Tag Archive for Italian

Pasta Pesto

For me, this is THE absolute summer dish. Why? Because I can only grow basil in summer. Nowadays there are only a few products that are truly seasonal (as in: you can only get hold of them in a certain season), most of the things are flown in from other parts of the world or they are grown in hothouses. This is not necessarily a good thing, since it is not very sustainable, but it does mean that when you crave something off-season, you can still buy it.

I never buy basil. Basil is a very vulnerable herb. This means that the cut variant is useless anyway, the taste diminishes just too fast. And the small plants you can buy are useless too, because they are grown much too fast. To get a lot of flavour in basil, it needs a long growth time. That is why I grow my own basil. It is very easy and a lot cheaper than buying the plants every time you need basil. I pour a layer of potting earth into an empty, washed yoghurt container, wet it well, sprinkle a layer of basil seeds on top and cover it lightly with a little more soil. I place the transparent lid of the yoghurt container on top to create a mini-hothouse and place it on a sunny spot. I make sure that it stays wet and I remove the lid when the plants start to emerge. Just keep watering the plant regularly until it is big enough to use (this takes about 6 weeks). I use the whole plant in one or two days, because the climate over here is not good for basil, so once I start picking, the plant dies anyway. That is why I try to sow some new basil every two weeks for a steady supply.

For me, pesto is one of the best ways to use basil. It is a very clean tasting dish in which all the ingredients shine. I think pesto should be made in a mortar and pestle, because making it in a food processor will give a different, less nice texture. Most Italian recipes advice to use an equal amount of two cheeses: parmezan and pecorino, but I like to use the grana padano from our local cheese monger; use what you like. It always takes a bit playing around, getting to know the amounts of everything you like to get a balanced pesto. This recipe is just a starting point from where you can find out your way of pesto. Just like the Italians, in Italy no two pesto recipes are the same!

Pasta Pesto

Pasta pesto (2 persons)
From ‘De Zilveren Lepel’

25 large leaves fresh basil
50-100 ml good extra virgin olive oil
40 g pine nuts
50 g cheese, grated (grana padano, or a mixture of parmesan and pecorino)
a small clove of garlic, peeled (optional, some people don’t like garlic in their pesto)

extra cheese to serve
200 gram spaghetti, cooked following instructions of the package
optional: grilled courgette or asparagus

Roast the pine nuts (this is not authentic, but I like how it brings out the flavour). Crush the garlic together with a little salt in a pestle and mortar. Add the roasted pine nuts, crush. Add the basil, crush into a fine paste. Add the olive oil, just enough to make a thick paste (some people like their pesto with a lot more oil). Stir the grated cheese trough and check if everything is in balance. Serve immediately with pasta, some extra cheese and vegetables.

Marinated courgette

A very easy side-dish, perfect for the summer abundance of courgette. As it is an Italian-style dish it works best as a side to other Italian (or southern France) dishes, like pasta and fresh, summery fish. But it would be also very delicious as a side for a BBQ, or even as part of a mezze-style starter. Just slice a courgette and grill the slices. Meanwhile, mix a very finely crushed/pureed clove of garlic with a little salt, pepper and good olive oil. Dump the grilled slices of courgette in the oil and leave to cool and infuse. This method would also work great with aubergine and paprika.

Spinach three ways

I always find spinach a difficult vegetable. It has an overpowering taste, but is quite bland on its own. It seems like the only thing that stands up to the spinach are rich sauces heavy in cream and cheese. But sometimes that is just not what you want, so I came up with three (slightly unexpecting) lighter ways of flavouring spinach.

Another thing that is very important with spinach is the preparation. Use fresh spinach, not frozen. Frozen spinach is not a vegetable, it is icky green goo. There are lots of vegetables that freeze well, but spinach is not one of them. For me the best way to cook spinach is in portions in a very hot, dry pan. Using oil isn’t going to do anything for the spinach at this point. I don’t saute it until it has completely wilted, because it will continue to cook when you take it out of the pan and set it aside to cook the next portion. This ensures a nice bite, and prevents the spinach from getting slimy and soggy. After cooking the complete batch of spinach, I prepare the flavouring, then I add the spinach again.

