Caponata penne

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This caponata pasta is the lighter adaptation of a traditional dish from Sicily which is a true lush vegetarian delight. It would be difficult to define it, because it is simply too good, so essential, yet leaving you with the most fulfilling feeling only a vernacular masterpiece can deliver. Caponata is symphony of warm colours, intense smells and flavours, all mingling with its own ancient history.

The aubergine is the protagonist of this dish, combined with celery, tomatoes, onions, capers, olives, pine kernels, basil, and olive oil, lots of it–as you are supposed to fry the vegetables in it. The whole lot is magically concocted with some sugar and a splash of vinegar. It sounds funny today to think that when aubergines arrived in Sicily with the first Arab invasion they were deemed to be apples that had gone off and carriers of diseases.

The earliest appearance of caponata in Sicily seems to date to the eighteenth century and its origin is of the poorest ones. A renowned local dish used the fish ‘capone’, quite expensive, which was deep fried and served with a sweet-and-sour sauce made with vinegar. The sauce was so delicious that it started to be prepared with aubergines and tomatoes, some of the cheapest and most available vegetables for anyone, especially those that could not afford the capone fish.

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Caponata penne (serves 2)

200-250 g penne
1 aubergine
100 g sun-dried tomatoes (drained)
30 g pine kernels
1 tbsp of sliced black olives
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clover
1 mozzarella (about 150 g drained)

Gently cook the garlic in a frying pan with 1 tbsp of hot olive oil, till golden. Chop the washed aubergine and cook at mid-high heat for 10 minutes, tossing them now and then. After 5 minutes, add the sliced sun-dried tomatoes and olives. There is no need to add salt or pepper.

After the first ten minutes of cooking, lower the heat to minimum, add the pine kernels, while you put the pasta in salted boiling water–penne usually cook al dente in 11 minutes.

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Before the last minute of pasta cooking, take the caponata off the fire and add diced mozzarella. One minute later, drain the pasta, add it to the caponata pan, and mix to let the mozzarella melt.

Serve hot (!), with 1 tbsp of fresh olive oil and a couple of sun-dried tomatoes to decorate. You can also add two leaves of fresh basil if you like to strengthen the bitter flavour.

by Max

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Naughty pork fillet medallions in ginger and white wine sauce

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This is a quick and naughty version of a Parmesan dish called ‘La Rosa di Parma’, which is usually made with beef fillet, staffed with prosciutto crudo, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and cooked in a red wine sauce. To make my properly naughty version, I wrapped pork fillet in unsmoked streaky bacon and sage, I cooked it in white wine and ginger sauce, and served with pan-fried pak choi, fresh fennel, and maple syrup crispy bacon. I did say it is naughty, but in no way this dish will ever leave you disappointed or hungry at all. The dish comes from a mix of traditional Italian food, with some Anglicised flavours, and Asian ingredients. It would be difficult to put a pin on it; better to use a fork instead.

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This naughty pork fillet/tenderloin is pretty easy to prepare and takes reasonably little time. The hardest part was to find the cooking string, which I had to mooch off the butcher’s desk at my local supermarket. The ingredients are easily obtainable, at least here in London, almost any time of the year.

The original dish, La Rosa di Parma, is one of the town’s symbols, usually appearing on important occasion tables–that’s why it is made with expensive ingredients like the beef fillet, prosciutto crudo, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Lambrusco red wine, and Marsala wine. It truly encapsulates the city’s imperial heritage of Marie Louise in some of its endemic flavours, except the Marsala, of course. I opted for a more cost-contained version, still retaining some of the typical Parmesan ingredients.

I had to cheat using unsmoked bacon, because there was no pancetta, but their preparation remains similar enough to give you almost the same taste. I chose to prepare the pork with white wine and ginger, instead of red and Marsala wines, because this meat calls for a milder dressing than the beef fillet. Fennel and pak choi followed the same rationale to avoid overpowering the dish or covering the delicate intensity of this pork cut. The final taste is a soft, sweet pork main, glazed by a thin, spicy wine sauce, accompanied by a fresh green bite, candied up by the bacon crisps.

