Back to Pasta


Well, so I have been away for a while, spending almost 3 months in Japan and I must say that coming back to Italy, well, home, after such a long time in such a different place (it's a bit too long to tell and you can check out my japanese posts, in italian, here) is kind of tricky :) But, it seems as if I'm getting back to my normal life quickly now, though the first days have ben kind of overwhelming :) Anyhow, changing countries and continents ment, of course, changing ingredients and thus cooking, and this is the first pasta dish I cooked when I got home (even if I somehow also regretted rice, miso and dashi...:) Actually, one of the nicest things about Rome in this time of year is that fresh and green spring veggies (fava beans, asparagus, little artichokes, peas etc) are just about everywhere. So, of course, I just couldn't resist, walking through the market I bought myself a big bunch of fresh fava beans, and I made this quick and easy lunch out of it :)

Creamy bavette with fava beans and feta cheese

Unpod 500g fava beans, boil them for a couple of minutes in plenty of water, them drain,rince under cold water and peell of the little skins of each bean. Wizz the beans with a generous dash of extravergin olive oil, about 40g greek feta cheese, and a couple of fresh wild garlic leaves (if you can't find them just use a little piece of fresh garlic, or even japanese negi :). On the side, get you pasta cooked (I used whole wheat bavette, they're very similar to linguine but you can of course use the pasta you prefer), mix one our two spoons cooking water through the fava cream, drain the pasta, and then justtoss it in a bowl with the fava and feta cream. Finish up with a little cracked black pepper and serve right away. Serves 2.

Deconstructing Miss Tatin

Last month, after posting the ultimate tagliatelle bolognaise recipe, I kind of promised myself I would have done this little linguistic excercise more often. At the moment I can’t cook much of italian food (see, I’m in Japan for a couple of months), and I’m far too excited about discovering tofu, nabe, kanten and everything else to even think about tiramisù or spaghetti alla carbonara. But settling down in a new city, discovering day by day markets, products, recipies and inventing new ways to use my (quite poor) kitchen gear made me think I might as well continue writing in English once in a while, since I very much doubt my usual readers could be interested in things as, well, alternative ricecooker uses for instance. I mean, before heading to Japan I didn’t even knew what a ricecooker was in the first place! (after all, you’re supposed to stir your risotto for the whole 17 minutes it takes to get cooked, not to poor raw rice it in some futuristic machine and wait untill it's done :D)

Now, this little deconstruction thing all started with these red Fuji apples… They're from Nagano and arrived at my Kyoto home in a cute box with apples printed on it, along with other edible thoughts, a very much appreciated welcome-in-Japan gift by Chika (you can also see her photos of the apples and their very own natural environment here). So I had a lot of apples and, well, I love fresh apples but ... they were really a lot of apples! :-) So I started thinking about cooking some: first, I dressed up a couple of apples for Valentine's day, and then all at a sudden I started fancying on … Tarte Tatin?! It was not the craving-like thoughts people get when they are too far from home for too long (actually till now I haven't been craving for anything Italian, nor European for that matter:-)), it was more something like the desire to play around with both the idea of Tarte Tatin and my little Japanese kitchen (equipped with a pan, a simple microwave, a smal gas broiler and, oh, my friend the ricecooker, and that's about it).

Perhaps the souvenir of a nice slice of warm melting Tatin tart came to my mind just because Japanese are so found of French pastry, who knows... Anyway, this is what I came up with: 3 really basic, no-fuss, tatin-related recipies that can be made with almost no tools at all. Of course, none of the following is authentic Tarte Tatin, though each of them contains one or several of the elements that makes Tarte Tatin so special: apples, of course, caramelised sugar, a crisp and buttery dough and, eventually, some crème anglaise on the side ;-) And when I’ll have my oven back I’ll owe you one authentic version too :-). For now, who knows, maybe there are other asia-based cooks around, wondering what they could possibly make from a box of apples and no oven ;-)


