Friday, 8 August 2008

Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino (Per Uno)

What can I say. The ultimate comfort food. A quick and rewarding meal for one (or even two).

Home alone, Friday night, all the kids except Luca are away with friends and my wife is having drinks with a friend who has just returned from China.

Hungry, ten minutes to prepare something before having to tidy up loads of loose ends before going on holiday in a week, and suddenly there is no other option.

100g spaghetti (all ingredients per person)

2 small hot red chillies, finely chopped

3-4 roughly chopped cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon of chopped parsley/basil

1 tablespoon of finely grated parmesan cheese

2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

A knob of butter

Add the spaghetti to a pot of boiling water, then add the chillies, garlic and olive oil to a pan and cook them gently, being careful not to burn the garlic. Take the pan off the heat while you wait for the pasta to cook.

Once the spaghetti is done, drain it and mix in the butter to coat the pasta before adding it to the pan with the garlic and chillies. Throw it around to blend the spaghetti with the flavoured hot oil. Add the herbs, toss it about a little more and then serve onto a warmed plate. Drizzle a little more olive oil over the pasta and then finish with the grated parmesan.

Add a bit of freshly ground black pepper, grab a glass of red and forget everything except the delight on the plate before you.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Viva The Gas Barbeque

Barbequed Chicken Pieces with Lemon and Rosemary

I love my gas barbeque. It means I can cook outside any day of the week, (almost) all year round, even when I don’t have the time to prepare a proper charcoal fire. It is just brilliant for low temperature, slow cooking of thick cuts of meat like chicken legs and thighs where a charcoal fire at around 1,000 degrees C would annihilate the food on the outside and leave it raw in the centre. Sound familiar?

Tonight, for example, a collection of chicken pieces were pulled from the freezer, defrosted in tepid water for about 15 minutes, and then mixed with a little olive oil and a load of fresh rosemary before being put on the barbie for supper.

Thick chicken legs and thighs can be notoriously slow to cook, which is why all those annoying barbeque packs sold in supermarkets instruct you to cook them in the oven first, and then ‘finish’ them off on the barbeque. What is the point of that.

I dry the thawed chicken pieces with kitchen paper, and put them in a boil with some olive oil, rosemary and a little salt, and mix them all together to make sure the chicken pieces are evenly coated with the herbs and oil.

The best way to cook pieces like this is on a hot plate. No naked flames that is, otherwise the fat that drips into the flames from the skin will ignite and cover the food in soot. Not nice. Another tip is to cover the pieces with foil as they cook. This helps the chicken pieces cook all the way through and retains all of their moisture. Squeeze lemon juice over the chicken about half way through and add extra rosemary too. It smells wonderful as it cooks and makes a delicious, simple meal.

Allow about 40 minutes to cook the chicken on the lowest heat your barbeque will allow. You will only need to turn the pieces two or three times during this time, adding lemon and extra herbs as you do.

Tonight, Luca wrapped some fresh sweetcorn pieces in foil with some freshly ground black pepper and I let them cook slowly around the edges of the barbeque with the chicken. Kitty made a beautifully arranged salad of spinach, cherry tomatoes, watercress and avocado. Perfect for a humid, bright, August evening.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Herb Leaf Pasta

(Dressed with
sautéed mushrooms, more herbs, and chicken stock.)

I am constantly looking for excuses to serve this. It is so much fun to make and wonderful to look at. It tastes great too which helps. This was the first course served at last weekend's dinner party in the 'Involtini' post below. The only fire in this one, sadly, is the gas hob, but it was too much of a special event not to post it.

I stumbled across this recipe years ago in a Time Life Italian cook book that has since been lost in various relocations between Australia and the UK. I have forgotten the name and regional origin of the dish, but I will never forget the recipe. The first time I made this I used a rolling pin (no pasta machine at the time). Watching an intricately shaped parsley leaf breaking into tiny pieces between two sheets of fresh pasta and growing to 5 times its size as I rolled it out was unforgettable.

For a starter for 4, mix three medium sized eggs with one cup of plain flour into a dough, then wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge for an hour or so.

Meanwhile, chop up a few good handfuls of whatever mushrooms you can get. This time I used Japanese shitake mushrooms and mini yellow chantarelles. Another couple of handfuls of chopped herbs are needed (I used parsley, dill and basil), as is 3-400ml of reduced chicken stock (either home made or shop bought – but definitely not with stock cubes!).

If you are using a pasta machine, work the dough into strips to thickness no. 5. Lay the strips out and carefully place individual leaves of herbs along one half (lengthways) and then fold the pasta over to create a long thin strip with the herbs sandwiched in between.

Re-work the folded pasta in the machine down to thickness no. 6 and cut into small squares before setting aside in layers between cling film on a plate. Dust each layer with a little flour to prevent them from sticking.

When ready to serve, sauté the chopped mushrooms in a mix of butter and olive oil then add half of the herbs. Boil the pasta squares for a couple of minutes in plenty of water then strain and serve them into warmed bowls. Dress them with the sautéed mushrooms, the remaining chopped herbs, hot reduced chicken stock and some finely grated parmesan cheese. The soft silky texture of the pasta combines wonderfully with the other rich and aromatic ingredients and makes a starter that both satisfies and makes you hungry for the next course.

Once you’ve done this once, like me, you’ll be addicted.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Involtini For Special Occasions

This recipe has been handed down by the wonderful women in my Italian family. When my Mum or my aunts ask me what I would love them to make when we visit them in Australia, this one is at the top of my list. It is a labour of love but definitely worth the effort.
Our special occasion was having my (non Italian) cousin from Perth come to stay with her boyfriend for the weekend with us in Oxfordshire. I knew that a puritanically Italian meal would remind her of childhood meals at my Mum’s and my aunty Elaine’s, so I designed a meal around a main course of beef involtini cooked slowly in a traditional tomato sauce (sugo al pomodoro).
I have found hundreds of variations of this recipe, region to region and family to family. Ours is based on thin slices of beef or veal (I used topside) wrapped around a quarter of a hard boiled egg, a few slivers of garlic, some pieces of pancetta, a cube of parmesan cheese and a few fresh basil leaves. The involtini are tied up with string, browned off in a little oil and butter, and then left to simmer for 1 – 2 hours in the sugo.
This experience began at my local butcher in Witney. I explained the dish and although it was new to him, we agreed that if he was to provide the beef as he would for the English dish ‘beef olives’ we would be starting at the right place. It was a busy Saturday morning, but he willingly offered to slice and bash the beef topside and saved me a heap of time. I left with 12 perfectly cut, thin pieces. About a kilo and half in total.


Herb leaf fresh pasta with sautéed mushrooms and chicken stock (see recipe)

Beef involtini with sugo al pomodoro
Roasted chipped potatoes with rosemary and garlic
Ricetta tipica (look it up in Jamie’s Italy)
Cherry tomatoes with fresh oregano and olive oil
Steamed asparagus spears

Banoffi pie (not Italian but my wife’s specialty)
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