The first variant is Asian. To prepare the flavouring, add a very finely chopped clove of garlic to a tablespoon of oil. Heat very gently to get rid of the sharp flavour of raw garlic, but take care not to overheat it, as it will burn the garlic (which is very bitter). Add a sprinkling of mustard seeds, nigella seeds, cumin seeds and salt. Add a few drops of sesame oil and add the spinach back in.

The second version is Arabic. Start again with heating garlic in oil. Add salt, a squeeze of lemon juice and a few tablespoons of tahin (sesame paste; I like the roasted variant).  Add the spinach back in. Optional: garnish with sesame seeds.

The third version is Mediterranean. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil, add very finely chopped garlic and a finely chopped small onion (or a few shallots), add some salt. Saute until translucent. Meanwhile soak some (golden) raisins and roast some pine nuts. Mix everything together.

And as a bonus, a fourth recipe (but this one does have a creamy sauce), perfect as pasta sauce. Start again with heating garlic in oil. Add some mascarpone and grated parmesan. Add the spinach back in. Optional: add mushrooms and/or pine nuts.

Nb: all recipes are for about 300 g spinach.

Three course diner: ravioli, risotto and floating islands

A delicious three course diner cooked for guests consisting of:
Ravioli filled with ricotta, pine nuts and parmesan in browned butter
Risotto with mascarpone and parmesan; grilled green asparagus and parma ham; lollo biondo and cherry tomatoes with balsamic dressing
Floating islands
All for 4-6 persons

Ravioli filled with ricotta, pine nuts and parmesan in browned butter
You can find my ravioli recipe over here.
For the filling roast 25 grams of pine nuts, mix with 200 gram ricotta, a few tablespoons of grated parmesan and a grinding of black pepper. You will probably have a bit left (it is always difficult to estimate the amount of filling that goes into ravioli) but it is delicious the next day combined with some courgette. Shape the ravioli any way you like, I made small squares. Cook them in boiling water, then toss in a hot frying pan with butter, to toast them slightly. I served them very simple on a plate with a drizzle of the butter. If you want to make this dish in advance, place the formed ravioli on a plate and cover with cling film. Set aside at a cool place until ready to cook.

Risotto with mascarpone and parmesan
You can read about making risotto here, here and here. Make risotto with 300 g arborio and 1 liter stock (homemade vegetable or chicken stock is best, but you can also use store bought stock of good quality (which I did this time)). Finish the risotto with a few tablespoons of mascarpone, a generous amount of grated parmesan and a grinding of pepper. Taste to check the seasoning, add salt and/or pepper if necessary. Serve with the grilled green asparagus and parma ham on the side. If you want to prepare this dish in advanced, cook it until the finishing step; when ready to serve heat the risotto on low heat and finish.

Grilled green asparagus and parma ham
Cut a few cm from the bottom of the asparagus (fresh and/or thin ones only need a small bit of the storkremoved, be with larger and/or older ones a bit more generous with what you cut off). Peel the asparagus; some people suggest that this is not necessary with green asparagus, but I find that they need to be very small and thin to not need peeling… no one likes to have a mouth full of fiberous stringy bits. Boil them for a few minutes, then grill for a minute in a very hot pan. This gives the asparagus a nice, sweet and slightly charry finish. Meanwhile fold the ham into rosettes (use any raw ham you like/have available, I used parma). Place the asparagus on the plate next to the risotto, garnish with the ham rosettes and a few shavings of parmesan cheese (use a potato peeler for this). If you want to prepare this dish in advance, peel the asparagus and store them in cold water. You can also already make the ham rosettes and parmesan shavings.

