Tag Archives: Italian food

Spaghetti alla Siciliana

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Spaghetti alla Siciliana ( Spaghetti with sundried tomatoes, garlic and olive oil)
How would you like to learn an authentic Italian pasta recipe that consists of only FIVE ingredients? As some of you know, I just returned from Italy 2 days ago and this recipe, along with Sicilian sun-dried tomatoes in a small tupperware container, was one of the things I brought home with me.
I was so blessed to be surrounded by amazing Italian homecooks who gave me tips and advice on cooking authentic dishes from various regions of Italy. Sun-dried tomatoes were an unexpected gift from our dear hostess. You gotta love Italian generosity and hospitality! I just briefly mentioned during lunch that I liked the tomatoes and she immediately pulled them off the table, put a lid on and handed them to me while saying, “Can you take them on the plane?” I wasn’t sure actually whether I could take them on the plane as we only brought our carry-ons but I was not about to refuse the precious gift.
As I was leaving another friend quickly told me how to cook this amazing pasta and in two days I’ve been home I’ve cooked it twice! This pasta is beautiful in its simplicity-so flavourful and satisfying! Here is what you will need. Spaghetti alla Siciliana -ingredients. Ingredients: (Serves 4)

  • Olive oil- 2 tbsp.
  • Garlic- 3 cloves
  • Red Chilli flakes-1-2 tsp.
  • Sun-dried tomatoes, chopped- 4 tbsp.
  • Flat leaf parsley, chopped- 1/2 bunch
  • Spaghetti- 500 gr
  • Salt
  • Hard Cheese like Grana Padano or Parmesan (to taste)

Method:

Before I start, I would like to say that the flavour of your dish will almost solely rest on the quality of sun-dried tomatoes so keep that in mind when you are buying them. Get the best quality you can afford, after all you only need a little jar!

In a large pot of boiling and salted water cook your spaghetti according to package direction. I usually subtract 2 minutes off the cooking time suggested, this way you get them al dente.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil in a frying pan and add minced garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and red chilli flakes, cook while stirring over low heat for 1 minute, then add half of your chopped parsley. Set aside. Spaghetti alla Siciliana (prep)

Drain your cooked pasta and toss everything together in the same pan, add salt to taste and remaining half of chopped parsley. Serve with grated cheese on top. Seriously, it couldn’t get any easier or tastier than that!  Buon Appetito!
Spaghetti alla Siciliana (spaghetti with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and parsley)

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Tagliatelle with Pancetta, Basil and Mozzarella

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Tagliatelle with Pancetta, Basil and Mozzarella
I’ve had a realisation a couple of days ago that there is an unforgivable lack of pasta dishes on my blog which is so odd considering we eat pasta 2-3 times a week. I want to say we are pretty Italian in this respect but I am afraid if I check with my Italian friends Tano and Angela they would say that’s still not often enough. 🙂

Oh well to the task at hand, I am presenting you Tagliatelle with Pancetta, Basil and Mozzarella in Tomato Sauce we ate last night.  A truly amazing dish that takes a whole 20 minutes to make! This sauce is so flavourful yet simple Brad considers it his signature dish and the guy does NOT really cook.

I learned how to make this little number while watching a friend cook it in front of me in Italy. It was a few years ago on my very first trip to that beautiful country. Little did I know we are going to be always connected to it! Italy is such an amazing place, it captures you as soon as you breath in the air and take in centuries old cityscapes and stays with you forever. Pure magic. And so is their food! Italians are one of those people who will always speak of the quality of the ingredients over the complexity of the cooking process. This dish is a bright example of that philosophy- just a few beautiful ingredients produce stellar results!Tagliatelle with Pancetta, Basil and Mozzarella

Ingredients: (Serves 4-5)

  • Tagliatelle (or any other pasta)- 500 gr
  • Olive oil- 1 tbsp.
  • Basil, sliced- a bunch
  • Garlic, minced- 2 cloves
  • Pancetta, cubed (or any other unsmoked bacon, cubed not sliced)-100 gr/ 1/2 cup
  • Red Chilli flakes (optional)- a little pinch
  • Italian Passata, smooth, thick sieved tomatoes (feel free to use crushed tomatoes)-500 gr/2 cups
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh Mozzarella ball- 125 gr
  • Parmesan cheese for serving

Before I get deep into cooking instructions I’d like to give a few of tips that will help with achieving an authentic Italian dish at home.

1. Look for pasta produced in Italy or the brand that says 100% durum semolina or 100% durum wheat. That will make a world of difference.

2. Use real parmesan cheese that you have to grate yourself, it costs a bit more but you get a good value for your money because the flavour is incredible and you will need much less to be satisfied.

