A Sicilian stroking the cat

Cute, but they can ruin a farmer's day...

Chowing them will be fun

Surf and turf in Liguria

See Naples and die

Ziti alla Genovese: a confusing tale of two cities

“I won't say another word about the beauties of the city and its situation, which have been described and praised often. As they say here, ‘Vedi Napoli e poi muori! — See Naples and die!’ One can't blame the Neapolitan for never wanting to leave his city, nor its poets singing its praises in lofty hyperboles.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

 

Today’s recipe is, like Italy itself, a tale of North and South. It is also – again, like all Italy – confusing to outsiders: Genovese sauce is named after the northern Italian port of Genoa, but it is a staple in Naples in the South. Both the name and the recipe could have originally evolved in Genoa, and later been introduced to Naples by Ligurian the sailors. The fact of the matter is that nowadays there is no trace of a similar dish in Genoan cuisine, while Pasta alla Genovese is a key feature of a Neapolitan Sunday lunch, when breaking the handmade ziti – long tubes of pasta resembling large macaroni – is part of local tradition.

To many Neapolitans, this oddly named beef and onion sauce is at the heart of the city's cooking. Can you imagine the French naming the flagship sauce of Bordeaux Dijonaise? Be that as it may, it is easy to see (and taste) why the people of the Mezzogiorno love it passionately. The rich, onion-based sauce is slowly-cooked for hours, together with minced carrots and celery, chunks of meat and pieces of lard. The final result is a thick, creamy ragû, in which the onions have completely melted and the meat is soft and easily pulled apart. If you have the time and , like me, you love slow food this is a great recipe for this winter.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 4 hours

Serves 8

Tastes best accompanied by a Chianti or Sangiovese

 

2kg Red onions

1kg Beef chuck, cubed

500g Dried tube pasta, like ziti, tortiglioni or rigatoni

150g Bacon or pancetta, chopped

2 Large carrots, peeled and chopped

1 Celery stalk, trimmed and chopped

⅓ Cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ Cup dry white wine, plus some more if needed

 Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

 Finely grated Parmesan cheese

 

  • Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to the boil.
  • Place the onions in the boiling water, and cook, covered, for 15 minutes.
  • Drain the onions, allow them to cool a bit, then slice very thinly.
  • Heat half the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat,
  • Stir in the carrots, celery and bacon, and cook for 4 minutes.
  • Add the beef, then cover with the onions. Pour the remaining oil over the onions, then sprinkle with 1 ½ tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper.
  • Cover, bring to a simmer and cook gently until the beef is tender, about 2 ½ hours.
  • Uncover the pot and bring the contents to the boil.
  • Cook, stirring more frequently as the liquid reduces and lowering the heat as necessary to prevent scorching, until the meat has fallen apart and the sauce is creamy, about 45 minutes.
  • Stir in the wine and taste, adding more wine if desired. Reduce the heat to low, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce is glossy and quite thick, about 15 minutes more.
  • Meanwhile cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente.
  • Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce.
  • Stir in the Parmesan cheese to taste and serve.

 

“Rome is stately and impressive; Florence is all beauty and enchantment; Genoa is picturesque; Venice is a dream city; but Naples is simply - fascinating.” – Lilian Whiting.

 

Trenette al Pesto: green as the Ligurian landscape

"The pesto and trenette are warm in the bowl on my lap, the fragrances of olive oil and basil blending the exotic and familiar, equal parts sunny Italian hillside and hometown dirt. A meal like this makes you want to live forever, if only for the scent of warm pesto in January." - Michael Perry.

 

Liguria is located on the eastern end of the Italian Riviera, i.e. along the north-western coast of Italy. The climate in this mountainous region is mild, perfect for growing vegetables, olives and grapes. Ligurian cooking is known for simple dishes based on the freshest and highest-quality ingredients. A prime example is pesto alla genovese. Liguria basil is blended with extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmigiano Reggiano to make this delicious sauce. It is not only used for pasta, but can also be added to soups or rice dishes.

Dry and fresh pasta are both eaten in Liguria. Trenette, a narrow dry pasta, is the regional speciality, and is enjoyed served with vegetables and seasoned with pesto. While Ligurian recipes are far from vegetarian, beans and fresh vegetables play a large part in locals’ diet. Because of its proximity to the Mediterranean, seafood is widely eaten. Seafood staples include fish, mussels and squid. Tuna, anchovies, sardines and cod are eaten fresh or preserved in Liguria cooking. Meat is less common in Ligurian cuisine, but veal and rabbit are frequently eaten. 

One dish personifies Ligurian food. Trenette al pesto combines the region’s signature sauce, its abundant vegetables and the local ribbon pasta, trenette.  (Linguine or fettuccine are fine substitutes if you can’t find it.) For an even lighter dish, you could use capellini (angel hair pasta). 

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a Merlot or Sangiovese

 

For the pasta:

500g Trenette or other ribbon pasta 

200g Green beans, cut into 5cm lengths

2 Medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 3cm³ cubes

2 Cups Parmesan cheese, grated

For the pesto sauce:

3 Garlic cloves

1 Cup fresh basil leaves

4 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated

2 Tbsp. pine nuts

½ Cup olive oil

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

Toasted pine nuts for garnish (optional)

 

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over medium-high heat, and drizzle with olive oil.
  • Cook the pasta until just past al dente.
  • Blend the basil, Parmesan, nuts, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor.
  • Add olive oil slowly to make a medium-thin sauce. Set aside.
  • Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 8 minutes.
  • Remove the potatoes from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a pasta bowl.
  • Place the beans in the boiling water and cook for 7 minutes.
  • Remove the beans from the water and transfer them to the bowl with the potatoes.
  • Set aside and reserve the cooking water.
  • Add the cooked pasta to the beans and potatoes in the bowl.
  • Add the pesto sauce to the pasta mixture and stir gently to blend. Add some of the reserved water if dish seems too dry.
  • Toss to ensure everything is coated with pesto.
  • Serve on a platter and sprinkle with the grated Parmesan cheese and pine nuts.

 

“There are five elements: earth, air, fire, water and garlic.”  - Louis Diat.

 

Beef Chow Fun: it is indeed...

“I like Chinese, I like Chinese. Their food is guaranteed to please. A fourteen, a seven, a nine and lychees.” - Monty Python, “I like Chinese.”

 

Beef chow fun (also spelled chow faan) is a popular Cantonese dish, made from stir-frying beef, he fen (wide, flat rice noodles) and vegetables. It can usually be found in Cantonese restaurants that serve dim sum, and is eaten both as a snack and a staple food. The noodle’s name is variously spelled as he fen, hor fun or ho fun, and it is widely eaten in Southern China - especially in Guangdong province. It is used in both stir fries and soups. 

An important element in the making of this dish is wok hei, which is a cooking technique that uses very high heat to create a wok sear that imparts its own unique umami flavour. The other essential technique for making this dish is a technique called pow wok which essentially is a method of tossing the wok and the food without using a spatula. It is best practiced with a wok with a wooden handle for easy gripping as you are tossing the ingredients around. The continuous movement of the noodles in the hot wok prevents sticking and also keeps the rice noodles whole. Although this may sound daunting, it is actually not as difficult as it sounds.

And don’t despair: I have cooked this dish with a spatula and it has turned out just fine – what is a few broken noodles here or there between friends? I’ve also based the recipe on the assumption that you’ll be using a spatula, but feel free to go for the pow wok technique if you’re brave enough!

 

Preparation time: 1 hour

Cooking time: < 10 minutes

Serves 2

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Gewürztraminer or Viognier

 

400g Flat rice noodles (or pappardelle)

250g Beef rump, sliced into bite-sized chunks

150g Fresh mung bean sprouts

4 Scallions, split in half vertically and cut into 7cm-long pieces

3 Thin slices of fresh ginger

3 Tbsp. sunflower oil plus 1 tsp. extra for the marinade

2 Tbsp. Shaoxing cooking wine

2 Tbsp. dark soya sauce

2 Tbsp. regular soy sauce plus 1 tsp. extra for the marinade

1 Tsp. corn starch

½ teaspoon sesame oil

¼ Tsp. baking powder

A pinch of sugar

Salt and white pepper to taste

 

  • Combine the beef with the corn starch, baking powder and 1 tsp. each of dark and light soya sauce.
  • Let the beef marinate for about an hour. The little bit of baking powder helps to tenderise the meat.
  • Some rice noodles come as large sheets, while others are already cut. If you have the sheets, slice the rice noodles so they're about 2cm wide.
  • Heat your wok over high heat until smoking, and add 1½ tablespoons oil to coat the wok.
  • Add the beef and sear until browned. As long as your wok is hot enough, the meat shouldn't stick.
  • Set the beef aside and add a little more oil to the wok.
  • Add the ginger first to infuse the oil with its flavour for about 15 seconds.
  • Add the scallions, the quickly spread the noodles evenly in the wok and stir-fry the whole mix on high until it is mixed evenly, about 15 seconds.
  • Add the Shaoxing wine around the rim of the wok.
  • Next, add the sesame oil, soy sauces, pinch of sugar, and a bit of salt and pepper to taste (taste the noodles before adding salt) along with the beef.
  • Stir fry, making sure your spatula scrapes the bottom of the wok and you lift the noodles in an upward motion to mix well and coat them evenly with the soy sauce.
  • Finally add the bean sprouts and stir-fry until the bean sprouts are just tender.
  • Serve as quickly as possible.

 

“Chinese people say Marco Polo brought noodles from China back to Italy and Italians say they had noodles before that. All this has been based on documentary material, on personal accounts and menus. Now actual archeological material has proveds the Chinese right.” – Lou Houyuan.

 

Pappardelle al Cinghiale: not boaring at all

“I am not a pig farmer. The pigs had a great time, but I didn't make any money.” - Willie Nelson.

The wild boar has fascinated me ever since, as a child, I saw the Gauls feasting on them in Asterix. The true wild boar – as opposed to feral pigs - is an Old World species that has existed since before the last Ice Age. Evidence suggests that this ancestor of the domesticated pig was in human association as early as 13,000 B.C. Native wild boar can be found throughout Northern and Central Europe, the Mediterranean and as far south as Indonesia. In many of these cultures wild boar meat has figured prominently in the traditional diet. Here in South Africa, the indigenous bush pig (Potamochoerus larvatus) has also been eaten for millennia. From a culinary perspective, the bush pig can be used as a proxy for wild boar, as it has meat very similar to its Eurasian cousin.

Bush pig meat is similar to pork, but there are a few differences worth noting. As a game meat, bush pig meat is leaner and tends to be darker red than ordinary pork. It has an intense, sweet and nutty flavour, due in part to its wild diet of grasses and roots. Bush pig should be cooked at lower temperatures than other meats, and avoid overcooking, as the lean meat will dry out quickly. If the meat is frozen, do not defrost in a microwave, since this tends to dry and toughen meat. Marinating bush pig meat overnight can do wonders, as the marinade will tenderise the meat as it imparts flavour. Lean bush pig meat is ideal for use in stews and ragouts.

The recipe below is a real winter winner: it combines the thrill of the hunt, the lean, high-protein meet of the bush pig, a great traditional Italian recipe and the joys of comfort food. You can use lean pork as a substitute if need be.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves 2

Tastes best accompanied by a Merlot or Malbec

 

400g Bush pig or lean pork meat, minced

300g Plum tomatoes, chopped

250g Dry pappardelle

2 Onions, finely chopped

1 Sprig rosemary

1 Celery stalk, chopped

Olive oil

Freshly-grated nutmeg

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

 

  • Fill a large pot with water, salt lightly and add a tiny drizzle of olive oil. Bring to the boil.
  • Add the pasta and cook until al dente, then drain.
  • Sauté the onions, rosemary, and celery in a bit of olive oil until soft and starting to take on colour.
  • Add the tomatoes, wild boar, and grated nutmeg.
  • Cook until the boar meat is cooked through and the mixture reduces to a sauce consistency, about 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Check the seasoning.
  • Add the pasta to the sauce.
  • Toss until the pasta is well coated.

 

“Fishing from a boat seems like dilettante bullshit - like hunting wild boar with a can of spray paint from the safety of a pick-up truck.” – Hunter S Thompson.

 

Rigatoni with Broccoli and Brie: you'll love putting it inside

“There are two activities in life in which we can lovingly and carefully put something inside of someone we love. Cooking is the one we can do three times a day for the rest of our lives, without pills. In both activities, practice makes perfect.” – Mario Batali.

 

Rigatoni are a form of tube-shaped pasta of varying lengths and diameters. They are larger than penne and ziti, and sometimes slightly curved, though not as acutely curved as elbow macaroni. The name comes from the Italian word rigato, which means “ridges” or "lined", and is associated with the cuisine of Southern and Central Italy. Rigatoni is particularly popular in Naples and Sicily.

 Rigatoni have characteristic ridges down their length, sometimes spiralling around the tube. Its namesake ridges make better adhesive surfaces for sauces and grated cheese than smooth-sided pasta like ziti. Unlike penne, rigatoni's ends are cut square to the tube walls instead of diagonally.

Rigatoni is a good pasta to serve with fairly thick cream- or tomato-based sauces, as its shape holds the sauce well. It’s also good for using in pasta bakes. Penne makes a good substitute for rigatoni if the latter is unavailable.

The following recipe brings out the best in rigatoni, and contains a heavenly combination of Brie and broccoli.

 

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a Cape Blend or Chianti

 

500g Dried rigatoni or penne

250g Brie (with rind), cut into 3cm³ cubes

1 Head broccoli, florets and stalks cut into 1.5cm³ pieces and steamed

½ Cup pine nuts, toasted

Coarse sea salt and black pepper

 

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over medium-high heat, and drizzle with olive oil.
  • Cook the pasta until just past al dente.
  • Drain, and return the pasta to the pot.
  • Add the steamed broccoli, pine nuts, Brie, ¾ tsp. salt, and ½ tsp. pepper.
  • Stir until the cheese melts.
  • Divide among individual bowls and serve hot.

 

“When I was a kid, for my birthday every year, my mother made me pasta béchamel, which is rigatoni with a white cream sauce.” – Giada de Laurentiis.

