Tag Archives: pasta

Carbonara

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Mention you’re cooking Bolognese to an Italian and you’ll get a serious rolling of the eyeballs. Risotto? More of a sceptical narrowing of the eyes. But Carbonara? That’s a fighting word.

Per person you will need: 120g dried pasta, 60g pancetta finely diced, a whole egg, 10g of butter and 20g of Parmesan or your favourite Italian hard cheese. It’s allegedly a Roman dish, so perhaps Pecorino might be better. Use whatever long dried pasta you have to hand: spaghetti, fettucine, linguine etc.

Pancetta can be replaced with sweet-cured belly bacon, but see below about getting some help from nutmeg and garlic. Fancy supermarkets often sell Pancetta pre-cubed in little sealed plastic pouches that can be popped into the freezer, meaning this can be whipped up al pronto if needs must.

If you have a bit of practice, then you should be able to prep and cook the sauce in the same time it takes to do the pasta, but I’d err on the side of caution, and start with the pancetta.

  1. Gently fry the pancetta and the butter, stirring occasionally, until it starts to colour.  Grind over some black pepper.
  2. Get the pasta going.
  3. In a bowl or jug, combine the egg and Parmesan.
  4. Once the pancetta is lightly browned, but not crunchy, turn off the heat.
  5. Once the pasta is done, use a teacup to fish out a few tablespoons of the starchy cooking water, and put to one side.
  6. Drain the pasta, and add to the saucepan with the pancetta, combining thoroughly. Add a splash of the reserved cooking water to loosen it up, and then the cheese and egg mixture, stirring like mad. Serve immediately, with more Parmesan.

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Stuff you could add…

This is where controversy begins. Don’t mention any of this to your Italian friends.

  • a clove of garlic, split down the middle, fried with the pancetta, and then discarded, is nice
  • a small grating of nutmeg won’t hurt – if you can’t get Pancetta, and you’re using bacon, then the nutmeg is useful
  • I don’t think cream is necessary
  • a spot of peperoncino, fried with the pancetta could be fun

Aglio ed Olio

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Not sure I really qualify, but I have Stinking Man Flu like only a Real Man can get, and it’s interfering with Life. The solution, of course, is aglio ed olio, which looks quite daft on paper, but does the job nicely.

The procedure is slightly vague, as it depends upon the strength of your cold, and how much of a devil-may-care attitude it inspires. Start by peeling and finely slicing as much garlic as you dare. For me that’s somewhere in between four very fat cloves, or half a head. Fry a teaspoon of peperoncino (that’s a posh way of saying chilli flakes) in a couple of tablespoons of cheap vegetable oil, and then add the garlic. You’re aiming to get it slightly golden about the edges, but not burnt. Once almost there, turn off the gas, and let it finish in the residual heat.

Cook around 150g of dried pasta the usual way. I use linguini. Finely chop a handful of fresh parsley and grate loads of Parmesan.

When the pasta is done, add it and the parsely to the pan with the garlic, turn on the heat, and combine well. Add a couple of tablespoons of fancy olive oil and maybe a few tablespoons of hot water to loosen up.

Don’t book a hot date that evening.


Puttanesca II

This is highly offensive and will render you unfit for civilised company.

Peel, finely slice, and fry four cloves of garlic in two tablespoons olive oil. Add a generous pinch of chilli flakes and wait for the garlic to get slightly translucent and golden about the edges. Tip in a 400g tin of chopped tomatoes, and four anchovy fillets. Simmer for about 20 minutes to reduce by half. Check the seasoning: will probably need a good grind of pepper; but no extra salt.

Serve with linguine and plenty of parmesan.

Makes enough to serve a single misanthrope.


DIY Pasta

Thinking about my throwaway comment about using fresh pasta with aglio e olio, I see Ms Cloake is at it again in her “How to Make the Perfect…” series. This time, it’s pasta. A good article. My tuppence worth below.

