Archive for ‘Pasta’

January 20, 2012

Pasta with cannellini and mussels

Pasta con cannellini e cozze

An alternative and popular technique for cooking pasta is to cook it as if it were a risotto, adding water a little at a time. It  does require slightly more attention than the normal method, and certainly cannot be applied to all sauces, but it is more convenient for an easy weekday dinner, since it really is a one pot meal. It is all the more surprising that I never used it while I was living at home with my parents, and only started when my partner told me of his favourite way of making pasta with chickpeas.

The technique works particularly well for two categories of sauces: seafood sauces, where the starch in pasta actually binds an otherwise too thin sauce, and legume-based pasta, and I make all of them like this now . It is a bit like making a pasta e fagioli, but with less water so you can eat the end result with a fork. It is  particularly forgiving, since you don’t have to stir that much, provided the food does not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.

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January 13, 2012

Tortelli di zucca

Tortelli di zucca

I always feel a bit disappointed when January comes and spring is not already here. The days are still grey, the nights are still deep and long, vegetables are still cabbage and roots, and I’ve already had my fair share, thank you: I’m ready for spring. Not that it is cold, not here, and not that I expect spring or summer to be any less rainy – if anything, I know from experience they will be more.

Christmas day this year was just like that. A grey, overcast day, warm, short. We woke up suitably late, opened our presents, had pancakes for breakfast, and then we got to work. Our family was in Italy, we were here all by ourselves. It felt unusually quiet and intimate. We spent the morning making roasted squash tortelli. We ate them for lunch, and they were like little pockets of sunshine.

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December 16, 2011

Buckwheat obsession: pizzoccheri

Pizzoccheri

Do you ever get periods when you are obsessed with some ingredient or flavour? Whenever I imagine to cook something right now, I think it would taste better if it contained some buckwheat. I am not sure what triggered it. It is a grain I’ve always found rich and complex and I’ve always been fond of.  In the mountains around Milan, where I grew up, it is a common fare. It is a hardy, resistant crop able to grow in poor soils, and it actually likes the cool and rainy summers in the mountains. It does not need as much sun as ordinary wheat, a grain with which buckwheat bears no connection whatsoever, other than  the name.

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November 10, 2011

Italian fast food: linguine with mussels

Linguine with mussels

It is easy to overlook things I am  used to. I don’t think much of them, I have always done them in this way, and I take them for granted. A wrong attitude surely, and particularly undeserved when it is directed to Italian classics. I always have some ace up my sleeve, that makes it easier to  smile and invite someone over for dinner, even if it is late in the evening and I have prepared nothing, or to resist to another greasy takeaway, considering that more or less with the same time and effort I can have a plate of home cooked food ready at the table.

The secret to all of this is pasta. You probably already know that, given the popularity of events such as Presto Pasta Nights. It is all too easy to turn pasta into one ‘piatto unico’, a little feast that will leave everyone with a happy belly and a smile on their face. I have a few recipes I always resort to, and this is one of my favourites. It is easy to tweak and twist, but complication is not really required, and actually, it should probably be discouraged here.

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October 11, 2011

Tagliatelle al basilico

Tagliatelle al basilico

Sunday evening. We’ve been packing all weekend, and then fixing the last few things in the house: filling holes in the wall with plaster and painting them (my plastering skills are something I am so proud of, one of the few things for which I am apparently a natural). Then a tour of the apartment, to double check what is left for packing.  I went through the kitchen cupboard and realized I had not packed my pasta machine yet.

Of course there is a box where it could sit. It should.

Well. I’ve always wanted to try a twist on pasta, and there is some basil sitting on the fridge so.. . so here I am making home-made pasta in the middle of a removal. And you know what? I totally recommend it.

