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.
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 🙂
The Bellini is another one of those recipes which is far better known in the USA than it is in Italy. The original recipe is authentically Italian however. Barmen over the years have added various ingredients, peach schnapps etc., but the original is extremely simple, and in my opinion better. It was invented by Giuseppe Cipriani at Harry’s Bar in Venice in the 1930s . It is named after Giovanni Bellini, a fifteenth century Venetian painter. Being Italian, it should be made with Prosecco, not Champagne, but you can use Champagne if you can’t find any of the good stuff 😉
Ripe white peaches (never yellow)
Prosecco (Spumante has more bubbles than Frizzante, use whichever you prefer)
Peel the peaches and remove the stones. The recommended method is to grate the flesh and then pass it through a sieve. I use a hand cranked food mill, sometimes known as a mouli. A food processor is said to aerate the purée too much. If it isn’t sweet enough for you, you can add sugar or simple syrup at this stage.
Put the purée in the freezer until it is almost frozen, but still soft.
Bellini frozen peach purée
Put a few spoons of purée into an iced glass. You can use a straight glass, or a champagne flute. Top up with iced Prosecco. Gently stir to mix the two ingredients. The proportions should be one part peach to three parts Prosecco.
Involtini di verza. This is a good winter dish. There are many versions, but I prefer this one because the stuffing is not so heavy as it contains rice and chopped cabbage rather than all meat. It can be served as an antipasto or a second course, but it is quite substantial, so it is probably better as a second course. Serves 6
Remove the tough central rib from 12 cabbage leaves.
stuffed cabbage removing stalk
Blanch the leaves in abundant boiling water. Take 150g of the more tender centre of the cabbage and chop finely.
stuffed cabbage cooking filling
Melt the butter in a pan and fry the carrot, celery and onion gently for about 15 minutes. Be careful that they do not brown. Increase the heat and add the rice and “toast” for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the white wine, the sausage and the chopped cabbage. Stirring constantly wait until the liquid has been absorbed. Add a ladle of the hot stock and wait for the liquid to be absorbed. Continue using the standard risotto method until the rice is cooked. Mix in the parmesan.
stuffed cabbage filling rolls
Take a cabbage leaf and place a couple of tablespoons of the mixture on each one.
stuffed cabbage filled roll
Roll the leaf up to make a compact parcel. Hide the open seam underneath.
stuffed cabbage ready for the oven
Cover the base of a casserole with little olive oil and half a ladle stock. Arrange the cabbage rolls in the dish. Cover the dish with melted butter and parmesan.
Stuffed cabbage finished dish
Bake at 200°C for 15 minutes, finish off under the grill for 5 minutes. Let the rolls rest for 10 minutes and the serve.
Pasta con fagioli e cozze. From Naples. This is a variation on the classic Neapolitan dish of pasta and beans. The pasta is cooked in the sauce which makes it very tasty. Serves 4.
700g mussels, cleaned
1 clove of garlic
50 ml white wine
450g cooked cannellini beans (You can use canned if you like)
200g chopped tomatoes
200g short pasta such as ditali, gnochetti sardi etc
100ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp chopped parsley
Red chilli to taste, fresh or dried
Pasta with beans and mussels ingredients
Soften the garlic in a little olive oil. Add the mussels and the wine, cover and cook over a high heat until the mussels have opened. About 5 minutes
Pasta with beans and mussels opening the mussels
Remove the mussels from their shells and strain and reserve the cooking liquid.
Pasta with beans and mussels cooking the pasta
Heat some olive oil in a pan and add the beans. Stir in the tomatoes, the reserved cooking liquid and the stock and bring to the boil. Add the pasta and cook until it is done (refer to the packet for cooking times).
Remove from the heat, stir in the mussels and sprinkle with the chopped parsley and chilli
Pollo 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
Brown the onions, the celery and the garlic in a large pan.
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
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.
Some people like to add a little chopped parsley at the end
You can also add sliced fresh or reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms along with the chicken.
