Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Variazione Sul Tema (Linguine Nests with Fish Fillet- Nidi di Linguine al Pesce)

There is no sea like the Adriatic. Its waves gently "caress" the coast of Bari, the place where I was born. The sound of those waves gently crashing against the rocks, the smell of the seaweed, the song of the seagulls and the taste of salt on your arms, on Summer's day, are always there, hiding, deep inside me, a constant reminder  of who I am and where I came from. I love the sea!

Today, I made this dish which reminds of the colours, tastes and aromas of my land and of "my" sea. Maybe not one my mother would have made (she was a classic cook) but... I remember her making frittata using eggs, cheese and spaghetti! So, maybe the dish I am about to show you is a variation on a traditional theme and one of the main ingredients is fish!

Food, just the same as language changes, evolves, expresses itself in new and different ways. Today I made some Nidi di Pasta al Pesce "Pasta nests with fish." Would I call this an innovation, a modern recipe? Maybe! The ingredients are traditional, but the end product, I think, is quite innovative.

This dish could be served as a starter to a meal, served in small portions, like I did, or as a main course. Believe me, when I say it's truly delicious. On this occasion, I enjoyed marrying up some of  my favourite flavours! 

Here it is:

Nidi di Linguine al Pesce
Linguine Nests With Fish
Serves 4

For the "nests":
4X100g fish fillets
(about 1lb altogether-
(could use sea bass or cod)
a few tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove
salt, black pepper
200g ( 7 oz) linguine pasta

For the sauce:

3 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 tbsp capers in vinegar
handful black olives (pitted)
8 sundried tomatoes
handufl fresh parsley
some basil
1 tbsp passata or
pureed tomato
few slices chilli pepper (optional, but not for me! I love it!)

Before you start, bring some water to the boil, in a saucepan. When really boiling, add your linguine with some salt. Cook until "al dente", rinse in cold water, drain and reserve.

Prepare all your other ingredients. This dish is very quick to prepare.

Next, take a piece of fish and wrap it in a quarter of your linguine, to make a nest shape, with the fish in the middle of it. The linguine will be very slippery, but don't worry, as, during the next stage you will be able to bring it all together. Make and keep your nests, one at a time, on a flat plate.

Take a non stick frying pan, put a few of tablespoons of olive oil in it, and, when hot, slowly and carefully slide your first nest into it. Try to turn the nest over a few times, until your linguine turns a lovely golden colour. Don't worry if the "nest" looks messy. I used a fish slice, to turn the mine over. Add a clove of garlic, finely chopped, salt and pepper.
Remove your nests from the pan when nice and golden and keep in a warm place (warm oven?) as you are now ready to finish the dish.

Using the same frying pan, make the sauce. Add the rest of the oil, heat up, then add a clove of garlic, chopped (cook until golden) followed by: capers, sundried tomatoes (chopped really small) parsley, basil and chilli pepper, if you are using it. I then added a tiny amount of passata (less than a tbsp!) to make a sauce which wasn't too dry. I also added a couple of tbsp of the water I drained off my linguine. 

Let the sauce reduce slightly, cook for about five minutes, then divide amongst the four portions. This should be a kind of dry sauce, but, if you find it too dry, you can, like I did, add a few tablespoons of the water in which your pasta was cooked.

When you taste the fish in the middle of the nest you will be surprised: it cooks, but keeps all its moisture and flavour. I combined some of my favourite "things," but had to chop the sundried tomatoes very finely, as I don't like the texture of tomato skin.
The dish is very Mediterranean, indeed. The flavours robust and very familiar to me... it's a good dish, easy to make and well worth trying!


Saturday, 18 February 2012

Happiness is... Gnocchi alla Sorrentina (Potato Gnocchi with Buffalo Mozzarella)

I just finished watching a show on Italian TV, all about Cilento. This is the wonderful area where we have a house, perched on the top of a mountain, overlooking the Gulf of Salerno and the Island of Capri and not too far from the Amalfi Coast.
We so love our place. We so love the blue of the deep sea, the sunsets, the lights at night and the world waking up at five in the morning. Being there is a kind of spiritual experience, as, from our terrace you really feel like you're on top of the world. With every sunset you get a taste of eternity, feel in touch with something deeply magical which permeates the atmosphere.
We spend hours watching clouds, the sun changing colour. It's like an immense palette. We make up stories... we see "things": battles, horses, camels chasing each other... Are they really clouds? Are we watching nature, or is nature watching us, while we try to make sense of so much beauty?