Naughty pork fillet medallions (serves 3)

1 pork fillet (whole)
12 unsmoked streaky bacon rashers
a few sage leaves
cooking string
2 tbsp olive oil
15 g butter
2 glasses of white wine
30 g fresh ginger
1 tbsp maple syrup

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Start with sealing the whole fillet on a hot pan with 1 tbsp of oil and the butter, at medium heat for about 5 minutes. Take it off the pan when it is golden all around and starting to get brown. Slice the fillet into medallions of the same thickness, about 3-4 cm–unless you need to serve some more cooked than others: in that case, slice accordingly.

Wrap each medallion with one rasher of unsmoked bacon (or one pancetta rasher, if you can find it), four or five sage leaves, and tighten all together with the cooking string. Once all medallions are prepared, put them back into the hot pan with your second tbsp of olive oil, at medium heat.

After a few minutes, when one side of the medallions is turning brown, raise to high heat, flip them cooked-side-up, and wash with the first glass of wine till reduced. Then lower again to medium heat and cook for another few minutes. When also the second side is cooked, repeat the reduction process with the second glass of wine. Add the ginger now, which you have pealed and sliced, with a couple of shallot rings that you will not serve.

In the meantime, you can start preparing the remaining bacon rashers in another frying pan. You will add the maple syrup only at the end, after you added salt and they are cooked on both sides. The syrup will caramelise the bacon and get it crunchy like a crisp. Slice the washed fennel, and start preparing the pak choi, washing it and separating the leaves.

Once the pork is cooked on both sides, the bacon wrap should also be pink ready. Take the medallions off the pan, leave the remaining sauce to char the pak choi in a couple of minutes at high heat. Serve hot. Eat. And feel guiltily satisfied. Naughty…

 

by Max

 

Vegetarian impromptu: avocado amuse-bouche and warm potato peperonata

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A sunny Sunday in London is a gift, particularly for an Italian guy. And sun makes you want to eat simple, colourful food. The kitchen was pretty much empty, so this happened. The avocado helped keeping the stomach busy while I was preparing the potato peperonata for main course.

First, I cut in half an avocado and dressed with salt, oil, and three drops of balsamic vinegar. I like to eat it off its skin with a spoon–apologies to Pixar’s Wall-e fans, no robot was harmed in feeding this human…

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This simplest amuse-bouche gave me time and energy to see what else could be done with the few ingredients left in the kitchen. I found a few new potatoes and three red peppers, a couple of almond flakes (leftovers from the courgette pesto risotto), and I always have some Parmigiano-Reggiano in my fridge. Enough to prepare a lighter version of peperonata.

Originally, this Sicilian dish was a simple sauté mix of peppers cooked with onions and tomato sauce, something you would have had with bread pretty much, and nothing else. It is a dish that then started to be used on the side of meat and even as a pasta sauce, but its humble origins confirm it was meant to be eaten alone, till you were stuffed. This version is stripped of the heavier base and finds potatoes as a good substitute for the bread. I cooked it in the oven in a little more than half hour.

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Potato peperonata (serves 2)

500 g new potatoes
3 red peppers
20 g Parmigiano-Reggiano
a few almond flakes
2 tbsp oil

Start washing, drying, and cutting the peppers. Lay the pepper slices on an over tray lined with foil, add some salt on the peppers, and leave in hot oven on grill (240°C/gas 9) for about 6-7 minutes. They will lose some water and get a little firmer.

Meanwhile, wash, dry, and cut potatoes. Lay them cut-face up and add a pinch of salt. Take the peppers out of the oven, add the potatoes, and mix all together with the oil.

Place the tray in hot oven at 220°C/gas 7 for about 30 minutes. You can give the vegetables a quick toss during their cooking, but keep the oven closed and hot all the time.

Serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and flaked almonds. Eat it hot, warm, or even cold. And remember to enjoy the sun!

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by Max

Courgette pesto risotto with almond flakes and pine kernels

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Risotto is a vital part of my food. It says heritage and cooking experience to me. The options are always many, the last one was a fresh discovery. This risotto is cooked in courgette pesto and its flavour makes it a light, green-tasting new tint for me. The courgettes are prepared raw with cheese and some nuts, and then cooked with the rice. It takes little time to prepare and it is worth it.