 

Spaniards don't recognize such a thing as a light diet

Cacciatore: a nod to our hunter-gatherer ancestors

"Mutti" Merkel's Bavarian alter ego

La Dolce Vita

Nonna even puts some of the wine in the food

Penne al Forno: oven-baked comfort on a plate

“Casseroles don't have to be just about canned ingredients and vegetables you normally wouldn't even think of eating alone, much less stuck in between layers of sauce and breadcrumbs. They can vary from everyone's favourite all-time casserole, macaroni and cheese, to the ultimate English casserole, Shepherd's Pie.” - Marcus Samuelsson.

 

I am very fond of pasta baked in the oven (al forno). Baked pasta is, hands down, one of the best comfort foods known to mankind. Done right, this classic is the perfect combination of cheesy, starchy, saucy, hot, and salty. Pair it with a bottle of red, and you have a veritable feast on your hands. The two giants of this genre are obviously lasagne and macaroni & cheese, but there is another wonderful dish made with penne, which is not a pasta normally associated with oven baking. Once you get used to the idea, give it a try: it is well worth the effort.

But before we turn to the recipe, I would like to share some tips with you. By knowing a little of the science behind pasta you can make your family’s favourite dinner even better. First – and most importantly - use the right noodle for the job. For the rich, creamy and often meaty sauces used in baked dishes you should avoid smooth, slim pastas. Sauce will slide off the smooth sides, leaving a pool at the bottom of the plate (not to mention, naked noodles). Rather use a tubular pasta that has deep ridges, like rigatoni, penne rigate or fusilli bucati.

Secondly, you should undercook your pasta (honestly!) To avoid mushy baked pasta, seriously undercook the pasta in its boiling phase. Boil it for just five minutes before draining it well and tossing it in the sauce. Because the pasta’s going into a hot sauce in a hot oven, it’ll continue to cook long after it’s been drained. Cook it completely in the beginning, and by the time you serve it, you’ll have sad, limp noodles.

Thirdly, never trust a recipe and simply hope for the best. Taste Everything. You have a lot of moving parts in a baked pasta dish: The sauce, the cheese, and the pasta itself. Be sure to taste every single component before combining them and sticking the pan in the oven. Your dish should be well-seasoned, but not overly salty, and the noodles should be tasty with an extra-firm bite—you should not want to eat the pasta as it is when it is put in the oven.

Also, baked pasta will never acquire that golden, bubbling crust in a regular oven. Baking it steadily at 180°C will ensure that the cheesy sauce melts beautifully into the noodles, but the temperature isn’t high enough to get any colour on the top layer of cheese. You can’t keep the pan in the oven for hours; it will result in overcooked pasta. Therefore, once the pasta is perfectly cooked (about 15 - 20 minutes for a 2 – 3l casserole), turn on your grill and monitor it closely. It can take as long as four minutes to achieve that deep burnished top layer, but it can quickly overshoot and become overdone, so watch proceedings like a hawk.be vigilant and don’t walk away from the kitchen. As a bonus, broiling the casserole will inevitably result in a few crunchy, crispy noodles toward the top.

Lastly, let your dish rest before tucking in. We all agree that one should let a steak, roasted chicken, or leg of lamb rest before slicing it. A baked pasta casserole is no different. Allowing the dish to hang out for five to 10 minutes after cooking will give the sauce a chance to settle into the nooks and crannies of your pasta. Dig in right away, and the juice will pool to the bottom of the casserole, leaving you with a fiery hot, thin-tasting sauce. A burnt tongue means you won’t be able to enjoy your hard-earned effort.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 35 minutes

Serves: 8

Tastes best accompanied by a Sangiovese or Malbec

 

700g Tinned or bottled marinara sauce

450g Beef mince

250g Dry penne rigate

250g Cream cheese

1 Onion, chopped

1 Shallot, thinly sliced

½ Green or red bell pepper, chopped

1 Cup fresh Parmesan, grated

2 Tbsp. milk

1 Tbsp. butter

 

  • Cook the penne to slightly less than al dente, drain and set aside.
  • Brown the beef mince in a large saucepan. Drain the excess grease.
  • Add the Marinara sauce to the saucepan and heat.
  • Combine the onion, pepper and butter in small glass bowl. Cover and microwave for 4 minutes on HIGH until soft.
  • Add the cream cheese and milk to the vegetables and stir it in.
  • Spray a 30cm x 20cm baking dish with non-stick spray.
  • Assemble in the following order: a thin layer of the beef/marinara sauce, cooked penne, cream cheese and vegetable mixture, the remaining meat sauce and Parmesan.
  • Bake at 180°C for 25 minutes.
  • While the dish is baking, fry the shallot slices until brown and crisp in a little oil over high heat.
  • Remove the baking dish and top it with the fried shallot.
  • Return to the oven and grill for another 3 - 5 minutes, until the top is golden brown.

 

“Italians love three things: sun, sin and spaghetti.” – Lady Randolph Churchill.

 

 

Spaghetti alla Primavera: the Minestrone of pasta

“If kids can learn how to make a simple pasta sauce, they will never go hungry. It's pretty easy to cook pasta, but a good sauce is way more useful.” - Emeril Lagasse.

 

Over the past week, Pretoria’s weather has been on fast forward. Ten days ago we still suffered summer heat, and now it is winter. Nobody knows what happened to autumn. It is at times like these that food can help to lift flagging spirits. Comfort food is the best example; it consoles you when you have made your peace with winter. But sometimes you need more than that: a reminder that spring will arrive eventually, and how wonderful it is. One of the finest “inspirational” dishes I know is Spaghetti Primavera (primavera = spring), and it has a great story too!

Over to Sirio Maccioni, co-owner of Le Cirque restaurant in New York City: “I believe it started in 1975, when I visited Prince Edward Island with a number of colleagues, including Craig Claiborne of the New York Times. To eat we had only lobster and wild boar. After a week of this, everyone said, ‘Can we have some pasta?’ I set out to make two dishes, one with vegetables, one Alfredo style. But in the end I mixed it all together, vegetables with spaghetti and cream. After Claiborne wrote about it in the Times, everybody started to come to Le Cirque and ask for spaghetti alla primavera. But my French chef said, ‘You want to do spaghetti? I don't want spaghetti in my kitchen!’ I didn't want a crisis. So I decided to prepare it in the dining room, on a cart, tableside. It looked nice, and it tasted nice. We've never put it on the menu, but people still ask for it.”

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a Beaujolais or dry Rosé

 

400g Spaghetti

400g Tinned artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped

250g Portobello mushrooms

2 Cups broccoli florets

1 Cup cherry tomatoes (yellow and red)

¾ Cup grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish

2 Tsp. garlic flakes

Coarse sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Sliced fresh basil, for serving

 

  • Pre-heat your oven to 200°C.
  • Cook the pasta until al dente in a large pot of salted boiling water.
  • Drain, reserving half the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pot.
  • Arrange the broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts on a large baking sheet, toss with olive oil and season with the garlic powder, salt and pepper.
  • Roast until tender and caramelized, stirring once, 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Transfer the roast vegetables to the pasta pot along with the Parmesan and a cup of the reserved pasta water.
  • Heat slowly, and over low heat, stir vigorously to create a sauce. Add more pasta water until you reach your desired consistency.
  • Serve garnished with the extra Parmesan and the basil.

 

“Becoming a vegetarian is a huge missed steak.” – Rita Rudner.

 

Kaiserspaetzle: Mac und Cheese on steroids

“Simple foods often are best. A great example is spaetzle (literally, ‘tiny sparrows’). Ubiquitous throughout Eastern Europe, these egg dumplings are essentially a bland transport for the sauce that shares its plate.” – Charles Leroux.

 

Germany is not just a large country; it is also a very diverse one. Because of its history, there are major cultural differences between its Laender (federal states) and their people. The medieval era resulted in a large number of small feudal territories ruled by princelings and dukes. This led to considerable linguistic diversity across Germany. All Germans now speak the High German, but regional dialects abound. The Thirty Years’ War resulted in a Northern Germany that is largely Protestant and a South Germany that is largely Roman Catholic. More recently, the Cold War divided the nation into a progressive and liberal West and a totalitarian communist East. A quarter of a century later, Westerners are still easy-going and confident, while the “Ossis” are still reserved and inclined to rely on the state to shape their lives.

People’s culture invariably influences what they eat. Because of the regional differences outlined above, the contrast between affluent, Catholic Bavaria and the ex-communist, Lutheran rump of Prussia (Brandenburg, Mecklenburg and West Pommerania). Bavarians are jolly, enjoy rich food (e.g. pork sausages, roast pork, veal schnitzel) and like festivals, the largest of which is the Oktoberfest in Munich. Prussians are reserved, eat frugally (potatoes, root vegetables and fish are particularly prominent) and eschew ostentatious occasions. The one common denominator is beer: all Germans seem to like it; it just makes some silly and others morose!

The verdant South-Western part of Germany undoubtedly has the richest culinary traditions and greatest variety of iconic dishes. Regardless of which type of meat is the main attraction at meal times, the starch is almost certain to be potato, or spaetzle. So popular is this home-grown pasta that it is often eaten on its own, with a bit of butter and parsley. The de lux version is called Kaiserspaetzle (“Emperor’s Spaetzle”), and it is truly scrumptious. Here is how you make it.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a Pinot Noir or Cinsaut

 

6 Rashers streaky bacon

3 Eggs

1 Onion, finely chopped

2 Cups Emmentaler cheese, grated

1 ½ Cups bread flour

120ml Skim milk

3 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

¾ Tsp. ground nutmeg

¾ Tsp. salt

A pinch of pepper

 

  • Fry the bacon until crisp over medium heat in a frying pan coated with non-stick spray.
  • Sift the flour, nutmeg, salt and pepper together.
  • Beat the eggs in a medium bowl.
  • Alternately mix the milk and the flour mixture into the eggs until smooth.
  • Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes.
  • Allow the bacon to cool, and break or slice into bite-sized bits.
  • Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.
  • Press the batter through a spaetzle press or cheese grater into the water.
  • When the spaetzle has floated to the top of the water, remove it to a bowl with a slotted spoon.
  • Mix in 1 cup of the cheese.
  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  • Add the onion, and cook until golden and fragrant.
  • Stir in the spaetzle, bacon bits and remaining cheese until well blended.
  • Remove from heat and serve immediately, sprinkled with the parsley.

 

“With Hungarian goulash or other hearty meat dishes with a sauce my favourite starch is spaetzle. It's a small squiggle, a cross between a noodle and a dumpling, that's popular in Germany and Austria.” – Lee Dean.

 

Fettucine Cacciatore: the hunter's chicken

“When an Italian tells me it's pasta on the plate, I check under the sauce to make sure.” – Sir Alex Ferguson.

 

Despite what people on other continents might think, Europe is not all urban areas and farmland. Nor has man’s urge to hunt been snuffed out by bunny huggers. Many substantial areas are covered by indigenous forest, and its many rugged mountain ranges are largely wilderness. With the onset of autumn, wild places like these are invaded by hunters of several kinds: big game (sic) hunters seeking deer and boar, wing shots after grouse, pheasants and waterfowl, lovers of wild rabbit, and the foragers for mushrooms and truffles.

The spoils of the hunt are often cooked “hunter style” – such dishes are denoted chasseur in French and cacciatore in Italian. In culinary terms, this entails cooking birds or small game like rabbit simply, with what a hunter can carry on his person: a little oil and wine, salt and pepper for seasoning, onions and garlic and possibly tomatoes and/or bell peppers. Sometimes hunters would get lucky and come across wild herbs and mushrooms, so these are also viewed as traditional ingredients. Chasseur/cacciatore dishes are usually served with a rustic bread or pasta on the side.

Not all lovers of this style of cooking are hunters, so farmed chicken, guinea fowl and rabbit are mostly used in conjunction with the other traditional ingredients. Here is a great recipe, inspired by Italian-style pollo alla cacciatora, a rustic braise of chicken, aromatic vegetables and tomatoes.

 

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 90 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a Shiraz or Sangiovese

 

8 Chicken thighs and drumsticks

600g Tinned chopped tomatoes in juice, pulsed in a food processor

450 g Dry fettuccine pasta

250g Fresh Portobello or brown mushrooms, trimmed and sliced

25g Dried porcini or chanterelle mushrooms

1 Onion, finely chopped

1 Red bell pepper, sliced

1 Medium carrot, finely chopped

3 Young celery stalks (with leaves), chopped

3 Large garlic cloves, minced

375ml Red wine

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. fresh Italian parsley, chopped

2 Tsp. chopped fresh rosemary, or ½ Tsp. crumbled dried rosemary

½ Tsp. Cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Grated Parmesan cheese

 

  • Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl or heat-proof glass measuring cup and cover with 2 cups warm water. Allow to rest for 15 - 20 minutes, until the mushrooms are softened.
  • Drain the mushrooms through a strainer lined with cheesecloth or a paper towel and set over a bowl.
  • Reserve 1 cup of the soaking liquid and set aside.
  • Rinse the mushrooms, squeeze out excess water and chop them coarsely. Set aside.
  • While the mushrooms are soaking, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to the boil.
  • Add the pasta and cook until al dente, then drain.
  • Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy non-stick saucepan.
  • Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown, in batches, for 5 minutes on each side.
  • Transfer the chicken pieces to a bowl as they are done. Pour the fat off from the pan and discard.
  • Turn the heat down to medium, add the remaining oil and the onion, bell pepper, carrot and celery, as well as a pinch of salt.
  • Cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the garlic, parsley, rosemary, Cayenne pepper and salt to taste.
  • Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes, until the mixture is soft and aromatic.
  • Stir in the fresh and dried mushrooms, turn the heat back up to medium, and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are just tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Stir in the wine and bring to the boil. Cook, stirring, for a few minutes, until the wine has reduced by about half.
  • Add the tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down a little and smell fragrant.
  • Stir in the mushroom soaking liquid that you set aside.
  • Return the chicken pieces to the pan and stir so that they are well submerged in the tomato mixture.
  • Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes, until the chicken is tender.
  • Taste, adjust seasoning and serve with the pasta, sprinkled with a little Parmesan.

 

“A good upbringing means not that you won't spill sauce on the tablecloth, but that you won't notice it when someone else does.” - Anton Chekhov.

 

Fideuà: a colourful celebration of Catalan cooking

“Some judgment is needed in adding liquid to fideuà, because pasta requires far less liquid than rice, and because a good deal of liquid should be released by the clams and mussels that are usually included. Fideuà should be moist, not soupy, and while the pasta should be tender, it should not be mush.” – Chef Mark Bittman.

