Italian cherry, ricotta and lemon ring cake

 Ciambellone alle ciliegie

Torta

My kind of cake

‘Ciambellone’ (chahm-bel-ohn-eh) is a tender donut-shaped cake that’s eaten throughout Italy and differs slightly from region to region. Its name derives from Ciambelle, the word used for a vast variety of ring-shaped cakes, breads and biscuits that have been an important feature of the Italian diet for centuries. I finally made the effort to pick up a ring-shaped (or ‘bundt) cake tin after spying a tantalising ciambellone recipe in Rachel Roddy’s Five Quarters (her book of tantalising Roman recipes).  So now I’ve gone into a bit of a baking frenzy with several ‘ciambellone’ on the go at once.

Today’s recipe here is wholly inspired by Rachel’s version, but it also borrows significantly from some of my favourite English cakes – syrupy cherry and punchy lemon drizzle. The resultant cake is notably sweeter and richer than a traditional ciambellone, with sweet cherries and a syrupy zestiness added to the staples of creamy ricotta and olive oil. Nevertheless this cake retains its essential simplicity and therefore can easily be served as a snack or dessert at any time of the day – or several times a day for that matter!

 Before you begin: 

  • Remember to chop up your cherries to prevent them from sinking to the bottom of the cake whilst baking in the oven.

Ciambellone alle ciliegie

Torta 2

Makes 12 equal slices

  • 250g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 200 ml extra-virgin olive oil, and more for greasing
  • 2 heaped teaspoons baking powder
  • 150g sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 250g ricotta
  • grated zest of 2 unwaxed lemons
  • 1 pot of Glacé cherries, roughly chopped into quarters (200g)

For the syrup:

  • 120g icing sugar
  • juice of 2 lemons

Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease a ring-shaped cake tin  (approximately 23cm in diameter) with olive oil.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar and baking powder. In a separate bowl, whisk the ricotta and olive oil together, and then crack the eggs in one at a time, beating the eggs in between each addition, until  they’re smooth.

Add the ricotta and egg mixture into the bowl containing the flour and sugar mixture, whisk until you have a nice thick batter. Add the grated lemon zest and scatter in the chopped cherries. Stir again, then pour the batter out into the pre-greased baking tin.

Bake for between 25-40 minutes, until the cake is golden and completely set. To check the cake is fully set, carefully insert a thin knife or skewer into the centre of the cake – when it’s ready it should come out clean.Then allow the cake to cool whilst still resting in its tin.

Meanwhile, make the lemon syrup by boiling the lemon juice and icing sugar together in a small saucepan. When the syrup thickens up a little, and the icing sugar is dissolved into the juice, the syrup is ready. Remove from the heat.

As the cake is cooling, spread some of the warm syrup over the surface of the cake.When the cake is completely cooled, carefully turn out the cake from tin, using a plate to turn it over, and cover the uncoated surface with the remaining  lemon syrup. Serve on its own or with a dollop of ice cream.

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Posted in Citrus, Dolce, Recipes, Regional, Sweet | Leave a comment

Venetian ‘Zaletti’ Cookies

Biscotti alla farina di mais

Zaletti biscuits

“Mum you are renowned for your biscuits” – Chenzo, age 10

Okay, I’ll confess right away that this  simple recipe is a touch self-indulgent – it’s a glorious fusion of my two favourite kinds of biscuits: my mum’s locally famous ‘ground rice biscuits’ and ‘zaletti’ (or xałeti), the perhaps equally illustrious biscotti of the Veneto. Whilst this is unashamedly not an ‘authentic’ recipe for zaletti passed down from generations, the end result is similar to the tasty, crispy zaletti biscuits that Venetians have been dunking into their grappa for centuries.

There are in fact several different variations on how to make traditional zaletti, each differing from region to region (and even nonna to nonna!); they come in all shapes and sizes and are sometimes made with (or without): raisins, lemon zest, rum, liqueur, pine nuts, olive oil, egg yolks and sugar – but whatever the variation, they’re always consistently delicious.

So for me at least, the secret to zaletti and their moreishness is their slightly-crunchy, coarse texture that comes with using fine polenta (or cornmeal) in place of flour. For this reason, I’ve come up with this extra-easy  and fuss-free interpretation of zaletti that produces a tasty batch of rustic biscotti in record time. So why not indulge yourself?

Before you begin:

  • Don’t worry about being too precise with this rustic recipe, but keep a careful eye on the biscuits when they’re baking in the oven, because they cook quickly and your oven might be more or less efficient than mine so timings may vary slightly.
  • Though entirely optional, mixing a handful of pine nuts into the biscuit mixture is probably my favourite embellishment to this recipe.
  • Once cooled, these biscuits will happily keep for several days in a sealed container (though they never last in my house).

To make a batch of zaletti biscuits:

  • 225g plain 00 cake flour
  • 115g fine polenta (or fine cornmeal)
  • 170g caster sugar
  • 170g unsalted and softened butter
  • whole milk to bind (3-4 tablespoons)
  • grated lemon zest instead of 1 unwaxed lemon or a few drops of pure vanilla extract (to taste)

Pre-heat your oven to 180 °C.

Mix the flour, polenta and sugar thoroughly together using your hands. Rub in the softened butter with your fingertips.

Add in the lemon zest (or vanilla extract) and combine the ingredients into a stiff paste, adding a little milk to bind the mixture together.

 When the mixture reaches a workable consistency, roll it out thinly and cut into individual biscuit shapes – whatever shape you like.

 Place the shapes onto greased baking sheets. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees for about 15- 20 minutes, or until the biscuits are lightly golden.

Leave somewhere to cool or at least 20 minutes.  Enjoy 🙂

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Chunky celeriac, chickpea and cavolo nero stew

Zuppa di sedano rapa, ceci e cavolo nero

Processed with VSCO

A soothing ‘Spring’ stew (of sorts)

Here we are then, another chunky stew for you.  Around my neck of the woods, in North East England, Spring generally refuses to spring into life until well into May, and so despite all my hopes April has been characteristically cold, wet and altogether crap. It seems that because relentless rain is what constitutes ‘the weather’ these days, I’ve really noticed my stomach’s constant nagging for some proper sustenance and suitable insulation against the bitter chill. So along with my habitual pasta meals, I’ve had many a stew simmering away on the stove. Few other meals nourish and warm the soul quite so marvellously well than a romping good stew.