Italian food has honoured courgette for centuries, literally. Arriving in Europe with the ingredients from the ‘New World’, courgettes were at the beginning confused for the European pumpkin, which was already widely diffused. Already in the seventeenth century, Italian courgettes from Modena were renowned for their versatility in the kitchen and for apothecaries uses.

Courgettes are the kind of vegetables that you go and get from the garden at home, and that is why they are prepared in so many ways, from vernacular roots to a posh finish, across Italy’s many local traditions. This version is geographical catch, because risotto is typically cooked in Piedmont, Lombardy, and Veneto, pesto comes from Liguria, and green courgettes are equally diffused north and south of the Boot.

Courgette pesto risotto (serves 4)

400 g rice Carnaroli–ideally, otherwise Arborio
1 l vegetable broth
1 glass of white wine
1 shallot
200 g courgette
20 g basil
1 clove of garlic
20 g pine kernels
10 g almond flakes
50 g goat cheese
oil

Start with washing the courgettes, cut extremities off, and shave each one at a time through a grater. Add a pinch of salt and let them drain some liquid.

Wash the basil leaves and blend with pine kernels, almonds, the cleaned garlic clove, and a tablespoon of oil–keep a few nuts for the serving decoration. Add the courgettes and another bit of oil. Your pesto has to look and feel soft and even.

Warm the oil in the pan, add chopped shallot till golden, and then raise the fire to toast the rice. After the first few minutes, the rice starts to lightly toast and smell very ‘cerealy’: add now the wine and let it reduce. Lower the fire and let cook for about 18 minutes adding the broth from time to time. Add your courgette pesto at the end with the very last bit of broth. Instead of creaming with butter, add the goat cheese and mix.

Serve with a sprinkle of the remaining pine kernels and almond flakes.

by Max

Pink linguine

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This is a light version of the classic pasta dish salmon linguine. I play with the contrast between the salmon’s sweetness and the acidity of three types of pepper, while the dish rejoices in its beautiful pink glow.

Salmon linguine are a classic of the Italian cuisine. You can possibly find them anywhere and usually come in a rich, creamy sauce, often gallantly edged by bits of fresh dill. Today, I wanted to stay a bit lighter and to focus my tease on the salmon flavour. So, instead of cooking the fish in onions and cover it with cream, I prepared it in a lighter shallots base, and decided to exalt its taste with different types of spices, chives, and rose petals.

The colour of the salmon’s flesh mutates during cooking, from a deep, almost blood orange red, to a softer, pastel cipria pink. And this optical transformation calls for a taste pairing, specifically in the choice of spices. The first two I have used are Sichuan ‘pepper’ (which is not really a pepper) and pink peppercorn berries; the third spice I have only used as dressing is ground Egyptian black pepper. The citrusy smell of Sichuan ‘pepper’ gives a phenomenal tangy, lemony punch in the final dish flavour, so it is better to use it parsimoniously. The pink peppercorns are a perfect match for the Sichuan, which opens the buds in your mouth for a proper hot kick delivered by the pink berries. Their acidity and hotness encourage the soothing flavour of the salmon flesh, which I have cooked with a few pine kernels and some finely chopped fresh chives. The grand finale is given by the rose petals, which are not there just to look pretty: they literally wrap all edges and excesses of sweet and sourness up in a delicate perfumed finish.

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Pink Linguine (serves 2)

200 g linguine
220 g fresh salmon fillets (wild Alaskan Sockeye used here)
1 tbsp oil
1 shallot
1 glass of white wine
1 tbsp Sichuan pepper
1 tbsp pink peppercorns
pine kernels (ad lib)
a few chives
ground Egyptian black pepper
1 tbsp of rose petals

The salmon sauce can be prepared while your linguine are cooking in salted boiling water, usually about 11 minutes. Start chopping the shallots, while the oil is warming up in the pan. Gently golden the shallots; in the meantime, dice the salmon up, once you have filleted it off the skin, and add it to the shallot base.