 

Do you like risotto, seafood pasta, bouillabaisse and paella? Now imagine what a mixture of the four would look and taste like! In Catalunya, the North-Eastern autonomous region of Spain, one finds a traditional dish called fideuà, that combines key elements of the aforementioned dishes. It is a seafood dish made with short lengths of dry ribbon pasta called fideus rather than rice. Instead of boiling the noodles Italian-style, the Catalan way is to cook them with only a small amount of liquid in a wide earthenware cazuela or paella pan. The noodles are first browned in olive oil, then simmered in a rich fish and shellfish broth before being served paella-style.

The history behind dishes is one of my favourite elements of cuisine, and Fideuà has a great one. It harks back to the early 1900s, when a Catalan ship’s captain liked rice so much that he would often eat more than his share, leaving other crew members hungry. One day, in exasperation, the cook came up with a plan: he would substitute the rice for noodles, hoping that the captain would eat less. As he had hoped, the captain wasn’t keen on the noodles but the rest of the crew liked it so much that the recipe spread among their families and neighbours. It kept being prepared and gained regional popularity, becoming what is now known as Fideuà.

Typical seafoods used include mussels, monkfish, cuttlefish, squid, crayfish and prawns or langoustines. The noodles are slightly crispy on top, due to only a small amount of liquid being used at the outset. Broth is added at intervals as it is absorbed, but frugally, as cooks rely on the juices of the shellfish to augment the broth. Unlike risotto or paella, not much stirring is involved. As a finishing touch, Catalan chefs will add some garlicky alioli (the local version of aioli) to it, which creates a creamy texture and gives the dish more oomph. If you haven’t tasted it yet, you should give it a try – you’ll thank me for the tip.  

 

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 90 minutes 

Serves 6 

Tastes best accompanied by a dry Rosé

 

For the broth:

500g Mussel meat, cleaned

400g Fish offcuts (preferably red linefish, but any white fish will do)

200g Small shrimp

12 Clams or white mussels

2 Onions, chopped

4 Large garlic cloves, roughly chopped

3 Small dried chilli peppers, or ½ Tsp. Cayenne pepper

2 Bay leaves

2 Thyme sprigs

2 Tbsp. tomato paste

½ Tsp. fennel seed

½ Tsp. ground coriander

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

For the fideuà:

450g Dry fedelini or spaghettini pasta, broken into 5cm lengths

400g Mussels (in their shells), cleaned and de-bearded

250g King-size prawns (shell on), cleaned and deveines

3 Tbsp. flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 Tsp. orange zest

A pinch of saffron (or ½ Tbsp. turmeric) mixed into ¼ cup water

Extra virgin olive oil

Lemon wedges for garnish

For the alioli:

1 Egg

Juice of ½ lemons

3 Large cloves garlic

Olive oil

Salt to taste

 

  • First make the alioli. Mince the garlic in a blender, then add the egg, a pinch of salt, and a squirt of lemon juice.
  • Start blending the mixture as you slowly and continuously pour in a thin stream of oil. The emulsion will start to form, and will thicken as you add in more oil.
  • When the alioli is thick enough (the consistency of mayonnaise), stop blending, and check the seasoning - add more garlic, lemon juice and/or salt to taste.
  • Keep the alioli cool while you make the rest of the dish.

 

  • The next step is to make the broth.
  • Pour 3 Tbsp. olive oil in a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat.
  • Add the onions and sauté them until softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the shrimp, garlic, chilli peppers, fennel, coriander, bay leaf and thyme.
  • Season generously with salt and pepper, stir and cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Add the tomato paste, stir in and cook for 5 minutes; the mixture should start looking thick and dry.
  • Add the fish, clams, mussels and 8 cups of water; cover and bring to a boil.
  • Take off the lid, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes.
  • Strain through a sturdy mesh sieve into another pot.
  • Discard the solids and keep the strained broth hot. Check the seasoning.
  • Finally the fideuà: Pre-heat your oven to 200°C.
  • Place the noodles in a large roasting pan or baking sheet.
  • Pour 2 Tbsp. olive oil over the noodles and toss with your hands to coat.
  • Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, turning with tongs if necessary, until the noodles are golden brown.
  • Place a cazuela or large heavy pot on the stove, over medium-high heat.
  • Add the roasted noodles, pressing them down a bit.
  • Ladle 3 cups of hot broth over the noodles and bring to the boil.
  • Push down on the noodles with a wooden spoon as they soften in the broth.
  • Add the saffron-infused water and cook for a minute, then stir to mix.
  • Add enough hot broth to cover the pasta by + 3cm.
  • Lower the heat and cook at a simmer for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add more broth (and adjust heat) if the mixture dries out.
  • Scatter the mussels over the top, then push them down until barely submerged.
  • Cook for 3 - 4 minutes, until the shells open. Turn off heat. The noodles should be cooked but firm, and the mixture a little soupy.
  • Mix the parsley with the orange zest.
  • Sauté the prawns in olive oil over medium heat for 2 minutes per side.
  • Ladle the fideuà into individual soup plates. Garnish with the prawns and a spoonful of allioli, and sprinkle with the parsley mixture.
  • Arrange some lemon wedges between the prawns and mussels.

 

“Spaniards seem not to recognize such a thing as a light diet.” – George Orwell. 

 

Tuscan Skyscrapers

Spaghetti on the way to the Forum

Titbits from Puglia

Spaghetti Mafiozza

OK Nonna, you can go back to the broom cabinet now.

Chicken and Pesto Penne: a taste of summer

“Life is too short not to have pasta, steak, and butter.” – Iman.

 

Penne is a cylinder-shaped pasta. The name means “feather” or “quill” in Italian. In Italy, penne are produced in two main variants: penne lisce (smooth) and penne rigate (furrowed), the latter having lengthwise ridges on each piece. In South Africa, store-bought penne is invariably of the latter type. Penne is traditionally cooked al dente and served with pasta sauces such as pesto, marinara or arrabiata. It is a versatile pasta for many applications because of its practical design; the hollow centre and ridges allow it to hold sauce, while the angular ends act as scoops

Pesto is a mouthful of bright summer - sweet basil made even more so. You can buy it ready-made in a jar, but there is nothing better than making it yourself. Fresh basil can be found in abundance in greengrocer’s or at farmers’ markets in summer. Just clean, take the stems off and blend the leaves with pine nuts and garlic in a food processor. Dribble in some oil and you’ve got a versatile sauce for pasta, chicken or fish. I am not a big fan of chicken when it comes to pasta dishes, but this recipe creates such synergy between the white meat and green pesto sauce that I have decided to include it.

 

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Rosé

 

350g Dried penne

1 ½ Cups skinless roast chicken, shredded

300ml Cream

4 Scallions (green onions), sliced

½ Cup basil pesto

½ Cup sun-dried tomatoes, rehydrated and thinly sliced

½ C Parmesan cheese, grated

Thinly sliced green onions and crusty bread, to serve

 

  • Cook the pasta in a pot of salted water until tender. Drain, reserving ¼ cup of the liquid.
  • Transfer the pasta to a large saucepan over medium-low heat.
  • Add the reserved cooking liquid, cream, pesto, onion, chicken and tomato. Stir to combine.
  • Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes until heated through.
  • Divide between the individual bowls.
  • Top with the Parmesan and extra scallion.
  • Serve with the crusty bread.

 

"Everyone makes pesto in a food processor. But the texture is better with a mortar and pestle, and it's just as fast." - Mario Batali.

 

Goodfellas Spaghetti and Meatballs: you dare not refuse it...

“See, you know when you think of prison, you get pictures in your mind of all those old movies with rows and rows of guys behind bars. But it wasn't like that for wiseguys. It really wasn't that bad. Everybody else in the joint was doing real time, all mixed together, living like pigs. But we lived alone. And we owned the joint.” – Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in Wiseguys.

 

One of the most memorable cooking scenes in a movie was the one from Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”. After Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) gets pinched, he heads off to prison for wiseguys. Wiseguy prison is full of lobsters, scotch, and everything Henry and his crew need for a spectacular red sauce, including a razor blade “Paulie” Cicero (Paul Sorvino) uses to slice garlic. The depiction of food and cooking in the film is superb. You can almost taste the richness of the red wine, feel the crustiness of the Italian bread, and smell the pong of the sharp provolone cheese.

The pasta sauce was in fact an authentic case of “Mama’s secret recipe” - it came from Catherine Scorsese, director Martin Scorsese’s mother (who played a cameo role in the movie). You don’t really have to slice the garlic razor-thin like Paulie – there is a reason why razor blades aren’t normally kept in kitchen drawers. Unless you want to nick your fingertips a half dozen times, just use a chef’s knife.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves 6

Tastes best with a Chianti or Sangiovese

 

450g Pork sausage links

450g Minced veal (or beef) and pork

5 Large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

120g Tomato paste

1.5 kg Tinned Italian tomatoes, strained through a sieve to remove seeds

1 Medium onion, finely chopped

1 Egg

¼ Cup grated Pecorino Romano, plus additional for serving

¼ Cup bread crumbs

1 Tbsp. Italian parsley, chopped

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Salt and cayenne pepper to taste

 

  • Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium.
  • Add the sausage and brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a plate lined with paper towels.
  • Add the onion and garlic to the same pot and sauté until golden, about 3 minutes.
  • Add the tomato paste, 2 cups of water and the strained tomatoes.
  • Adjust the heat to medium-low, add the salt, red pepper, and the cooked pork sausages. Simmer, stirring occasionally.
  • As the sauce simmers, make the meatballs. Using your hands, combine the ground meat mixture in a large bowl with the egg, cheese, parsley, and 2 Tbsp. of the simmering tomato sauce.
  • If the mixture is still loose, add bread crumbs until everything sticks together.
  • Roll the mixture into egg-sized balls and place them directly in the simmering sauce.
  • Cook until the meatballs float, about 45 minutes to an hour.
  • Remove the sausage and meatballs from the sauce with a slotted spoon.
  • Serve the sauce over spaghetti, with the meats on top or on the side.

 

“There are many things my father taught me here in this room. He taught me keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” – Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in The Godfather II.

 

Tubettini con le cozze: Pasta from the Heelside

“Puglia is the heel to Italy’s infamous boot and home to some of the brightest seas, most diverse architecture, mouth-watering food and kindest people in all of Italy.” – Rick Stein.

 

Apulia (Puglia in Italian) is a largely rural agricultural region in the far south-east (the “heel”) of Italy. With plenty of sun, fertile soil, and a flat landscape it’s ideal for growing vegetables. Local and seasonal aren’t mere fashionable buzzwords here, it’s just the way things are done. The fruit and vegetables have a more intense flavour than those grown further north. Because of their history of poverty, the locals eat relatively little meat; with lamb the only one to feature regularly on Puglian menus.

Puglia's cuisine is deeply steeped in the region's agricultural tradition and an instinct for self-sufficiency. As such many of the most representative dishes have their origins in cucina povera, making use of whatever is at hand or can be picked from the garden or hedgerow. A classic example of this is Puglia's signature dish, orecchiette con le cime di rapa, pasta cooked with turnip greens. The freshness of ingredients is all-important as is the their provenance: people cook overwhelmingly with locally produced or reared foodstuffs such as durum wheat, tomatoes, artichokes, fava beans, courgettes, beans, fennel, peppers, onions, seafood and lamb.

Common dishes are vegetables marinated in oil, grilled, fried or stuffed—in the summer there’s lots of aubergine, peppers, and zucchini; cheese, olives, and things like potato croquettes and soufflés made with cheese and vegetables. Puglia has many excellent cheeses that will often turn up on an antipasti plate. The best-known varieties are Burrata (similar to mozzarella but with a gooey, creamy inside) and Caciocavallo (made with milk from cows that eat lots of herbs) which is often fried à la haloumi. Because of its long Mediterranean coastline and many harbours and coves, fish and shellfish are plentiful and relatively cheap. The following recipe comes from the coast of Bari, and combines seafood with the frugal culinary tradition of Puglia.

 

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a dry Rosé

 

500g Black mussels

400g Tubettini (“little tubes”)

12 Cherry tomatoes, halved

2 Cloves garlic, chopped

1 Dried, crushed chilli pepper

1 Cup dry white wine

½ Cup Italiand parsley, chopped, plus extra for garnishing

Olive oil

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

 

  • Wash the mussels well under running water and pull out the beards. Set aside in a bowl of cold water.
  • Heat a pot of water for the pasta, and when it comes to the boil add salt and the pasta.
  • While the pasta is cooking, put some olive oil in a large pan and add the chopped garlic.
  • After a couple of minutes add the cherry tomatoes and once these have softened a little add the white wine and bring to a boil so the alcohol evaporates.
  • Taste and season with salt and pepper and add the mussels.
  • Cover with a lid and leave for a couple of minutes until the mussels have opened.
  • By now the pasta should be nicely al dente. Strain, but keep a little liquid back in case you need to moisten the sauce.
  • Add the pasta to the mussels, along with the chopped parsley.
  • Mix well over low heat for a minute.
  • Serve sprinkled with a little parsley.

 

“Why is Italy shaped like a boot? Because you can’t fit all that rubbish into a shoe.” – Austrian joke.

 

Bucatini Amatriciana: when in Rome, do what Romans do!

“When other people get sick, they want chicken soup; I want spaghetti with Pecorino cheese, olive oil and a bit of lemon zest. It makes me feel better every time.” - Isabella Rossellini.

 

If tomatoes are the backbone of Neapolitan and Southern Italian cooking, Pecorino cheese and guanciale (cured pork cheeks) are the staples in Rome. A number of delicious Roman pasta recipes have these two intensely tasty ingredients at their hearts. One of these is Amatriciana – named after the mountain village of Amatrice, where the best guanciale comes from. It is one of the most popular Roman recipes; a rich and flavourful pasta dish made with tomato sauce, small crunchy guanciale chunks and plenty of grated Pecorino cheese.

