Tag Archive for Italian

Italian Soup

Weird but true: parmesan rinds give a wonderful flavour to soup. You can hoard parmesan rinds the whole year (store them in a resealable bag in the freezer) and finally make something like this. But if you can’t wait this long, don’t have a freezer, or will certainly forget those rinds in your freezer, you can easily add them to a “normal” recipe to perk it up.
I’m not sure how Italian this recipe really is, but it is inspired on loads of Italian recipes I’ve seen, and it gives me an Italian vibe. Because of the beans and barley it is a meal in itself, and I would describe the flavour as robust and savoury. The amounts of the ingredients are not that important, so I don’t give measurements in the recipe. Just do what you think is right, that is what I did too, and that is why I’ve got no clue how much I used from everything.

Italian Soup

Italian Soup

olive oil
pancetta, cubed/sliced
onion, cubed
carrot, cubed
celery, cubed
garlic, sliced
a few parmesan rinds
stock cubes
some sprigs of thyme
a few bay leafs

pearl barley (small handful per person)
can of cannellini beans (a small one is enough for 2 people)
chopped flat-leaf parsley
shavings of parmesan

Heat a large pan with a glug of olive oil. Add the pancetta, sweat for a bit. Then add the onion, cook until translucent. Add carrot and celery, cook until slightly soft and possibly a bit caramelized. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes longer, taking care not to burn it.
Add water, the parmesan rinds, stock cubes, thyme and bay, and leave to simmer for at least half an hour.
Add the pearl barley and cook until soft. Add the cannellini beans and warm trough. Serve, garnished with the parsley and parmesan shavings.

Spaghetti all’amatriciana

I’m a bit on a pasta-spree, so here is another delicious and simple pasta recipe.

Spaghetti All'Amatriciana

Spaghetti all’amatriciana (serves 2)
From nrc.next koken

2 tbsp olive oil
75 g pancetta, diced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1/2 – 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 can peeled tomatoes
200 g spaghetti
some flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan on medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and fry until it releases its fat and turns golden. Add the garlic and chilli flakes, fry all stirring for another minute. Turn up the heat, add the tomatoes and mash them with a fork. Leave to bubble for a bit, then turn down the heat. Leave to bubble gently while cooking the pasta.
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet, or by your own preferred method.
Add the pasta to the sauce and mix well. Add the parsley and cook for another 20 seconds. Check for seasoning. Serve with the parmesan and a grater on the table.

Pasta Caprese

Another salad turned into a pasta meal. I used casarecce as pasta (a kind of stretched out wokkel), but you can choose a different shape if you can’t find these.

Pasta Caprese

Pasta Caprese (serves 2)

200 g pasta
olive oil
25 g pine nuts
some basil leafs
250 g cherry tomatoes
1 ball buffalo mozzarella
75 g rucola

Cook the pasta in a large pan of generously salted boiling water until cooked to your liking.
Roast the pine nuts. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half. Slice (or tear) the buffalo mozzarella in cubes.
Mix the pasta with some olive oil. Add the rucola and cherry tomatoes and divide over plates. Sprinkle with the pine nuts, torn up basil leafs and mozzarella. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil if you like.

Note: to make this dish truly vegetarian, make sure you choose a mozzarella that is suitable for vegetarians.

Spaghetti with caramelized onions and crispy breadcrumbs

Usually onions are added to a dish to give it an extra layer of flavour, which is quite logical because they contain loads of umami. But they are also delicious as the main veggie of the dish, and as an added bonus they are really healthy and cheap too. The onions in this dish are sweet, savoury and soft; the crispy breadcrumbs give a nice, crunchy texture. The original recipe uses fusili, but I used spaghetti, because I use spaghetti for almost all pasta dishes. The original recipe also suggest to serve the dish with a white cabbage and carrot salad; I didn’t, but a fresh salad would combine well with the pasta.

Cooking onions can be tricky, they can stay quite hard even after cooking for a long time. To prevent this, I have a few tricks. I slice my onions thinly or in small cubes, because thicker slices and larger cubes tend to stay hard more often. I always use a generous amount of fat (oil or butter) and a generous pinch of salt to fry them in, separately from the other ingredients. Only after softening them I add other ingredients or add the onions to other ingredients, even when the whole thing will cook much longer. And I always start on high heat while stirring to soften the onions, and then turn down the heat to cook and caramelize them further.

