Elizabeth David is probably best known for bringing French cuisine to British tables. But her 1954 book Italian Foodmade a reasonable stab at introducing rural Italy’s fresh, simple flavours to a United Kingdom only just relaxing from the grip of rationing.
One of the fun things in Italian Food is a scrappy, half-explained braise of pork in milk with marjoram. Plated up as a main it would have all the appeal of stringy cement. But conceptually it’s a nice way to keep slow-cooked pork moist and flavoursome.
So how about wrapping it up in pasta, a rich carby cloak to hide its shame?
Tortelloni are great (even if I did fold mine wrong), and keeping them large cuts down the hassle. What’s fun here though is the addition of a little lemon zest, just before cooking. It steams in the filling so that when you slice into the pasta, you get this flash of zingy aroma, but the flavour doesn’t overpower.
Egg yolk ravioli are rich and creamy and incredibly simple. They’re just what they look like – large, round or square pasta parcels encasing a runny, just-cooked egg yolk, and a little soft cheese. You can add a few flavours (here, pecorino because it’s delicious), but the core idea is to foreground the eggs.
They’re surprisingly easy to make, but not all that quick. I won’t lie to you – this is a horrendous parade of buggering about. It’s fresh pasta, what else would it be? But if you’re careful with the yolks, these are simple, reliable, tasty, and kind of impressive.
Right, ok, so – you make a slow-cooked, tomato-based pasta sauce, but with chicken livers, and you put some dill in it. Honestly, you probably don’t need to read the recipe now.
Nigel Slater managed to blag a twelve quid paperback onto bestseller lists by filling a couple of hundred pages with “ideas for dinner” that aren’t a whole world sturdier than that. But he’s got the media platform of a kind of chorizo-coated Stephen Fry, and I’m going to have to work a bit harder than that.
This is something I’ve been cooking for years. It’s been through a few iterations, but I think this is the simplest it’s been while I’ve still liked it. The nice part is that because chicken livers cook down pretty readily, you can get to the texture of a painstaking slow-cooked ragù in a fraction of the time. They’re also dirt cheap. The dill is a little twist that freshens up the heaviness of the liver.
This is all about small tomatoes, slow-roasted on a low heat until they intensify. In the previous post, I got a little misty eyed about eating an excellent example of these in Italy, and when I got back, I just had to make some. They’re really extraordinarily simple – the ingredients are tomatoes, heat, and time. There’s an option on a dash of balsamic vinegar, of course.
You juggle these simple variables until the texture and piquancy comes right, then you throw them through pasta or whack them on bruschetta, or just eat them with your fingers as soon as they’re cool enough to handle. This is a recipe for the former, but I will not judge you for the latter even a little.
The tomatoes take a while, but they’ll keep, so you can prepare them in advance. That makes this a great weeknight, zero effort supper. Spend a lazy Sunday afternoon roasting tomatoes, and bung them in a jar. Then you can make dinner with them in about fifteen minutes.
Simple things poured over pasta. It feels like cheating, but nuts to it: Nigel Slater’s made a career out of it. Well, plus a shit-tonne of other stuff, and being actually talented, and writing quite well most of the time. But the point stands – dumping big flavours over boiled starch feels like lazy blogging, but I still like to share the permutations that work.
This is another of those “barely a recipe” posts where it’s mostly in the title, but you get a lot of flavour for really not much effort.
I’ve seen a lot of different kinds of pesto recipes lately, some going really quite a way off piste compared to a humble paste of garlic, basil, pine nuts, and all the oil and parmesan your doctor will let you pack yourself with. One in particular caught my eye, which was the cauliflower and almond pesto in the Smitten Kitchen book.
Smitten Kitchen is great, and if you don’t read the blog, you totally should.
I tried the cauliflower version, and although my stick blender wasn’t quite up to it, it was tasty as all hell. And it got me thinking. I love pesto, I love brassicas, cauliflower’s good and all, but what about motherfucking broccoli? Yeah, that’s right – broccoli. Bring it on.
Pasta! You can throw a haphazardly selected set of things over it, and just put it in your mouth. Pesto and green beans? No problem. Leftover meat from yesterday? Sure, plus a chopped tomato. It’s convenience wizardry.
I always feel like a bit of a cheat when I post one of those recipes. Oh, sure, the pasta section of Silver Spoon is basically this kind of combinatorial list, but it’s backed by another 1200 pages of great recipes. It’s hard to feel shortchanged by a book with a whole chapter on endives.
(yes, I know those are gnocchi – deal with it)
Which is a roundabout way of saying that to make this post feel a little less cursory, I’ve rounded up three basic pasta recipes. Well, it’s more like two and a half. The first is light, summery and vegetarian – rigatoni (or gnocchi) with a sauce of roasted peppers and celery. The second and third are variants – a basic cream sauce with optional spinach, and either salmon or finocchiona sausage.
Cabbage is great. Not your soggy schooldays slop, mind – wilted to hell and smelling of damp flatulence and disappointment. No, We’re talking fresh, crisp, savoury cabbage, cooked with a bit of respect for texture rather than a thinly-repressed loathing for children.
Ok, so there’s sauerkraut – that’s soggy and awesome, but the point stands. Cabbage rocks. It is particularly good when shredded fine and cooked in the run-off fat and juices of a joint of ham.
Yesterday, I had a powerful craving for the stuff, and decided to just throw some together with other flavours I liked.
Ok, so, there’s not a lot to see here – it’s just more in the genre of “put roughly three savoury things over pasta”.
One of the things I brought back from Rome was a decent-sized chunk of prosciutto. It was bloody delicious, and it wasn’t even one of the better bits in the shop. No, the chap in Volpetti managed to up-sell me on an end piece, after I’d obviously betrayed my pork lusts and stocked up on salami.
I am glad he did.
Casting about for something to do with it, I ended up just slicing it thin-ish and tossing it over pasta with ricotta and wilted spinach and rocket. On the one hand that’s barely a recipe; on the other, it was one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.
Seriously. The prosciutto wasn’t overpoweringly salty, the fat was rich and creamy, and that cured, rich, piggy taste was fucking close to perfect.
Last week I was in Rome. It’s nice, and I’ll probably do a proper update on it (and the food) shortly.
Particularly, I should write about the deli we visited: Volpetti
It’s a wonderful old-school deli on the Via Marmorata, and despite being a bit of a tourist spot, the produce was splendid. So I brought back a giant Finocchiona, one of my favourite sausages. It’s rich, slightly buttery, and chock-full of fennel.
To be honest, it’s better raw than cooked, but on the Monday after I got back, I just wanted to use it in something, and since I’d just discovered paccheri (giant macaroni), that seemed like the thing.
This is substantially the previous recipe with dried sausage and different photographs.