As I’ve already extolled the virtues of cavolo nero ad nauseam in previous posts, I think we’ll say that this time celeriac (that increasing popular and incredibly weird-looking root-vegetable) is the star of this wholesome stew.  When it’s freshly dug up from the ground, celeriac resembles a rather lost and peculiarly hairy squid, with a mass of shaggy roots sprouting from its bottom. However, when its tough and rather weathered skin is cut away, celeriac’s pretty ivory flesh is revealed. This speckled flesh has a very subtle and elegant flavour, which is a bit like celery but mellower and sweet-tasting, with a lovely hint of nuttiness. When it’s cooked it takes on a smooth potato-like texture and the existing sweetness and nutty notes are augmented, somehow transforming the flavour into something almost truffle-like. Until recently, celery’s wise old relative was underused and unfamiliar to many domestic cooks. However the fortune of this bearded bulb has changed and all of a sudden it has become widely available in supermarkets and local green grocer. Surely this has something to do with beards coming back in vogue?

Throughout Italy celeriac  (aptly known as sedano rapa , which literally means ‘celery turnip’) is only really known and grown in the northern regions and has become particularly associated with the Veneto city of Verona. Traditionally, the Veronese  make use of sedano rapa in a classic soup consisting of borlotti, a soffritto base, local sausages, a rich meat stock and grana padano cheese. This easy and fortifying stew however has been adapted from a recipe I discovered in the wonderful River Cafe: Cookbook Green.  For me, the beautifully deep earthy flavours of the crinkled cavolo nero, celeriac and chickpeas instantly evoke the central Italian regions of Tuscany and Umbria.

Chunky celeriac, chickpea and cavolo nero stew

Processed with VSCO

Serves 4 as a main course

  • saffron strands, a large pinch (approx. 25 strands)
  • 1 ½ litre vegetable stock
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 3 anchovies in olive oil, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1 dried peperoncino chilli crumbled or pinch of chilli flakes
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 500g celeriac, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 150g dried chickpeas, cooked or 400g tinned chickpeas, drained and rinsed.
  • 300g cavolo nero or curly kale, toughest stalks discarded and cut into thin ribbons
  • ½ Tuscan, Altamura or Ciabatta loaf, cut diagonally into crostini
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and squashed with a knife
  • 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan until golden
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Stir the saffron strands into the hot vegetable stock and set aside to let the flavours infuse.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Add in the fennel seeds and anchovies, crumble in the peperoncino and cook for a few minutes to release the flavours. Add the onion with a pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes. Add the celeriac and bay leaves, stir and cook for 8 minutes until the celeriac starts to soften.

Add the chickpeas, stir, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the cavolo nero and cover with the hot saffron-infused stock. Season with some black pepper, stir, and cook with the lid on at a tremulous simmer for 30 minutes until the celeriac is very tender and the chickpeas begin to break apart. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Season with salt to taste.

Toast the crostini on both sides, either in a griddle pan or under the grill, and gently rub them all with the squashed garlic clove and trickle them with some extra-virgin olive oil.

Put a few crostini in each individual soup –bowl to serve. Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle with the parsley and toasted pine nuts. Finish each portion with a generous slosh of extra-virgin olive oil and serve immediately.

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Linguine with red peppers, salmon and ‘balsamic’ almonds

Linguine con pepperoni, salmone e mandorle

Processed with VSCO

Just like heaven…

Well, it’s been a while. You see, on one day in March I somehow picked up a rather gratuitous guitar playing habit (read: obsession). So rather than posting new recipes recently, I’ve been terribly busy erecting walls of noise in my bedroom and performing extravagant poses in the mirror. However after such a hard day’s rockin’ yesterday, and many well-spent hours maddening my neighbours, I managed to reward myself by cooking up a fast and fantastic pasta dinner. And so, here we are, this is the recipe for the lovely meal I bashed together last night (though admittedly, I’ve made something similar a few times before). Since we’re finally in April and out of dreary winter, I consider this bright and ‘spring-feeling’ primo piatto to be a particularly appropriate way to greet the new season.

Before you begin: Now, I know that some people just can’t stomach tinned salmon at all; I for one can fully concede that the squashed cylinder of faded-looking fish that sometimes flops out from a tin labelled ‘salmon’ is not particularly appetising. However, if you’re able to get your hands on a tin of good quality red salmon and use it in this simple pasta recipe, then there’s a good chance that ‘tinned salmon’ will start appearing on your weekly shopping list. As you’ll hopefully find, tinned red salmon and red peppers is surprisingly a marvellous combination, and I might add, it also works very nicely in risotto too. In this recipe though, some cooked fresh salmon, fresh trout or even smoked salmon would taste great too – please use the fish that suits you.

Linguine with red peppers, salmon and ‘balsamic’ almonds

 Serves 4 as a main course

  • 400g dried linguine pasta
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 dried peperoncino, crumbed (or large pinch of chilli flakes)
  • 3 anchovies, boned and finely chopped
  • 4 large red peppers, seeded and chopped into thin strips
  • handful of flaked almonds
  • 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar of Modena
  • 1 tin red salmon, drained and any bones removed
  • handful flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • juice of 1 fresh unwaxed lemon
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat 5 tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan over a medium-low heat. Add the garlic, chilli, anchovies and a small pinch of salt, sauté for a few minutes so that the garlic starts to colour and push the anchovies with the back of your wooden-spoon so that they disintegrate into the oil. Add the chopped peppers and coat thoroughly with the oil, add a little more oil if necessary. Sauté gently for  10 – 15 minutes, or until the peppers become nice and tender.

In a separate small frying pan toast the almonds over a medium-low heat until golden, stirring and turning often. Remove the pan from the heat and add a splash of balsamic vinegar to coat the toasted almonds. Set the pan aside.

Bring a large pan of well-salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the pasta until al dente – frequently stirring and testing the pasta’s consistency. When cooked, drain and keep aside some of the precious starchy pasta water.