Spaghetti with caramelized onions and crispy breadcrumbs (serves 4)
Adapted from Volkskeuken

2 old whole-grain slices of bread
8 tbsp olive oil
600 g peeled onions, sliced thinly in half moons
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped finely (I prefer the dish without garlic, I find the garliccy flavour too overwhelming)
1 tbsp dried thyme (I prefer to use fresh from my garden)
1 tsp sugar
Optional: 50 ml white wine
400 g pasta
120 g grated cheese (something with oomph, like a medium aged farmhouse gouda)
a bunch of chives, sliced
salt and pepper

Crumble the bread. Mix with 2 tbsp olive oil and a pinch of salt. Sauté in a skillet on medium heat until crisp. Spread out on a plate and set aside to cool.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a skillet. Add the onion, garlic, thyme, sugar and a generous pinch of salt and cook on low heat until soft and caramelized (about 20 minutes). Stir regularly. If using, add the wine at the end and cook for a few minutes on high heat to reduce.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta. Reserve a bit of the cooking liquid. Mix the pasta with the onions, and then with the cheese and chives. Add a little of the cooking liquid to make it unctuous. Season with salt and pepper, scoop into plates and sprinkle with the crispy breadcrumbs. Serve immediately.

Note: to make this dish truly vegan, make sure you use egg-free pasta, egg/dairy-free bread and a vegan-suitable cheese substitute. You could also omit the cheese, the dish will still be delicious.

Flatbread Pizza

A good pizza needs a good oven, or at least one that can accommodate a pizza stone and will get terribly hot. And unfortunately, one of the (very few) downsides of our move to a different house, is that our new home lacks a good oven, the one we have now is very small and will only get lukewarm. We’re looking into buying a new one, but until we find one we like, my baking possibilities are hampered greatly. Luckily, I found a creative way to have nice pizza anyway by going down the flatbread route and frying the dough in a screaming hot pan. I just used basic pizza dough rolled/pressed into thin circles that fit the pan I was using, which worked perfectly fine. I wasn’t sure how it would work with toppings, so I fried the bread on both sides and put on toppings afterwards, in this case pesto, grilled courgette and paprika, slices of grilled beef and a handful of baby spinach. I think this is the way to go, because you don’t have heat from above most toppings will not cook/melt, and you need to turn the bread over to cook it completely.

This dough is not only great for pizza, but also works as a generic flatbread (to serve with falafel, for example) or as naan. You could also make them extra thin and use as wraps. I’m making this recipe on a regular basis, because it is so easy and versatile, and above all, yummy!

Flatbread Pizza

Pizza dough
From “De Zilveren Lepel – Van Dishoeck”

250 g flour (works best with 00 flour, special flour for pasta/pizza)
3/4 tsp salt
7 gram/one sachet of dried yeast
120 ml tepid water
2 tbsp olive oil

Place flour in a bowl. Sprinkle salt on one side and yeast on the other. Add water and olive oil, mix with a fork. Then knead the dough for about 10 minutes, or until very smooth and elastic. Put in a bowl, cover and let rise for about 3 hours.

Spaghetti with herbed cream cheese, spinach and bacon

A very simple, but satisfying pasta dish. Make this when you are in a hurry and need something comforting to eat. Also a classic for students on tight budgets. It is usually made with freezer spinach, but I like to use fresh spinach because freezer spinach is horribly overcooked and mushy. You could use chicken instead of bacon to make the dish a bit lighter.

Spaghetti with herbed cream cheese, spinach and bacon (serves 2)

200 g spaghetti
150 g bacon, cut into lardons
150 g herbed cream cheese (like boursin or philadelphia)
300 g spinach, washed

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add salt liberally. Add the spaghetti and bring the water back to the boil. Stir after 1-2 minutes to make sure the spaghetti isn’t sticking. Cook until your preferred done-ness (the times on the package are an indication, but tend to be a bit on the long side).
Meanwhile, fry the bacon in a dry pan on medium heat until it releases its fat, and the bits are golden and slightly crisp. Discard (some of) the bacon fat if you want (keep it to fry an egg or some bread in). Add the cheese and let it melt on low heat. It might curdle a bit. Then add the spinach (in portions if necessary), place a lid on the pan and cook until just wilted. Add the spinach and mix well. Serve immediately.

Italian pumpkin soup

A delicious autumn soup. Hearty, warming and bold of flavour. Sometimes pumpkin soup is icky sweet and lacks other flavours, but this soup certainly doesn’t. I’m not a big fan of cooking with wine, because you always only need a glass and have to finish the rest of the bottle in some other way, which often goes wrong around here. And the small bottles of wine generally aren’t that tasty. So usually I just omit the wine in the recipe without any problem, but this is an exception: the soup needs the acid and the complex flavours of the wine. Serve the soup with something cheesy, like cheese straws or cheesy croutons.