Control the fire: higher to warm up the oil, lower to golden the shallots, high again as soon as you add the salmon, because here you need to quickly simmer the fish with white wine till it is reduced. And then lower it again, so that the salmon retains its moisture. Add now pine kernels, Sichuan pepper and pink peppercorns, and let the salmon transform into those nice light pink flesh flakes. Add the chopped chives at the last second.

You can cheat here, and add 1 tbsp of spreadable cheese, to make your sauce creamier. But if you control the heat and the wine reduction, you will not need it.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain it but keep a little bit–half a cup–of the cooking water: add this to the sauce pan, add the pasta, and mix evenly. Before serving, dust with black pepper, add the rose petals, and two longer chives.

by Max

Cannelloni with aubergine and ricotta

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Fresh pasta is one of the easiest dish to prepare in the kitchen, yet too often dismissed as elaborate, time consuming, and messy. In reality, all you need is flour, eggs, and the will to prepare it. Fresh pasta opens really many options for food. You can prepare traditional basic dishes such as lasagne or tagliatelle, or you can venture out into more creative stuffed pasta types, such as ravioli, tortellini, caramelle (pasta candies), or baskets. I chose cannelloni for today’s meal because I had some aubergine to use and because I felt a bit nostalgic.

Cannelloni to me means tradition, home, simplicity. Close your eyes and think of a wooden table lightly covered by flour. Now, feel that coarse, grainy surface and look outside to see a warm, late morning. You are in my auntie’s kitchen, in Bologna; it is a small flat in the city, but the little garden in front of the building is enough to relieve you from any wish to be in the quiet countryside. She walks in, holding a bag of flour and a few eggs, makes a little white mound with a well in the middle–we call it fontana, fountain–and cracks two or three eggs in it. Then it’s like finger finesse: you see one hand first mixing the ingredients slowly and in no time both hands are working together with the mix ready to be kneaded.

Every time I sit there and watch, I start asking her silly questions, like a little kid wondering about the secret of a magic trick, but it’s all there in front of me. “Just work the dough for a ten minutes and then set it aside for half hour, well covered”, she says. The next step will be the rolling pin. In the meantime, you can choose what you want to eat and make the stuffing or the sauce ready.

Cannelloni are one of the simplest, yet most refined uses of fresh pasta. I genuinely love them. It is not my favourite meal, but I have a huge crush on them and there is nothing I can do about it, but eating them. If regularly, even better.

A similar addiction struck the Italian poet Gabriele d’Annunzio, who was indeed a modern gourmand ante litteram. In his energetic and passionate life made of military stiffness and hedonistic pliability, living his duality of aesthetics in a rigor of opulence, he literally depended on the caring attention of his home chef Albina Becevello, possibly the only woman he did not objectify in his life. And in his many written messages to Albina with specific culinary requests of all sorts, at any time of day and night, one can find a true praise for her cannelloni. No wonder. The dualistc pleasure of a fresh pasta roll and its filling, poor ingredients and rich finish, can conquer any human heart and stomach.

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Cannelloni with aubergine and ricotta (serves 3)

For the pasta
200 g ’00’ flour
2 eggs

For the filling
3 aubergines
250 g ricotta
100 g Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tbsp olive oil

For the Béchamel/white sauce
100 g butter
100 g flour
1 l milk
1 pinch of grated nutmeg
1 pinch of salt

For the finish
20 g Parmigiano-Reggiano

Start with the pasta mix: prepare the flour fontana, crack the eggs in it, slowly break the eggs into the flour well, and stat amalgamate the whole into a doughy ball. Knead it for at least ten minutes till it becomes smooth, cover in cling film, and let rest for at least 30-40 minutes.

Chop the aubergines, place them in a sieve and cover them with a weight to let them lose their water (you can salt them in the meantime, if you prefer); when drained, sauté them till golden in a frying pan with the oil. When almost entirely cooked, let them cool down, and then mix them with the ricotta and the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The Béchamel is ready in a few minutes as well. To help the preparation, leave the milk out of the fridge for a little while, to reach room temperature. Start from the roux, melting the butter and adding the flour–sift it if you can, it will make the sauce smoother. After a couple of minutes with the flour, the roux should turn light gold: slowly add the milk with the fire still on and whisk the mix. When it thickens, sprinkle with grated nutmeg and a pinch of salt.