Meanwhile, flake the tinned salmon into the sauté pan with the peppers and other ingredients, mix well and allow it to warm through gently. Add the lemon juice and most of the chopped parsley, mix well. Turn off the heat and taste for to check for seasoning, adding salt and black pepper as required.

When the pasta is just ready, add it to the sauté pan with the sauce sauce. Add  1 tablespoon of olive oil and a little of the reserved pasta water to the sauce to loosen it up, and toss the pasta vigorously in the sauce to coat it thoroughly and evenly.

To serve, divide the pasta into four individual bowls. Scatter the remaining parsley and balsamic-coated almonds over each portion. Finish each serving with a trickle of olive oil and grinding of black pepper. Eat immediately, before it goes cold 🙂

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Pasta with hazelnut and orange pesto and chargrilled asparagus

Trofie al pesto di nocciole e arancia con asparagi alla griglia

Trofie al pesto (2)_Fotor

A trofie nest with nestling asparagus

Okay, so this one is a bit weird and wonderful. I’ve described the nutty sauce here as a ‘pesto’, because it’s prepared in a similar way and sounds quite intriguing. But really, we aren’t talking about ‘pesto’ here at all. You see, rather than the world-renowned pesto alla Genovese, with its pine nuts and intoxicatingly aromatic basil, this hazelnut-orange sauce owes much more to some of Liguria’s lesser known nut-based sauces. Tocco di noce, for instance, is a wonderful century-old sauce made with a mixture of ground skinned walnuts, garlic, breadcrumbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh marjoram. With its creamy texture and gentle bitterness, this nutty sauce makes a truly magnificent partner to pasta. The Ligurians traditionally use tocco di noce to cover their local herb-stuffed pansôti, and this produces a primo piatto so outrageously delicious that the mere thought of it makes me want to pack up and head for Genova.

Yet you’ll notice that it’s not walnuts, but hazelnuts, that are used in this recipe. You see I just can’t resist using hazelnuts at any possible opportunity. They have maintained a curious hold on me ever since I packed little baguettes plastered with nutella everyday for school. Eating my thickly-spread sandwiches always felt like a reliable moment of comfort and they were frankly the saviour of an otherwise lacklustre lunch box.

Beyond their affinity with chocolate, it must be said that hazelnuts exude a truly incredible flavour of intense nuttiness when they’re toasted. I just recently made deliriously good use of them, in this fine toasted form, by making industrial quantities of home-made granola. In the days before this granola, I would perhaps prefer a stonking great bowl of steamy porridge for breakfast, but this crunchy and all too bourgeois breakfast just seems a cut above.

Hazelnuts are known as nocciole or avellane in Italy and they are found in abundance, growing wild in the regions of Liguria, Piedmont, the Apennines and Sicily. These nocciole are highly-prized and feature in various regional recipes for sauces to go with pasta, meat and fish. They are also widely used for biscotti, torte and, best of all, in the gorgeous golden-wrapped gianduiotti  – ‘boat-shaped’ chocolates made with the superlative hazelnuts of Piedmont. I assure you, these are perfectly formed pieces of luxury.

Anyway, I digress; the point is that this pasta and quasi-pesto recipe is a smash. Hazelnuts are characteristically delicious here and the formidable combination of hazelnuts, tangy orange and succulent grilled asparagus is a total triumph. So really, why not cross that generic jar of pesto off your shopping list this week?

Before you begin:

  • I’m not entirely confident about giving you exact quantities and measurements for this recipe, because there are so many variables involved. For instance, unlike Coca-cola or Campbell’s soup, the glorious crystal-crunch of Parmigiano-Reggiano is not uniformly the same. Parmigiano can vary considerably, depending on its age and quality, from very sharp to rather mellow. And similarly, your olive oil may very peppery or mild and fruity. So you should consider the measurements I have given here only as suggestions. Taste constantly, and feel free to adjust the quantities and balance the flavours, until it tastes just right to you.
  • Trofie is one of my all-time favourite pasta shapes with its irresistible chewiness and oh so rustic charm. However, please don’t feel restricted to this. This recipe also tastes grand with fusilli and most long pasta varieties like fresh fettuccine or dried tagliatelle.
  • If you don’t own a griddle pan, you could instead roast the asparagus for 20 minutes at 200°C.
  • On this occasion you’ll notice I ate all my beloved blood oranges, but regular navels do suffice. Nevertheless if you can you should use blood oranges here.

Pasta with hazelnut and orange pesto and chargrilled asparagus

trofie al pesto_Fotor

Serves 3 as a main course

 For the pesto:

  • 100g hazelnuts, shelled
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • ½ dried chilli, crumbled
  • 1 fresh orange
  • 50g Parmigiano-Reggiano, more to finish
  • 6 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil , ideally a light Ligurian kind
  • freshly grated nutmeg, a large pinch
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the rest:

  • 300g dried trofie pasta
  • 1 tablespoon rapeseed oil  or  extra-virgin olive oil
  • 200g fine asparagus spears
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 180°C, lay the hazelnuts on a baking tray, and toast them in the pre-heated oven for 10 minutes. Whilst the nuts are still warm, fold them up in a tea-towel and give them a vigorous rub to remove as much of the skins as possible.

To make the pesto, put the finely-chopped garlic into a food processor with a pinch of salt. Give it a whiz, then add the toasted nuts. Whiz again until the nuts are well ground, add the chilli and the freshly grated zest of ¼ an orange (a large pinch). Whiz again, add the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano with a grind of black pepper and blend to a rough pulp. Carefully pour in the oil, whilst whizzing constantly, until the pesto emulsifies. Grate in some nutmeg and squeeze in ½ tablespoon of fresh orange juice, stir and taste for seasoning. Spoon the thick pesto into a container and cover.

Cut off the tough ends of the asparagus and throw them away. Toss the spears in the oil and season with salt and pepper. To avoid over-crowding, cook the asparagus in two batches: line up half of the asparagus spears in a hot griddle pan across the ridges. Grill for 7-9 minutes, turning often, until al dente and slightly charred. Repeat this process with the remaining amount of asparagus.

