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.

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Rabbit with polenta

Polenta cuni finished dish

Polenta cuni finished dish

bergamo crestFrom 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

Polenta cuni ingredients

  • 1 rabbit, cut into portions
  • 50g lardo, guanciale or fatty pancetta
  • 100g butter
  • 2 glasses of dry white wine (Slow Food recommends Valcalepio)
  • 4 sage leaves
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 1 clove

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

Polenta cuni lardo

Reduce the heat a little and add the lardo, butter, clove and sage. Brown the meat.

Polenta cuni browning the rabbit

Polenta cuni browning the rabbit

Add the wine and let it evaporate, stirring from time to time.

Polenta cuni with wine

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 🙂

Bellini – Authentic recipe

Bellini finished dish

Bellini finished dish

Venezia crestThe 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 😉

Bellini ingredients

Bellini ingredients

  • 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 puree

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.

Stuffed cabbage leaves

Stuffed cabbage finished dish

Stuffed cabbage finished dish

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

  • 1l vegetable stock
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 1 head of savoy cabbage
  • 1 small onion
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 80g grated parmesan
  • 280g risotto rice
  • 350g sausages, skinned
  • 1 stick of celery
  • 1 carrot
  • 200ml white wine

To cook

  • 50g butter
  • 2 tbsp parmesan

Remove the tough central rib from 12 cabbage leaves.

stuffed cabbage removing stalk

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

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

stuffed cabbage filling rolls

Take a cabbage leaf and place a couple of tablespoons of the mixture on each one.

stuffed cabbage filled roll

stuffed cabbage filled roll

Roll the leaf up to make a compact parcel. Hide the open seam underneath.

stuffed cabbage ready for the oven

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

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 with beans and mussels

Pasta with beans and mussels finished dish

Pasta with beans and mussels finished dish

Napoli crestPasta 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

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

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

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

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.

Osso bucco with risotto

Ossobucco finished dish

Ossobucco finished dish

MilanoOssibuchi 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

Ossobucco finished dish

  • 4 slices of veal shank with the bone in the centre (ossibuchi)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • optional: 1 small stick of celery
  • 30g butter
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Plain flour for dusting
  • Parsley
  • The zest of half a lemon
  • Dry white wine
  • A little beef stock.

For the risotto

  • 320g risotto rice
  • 1 small glass of dry white wine
  • 50g butter
  • 1 small onion
  • 1.5 litres of beef stock
  • 1 sachet of saphron
  • 4 tablespoons of grana padano
  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. Turn up the heat and add the glass of wine. Let it almost completely evaporate.
  4. Add a ladle of hot stock, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 35-40 minutes until tender.
  5. Cook the risotto using the usual method, adding the saffron along with the last ladle of stock.
  6. 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.