Lollo biondo and cherry tomatoes with balsamic dressing
Very simple. Wash the lettuce, tear in pieces, halve the cherry tomatoes (you can do these things in advance). When ready for serving, mix the lettuce and tomatoes, sprinkle with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt. Mix well and serve immediately.

Floating islands
I had some trouble with this recipe, because the instructions were not perfect and the ratio of ingredients is slightly off. The amount of custard is perfect for a rich dessert for 4-6 persons, but you have a lot more meringue than necessary. There is also a lot of caramel, I think you could do with halve a recipe. Also, it is important to not have the milk boiling when you poach the meringues, this will give a big mess and it also makes the meringues disgusting. And make sure you don’t place to much meringues in the pan, the recipe suggest that 6 large dollops will fit, but I think 4 medium dollops is really the maximum. Luckily, in the end it all turned out very well and everyone thought the dessert was delicious, so it is certainly worth it to prepare. But keep in mind, it is really rich, so don’t serve it if you already had a large and/or heavy appetizer and main course.

Slightly adapted from Raymond Blanc – Echt Frans koken
For the poaching liqor
1 liter full fat milk
250 ml cream
2 vanilla pods (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)

For the meringue
8 egg whites
275 g sugar

For the custard
8 egg yolks
75 g sugar
the milk in which the meringue was poached

For the caramel
3 tbsp water
150 g sugar

Flavour the milk. Pour the milk and cream into a large pan of 30 cm diameter and 7 cm deep and bring to simmering. Slice the vanilla pods lengthwise and scrape the seeds out of them. Add both the seeds and the pods into the milk (you can rinse the pods after simmering and place them in a jar of sugar to create vanilla sugar; or blend them to a paste and use as extract). Or add the real vanilla extract. Leave to simmer 5 minutes.
Make the meringue. Whip the egg whites to slightly foamy, then gradually pour in the sugar while mixing. Keep mixing about 10 minutes (with an electrical hand mixer) until the mixture is shiny and has firm peaks.
Poach the foam. Use a large spoon to scoop 4 medium dollops of the meringue into the lightly simmering milk. Poach 5 minutes, then turn over very carefully (I used a slotted spoon) and poach for another 5 minutes. The milk should be barely simmering, not boiling!!! When ready, use the slotted spoon to place the poached meringues onto a baking tray. Use the remaining meringue for another 4 dollops, or for making dried meringues (dollop on a lined baking tray and bake in an 130C oven until firm).
Making the custard. Sieve the milk and cream used for poaching into a pan. Bring to a simmer. Mix the egg yolks and the sugar in a large bowl. Pour the simmering milk on top of the egg yolk mixture, while mixing. Pour back into the pan. Heat 4-5 minutes on low-medium heat until the custard thickens. Keep mixing the whole time. The custard is ready when it coats the back of a wooden spoon. Pour back into the bowl and keep mixing for a while to cool the custard slightly (otherwise it could still split). Leave to cool further, place in the fridge if you like really cold custard.
Making the caramel. Pour the water and sugar into a pan. Place on medium heat until it forms a syrup and then turns to caramel. Don’t stir, and don’t let the caramel get to dark, it will cook slightly further when you take the pan of the heat.
Presentation. Pour the custard in individual serving bowls or in a large bowl. Carefully place the poached meringues (with help of a slotted spoon) on top of the custard. The poached meringues are the islands that float on a sea of custard. Drizzle the meringues with the still hot caramel.
You can make both the poached meringue islands and the custard in advance (up to a day). But making and drizzling the caramel is a last minute job.

