Butternut and Walnut Ravioli

I’ve only once before attempted to make pasta and it tasted so diabolical that the expensive pasta machine languished in a cupboard for years before being consigned to the bin. So after trying a friend’s home made pasta this week I thought I’d give it another go. But of course not a simple spaghetti for me, no I want to make a ravioli. So I looked through the freezer and found some roasted butternut squash from last autumn’s harvest and in the kitchen cupboard was some walnuts. So I set out making my pasta, which is basically 1 medium sized egg to 100g of 00 flour. I mixed and kneaded the pasta for a few minutes until it formed a nice ball and wrapped in cling film it was popped it into the fridge to rest.

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Next I chopped the walnuts and added them to the butternut which was warming in a saucepan, to this I added some nutmeg and stirred it all together making a bright ball of orange filling. This was put aside to cool.

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I retrieved the chilled pasta from the fridge and set about rolling it out thinly, which is no mean feat on a hot Italian afternoon.

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I cut my pasta into strips and then using a new ravioli cutter I started to assemble the promised pouches of pleasure, however the ravioli cutter broke on the first use and I had to start again with a roller cutter.

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Once I’d made my first ever batch of ravioli, they were popped into the fridge to relax a while and I set a pan of water on to boil and washed fresh sage from the garden.

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With water on a rolling boil they were dropped in with affection as sage butter bubbled on the hob. minutes later they we scooped out and plated up.

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This may not be the most uniform plate of ravioli, or the prettiest, but served with a few shavings of provolone piccante they were devoured with gusto. I don’t think I’m a culinary threat to the local community, but I’m proud I gave making pasta another go.

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Gnocchetti con Zucca e Gorgonzola

Last week at our favourite restaurant we were served a dish we’d never tried before;  gnocchi with a pumpkin and Gogonzola sauce, so for lunch today I thought I’d have a bash at making it myself.

The ingredients were: 200 ml cooking cream, 200g gnocchetti (small gnocchi), 100g Gorgonzola and 150g of frozen pumpkin.

The pumpkin was from my orto last year literally chopped into cubes and frozen, I defrosted it in a pan over a low heat and it just dissolved into a fine puree. I guess if using fresh you’d need to roast or boil it then puree it. To the pumpkin I added the cream and stirred it until it turned a lovely peach colour.

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I set a pan of water on the hob to boil for the gnocchetti and added the Gorgonzola to the cream and let if slowly melt over a low heat before adding a little black pepper.

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Once the gnocchetti were cooked, takes about 2 minutes I added them to the creamy sauce and ate this quick and easy lunch with relish.

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It’s quite rich but a nice change when you fancy something different with your lunchtime glass of frizzante.

Sauce for the Year

Despite always making passata when required, back in 2013 I wrote a post about not being bothered with making my own tomato sauce in bulk. Since then I have seen the error of my ways and have been making a years supply each season. Back in April I blogged about getting prepared in the post entitled Passata Preparation.

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So last weekend with 75 kilograms of ripe red tomatoes on my kitchen table the task of turning them into passata began. The process is as simple as anything can be, as all you need is tomatoes, heat and a pan. Unlike when I make sauce for eating straight away there’s no oil added to the pan for my stored passata, meaning I can use it for many different sauces throughout the year. So after washing I cut the tomatoes into quarters and add them to a saucepan and turn on the heat.

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They’ll steam for a few seconds and then release their liquid. Don’t worry if there’s a slight odour of them catching, just give them a stir and they’ll soon start to break down.

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As I don’t have a traditional passata maker: One of those huge round pans sat above a wood burner, or a modern external gas ring as many people use today I make mine in the kitchen. I use my three largest pans and on a 30 degree Italian summer day it’s like being inside a furnace as they bubble away. Remember to give them an occasional stir as they break down.

