Beef and squash lasagne

Order a lasagne in the UK and it’s generally served as a main course consisting of two or three layers of pasta sandwiched between thick layers of tomato sauce and minced beef, however lasagne in Italy is very different. It’s made up of thin layers of sauce between several layers of pasta, as it’s served mostly as il primo (first course). In Italy lasagne is made with many variations, beef, pork, a mix of beef and pork mince and during autumn and winter you see lots of squash added to the dish. Several years ago when I tried my first squash lasagne it was made up of around 12 layers of pasta with the sauce. To be honest I find it a little bit bland and remarking upon this a friend told me, it is bland so that il secondo (second course) will shine.

Thinking about this I decided that after the luxury of Christmas and New Year food maybe I could do with something less rich, so I decided to make my own squash lasagne  So here’s the ingredients: 40g pumpkin or squash, 40 g walnuts, 400 g beef mince, 250 ml passata, 150 ml vegetable stock, salt, white pepper, cinnamon, garlic salt, 4 medium shallots.

DSCF3072

Roast the pumpkin and walnuts in the oven at 180° (fan) until soft and as the squash is roasting fry the mince in a dry pan and then sieve off any fat. Chop the shallots finely and sweat them down in a little olive oil. Add the squash, mince and shallots to a bowl and season with salt and pepper: As squash can be bland be generous with the seasoning. Add 2 teaspoons of garlic salt and 2 of cinnamon then mix together. Add the mixture to a saucepan with the passata and stock and bring to a simmer for around 15 minutes. Let the mixture cool then add to your serving dish. (I had an aluminium tray left over from Christmas so used that – see above).

DSCF3074

Now if you don’t make your own pasta; which very few Italian people actually do, I advise always buying a good quality brand and my brand of choice is always De Cecco. Sorry to ruin that romantic notion the TV chefs will have the UK public believe, but most Italians actually buy dried pasta for everyday meals.

DSCF3077

Layer the dish with sauce and pasta and repeat until the dish is almost full, leaving just enough room for the sauce. For the sauce make a standard white sauce and add to it a tablespoon of the pumpkin mix and a generous amount of grated cheese of your choice; I used grana padano as that was what was in the fridge at the time. Make your sauce so that it has a molten cheesy consistency and cover the lasagne and top with grated cheese and pop into a pre-heated oven 180° (fan) for 20 minutes. (Don’t let it stand uncooked as the pasta will curl up).

DSCF3078

Once golden on top remove from the oven and serve immediately or let it cool and reheat later for supper. This recipe makes enough for 4 portions served with salad or vegetables as a main course or 6 portions served as a primo.

DSCF3089

Advertisements

Octopus and Oyster

I’ve always considered myself adventurous when it came to food and like most people growing up in the UK I’ve been lucky enough to sample dishes from all over the world. Whether its Indian, Chinese, Turkish or Greek. I recently tried Japanese food for the first time, because England is a great country for international restaurants. I’ve also been lucky enough to travel and in doing so I’ve eaten durian fruit in Kuala Lumpur, nasi goreng in Bali, tabouleh in Oman and a thousand year egg in Singapore. Some of these have been culinary delights and others horrors, In fact some of the worst food I’ve ever had the misfortune to be served was in the US. But there is yet one thing I have an aversion to trying, and I’ve been up close and personal with it several times and each time I tell myself I’ll give it a go, and each time I shy away from it. It, being the humble oyster. I’ve been given them fresh in the shell in France and smoked in New Zealand, but for some reason I am just unable to put the darned thing in my mouth. And believe I’ve had  number of unmentionable things between my lips over the years.

tumblr_legwb9DCDU1qzbxpb

I’ve always had a passion for Italian food, which is I suppose a good thing considering I chose to live in Italy. I’m not talking about just pasta and pizza, not that there’s anything wrong with a slice of pizza. I mean traditional Italian food. I’m knowledgeable enough to know that there’s no tomato in a ‘proper’ bolognaise sauce and that mussels are served with fettuccini and clams with spaghetti. For many people back in the UK, their first experience with Italian food comes from and encounter with a lasagne; whether pre-packed or in a restaurant, but is it authentic? probably not, in Italy a proper lasagne isn’t made with minced beef, but with  minced pork or sometimes a mix of pork and lamb. funghi-trifolati

Back in the Britain, TV chefs and celebrity restaurants have made Italian cuisine cool again, and plates are leaving kitchens with miniscule portions of ravioli served with truffle oil complete with a top draw price. At one of these restaurants, belonging to a celebrity chef who’ll remain nameless I was served a simple but costly dish of pasta con funghi trifolati. Was it authentic? Was it buggery. (Apologies for my northern roots.) In Piedmonte, funghi trifolati is served with spaghetti or polenta, this was served with pappardalle and the sautéed mushrooms should have chopped parsley in abundance, as it’s a key ingredient not just for garnish. But is this detail important? Yes, especially if you’re paying a chef to prepare it for you while you apply to the bank for a mortgage to pay for it. This said in Italy there’ll be regional variations of most of the dishes we see in restaurants and on supermarket shelves, but what we see in the UK is just a tiny portion of the Italian cuisine. As most of it is regional it would be impossible for suppliers and manufacturers to provide a concise catalogue.baby-octopus-salad-550x403

I live just eighteen minutes from the coast so as you’d imagine seafood and fish features highly in the local diet. Now I’ve always been a meat eater and not a big fish eater, I do like some seafood but am not too keen on prawns, so imagine my surprise when recently I was served up squid and octopus. I looked at the baby, purple-coloured octopus on my plate and thought I was in for another oyster moment, but no I popped it into my mouth, chewed and swallowed without any problem. In fact the only problem was I liked it so much I’ve eaten it several times since, who knows maybe one day that darned oyster will go down and stay down.