Take half the amount of the grilled asparagus spears and chop into 1 cm discs, but keep the tips intact. Keep the other half of the asparagus spears whole. Keep all the asparagus warm.

Cook the pasta in lots of heavily-salted water until al dente, frequently stirring and testing the pasta’s consistency often.

While the pasta is cooking, spoon the pesto into a bowl that’s big enough to hold the pasta later. Spoon in some of the pasta cooking water and whisk into the pesto with a fork to loosen it up. Add the chopped asparagus (the discs and tips) and mix well into the pesto sauce. Check for seasoning.  Keep the bowl warm, by placing the it over the cooking pasta and stirring, so that the steam heats the sauce through. Take care that the pasta doesn’t boil-over.

Drain the pasta when it’s ready, reserving some of the starchy pasta-water, and carefully mix the pasta into the warmed pesto sauce. Loosen things up with more pasta-water if necessary and check for seasoning. Divide the pasta out onto individual serving plates and top with the reserved whole asparagus spears. Finish with a good drizzle of olive oil, a generous sprinkle of parmigiano-reggiano, and serve immediately.

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Pasta with ricotta cream and red onions of Tropea

Cappelletti alla crema di ricotta e cipolle rosse di Tropea

Cappellini with onions and ricotta

‘little hats’ with pearl-white ricotta and glistening onions

Here’s a short and sweet post for a pasta recipe that’s simple and quick to cook. This is as good-looking a bowl of pasta as you’re likely to put together in half an hour. With its ‘little hats’ of pasta (cappelletti ) licked with pearl white ricotta, speckled with fresh thyme, and  jewelled with delicate Amethyst onions  –  it’s a minimalist marvel of a meal. And that’s just its aesthetic qualities. It’s also conveniently simple to prepare and made from only a handful of inexpensive store cupboard ingredients.  But, best of all, it is unquestionably and unfailingly delicious, without taking 10 weeks to prepare.

Ricotta is the hero again here. It’s a bit ridiculous just how many of my recipes include fresh ricotta as the key ingredient, or at least sneaked in there somewhere. I just can’t help myself. But if you’re not so well acquainted, then ricotta is a mild but altogether magnificent soft Italian cheese. It’s heated twice during the cooking process – hence ‘ricotta’ literally means ‘twice-cooked’. Incredibly versatile as a cooking ingredient, ricotta’s soft and light texture provides a perfect platform for all sorts of flavours to perform to their best, and particularly I find, when partnered with pasta. However, the ephemeral brightness of fresh ricotta can also be downright delicious when eaten on its own with only a hunk of bread and honey.  I have been known to spend the night mindlessly eating a ‘family’ tub of ricotta alone in front of a film. That’s me, living the dream.

Before you begin: If you can, It’s worth trying to find the famous ‘red onions of Tropea’ (cipolle di Tropea or Tropea onions). These famously sweet flavoured onions grown in Calabria are named after its rather charming beach town of Tropea. Across Calabria these delightful onions are very well employed. They’re cooked in sauces; eaten raw in salads; grilled or roasted; transformed into jam, and even used to flavour ice cream! They certainly give this recipe an extra-something but if they elude you then any sort of red onion will do the trick.

‘Little hats’ with ricotta cream and red onions of Tropea

Processed with VSCO

Serves 2 as a main course

  • 200g dried cappelletti pasta (I used Garofalo) or other short pasta like farfalle or conchiglie
  • 2 medium red onions (ideally the Tropea variety)
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 200g good fresh ricotta cheese
  • freshly grated nutmeg, a pinch
  • 1 ½ tablespoons finely-chopped fresh thyme
  • half crumbled dried peperoncino or pinch dried chilli flakes
  • juice of half fresh lemon
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and more to finish
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel and chop your onions into roughly 3mm slices. Heat a large sauté pan over a medium heat. Pour in 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin oil and add the sliced onion.

Season with salt and cook the onions over a medium-low heat for about 7 minutes until well-softened. Sprinkle over the sugar and add a spoonful of the hot pasta cooking water into the pan. Mix well, continue to cook over a low heat, stirring often, until the onions have collapsed and reduced. Turn off the heat.

Bring a large saucepan full of heavily-salted water to the boil and, into the vigorously boiling water, tip in the pasta and cook until al dente.

Dollop the ricotta into a large mixing bowl.  Add 2 tablespoons of pasta cooking water and whisk with a fork to loosen up into a white cream. Grate over a little nutmeg and add the finely chopped thyme leaves, and crumble in the dried peperoncino or chilli flakes. Add a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Mix in these ingredients and then whisk in the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Season with a small pinch of salt and a few twists of fresh black pepper. Now place the mixing-bowl gently over the cooking pasta and stir so that the steam heats the sauce through, but take care that the pasta water doesn’t boil-over.

When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it and tip straight into the bowl with the whisked ricotta. Drop in ¾ the onions and mix together, but keep some aside for adorning the pasta at the end. Serve out the hot pasta, garnished with the remaining onions, a little squeeze of lemon juice and a final flurry of Parmigiano-reggiano. Buon appetito! 🙂

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Rustic Tuscan soup with cavolo nero, borlotti beans and soft polenta

Farinata Toscana 

Zuppa 2

Keep it simple, keep it simmering…

Food has been one of the most important things in my life for as long as I can remember. I always take enormous pleasure in cooking and observe mealtimes religiously, in accordance with my devout pastafarianism. Nonetheless, as my medical problems have steadily mounted up in recent years, the food and cooking parts of my life have become essential to my survival, in more ways than the obvious one. You see, when my chronic pain really plays up and wears me down, this badly affects my mood; all the stress and frustration builds up and I feel hopelessly trapped. In these dark moments I become entirely consumed by gloom. And yet, my salvation is so often found in the kitchen. Quite miraculously, by practicing the gentle ritual of cooking my mood is hauled up from this psychological swamp and the melancholy is mostly driven out. I can’t quite explain it but, although the pain is still manifestly there, when I chop vegetables and swirl pasta around, the strain lessens and I can cope much better. So, you understand, this is why I’m now a full-time cooking animal.