Work the pasta dough with the rolling pin, till you can make rectangles about 15 x 10 cm, roughly 2 mm thick (I made 14 squares). If you want to make your life easier and the pasta a little bit better, dust the table with some flour and some semolina, but never the rolling pin! Boil the squares–ideally one or two at a time–and prepare the filling in a piping bag. Take one square, fill it with the aubergine and cheese mix, and roll into one cannellone. Prepare the oven tray with a base of Béchamel sauce and start lining the cannelloni while you make them.

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Once prepared the tray, cover the cannelloni with more Béchamel sauce and dust with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake in hot oven at 200ºC/180ºC fan/mark 6 for about 20-25 minutes, plus an additional 5 minutes to grill.

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by Max

Dinner @ Luce e Limoni, London

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Going for Italian food in London is most of the times quite an adventure…escaping chains, fake Italian ‘bistros’, pretentious posh places, or pizza maniacs who don’t have a clue about how pizza should taste, they all drastically reduce the chances of a good find. Luce e Limoni is one of these good, rare finds, at an affordable price. It offers refined Sicilian food.

The restaurant is at 91-93 Gray’s Inn Road, a short walk from either King’s Cross, Russel Square, or Chancery Lane tube stations. Luce e Limoni is open Mon-Fri 12-3 for lunch, Mon-Thu 6-10 and Fri-Sat 6-11 for dinner. The area is fairly busy with mainly offices people during the day and quiet in the evening. I went with a few friends for dinner. My favourite dishes were the fish starters, though the wild boar ham starter, fresh pasta ravioli, and meat mains were equally tasty and refined. The restaurant has a quality wine selection at average London restaurant prices.

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Taste-wise, I usually prefer traditional fish dishes, but I never dispise polished combinations when they make sense. This is the case of the fritto misto with bottarga mayonnaise. The dish included battered deep-fried king prawns, large sardines, and squid. The bottarga mayonnaise was smooth and incredibly delicate–although, I would have added some bottarga to it: I want to smell that fishiness and let it turn into that bitter, roasty flavour when I have bottarga. Still, it is definitely worth another go!

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Another great starter we tried was scallops with cauliflower and anchovies cream. This is quite a classic on the London scene nowadays and reflects a wintery use of the scallops. The presentation could have been a bit more elegant, perhaps spreading a little less cream (used as base) with a brush stroke, adding one more scallop to the dish. A more summery version we usually have in Italy is the scallops au gratin, with garlic and parsley, each mollusk still in their lower shell.

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One of the signature starters of the restaurant is the mackerel timbal with capers and ricotta, peppers coulis, and samphire. The dish looks very appealing and is a lovely, warming way to open your meal. The pepper coulis merries the samfire in a pleasant sweet saltiness which exalts the ricotta and fish timbal. The mackerel was very delicate, smoothed out by the ricotta which softened the taste edge of the fish. Thin potato slices embraced the timbal in a clean and crispy wrap.

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Among the mains, we tried fresh pasta ravioli with sausage, basil, and tomato, mixed fish casserole, and a beautiful veal chop, all cooked to perfection. I was hoping more from my main, which was supposed to be porchetta, but turned out to be a pork belly, served with lentils and Marsala reduction. The porchetta, ideally, is not just the pork belly, but rather the actualy full pork roast on a long turning skewer, stuffed with herbs, and then served in slices. The dish I had at Luce e Limoni was very good, nonetheless, with glazed skin instead of the crackling and a delicate Marsala reduction.

We concluded our meal with Sicilian cannoli and coffee.

The restaurant service is polite, attentive, and quick. It means that you are not assaulted as soon as you walk in, but you get taken care as you would do in a house, where someone greets you, takes your coats, and shows you to the living room while asking how’s everyone doing at home. The same thing, but with nice, large-planked wooden tables. The place has a soft, homely ambience, and you don’t really miss those Impero-wannabe chaiselongs you never see anyone sitting on when you go to those big villas in the south of Italy.