Italian pumpkin soup (serves 4)
Slightly adapted from James Martin

1 small pumpkin, peeled, seeds discarded, in large cubes (about 1 kg)
1 onion, roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly crushed
2 sprigs rosemary
1 tbsp olive oil
500 ml chicken stock (from a cube is fine
1 glass dry white wine
75 ml cream
Salt, pepper, chilli powder and lemon juice to taste

Preheat the oven to 220C.
Combine the pumpkin, onion, garlic and rosemary in a baking tray. Add the olive oil, mix until everything is coated. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until the pumpkin is tender and nicely roasted. Mix halfway through the cooking time to ensure the bottom of the cubes roasts as well. This also prevents catching (pumpkin is quite sweet, which makes it prone to burning).
Meanwhile bring the stock to the boil. When the vegetables are cooked, put in a blender with the hot liquid and white wine (or use an immersion blender). Blend until smooth, then add the cream and return to the pan. Warm through on low heat, don’t let it boil. Taste, then adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, chilli powder and lemon juice to taste. Serve immediately.

Ciabatta (or fougasse)

Making this bread is quite a workout. It is a wet dough, which makes for delicious bread, but also labour-intensive kneading because it is so sticky. You could also use a standing mixer, which would spare you the workout, but is is also much less fun. Also, when doing it by hand you are more in connection with the dough, so you know much better how the dough should look and feel to make a great bread.
I definitely think it is worth it to take the effort to go and make this bread. Your house will smell incredible, first deliciously yeasty when the bread is rising, and then you have the incredible smell of freshly baked bread when baking it. The bread itself is deliciously crusty and has a good bite to it. The inside has large and irregular air holes, just like ciabatta or focaccia has.
Make sure you check out the link to the original recipe, because there are recipes for chickpea and olive oil purée, pesto and black olive tuna tapenade over there. I did not make them, so I did not include the recipes over here, but they seemed pretty delicious. When you want to serve the bread with these dips, it is best to shape it into a fougasse, like they did in the original recipe. Fougasse has more surface area, so it has more crust, which is perfect for dipping.

Ciabatta (1 loaf)
Adapted from Saturday Kitchen Best Bites

1 sachet dry yeast
250 g strong bread flour + extra for flouring
1 tsp salt
175 ml water
neutral oil

Mix yeast, flour and salt. Add the water and use a dough scraper to incorporate everything to a wet dough, this takes about 2-3 minutes. Then dump it out on your workbench (no flour or oil!) and knead it by pulling it up from the workbench (this will stretch the dough, since it will stick to the bench) and then folding it over itself. Repeat this for about 6-8 minutes, or until it becomes smooth and elastic.
Grease a large bowl with some oil. Place the dough in it and cover with cling film. Set aside for at leas 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size (this can take quite a bit longer, I made this on a chilly day, so it took the dough almost 2 hours to rise properly, so be patient!).
Place a pizza stone in the middle of the oven and preheat to as hot as possible (use an upturned baking tray if you don’t have a pizza stone).
Sprinkle some flour on a peel (or a flat edged baking tray). Slide the dough from the bowl carefully on top, trying to deflate it as little as possible. Sprinkle some flour on top as well. Slide from the peel onto the preheated baking stone, spray some water into the oven and reduce the heat to 230C. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Leave to cool on a rack and serve warm or on room temperature the same day you baked the bread.

Fougasse shaping instructions:
You can also use this dough to make a fougasse. For this, do the following when the dough lays on the peel. You should start with a square-ish shape, gently tug it into a square shape if it is not. Cut a large diagonal cut across the centre of the dough, making sure that you don’t go right to the edges of the dough, but do cut all the way through the dough to the work surface. Make three smaller diagonal cuts fanning out on each side of the central one. Put your fingers into the slits and gently open them out to form large holes. Proceed in the same way as with the ciabbatta by sliding the bread onto the preheated pizza stone in the oven, but bake it for 10-12 minutes instead.

Simple pasta

On some days you just don’t feel like cooking, while still wanting something comfortable and flavoursome to eat. This is the perfect dish for that situation: it is fast and easy to cook and the bold flavours make it a great pick-me-up. Also great as a hangover breakfast/lunch, and for very hot days, when it is too hot to do much cooking involving heat.