I’ve actually been even more cook-sessive than usual this week, dabbling in new recipes and feeding my ever-hungry mates. However, rather than the elaborate and refined dishes I sometimes like to faff around with, I’ve switched back to cooking within that deeply satisfying genre known as:  ‘rustic Italian soups’.  For me cooking a first-class soup is perhaps the purest form of cooking therapy. With the simple and easy-going preparation that’s involved, no action ever feels rushed or difficult. And so, this leisurely tempo allows your senses to fully engage and enjoy the pleasant cooking smells gradually permeate the room.

This particular soup recipe that follows is a dish I remember fondly from my travels around Tuscany. For me personally, any mention of the central Italian region of Toscana immediately conjures up a picturesque place that abounds with great renaissance art. It’s the home of artistic geniuses like Giotto, Masaccio and, the compellingly brilliant, Pontormo. However, I’m also reminded of Tuscany’s deservedly elevated gastronomic reputation and, like its art, the region’s cuisine has been revered, romanticised and idealised by writers for many years. In fact, you could say that the aesthetic purity of these great Tuscan artists is mirrored in the purity of Tuscan gastronomy, which is similarly bold yet unpretentious, and undisguised by superfluous embellishments. Then again, you might sound a bit pretentious…

Masaccio

The Tribute Money – Masaccio (1424)

So whilst I was jaunting around Tuscany two years ago, I first slurped down this wonderful soup known as farinata and somehow the earthy smell and gratifying flavour has been preserved, ever since then, in my Proustian food memory (a faculty that  far exceeds my other brain powers). Although I’ve cooked and eaten many wholesome soups in my time, it never fails to surprise me just how deeply flavourful Tuscan soups like one can be. Farinata is lesser known soup in the gastronomic world than some of the other Tuscan favourites, such as ribollita and acquacotta. However, like these other hearty soups, farinata is a direct descendant of Tuscan peasant cooking. Likewise, this nutritious soup is eaten throughout Tuscany, though the recipe can vary quite significantly from town to town. Farinata is especially appreciated in the town of Prato, and also in Lucca where I first enjoyed it, but it is generally considered to be the signature dish of Pistoia, a beautiful medieval city situated north of Florence.

Unlike ribollita and many other fine Tuscan soups, farinata’s comforting porridge-y consistency is not achieved by stirring plentiful pane sciocco  through the soup. To thicken it up, soft polenta is incorporated instead of bread, which makes farinata rather distinctive, as polenta is traditionally associated with Northern Italy.  However, the real star of the show is, once again, the tall, dark and ruggedly handsome cavolo nero. With its elegant elongated leaves and unique blistered texture, this bluish tinged kale is an omnipresent character in the Tuscan kitchen, and it features prominently in many traditional soups. Naturally, cavolo nero will always combine marvellously with fagioli (beans), but in farinata, this most-valuable kale also harmonises incredibly well with the polenta; the dominant and rather boisterous cavolo nero is mellowed by the soothing, mild-mannered polenta. Of course, if you don’t have cavolo nero, then curly kale or swiss chard will fill in commendably well. In conclusion, this traditional soup will fill you up and satisfy you completely – it might even cheer you up too.

Before you begin:

  • Farinata usually is made with a thick but fluid consistency like porridge. Yet sometimes less liquid is used to achieve greater density and firm it up. This compact version is also very good. It can be cut into up into small slices or served it with succulent roasted meat on top.
  • It is important to remember that a soup isn’t a dustbin for vegetables ‘on the turn’. Fresh vegetables are essential in this recipe to give you that full deep flavour.
  • Sometimes in my house soups are cooked the day before serving and re-heated the next day. Such foresight is certainly rewarded in this case; the time allows the flavours to develop and it tastes even better the day after – the same applies to any leftovers, which also freeze well.
  • Some regional variations you could try involve: adding fennel seeds; substituting cannellini for the the borlotti; adding chopped herbs such as parsley, thyme or marjoram (as pictured below); and sometimes I like to chuck crushed taralli biscuits on top for a pleasing contrast in texture (as below).
  • My rendition uses tinned borlotti for convenience, speediness and cost. However, using dried or fresh borlotti when in season would certainly be a worthy modification.
  • Finally, like all Tuscan soups, it goes without saying that you should finish it with generous handfuls of grated pecorino (the universal cheese of central Italy) and an artful swirl of superb Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil.

Farinata Toscana  (Rustic Tuscan soup with cavolo nero, borlotti beans and soft polenta)

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Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a starter           

  • 150g cavolo nero
  • 500g tinned borlotti beans, drained weight
  • 6 sage leaves, roughly torn into pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 small red chilli, very finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, very finely diced
  • 1 celery stick with leaves, very finely diced
  • 1 medium red onion, very finely diced
  • 2 large ripe vine-tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Tuscan
  • 1 1/2 litres of good vegetable stock
  • 150g quick-cook polenta
  • 4 tablespoons grated pecorino cheese
  • 1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pan of salted water to a vigorous boil. Add the cavolo nero and boil for 4 minutes, until tender.  Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again well by squeezing out the excess water. Dry with a kitchen cloth and chop into ribbons.

Wash the tinned beans under the tap to remove their syrupy liquid, drain and dry. In a sauté pan warm 1 tablespoon of oil and add the sage and 1 sliced garlic clove. Gently sauté, allowing the flavours to infuse and become fragrant. Add the beans and sauté over a low heat for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat. Remove a quarter of the beans and puree the rest using a hand-blender, add a little water to get the desired smooth consistency.

In a large heavy based pan heat the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil. Add the carrot, celery, onion, tomatoes, chilli, the remaining garlic, and a pinch of salt. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until transparent and softened. Add 500ml of hot stock, and stir in the bean puree with the remaining whole beans, and the cavolo nero ribbons. Simmer, half-covered, for 30 minutes stirring now and then.

Pour the remaining 1 litre of vegetable stock into the pan, season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat slightly. Gradually pour in the polenta from a jug and, with the other hand, use a hand blender to blend the polenta smoothly into the soup. Swap the blender in your hand for a wooden spoon and stir in the polenta for a few further minutes, until the soup thickens up nicely. Turn off the heat and stir in the grated pecorino. Stir in white wine vinegar to balance the flavours. Taste to check for seasoning and adjust to taste if desired.

