Sunday, 24 November 2013

Pappardelle alla Crema di Funghi Porcini

This month Jacqueline, the author of vegetarian food blog Tinned Tomatoes kindly invited me to take part in the November edition of Pasta Please, a monthly cooking competition, hosted by various foodie bloggers, which revolves around cooking a specifically themed pasta dish. This month Jacqueline chose mushrooms as the theme so I thought what better way to celebrate the end of the porcini season than by making a variation on the classic porcini e pappardelle. Rather than opting for the classic sautéed porcini version, I decided to really go to town on the mushrooms by making a wild mushroom cream to stir through the pasta with some fried porcini pieces for an extra intense flavour. I am well aware that fresh porcini are not the easiest ingredient to come by in the UK so I have also included a variation using dried porcini for the cream and fresh chestnut mushrooms which I’m sure will pack just as much of a punch!

Pappardelle alla Crema di Funghi Porcini

Serves 4
  • 400g pappardelle pasta
  • 200g fresh porcini (or 30g dried soaked in hot water)
  • 150g chestnut mushrooms (or 250g if substituting fresh porcini)
  • 150g button mushrooms
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery stick
  • 250g grated parmesan cheese
  • Milk
  • Olive oil
  • Handful of fresh parsley

If using dried porcini soak in enough hot water just to cover them and set to one side. Roughly chop the onion, garlic, carrot and celery and gently fry in a very generous glug of olive oil for about 15 minutes or until soft but without colour.

Add the fresh or soaked porcini, reserving the hot porcini water for later, 150g of chestnut mushrooms and 150g of button mushrooms. Gently fry for another few minutes until the mushrooms have wilted down.

Remove from the heat and puree the mushrooms with an electric hand blender, adding milk or the porcini water until you obtain a silky cream-like consistency. Return to the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese, taste and season with lots of salt and pepper.

Cut the remaining porcini or chestnut mushrooms into chunky pieces and fry off in olive oil adding salt and pepper to taste. All that’s left to do is to cook the pappardelle until it is al dente, drain, reserving a little of the cooking water and return to the pan.

Stir in the mushroom cream, fried mushrooms and if needed, add a little of the pasta water until you obtain a silky consistency. Serve with finely chopped fresh parsley. Buon appetito!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sausage and Beans, Italian style...

Despite the many great dishes on offer in the UK, since moving abroad it’s always the simple mid-week meals from my childhood that bring back my memories of great British food. Being from Lincolnshire, sausages were an important part of growing up for me and despite all the delicious Italian food, every now and again I find myself craving a taste of home. With the cold nights beginning to draw in even in sunny Tuscany I decided to put an Italian spin on one of my childhood favourites, sausage and beans, taking inspiration from the classic Florentine recipe, fagioli all’uccelletto.

Made with toscanelli  beans (similar to cannellini), and flavoured with tomato, garlic and sage, fagioli all’uccelleto has got to be one of the best recipes I've discovered since moving to Tuscany. Like the sophisticated European sister of the humble baked bean, when cooked properly, you’ll never want to eat Heinz again!

Fagioli all’uccelletto (Tuscan baked beans)

Serves 4
  • 400g tin of cannellini beans
  • 200g tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 branch of sage
  • 2 large cloves of garlic
  • Salt and pepper

Start by gently heating the olive oil in a medium sized pan. Peel the garlic cloves and lightly crush them with the heel of your hand or size of your knife. Once the oil is hot add the crushed garlic and fresh sage. Leave to gently fry for about 5 minutes so that the oil becomes infused and the garlic turns lightly golden in colour.

Add the tomatoes and cook through for another few minutes until the sauce thickens slightly. Drain the beans and rinse thoroughly. Remove the garlic cloves and sage and add the beans.
Season well and cook for about another 5 minutes until the beans have absorbed some of the flavour of the sauce. We served ours with a spicy variety of Italian sausage and lots of crusty bread. Buon appetito!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

My Top 10 Issues with Italian Eating Habits

I know that over the past few weeks I've been giving us Brits (and Americans) a bit of a hard time with my top 10 lists so this week I decided that it was time to pick on the Italians for a change. They may have arguably the best cuisine in the world but, when it comes to food, like all nations, Italians are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. So here are my top 10 issues with Italian eating habits.

1. Italian food is the be all and end all
It may be a bit of a stereotype but there is some truth to it! For some Italians, it doesn't matter how good a dish is, if it hasn't been a part of the Italian diet for at least 100 years then there will always be something about it which doesn't quite cut the mustard.

2. Desserts
I’m probably going to get into a bit of trouble for saying this but I think Italian desserts are really quite uninspiring! Yes a good panna cotta is nice, and tiramisu is OK I suppose, but for a nation of foodies is that really the best they have to offer? Give me a sticky toffee pudding any day of the week!

3. Cookery shows
Can you believe that in Italy they’ve translated Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and James Martin’s TV shows into Italian? I can! It’s because, like a lot of Italian TV, most of their cookery shows are really quite clichéd and outdated!

4. Spicy foods
My boyfriend’s father, like many Italians I know, won’t eat anything with any spices in. No cumin, coriander, turmeric, cardamom, nothing! I could maybe understand an aversion to chilli powder but what’s so offensive about cumin!?

5. Supermarkets
Don’t get me wrong, maybe this isn’t entirely bad, but being from the UK, I’m used to the luxury of being able to find any ingredient I need at any time of the year. It can be really frustrating in Italy when I head to the supermarket for something specific and 50% of the time can’t find it because they “haven’t got it in that week”. Apart from pasta that is. They always have pasta…

6. The primo-secondo thing
Almost every restaurant in Italy follows the primo and secondo rule, even Chinese and Indian restaurants. First they bring you your rice or noodles and, when you’ve finished, they bring the meat! Most of the time when I ask for my fried rice and chicken in cashew nuts to be brought at the same time they look at me as if I’ve got two heads! What is that all about?!

7. Foreign food
I couldn’t believe my eyes the first time my boyfriend took me to an Indian restaurant in Pisa and the Italian family on the table next to me, obviously first time customers, were holding up their plates and sniffing the food like gone-off milk. Bizarre!

8. Italianisation
There may be a bit of a pattern may be emerging here but any food which is not of Italian origin is often ‘translated’ so Chinese noodles become ‘spaghetti’, a British pie is a ‘savoury cake’, any rice dish is a ‘risotto’ and so on. Some Italians seem incapable of accepting new terms for new foods since, naturally, they are all simply adaptations of the Italian original!

9. Beer

They may have Peroni, but a lot of Italians have quite a limited experience when it comes to beer. I’ve tried many times to explain that British ale is really quite different from their fizzy lager but they don’t seem to get it. They don’t have cider either, which is a shame. Although my liver is all the better for it!

10. Gravy
You can take the girl out of the north but you can’t take the north out of the girl! I know I’m a saddo but it really upsets me when I cook a roast dinner for Italians and they refer to my gravy as a ‘sauce’! It’s not a sauce, it’s gravy, for a northern girl like me, they are two entirely different things!

I love Italians and Italian food more than anyone I know but I do think that some need to open their eyes a little to the other great foods available to them. Of course this doesn’t apply to all Italians; my Italian boyfriend is probably one of the most adventurous, open minded eaters I’ve ever met and would quite happily eat a different cuisine every night if it were up to him! I do think that things in Italy are changing and that the younger generations are increasingly opening their minds to foreign food but they've still got quite a way to go…