Pick-me-up spaghetti (serves 2)

200 g spaghetti
1 can of anchovies on olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic
a sprinkle of chilli flakes
1/2 lemon (both peel and juice)
10 g flat-leaf parsley
Optional: some parmezan

Bring a pan of water to the boil. Add salt liberally. Put the spaghetti in and cook until al dente (or to how you prefer your pasta).
Pour the olive oil from the anchovies in a small frying pan. Chop the anchovies and finely chop the garlic. Add to the oil, together with the sprinkle of chilli flakes. Place on very low heat and cook, while stirring regularly, until it starts to sizzle, the anchovies are dissolved in the oil and the garlic doesn’t smell raw any more. Take care not to overheat it/cook it too long, because this will burn the garlic, which will make it bitter and icky. Turn off the heat. Chop the parsley and add it to the mixture, together with the grated lemon peel and the lemon juice.
Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and mix well. Finish with a sprinkle of parmezan, if you like. Serve.

Picnic Loaf

A picnic loaf was featured on the BBC bread baking programme of Paul Hollywood, and shortly after that James Martin also prepared a picnic loaf in Saturday Kitchen (also a BBC tv programme). Both looked very delicious, but it took me quite a while to make one for myself. It is a variation on pan bagna, a speciality from Nice (France), where they fill bread with a nicoise salad (tomato, onion, anchovies, boiled eggs, olives, paprika, tuna, artichoke hearts and olive oil). But where the vegetables are raw in a pan bagna, they are grilled in this recipe, which gives the bread extra flavour and a really nice texture. If you’re not a fan of chicken, you could use canned tuna instead.

The bread can serve up to 8 people as lunch, especially if you also serve some other dishes. Because the bread is very sturdy (you pack it full with all the ingredients and then wrap it tightly with cling film) and can be made a day in advance, it is also great for picnics… hence the name. But it is also delicious as dinner, accompany the bread with a salad and it will serve 4 generously.

Of course you will have a lot of bread crumbs left after hollowing out the bread. A great way to use this is frying it in some butter, combining it with roasted and coarsely chopped hazelnuts and then sprinkling it over a salad. Add a slice of pate and you have a light and delicious summer meal.

Picnic Bread

Picnic Loaf (serves 4-8)
Slightly adapted from James Martin in Saturday Kitchen

For the pesto
60 g basil leaves
50 g pine nuts
50 g parmesan
3 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp coarse sea salt
75-125 ml extra virgin olive oil

For the loaf
2 red paprikas
2 yellow paprikas
2 courgettes
1-2 tsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1 large red onion
2 chicken breasts
2 balls buffalo mozzarella
1 beef tomato
1 large round loaf (23cm)

Note: to make a small version as on the photo, use half of all the ingredients. It will fill 2 Italian buns and will leave you with some extra vegetables on the side. This will feed two persons very generously.

Slice the paprikas in two, place skin side up in an oven dish and place under a very hot oven grill until the skin is blackened and the flesh is soft. Cover and set aside.
Slice the courgettes in long, thin strips. Place in an oven dish, brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cut the red onion in chunks, place in an oven dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper (alternatively you can slice the onion thinly and leave it raw). Place the courgette and onion in the hot oven until nicely cooked/grilled.
Heat a skillet on high heat. Place the chicken breasts in the hot pan, leave on one side until golden, then turn over and leave until the other side is golden as well. Turn the heat down, place a lid on the skillet and leave until cooked. Set aside for a few minutes to rest, then cut into thin slices and season with salt and pepper.
Cut the mozzarella in thick slices and tomato in thin slices.
Make the pesto. Some people just throw all ingredients in the food processor and then gradually add oil, but I like to do it in an pestle and mortar. Start by roasting the pine nuts, I like them quite brown to give the pesto an extra nutty flavour, but make sure you roast them on medium low heat, toss them regularly and keep an eye on them: pine nuts burn in seconds, which makes them black and inedible. Meanwhile (while keeping an eye on the pine nuts!) peel the garlic, place in the mortar and pestle, add the sea salt and crush until it is a fine paste. Add the roasted pine nuts (while they are still hot, this will take the harshness of the garlic) and crush until it is a fine paste. Add the basil leaves and crush again. Then grate in the parmesan cheese and mix well. Add the oil in a thin stream while mixing, add enough to thin the pesto to a medium paste. Taste: sometimes it needs a little more salt, basil, cheese or oil.
Slice off the top of the loaf of bread. Hollow out the loaf by scooping out the soft bread, leaving 3cm of bread around the edge. Smear pesto all over the inside. Fill the hollow loaf with layers of the peppers, chicken, red onion, courgettes, mozzarella, tomatoes and pesto, pressing it down in between to fill the bread as full as possible. Place the lid of the loaf back on and push down, you can wrap it in cling film and leave overnight or slice straight away. To serve, slice the loaf and place on serving plates.