An older version of the recipe called gricia, still very popular in Rome's restaurants, did not include tomato, and adding other ingredients such as garlic or onion would result in fierce resentment from any proper Italian foodie. Amatriciana sauce goes well with both long (spaghetti or the thicker bucatini) and short pasta like rigatoni. A great pasta amatriciana recipe will stand you in good stead for a lifetime of heavenly yet simple dinners. The key to success, as with most great Italian dishes, lies in using great ingredients and treating them with care. If you can't get your hands on bucatini, spaghetti will do just fine.

 

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 35 minutes

Serves 4 

Tastes best accompanied by a Sangiovese

 

400g Bucatini or ordinary spaghetti

150g of Guanciale or pancetta, chopped

150ml Passata (pureed fresh tomatoes) or store-bought tomato puree

1 small red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced

12 Cherry tomatoes, skinned and chopped

40g Pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated

Flaky sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper for seasoning

Extra virgin olive oil for dressing

1 Tbsp. Italian parsley, roughly chopped

 

  • Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil, add some salt then add the pasta.
  • Cook for one minute less than per the packet instructions to allow for finishing it in the sauce.
  • In a large frying pan, cook the guanciale over a medium heat until the fat renders and the meat begins to crisp.
  • Add the chilli and cook for a further minute or two.
  • Add the passata, lower the heat and bring to a simmer.
  • Stir in half of the Pecorino Romano and check the seasoning.
  • Add the pasta directly from the cooking pot using a pair of tongs. This keeps the pasta wet and transfers a bit of the cooking water to the sauce.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes, allow to warm through and adjust the seasoning again.
  • Divide between the individual bowls, drizzle with olive oil and serve sprinkled with the parsley and remaining cheese.

 

“I cook a lot of Italian food. Bucatini Pomodoro is my best: it's a fat spaghetti with tomato, olive oil, and reminds me of getting married in Italy.” - Bill Rancic.

 

Pappardelle al Funghi: Tuscany on a plate

“In Tuscany, they add work and life on to food and wine.” - Robin Leach.

 

The Italian region of Toscana (Tuscany) is one of the world’s great tourist destinations. No wonder: it is home to cities bursting with art and culture like Florence and Siena, and must-see attractions like the leaning tower of Pisa and the medieval town of San Gimignano. It is also an area of great natural beauty and its farms produce top quality fresh ingredients that form the basis of its famous cuisine. Whereas Tuscany’s towns and cities are opulent, its cooking is surprisingly down-to-earth. Tuscan food is based on the Italian idea of cucina povera or “poor cooking.” It’s about simple meals that are inexpensive and could easily be made in large amounts. Tuscan cooking doesn’t use complicated seasonings or elaborate creations because they’re not needed. Instead it’s made using fresh, high-quality ingredients that bring out the natural flavours in each dish, simple or not.

Broad beans loom large in the region’s cooking, as does roasted meat – both domesticated and wild, like boar and venison. Olive oil is abundant and of high quality, and the local fruit and vegetables world class. As if that’s not enough, the forests and copses are home to a wide variety of prized wild mushrooms, and both white and black truffles grow in its soil. Both varieties feature heavily in traditional Tuscan food and you’ll find versions of just about everything infused with tartufo, from balsamic vinegar to pecorino cheese.

Unlike many parts of Italy, Tuscany is not all about pasta. It produces some outstanding breads, which are often the starch of choice. The most popular pasta is pappardelle, a broad ribbon pasta which is the perfect foil to the creamy umami flavour of mushroom or truffle ragù. As my budget doesn’t allow for extravagances like truffle, I make Pappardelle al Funghi when I feel the need for something Tuscan. This is a good time of year for Porcini and other wild mushrooms, and if you can’t obtain the Real McCoy you can substitute store-bought Portobello, Shiitake, Enoki and/or Eringi for wild ones.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Yields: 4 servings

Tastes best with a good Chianti

 

450g Mixed mushrooms, sliced

450g Pappardelle

2 Large cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 Medium brown onion, finely chopped

2 Tbsp. Italian parsley, chopped

2 Tsp. fresh thyme, chopped

1 Tsp. ground coriander

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

4 Tbsp. dry white wine

1 Tsp. fresh lemon juice

Salt & freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated, for serving

 

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan over high heat until it is smoking.
  • Add the onion and garlic and cook them until the onions are a light golden brown.
  • Add the mushrooms, and continue cooking until they have given up most of their water, about 9-10 minutes.
  • Add the wine, thyme, coriander and salt and pepper to taste, then reduce the heat to medium.
  • Cook the sauce for another 5 minutes, until the mixture is thick and creamy.
  • Bring 3l of water to the boil in a large pot, and add 1 Tbsp. of salt and a dash of oil.
  • Drop the pasta in the pot, and cook it until al dente.
  • Drain the pasta, reserving the cooking water.
  • Add the pasta to the pan with the mushroom ragù, and toss.
  • Sprinkle with the lemon juice and parsley, and toss over high heat for 1 minute to coat the pappardelle evenly, adding a ladleful of pasta water if needed.
  • Check the seasoning and adjust, if necessary.
  • Divide the pasta evenly among four warmed pasta bowls.
  • Top each dish with the freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and serve immediately.

 

“Italian food is all about quality ingredients and it's not fussy and it's not fancy.” - Wolfgang Puck.

 

Switzerland is a land of stark contrasts

Mamma Mia!

Ole' Blue Eyes - all 35 of them!

Naked man walking through revolving door...

No libido problems here!

Perlemoen Linguine: a rare pleasure

“Perlemoen is so geil* that in the olden days when people ate it on their beach holidays girls weren’t allowed in the same bath tub as boys.” – Pieter Pieterse.

*puts so much lead in one’s pencil

 

Perlemoen or abalone (Haliotis midae) is one of the most prized shellfish in the sea. For lovers of umami flavours, this is as good as it gets. Back in the good old bad old days I was able to dive for them in the cold, turbulent waters of the Cape and thus had enough raw material to experiment to my heart’s content. I finally came to the conclusion that less was more: my favourite way of serving perlemoen was to cut them into thin steaks, roll them in seasoned flour and pan-fry them in a piping hot pan. Sadly, this bounty was not to last.

In recent years, rampant poaching has decimated our once-plentiful perlemoen stocks. Organised syndicates overfish the remaining populations, and even plunder undersized juveniles. When too many perlemoen are harvested in one area, those that are left are too far apart to reproduce. To add insult to injury, climate change has also played its part in this unfolding tragedy. Rock lobsters have moved into areas where perlemoen once predominated. The rock lobsters eat the sea urchins among which juvenile perlemoen shelter, leaving them nowhere to hide. They are then easy pickings for predators like cat sharks.

In an effort to reduce the pressure on our remaining stocks, recreational diving and the selling of wild perlemoen has been banned indefinitely. Currently, the only legal ways of eating this delectable mollusk are to order farmed perlemoen in a restaurant, or to buy canned, minced perlemoen meat from specialty stores. When I occasionally get hold of the latter – usually at the Dassiefontein farm store near Caledon – I usually make one of two dishes to “stretch” this expensive delicacy as much as possible. One is perlemoen frikadelle (meatballs); the other is to use them in an Alfredo-tyoe pasta sauce. This how I make the latter dish:

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Pinot Grigio or Colombard

 

450g Dry linguine noodles

350g Tinned, minced perlemoen, drained

1 Cup shallots, chopped

12 Button mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 Garlic cloves, crushed

1 Serrano chilli, finely chopped

2 Cups seafood, fish or chicken stock

1 Cup fresh cream

½  Cup dry white wine

2 Tbsp. Maizena corn starch

2 Tbsp. butter

1 Tbsp. olive oil

½  Tbsp. Italian parsley, chopped

½ Tsp. nutmeng

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper for seasoning

6 Sprigs of fresh parsley for garnishing

 

  • Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add a dash of olive oil.
  • Add the pasta and cook for 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain and set aside.
  • Melt the butter along with the olive oil in a large, non-stick saucepan over medium-high heat.
  • Fry the mushrooms until they take on colour.
  • Remove from the pan and set aside.
  • Fry the shallots, garlic and chilli until fragrant, about 4 – 5 minutes.
  • Add the perlemoen mince, season with the nutmeg, salt and pepper and cook for another 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the corn starch and reduce the heat to medium-low.
  • Add half a cup of stock and stir in. When it has been absorbed, add the wine and stir in.
  • Continue gradually adding the stock until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
  • Lower the heat further so that the sauce is barely simmering.
  • Stir in the cream and chopped parsley and cook, stirring continually, for another 5 minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and toss the cooked pasta into the pan, coating it thoroughly.
  • Dish up in individual plates, garnish with the sprigs of parsley and serve.

 

“We’re capturing more abalone outside of the sea than poachers in it.” - Tim Hedges.

Phad Thai: tofu or not tofu...

“Life is like a bowl of noodle soup. The noodles are the events that come and go and the broth is your friends. Don't slurp too quickly!” – Mitch Hedberg.

 

By now it is common cause that it was not, in fact, the Italians who invented pasta. Tradition has it that Marco Polo, an Italian merchant, brought the concept back from the Chinese court of Genghis and Kublai Khan. Orientals have been making and eating noodles for millennia, and each major culture has introduced its own produce and tastes to cooking with it. One of the more interesting approaches is that of the Thai people, who infuse their noodle dishes with a wide variety of ingredients and flavours.

Phad Thai (“fried Thail style”) is a stir-fried noodle dish commonly served as street food and at casual local eateries all over Thailand. It is usually made with soaked dried vermicelli noodles, which are stir-fried with eggs and chopped firm tofu and flavoured with tamarind pulp, Nam pla (fish sauce), dried shrimp, garlic and palm sugar. It is usually served with roast peanuts and lime wedges. Upmarket versions may also contain fresh seafood, chicken or other proteins. Vegetarian versions may substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce and omit the shrimp.

The first mention of vermicelli in Western literature was in a 14th-century cook book from Italy. In English, the Italian loanword "vermicelli" is used to indicate different sorts of long, thin pasta shapes from, different parts of the world but mostly from South or East Asia. In East Asia, the term is often used to describe thin noodles made from rice flour. Vermicelli is also made from mung beans in parts of China, but in Thai cooking only rice noodles are used.

 

Preparation time: 1 ½ hours

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Viognier

 

450g Bean sprouts

1 Cup dried rice vermicelli

½ Cup firm tofu, thinly sliced

4 Scallions, whites cut thinly across and greens sliced into thin lengths

4 Cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 Large egg, beaten

6 Tbsp. roasted peanuts, chopped

1 Tbsp. dried shrimp (or ½ Tbsp. shrimp paste)

1 Tbsp. white sugar

1 Tsp. salt

½ Tsp. dried red chili flakes

1 Cup vegetable stock

2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

1 Tbsp. fish sauce

2 Tbsp. peanut oil

2 Limes, cut into wedges for garnish

 

  • Soak the vermicelli in a bowl of hot water until softened, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Drain and set aside.
  • Heat the peanut oil in a large wok over medium heat.
  • Cook the tofu in the wok, turning the pieces until they are golden on all sides.
  • Remove the tofu with a slotted spoon and drain on plate lined with paper towels.
  • Pour all but 1 Tbsp. of the used oil from the wok into a small bowl; it will be used again in a later step.
  • Heat the remaining oil in the wok over medium heat until it starts to sizzle.
  • Pour in the beaten egg and lightly toss it in the hot oil to scramble the egg.
  • Remove the egg from the wok and set aside.
  • Pour the reserved peanut oil in the small bowl back into the wok.
  • Toss the garlic and drained noodles in the wok until they are coated with oil.
  • Stir in the vegetable stock, lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar. Toss and gently push the noodles around the wok to coat with sauce.
  • Gently mix in the tofu, scrambled egg, shrimp, salt, chili flakes, and half the peanuts; toss to mix all the ingredients.
  • Mix in the bean sprouts and scallions, reserving about 1 tablespoon of each for garnish.
  • Cook and stir until the bean sprouts have softened slightly, 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Arrange the noodles on a warm serving platter and garnish with the remainder of the peanuts and reserved bean sprouts and green onions.
  • Place the lime wedges around the edges of the platter.

 

“I wouldn't exactly call it 'cooking' but I can make noodles. That means I can boil water, put the pasta in and wait until it's done.” – Devon Werkheiser.

 

Linguine with Brown Butter

“I closed my eyes and curled my fists around the things I knew for sure: That a scallop has thirty-five eyes, all blue. That a tuna will suffocate if it ever stops swimming. That I was loved. That this time, it was not me who broke.” – Jody Picoult.

 

One of the great pleasures during the year I spent working in Chile was that all the major cities and towns were within an hour’s drive from the Pacific Ocean. This, coupled to Chileans’ passion for fresh seafood, meant that every sizeable municipality has a seafood market. This is how my love affair with scallops (osteones in the vernacular) started. Having been privileged to eat this magical shellfish in a myriad ways, I have to agree with Andrew Zimmern that a live scallop from the icy waters of Chile or Peru is ocean candy; sweet and succulent.

Sadly, most of us don’t spend all our lives near the Pacific – or even a fresh seafood market. Circumstances have forced me to learn how to make the most of frozen scallops, and the following recipe combines the sweetness of scallops with the nutty flavour of beurre noix (brown butter) and a hint of aniseed from tarragon. It is quick and easy and a welcome break from the mainstream creamy seafood pasta dishes.

 

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Pinot Grigio

 

16 Scallops, shelled and patted dry

350g Linguine

1 Cup frozen peas

½ Cup panko bread crumbs

4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

2 Tbsp. fresh tarragon leaves, chopped

1 ½ Tsp. lemon zest, finely grated

2 Tbsp. olive oil

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

 

  • Pre-heat your oven to 180° F.
  • Toss the bread crumbs, lemon zest, 1 Tbsp. of the oil, and ¼ Tsp. each of salt and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet.
  • Bake, tossing once, until golden, 6 - 8 minutes. Allow to cool.
  • Meanwhile, cook the linguine according to the package directions, adding the peas during the last minute of cooking.
  • Reserve ½ cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Empty the pot.
  • Heat the remaining oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat.
  • Season the scallops with ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper and cook until golden brown on one side, 3 - 4 minutes.
  • Turn and cook until opaque throughout, 1 - 2 minutes more.
  • Wipe out the pasta pot and cook the butter over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until golden brown, 3 - 4 minutes.
  • Add the pasta and peas, scallops, tarragon, ½ Tsp. salt, and ¼ cup of the reserved cooking water and toss to coat.
  • Add more of the cooking water if the sauce is too thick.
  • Serve the pasta sprinkled with the toasted bread crumbs.

