Ragù for baked pasta

Ragù per pasta al forno. This is used for many dishes – lasagne, baked ziti etc. There are many recipes, but the proportion of meat to tomato is always similar. One of the most common mistakes people make is to add too much tomato. If you have time, the flavour improves if you make it the day before and leave it in the fridge overnight. Enough for 4-6 portions of pasta.

  • 300g minced beef
  • 75g carrot, finely chopped
  • 75g onion, finely chopped
  • 50g celery, finely chopped
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • 250g passata
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion, carrot and celery. Fry gently for a few minutes until the onions start to go translucent.
  2. Add the meat and break up with a wooden spoon. Cook until it is well browned.
  3. Add the wine and continue cooking until it has almost completely evaporated.
  4. Add the passata, season with salt and cover.
  5. Cook very slowly for at least 2 hours. Add a little water if it starts to dry out.
  6. At the end of cooking, season with freshly ground black pepper.
Ragù for baked pasta

Ragù for baked pasta

Basic white sauce (Béchamel)


White sauce ingredients

White sauce ingredients

  • 50g butter
  • 50g plain flour
  • 500ml milk (or half milk half water)
  • a few grates of nutmeg (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat.
  2. Add the flour and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until smooth.
  3. Add add a little of the milk and beat until smooth.
  4. Continue in this way until all the milk is added.
  5. Bring to a very low simmer and cook for around 15 minutes, stirring frequently to stop the sauce catching on the bottom of the pan.
  6. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg
White sauce (béchamel)

White sauce (béchamel)

Tomato sauce

This is a really simple recipe for an Italian style tomato sauce.  In the UK we tend to dress our pasta with a lot more sauce than the Italians do (dare I say too much? ). If you can’t find really ripe fresh tomatoes, use tinned. You won’t get good results with supermarket ‘bounceable’  toms. This recipe is makes enough sauce to dress 4 portions of pasta. Really! Trust me!  🙂 On this occasion I served the sauce with linguine, but it goes equally well with many other short or long pastas (e.g. spaghetti, bucatini , sedani, penne, cavatelli etc.)

Tomato sauce ingredients

Tomato sauce ingredients

  • 250g tinned tomatoes or peeled fresh tomatoes
  • A pinch of sugar (optional)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, lightly crushed
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, torn
  • salt
  1. Put the tomatoes and their juice into a saucepan along with the garlic, sugar and a good pinch of salt. Cover and heat gently for about 30 minutes without stirring.
  2. Remove the garlic and mash the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. If you’re using tinned tomatoes cook uncovered for a further 15 minutes  until the sauce has reduced.
  3. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  4. Immediately before serving, stir in the olive oil and the basil.
  5. Use to dress pasta
Tomato sauce

Tomato sauce

Linguine with tomato sauce

Linguine with tomato sauce

Nonna Stella’s Pesto

This recipe is not for what we normally think of as ‘pesto’. A huge number of Italian sauces start with what’s known as a ‘soffritto’. Usually that means finely chopped onions, carrots ,celery, and possibly garlic. Nonna Stella prepares her soffritto in advance and keeps it in a jar in the fridge. She also adds celery leaves, parsley and basil to the mix. When you need to make a sauce, let’s say for example a tomato sauce, all you need to do is fry a couple of tablespoons of the pesto for a few minutes, then add the tomatoes. Cook it down for ten minutes and you’re done. Fast food Italian style 🙂 . This is possibly the most useful recipe I’ve picked up. It will keep almost indefinitely in the fridge, if you remember to keep it covered with about a centimeter of oil.

pesto ingredients

You’ll need:-

  • Good olive oil
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Celery (Including leaves if possible)
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • The quantities are a matter of taste, but I use roughly equal quantities of onions and carrots and halve the quantity of celery.
  1. Peel the onions and carrots.
  2. Roughly chop the onions, carrotts and celery and whizz in a food processor, adding a little oil from time to time, until you have a smooth paste.
  3. Add a good handful each of celery leaves, basil and parsley and process again, adding more oil when necessary, until the herbs are incorporated into the paste.
  4. Transfer to a clean jar, a traditional pickle jar would be ideal, and pour a least a centimeter of oil on top.
    Keep in the fridge until needed.

pesto finished

Here’s Nonna Stella herself to show you how it’s done.