The restaurant’s main room is distinguished by its chandelier-shaped lamp shades and old botanic prints of Mediterranean citrus fruits. The decor is not a distraction, but rather a warm reminder of typical countryside homes in Italy, where we still have those kinds of prints, with birds, plants, friuts, and other encyclopedic illustrations. You never know whether someone got them many years before and just framed the nicer plates, or if time stopped for a while and no one now cares to change the walls decoration. It feels like your grandparents’ dinette or reception room. And you know your grandparents will have a treat for you. It’s guaranteed. That is why the experience at Luce e Limoni was very pleasing, comfortable, and made us happy. If you can, I think you should give it a go.

by Max

Saltimbocca alla Romana

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Saltimbocca are some of the fastest, easiest, and most succulent meat dish you can prepare. Their name, ‘jump-in-a-mouth’, kind of says it all… In Italy, we call them ‘the Roman way’ since at least Pellegrino Artusi’s description in his famous 1891 cookbook, even though they probably originated more to the north, in the town of Brescia. Nevertheless, across the country and around the world, this dish has now become one of the symbols of the food from Rome and Italy in general.

Saltimbocca alla Romana (serves 4)

600 g veal escalope
10 slices of Parma Ham
a few sage leaves
50 g butter
1 glass of white wine

Start with prepping the meat: beat it until thin–about 2 or 3 mm thick. I have used the bottom of a moka-pot, but you can use a rolling pin or even a meat pounder, but do not tenderise the meat with one of those spiky hammers, just flat it out. Then, cut the meat slices into smaller squares.

Once you have prepared the meat slices, cover each one of them with a prosciutto slice, in order to have the surface of the meat completely covered. Place one sage leaf and pin it with a tooth-pick going through all the way. Some people love the silky flavour of sage more than others; if this is you, then double the leaves on each saltimbocca slice you are preparing. You will not need to use any salt, as the prosciutto flavour will take care of that for you.composite_14566979392441.jpg

Once the prepping is done, melt the butter in a wide frying pan; when it starts to turn into small white bubbles, place your saltimbocca for a couple of minutes per side at medium/high heat.composite_14566989461332.jpg

After both sides have been cooked, turn them again with the prosciutto side facing up, add the wine at high heat and let it evaporate. After one minute, start placing the saltimbocca slices on the plates, while you let the wine sauce reduce. Dress your saltimbocca with a sprinkle of ground black pepper and the wine reduction sauce. You can serve them with pretty much any sort of side dish, potatoes, chips, peas and carrots, or a fresh salad.

by Max

Wholewheat penne with saffron

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When I feel like having a healthy, tasty bite, and quick to prepare, I have two ‘superfoods’ that save my day: wholewheat pasta and saffron. They offer great combinations with many other ingredients, such as vegetables, cheese, fish, and meat. Today I added toasted sunflower seeds and pine kernels, a few porcini mushrooms, and a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Wholewheat pasta is a blessing for a carbs-lover like me. In Italy we eat pasta almost every day (well, forget that ‘almost’) and it is common to have either durum wheat, wholewheat, or egg pasta. Wholewheat is rich in fibre, protein, and vitamins, but we actually have it when we want to add a crunchier and nuttier flavour to our pasta dish. Metabolism does the rest.

Today’s special guest, though, is saffron.

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Saffron offers you a palette of warm autumn colours: it is yellow on your food and it comes from the red styles of a precious purple flower. The plant itself grows slowly out of the summer into its autumnal ripeness. The little bulbs are planted in August and not watered, because they have to wait for early September rains. Then, the first leaves jut out of the soil and the flowers can be only hand-picked during the second half of October, before they open at dawn. Six purple petals hide three yellow, male anthers and the three red, female stigmas which are then toasted on almond and oak embers. Only the stigmas give flavour, but it is not uncommon to find also bits of anthers left in saffron bags, which will add more colour to the final product. You need up to 200,000 flowers for 1 kg of saffron. Luckily, you need only less than a gram for your cooking.