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July 6, 2011

How to get perfect couscous

Plain couscous

I confess it: I’m not cooking much lately. I do have excuses: I’ve been in Calabria, and you see, summer in Calabria is a world where cooking is not required. First of all, you can’t cook with the water supply coming and going without notice. And then, anyway, you won’t cook with fruit and vegetables that good. You just don’t bother. You can very well survive on bread and tomatoes and ricotta and watermelon. When you really feel like a cooked meal, you go to a pizzeria – after all, expats have a right to eat as much pizza as they want when they go back to Italy. It is a recognized human right. Another food staple is granita: when you come back from the sea,   you stop at a little place under a vine, you order a ‘granita con la brioscia’ – you can choose between a handful of very good flavours, but honestly more (black mulberry) is the way to go. Whipped cream is optional, although it does decrease the amount of granita you are going to get. La brioscia, a brioche, is not optional.You have a moral obligation to have granita every day – the season is so short, it has just started and it is going to be gone by the middle of September. After that, there may be still  40 degrees and you may still be going to the sea, but this little bar will only serve normal patisserie and excellent coffee, waiting for another short season of shine. It is always deserted outside the season, I wonder how they survive.

I’m back to Germany now so I guess I should start cooking again. And I always start again from the basics.

Of my go-to ingredients that never make it to the blog, couscous is a probably the biggest suspect. I use it quite often, ready in a handful of minutes for a quick lunch salad, or to bulk up a meal, and here I find good, cheap bags of all varieties of couscous at the ethnic shops (I almost choked when I saw how much more it costs at the local supermarket, once..). A no brainer, really. But it is not something I personally would consider for a high-end meal. Precooked couscous has always a bit of a soggy consistency.  When friends make it for me from scratch, or I go to a North African restaurant, the real version is one of the things I enjoy the most. It has a great texture and the flavour of good durum wheat is hard to beat for the pasta addict Italian that I am at heart. By comparison, I’m always a bit underwhelmed by the precooked variety. I think a person that really enjoys cous cous probably sees my lunch salads the way I’ll look at people cooking soft wheat pasta. I understand it has some conforting and convenient charms, but please, do not compare it with the real thing.

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March 28, 2011

I am Italian, I make pasta

Spelt pasta rolls

And after taking a stroll around the world, foodwise (I saw this lovely old movie a few nights ago), here I am, back home: back to Italy, with pasta.

Like most Italian people who cook, I often make my own. Fresh pasta is a completely different product from ‘regular’ dried durum wheat pasta, the one sold in every supermarket; and it is infinitely better  than store-bought fresh pasta, unless of course you have a good pastificio artigianale down the road. For these reasons, if you have never eaten it, you really should give this (or any other recipe) a try. Once you learn the basics, it is easy to make: I have tested this on a few friends, who asked me to teach them how to make pasta: they could not believe the sumptuous dish of pappardelle al ragù we produced after a mere couple of hours work.

(It can take less than that, with some experience; it will take more than that, if you make ragù without a pressure cooker).

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January 20, 2011

For future reference

Lasagne with artichokes

One of the most distinctive features of Italian cooking is that you don’t really need recipes. You never measure, apart from the occasional pasta weight. The ingredient list is always flexible, depending on what is available and looking good. This is  usually an advantage, that makes Italian food  so versatile and light, in a way, but it can be sometimes a limitation. Perfection is elusive and hard to repeat, and you often just get it plain wrong. Almost all italian ‘cuochi’ will tell you that the first time they make a dish, it is typically stellar, and when they make it again, it turns out poorly – always when you have guests coming for dinner.

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January 13, 2011

Pasta tricolore

Pasta with ricotta, rocket and tomatoes

I am definitely cooking more Italian food here in Italy. Weird enough, because if you asked me, I would have told you that of course I always cook Italian food. Well, I guess I must be inspired by the ingredients, or to be fair, by the lack of non Italian ingredients.

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December 31, 2010

Searching for comfort

Hand made maccheroni

Hand made maccheroni

When I am in balance mood, you’d better not come anywhere near. I am always unsatisfied and destructive, even when things are not that bad, when I think about it. I guess it happens when you have too high expectations.

I normally make balances at my birthday, which is why it is always a very bad day for me. This year I could not walk and a balance would have been too much strain for me and for my family. One of the sides of my personality I am grateful for, is that I manage to set aside very negative moods, almost automatically, until I can face them. My automatic switch turned on and decided to cancel my yearly balance at my birthday, but has decided to switch off again now, and I fell into balance mode. Veeery bad.

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