Ossibuchi con il risotto. From Milan. Veal has gone out of fashion in the UK at the moment. It never did in the Italy because they don’t use the “crate” method. Italians are more practical when it comes to food. The aversion to “white” veal has nothing to do with ethics, it doesn’t taste as nice. This is one of the most famous Italian veal dishes. In my opinion the best bit of the dish is the marrow, which I always save until the end. Serves 4.
Ossobucco finished dish
4 slices of veal shank with the bone in the centre (ossibuchi)
Fry the onion (and the celery if used) and the whole garlic clove, over a low heat, for a few minutes in the butter until softened. Remove the garlic before serving( if you want a stronger garlic flavour, chop the clove and fry it along with the onion).
Lightly flour the veal slices and add them to the onions. Fry them on both sides until they are lightly browned. Be careful not to disturb the marrow in the centre of the bone.
Turn up the heat and add the glass of wine. Let it almost completely evaporate.
Add a ladle of hot stock, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 35-40 minutes until tender.
Cook the risotto using the usual method, adding the saffron along with the last ladle of stock.
When the veal is cooked add the chopped lemon zest, half a clove of chopped garlic(optional) and chopped parsley (gremolata) and serve on top of the risotto.
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.
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.
Branzino all’acqua pazza. This is a very simple way to poach fish. Acqua pazza translates as “crazy water”. Just what exactly is meant to be so crazy about it, I’ve no idea. 🙂 It works best with firm, white fleshed fish. You can use fillets, steaks or whole fish. On this occasion I used fillets. Serves 4
Bass in acqua pazza ingredients
4 sea bass – filleted
400g cherry tomatoes – halved or left whole according to preference
A few sprigs of parsley – chopped
A clove of garlic – chopped
1 chilli – fresh or dried (optional)
Dry white wine
Fry the garlic and chilli in olive oil until the garlic has started to colour. Use a pan big enough to take all the fish in a single layer.
Add the tomatoes, parsley and a generous slug of white wine.
Add the fish in a single layer. Add water to bring the level of liquid up to about halfway up the fillets.
Cover and simmer until the fish is done. About 10 minutes for medium sized fillets.
Bavette al tonno fresco. I’m not sure where this dish originates, but it feels like a Sicilian recipe due to the inclusion of tuna and pine nuts. It’s quite economical too as 200 grams of tuna feeds four people. My problem now is trying to think of a way to use up the other 800g I bought at the fish market this morning. I couldn’t resist, it was €2 a kilo 🙂 Serves 4.
Bavette with tuna ingredients
320g bavette (or spaghetti or linguine) I used bavettini – a smaller version of bavette
100g cherry tomatoes – halved
2 anchovy fillets – chopped
20g pine nuts
70g good quality black olives
200g fresh tuna – cut into small cubes
Zest of 1 lemon
1 clove of garlic – finely sliced
1 shallot – finely sliced
1/2 glass white wine
Fry the shallot and the garlic in olive oil until it starts to colour.
Add the anchovies, half the pine nuts, the olives and the tomatoes. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add the capers and tuna. Cook for a further 2 minutes.
Add the wine and allow to reduce a little.
Remove from the heat. Add the lemon zest, parsley and the rest of the pine nuts.
Meanwhile cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and add to the pan with the tuna. Return to the heat and mix well. Allow the pasta to take up the flavours for a minute or so, remove from the heat and serve.
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
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
3 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
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.
Add the meat and break up with a wooden spoon. Cook until it is well browned.
Add the wine and continue cooking until it has almost completely evaporated.
Add the passata, season with salt and cover.
Cook very slowly for at least 2 hours. Add a little water if it starts to dry out.
At the end of cooking, season with freshly ground black pepper.
Risotto al Vino Rosso. You need to use a good, full bodied red wine – the best you can afford. The basic rule applies. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it 🙂 I used a Primitivo di Maduria , but next time I’m flush, I’ll try it with a Barolo.