The pesto will only be as good as the ingredients you use. Above all, use the best olive oil you can find. Nonna Stella is very proud of the oil produced by her grandson in Cassano. They don’t have to buy oil in her house. I wish I had a supply 🙂


Chicken stock

As it’s so important to use good stock, I thought I’d include a recipe.

chicken stock ingredients

  •   1 cooked or raw chicken carcass
  •   2 celery sticks — roughly chopped
  •   1 large  onion — roughly chopped
  •   2 carrots — roughly chopped
  •   1 handful  parsley stalks
  •   ½  head  garlic
  1.  Put the chicken carcasses into a stockpot, cover with 2½ litres water and bring to the boil. Using a large metal spoon, skim off any white scum from the surface.
  2. Add the vegetables, parsley and garlic to the pan. Return to the boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook uncovered for 2½ hours, skimming occasionally.
  3. Strain the stock through a colander lined with wet muslin into a large, heatproof bowl. Discard all the debris. Reduce the stock for a stronger flavour, if desired. Cool, chill and use the stock within 3 days or freeze in portions. I reduce the stock as much as I can, and then pour it into ice cube trays.

chicken stock finished


Basic risotto method

Risotto is an Italian dish that was originally eaten by peasants for breakfast, but which has risen in stature to become a highly regarded restaurant dish. It’s simple to make at home, but requires a bit of attention.Risotto is made from risotto rice cooked with stock. Other ingredients (such as vegetables, shellfish or meat) are then added, and the dish is usually finished off with a knob of butter and some Parmesan cheese, which is stirred through at the end of cooking.

The key to a successful risotto is the rice and the stirring. There are three main types of Italian risotto rice – arborio, carnaroli and vialone nano. Essentially they’re all starchy short-grain rices. The stock is added bit by bit to the rice and stirred frequently resulting in the classic creamy texture of a risotto. It shouldn’t be overcooked, but should still retain its characteristic al dente bite. All risotti are prepared in pretty much the same way. This page explains the standard method. Serves 4

Risotto ingredients

Risotto ingredients

  • 350g risotto rice
  • 40g butter (or olive oil depending on the recipe)
  • 1 small onion,finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic (if the recipe calls for it), finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 litres stock
  • 1 glass dry white wine

Bring the stock to a gentle boil.

risotto 1 (Medium)

Add the rice and stir until all the rice is coated with the butter.
risotto 2 (Medium)Add the wine and cook until it has been completely absorbed, stirring all the time.
risotto 3 (Medium)Add a ladle of the hot stock and stir until it has been absorbed.
risotto 4 (Medium)Keep adding the stock in this way, a ladle at a time, until the rice is cooked. It should take around 20 minutes. Test a grain of rice from time to time to see if it’s done.
risotto 6 (Medium)Remove from the heat and , if the recipe calls for it, stir in some cheese and butter. Leave to rest for a couple of minutes before serving.

Risotto finished dish

Risotto finished dish

Fresh pasta

Fresh pasta is actually very easy to make. It’s just flour and eggs. It takes a bit of effort, but if you invest in a pasta machine it’s a piece of cake. One misconception that a lot of people have is that pasta should always be made with durum wheat flour. Durum is used mainly for dry commercially produced pasta, such as spaghetti. Some fresh pastas made without egg, for example orecchiette, are made with durum flour. Fresh egg pasta should be made with normal white flour, preferably finely ground ’00’ grade. Allow 100g of flour and 1 egg per person. Serves 4

400 grams plain white flour (pref type ’00’)
4 medium eggs

  • Pile the flour in a volcano-shaped mound on a work surface
  • Break the eggs into the centre.

Fresh pasta 1

  • Stir the eggs into the flour with a fork and then with you hands until it forms a coarse paste.
  • Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic (or pass it through the rollers of the pasta machine several times at the widest setting)

Fresh pasta 3

  • Let the dough rest for about 30 mins, covered with a cloth.
  • Roll the pasta out as thinly as possible for ravioli etc. Fettuccine and other ribbon noodles should be a little thicker. (Thinnest setting on the machine for ravioli, second thinnest for fettuccine etc)
  • To cut ribbon shaped noodle, loosely roll up the sheets of pasta and cut to the desired thickness.

Fresh pasta 7

  • Shake the rolls out onto a board and leave to dry for about 10 minutes before cooking.

Fresh pasta 8