Ladle the soup into individual serving bowls and leave to rest for 10 minutes (sadly, letting it settle is important). Finish each serving with a grind of black pepper, a grating of pecorino, and an artful trickle of extra-virgin oil. And that’s your Tuscan meal sorted!

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Pasta with sardines, almonds, olives and blood orange

Pasta con le sarde, mandorle, olive e arance rosse  

Bucatini with orange, almonds, olives

A rather spectacular Sicilian-style pasta

Italy is a country rich in food traditions, boasting twenty very distinct regional cuisines. Yet no Italian region’s gastronomy is quite so rich, or quite so distinctive, as the island of Sicily. Whereas the major cities of Tuscany broadly share a common gastronomy – one that’s based on rustic, simple cooking with superb produce – it is rather remarkable that Sicilian gastronomy is so strikingly diverse, exuberant and exotic by comparison. This is because the Island’s turbulent history is very much enshrined in the colourful cooking that happens across the island these days. You can still see where the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Normans, Arabs, Spaniards and French have all left their marks on culture and cooking, during over two thousand years of occupation. With the ingredients they introduced and the ways they prepared them, these different conquerors have greatly shaped Sicily’s unique cuisine.

I’m very lucky to be able to say that I have travelled all over Italy in recent years, admiring some of the world’s greatest artworks and demolishing delicious meals. Yet Sicily has so far eluded me and sadly now I’m unlikely to visit, as my chronic pain prevents me from future travel. This personal disappointment feels as if my body has betrayed me. My own body has thwarted my desire to see Sicily, the home of astonishing food that I so love to cook. I love the simultaneously modest and extravagant approach to cooking that rules in Sicily, but the best explanation for my fondness is that my family and friends absolutely adore Sicilian food too. Cooking for others is a marvellous little act of love; when you take the time to prepare good food (often Sicilian) for people you care about, it feels like such a simple, rewarding way to show your appreciation. And be in no doubt, Sicilian food is what they appreciate the most – they often tell me so and coax me into cooking it. Shameless. Of course, I really don’t mind and don’t blame them. It seems impossible to tire of the abundant comfort foods and those bold, varied Sicilian flavours that waltz with your taste buds.

 And all these glorious flavour-combinations of Sicilian cooking are entirely rooted in, quite literally, the exquisite produce that now grows in Sicilian soil. The dazzling sun and the nutrient-rich volcanic soil imparts a gloriously pure and intense flavour into everything that’s cultivated on the island. For me, the best example of this has to be Sicily’s supreme citrus fruit: the aranca rossa (the blood orange). This tastiest and bloodiest of the world’s oranges can only be found growing on Sicily’s east coast, on the volcanic plains surrounding Mount Etna in the Catania province. In her fascinating book on citrus fruit in Italy, Helena Attlee explains how the distinctive ruby colouring of these Sicilian arancie rosse, is due to red-coloured pigments known as anthocyanins. These special anthocyanins, which are also found in other fruits such as blueberries, have shown in studies to be incredibly good for us: they’re chock-full of vitamin C; they’re proven to protect against strokes and heart disease; and they also improve blood circulation – how apt.

Not only are these arancie rosse aesthetically beautiful and nutritious, but they’re also likely to be the most delicious citrus fruit you ever squeeze, so gratefully, into your mouth. Unlike a common Navel or Valencia, which frankly have a rather one-dimensional saccharine taste, eating a Sicilian blood orange is an altogether more complex and unforgettable affair. In Attlee’s words, blood oranges have “a complicated, multi-dimensional flavour that unfolds, slowly, subtly, beguilingly, making any other kind of orange seem sharp, cloyingly sweet and intolerably crude”. You know, I just fancy eating one right now.

Unfortunately the Sicilian blood orange season only lasts from January to the end of March, and in the U.K we’re often denied their sumptuous flavours because blood oranges are rather costly in comparison to other robust mass-produced oranges grown elsewhere. Nevertheless, if you search well I’m sure you’ll find some; I managed to locate some meltingly juicy Sicilian arancie rosse  from my local M & S.

However if you really can’t get a hold of some, then don’t despair. After all this eulogising of blood oranges you’ve endured, I actually insist that any old variety of orange will do for the following pasta recipe. It will still taste terrific. Nevertheless, the blood orange season is almost at an end, and so I really wouldn’t like you to miss out on experiencing their profound deliciousness for yourself. So you should stock up, pronto. If you can only buy four, then why not spare one for this recipe, and scoff the other three?

Before you begin: I dreamt up this recipe whilst playing around with some of my favourite typically Sicilian flavours: almonds, orange, olives and pasta – still the Sicilian staple food (and rightly so). It is also partly based upon my all time favourite Sicilian dish of Arabic origin: pasta con le sarde, which usually consists of bucatini or spaghetti with sardines, pine nuts, raisins and wild fennel. However, there are many local variations of this classic pasta, including a fishless version that’s wryly known as pasta con le sarde a mare – “pasta with the sardines at sea”. In keeping with such ingenuity, feel free to leave the sardines in the sea or supermarket too, if you really don’t like them. Either way, this is a seriously scrumptious meal.

Pasta with sardines, almonds, olives and blood orange

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Serves 2 as a main course

  • 200g dried bucatini  or spaghetti or fusilli lunghi pasta
  • 50g of whole almonds
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • pinch of dried chilli-flakes
  • 1 medium unwaxed blood orange, or if out of season, another variety
  • tinned sardines in olive oil, drained and bones removed
  • 80ml dry white wine
  • large black olives, brine washed off, pitted and halved
  • baby watercress or baby rocket to garnish, large stems removed
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 180°C. Spread out the shelled almonds on a baking tray and put them in the oven about 8 minutes until golden-brown. Watch diligently that they don’t burn. Take them out and chop roughly.

Warm the oil in a large sauté pan, big enough to hold the pasta later. Add the onion, pinch of dried chilli flakes and season with a little salt. Sweat the onion nice and slowly, for about 10 minutes, letting them develop that lovely mellow background flavour.