Through the atmoshere, the smell of wild fennel, fig leaves, seaweed and basil, growing by our door and voices...
Food in Cilento is not for the faint hearted: strong flavours (lots of garlic and basil) chunky, sometimes really heavy homemade fusilli, game (rabbit, wild boar) cooked with garlic, tomatoes, capers and olives, and cheese... lots of cheese. Do not expect Camembert or Brie, as you won't get any in the shops: "No need for foreign stuff" they say and I agree. Not as many vegetables as we eat in Puglia, or fish, but a diet made for people who were born and live in little towns perched on mountain sides... good, substantial food, somehow different from the food of my native Puglia. Not as green, but delicious, in a different way!
I have come to love and respect the flavours of Cilento. They go with the landscape and with the people... Strong and stubborn, they  always think they know better and they know everything!
 Cilento is a very beautiful part of the Campania region.  I learnt how to cook my husband's favourite  cilentani dishes ( I make a truly mean Fagioli e Scarole and I even learnt how to cook rabbit and have become a massive fan of scialatielli, a local pasta good with my mixed seafood sauce!)
Yesterday, I made a dish which contained all the flavours and aromas of Summer and Cilento: Gnocchi alla Sorrentina. I used mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) as it is produced in Cilento and virtually the only type of mozzarella sold there. It's more acidy than the other kind, made from cow's milk and at its best eaten raw, in salad (Insalata Caprese) or just as it comes!

If you ever visit the area, you must go to "Tenuta Vannulo" in Capaccio (not too far from Paestum and Pompeii) I love it there.

Tenuta Vannulo- buffalo farm
click on link to visit Tenuta Vannulo

 The buffalos are so happy and friendly they come to say hello, if you talk to them!

Here is my delicious recipe. I even made my own gnocchi!

Gnocchi di Patate alla Sorrentina
( Sorrento Style Potato Gnocchi with
buffalo mozzarella)
( 4 servings or
3 very generous ones!)
For the gnocchi:
400 g  (14 oz) potatoes
250 g  (9 oz) plain-all purpose flour
1 small egg
some salt
For the sauce:
1X 500g (about 1 pint) carton passata
2 garlic cloves
4 tbasp olive oil
generous handful fresh basil
salt, black pepper
You will also need:
Pecorino or Parmigiano
200g ( 7 oz) rucola (rocket)

This is how I made my beautiful gnocchi ( Fact: "Did you know that a good looking man in Italy is called a "gnocco?" and a beautiful woman is a "gnocca?" )
I placed my unpeeled potatoes  in a pan of water and cooked until soft. Next, I peeled  and mashed my potatoes and, when still warm, I placed them onto a floured surface, made a well in the middle and gradually added my egg and flour, till I got a soft dough. I covered and left to rest for ten minutes. ( If your dough is too "wet" when you make gnocchi you can add more flour.)


 Next, I took a piece of the dough (the size of a tennis ball) and, using both  hands, I rolled it, till I get a long thin dough "snake." Using a knife, I cut this into small rectangular, rounded shapes (this is your basic plain gnocchi.)


I decided my gnocchi would be a bit like a kind of cavatelli, so I took each one and, using a small nutmeg grater (You can also use the back of a fork) and two fingers, I pressed each gnocco down, to obtain the shape I wanted (see photos.) You don't have to do this, though! But they look lovely!
Having made my gnocchi, I left it on the board and made a simple tomato sauce, by heating the oil until really piping hot and then adding the garlic and when this was golden. I added my passata (make your own sauces. Don't buy the stuff in jars... it's sickly, not Italian and really bad for you!)  and cooked my sauce for about twenty minutes. A handful of fresh basil made my sauce smell really Mediterranean.
By this time the water I had previously placed in a pan was boiling, ( You didn't know I had done this, did you? I did it while you weren't watching!) so I added my gnocchi and waited for each one of them to float to the surface (that means they are done!) I drained them and got ready to serve.

As I come from Puglia, I always want something green with my food, so, I made a base of uncooked rucola (rocket) and other leaves on each plate,  then placed my gnocchi over it (I made portions, for a change!)  with some tomato and basil sauce, grated cheese and some mozzarella di bufala, cut into small cubes! The pungency and crunchiness of the uncooked rocket made this dish a delight! This is not in the original recipe, but I think it adds extra depth to it.

Gnocchi is so easy and quick to make! A sprinkling of Pecorino or Parmesan is a must, at this point! Keep on reading... there's MORE!

If you prefer a different version, you can substitute the tomato sauce with a very simple sauce made with blue cheese ( it could be Gorgonzola or Gorgogonzola -Mascarpone) melted in three or four tablespoons of milk ( you do this over the heat, in a small pan)

 This you can pour over your drained gnocchi, mix , then add Pecorino or Parmesan and black pepper (I have just discovered the beauty and flavour of pink peppercorns!) Again, I had rucola with this and a small handful of diced aubergine fried in oil and garlic (but you don't have to!)

Gnocchi al formaggio
For the sauce:
250g ( 9 oz) Italian Blue Cheese
(I used Castello, but you can use a different one!)
3-4 tabsp milk
Black Pepper
Rucola- rocket as much as you like
Some diced and fried in hot oil and garlic aubergine
(Extremely optional-don't make hard work for yourselves!)
When I made my cheese gnocchi I also added rocket, as its pungency goes well with blue cheese. I can't believe how easy and delicious home made gnocchi is!