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If you only half-fill the saucepan the cooking process takes 25-30 minutes and you’re left with soft tomatoes in their own juice. I then pour them into a bowl and begin the procedure again. I rinse the saucepans between each batch but there’s no need to wash them thoroughly. I continue until I have around six large bowls full of cooked fruits, (this makes around 10 litres). Once they’ve cooled sufficiently it’s time to put them through the passapomodoro machine an it’s at this point that your kitchen can start to resemble a scene from a Shakespearean tragedy.

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As you ladle the cooked tomatoes into the machine and turn the handle they give a satisfying squelch as the sauce is pushed out and the skins, seeds and dry pulp is dropped out of the rear. Now my tip is to pass the discarded pulp through once more and you’ll be surprised how much more liquid will be squeezed from it. It’s always best throughout this process to cover the work surfaces as after an hour or so it can look like Titus Andronicus has run amok in your kitchen.

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I then bottle the passata and store it in the fridge and freeze it in blocks as explained in my April post mentioned above with the hyperlink. This year I made 51 litres of the sauce with the process taking two days of cooking and 5 days of freezing in batches of two person servings. So there’s now 153 blocks in the freezer, plenty for the forthcoming year to make pasta sauces, curries and soups with.

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It may seem a lot of work but the time it saves throughout a year is considerable and when you calculate that it costs as little as €0.15 a litre it’s well worth it. But for me the bonus is knowing that it’s all fresh with no additives and even on the coldest of winter days it’ll still be bursting with the flavours of an Italian summer.

Zuppa di Zucchine e Parmigiano

OH NO!!! Not another courgette recipe.

I was in the orto this morning and the harvest included some ripe tomatoes, several cucumbers and another load of courgettes. So after sending friends messages on Facebook asking them to collect a cucumber and courgette when passing to save them going to waste, I decided to make something else for the freezer for the winter months.

I had given an Italian friend of mine my recipe for courgette and mint soup and she told me she often makes zuppa di zucchine e parmigiano. (courgette and parmesan soup). So I recalled the ingredients she told me she used and thought I’d have a bash at it.

The ingredients are:

1 kg courgette, 1 small onion, bunch of fresh basil, 2 litres of water, 200 ml cooking cream, 50g grated parmesan, 200 ml chicken stock, salt and pepper to season.

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Add the chicken stock to the water; I use it straight from the freezer. Vegetable stock can be used if you are a vegetarian/vegan, and bring it to the boil, Meanwhile, chop the courgette and fry it with the onion and basil until it starts to soften but not brown, then add to the pot of water and simmer until the pieces of courgette are soft.

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Once the courgette is soft remove from the heat and let it cool down. Once cool blend until the soup is smooth and transfer back into the pot.

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Add the cream and parmesan and stir as you reheat it slowly. Pour into bowls and eat straight away and enjoy. I expected it to be a much more robust flavour but it’s actually a very light soup, ideal for summer lunches.

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As this is the first time I’ve made this soup I’m guessing it’ll keep for a week in the refrigerator and if frozen last for 2-3 months.

Quick Pork and Asparagus Lunch

One of the things that I like most about being in middle Italy* is seasonal eating. Italy is much better than the UK for eating what is in season rather than importing from far afield: Now this is only an observation based upon my experience here in Abruzzo. Possibly up in the affluent North there’s supermarkets filled with out-of-season produce meaning the discerning Milanese can have asparagus all year round.

What a coincidence…

It’s asparagus that I’m talking about today – Okay I admit it, that was a tenuous link.

Asparagus is one of the healthiest vegetables out there, it’s low in calories, just 20 per 100g but it’s also high in potassium, b-complex vitamins and other healthy green stuff and it tastes lovely too.

Italian asparagus season starts in March with the local population combing every lane and slice of rough land for the wild variety, which is bitter to the palate and spindly; but good in an omelette with lashings of black pepper and a knob of salted butter. At the moment cultivated asparagus is in abundance; In fact down at our local store it’s just €1.49 a kilo, so it would be silly not to take advantage.