 

“In heaven, after antipasti, the first course will be pasta.” - Steve Albini.

 

Spaghetti Al Pomodoro: magnificent simplicity

“Spaghetti with tomato sauce is the dream of Italian cuisine, a magic mix of ingredients, wisdom and history that a very few other dishes in the world have. Unfortunately this dish is manipulated, tormented and crucified almost everywhere.” – Chef Rosario Scarpato.

 

If asked what image springs to mind when the words “Italian food” are mentioned, chances are you would probably picture a bowl of spaghetti with tomato sauce. Perhaps the most famous Italian pasta recipe, Spaghetti al Pomodoro is a true test of a chef’s skill; because it is so minimalist short cuts and mistakes cannot be hidden. Don’t let this faze you – provided you follow the instructions closely it tastes delicious, and is easy to make.

In simple dishes the quality of one’s ingredients becomes paramount. Tomatoes are front and centre in this Italian icon, so it is imperative to use Italian tomatoes that truly taste of the Mediterranean sun. Almost just as important is the texture and taste of the pasta. If you can get hold of it, use good quality Italian Durum wheat spaghetti.

 

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a Sangiovese

 

450g Durum wheat spaghetti

1.5kg Tinned Italian peeled tomatoes in natural juices

6 Garlic cloves, peeled

5 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Fresh basil leaves for garnishing

 

  • In a large saucepan, lightly brown the fresh garlic in the olive oil over medium-high heat. Avoid burning it or it will taste bitter.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook over medium heat for 8 - 10 minutes.
  • Cook the spaghetti al dente, drain them and toss in the tomato sauce.
  • Heat through for a few minutes.
  • Put the spaghetti in individual previously warmed plates and add some extra sauce.
  • Garnish with a few drops of extra virgin olive oil and a couple of fresh basil leaves.
  • Serve warm.
  • NB: You could sprinkle the servings with some grated Grana Padano cheese - a rather common habit in some Italian families - but the original recipe doesn’t include it.

 

“A piece of spaghetti or a military unit can only be led from the front end.” – Gen George S Patton.

 

Älplermagronen: The Swiss Alps on a plate

“The more Swiss cheese you have, the more holes you have. The more holes you have, the less Swiss cheese you have. Therefore, the more Swiss cheese you have, the less Swiss cheese you have.” – Jerry Seinfeld.

 

Most people associate Switzerland with wealth: numbered private bank accounts, the World Economic Forum in Davos, luxury ski resorts and the lakeside retreats of the super-rich. The Swiss do enjoy a high standard of living, and the Franc is indeed the world’s “hardest” currency. Yet despite the affluence and sophistication of their daily lives, the natives still cherish their humble roots. Until a couple of centuries ago, their country was one of the poorest in Europe and most of its people lived on small mountainside farms. Because they were snowed in for long periods, their cuisine was based on foodstuffs that wouldn’t spoil during the long winter months. The most popular ingredients in rustic Swiss cooking were – and remain – cheese, bacon, ham, dried beef, potatoes, pickled vegetables and mushrooms, chestnuts, onions and apples.

As growing wheat and other cereals becomes increasingly difficult at higher altitudes, Swiss farmers have long specialised in dairy products, especially cheese. For centuries they traded cheese on the markets of northern Italy for products they could not grow themselves like rice, wheat and polenta (ground maize). In the process they also developed a taste for pasta. A further addition to the starches available to them was the potato, brought to Europe by the Spaniards. By the 18th Century it was firmly entrenched in the Swiss diet.

Älplermagronen (literally “Alpine macaroni”) is a frugal all-in-one dish consisting of the ingredients available to mountain farmers in their alpine cottages: macaroni imported from Italy, potatoes, onions, bacon, apples and cheese. In some cantons the dish is made without potatoes, which is the way I prefer it. It was meant to provide the energy required for a long day’s work in a harsh environment, but it serves just as well as a pure comfort food. The combination of flavours and textures results in a taste experience that someone once described as “like an orchestra playing in your mouth.” If I had to pick one comfort food to the exclusion of all others, this would be it. It is also something I can recommend to participants in extreme endurance sports with a refined palate.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves 2

Tastes best accompanied by a Pinot Noir, Malbec or Zinfandel

 

250 g Macaroni or Penne

8 Rashers streaky bacon

2 Large free range eggs

2 Large onions, sliced

2 Granny Smith apples

1 Cup grated Emmenthal cheese

1 Cup grated Gruyère (or White Ceddar) cheese

300 ml Dry white wine

¾ Cup cream

3 Tbsp. butter

¼ Tsp. ginger

¼ Tsp. cinnamon

Salt and white pepper to taste

 

  • Pre-heat your oven to 200°C.
  • Place the bacon on a roasting rack in the middle of the oven. Bake for 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, boil the pasta in salted water.
  • While the pasta is cooking, peel and core the apples. Divide them into eight wedges each.
  • Simmer the apple wedges in the wine for 10 minutes, along with the ginger and cinnamon.
  • When the pasta is al dente, drain and keep warm.
  • Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet.
  • Slice the onions and sauté until light brown.
  • Mix the cheese and cream.
  • Arrange the pasta on the bottom of a deep baking dish.
  • Cover with the sautéed onions, then arrange the apples in a layer on top of the onions.
  • Spread the cheese and cream mixture over the contents of the dish.
  • Remove the bacon from the oven and switch it off.
  • Arrange the now-crispy bacon on top of the other ingredients.
  • Place the assembled dish in the oven to heat it.
  • Meanwhile, fry the eggs – sunny side up – until the whites have only just set.
  • Serve the Älplermagronen with a soft egg on top of each portion.

 

“You look at our borders, they're like Swiss cheese - everybody pours in.” – Donald Trump.

 

One Bacon, Lucky & Tomato Sandwich coming up!

San Francisco's Chinatown

Dining at home, alone

Dressed for success

Mt Etna in a foul mood

Penne all'Arrabbiata: Peeved Pasta

“I am Vader, Darth Vader, Lord Vader. I can kill you with a single thought. No, come to think of it, I'll kill you with a tray! Give me penne all'arrabiata or you shall die! And you and everyone in this canteen! Death by tray it shall be!” – Eddie Izzard.

 

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a Shiraz

 

Penne all’Arrabbiata (aka Angry Penne) is a hot, the spicy favourite of Southern Italian cuisine. It is a legacy of Moorish rule over Sicily and the “toe” of Italy. Sugo all'arrabbiata  is a spicy sauce for pasta made from garlic, tomatoes, and red chili peppers cooked in olive oil. Interestingly, the word "Arrabbiata" is not (as commonly believed) derived from “Arab” – it literally means "angry" in Italian; the name of the sauce refers to the spiciness of the chilli peppers. It is an ideal quick meal on a chilly winter’s night.

 

400 g Penne

400 g Tinned cherry tomatoes in sauce

3 Garlic cloves, chopped

2 Dried chilli peppers, crushed

3 Tsp. oregano, chopped

3 Tsp. dried basil

1 Tsp. thyme

1 Tbsp. fresh basil, torn

4 Sprigs Italian parsley

½ Cup grated parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsp. olive oil

Salt and black pepper to taste

 

  • Heat 1 Tbsp. of the olive oil in a large saucepan.
  • Add the dried oregano and thyme, chopped garlic and crushed chilli peppers.
  • Fry for few minutes. Don't let the garlic turn brown.
  • Add the tin of cherry tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, for about 8 minutes and let the excess water evaporate.
  • Reduce the heat, cook for another few minutes, stirring occasionally and crushing the tomatoes into the sauce.
  • Add salt and black pepper to taste and stir in.
  • Add all the dried and half the fresh basil, 1 Tbsp. of olive oil and the 2 Tbsp. of balsamic vinegar. Stir in.
  • In the meantime, cook the penne according to the packet instructions.
  • Mix the pasta with the sauce and garnish with the parsley leaves and the grated parmesan cheese.

 

“Age and glasses of wine should never be counted.” – Italian proverb.

 

Fettuccini con Frutti di Mare

“Marriage is not merely about sharing the fettuccine, but sharing the burden of finding the fettuccine restaurant in the first place.” – Calvin Trillin.

 

My taste for pasta developed late. As a child my mother made us macaroni and cheese occasionally, and I had spaghetti and mince a few times. As a self-conscious teenager, I announced that I simply didn’t like the taste of pasta. The elephant in the room was my lack of dexterity; I simply could not eat pasta without making a spectacle of myself. When obliged to dine in an Italian restaurant, I would invariably opt for veal or lasagne.

Decades passed, and as my passion for food grew, I realised that you couldn’t call yourself a foodie yet avoid one of the world’s best-loved cuisines. With some prodding by my wife and brother – both pasta junkies – I improved my fork-and-spoon technique to such an extent that nowadays I only splatter pasta sauce over myself! Because they are relatively easy to manoeuvre, I prefer fettucini, ravioli and penne, with the former my favourite.

Fettuccine (literally "little ribbon" in Italian) hails from central Italy; being most popular in Rome, Umbria and Tuscany. It is a flat thick noodle made of egg and flour, wider than but similar to the tagliatelle of Bologna. It is often eaten with sugo d'umido (beef ragù) and ragù di pollo (chicken ragù). Fettuccine Alfredo is undoubtedly the best-known fettuccine dish outside of Italy, and is made with butter and Parmesan cheese. The dish was named after Alfredo Di Lelio, a Roman restaurateur in the early to mid-20th century. During the Allied occupation of Italy, his dish became so well known among American GIs that it become ubiquitous in Italian restaurants in the USA and later all over the world.

A myriad of variations on Di Lelio’s original concept have evolved over time; the most popular including ham and mushrooms. In fact, for many years I believed that this was the true Alfredo sauce. My favourite derivative of the classic dish is Fettuccini con Frutti di Mare (Fettuccine with Seafood) which combines the velvety sauce with succulent seafood.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Pinot Grigio or Colombard

 

450 g Dry fettuccine noodles

450 g Queen-sized prawns, headless, peeled and deveined

300 g Scallops, minus their shells

250 g Baby octopus or squid heads

1 Cup scallions, chopped

4 Garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 Cups half-and-half cream (50% milk, 50% cream)

1 Cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp. Maizena corn starch

2 Tbsp. butter

1 Tbsp. of chopped parsley for garnishing

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper for seasoning

 

  • Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add ½ Tsp. of olive oil.
  • Add the pasta and cook for 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain and set aside.
  • Melt the butter in a large, non-stick saucepan over medium-high heat. Fry the octopus/squid until they take on colour.
  • Stir in the scallions and garlic, and cook for a minute or two.
  • Add the prawns and scallops, stirring to combine, and cook for 3 minutes more.
  • Stir in the corn starch and reduce the heat to medium-low.
  • Pour the half-and-half and a pinch each of salt and pepper into the pan and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Do not allow the mixture to boil.
  • Gradually sprinkle half the Parmesan cheese over the seafood mixture and continue stirring for another minute.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and toss the cooked pasta into the pan, coating it thoroughly.
  • Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and the chopped parsley and serve.

 

“I love seafood. I'm not a vegetarian but I'm probably a pescetarian.” - Padma Lakshmi.

Macaroni al Forno: home comfort...

“Pasta with melted cheese is the one thing I could eat over and over again.” – Yotam Ottolenghi.

 

Any dish with the suffix al forno in Italian is one that has been baked in an oven. Italian dishes commonly prepared in this way include pizza, calzone and pasta. Pasta is usually boiled before it is baked in al forno dishes. This double cooking means that it is served soft, not with the firm al dente consistency that Italians customarily prefer in pasta dishes. My wife Jakki makes the best Pasta al Forno I’ve ever tasted. This is how she does it.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a Sangiovese or Chianti

 

450 g Macaroni

300 g Beef mice

250 g Portobello mushrooms, sliced

150 g Streaky bacon, chopped

10 Calamata olives, pitted and chopped

10 Sun-dried tomatoes, chopped

2 Garlic cloves, chopped

2 Chilli peppers, chopped

250 ml Double cream

3 Tbsp. Tomato paste

1 Tbsp. butter

400 g Mozzarella, freshly grated

Freshly-grated Parmesan cheese for sprinkling

60 ml Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

 

  • Preheat the oven to 200°C.
  • Boil the macaroni in salted water until al dente.
  • While the pasta cooks, prepare the sauce. Start by heating the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan and frying the bacon until golden brown.
  • Add the mushrooms and sauté them until they start taking on colour.
  • Remove the bacon and mushrooms and set them aside.
  • Introduce the mince and fry them off quickly over medium heat. Season with the salt and pepper.
  • Add the sun-dried tomatoes, olives, chillies and garlic and cook gently for a few minutes.
  • Add the tomato puree and stir in. Let the sauce cook for another minute or two.
  • Drain the pasta and add it to the contents of the saucepan.
  •  Stir in the bacon, mushrooms and cream.
  • Spoon a third of the mixture into a suitable oven-proof dish, and sprinkle with a third of the Mozzarella. Repeat this process twice.
  • Sprinkle the top layer generously with Parmesan.
  • Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown.

 

“What did Karl Marx put on his pasta? Communist Manipesto!” – Stephen Colbert.

 

Chicken Chow Mein: Guilt-free fast food

“I was so poor in those days, Chow Mein was my main chow!” – Bob Hope.

 

Chow Mein is probably the most universally popular Chinese recipe in the whole world, and there are countless variations of it. Even throughout China, Chow Mein is made differently by region and even restaurant to restaurant within regions. It can be made with seafood, red meat, poultry or as a vegetarian dish. The vegetables traditionally used in China are shredded cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts and shallots or scallions, but feel free to add your own touch, using whatever greens you prefer. Pak Choy, Chinese broccoli and other Asian greens go particularly well with this.

What distinguishes a mediocre Chow Mein from a great one is the quality of the sauce that accompanies it. I’ve provided directions for making it yourself – it just tastes better than the store-bought product. It only requires a handful of ingredients to make, and you can get everything from a decent supermarket. Refrigerated, it will last for weeks or even months.