  • for each serving, 50g strong white bread flour, 50g semolina, one lightly beaten egg, and a pinch of salt
  • alter the flour:semolina ratio to suit your tastes
  • if you want a richer pasta, start replacing whole eggs with an equivalent volume of egg yolks: for example, if you were working with 400g flour:semolina, you could use four whole eggs, or perhaps three whole eggs and two yolks, or two whole eggs and four yolks – the more yolks the richer and more decadent the result
  • egg:flour ratio will vary depending on flour, humidity etc so be ready not to add all the egg, and have some extra egg on standby
  • when you’ve kneaded the pasta – sorry folks, has to be done – form each 100g into a stubby sausage rather than the whole lot into a ball – much easier to roll out later
  • once kneaded, it will need an hour, somewhere cool, to rest – I presume this is so the gluten can develop and so it doesn’t fall to pieces – so I guess the fridge is probably too cold
  • alternatively, it can go in the fridge at this point for an overnight stay in cling film, should that be more convenient
  • make sure you’re chucking plenty of semolina around when you’re rolling it out
  • yeah, rolling – machines are for wimps
  • when you’ve rolled and sliced each sheet into tagliatelle, give it a good shake to dislodge the excess semolina
  • three minutes on the hob ought to do
  • a simple sauce is best

My thanks to Ms Rachel Prejudice for introducing me to The Dark Arts all those years ago.

Unexpected Vegetable Pasta

Ugh.

The mince from the supermarket was off. Looked perfectly respectable on the outside, even smelt OK. Almost. And then, as I broke it up into pieces before hurling into the pan, the entire inside was a greyish brown mush: to say it stank would be like saying Mount Everest is tall. (At least I hadn’t just chucked the mince in whole, only then to discover it was rotten.)

So the ragù very quickly became vegetable sauce instead.

Today’s learning experience however is to with the sofritto. Once it’s done, deglaze the pan with madeira. Yum.

Chunky Pasta

A useful weeknight no-brainer, if your local supermarket is grand enough to sell bags of pre-prepped sofritto.

  • a 400g bag sofritto
  • 50g pancetta (I normally have a stash in the freezer of those useful little plastic boxes they have in supermarkets)
  • a 450g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • four cloves of garlic (or however much you like)

I know everything comes out of a packet or a tin, but that’s the beauty of it. Anyway, here goes.

  1. Fry the pancetta gently, ’til it’s dark brown and all the fat has rendered.
  2. Whilst that’s happening, peel and slice the garlic, and then add it to the pan, frying until translucent and a slightly coloured.
  3. Dump in the sofritto. There should be enough fat from the pancetta, but if not, add a splash of olive oil.
  4. A sneaky half teaspoon of sugar sprinkled over and stirred in will help the edges go brown and sticky.
  5. Fry ‘til soft – take your time – if there’s a bit of brown around the edges and a hint of stuff sticking to the bottom of pan – all the better.
  6. Dump in the tinned tomatoes, plus a teaspoon of dried oregano and half a teaspoon dried basil – if you like pepper now would be the time to add a grind, there should be enough salt in the pancetta so you shouldn’t need any more.
  7. Simmer gently for about as long as it takes to cook the pasta, which should be conchiglie, because once it’s done you’re going to vigorously stir it and the sauce together so the bits of veg and pancetta get caught up inside the shells.
  8. Pass the parmesan.

Variations

Instead of using pancetta, you could add some anchovy fillets towards the end.

A glass of red wine won’t hurt: you may even care to put a splash in the sauce.

Maybe some chopped up mushrooms just before simmering?

Super Fast Pasta

The snow is snowing, the wind is blowing, …

…and I’m tired. This is what I do when I’m hungry, in a hurry, and nobody is watching.

Get some pasta going in a pot: conchiglie is the way forward with this kind of dish. You’ll need another pan in which to cook the sauce, and big enough to hold the cooked pasta as well.

For each person, finely chop 1-2 cloves of garlic, and gently fry in olive oil. Meanwhile, sieve a tin of chopped tomatoes until almost all the juice has run off and you’ve only got the flesh left. Once the garlic is translucent and golden, tip the tomatoes in, plus salt, pepper, half a teaspoon dried oregano and a quarter teaspoon of dried basil. Bring to the boil, and reduce to a bare simmer. This will have taken about five minutes, so let it simmer away for another five, or whenever the pasta is done.