Ragu alla Bolognese

The classic Italian bolognese meat pasta sauce. Many different (authentic and less authentic) recipes can be found on the internet, all of them contain more or less the same ingredients, this one is my version. A good bolognese can’t be rushed, to obtain the rich, meaty flavours it needs a few hours to cook and to reduce the liquids down, to intensify all the flavours. And making a small portion doesn’t work either. Luckily it freezes well for a few months, so I cook this in bulk and freeze portions for later, to use on busy (or lazy) days. I usually serve this sauce with spaghetti, which is very un-Italian because the pieces of meat don’t adhere well to the pasta, or with penne or tagliatelle as the Italians do. And of course a good sprinkling of Parmesan to add even more flavour and richness!

Ragu alla Bolognaise

Ragu alla bolognese (serves 6, or serves 2 with 2 extra portions for the freezer)
Adapted from the Conran Cookbook

3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped finely
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
1 large carrot, chopped finely
1 celery stick (with leaves), finely chopped
500 g mince (half beef, half pork)
3 large, ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped (a can of tomatoes works well too)
a large sprig of thyme
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper
150 ml chicken stock
a wineglass of red wine
Parmesan, for serving
Pasta, for serving

few rashers of bacon (add together with meat)
rind of a piece of parmesan (add with liquids, fish out before serving)
splash of cream or a knob of butter (when serving, adds richness)

Heat the olive oil in a pan (I always use my Dutch oven for this). Add the onion, garlic, carrot and celery and sweat until softened. Add the minced meat to the pan. Turn up the heat and brown the meat, stirring to crush the lumps. Add the tomatoes, thyme and bay leaves and season with salt and pepper. Cook until most of the liquid from the tomatoes has evaporated. Add a little of the stock and the red wine and stir. Leave the sauce to simmer gently for about 1.5 hours, adding more stock and wine as it is needed, using water if you run out of these. When ready the sauce should be thick and smooth. Check for seasoning and serve immediately or leave to cool for freezing.

Spinach-Ricotta Cannelloni

I made these spinach and ricotta cannelloni together with a friend. It was a recipe she wanted to make already for a time, but did not came to it yet. So we decided to make it together. At first sight it may look like the countless recipes containing spinach and ricotta (which is a very good combination), but the addition of mozzarella and parmesan give it something extra. It is also a very easy dish that doesn’t use much pots and pans, so it is light on the cleanup.

The original recipe suggests to put the tomatoes under the cannelloni in the oven dish, and to serve the dish with rucola. The moistness that comes from the dish then works as a dressing for the rucola. But you can also use the tomatoes cold, together with the rucola and some olive oil and balsamic or your own favourite dressing, to make a nice side salad. Also, the recipe only uses a small amount of garlic and anchovies, we doubled the it and still thought it could use a bit more (but we are garlic and anchovies lovers).

Canneloni are big pasta tubes that you can fill with all sorts of things. If you can’t find them, use home-made pasta sheets, shop bought fresh lasagna sheets or dried lasagna sheets softened in boiling water for 5 minutes to roll the filling in.

It may seem that the suggested portions are very small, only 3 cannelloni per person, but I can assure you that this is not the case. With all the cheeses the dish is very filling and satisfying and I will certainly make it again!

Spinach-Ricotta Cannelloni

Spinach-Ricotta Cannelloni (4 portions)
from my friends recipe archive

500 g fresh spinach
olive oil
6-10 anchovies, minced finely (from a tin/jar; depending on how much you like anchovies)
1-6 cloves garlic, minced finely (depending on how much you like garlic)
250 g ricotta
salt and pepper
4 tomatoes, sliced
12 cannelloni
150 g Parmesan, grated
200-250 g mozzarella (1 maxi mozzarella or 2 ordinary ones)
150 g rucola

Preheat the oven to 170C.
Wash the spinach and leave to drain.
Heat some olive oil in a large pan, fry the anchovies and garlic. Add the spinach in small amounts while leaving the pan on high heat. You want to evaporate as much of the water that comes out of the spinach as possible, because it will thin the filling and if you drain it you will loose a lot of the nice flavours in there. Put in a bowl, add the ricotta and season with salt and pepper. Mix well.
Arrange the tomato slices on the bottom of an oven dish. Fill the cannelloni with the spinach mixture. Arrange the cannelloni on top of the tomato. Sprinkle over the grated parmesan, then break the mozzarella in pieces and arrange on top.
Bake for 40 minutes. Serve hot together with the rucola.