As with many Chinese stir fry recipes, the following one is very fast to make. Once you have the ingredients prepared and ready to go, it takes just 5 minutes to cook so marinating time aside, you can make this meal in less than half an hour.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Serves 2

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Viognier or Chenin Blanc

 

Chow Mein:

200 g Chicken thigh fillets, cut into bite-size pieces

3 Cups of cabbage, finely shredded

1 Carrot, julienned

1 Cup bean sprouts

3 Small shallots or 3 scallions, chopped

2 Cloves garlic, minced

200g Fresh Chow Mein noodles

½ Tsp. baking soda

1½ Tbsp. peanut or grape seed oil

4 Tbsp. water

Chow Mein Sauce:

2 Tbsp. oyster sauce

2 Tbsp. dark soy sauce

2 Tbsp. Chinese cooking wine (or pale dry sherry)

2 ½ Tsp. sugar

1 Tsp. sesame oil

2 Tsp. corn flour

White pepper

 

  • Combine the chicken and baking soda in a small bowl and toss to combine.
  • Set aside for 10 minutes to tenderise, then rinse the chicken well and pat dry with paper towel.
  • Place the Chow Mein sauce ingredients in a small bowl and mix to combine.
  • Pour 2 Tbsp. of Chow Mein sauce over the chicken and set aside to marinate for 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile prepare the noodles according to the packet instructions. Usually you just need to put the noodles in a bowl, pour boiling water over and leave it for 1 - 2 minutes, then drain.
  • Heat the cooking oil in a wok or large frying pan over high heat.
  • Add the garlic and stir-fry for until the garlic is golden brown and you can smell the garlic in the oil. Remove the garlic from the wok.
  • Add the chicken and stir-fry until the skin is white but the inside still raw - about 45 seconds to 1 minute.
  • Add the cabbage, carrot, and half the shallots/scallions.
  • Stir-fry for 1 - 1½ minutes until the cabbage is just starting to wilt and the chicken is cooked through.
  • Add the noodles, Chow Mein sauce and water.
  • Stir-fry for another minute, tossing to coat the noodles in the sauce.
  • Add the bean sprouts and remaining shallots/scallions. Stir through quickly, then remove from heat.
  • Serve immediately.

 

When you go to Beijing, you see what low rank you hold. When you travel to Canton, you realise how little money you've got. But when you come to Chengdu*, you find out how large your appetite is. – Chinese proverb.

* Sechuan to Westerners

 

BLT Penne

“I used to have trouble choking down the pills I have to take for controlling my cholesterol, but it’s a lot easier now that I wrap them in bacon.” - Brad Simanek.

 

In the early 1990s, one of my favourite sitcoms was Alf, which starred a furry alien which had crash-landed in the yard of a typical American sitcom family and been “adopted” by them. The alien had a ravenous appetite, and came from a planet where cats were considered a delicacy. Unsurprisingly, Alf had his beady eyes on the family’s cat Luchy. He would often fantasise about making himself a BLT sandwich; BLT being short for “Bacon, Lucky and Tomato”! This pasta dish is a winner, and rest assured: the “L” is for “lettuce” in this instance…

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best with a Malbec or Merlot

 

250 g Streaky bacon, cut into 2 cm-wide strips

2 Cloves garlic, minced

2 Tsp. lemon zest

150 ml Crème Frâiche

2 Cups Penne pasta

2 Cups cherry tomatoes, halved

4 Cups baby Rocket (Arugula), coarsely chopped

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

1 Tbsp. freshly-shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)

Cayenne pepper for garnishing (optional)

 

  • Pour the olive oil into a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat.
  • When the oil is hot, add the bacon and cook until almost crisp.
  • Turn off heat and transfer the bacon onto paper towel with tongs.
  •  Leave about 2 teaspoons bacon grease in the pan. and mop up the excess bacon grease with the paper towel,
  • Return the bacon to the pan, and stir in the minced garlic and lemon zest.
  • Let it cook in the residual heat until fragrant.
  • Stir the Crème Frâiche into the bacon mixture.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and stir in the 2 cups of Penne.
  • Cook till tender, about 8 minutes.
  • Drain the pasta in a colander, then add it to the mixture in the pan.
  • Stir pasta thoroughly into bacon and cream mixture.
  • Return the pan to medium heat.
  • Add the tomatoes; cook and stir until slightly softened, about 1 minute.
  • Mix in the rocket, stirring until wilted – it should take no longer than about 30 seconds.
  • Turn off the heat.
  • Season with salt and black pepper, then stir again.
  • Serve garnished with grated Parmesan cheese and Cayenne pepper (optional).

 

“We Jews don’t believe in Hell the way Christians do. Our idea of Hell is a big kitchen where there’s always bacon frying, and we’re not allowed to eat it.” – Nik Rabinowitz.

"Gnocchi, gnocchi." "Who issa thera?"

Pasta has this effect on people...

Giada de Laurentiis: well equipped for the task at hand

Streeetch those noodles!

Spaetzle is a popular Oktoberfest dish

Spätzle: Teutonic Pasta

“Spätzle don’t make the world go round, but they do make the trip worthwhile.” – Bavarian proverb.

Spätzle, along with its close relative knöpfle, is Germany’s answer to pasta. Before the invention and use of mechanical devices to make these noodles, they were shaped by hand or with a spoon and the results resembled Spatzen (sparrows). Spätzle is the diminutive of Spatzen; hence the name literally means “little sparrows”. Knöpfle means "small buttons" and describes the compact form of this more compact variety. These noodles are particularly popular in the Germanic parts of Western Europe, with the German state of Baden-Württemberg and the French region of Alsace both claiming it as theirs.

As is the case with Italian pasta, there are many ways of serving spätzle. It makes a great side dish, but is frequently eaten on its own. Purists prefer it with butter and parsley, while it is also often served topped with cheese and/or caramelised onion.  A quintessentially German variation is to fry some chopped bacon in a pan, remove the bacon and then sauté the cooked spätzle in the bacon drippings. I would recommend starting with the basic recipe below, and - if you like it – to leave experiments for later.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a Merlot or Malbec (or a mug of Lager)

 

1 Cup bread flour

2 Eggs

¼ Cup milk

½ Tsp. ground nutmeg

½ Tsp. salt

¼ Tsp. freshly-ground white pepper

4l Hot water

2 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

 

  • Mix the flour, salt, white pepper, and nutmeg.
  • Beat the eggs well, and add a quarter of it to the dry ingredients and stir in. Repeat with the milk, and add the egg and milk in turn until used up. Mix the dough until smooth.
  • Heat the water to the simmering point.
  • Press the dough through a spätzle maker, a large-holed colander or a metal grater.
  • Drop a few at a time into the simmering water.
  • Cook each batch for 5 to 6 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain well.
  • Once all the spätzle has been cooked, sauté them together in the butter.
  • Divide among 6 plates, sprinkle with the chopped parsley, and serve.

“The fricassee with dumplings is made by a Mrs Miller whose husband has left her four times on account of her disposition and returned four times on account of her cooking and is still there.” – Lily Rowan.

Prawn Sōmen

“Life is like a bowl of Japanese noodles. The noodles are the events that come and go, and the broth is your friends. Don’t slurp too quickly!” – Ted Allan.

Thanks to today’s rushed lifestyle, Japanese noodles have become ubiquitous. “Two-minute noodles” are not just quick to make, but filling and affordable. There are in fact several distinct kinds of noodles in the Japanese repertoire, and they are generally divided into two groups; the ones made from wheat - Ramen, Udon, Sõmen, and Yakisoba – and Soba, which is made from buckwheat flour. Ramen is by far the best known; both in Japan and internationally. The others are mainly eaten by the Japanese themselves.

Sōmen are thin, white noodles made from wheat. They are usually served chilled in summer accompanied by dipping sauces, although they are also used in soups and other hot dishes. Sōmen are very similar to Udon noodles, only they are thinner (about 1.3mm in width). Their diameter is the chief distinction between them and the thicker wheat noodles Udon. Sōmen noodles are stretched when made, as are some types of udon noodles. The dough can be stretched thanks to the addition of vegetable oil, and the thin strips are then air-dried. Sōmen served in hot soup is usually called "nyumen" and eaten in the winter, much as Soba or Udon are. If you are unable to find the Real McCoy, spaghettini will make a reasonable substitute.

 

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by Sake or a chilled Colombard 

 

500 g Cooked queen-sized prawns, cleaned and deveined

250 g Sõmen or spaghettini

250 g Fresh baby spinach

1 Red bell pepper, diced

1 Cup frozen peas

5 Medium-sized cloves garlic, chopped

2 Tbsp. sesame seeds

½ Cup soya and ginger dressing

2 Tbsp. Canola oil

Sriracha dipping sauce – it is a hot and sour sauce, so you can use your “Western” favourite (e.g. Tabasco) instead

 

  • Cook the noodles or spaghettini according to the directions on the packaging. Drain and keep warm.
  • In the meantime, heat the oil in a large fry pan or wok over medium heat.
  • Fry the pepper for 10 minutes or until wilted. Add the garlic and peas. Cook until the peas are heated through.
  • Add the spinach and dressing to the pan. Cook for a few minutes until the spinach is wilted and the sauce bubbling. Stir well.
  • Mix in the noodles and heat everything together for a few minutes. Divide among 4 bowls.
  • Place the prawns in the pan. (There should be some leftover sauce in the bottom).
  • Cook the prawns just until fully heated.
  • Divide the shrimp and top the noodle mixture with it. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  • Season with Sriracha sauce to taste.

“We are noodle folk. Broth runs through our veins.” – Kung Fu Panda.

Porcini Ravioli

“Books are like mushrooms. They grow when you don’t look. Books increase by the rule of compound interest; one interest leads to another, which compounds into a third. Soon you have so many interests there is no space in the closet.”  – Tom Rachman.

 

I recently had the privilege of having lunch with a fellow bookworm and bon vivant, Dave Rissik, at Franck Dangereux and Pete de Bruin’s Food Barn in Noordhoek Village on a delightful Cape summer’s day. As I still had a long day ahead of me, I decided not to have a heavy meal and opted for one of the restaurant’s biggest drawcards: Ravioli with a creamy Porcini and herb filling. It exceeded all my expectations – beautiful to look at, with a Sorrel and baby leaf garnish, a heavenly aroma and exquisite filling. I have to say that this is now my favourite vegetarian dish, and I have set myself the goal of creating my own version of it. Although I accept I may well never make it as good as Chef Franck’s I will keep trying! Version 1.0. of my  interpretation was rather tasty, so I thought I’d share it with you:   

 

Preparation time: 2 hours

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a Sangiovese or Malbec

 

For the Ravioli dough:

3 Cups of bread flour

4 Whole eggs plus 1 extra egg, lightly beaten for egg wash

A dash of nutmeg & drizzle of truffle oil for flavouring the dough

3 Tsp. olive oil plus 1 extra Tbsp. to add while cooking

A pinch each of salt and & white pepper

A few Tbsp. water (if needed)

For the filling:

500 g Dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in warm water 2 hours, then drained

2 Cloves of garlic, crushed

3 Tbsp. Ricotta cheese

2 Tbsp. double-thick cream

2 Tbsp. parsley, chopped

1 Tbsp. tarragon, chopped

2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 whole egg, lightly beaten (for sealing ravioli)

Salt & freshly-ground black pepper for seasoning

For the sauce:

1 Cup dried wild mushrooms, soaked in warm water for 2 hours to rehydrate, then drained

3 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated

1 Shallot, finely chopped

1 Cup double-thick cream

2 Tbsp. butter

1 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. parsley

1 Tsp. truffle oil

Salt and pepper for seasoning

A few young sorrel leaves for garnish

Nasturtium flowers for garnish

 

Making the dough:

  • Mound the flour on a flat, clean work surface.
  • Create a well in the middle of the mound.
  • Add 4 eggs, drizzle lightly with the oil and  season with salt and pepper.
  • Start to whisk the wet ingredients together with a fork, and slowly incorporate the flour.
  • When the mixture starts to look clumpy, gather it into a ball and start to work it with your hands, kneading the remaining flour into a dough ball. If dough is too dry to incorporate all of the flour, add 1 - 2 Tbsp. water to moisten it.
  • Add the pinch of nutmeg and a drizzle of truffle oil to the dough.
  • Knead for another 15 minutes, or until the dough is smooth.
  • Cover with cling wrap and allow to rest for an hour in the refrigerator before use.

Making the ravioli:

  • Sauté the garlic in the olive oil.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook for 3 - 4 minutes until the excess water from the mushrooms has evaporated. Add the parsley and tarragon.
  • Transfer the mixture to a food processor.  Add the Parmesan and cream, then pulse.
  • Divide the dough into quarters, and put one portion of dough through a pasta roller. If you do not have a pasta maker, roll with rolling pin to the required thickness on a floured work surface.
  • Remove, and run dough through again, repeating until the dough is about 1.5 mm in thickness.
  • Repeat this with the remaining 3 portions.
  • Cut each rectangle of dough in half across the width.
  • Spoon 2 Tbsp. helpings of filling onto one cut piece of dough, spaced about 2.5 cm apart.
  • Wet the edges of the dough and the spaces around the filling with egg wash.
  • Top the base with the second half of the dough, and press down around the filling mounds to seal,
  • Cut into squares with a ravioli cutter or knife, and crimp the edges with a fork to prevent the filling from leaking.

The sauce:

  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan.
  • Add the rehydrated mushrooms and season with salt and pepper.
  • Add the chopped parsley and shallot, and cook for 5 - 6 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to the boil. Once boiling, add the olive oil.
  • Gently insert the ravioli and boil for 6 - 7 minutes.
  • Add the heavy cream to the sauce and stir it in.
  • Drain the ravioli and transfer them to the pan of sauce.
  • Cook the ravioli for another 4 minutes in the sauce.
  • Add the Parmesan, salt and pepper, truffle oil and remaining parsley.
  • Plate and garnish with the sorrel and nasturtium flowers.

 

“The problem with dating Italian guys is that no woman’s cooking will ever taste as good as his Nonna’s.” – Paloma Beltrami. 

Bigoli con Salsa de Acciughe

“Pasta doesn’t make you fat. How much pasta you eat is what makes you fat.” – Giada de Laurentiis.