When the pasta is ready, drain it, and then tip it into the saucepan of sauce, add a splash of your best extra virgin, and stir furiously. This is where the shell shapes of the conchiglie come in handy, as they will scoop up and hold the meagre amount of sauce. Serve in pre-heated bowls with plenty of Parmesan, and a glass of quaffing wine.

Variations

Depending on what else you’ve got in the cupboard, you could add…

  • some chilli, when you’re frying the garlic, just enough to add a bit of zing
  • some anchovy fillets, either with the tomatoes or just before serving
  • some chopped up olives, after the garlic
  • a splash of cream, if you have some handy
  • some capers, but only just before serving – cook ’em and they’re foul

Lasagne

This dish really does need you to do your maths first about volumes, dimensions, number of sheets of pasta etc.

I don’t need to tell you how to make lasagne, but to feed six, I used…

  • 600mL Béchamel Sauce
  • 1.6L ragù (meat and tomato sauce)
  • 375g dried lasagne sheets (more in reserve)
  • 250g Parmesan
  • 200g gorgonzola

…which came to the top of a 22cm x 30cm x 5cm baking dish.

Some things to note…

  • I start with a layer of ragù on the bottom, then pasta, then béchamel – it’s much easier to spread the béchamel over pasta than it is over meat sauce
  • I finish with a layer of pasta, topped with either béchamel or ragù
  • allow the pasta sheets to overlap by about half an inch, as they will glue themselves together
  • never finish with a layer of pasta on top, as it will curl up and escape
  • I chopped up the gorgonzola and snuck it underneath the top layer of pasta
  • put about half the Parmesan on top about 10 minutes before the end, so it melts, rather than cooks, separates and goes horrible (the other half is for the table)

No photos, sorry. Too busy cooking and eating.

Ragù

I have a cunning plan that will probably culminate in lasagne. So first, I’m going to need a pot of ragù.

This time, I used:

  • 300g beef or pork mince – this should not be the “premium” steak mince, but rather something cheaper and fattier – this will taste a lot nicer as it’s made from all the obscure, and in some cases, unspeakable, bits of the animal
  • 75g of diced pancetta (sweet cured belly bacon) leave the fat attached
  • four cloves of garlic, or more if the garlic is small; you know how much you like
  • two medium onions, and about the same amount of celery and carrots; I ended up with about 600g (uncooked weight)
  • four large (ish) portabella mushrooms
  • 800g tinned tomatoes
  • a small glass of red wine

You’ll need a large sauté pan, preferably with vertical sides, so the stuff doesn’t escape as you’re stirring.

  1. Get the pan warmed on a low heat, and put the pancetta in, no need for any cooking oil, and let it quietly sizzle away for about five minutes, during which time it will become medium brown, crunchy, and will have rendered up most, if not all of its fat.
  2. Scoop out the pancetta with a slotted spoon, and pop somewhere on the side, but not so close you’re tempted to nibble on it during the rest of the cooking.
  3. Add the mince to the pan, breaking it up with a spoon, and putting a pinch of salt, and a generous grind of pepper on. You can also sprinkle a quarter teaspoon of white or brown sugar over the mince at this point, which will help it caramelise. You’ll probably need to turn the heat up a whisker, as you’re cooking a much greater mass, but you still want a gentle sizzling, and again, get it brown, a little crunchy, and having given up its fat.
  4. Whilst that’s browning (you don’t need to stir constantly) peel and slice the garlic. Make a well in the middle of the mince, and pop the garlic in, moving it around with a wooden spoon until it’s gone translucent, and started to go a golden colour. Do not let it brown, as it will go bitter. Once that’s all done, rescue everything with the slotted spoon into a dish, and leaving the fat behind. By this point, you’ll have noticed a bit of a build up on the bottom of the pan, of brown stuff. Rejoice, for this is Very Tasty. This is what the French call the fond.
  5. Put the diced onion, carrots and celery into the pan, adding a little olive oil if necessary, and fry ’til the onion is translucent. You’ll notice that the juices from the veg deglaze the bottom of the pan, and the fond is incorporated into the veg. Mmmm.
  6. Add the wine and stir furiously, in case frying the veg builds up some goo.
  7. Add the tomatoes, the mince, pancetta, and about a teaspoon each of dried oregano and dried basil. (I will explain the Dried Herb Heresy another day.)
  8. Add the chopped up mushrooms.
  9. Bring to the boil, but don’t let it arrive there, and then reduce the heat so the surface is barely quivering, cover the pot, and then leave it like that for an hour.

