, I present the authentic recipe (as deposited in the archive of Acadamia Italiana della Cucina). No cream! No ham! And don’t you dare cook the eggs! :-) Serves 6.
600 grams spaghetti or bucatini
120 grams guanciale or pancetta — diced or cut into strips
Cook the guanciale in a pan along with the whole peeled garlic clove and a little oil, until the guanciale is well coloured. Discard the garlic.
Beat the eggs in a bowl with a little of the cheese and a pinch of salt.
Cook the pasta until al dente, drain and add to the pan with the guanciale.
Lower the heat to a minimum and add the egg mixture. Mix well. Be careful not to let the eggs set. If the dish is a little dry, beat in a little of the pasta cooking water. This is not mentioned by the academy, but some people say it’s essential for the “creaminess” of the sauce.
Remove from the heat and add the rest of the cheese. Mix again and serve immediately.
Here’s a quote from Kate/Susan over at Kate, Katie, Susan, Sue who cooked the recipe as part of an Italian evening.
“That carbonara was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, certainly the best pasta dish I’ve ever eaten. I would rank it above lasagna in my estimation.”
The bottom line… carbonara typically feels too heavy and sickening after a while because of the addition of cream (an American adulteration). The egg way produces a much lighter, more palatable dish. And it was really the best carbonara I’ve ever had, ever. I tend to serially order carbonara at Italian restaurants because it is by far my favourite pasta, and I’ve had a lot of carbonara, but I feel like I can’t have it with cream any more after trying this.
Spaghetti all’ amatriciana. From Lazio. This is another Italian classic. Pasta with pancetta (or guanciale if you want to be really authentic), tomatoes and chilli. It is more traditionally served with bucatini, but is just as often served with spaghetti. Serves 4.
Cozze ripiene. From Bari. This recipe was given to me by Marilisa – thanks a lot for taking the trouble. They were delicious :-) It’s actually her granny’s recipe and Marilisa’s favourite. The recipe seems a bit daunting as you have to open the raw mussels, but it’s really not that difficult. Follow the link below if you want to know how. Serves 4-5
This is another recipe from Tiziana (many thanks). This one of the most common ‘Sunday lunches’ in Bari. I think it’s known as “Sunday gravy” in the Sates. The recipe doesn’t give very precise measurements as it depends how many people you are cooking for and your personal taste. As a rough guide allow 2-300g of meat per person. Tiziana usually serves the ragu with orecchiette, but you can use your favourite pasta. Serve the meat separately as the second course.
Ragu alla Barese ingredients
Thin slices of meat (you can use beef, veal, pork, or horse meat),flattened with meat mallet
Pieces of lamb (preferably on the bone)
Lardo(salted lard) or prosciutto fat or fatty pancetta
Chop together the lardo, parsley, garlic, pepper and pecorino to make a coarse paste.
Place a little of the paste in the middle of each slice of meat. Roll up and secure with a toothpick.
Take a large pan(NOT nonstick) and add the onion, some olive oil, the meat rolls, the lamb pieces and half a glass of water.
Cook over a high heat making sure that the meat catches on the bottom of the pan but doesn’t burn. Scrape the pan frequently with a wooden spoon. This is an important step as it contributes a lot of the flavour of the sauce.
Add the wine and allow to evaporate
Add enough passata to cover the meat well
Cook over a very low heat until the meat is tender. (A slow cooker would be ideal)
A few minutes before the end of cooking, season with salt and pepper.
For the best results, allow to cool, refrigerate over night and reheat the next day.
When you are ready to serve, remove the meat and keep warm.
Serve the sauce with pasta as the first course followed by the meat as the second course.