Venice needs a spacious Pantheon for all the great dishes it has contributed to Italian cuisine: just think of Carpaccio, Spaghetti con Nero di Seppia (Spaghetti with Squid Ink), Sarde in Soar (marinated sweet and sour sardines), Spaghetti con Vongole (spaghetti with clams), Risi e Bisi (Risotto with peas), Tramezzini sandwiches, Titamisù (the classic coffee dessert). A Venetian classic less known outside of the Veneto Region is Bigoli con Salsa de Acciughe – whole wheat pasta with an achovy and onion sauce.

For this dish, the pasta is all-important; it can be served with a myriad of sauces (another great combination is bigoli and duck ragú). Originally made with duck eggs and buckwheat flour (these days, whole wheat flour and chicken eggs), the dough is pressed through a mechanism not dissimilar to a meat grinder, instead of being put through a pasta machine. Every pasta in Italy is shaped to serve a purpose, and in this case the pasta has a spaghetti-like length and shape, but with a coarse rather than smooth exterior. The texture of this pasta allows more sauce to ‘stick’ to the pasta, so the pasta is generally used when serving a pasta sauce with a gravy-like consistency.

 

Preparation time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves 2

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Pinot Grigio

 

250g Bigoli pasta

8 Cured anchovy fillets

1 Medium red onion, finely chopped

½ Cup Italian parsley, chopped

4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

 

  • Bring a large pot of water to the boil for the pasta. Add a tablespoon of salt and a tiny dash of olive oil.
  • Heat the rest of the olive oil in a large saucepan over low-medium heat.
  • Add the anchovies and the onion.
  • Stir the mix, helping to break down the anchovies. This should take around 10 minutes.
  • When the contents of the pan resemble a thick gravy, the sauce is ready. This is the signal to cook your pasta.
  • When the pasta is al dente, drain it and add it to the sauce.
  • Mix in most of the parsley and serve, sprinkled with the remaining parsley.
  • Season and drizzle with a little more olive oil if you wish.

“I love England, especially the food. There’s nothing I like more than a lovely bowl of pasta.” – Naomi Campbell.

Basic Potato Gnocchi

“It is easy to halve the potato where there is love.” – Irish proverb.

The Gnoccho (Gnocchi is the plural form) is one of Italian cuisine’s little gems, but does not always get the recognition it deserves from non-Italian diners. Gnocchi are thick, soft dumplings made from semolina or regular bread flour and egg, with potato normally – but not always – added. Some versions also incorporate cheeese, breadcrumbs and/or herbs. As with many other Italian dishes, there is considerable variation in recipes and names across different regions. The incorporation of potato is a relatively recent innovation, occurring after the introduction of the potato to Europe in the 16th Century. As with other mashed potato dishes, they are best prepared with starchy potatoes to keep a light texture.

 

Preparation time: 1 ½ hours

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves 12

 

1 ½ kg Potatoes, preferably a variety that mashes well

2 Cups bread flour

1 Egg, extra large

½ Cup Canola oil

1 Tsp. salt

½ Tsp. ground nutmeg

Flour for dusting

  • Boil the whole potatoes until they are soft (about 45 minutes).
  • Drain, and - while still warm - peel them and mash them ultra-fine in a food processor.
  • Place the mash on a clean pasta board.
  • Bring 2 ½l of water to the boil in a large pot.
  • Set up an “ice bath” consisting of 6 cups of ice and 6 cups of water near the boiling pot.
  • Make a well in the centre of the mashed potatoes and sprinkle it all over with the flour.
  • Break the egg in the middle of the well and add the salt and nutmeg.
  • Stir the flour, egg and potato mix until smooth with a fork.
  • Once the egg is mixed in, bring the dough together, kneading gently until a ball is formed.
  • Knead it gently for another 4 minutes until the ball is dry to the touch.
  • Dust the board and your hands lightly with flower before shaping the gnocchi.
  • Divide the dough into 12 portions, and roll each into a “sausage” about 2.5 cm in diameter.
  • Cut the sausages into 1.5 cm thick roundels.
  • Dust the roundels lightly, then roll each over the tines of a fork for half a revolution with your thumb. By doing this, each gnocchi will have a flat side and a grooved side.
  • Place the finished gnocchi on a flour-dusted tray.
  • Drop the pieces into the boiling water in batches and cook until they float (about 1 minute).
  • As the gnocchi float to top of the boiling water, transfer them to the ice bath.
  • Continue until all have been cooled off. Leave them in the bath for several minutes, then drain.
  • Drizzle with the oil, and store, covered, in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Use the gnocchi in any of the myriad recipes available; treat them as an alternative to pasta.

 

“You know it’s true love when gnocchi turns into nookie!” – Alanna.

Stingray Ravioli? Just kidding...

The name of the dish was lost in translation

Say "Cheeeeese!"

Foraging for mushrooms - the "silent hunt"

Revenge of the Squids

Squid-ink Tagliolini with Calamari in a tomato & wine sauce

“This squid is so undercooked I can still hear it telling Spongebob to f*ck off!” – Gordon Ramsay.

Squid, octopus and cuttlefish have always fascinated me. Not only are Octopods delicious to eat, but they possess amazing intelligence and problem-solving abilities – to wit the German octopus who predicted the 2010 FIFA WC results spot on! Rumour has it he was killed and eaten by a Dutch gourmet... Although Northern Europeans eat them, the eight-legged ink-squirters are especially revered in Mediterranean cuisine. Not only their flesh is celebrated – the ink of particularly the squid is widely used to colour and flavour the dishes in which Pulpo is used. The most iconic of such dishes is pasta made with squid ink, with succulent squid in a tomato-based sauce on top. Give this one a go!  

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 15 min

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Pinot Grigio or Müller-Thurgau

750 g Squid, skinned, cleaned, bodies cut into 5 mm-thick rings. Reserve the tentacles for another use.

250 g Tagliolini – preferably fresh, made with squid ink; alternatively the ready-made dry variety

3 Ripe Italian plum tomatoes, diced

2 Garlic cloves, crushed

4 Sprigs fresh oregano, leaves chopped. Reserve 1/3 for garnishing

75ml Dry white wine

½ Tsp red chilli flakes

2 Tbsp olive oil

Kosher salt

Grated Parmesan for sprinkling

Extra Virgin olive oil for drizzling

  • Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  • Add the garlic and chillies, and cook until the garlic becomes fragrant.
  • Add the tomatoes and oregano, and season with salt, stirring continually.
  • Cook until the tomatoes release their water – this should take 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Deglaze the pan with the wine.
  • Cook until the wine is bubbling and has begun to reduce (about 1 minute).
  • Add the squid, stir to combine, and cook until the squid becomes opaque in colour. Be careful not to overcook it.
  • Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
  •  Add the Tagliolini and cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Remove the pasta from the water and add it directly to the sauce, along with about 2 tablespoons of the pasta water, some more oregano, some grated Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.
  • Gently toss to combine the ingredients.
  • Plate and garnish with more grated Parmesan.

“A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast and bulbous. Get it?” – Captain Beefheart.

Fettucine Alfredo alla Luigi

“Fettucine Alfredo is basically Mac and Cheese for grownups.” – Mitch Hedberg

As newlyweds, Jakki and I ate more than our fair share of “Pasta ‘n Sauce”, because it was cheap, quick and easy to make and actually tasted great. Our undoubted favourite was Fettucine Alfredo, with its creamy, savoury taste. It contained both ham and mushrooms, neither of which featured in the original recipe devised by a restaurateur in his trattoría “Alfredo’s” in Rome. This consisted only of fettucine tossed in a mixture of one part Parmesan cheese and three parts butter. Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford discovered it on their honeymoon and soon it was all the rage among America’s beautiful people. My recipe would probably shock the purists, but it’s damn tasty...

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Serves 8

Tastes best accompanied by a medium-bodied Sangiovese or Barbera

450 g Dry fettuccine pasta

150 g Cooked ham, diced

150 g Portobello mushrooms, sliced thinly

250ml Créme Fraiche

250ml Double Cream

1 Tbsp butter

1 Cup Parmesan cheese, grated

2 Tbsp Italian parsley, chopped

  • Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to the boil.
  • Add the pasta and cook until al dente, then drain.
  • In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.
  • Fry the mushrooms until they start browning, then stir in the ham.
  • Cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Reduce the heat, then stir in the cream and heat through.
  • Stir in the Parmesan and cook until thick and smooth.
  • Toss the cooked pasta and sauce.
  • Sprinkle with the parsley and serve.

“Life is too short, and I’m Italian. I’d much rather eat pasta and drink wine than be a Size Zero.” – Sofia Loren

Mac & Cheese with a crispy topping

“He is the cheese to my macaroni.” – Diablo Cody.

Mac and Cheese is one of my earliest childhood food memories, and I have now been eating it for more than 50 years. My mother’s version was a frugal dish, quite close to the English (yes, English!) original, while nowadays Jakki treats me to a more glamorous but equally enjoyable one. Macaroni Cheese (as it is known in Commonwealth countries) has Italian roots, where casseroles consisting of pasta and Parmesan cheese were recorded as early as the 14th Century. It was in 18th Century Britain, however, that the modern dish evolved. Elizabeth Raffald’s “The experienced English housekeeper” was the first cook book containing a recipe for a dish of Makerouns made with boiled macaroni and Mornay sauce (Béchamel sauce mixed with Cheddar cheese), sprinkled with Parmesan and baked. Here is my fusion of my Mom’s M & C with Jakki’s:  

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Serves 8

Tastes best accompanied by a medium-bodied red like Sangiovese, Pinotage or Tempranillo

450 g Macaroni, Cavatappi or Penne

6 Tbsp unsalted butter, plus a bit extra for the baking dish

100 g Cake flour

5 Cups full-cream milk

4 Cups Cheddar, grated

1 Cup Parmesan, grated

½ Cup chopped Country Ham (or crisp-fried bacon bits)

1 Tbsp chopped Paprika or Cayenne peppers

2 Tbsp Italian parsley, chopped

250ml Cream Cracker biscuits, crushed

Salt and ground black pepper

  • Heat oven to 350° F.
  • Butter a 30 cm² baking dish (or two 20 cm² ones).
  • Cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the package directions suggest; drain and return it to the pot.
  • Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat.
  • Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes (do not let it darken).
  • Gradually whisk in the milk and add 1¼ tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, whisking occasionally, until the sauce thickens slightly.
  • Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the Cheddar and Parmesan.
  • Mix in the ham and chillies.
  • Add the sauce to the pasta and toss to combine.
  • Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish(es) and sprinkle with the crackers and parsley.
  • Bake until golden – this should take 15 to 20 minutes.

“Macaroni would be nothing without cheese. Cheese, on the other hand, doesn’t need macaroni to pimp it. To me, it’s clear who wears the pants in that relationship.” – Mitch Hedberg.

Pork Ramen: a Japanese icon with Chinese roots

“Ramen (n): a gourmet meal for college students and others oppressed by debt.” - Anon.

In the collective White American subconscious oriental noodle dishes like Ramen and Chow Mein will always be associated with the Great Depression and poverty, It was often the only food their desperately poor parents, grandparents and/or great-grandparents could afford. Ramen was the forerunner of today’s ubiquitous “two-minute noodles”. It originated in China, but Japanese soldiers returning from service in China introduced the concept to Japan. When Momofuku Ando invented instant noodles in 1958, ramen became a staple in Japan. The dish has subsequently become an integral part of Japanese culinary culture, and is often eaten on special occasions. Making authentic pork ramen takes considerable culinary skill and many hours to create. This recipe is a simplified, yet still delicious, version that boasts plenty of succulent braised pork. If you can’t find fresh ramen noodles, use fresh thin Chinese egg noodles or fresh linguine. Serve the soup with your favourite oriental  embellishments - soft-boiled egg and some baby spinach or pak choi work very well.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 9 hours

Serves 8

Tastes best served with Sake or a chilled Gewürztraminer

1 ½ kg Boneless pork shoulder, divided into quarters

150 g Shiitake or Portobellini mushrooms, coarsely chopped

1 Large yellow or red onion

1 Leek, coarsely chopped – include some of the green part of the stem

700 g Fresh ramen noodles, or 400 g instant noodles.

4 Scallions (salad onions), finely chopped

6 Garlic cloves, crushed

100 g Fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

1.5l Chicken stock

1 Tbsp dark soy sauce for seasoning

1 Tbsp sesame oil for seasoning.

Sea salt for seasoning

2 Tbsp canola oil for frying the meat

8 Large eggs (optional)

To cook:

  • Season the pork with the salt.
  • Put a frying pan on the stove top over medium-high heat, then add the oil and heat.
  • Place the pork pieces in the pan and sear them on the first side without moving them until well browned.
  • Turn the pieces and repeat the process on the second side.
  • Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  • Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan and re-heat it to medium-high heat.
  • Add the onion and sear, without stirring, until browned.
  • Stir in the garlic, ginger, and 1 cup of the broth and deglaze the pan, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom,
  • Let the mixture simmer for 1 minute.
  • Transfer the meat and onion-and-ginger liquor to the slow cooker, add the leek, mushrooms, and the remaining 7 cups of broth, and stir to combine.
  • Cover and cook on low heat for 8 hours. The pork should be very tender and the broth should be fragrant.

To assemble:

  • Transfer the pork to a cutting board.
  • Using 2 forks, rip the pork into bite-size chunks, removing and discarding any large pieces of fat.
  • Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and discard the solids.
  • Using a large spoon, skim off and discard any fat from the surface of the broth.
  • Return the pork and broth to the slow cooker and season to taste with the soy sauce and sesame oil.
  • Cover and cook on the low-heat setting for about 30 minutes to warm through.
  • Cook the ramen noodles according to the package directions. If you have to use instant noodles, rehydrate them in some hot chicken stock.
  • If you want to top each bowl of ramen with an egg, put the eggs into boiling water and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Remove the eggs from the water, let them cool until they can be handled, and peel them.
  • Divide the noodles evenly among individual bowls.
  • Ladle the broth and pork over the noodles, dividing them evenly, then sprinkle with the scallions.
  • If desired, top each bowl with a halved soft-boiled egg and serve immediately.

“Start-ups should be lean. Eat ramen noodles at first, so you can eat lobsters later.” – Bill Gates on success.

Beef Ravioli with Marinara Sauce

“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” Frederico Fellini.