3. Mix your pasta and sauce as soon as it’s cooked. Pasta in Italy is ALWAYS served mixed with a sauce rather than being scooped on top of plain pasta at the table. Something magical happens when you combine hot pasta with hot sauce as the flavour coats the pasta and gets absorbed by it, so don’t wait until it’s at the table. Do it the Italian way! 🙂

4. Do not overcook pasta. I know every recipe says it but non-Italians horribly overcook their pasta, it really should be cooked al dente. So when you bite into it, it should not taste like noodles from grandma’s Chicken Noodle Soup but have a bit of firmness to it. 🙂

5. And last but not least. it deserves mentioning that Italian food has a bad rep for being unhealthy. Unfortunately, it’s only the case for Italian cuisine outside of Italy. This recipe only uses 100 gr/ 1/2 cup of pancetta and 125 gr/ 1/2 cup of mozzarella for the ENTIRE recipe that can feed 4-6 people!! Not too bad at all!

Alright, let’s get to it.

Method:

Set a large pot filled with water and bring it to a boil. When it boils put a good pinch of salt and pasta, cook 1 minute less than your package suggests, it can vary between 7-10 minutes. Remember when you combine it with sauce it will continue cooking.

While you pasta is cooking, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat and cook your pancetta until there is virtually no visible fat, add garlic and a pinch of chilli flakes if using  and cook for 1 minute, then add half of your basil and tomatoes, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and let it simmer until pasta is cooked.

Tagliatelle with Pancetta, Basil and Mozarella (ingredients)
Tagliatelle with Panceta, Basil and Mozzarella
When your pasta is cooked al dente, drain it while reserving a cup of water you cooked your pasta in. Put your pasta into the sauce along with the remaining basil leaves. I don’t slice basil leaves, I just tear them as I like bigger pieces.
Tagliatelle with Pancetta, Basil and Mozzarella
Then simply tear your fresh mozzarella ball with your hands directly into the pan with pasta. Tagliatelle with Pancetta, Basil and Mozzarella
I have to confess that mozzarella addition is my own twist to this recipe but it turns out so wonderfully gooey. Pure comfort food!
Gently stir fresh mozzarella into your pasta over low heat, add a splash of reserved water if your sauce is getting a bit dry. Take off the heat as soon as mozzarella melts and turns stringy, it will only take a couple of minutes. Serve immediately topped with a bit of freshly grated Parmesan.
Tagliatelle with Pancetta, Basil and Mozzarella
And maybe a slice of garlic bread. Not too authentic but a bit of a guilty pleasure for everyone in this family. 🙂
Doesn’t this look incredible!Tagliatelle with Pancetta, Basil and Mozzarella Tagliatelle with Pancetta, Basil and Mozzarella

Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto di Parma Ribbons

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Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto di Parma ribbons
If I was forced to choose the top three things I love about Italy I would have to say, in no particular order, my friend Angela and her crazy funny family, risotto and prosciutto di Parma.
Well, my fondness for Angela is understandable but the rest might require some explanation. Most people, you see, are pasta freaks. They will eat past in any form or shape with any sauce imaginable. Me, I love risotto. Warm, gooey and comforting risotto is all I want when I think of cooking something quick and simple, something I can eat out of a bowl while curled up on a sofa. And donʼt even get me started on Parma ham, The love affair started a few years back when we visited…you guessed it…Parma. How can one city give the world both Parmegiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma? The two are the works of a culinary genius! Or as Jane Austin put it in one of her famous books, “A happy thought indeed”. As Iʼd mentioned previously English summers can definitely work on giving us more sunshine but there are some things this climate does well and, apparently, growing asparagus is one of them. I was happy to take full advantage of fresh English asparagus that filled the shops and vegetables stands all over the city. The season is short so I was quick to think of several ways of incorporating one of my favourite vegetables into our meals.

Fresh seasonal asparagus is so flavourful on its own you don’t even need much to make this risotto work. Feel free to skip Parma ham if you are a vegetarian. This way you can enjoy the pure, unadulterated taste of asparagus.

Or you can add a prosciutto di Parma ribbon to bring out even more flavour.
Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto di Parma Ribbons
Ingredients: Serves 4

  • Arborio Rice- 1.5 cups/400 gr
  • Chicken or Vegetable Stock- 3 cups/750 ml
  • Olive Oil- 2 tbsp.
  • Onion-1
  • Celery- 2 stalks
  • Garlic-2 cloves
  • White wine (optional)-1/4 cup/75ml
  • Butter- 2 tbsp.
  • Parmesan Cheese (freshly grated)- 4 oz/125 gr (or to taste)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Asparagus- one bunch (10-12 stalks)
  • Prosciutto Di Parma- 1 or 2 ribbons per person

Asparagus Risotto with Parma Ham Ribbons

Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto RibbonsMethod:

Put the stock in a pot and heat it. Wash the asparagus and cut off the tips, cut the rest of the stalks crosswise in 1 cm pieces.  Chop up onion, celery and garlic and saute them in olive oil in a large deep pan over slow heat for 10 minutes. Then turn the heat to medium and add rice, and fry it while stirring for 2-3 minutes, add the wine and continue stirring until the wine evaporated. Add a ladle of the stock and cook over low/medium heat until the stock is absorbed by the rice, add the chopped asparagus reserving the tips to the rice, continue adding a ladle of the stock each time you see that the liquid got absorbed by the rice, keep stirring as doing so will bring out the creaminess in rice.

