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.

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

 

Inspector Montalbano’s Arancini

Arancini finished dish

Arancini finished dish

Coat_of_arms_of_SicilyInspector Montalbano is a popular fictional Sicilian police detective, created by Andrea Camilleri. The stories are set in the small town of Vigata , and, being Italian, feature food quite prominently. In the story Inspector Montelbano’s Arancini (Gli arancini di Montalbano), the famous Sicilian dish is used as a plot device. Does the inspector want to leave Sicily to be with his girlfriend in Paris, or does he want to stay and eat his housekeeper Adelina’s arancini. I won’t tell you what he decides, but you can probably guess ;) My father is a fan of the books, and he is fond of arancini when he visits me, so I decided to recreate this recipe from the book. The main differences between Adelina’s dish, and the more well known version is that she uses béchamel sauce instead of cheese. Also the ragù is made with whole pieces of meat, not mince.

For the ragù

  • 150g of reasonably fatty beef in one piece
  • 150g of reasonably fatty pork in one piece
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • a sprig of parsley
  • a few leaves of basil
  • 250ml of passata
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of tomato purée
  • extra virgin olive oil to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the risotto

  • 500g risotto rice
  • 1 small onion
  • oil and butter to taste
  • beef stock
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g of shelled peas (use fresh or frozen depending on the season)
  • 80g of spicy salami in a single piece
  • béchamel sauce made with 250ml of milk.
  • 2 eggs
  • breadcrumbs
  • oil for deep frying (traditionally olive oil, but you can use peanut oil or similar)
  • salt and pepper to taste
Arancini Ragù ingredients

Arancini Ragù ingredients

Fry the onion and celery gently in a little oil. Add the two pieces of meat and brown them on all sides.
Add the passata and tomato purée diluted in a little hot water. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, and adding more water if needed. Cook slowly for at least an hour and a half, longer if possible. Add the chopped parsley and basil, and cook for a further half an hour. This sauce can also be made in advance.

Arancini Ragù cooked

Arancini Ragù cooked

Make a classic risotto following the standard recipe, but without wine or cheese. It should be quite dry.  Montalbano is quiet clear that it should be without saffron.  (senza zaffirano, pi carità!)

 Arancini cooking risotto

Arancini cooking risotto

Tip the risotto out onto a marble slab (or a large tray), let it cool a little and then mix with a little of the tomato sauce and stir in the eggs. Let it cool completely. Put it into the fridge for about half an hour.

 Arancini risotto cooling

Arancini risotto cooling

Meanwhile, cook the peas in boiling salted water. Chop the meat with a mezzaluna or a knife. Montalbano forbids the use of a food processor  (nenti frullatore, pi carità di Dio!) :) Mix some of the  béchamel sauce with the peas and salami cut into small cubes. Add enough of the tomato sauce from the meat to make a fairly thick mixture.

Arancini mixed filling

Arancini mixed filling

Arancini forming

Arancini forming

Slightly dampen your hands and take some of the rice and roll it in the palm of your hand trying to make a sort of bowl. Put a spoonful of the ragù mixture in the middle. Cover with a little more rice and form it into a ball.You are aiming for about tennis ball size. Continue until you run out of rice. You probably won’t need all of the filling.

Arancini ready for coating

Arancini ready for coating

Put them in the fridge again for half an hour or so to firm up. Coat with egg, and then roll in bread crumbs.

Arancini ready for cooking

Arancini ready for cooking

Fry the arancini in hot oil (about 165°C) until they are golden brown. Drain on kitchen towels. They are best eaten hot, but are also good cold.

Arancini cooked

Arancini cooked

Neapolitan mixed fritters

Mixed fritters finished dish

Mixed fritters finished dish

Napoli crestPasta cresciuta. From Naples. My local pizzaria here in Bari is Neapolitan and cooks what the locals regard as “thick” pizzas. The Barese go there when they want some foreign food :-) They also cook a few specialities from Naples, such as arancini and this dish. Pasta cresciuta means “grown dough”, because the batter contains yeast. You can cook them without a filling, or with some of the more  traditional ones such as courgette flowers or anchovies. Alternatively experiment with what you have to hand. The batter will make about 60-80 pieces.

Mixed fritters ingredients

Mixed fritters ingredients

  • Sun-dried tomato halves, soaked to soften
  • Courgette (Zucchini) flowers picked over to make sure they don’t contain any insects etc.
  • Large sage leaves
  • Anchovy fillets
  • Oil for deep frying (traditionally olive oil, but sunflower oil is acceptable)

For the batter

  • 1 cube of fresh yeast
  • 320ml lukewarm water
  • 300g oo flour
  • A pinch of salt

First make the batter. Dissolve the yeast in the water. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Make a well in the centre and add the yeast mixture. Beat it with a whisk until smooth. Cover and leave in a warm place for 1 – 2 hours to rise. It should about double in size.

Mixed fritters batter

Mixed fritters batter

Heat a pan full of oil to a medium heat, about 180°c. If the oil is too hot the fritters will be raw on the inside and burnt on the the outside. If the temperature is too low they will be soggy. A litte experimentation may be needed to get it right.

Mixed fritters cooking

Mixed fritters cooking

To make plain fritters, drop tablespoons of the batter into the hot oil. Cook until they are lightly browned, turning once. You are aiming to keep a reasonably soft texture. Think savory doughnuts. Drain on kitchen paper. Dip the various fillings into the batter and continue as before.

They are best eaten hot, but may also be eaten cold.