So I got some for the freezer and some to just enjoy while it’s fresh. Now there’s a few folks who say asparagus doesn’t freeze well, but I find if you blanch it for no longer than 2 minutes it keeps well frozen and is then best grilled or oven baked rather than steamed once defrosted.

So today I made a super easy Italian lunch with just three ingredients, (six if you count seasoning – but who’s being pedantic?). So here it is my easy pork and asparagus lunch. (serves one).

The ingredients you will need are:

1 portion of pork steak

30g of Gorgonzola.

8 asparagus spears

1.

See it’s that easy. The only additional things you need are salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Okay as all good cooks know you need to have a soundtrack to create to, and today my iPod is set to play the 17 minute 20 second version of I’m a Man, the 1978 disco classic from the band, Macho. (this works for me on a sunny Monday in Abruzzo, just don’t ask to see the images of me singing and dancing as I cook). So select your cooking music and 2.

let’s get started. Trim off the woody ends of the asparagus and set them aside, I’ll tell you why at the end**. Put a pan of enough water to just cover the asparagus on to boil and add a pinch of salt. Once the water is boiling put in the asparagus and boil for just 4 minutes rinse in cold water to stop the cooking and keep the colour and put them onto one side.

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Heat a non-stick frying pan, do not add any oil and once the pan is hot put in the pork steak and cook, turning it over at intervals until, it is cooked through to your liking. (Despite the traditional way of cooking this meat, I prefer my pork to be a little underdone).

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Once the pork is cooked, set it aside to rest and drop the Gorgonzola into another pan on a low heat. Allow the cheese to start to melt then add the asparagus and cook for 3 minutes giving it a pinch of black pepper. Once the asparagus is coated with the molten blue cheese add to a plate and serve with the pork and give the whole dish a squeeze of lemon, (the juice in a plastic lemon is okay if you don’t have a fresh one to hand).

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Once plated up sit down in front of it and devour your lunch with relish.

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* I call Abruzzo middle Italy but people here refer to it as southern Italy saying the north ends at the Marche border.

** Drop the woody ends into boiling unsalted water and let them boil away for about 20 minutes, they’ll be soft at the end of the boiling, but discard them and keep the water. Let it cool and then freeze it until the next time you’re making a risotto with asparagus, drop the frozen asparagus broth into your risotto for an extra hit of flavour. This also works if you’re making a soup use the frozen asparagus broth as you would a shop bought vegetable stock cube.

Worth the Work

A few years back, a friend called to see me and I was in the kitchen pushing cooked tomatoes through a fine sieve to make pasta sauce for the evening’s dinner. She commented that it seemed, “A bit of a faff.”* when you can just open a jar of shop bought sauce. “But, will processed sauce from a jar taste this good?” I replied. She shrugged her shoulders and said “Yeah, probably.” Twenty five minutes later as she was devouring the sauce, she was in effect, eating her words.

I remembered this the other day as I noticed we had some tomatoes that were going over** so I made some for a weekday lunch. It’s an easy recipe and makes use of tomatoes that you’d normally throw out. On this occasion I had 4 medium sized tomatoes and 8 small cherry ones, I chopped them up and added them to a pan with a drizzle of olive oil and just let them cook down, occasionally stirring them. After about 10 minutes you can add a quarter of a glass of red wine if you like, but that’s an optional addition. A further 10 minutes later they’ll be soft; don’t be alarmed by any black or burned skins. Let them cool down and once they are cold push the pulp through a fine sieve using the back of a spoon. (If you use a metal sieve use a plastic or wooden spoon as metal on metal can taint the taste).

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This amount of tomatoes won’t make a large amount of sauce but will give you enough for 2 servings of pasta and sauce.

Excluding cooling down time, it’s so far taken around 30 minutes to prepare and sieve. Compare this to the time it takes to drive to the supermarket, park the car and walk around the shelves before standing in a queue to pay.