While your risotto is cooking, quickly cook the asparagus tips. They will take 5-7 minutes, so arrange for both asparagus and risotto be done at approximately the same time.

When all your stock is gone taste your rice to make sure it’s cooked, if it’s not add a ladleful of water.  Risotto is NOT rice pudding and shouldn’t disintegrate in your mouth. Rice just like pasta should be cooked al dente- slightly firm to the bite.

When the rice is the right texture remove it from the heat and stir freshly grated parmesan into it (not that awful pre-grated stuff), then add butter, cover with the lid and walk away for 5 minutes. I once heard that this trick is called “the risotto maker”. When you come back and take the lid off you will see the most beautiful and creamy risotto! If your risotto is cooked the right way it will ripple when you pour it into a bowl but won’t hold any shape.
Place a few asparagus spears on each plate.
Asparagus Risotto
Or add a Parma Ham ribbon.
Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto di Parma RibbonsAsparagus Risotto

Spring fresh or a Bruschetta Trio

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Bruschetta party
We’ve been hit by some amazingly beautiful weather lately. We are approaching our third summer in London and boy did we learn fast! Sunny and warm days are so rare and far in between that you gotta grab them as soon as you see a small clearing in the sky. You know you’ve met a true Londoner if he is sporting shorts, flip flops and pale legs in 17C weather. I believe we are quickly moving in that direction.

Balmy days call for picnics and fresh food. Nothing could be better than stretching out on a blanket  in the Greenwich park after the empty picnic basket has been tossed aside and enjoy watching your little ones run wild. That’s exactly what we did this past bank holiday Monday. And the food was definitely worth writing about. Fresh, simple, quick and delicious.

My picnic menu was inspired by these things: a baby olive tree growing in my front yard and a bowl of ripe red tomatoes.

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A Bruschetta Trio was born. Eggplant and Mint.  Artichoke, Lemon and Mint.  Tomato and Basil.
Brad and I really enjoy a meal of little bites, one that could be thrown together within minutes but lingers in your memory for days. This is one of those meals! Colours, smells, textures will send all of your senses into overdrive.

A Bruschetta Trio
Ingredients for Eggplant and Mint Bruschetta:

  • Eggplant-2 medium
  • Olive Oil-2 tbsp.
  • Balsamic Vinegar (or any other vinegar)- 1 tbsp.
  • Fresh Flat leaf Parsley- 4 sprigs (leaves only)
  • Fresh Mint- 6 sprigs (leaves only)
  • Garlic- 1 clove
  • Salt and Pepper

Method:

Slice eggplant 1/8″ thick and grill on a hot grill or griddle about 3-5 minutes on each side or until cooked and not spongy anymore. While eggplant is getting grilled. Mixed together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped parsley and mint, finely chopped garlic. Add the cooked eggplant to the bowl, mix with a pinch of salt and pepper. Done.Grilled Eggplant Mint Bruschetta

Ingredients for Artichoke, Lemon and Mint Bruschetta:

  • Artichokes- 1 jar 
  • Lemon juice from 1/2 lemon
  • Garlic- 2 cloves
  • Mint- 2 sprigs
  • Olive Oil (optional)
  • Salt

Method: 

If your prepared artichokes were packed in oil like mine skip adding oil to your bruschetta. Chop up artichokes in bite sized chunks and add the rest of the ingredients. Voila your Artichoke and Mint Bruschetta is ready. I told you it was easy. It should also be noted that although it doesn’t look as appealing as eggplant and tomato it can definitely rival them in taste.

A Bruschetta Trio
Ingredients for Tomato and Basil Bruschetta:

  • Ripe Tomatoes (deseeded)- 5 medium 
  • Fresh Basil- a handful
  • Garlic- 1-2 cloves
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil- 1 tbsp.
  • Salt and Pepper

Method:

Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze the seeds out, chop them finely or chunky-your choice, put them a bowl. Tear basil leaves into the same bowl, add garlic, olive oil and season with salt and pepper. It’s very important you only use very ripe tomatoes and good quality olive oil because that’s where your flavour is going to come from.

Finally, slice a loaf of crusty bread (ciabatta is my favourite) and grill the slices until a bit crispy. Load up your bread right before serving, otherwise it will get soggy very quickly or let your guests do the work themselves. They will love it!
To round up the meal serve with some olives, salami and cheese or use the Bruschetta Trio as a lovely starter.

Bruschetta party