Custard, apple and caramel pots

Peel one apple and dice it into small cubes. Sautée the apple with one tbsp butter until slightly golden, add 2 tbsp cane sugar and let caramelise over medium heat. Set aside. Bring to boil 50cl fresh milk with 2g powdered kanten, let boil for 10 seconds then remove from heat. Whisk 2 eggyolks with 2 tbsp granulated sugar until pale. Poor the milk over the yolks and sugar, mix well, set aside. Divide the diced and cooked apple over 4 little dessert glasses. Fill up with the custard and let rest until completely set. Prepare caramel sauce heating 4 tbsp granulated sugar with one tbsp water, when caramel is blond, ad 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp heavy cream. Mix well and let rest until caramel is at room temperature (if you feel like it you can add 1 pinch of fleur de sel salt to the finished caramel sauce). Pour one tablespoon caramel sauce on top of each custerd cream, serve at room temperature. Serves 4 little pots.



Caramelised apple crumbles

Peel one apple and dice it into small cubes. Sautée the apple with one tbsp butter until slightly golden, add 2 tbsp cane sugar and let caramelise over medium heat. Set aside. Soften 2 tbsp butter using the microwave. Crumble 4 tbsp flour with 1 tbsl sugar, a tiny pinch of salt and the softened butter. Scoop the diced apple into 4 small ramequins, divide crumbles on top, and finish the crumbles under the gas broiler until crumble is golden, taking care of not burning them. Let rest for five minutes and serve, eventually with some vanilla custard or sour cream on top. Serves 4 small ramequins.



Ricecooker Tatin cake

Peel two apples, cut each apple into 8 wedges. In a non -stick pan, heat gently 2 tbsp butter, add the apples, toss them around a little and let cook at medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add 3 tbsp cane sugar, mix delicately and let cook until caramelised. Grease the ricecooker's bowl with a drop of oil and poor the apples and all the remaining caramel into the bowl. Arrange the apples to cover the bottom of the bowl. Then put together 70g (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour with 50g (1/4) cup granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon baking powder, a pinch of salt, 3 tbsp melted butter and two eggs, mix well and pour this batter over the apples, covering them completely. Put everything back into the ricecooker and push the on-button. That's it! :-) ps. after cooking the cake, allow it to cool in the mold for 20 minutes, and unmold delicately on a serving plate. Serve with crème anglaise or a scoop of vanilla icecream. ps: Thanks to Clea for the basic ricecookercake recipe! ;-). Serves 4 europeans (or 8 japanese ;-).


Tagliatelle al ragù

Yesterday it was the International day of Italian Cuisines. The concept of this event is straightforward: once a year italian chefs from all over the world make a kind of tribute to a famous italian dish, showing how it actually should look and taste like. So last year we had risotto alla milanese, the year before it was all about spaghetti alla carbonara, and this year's dish is another evergreen: tagliatelle al ragù bolognese, probably one of the most mistreated recipies on the face of earth (more or less like pizza, sushi or whatever national speciality suddenly became a big global hit). Don't get me wrong, I'm actually quite cool about the fact that every country or cook adapts foreign recipies to it's own taste, inspiration or ingredients, but, still, I must admit that, from an italian point of view, things can get awfully bad when talking about pasta alla bolognese abroad. And after all there're not really wrong, especially considering that the original bolognese is far better than the other one you all know... So, since I usually spend my time explaining to italians how to cook belgian, french, japanese or whatever other food from the world, well, I thought that, just once, I could do the opposite and explain to the non italian readers (okay, lurkers? :) how to make the most simple dead good ragù alla bolognese. Almost filologically :)


The recipe I used (and slightly adapted) is from a lovely italian cookbook called Le ricette regionali italiane, written way back in the sixties (when there were no internet and no cell phones :) by Anna Gosetti della Salda, who seems to have toured twice all of the 20 italian regions in order to collect most of the regional recipies. The book has no pictures and I'm not sure there exists any foreign edition of it, if you're fond of italian cooking and the language is not a huge problem you really should consider getting a copy of it :)


ground meat(I used half veal and half pork, you could also use beef) 300g + pancetta 50g + butter 50g + onion 1 + carrot 1 + celery 1 + peeled tomatoes (can) 400g + white wine 1 cup + milk 1 cup + stock (meat or vegeteble) 1 cup + bay leaf 1 + salt & pepper


Melt the butter in a large pan. Finely chop the onion with the celery and the carrot, put in the pan and let soften, stirring. Add the pancetta, finely chopped, and let cook for a couple of minutes toghether with the veggies, without letting them get browned. Add the meat, and stir untill it's completely cooked. Pour the wine and let it evaporate completely. Than add the tomatoes, the stock, milk and bay leaf, bring to boil then reduce heat, put lid on and let simmer for about 2 hours, stirring just once in while. The final ragu should be dense and fragrant. Add salt and pepper to taste, leave the ragù to rest for a couple of hours and reheat it gently before using (just toss some sauce with fresh cooked eggpasta). Serves 6.


