I think this is the most exciting chapter in the book. I have not just a passion, but really, an obsession for Italian cooking and nothing excites me more than a bowl of pasta or a plateful of gnocchi or risotto. Just the thought makes me salivate. YUM...
Chapter 2: pasta, gnocchi and risotto
I love Italy! If there's a way to trace back my family tree, I'm sure that I must have some Italian blood in me. Well at least that's what I believe. I've been to Italy a couple of times and as much as I enjoy the beautiful scenery, amazing sculptures and landmarks, the culture and history; nothing excites me more than eating Italian food.
I've been very fortunate to be able to travel to many countries; but for me it's only in Italy where eating out can be as comforting as eating at your own home. I like the way Italians welcome guests and just share foods from recipes that have been passed down from many generations. The food is authentic and presented home-style and people can just pass their plates and bowls around the table.
And that's what I got from all the recipes in this chapter. They are all home style cooking; the kinds of food you want to share with friends with a few drinks. And although not all recipes are authentically Italian, you still get the Italian charm and to be frank, does it really matter? I don't think so. All that matters is they are all delicious!
Nothing to me says Italian food like pasta. Unlike other infamous Italian foods like pizza and tomato sauce, which have a fairly recent history, pasta may indeed have a much older pedigree going back hundreds if not thousands of years.
I have been eating pasta for as long as I can remember and it is a staple ingredient in my kitchen. Pasta is just a great neutral starch on which to combine flavours and ingredients. It can be warming and comforting when the days are cool, and light and fresh tasting when the temperatures rise. It's a perfect accompaniment for fresh seasonal vegetables, and an inexpensive way to stretch a little bit of costly ingredients such as sea food or exotic mushrooms to feed a group.
When I'm having the boys around I like to make, the perfectly named, proper blokes' sausage fusilli. It's a real simple pasta dish with a sticky sausage sauce that's flavoured with fennel seeds, oregano, parsley, lemon, butter, parmesan and white wine. It's very satisfying and despite of the name, girls love it too, trust me.
I think it's a sin for me not to mention the fantastic fish lasagne. I absolutely love this recipe and I'm out of words describing the deliciousness of this creamy Venetian-style baked fish. Please do not be put off by the long list of ingredients and yes, it's not really quick cooking. But do remember: just because a recipe takes time to cook, that doesn't mean it's difficult to make. Give this recipe a try and you will not be disappointed.
And for dinner tonight, I had real quick mussels linguine in a white wine and basil oil broth. I am always surprised by the super yummy basil broth every time I make it. I know it's gonna be delicious, but I think it gets better all the time...
For something that looks different, elegant and delicious at the same time, it's got to be black angel tagliarini. The reason for the name is because the scallops in the dish are supposed to look like angles in the black pasta, and it's beautiful. The sauce for the dish is made of garlic, chilli, parsley, white wine, lemon juice and butter (and now you know why it's delicious)...
Through the project, with the guidance of Jamie, I have also learned to make fresh pasta. The thought of making fresh pasta used to terrify me and I was definitely missing out. Making pasta is so much fun! and very rewarding.
Some of my favourites fresh pasta recipes from the book are...
The unusual, stunning and absolutely delicious open stained-glass lasagne with roasted squash. Jamie says it's a French twist to the Italian pasta because it looks so beautiful. I could just eat the roasted squash filling by itself to be honest. Yum.
One combination of flavours I absolutely love is ravioli of pecorino, potato and mint. It's simple and punchy, with the mint and cheese really coming through when you eat the ravioli. This ravioli is a proof that some of the best things in life are the simplest.
And last but not least is oozy egg ravioli, a very delicate ravioli stuffed with ricotta and egg yolk. I promise you will get 'oohs' and 'aahs' when you serve this dish because the yolks are still runny when you cut into the ravioli. It's amazing.
Gnocchi used to be something that I get in a packet from the supermarket, but not any more since I learned how to make them from scratch. It takes practise to get the hang of the perfect gnocchi dough, but it's not difficult at all. Four ingredients: potato, flour, egg and seasoning - that's all.
Two of my favourites recipes are gnocchi with braised oxtail and herby gnocchi with rocket and butter sauce.
I must say I am not so keen on gnocchi with gorgonzola dolce but that's just a personal thing. I'm not a big fan of blue cheese. If you love blue cheese, I'm sure this is your heaven.
There's something so strangely relaxing when making risotto. At the end of a busy day, standing at the stove, gently stirring ladles of stock into bubbling rice, a glass of wine on one hand whilst chatting with your friends. A quick, gently stir every few minutes until all the stock is absorbed and the rice becomes deliciously creamy.
Risotto is a dish best enjoyed at any season and it's the perfect canvas for many flavours, or my favourite is to use up leftovers in the fridge like leftover stew risotto.
For something more elegant, I like asparagus, mint and lemon risotto or squash, sage and amaretti risotto.
This has been a very fun chapter for me... can't you tell? :) I learned how to make fresh pasta, how to make gnocchi and also the secret of making the creamiest risotto. I have enjoyed making and most definitely, eating every single dish. Buon appetito!