Pan brioche. This is a nice, versatile recipe, similar to the French brioche. The sweet version is perfect for an Italian breakfast with a cappuccino, and the savoury version is good for almost every other occasion. Use your favourite jam for the sweet version, and your favourite type of ham and cheese for the savoury version. Many thanks to Michaela for the recipe.
500g oo flour
70g unsalted butter
1 egg white (use the yolk to brush the brioche)
1 cube fresh yeast, or 1 sachet of dried.
1 pinch of salt
250ml lukewarm milk
Mozzarella, smoked mozzarella (scamorza), or any cheese you prefer.
Ham, raw ham (prosciutto crudo) or speck. Jam for the sweet version.
Dissolve the yeast in the milk. Mix together with all the other ingredients.
Knead the mixture until smooth, about 10 minutes.
Divide the dough into two parts and roll each half into rectangle about 5mm thick. Top with the cheese and ham.
Spread with jam for the sweet version.
Roll up and brush with egg yolk, sprinkle the sweet version with sugar.
From 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
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.
This 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.
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
Chop the beef into large cubes.
Saute the carrot and celery for a few minutes in a pan big enough to take all the beef.
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.
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
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.
From 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
1 rabbit, cut into portions
50g lardo, guanciale or fatty pancetta
2 glasses of dry white wine (Slow Food recommends Valcalepio)
4 sage leaves
1 sprig of rosemary
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
Reduce the heat a little and add the lardo, butter, clove and sage. Brown the meat.
Polenta cuni browning the rabbit
Add the wine and let it evaporate, stirring from time to time.
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 :)
Sgagliozze. 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
oil for deep-frying
Boil the salted water, add the flour and mix it with a wooden spoon without making lumps.
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
Cut the polenta into squares about 2cm thick. Allow them to dry out a little.
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.
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
Knead it for a couple of minutes until it’s smooth.
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
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.
Deep fry in hot oil (about 190°c 375°f) until they are puffed up and lightly golden.