How not to mess up your ragù

1. Take time. Ragù has to cook for several hours, slowly. So forget about it if you just have 20 minutes to prepare dinner. Prepare it on a lazy sunday morning and put a couple of batches in the freezer for week dinners.
2. Make stock. It's not a difficult thing to do, just grab your meat leftovers, put them in a pan of cold water with some onion, celery and carrot, add some pepper and a bay leave, bring to boil and let simmer for a while. Filter and freeze. And that's that: great real homemade stock ready for all your pasta and risotto, you'll ask yourself why you never did this before, really! :)
3. Forget about spaghetti. Right away! Sure, spaghetti are great, the best, with carbonara, clams, whatever... But not with ragù, no way. Now pick up those tagliatelle and save your spaghetti for some other day :)
4. Use egg pasta. You don't have to make it by yourself. If you do, it's better, but, hey, nobody's perfect...
5. Italians do it al dente. Pasta has this funny thing called cooking time. And it's not an optionnal, so, have a look at it before throwing your pasta in boiling water (boiling, not lukewarm, non cold, boiling :), and drain the pasta in a colander one minute before time. There you are, al dente it is :)
6. Toss it! There's no such thing as cooked pasta with sauce on top, so please, just toss them together! (it's far yummier too, usually you should do this in a pan at high temperature, for less then a minute, in this case you can even use a dressing bowl pour ragu on top and mix well for a minute or so)
7. Holy parmigiano reggiano. No emmental or gruyère, not the parmisan like thing made in argentina, not already grated, no, just the real thing (actually I like my ragù without any cheese at all, I think it's just perfect on it's own :).




Lift me up! Yeah!! :-) Well, tiramisù can probebly lift up your bad mood but it will certainly not lift up your belly, waste and so on :-) But, it's true, a good tiramisù is real comfort (I suppose that's because of the mascarpone cheese, creamier than cream :-). And a real good tiramisù is also really a piece of cake to make. All you need is mascarpone (I think you can find that in anysupermarket around the world these days), very fresh eggs, some savoiardi (ladyfingers), a little leftover amaretto liquor and two espresso coffees. Then you'll need some patience, untill the whole thing will be nicely chilled, and a spoon. And that's all there is to it :-)

Beat 6 eggyolks with 120g sugar untill creamy and pale. Add 500g mascarpone and mix well. Beat 6 eggwhites untill they form peaks, than mix them delicately into the mascarpone cream. Add 2 tbsp amaretto di saranno in you espresso coffe. Dip one ladyfinger at a tie into the coffee, then put them evenly in a 20 x 30cm oven dish. When the ladyfingers layer is complete, cover up with half the mascarpone cream, and dust with unsweetened cocoa powder. Repeat the ladyfinger part, put them delicately on the mascarpone, finish with the rest of the mascarpone, cocoa, then cover up with foil and place into the fridge for a couple of hourse before serving. For 6.

Spaghetti con le vongole

This is an easy one too, and it's probably the dish you'll want to eat when sitting down in any trattoria or ristorante in front of the sea (at least for me it definitely is :-). All you need is 1kg of clams, and some good quality spaghetti. At first wash the clams and leave them to rest for an hour or so in salted water. Heat a large skillet, add a glass of white wine, a couple of tablespoons olive oil, a spash of water, a small chilli pepper, chopped, and one or two cloves garlic. When it begins to boil, add the clams, and let them cook, tossing gently from once in a while, for a couple of minutes or untill opened. In the mean while, cook the pasta very al dente, and add it into the skillet with the cooked clams. Add some olive oil and a handfull of flat parsley, chopped, and let cook for another minute untill the pasta will be just cooked. Discard the garlic cloves ands serve immediately.