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The principle of Italian cooking is about fresh produce, home cooking and as little waste as possible and I’ve always been attracted to this ethos so I’ve always made my own pasta sauce rather than buy it in jars.

This recipe was given to me so long ago I have forgotten which of my Italian friends passed it on to me, but with their thanks I’ve now passed it onto you.

So having made a portion of the sauce a day or so ago I retrieved it from the fridge and here’s what I did with it today.

DSCF8504 I picked 5 large basil leaves from my herb table outside the kitchen door and chopped 3 garlic cloves. These were added to 3 small sausages from my local butcher that have been chopped up into small pieces. Add a little olive oil to a pan and fry the sausage until it starts to brown, then add the garlic and 3 minutes later add the sauce.

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Let it simmer for a couple of minutes then add the shredded basil leaves as your pasta cooks in lots of boiling salted water. Once the pasta is cooked combine this with your sauce and serve straight away with a liberal sprinkling of grated Grana Padano cheese and a hunk of good Italian bread: This quick lunch all about good food not a fear of carbohydrates.

There’s many flavour combinations that you can create, this sauce goes well with tuna and chillies or pancetta and ricotta, or simply as a intense tomato sauce on spaghetti.

Sadly it looked so good I ate it before I remembered to take a photo of the finished dish, but isn’t that what food’s all about, a little effort for a huge return in flavour and pleasure. Give this a try and I know you’ll never buy supermarket sauces that are laden with salt and sugar again. The bonus is, it will keep for a week in the fridge and can be frozen.

* To spend time in ineffectual activity or wasting time doing something not necessary.

** Too ripe and going soft

Passata Preparation

In Italy the humble tomato is king.

Almost every home has a plot of land where tomatoes are grown in rows. Even people with no land have pots on balconies where they have a few plants. In the summer it’s not unusual to stumble across great patches of land that host hundreds of plants, all standing proud with fat red fruits hanging from them.

101_0400 With the lighter nights now, the countryside is alive with people getting ready for summer. Tractors, strimmers and all manner of machines buzz, whirr and squeal; the tranquillity of nature is given over to chaos for a few weeks. So thoughts turn to seed sowing.

My tomato seedlings; started in an electric propagator have been doing well and are spending their days outside in the sunshine before being brought back inside in the evening.

This year I have around 125 young plants which will be divided between my orto and friends. I’ll keep around 30-35 plants for myself and although some of the plump red tomatoes will end up in salads over the summer, most will be turned into passata and stored for use throughout the year.

101_0401There’s lots of recipes out there for passata di pomodoro and if you have a passapomodoro machine or  spremipomodoro as they’re sometimes called it’s easy to make.

The Italian way is to make the rich red sauce: a staple of Italian cooking and store it in glass jars, and it’s not unusual for families to be eating sauce made several summer’s before.

I’m not good with trusting my ability to seal the jars sufficiently no matter how long I boil them for once packed, so I freeze my stash. Now, there’s nothing worse than the freezer being so full you can’t find what you want. So we come to the point of this blog post, which is to share with you a handy little tip for storing your passata and using freezer space effectively. (Works well for soups and other liquids).

DSCF7218I start to save empty tetra packs like the milk one pictured around about this time of year. It is best to only use the same carton, the reason will become evident as you read on.

Take a sharp knife or scissors and cut the carton into half .

Discard the top half and toss it into your recycling box.DSCF7219

 

With the bottom half, wash it, dry it and store it. Keep cutting and saving until you have around 10 of them at hand, ready to use in late summer when the passata making starts with the tomato glut.

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Once you’ve harvested and made your sauce, line the cartons with clear polythene freezer bags and fill with sauce and tie the tops. Remember to leave space for the liquid to expand a little as it freezes.

Once the liquid is frozen remove the blocks from the cartons and because you only used one type of carton they’re all the same size, meaning you can now stack them to save freezer space.

Wash and retain the cartons and reuse the cartons for your next batch. Once the tomato harvest as finished toss the cartons into the recycling until you repeat the process the following year.