Bagna cauda

Bagna caoda fished dish

Bagna caoda fished dish

Piedmont-flagBagna caôda.From Piemonte. The rough translation of title is “hot bath” , which in my opinion is always preferable to a cold one :-) This dish is well known outside of Italy, but as is often the case it often is very different from the original. It is basically a warm anchovy and garlic dip for raw vegetables. These are two of my favourite things, so it’s one of my favourite antipasti. A lot of versions include milk or cream, but these are not found in the original Piemonte version

Bagna caoda ingredients

Bagna caoda ingredients

  • About 6 anchovy fillets per person. Salted are best, but tinned in oil will do. Soak them in a little white wine.
  • Garlic (from 2 or 3 cloves per person up to a whole head)
  • Olive oil, the best you can find, about 1/2 a wine glass per person. Only olive oil will do.
  • About 20 g of unsalted butter per person.
  • 1 egg per person(optional)

To serve, dip vegetables into the mixture. The recipe I have is very prescriptive and says you can only use vegetables that are in season and grow in Piedmont. I think this is going a bit far though. Some suggestions on what to serve with the Bagna Cauda (raw unless otherwise stated):-

  • Fresh bread
  • potatoes cooked in their skins and then peeled
  • Peppers roasted and peeled or raw
  • Onions boiled or baked
  • Sliced apples
  • Savoy cabbage
  • Jerusalem artichokes (raw or cooked))
  • Fennel
  • Cauliflower (raw or cooked)
  • Endive
  • Celery
  • Courgettes
  • Small globe artichoke
  • Cardoons
  • Cucumber
  • Radicchio
  • Asparagus
  • Carrot sticks
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Spring onions
  • Small whole mushrooms
Bagna caoda vegetables

Bagna caoda vegetables

Slice the garlic very thinly and soak it in cold water for a couple of hours. Some recipes call for it to be boiled in milk, but I think this is unnecessary.

Add all the ingredients to an earthenware pot along with a small ladle of oil and cook very slowly for about half an hour. Don’t let the garlic brown. Stir it constantly with a wooden spoon. When the anchovies and garlic have dissolved into the sauce, add the rest of the oil.

Bring the pot to the table and keep it warm with some kind heat source.  You can buy special pots for this purpose, but fondue sets work well. Serve it with your selection of vegetables.

When you have had your fill of vegetables you can add a beaten egg to what’s left in the pot.

Chicken cacciatore

Chicken cacciatore finished dish

Chicken cacciatore finished dish

LiguriaPollo alla cacciatora.  It is very common to find versions of this dish outside of Italy, especially in the United States, however they often bear little resemblance to dishes found here. Even the spelling has been changed, possibly reflecting a dialect spelling originally used by Italian immigrants to the States. The name translates as hunter’s style chicken. I am a bit unsure why as I am unaware of anybody hunting chickens :-) You can also prepare rabbit in this way so maybe that was the original recipe. There are many versions in Italy, but the common factor is the chicken is cooked with white wine and tomatoes. This version is from Liguria. As always, if you can find a really good free range, or at least corn fed chicken it will improve the dish no end. Serves 4-6.

  • 1 chicken cut into cut into 6 or 8 pieces
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • Half a celery stalk, chopped
  • A sprig of rosemary
  • 2 fresh sage leaves
  • A bay leaf
  • A glass of white wine
  • 6 fresh tomatoes, peeled and deseeded (or an equivalent amount of tinned)
Chicken cacciatore ingredients

Chicken cacciatore ingredients

Brown the onions, the celery and the garlic in a large pan.

Chicken cacciatore browning the onions

Chicken cacciatore browning the onions

Add the chicken pieces, rosemary, sage and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes over a reasonably high flame.

Chicken cacciatore browning the chicken

Chicken cacciatore browning the chicken

Lower the flame and add the wine and cook until it has almost evaporated. Add the tomatoes, stir and cook until the chicken is done. About 45 minutes. Serve directly from the pan.

Variations

  1. Some people like to add a little chopped parsley at the end
  2. You can also add sliced fresh or reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms along with the chicken.

Orecchiette with cime di rape

Orecchiette con cime di rape. This probably the most well known dish from Bari. Cime di rape are known as turnip tops in British English. It’s funny, but I’ve never seen turnips in Italy. It must be a real problem for the ex-pat Scots on Burns’ night. They are known as rapini or broccoli rabe in American English. In fact if you can’t find cime di rape you can use broccoli. The results won’t be the same, but it will be in the same ball park. I have seen recipes that also use cherry tomatoes which are added to the oil after the anchovies have dissolved. You can cook the cime di rape along with the pasta or, as I prefer, cook the cime di rape and then cook the pasta in the same water. Some recipes also don’t use chillies and/or anchovies so the dish can easily be made vegetarian. Serves 4

Orecchiette con cime di rape finished dish

Orecchiette con cime di rape finished dish

  • 400 g orecchiette
  • 800 g cime di rape
  • 4 anchovy fillets
  • 1 tablespoon or more olive oil
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 dried chilli (optional)
Orecchiette con cime di rape ingredients

Orecchiette con cime di rape ingredients

Wash the cime di rape well. I prefer to discard the larger stalks, but some people leave them in.

Washed cime di rape

Washed cime di rape

Boil the rape in plenty of salted water until it is cooked to your liking. I find 3 or 4 minutes is enough. Drain them saving the water.

Cooked cime di rape

Cooked cime di rape

Cook the orecchiette  until they are al dente in the water you used to cook the cima di rape. Meanwhile fry the anchovies, whole garlic clove and chilli in the olive oil. Stir until the anchovies dissolve. Cook for a few minutes over a medium heat.

Frying the anchovies and chilli

Frying the anchovies and chilli

Remove the garlic clove and add the cime di rape. Mix well. Finally add the oriecchette and serve.