Two summer salads: caprese and couscous

On one of the last summery days (at least, that is the expectation) of the year, we ate two lovely salads as our diner.

You all know the standard insalata caprese you get at (Italian) restaurants. Stone cold and under-ripe tomatoes, inferior mozzarella and some basil, drizzled with cheap olive oil, salt and pepper. Not a very nice dish… But if you make it correct, you have a delicious antipasto (appetizer). Start by looking for good, ripe and tasty tomatoes and make sure that they are on room temperature. Then the mozzarella. Don’t bother to make this salad with the mozzarella you get in the supermarket. Mozzarella is a fresh cheese and should be eaten within a few days after making it. As you can understand, this is certainly not the case with supermarket mozzarella, causing it to be dry and tasteless. Fortunately there are some buffalo farmers in the Netherlands, which also produce mozzarella. This time we had Mozzarella from the BuffelFarm (availability on website), but I want to try the one from Orobianco (available at cheese shop van der Ley in Groningen). Because they are in such a close proximity from where we live, the cheese is very fresh. I usually find mozzarella quite bland, but this mozzarella has lots of flavour and is very moist and unctuous. Certainly worth it! And then finish your salad with good extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and basil if you like it on your salad (I don’t). Lovely!

The couscous salad was an accidental creation. We had planned quite an elaborate dish to cook, but I really did not have the energy to prepare it. So I checked out the fridge and found halve a block of feta, some cucumber and a yellow paprika, which I thought would perfectly combine with couscous, and would be fast as well. So I prepared my couscous as stated on the package (this really varies a lot between brands!) with some vegetable stock to give it lots of flavour. After cooking/soaking I stirred it well to make the couscous nice and fluffy instead of sticky and dense, and I added a little knob of butter. Then I added the cucumber and paprika (diced in small cubes) and the feta (in standard size salad cubes). Season with just a bit of pepper, and voila, a fast and healthy meal!

Note: to make this recipe truly vegetarian, make sure you use a feta (or similar white cheese)/mozzarella that is suitable for vegetarians (i.e. does not contain animal derived rennet).

Orange rice cake and cheesecake ice-cream

I saw this cake in a BBC programme, Two Greedy Italians, and I was immediately interested. Making a cake from rice was not something I heard about before. And since I had some sushi rice on hand that I really needed to use up, it was a great occasion to make this cake. I think Italians would say that it is blasphemy to use sushi rice in place of risotto rice (and the Japanese will say vice versa), but actually it works really well. Of course they are not completely the same, but both rices are short grain, sticky/glutinous, and absorb a lot of liquid. Therefore they cook very similar and the taste and texture are only slightly different.

The cake is very tasty (creamy and orangy) and filling. It was even suggested at the recipe to use it as breakfast! And why not? It has carbohydrates, some fibres and proteins, it fills well and rice porridge is considered okay for breakfast as well… this is like rice porridge mixed with egg and baked in the oven, so nothing wrong with that. But it is also very nice with a cup of tea, or as a dessert. I do have to note that this cake keeps quite poorly, it is quite moist which will attract all kinds of moulds and bacteria, so eat it within two days. It might be wise to ask some friends over to help you with that, this is definitely a cake to be served in small pieces.