Its flavour alone is quite enigmatic, almost bitter and sharp, but yet so smooth and almost sweet when you let it dissolve in your food. It tastes like its ancient Greek myth, where the flower was the tragic end of Crocus, a young lover of nymph Smilax, favourite of god Hermes. And this bitter-sweetness is reflected in your food. I would recommend using Italian saffron from l’Aquila (PDO), but there are also other ones available on the market, particularly from Iran and Spain.

Wholewheat penne with saffron (serves 4)

400 g wholewheat pasta (penne/fusilli/any short shape)
1 bag of saffron (stigmas or powder)

Optional:
2 tsp sunflower seeds
2 tsp pine kernels

While you get the water for your pasta boiling, place in hot oven (180°/fan 160°/mark 4) a tin containing the sunflower seeds and pine kernels with a pinch of salt an a drop of olive oil. They will toast for about ten minutes while your pasta is cooking.

Add the pasta to salted, boiling water and let cook as indicated on package–usually, it is 11 minutes for short pasta. Do not cook too much al dente when you use wholewheat, because this type of pasta retains its crunchiness a bit longer than the durum wheat one.

To prepare the saffron, you can either leave the stigmas in a bit of warm water (the time depends on how long they have been toasted, it is usually specified on the pouch) and add them and their water to the pasta pot a couple of minutes before the pasta is ready to be drained. If you are using saffron powder, then keep some of the cooking water when you drain your pasta. Place the pasta in a pot, dust the pasta with the saffron powder, and add the little cooking water directly onto the saffron. Mix well.

If you are going for the optional extra of today’s recipe, add the toasted sunflower seeds and pine kernels before serving and don’t forget a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano! Enjoy!

by Max

Parmesan cheese lollipops

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This is an easy, fast recipe for a tasty snack. All you need is the king of cheese: Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Dealing with royals is simple: there is no obligatory code of behaviour, they say, but it is much better to stick to tradition. And this is all Parmigiano-Reggiano is about. In their way, producers respect the Consorzio’s etiquette: they honour the oldest tradition of food production standards–even older than Champagne or Bavarian beers, and actually stricter than those. To make it, you are allowed to use only cow’s milk, salt, and rennet (a natural enzyme). Nothing else. The milk has to be milked on the same day, it has to come from the local healthy cows, who have eaten only local grass. That’s it. Strictly local, strictly natural, pure breed.

You need 14 litres of milk to make 1 kilo of cheese, which adds up to about 550 litres for each wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano. That is 15% of all Italian milk. But most of the final product remains at home, only 1/3 leaves Italy. Minimum aging is 12 months, reaching 30 months at max.

Now that you know what making the king of cheese is like, picture yourself there. Imagine a green lowland dotted of yellows and browns, with a few soft hill towards the southwest, warm, quiet. Everything moves with its own time, not too fast, not too slow. You’ve got to wait for at least twelve months, anyway. And that’s only when the first official control comes. This is the coolest job: the analytical protocol examiner smells the cheese, looks at each wheel’s colour, roundness, and internal structure, and gets to gently ‘play’ it like a drum with a cool little rubber mallet. It can only sound right, there is no falsetto, out of tune, or wrong note. Otherwise, it is not royal. So, when you cook with Parmigiano-Reggiano, you become part of something special, ancestral, essentially flawless: enjoy it!

Pamigiano-Reggiano lollipops (4 of them)

60 g Parmigiano-Reggiano (I usually prefer 24 or 30-month-old)
4 skewers

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Preheat the oven at 220°/200° fan/mark 7. Meanwhile, line an oven tray with some parchment paper and a little bit of butter. Grate the cheese and place it on the oven tray in small discs, less than half a centimetre high. Place the skewers on top of the cheese discs and cover with a little more grated cheese. You can mix the grated cheese with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, tyme leaves, or other herbs–see the picture on the right.

Lower the oven at 180°/160°/mark 4 and place the tray in the middle of the oven. Leave for 5 to 10 minutes, according to the thickness of your lollipops.
Take out of the oven when the cheese is golden and starting to make bubbles. Let the lollipops cool down completely(!) and only then remove from the parchment paper.
by Max