PS: Please note my beautiful pink peppercorns!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012


click on link above

It's Valentine's Day, today, and I want to post here, on my blog, a poem by Pablo Neruda, my favourite poet, in Italian, as I think that Neruda only "works" in Spanish and Italian.

It's Sonnet XVII (17) from Cien Sonnetos de Amor (One Hundred Love Sonnets) which he wrote for his Muse, his wife Matilde (English version can be found on the internet) 

 Here it is:



Non t'amo come fossi rosa di sale, topazio
o freccia di garofani che propagano il fuoco:
t'amo come si amano certe cose oscure,
segretamente, entro l'ombra e l'anima.

T'amo come la pianta che non fiorisce e reca
dentro di se`, nascosta, la luce di quei fiori;
grazie al tuo amore vive oscuro nel mio corpo
il concentrato amore che viene dalla terra.

T'amo senza sapere come, ne` quando, ne` da dove,
t'amo direttamente senza problemi, ne` orgoglio:
cosi` ti amo, perche` non so amare altrimenti

che cosi`, in questo modo in cui non sono e non sei,
cosi` vicino che la tua mano sul mio petto e` mia,
cosi` vicino che si chiudono i tuoi occhi col mio sonno


Monday, 6 February 2012

Ragu` alla Genovese (From Genova With Love:Beef, Onions and Wine Pasta Sauce)

She sat at the dressing table... her legs too short, to even reach the floor. A little girl, she would often visit her aunt: Annina (her mum's sister) must have been very beautiful, once. An old lady (at least that is what the little girl thought she was!) she had a beautiful face: nice lips, pearly white smile and a small, almost square, but delicate chin. She truly a beauty.
I will never forget the tiny little window in my aunt's little kitchen, on the top floor of a palazzo which belonged to the family. Nonna lived downstairs. On the windowsill, a jug with a painted landscape (little did I know that one day I would have a house by the sea from which I could see exactly the same "panorama!")
On the dressing table, a snow globe: if I turned it upside down, I could make it "snow" all over Rome! How my aunt would have laughed if she could have seen Anna play non stop with the snow globe and "swimming" with her imagination inside the globe, just like a fish in a bowl: the little girl could swim all over Rome!
I bought an old snow globe, a few days ago. I just had to, and,  if I told you how much time I spend playing with it, to watch the snow fall, you wouldn't believe it! How wonderful, being able to "trap" people, places and time inside a plastic globe! How weird and wonderful it feels still being able to be a child...
Today, I am "trapped" inside. It's snowing! It snowed all night and the world looks beautiful and very clean. I fed my birds, in the garden, and looked at the footprints by my kitchen door: the big black cat must have walked all round the house, down the long path, climbed up the old wooden gate and then gone home to curl up by the fire...
As I write, I look at the old mill, out of the window, and a forest, in the distance. From downstairs, a delicious aroma makes its way and... hmmm... I can smell it right now... just the dish for a cold Winter's day, all the way from Northern Italy, and a family favourite: Ragu` alla Genovese. It smells like home and brings back memories... so many warm, cosy memories... open the gate!
Ragu` alla Genovese
(Beef Ragu` Genova Style)
Serves 4
Olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan, but be very generous with the amount)
4 large onions
(about 500 g- just over 1lb)
500g ( just over 1lb) stewing steak (casserole beef)
2 glasses white wine
1tbsp passata
a chunk of Parmesan Cheese
500g ( just over 1lb) pasta of your choice
( penne or rigatoni is ideal for this)
Plenty grated Parmesan or Pecorino Cheese
This is a dish which originated from Genova, in Liguria, which has become a family classic. It's not a tomato based meat sauce, but a lovely golden brown, extremely delicious sauce you serve on pasta. The meat is reserved for a second course, usually eaten with a contorno (side) salad, or potatoes (square potato pieces baked with olive oil, garlic and rosemary) or just some delicious bread! In Italy, salad is always served after pasta, as a side dish. Never, ever before!
Before you start, peel your onions and chop very finely (in a food processor, if you have one, or using a knife)
Next, heat the oil in a saucepan (the amount is up to you, but remember that the meat will cook in oil and wine, so, be generous, as you are cooking a lot of onion plus meat,) Now you can add your onions and your chunk of cheese.
 Cook until the onions begin to turn golden. Add your meat (in biggish pieces) and stir until it has browned. You can now turn the heat right up and add your wine, stir till it blends in with the onions and the meat, and then you small amount of passata.
All you have to do now is add salt, stir, turn the heat down and wait till the meat is cooked and the sauce has turned a gorgeous creamy golden brown colour. If you think your onions might be sticking to the bottom of the pan, add a small amount of water. The might might take over three hours to cook, on a low heat.
We serve the sauce on pasta, first, with a generous sprinkling of cheese, and the meat next, on a separate plate, with salad, or potatoes, or any other vegetable we fancy!
Delicious! You won't know HOW DELICIOUS until you try!