Pasta Bake

Penne pasta baked in a spicy tomato sauce with a delicious cheesy topping.

Ingredients:
Pasta:
240 grams / 8 oz uncooked pasta penne
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 litres Water
Arrabbiata Sauce:
60 grams / 2 oz pre cooked sweet corn kernels
60 grams / 2 oz mixed peppers red /green / yellow diced
1 small onion finely diced
60 grams / 2 oz courgettes finely diced
250 ml passata (sieved tomatoes)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons dried Italian spice (oregano)
½ teaspoon black pepper powder
2 chillies finely chopped
1 clove garlic finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
 3 oz cheddar cheese
Method:
1. In a pan heat the olive oil and add the onions and garlic. Sauté till translucent.
2. Add the passata and cook sauce for 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the peppers, sweet corn, courgettes to the tomato sauce and cook till vegetables are tender.
4. Add the salt and pepper, Italian spice, chillies and sugar and simmer sauce on low heat till sauce thickens. Remove from heat and keep aside.
5. Heat water in a large saucepan when it comes to boil, add 1 teaspoon salt and the penne pasta.
6. Reduce heat to simmer and cook pasta until al dente.
7. Drain the pasta and return it to saucepan, add 1 teaspoon olive oil and stir it into the pasta.Add the tomato sauce and mix well.
8. Transfer the pasta to an oven proof dish and top with the grated cheese. Place the dish under a preheated grill  for 3-4 minutes until cheese melts and starts to brown.
Serve pasta with salad.

Pizza Bites

Preparation time – 15 minutes
Cooking time – 20 minutes
Makes about 40 small pizza bites

Ingredients:

2 sheets of ready rolled puff pastry
2 tablespoon sun dried tomato paste
2 tablespoons tomato puree
½ teaspoon chilli flakes
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon salt
200 grams grated mature cheddar

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 180ºC.
2. Oil two baking trays and keep aside.
3. In a bowl add the tomato puree, sun dried tomato paste, Italian seasoning, salt and chilli flakes and mix well.
4. Open out the ready rolled puff pastry sheets and spread  the tomato filling evenly over both sheets leaving approximate 1 cm rim at one end.
5. Sprinkle the grated cheese on top of the tomato spread.
6. Using a pastry brush wet the 1cm rim end.
7. From the opposite end tightly roll the pasty to encase the cheese like a roulade.
8. Press down firmly to seal the wet edge.
9. Cut 1cm thick slices of the pastry roll and place the cut slices onto prepared oiled baking tray. (Cover  with cling film and freeze for later use at this stage).
10. Bake in preheated oven for 15-20 minutes until pizza bites are crisp and golden brown.
11. Remove from oven and immediately transfer to serving plate.

Serve with tomato ketchup or chilli dip.

Pizza Bread

Delicious savoury bread with italian pizza flavours.

Preparation time – 20 minutes
Cooking time – 40 Minutes
Serves 4

Ingredients:

240 grams / 8 oz wholemeal flour
240 grams / 8 oz plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 cup yogurt
1/2 cup cheddar cheese grated
1 teaspoon italian seasoning
Pinch of chilli flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons pizza sauce (homemade or shop bought)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 spring onions finely chopped
6 cherry tomatoes halved
1/2 green pepper finely diced
1 teaspoon salt
200ml water

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/400 degees F
2. Spray/grease the bread tin.
3. In a pan add 1 tablespoon oil and heat it up, fry the onions and green pepper in the oil for 2-3 minutes.
4. Add the pizza sauce, salt, chilli flakes and italian seasoning and tomatoes mix well. Remove from heat and cool.
5. In a big bowl, sieve flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda. Add cheese, yogurt, olive oil , vinegar and the vegetable mix and combine with a spoon.
6. Add water little at a time and gently mix everything together. (Only add enough water to make a dropping consistency mixture)
7. Pour the mixture into the prepared bread tin and smooth the top.
8. Bake in a preheated oven for 40 minutes or until top is golden brown. Test if done by inserting a skewer in the bread, if it comes out clean it’s ready.
8. Remove from oven and allow to cool before slicing.

Serve with garlic butter.

Limoncello at Cambridge Food and Wine Society (with La Dante)

After I arranged a tasting of Italian wines for La Dante in Cambridge last year, Giulia Portuese-Williams, who runs the centre, suggested we do a joint event together with the Cambridge Food and Wine Society.

When, shortly afterwards, I made contact with Steve Turvill who runs Limoncello on Mill Road, everything fell into place and we agreed to promote the event together using our various Twitter accounts and Facebook groups.

La Dante in Cambridge is part of the international la Società Dante Alighieri, founded in 1889 with 440 offices worldwide – it is a national cultural institute rather like the British Council or the Goethe Institute, but unlike these it is not state-funded and so needs to rely on language lessons for its income.

As the old adage goes, I’m sure at least half of our social media efforts were wasted, but I’ve no idea which half; in any case it proved to be the best attended event the Society has held for a long time.

Numbers aside, it also proved very popular with both Society and La Dante members as well as the new guests who came along, including Caroline Biggs who writes an excellent  blog on Cambridge’s hidden past, The Real Cambridge.