Pasta is widely regarded as an Italian invention, but – as history buffs would know – in the Orient people were making and eating it long before Marco Polo encountered it in the court of Kublai Khan during the Thirteenth Century. But, to paraphrase and old airline advert, even if Italy didn’t invent pasta, it just perfected it. It is as quintessentially Italian as opera or Ferraris. One of my personal favourites is ravioli; it looks good, it’s versatile and a damned sight easier to eat than spaghetti! It is also not particularly difficult to make, as you will see below:

Preparation time: 1 ½ hours

Cooking time: 1 ½ hours

Serves 6

Tastes best with a Sangiovese, Tempranillo or Pinotage

Filling:

900 g Beef mince

1 Cup ricotta cheese

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 Tsp Fresh oreganum, chopped

1 Tsp Fresh thyme, chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Breading:

2 Cups fresh bread crumbs

½ Cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Dough:

1 Cup wheat bread flour

1 Cup semolina flour

2 Large eggs

1 Tsp vegetable oil

1 Tsp salt

Assembly and Frying:

1 ½ Cups wheat bread flour

2 Eggs, whisked into 2 cups of milk

2 Tbsp vegetable oil for frying

Salt and freshly ground pepper

  • Heat the oil for 1 minute in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
  • Add the ground beef and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring with a spoon to keep the beef from clumping.
  • Add the oreganum, thyme, salt, and pepper to taste and cook for another 3 minutes.
  • Transfer the filling to a colander and drain the excess oil, then transfer it to a bowl and stir in the ricotta.
  • Refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Pulse the bread crumbs in a food processor to half of their original size; this will allow them to bread the ravioli evenly.
  • Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and mix them well with the Parmesan, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
  • Slowly sift the flour, semolina and 1 teaspoon of the salt into a bowl.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and 1 to 2 tablespoons of water.
  • Form the sifted flour into a mound on a counter and pour half the egg mixture into the centre of the mound.
  • Start forming a dough with two fingers while supporting the mound of flour with the other hand, then add the remainder of the egg mixture once the original amount is absorbed.
  • Continue kneading the dough by hand until all the liquid has been absorbed, dusting the work surface with flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking.
  • Once the dough is mixed well, roll it into a ball, wrap with cling wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
  • Split the rested dough into 2 balls and roll out each ball on a floured work surface to the thickness of about 2mm.
  • Score one of the sheets of rolled dough with a ravioli pin and fill each scored pocket with 1 teaspoon of the filling.
  • Brush the edges of the dough with egg wash, lay the second sheet of rolled pasta on top and then press and seal the individual ravioli with your fingers, ensuring that no air is trapped inside.
  • Cut and portion out the individual pieces.
  • In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the vegetable oil to 180˚C.
  • Dredge the ravioli in the flour, followed by the egg wash, and finally the breading.
  • Working in batches, fry the ravioli for 3 minutes, flipping them once during the process.
  • Drain on paper towels.

Serve with a Marinara sauce. I like a dusting of fine Parmesan on top.

“Tortellini is basically Ravioli that does yoga.” – Jim Fallon.

Jamie's Italian al fresco

Paul immediately knew that he was onto a good thing

Carbo loading

Two greedy Italians

Good enough to eat

Spinach Lasagne: a vegetarian knockout

“To me, a girl texting me that she’s drunk and horny from 100 miles away is about as useful as a lasagne texting me from Italy to tell me that it’s ready.” – Jarod Kintz.

Lasagne (singular lasagna) are wide, flat-shaped sheets of pasta, and possibly one of the oldest varieties of pasta. The term can also refer to a dish made with several layers of lasagne sheets alternated with sauces and various other ingredients. In Ancient Rome there was a dish similar to modern-day lasagne, called lasana or lasanum (Latin word for "container" or "pot"). Lasagne proper originated in Naples, where the first modern recipe was created and became a traditional dish. It is is made by interleaving layers of pasta with layers of sauce, made with ragú, Béchamel sauce and Parmigiano or Reggiano cheese.

In other regions - and outside of Italy - it is common to find lasagne containing ricotta or mozzarella cheese, tomato sauce, ground chicken or beef, vatious vegetables and flavourants like wine, garlic, onion, and oregano. It is always oven-baked. The recipe below is a vegetarian one, but far from bland. An abundance of fresh spinach, flavorful mushrooms, light tomato sauce and a variety of cheeses makes for a seriously delicious vegetarian lasagna. This dish keeps well - it is arguably even be better the next day.

Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Serves 8

Tastes best with a medium-bodied red wine like Sangiovese, Pinotage or Merlot

400g Fresh young spinach leaves

1 Medium onion, finely chopped

2 Cups Portobellini mushrooms, diced

1 Garlic clove, crushed

12 Cooked lasagna sheets

2 Tbsp olive oil

5ml Kosher salt

400g Ricotta cheese or smooth plain cottage cheese

2 Large eggs, beaten

A pinch of freshly ground black pepper

3 Cups Marinara sauce – any reputable Italian brand will do.

1 cup Grated parmesan cheese

2 Cups of shredded mozzarella cheese

  • Heat oven to 180ºC. Lightly grease a standard (+ 30cm x 22cm) baking dish.
  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add the onions and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions become translucent.
  • Add the garlic, spinach and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring as needed, until the spinach is bright green and wilted.
  • Combine the ricotta cheese, eggs, a pinch of salt and the pepper in a medium bowl. Stir until well blended.
  • Spread 1 cup of marinara sauce over the bottom of the baking dish.
  • Arrange three of the noodle sheets lengthwise to cover the bottom.
  • Spread half of the ricotta cheese mixture over the noodles.
  • Sprinkle with a third of the parmesan cheese and a third of the mozzarella cheese.
  • Add half of the spinach mixture and dollop about ½ cup of marinara sauce over the spinach.
  • Add a second layer of noodles then repeat with remaining cheese, spinach and another ½ cup of sauce.
  • Finish with a third layer of noodles and top with remaining sauce, parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese.
  • Loosely cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the foil, and bake for a further 10 to 15 minutes - the cheese should be bubbly and browned around the edges.
  • For a golden brown top, place the lasagna uncovered under the grill for 1 to 2 minutes.

“I’ll tell you what we don’t eat on the Fourth of July. French toast, Asian food, lasagne. Are you spotting a pattern here?” – Harry Balzer.

Spaghetti Bolognese: an Italian heresy

“No man is lonely while eating spaghetti; it requires so much attention.” – Christopher Morley.

Spaghetti Bolognese is actually anathema to connoisseurs of Italian food. In Bologna, where the sauce originated, it would never be served with Spaghetti (which hails from the South of Italy) but rather with the local favourites, Tagliatelle and Lasagne. The sauce, known in Italian as ragù alla bolognese, is a meat-based sauce which is customarily used to dress tagliatelle al ragú and used in the making of lasagne alla bolognese. In the absence of tagliatelle, it can also be used with other broad, flat pasta shapes, such as pappardelle or fettucine. Genuine ragù alla bolognese is a slowly cooked sauce, and its ingredients include the essential soffrito of onion, celery and carrot, as well as red wine, tomato, cubed beef and some pancetta for fattiness. The dish is traditionally simmered until the sauce is thick and the meat fine. When pressed for time, I substitute minced beef for cubes, as in this recipe:

Preparation time: 15 minutes.

Cooking time: 1 Hour.

Serves 4.

Tastes best with a fruity, medium-bodied red wine like Sangiovese, Tempranillo or Pinotage.

500g Beef mince

1 Medium brown onion, finely chopped

1 Medium carrot, peeled, finely chopped

1 Stick celery, trimmed, finely chopped

2 Garlic cloves, crushed

1/3 Cup tomato paste

2 x 400g Tins diced Roma tomatoes

1 Teaspoon dried oregano

Large pinch ground nutmeg

1 Tablespoon olive oil

500g Thin spaghetti

Grated or flaked parmesan cheese, to sprinkle on top

Salt and black pepper for seasoning

  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  • Cook onion, carrot, celery and garlic, stirring, until softened.
  • Add the mince and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until browned.
  • Add paste, tomatoes, oregano, nutmeg and 1/2 cup cold water. Bring to the boil.
  • Reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, until thick.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large saucepan of boiling, salted water, until tender, then drain.
  • Divide pasta among the serving bowls.
  • Spoon over the sauce.
  • Serve topped with parmesan to taste.

“How little it takes to make life unbearable; a pebble in the shoe, a woman’s laugh or a cockroach in the spaghetti” – HL Mencken.

The Prostitute's Pasta

“Spaghetti is eaten most successfully if you inhale it like a vacuum cleaner.” – Sophia Loren.

Spaghetti alla puttanesca ("spaghetti made in the style of whores") is a tangy, somewhat salty dish with the bite of hot chilliesat the back end. The ingredients are typical of the Mezzogiorno (South of Italy): tomatoes, olives, capers, garlic and olive oil. Rumour has it that it was invented to re-invigorate Neapolitan prostitutes after a long night of turning tricks. Various cities and regions claim it as their own, including Naples, Syracuse, Palermo and even the island of Ischia. Whatever the truth, it is a relatively new dish, with the first references to it only appearing after the Second World War. It is a firm favourite in our family because of its bold, strong flavour and taste. Here is my take on it:

Preparation time: 20 minutes.

Cooking time: 15 minutes.

Serves 4.

Tastes best accompanied by a perfumed dry white wine with like Viognier, Pinot Grigio or a dry Gewürztraminer.

450g Spaghetti.

2 Garlic cloves, chopped roughly.

1 Tablespoon of capers, rinsed.

2 Tablespoons of pitted black olives, sliced.

12 Anchovy filets, roughly chopped.

3 Small dried hot chillies, crumbled.

1 Tablespoon dried oregano

1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil.

2 x 400g Tins plum tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 Tablespoon fresh basil, ripped (not chopped).

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • Cook the spaghetti in salted, boiling water until al dente.
  • Meanwhile fry the garlic, capers, olives, anchovies, chillies, and oregano in a little olive oil for a few minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer, and continue to cook for 4 or 5 minutes, until you have a tomato sauce consistency.
  • Remove from the heat, plunge the drained spaghetti into it, toss it over, and cover with the sauce.
  • Sprinkle all the basil over it.
  • Check the seasoning, and drizzle with the olive oil.

“A piece of spaghetti, just like a military unit, can only be led from the front.” – Gen George S Patton.

 

Octopus Peperonata Pasta

"Those who forget the pasta are condemned to reheat it." - T-shirt slogan

The basic peperonata sauce is an incredibly tasty and versatile medium to cook a variety of seafoods (or even chicken or meatballs) in. Being a dish with Mediterranean roots, it is crucial to use ripe, seasonal ingredients – particularly the tomato – whenever possible. My favourite applications are octopus or cuttlefish peperonata, with the former just shading its cousin. It is a true winner, irrespective of where it is made or the utensils used to make it. 

Prepation time: ½  Hour.

Cooking time: 2 ½ hours.

Serves 6 adults.

Tastes best accompanied by a crisp, well-chilled Chardonnay or Vinho Verde.

1 kg Baby octopus, skinned and tenderised with a mallet. Alternatively use strips of cuttlefish steak.

2 Tablespoons butter.

1 Tablespoon olive oil.

½ Cup of flour.

Peperonata sauce:

700 g Italian plum tomatoes, skinned seeded and finely chopped.

2 Large onions, finely chopped.

1 Large bell pepper, finely chopped.

4 Cloves of garlic, finely chopped.

1 Cup dry white or rosé wine.

1 Tablespoon shredded sweet basil (never chop basil; always shred it roughly with your hands).

1 Tablespoon chopped Italian parsley.

1 Small chilli pepper, finely chopped.

1 ½  Teaspoons each of salt and freshly-ground black pepper.

1 Tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese for garnish.

  • In a medium-sized pot, quickly brown the onions in a little butter, then add all the other sauce ingredients and simmer slowly for 1 ½ hours. The sauce should reduce and thicken, and the flavour deepen.
  • Heat the remaining butter and the olive oil in a large saucepan.
  • When the butter starts bubbling, toss the octopus in the flower and brown in the pan. It is important for the eventual taste and texture of the dish: octopus and cuttlefish become tough if they are initially exposed to too little heat.
  • Add the octopus to the peperonata sauce and simmer gently for another hour.
  • Serve on tagliatelle, fettucini or rice. Being a bit of a Philistine, I sometimes have it on mashed potato. 

"I'll rather eat pasta and drink wine than be a Size Zero." - Sophia Loren

Jamie's Spaghetti con Vongole

“The trouble with Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.” – George Miller.

Jamie Oliver’s Spaghetti con Vongole

Jamie Oliver’s formal training as a chef took place in an Italian environment, and even today it is obvious how relaxed and comfortable he looks when cooking Italian dishes. In his “Escape” series he visits Venice and makes a number of mouth-watering dishes. My favourite is a dinner he cooks for some locals who took him fishing. This pasta dish takes less than 10 minutes to make – including preparation – and is perfect for a summer lunch. Here is my take on it:

Prepation time: 5 minutes.

Cooking time: 5 minutes.

Serves 4 adults.

Tastes best accompanied by a crisp dry white like Pinot Grigio or unwooded Chardonnay.

 

Enough Spaghetti (or Spaghettini) for 4 persons.

Salted boiling water with a dash of olive oil to cook the pasta.

750 g Baby clams, uncooked & still in their shells.

4 Cloves of garlic.

2 Serrano or Cayenne chillis.

1 Cup chopped Italian parsley, including the stems.

4 Chopped cherry tomatoes (or small vine tomatoes).

1 Cup olive oil.

250 ml Dry white wine.

Olive oil for drizzling.

½ Tsp freshly ground black pepper.

  • Start by cooking the pasta – 5 minutes should be enough.
  • Meanwhile heat the oil in a large saucepan..
  • Sweat the garlic, chilli and parsley stems in the hot oil.
  • The moment the vegetables start taking colour, add the clams.
  • Toss or stir for 2 minutes.
  • Add the wine, tomatoes and parsley.
  • Put a lid on the saucepan.
  • Drain the pasta, but keep ½ cup of the water and add it to the vongole.
  • Stir gently for 30 seconds, then add the pasta.
  • Drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with the black pepper.
  • Lightly mix everything, then serve immediately.

If you want, you could grate a bit of Parmesan over the plated food to make it more savoury.

“As life’s pleasures go, food is second only to sex. Except for salami – it’s better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced.” – Alan King.

 

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