Meanwhile, fill a separate pan half-full of water and bring to the boil. Carefully peel the zest away from half the orange using a vegetable peeler, but try to leave as much pith behind as you can. Cut this zest into thin strips and add to the boiling water. Cook these strips for around 8 minutes in order to take away the bitterness. Drain them and put aside.

Cut the remaining whole orange in half and juice it. Alternatively, you can just pour yourself out 125ml of shop-bought fresh orange juice. Set the juice aside.

Bring a large pan of well salted water to a rolling boil. Lower in the pasta using tongs and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente.

While the pasta cooks, add the sardines to the onions, and break in the sardines with a wooden spoon. Pour in the wine and stir, letting it bubble away for around 3 minutes. Add in the orange juice, and turn up the heat a little, so that some of the liquid evaporates.

When it is ready, add the drained pasta to the pan, Stir together thoroughly over a gentle heat, so that the flavours completely cover and soak into the pasta.

Finally, take off the heat, stir in the olives, orange zest and most of the almonds. Check for seasoning. Stir in a little olive oil to loosen up the pasta if it still looks slightly dry. Serve into individual bowls, each portion topped the remaining almonds, watercress, a trickle of extra-virgin olive oil, and add a final grinding of black pepper. Grab forks, eat right away.

Posted in Citrus, Fish, Food, Pasta, Recipes, Regional, vegetables | Leave a comment

Pasta with spicy ‘nduja

And it burns, burns, burns…

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Ruote con la ‘nduja

Right around this time of year, every year, I feel an overwhelming desire to cook food that’s laced with chilli peppers – or peperoncino as they are known across Italy. To eat fiery chilli is strangely soothing, like hearing the penetrating baritones of Johnny Cash, it provides a special kind of deep comfort that warms your insides and acts as a powerful antidote to that nasty winter chill. After all the chilli pepper is a painkiller of sorts and has long been recognised for its medicinal benefits. According to Calabrese chef Francesco Mazzei, a chilli’s spiciness depends on the amount of capsaicin held in the seeds (generally the smaller the chilli, the hotter) and these seeds are also what makes chilli peppers slightly addictive. So needless to say that with my wretched chronic pain condition, I constantly self-medicate with many moreish hits of chilli. Interestingly enough, in his Italian travelogue ‘Eating up Italy’ Matthew Fort mentions that for a long time in southern Italy the peperoncino (chilli pepper) was known as ‘la droga dei poveri’ – the poor man’s drug.

Italy has three regions which are traditionally home to the passionate chilli-chompers – Calabria, Abruzzo and Basilicata (Mazzei suggests that the Lucani of Basilicata have a particular predilection to eat the milder sweet variety). These southern regions are blessed with the ideal climate to grow peperoncini and, after their arrival in the 16th century, these chilli peppers became integral to home-cooking in these areas. Calabria, the ‘toe’ region of Italy, is particularly renowned for its vast range of bold and spicy flavoured salumi (cured pork foods). My wild heart especially craves the famous Calabrese ‘nduja sausage spread, which has a creamy texture and uniquely complex chilli flavour. It is said this curiously catchy name, ‘nduja, derives from the name of the French sausage ‘andouillette’, which makes sense when you consider that much of southern Italy was part of France’s territory.

Unfortunately the first time I tried to request this fiery pork paste in a London deli, my request was met with the proprietor’s perplexed expression of non-recognition. Clearly my pronunciation was some way off. So, if you say something like ‘En-doo-ya’, and point enthusiastically, you shouldn’t be met with similar bewildered faces. ‘En-doo-ya’ is made with pork fat and meat, taken from the loin or head, which is then infused with roasted hot chilli pepper – but please don’t let that put you off. After all, how could it possibly, when ‘nduja is such a tasty ingredient that’s happy to be employed in so many different ways. It’s usually spread on bread, crackers and raw vegetables and it can be warmed up and combined into sauces for pasta, meat and even shellfish. So if you’ve never tried ‘nduja before, I confidently predict that it will quickly become one of your faithful household staples.

In this recipe I have, true to form, plumped for pasta to show off my lovely ‘nduja. I find these sturdy ruote wheels (I use Garofalo) to be especially good for combining with ‘nduja. The ‘nduja sauce turns the little ruote into spicy rings of fire that will fill up your mouth with intense flavour. Warning: if you try this you’ll begin craving chilli like me, and maybe you’ll start to see these ruote rings burning in your mind all the time, like Frodo Baggins.

Before you begin: I often make many different variations of this, usually for lunch, because it is provides a speedy, rich and reliable meal for one. Here though, I’ve adjusted the recipe so that four people can all dig into their own bowl of fiery pasta together.

Ruote con la ‘nduja

Serves 4 as a main course

  • 380g of ruote pasta (or another robust short pasta shape such as rigatoni or cavatelli)
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 regular onion, finely chopped
  • 80g of ‘nduja paste (or slightly less if you’d prefer it less spicy)
  • 50ml dry white wine
  • ¾ tin of cherry tomatoes (300g)
  • large handful of baby rocket leaves
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, plus more to finish.
  • small blob of fresh ricotta  or mascarpone
  • plenty of strong pecorino (or ricotta salata)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pan of water to a rapid boil and stir in plenty of salt (around 7 -10g per litre).

In your sauté pan add the olive oil and fennel seeds – fry for two minutes. Then, add the onion with a pinch of salt and cook it gently until softened, around 8 minutes. Add the ‘nduja, break it in with a wooden spoon, and fry for two minutes more. Now add the splash of white wine and let it evaporate.

Next, add the pasta to the well-salted boiling water and time the cooking carefully, by following the instructions on the packet and checking the pasta a minute less than the packet says for al dente.

Pour in the tinned cherry tomatoes into the sauté pan – let it bubble up and simmer. Adjust the pan to a medium heat and now with the back of your wooden spoon squash all the tomatoes down so that they burst their juices open. Take care not to redecorate your kitchen red with tomato. Cook the ingredients at a lively simmer for 10 minutes or so.  If the sauce starts to get too dry, just add a few spoonfuls of starchy pasta water.