After introductions and welcomes, Giulia briefly spoke about La Dante which has recently moved into new offices, describing her experience of British bureaucracy as what she hoped to leave behind when she left her native Italy.

She also made an open invitation for everyone to drop into La Dante to see the new offices and have a cup of real Italian coffee, but I suspect that may not apply to the powers that be that oversee property moves in Cambridge.

We started the event itself with a Prosecco, Villa Sandi Millesimato 2011 Valdobbiandene – with ripe pear fruit, hints of yeasty brioche and good depth on the palate, it had good, food-friendly acidity and a long finish.

The name was familiar and reviewing this blog, I see that I tried a sparkler from Sandi some time ago and checking my notes, was impressed with it then as well.

Steve then invited us to try two different sets of olives – the first cured, the second marinaded; the accompaniment to this was a Sicilian Grecanico, Vinali Roccamora Sicilia. Also known as Garganega in Soave and with just 12% alcohol, it was crisp and fresh. A sandy yellow in the glass, it had an expressive nose, with herbaceous, floral hints, white pepper spice and toasty yeastiness; there is lemony citrus on the palate, and a long, savoury finish

There followed a series of “taste tests”, starting with two olive oils; both had been poured into unmarked containers and we were invited to decide which we preferred – one being significantly more expensive than the other.

For me, olive oil should be strong, fruity and peppery and I was sorry to learn that my preferred, more-strongly flavoured oil proved to be the more expensive one.

This set up something of a pattern as we then repeated this with two types of cured ham – both were very good, but I found myself slightly preferring the (more expensive) San Daniele compared to the Prosciutto.

Next were two lots of balsamic vinegar to try – the first was thick, gloopy and sweet, whilst the second was incredibly complex and quite wonderful, so there were no surprises when #1 proved to be a basic “balsamic glaze” whilst the second was a 25yo, extremely expensive balsamico tradizionale.

We accompanied this part of the tasting with a Sangiovese; with cherry fruit and vanilla spice on the nose, there was juicy sour cherry on the palate which opens up and becomes more rounded with air.

Steve’s chef Paul then made some pesto freshly using a blender which we compared to some from the shop; I found myself preferring the shop-made pesto for its stronger flavour and higher cheese content, but a number of people on the table who are regular visitors to Italy found the more herbaceous, freshly-made pesto to be typical of what they had experienced in Italy.

This led on to a discussion with Giulia about how best to keep basil in Cambridge – whilst I can grow rosemary, tarragon, parsley and chives in our south-facing garden, I’ve never been successful with basil.

According to Giulia, basil needs hot, damp conditions to thrive – essentially a Mediterranean climate, which is not easily reproduced in Cambridge – so I am unlikely to be making pesto from home-grown basil any time soon.

We then moved on to a comparison of three types of cheese – a Pecorino Fresco which had a soft texture, a firmer and stronger aged Pecorino with saffron and black pepper and some shaved parmesan, accompanied by bresaola, marinaded artichokes and various breads.

With this, Steve served an Elvio Cogno Vigna Elena 2005 Barolo; still relatively youthful at 6 years old, it was a pale, brick red in the glass with red and black cherry, tobacco leaf and pepperiness on the nose with cherry fruit, minty eucalyptus on the palate and a grippy finish.

The dessert section of the tasting featured home-made pannetone – better than any shop-bought one I have ever had – and cantuccini biscuits with a Moscato Sicilia; a golden colour, it had a an oxidative nose with a marmaladey palate cut through with fresh acidity.

The final digestivo was, appropriately enough a limoncello – a sweet lemon liqueur; on many occasions when eating out in Italy, I have found a sorbetto al limone con Prosecco a perfect digestivo at the end of a long, multi-course meal and the limoncello served the same purpose here.

With a zesty, pithy nose, it is initially intensely sweet and warming on the palate with a mouthfilling zesty, pithy bitterness that develops over time and a long, citrusy, aromatic finish.

It was a great event and very well received by Society members, those from La Dante and the large number of guests who came along – I put the success down to the sheer quality of the food and wine that Steve brought along for us to try, as well as to the way he ran the event; he is an easy-going, natural presenter and his love of and enthusiasm for all things Italian is very apparent – even if, as he admits, he would not actually want to live there.

For the final part of his talk, Steve explained how he had first got involved with Limoncello; in its previous guise, it had been his favourite deli and when it went bust, he bought the business and ran it as a sideline to his day-job. After a few years, the business was successful enough for him to do it full time and he is now looking to expand with further branches in the Cambridge area.

It should come as no surprise that there were a number of expressions of interest from the audience at this point.

Links

Cambridge Food and Wine Society – website, Facebook, Twitter

La Dante – website, Facebook, Twitter

Limoncello – website, Facebook, Twitter

Review of Limoncello on Wanton Flavours – http://wantonflavours.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/limoncello.html

More on Elvio Cogno from Chris Kissak – http://www.thewinedoctor.com/italy/cogno.shtml

Copyright Tom Lewis 2012