Hints:

  • You can get vacuum packed bags of pre-diced sofritto – this is a fancy word for diced and fried onions, carrots and celery.
  • I also grated about a quarter of a nutmeg over it. Some people like mace and majoram.
  • Maybe you’ve found some fresh basil that isn’t bland hydroponic rubbish. In this case, shred it up and add it at the very end, i.e. about five minutes before the end of the simmer, or even after simmering, when you’ve switched the heat off. Fresh basil does not like being cooked.

Chilli Prawn Pasta

As is usual in London at the moment, the public transport system has been partially shut down for weekend maintenance works, and today most of my avenues for escape from the parish are shut, unless I want to spend an hour on an omnibus.

So, it’s off to the Very Expensive Supermarket on the corner. These aren’t just prawns, they’re packed in vast amounts of plastic in a special luxury protective atmosphere prawns. This isn’t just basil, this is basil whose plastic wrapping weighs more than the contents. You know the drill.

That said, the basil is decent. Too much supermarket basil is either tasteless, or tasteless and bitter. This stuff, unwrapped and washed, is already smelling pretty darned fine. And the prawns are alright, too. However, if you can get fresh whole prawns, with their shells and legs and feelers and heads and guts, then there’s more interesting things you can do. (You can do this recipe with frozen raw prawns, but not dried basil.)

To serve two, I’m using:

  • 300g prawns
  • 4 fat cloves of garlic (but you could use more)
  • a teaspoon of minced chillis from the jar (substitute fresh, but not dried)
  • a bunch of fresh basil
  • a 450g tin of chopped tomatoes, drained (or two small fresh tomatoes, chopped and gutted, no need to peel)

Firstly, crush the garlic, and mix with the prawns and chilli in a bowl. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil, and mix well. I happened to have half a lemon in the fridge (looking a bit mummified) so put about a tablespoon of lemon juice into the mix as well, but only ‘cos it happened to be there. Let that sit at room temperature whilst you do the washing up, read the paper, and have a cup of tea. You could also cover the bowl, and leave in the fridge for half a day. Always remember, that if you’re marinating in the fridge, it will take longer, ‘cos it’s cold.

Once you start cooking, this is very quick, so be prepared. Get the pasta started in one pot, and then, when the pasta has about five minutes to go, get a frypan very hot indeed, and add the prawns.

(Victory from Jaws of Defeat: Now at this point, I had forgotten how wet cryogenic prawns are, and stared aghast as they oozed water into the pan. Dang. They weren’t gonna fry, they were gonna boil. If this happens to you, don’t panic, just grab the slotted spoon rescue the prawns and park them in a bowl, whilst the liquid in the pan reduces. Once that happened, I returned the prawns, and carried on.)

Once the prawns have gone pink, add the tomatoes and basil, and turn off the heat. I had some cream handy, so added about 50mL. You don’t want to overcook the prawns, or they’ll turn into little rubbery things that are only good as tap washers.

By this time the pasta will be done, so drain it and add it to the prawns, stir, season, and serve.

Pass the Parmesan.

Variations

  • I had a lemon handy, so I added some lemon juice to the marinade
  • if you have some cream handy, then add a good glug of the stuff just after the toms, crème fraîche even better
  • some whole black olives would be good, add these with the prawns
  • a glug of nice white wine will improve things, and you may even want to put a splash in the dish after the prawns are done
  • instead of basil, you could use oregano, or coriander leaves, assuming your guests don’t think coriander is the Devil’s pubic hair
  • you could replace the prawns with a skinned, and chopped chicken breast or two