When the sauce has thickened up and looks suitably scarlet, stir in the ricotta thoroughly and fold in most of the rocket so that it wilts down. Finally, add the drained pasta to the sauce. Alternatively, if the pan is too small to hold the pasta tip the sauce into a big warmed mixing bowl and carefully tip the pasta on top. Scatter in a small handful of pecorino, and if you think it’s necessary, add a little pasta water to coat the pasta completely with the sauce. Stir again thoroughly and check for seasoning.

Divide the pasta into four warm bowls. Pile some rocket leaves on top of each portion, dust well with freshly grated pecorino, and finish with a dribbling of your favourite extra-virgin olive oil. Wipe away the inevitable sloshes of redness from the edges of the bowls, and then serve with thirst-quenching drinks close at hand – you could do worse than serving a full-bodied Calabrese Cirò – molto elegante!

 

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Linguine with kale, lemon, ricotta and fennel seeds

Beyond the kale…

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Kale-elujah!

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer vegetable could it? In just a few years that leafy wunderfood known as ‘kale’ has meteorically risen, from allotment obscurity to super-food stardom. It seems we’ve all gone completely ‘off our kale’, with lots of us stuffing those crinkly leaves into our bodies at every available opportunity. Yet this hardy brassica has actually been knocking around for over 2,000 years, before any food blogs were there to eulogise it. Kale is cultivated right across the world and, interestingly enough, it was heavily endorsed in Britain during World War II by the Dig for Victory campaign.

Of course, the main reason this virtuous vegetable is now jumping off supermarket shelves everywhere is largely down to its ‘healthy’ label. Crammed with goodness, kale is high in calcium and magnesium. It also packs loads of nutrients, vitamins and antioxidants – though don’t ask me what these are, all I know is that they’re supposed to protect you against all sorts of nasty ailments. Hence, you’ve witnessed the food industry all pile in capitalise on this great kale-naissance, with kale popping up in all sorts of unusual places on restaurants’ menus. I’ve personally encountered it:  baked into cornbread, squashed into sweet pancakes, and blitzed into cocktails. And I’ve even seen kale slotted between baked beans and their toast  –  for me, such deviant treatment is well beyond the pale.

Thankfully the worst extremes of this kale craziness are mostly behind us. Cultural saturation has inevitably occurred, and our faddish foodie culture is moving inexorably onto the next life-enhancing foodstuff. So now that ‘peak-kale’ has passed, I’m happy to declare kale’s new popularity is entirely justified. After all, kale is relatively cheap, it’s terribly healthy and it’s also a very dependable vegetable that can be grown locally almost all year round. However, the main reason I think kale is here to stay is because kale possesses a rare quality – it is both incredibly healthy and incredibly tasty. So go and eat your kale with pride.

You may also know that kale has a not-so-distant Italian cousin: the cavolo nero (literally ‘black kale/cabbage’). This dark-green relative has slightly tougher leaves than either ‘curly’ or ‘Red Russian’ kale and has a very distinctive complex bitter flavour. Cavolo nero is well loved by the people of Tuscany, and its splendidly robust character means that it works tirelessly well in all sorts of Italian stews, none more so than the timeless Tuscan Ribollita.

Nevertheless, for this pasta recipe I usually opt for our local hero, the highly convenient ‘curly’ kind of kale. However, any variety should work wonders in this simple but full-flavoured pasta recipe, because there is really no better way to induce kale to taste amazing, than to give it a good thorough braising. By using this cooking method the kale’s rough-and-readiness softens up, as you gently cook it until tender, and it gradually relinquishes all its precious flavours. So when this braised kale is then paired with linguine and ricotta, you get this delicious soul-warming pasta supper (or ‘tea’ if you’re from up North).

Before you begin:  

  • For this recipe it helps if you have a pair of kitchen tongs. These allow you to swirl your pasta and manoeuvre kale into the pan, without losing precious bits down the abyss between the cooker and worktop.
  • This recipe is ripe for all sorts of variations so don’t worry about sticking rigidly to the recipe. You can make adjustments (in either quantities or ingredients) to feed more or less family and friends – please get creative with it.

Linguine with kale, lemon, ricotta and fennel seeds

Serves 3 as a main course

  • large bunch of kale (Approx. 300g)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to finish
  • small knob unsalted butter
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1 small dried peperoncino crumbled or pinch of dried chilli flakes
  • 50g whole almonds
  • 200g fresh ricotta
  • zest of a ¼ and the juice of ½ an un-waxed lemon
  • freshly grated nutmeg, a pinch
  • 300g dried linguine or bucatini
  • 2 tablespoons of Pecorino Romano  or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lay the almonds on a baking tray and toast them for 8 minutes in the oven at 180°C until golden-brown. Peel off the skins if you like and roughly chop the nuts.

Wash, dry and roughly chop the kale into ribbons. Heat up the olive oil and butter in a large heavy based pan. Add in the fennel seeds, garlic and peperoncino and mix well. Sweat the ingredients until fragrant taking care not to burn the garlic. Now add in the curly kale with some salt and mix with the oil, using a handy pair of kitchen tongs. Cook gently for around ten minutes or so until the kale has wilted down.

Now add a ladle full of water and cover the pot, letting it cook for 20 minutes more so that the rough kale has softened up nicely.

Whilst the kale is braising away, bring a large pan of heavily salted water to the boil and curl in the pasta with your trusty tongs – cook until al dente. Keep stirring and nibbling to check the pasta texture every now and then.

As the pasta is cooking, dollop the ricotta into a large bowl. Add in some of the starchy pasta-water to loosen it up into a white creamy sauce. Grate some nutmeg into the ricotta cream, stir in the lemon zest and grind in some black pepper. When the kale is tender and cooked, add it to the bowl of ricotta cream and mix well with tongs.

When it’s ready, drain the pasta and toss thoroughly with the kale and creamy ricotta sauce. Sprinkle a little pecorino in as well and toss again. Maybe add a squeeze of lemon and toss once again. Taste to check for seasoning.

To serve, divide the pasta into three individual serving bowls. Grate a healthy (or unhealthy) amount of pecorino onto each portion. Scatter over the toasted almonds. Finish with an extra squeeze of lemon and trickle of extra-virgin olive oil. Serve immediately.

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