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Archive for the ‘Italian’ Category

Today I’m dedicating this post to a very special sauce, something I think pasta must be proud to wear and something I think all cooking fans should be able to make well. Traditionally reserved for special occasions or Sunday best, a good ragù requires love and attention but won’t mind if you enjoy a glass of wine and a good book while you tend to its needs. During my time in Italy I ate some spectacular ragùs and it seems that every cook has their own special twist. One particularly fond memory I have is of sitting in a cozy restaurant in the hilltop town of Urbino on a bitterly cold January day. We sat huddled around a table trying to warm up our frozen hands and tucked into large plates of paparadelle with deeply flavoured wild boar ragù. After that meal I felt revived and full, ready to venture back out into the icy wind. Duck ragù feels doubly special for me since, in my kitchen, duck is reserved for special occasions and is a rare treat. It’s also something I feel a bit afraid of cooking in case a make a mess of things and spoil such lovely meat. My mum objects to eating duck on ‘moral grounds’ ever since she adopted a Mallard as a child; growing up I shared her view until I discovered how tasty they are so now I’m making up for lost time!

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Back when I was spending my year abroad in Italy I was living in the heart of Emilia Romagna, smack bang in the middle of piadina territory. Piadine were one of the first local foods my flatmates took me out to try. We went to a little cafe, with a handful plastic tables and chairs under umbrellas, set in a large park all of 10 metres from our building. The cafe (or piadinaria) was a popular little place; all they sold were freshly made piadine and crescioni. Piadine are the Italian version of a tortilla, a simple flatbread cooked until just crisp, that is traditionally served as a sandwich filled with cheese or prosciutto. Crescioni are more like a calzone: before cooking the piadina dough you fill it with tomato and mozzarella (or my favourite roasted pumpkin, pancetta and asagio) and fold it over before toasting it in a hot pan to cook the dough and heat the filling. Visits to the piadinaria nel parco became a regular occurrence and before heading downstairs to the cafe we’d peep out the window to make sure there was a free table, squillo (Italian for drop call) our friends and rush over for lunch. (more…)

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When I lived in Italy I shared a flat with my good friend from university and two lovely Italians. Over the year there was a lot of cultural exchange as the Italians introduced us to the best of their country: gelato, good coffee, piadine; and the Brits tried to dispel the myth that our food is terrible. We baked hearty cottage pies and stuffed our suitcases with crumpets, cheddar, Marmite and all the necessary items for a proper cream tea. For her birthday our Sicilian flatmate wanted a taste of home and decided to make arancini, deep-fried rice croquettes, a speciality from her home island that often feature at special occasions. She called her mother to get the family recipe and then we gathered round our dining table for the afternoon while she patiently taught us the correct method to make them. (more…)

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More Italian-inspired food today, this time in the form of a cool, fruity frozen dessert that’s lighter than ice cream but far more rich and creamy than sorbet. It’s also much easier to make than those other two treats – no fancy-schmancy churns needed here but I was glad to be in possession of an electric whisk, I tell you. That’s the secret of a good semifreddo – whisking in air, and lots of it. By trapping as much air as possible in whipped yolks, whites and cream you create a fluffy mousse-like confection (and a lot of washing up!) that stays smooth once frozen. Being a ‘semi’ freddo, or half cold, you need to take your dessert out of the freezer a good half hour before serving to let it start to melt (or in my case, having what we affectionately call the ‘absolute-zero freezer’, a full hour). (more…)

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The Italians know a thing or two about cooking vegetables. While I ordinarily opt to cook my veggies as little as possible to preserve their flavour and freshness, a popular Italian approach is to cook them twice and it produces some amazing results. I remember early on in my Erasmus year in Italy seeing a massive plate of soggy looking courgettes at the local self-service restaurant and thinking ‘how could they ruin something so lovely?’. Ruefully I added a spoonful to my dish of contorni (sides) and was surprised by how delicious they were. They had been cooked to the point of collapse, simmered then fried, but were beautifully golden and had delicate crispy edges. Being cooked so long had concentrated their sweetness and they were a delight to eat. I kept my eye out for those courgettes and made sure to load up a plate every time they were on the menu.

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On a recent trip to Rome we rented an apartment just outside of the historic centre and a stone’s throw away from the famed Bar Pompi, renowned for its tiramisù. The classic Italian dessert comes in a variety of sizes from dinky single-serving boxes to giant take-away slabs for dinner parties. Their excellent tiramisù also comes in all manner of flavours: there’s the classic coffee, nutella, chocolate and banana, pistachio, strawberry, forest fruits and this summer’s limited edition piña colada! I didn’t happen to see a cherry version but I’m certain it’s been done before. Inspired by the delicious Italian amarena ice cream and all the fresh cherries appearing in the shops I decided that it was time to make a tribute to Bar Pompi. (more…)

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Pasta is a firm favourite in our house and we eat it several times a week. It’s usually a case of boiling some simple shapes – cavatappi for preference – tossed in a simple sauce. Marcella Hazan’s simple tomato sauce features regularly, as does a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, basil and toasted almonds or a smothering of melted Boursin cheese. But from time to time I’ll stray from a fast and furious meal to something requiring a little more care and attention such as lasagna, cannelloni or these fab stuffed shells. (more…)

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