For an accompaniment of the rice cake, I decided to make some ice. I have an ice-cream maker, but I don’t use it that much. It is quite a cheap one, so you need to freeze the tub for at least 18 hours before you can make ice in it. And since the tub is quite big and my freezer quite small and full…. The ice-cream I made before was never very satisfactory, it always got quite grainy, with watery bits in there. I think it has something to do with the fact that the ice-cream maker is not that strong, so it is not stirred that well, which should prevent the water crystals. But this ice-cream was delicious! It was very creamy and not grainy at all, not to sweet and with a nice tang and lemony flavour. I will definitely experiment some more with the machine to see what other nice flavours of ice cream I can produce, because I think most of the ice cream you buy at the shop is just not that tasty. I can imagine this ice-cream base really well with other fruit flavours (strawberry!), but I think it will work as well with chocolate or coffee.

Orange rice cake and cheesecake ice-cream

Orange rice cake (a lot)
from BBC’s Two Greedy Italians

1.7L milk
1 vanilla pod
1/2 lemon, zest only, in large pieces
200g sugar
300g arborio rice
5 eggs, separated
50ml orange liqueur
40g raisins
1 orange, zest only

Place the milk, vanilla pod, lemon zest and sugar in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the rice and simmer on a medium to low heat for about 20–25 minutes, until the rice is al dente and has absorbed the milk but still has a creamy consistency. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Remove vanilla pod and lemon zest.Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 24cm spring form. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and liqueur until creamy. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed. Add the egg yolk mixture to the cooled rice, then fold in the stiffened egg whites, followed by the raisins and orange zest. Pour in the prepared tin and bake in the oven for one hour. Serve warm or cold.

Cheesecake ice-cream (600 ml)
from 500 ijsrecepten – Alex Barker

225g cream cheese
1 lemon, zest and juice
75g sugar
2 egg yolks
240 ml cream, whipped
optional: 115g butter, molten and 40g biscuits, crumbled

Cream the cream cheese with the lemon, sugar and egg yolks. Fold in the cream. Taste and add more sugar if necessary. Pour the mixture in an ice-cream maker and follow the instructions of your machine. After 30 minutes it will be firm ice-cream. Meanwhile, mix the butter and biscuits when using, and leave to cool. Transfer the ice-cream to a freezer box. When using, spoon through the biscuit mixture, just fold once or twice to give a ripple effect. Store the ice-cream in the freezer until serving. Take the ice-cream from the freezer 15 minutes before serving to let it soften a bit.
The ice can be kept for 3 months, but the taste and texture will decline, so finish as soon as possible.

Focaccia with garlic and herbs

Focaccia is an Italian flatbread. Nowadays, it can be found everywhere, it is a very popular bread. But most of those versions are quite far away from the original, they’re just flat white breads with a topping.This recipe will give you a more authentic focaccia.

Focaccia is made with a wet dough and high-gluten flour, which gives the bread an uneven crumb with lots of big, irregular sized holes. Traditionally it is topped with oil and salt, but herbs, garlic, potatoes, onions, olives, vegetables, etc, can be added as well. With a neutral topping it can be used as a sandwich bread very well, with a more extensive topping it is nice on its own, as snack or accompaniment to a soup or a salad.

The herbed garlic oil on this bread makes it a quite powerful version, anything you will put on there will get overpowered. But on its own the herbs and garlic make it a very delicious bread. The oil makes the bread lovely soft and moist. I used thyme, rosemary and oregano as herbs, because I have those growing on my balcony, but you can use any woody herb you like. Herbs like parsley, chives and basil are not suitable, because they cannot stand the long heat they will be exposed to, they will loose their flavour.

This recipe makes use of a sponge. That will make the baking process a few hours longer, but it will also add flavour and improve texture. The yeast will be combined with part of the flour and water that will be used for the bread and is left to ferment for some time. When fermentation is complete, the rest of the flour and water will be added, and the remaining ingredients. Then the dough will be processed further like normal dough/bread.


Foccacia with garlic and herbs (1/2 sheet; 40×30 cm)
adapted from The Professional Pastry Chef- Bo Friberg

20 g fresh yeast or one package (7 g) dry yeast
90 ml warm water (40-46C)
1/2 tbsp sugar
110 g high-gluten flour (with normal supermarket flour you get a good result, but high-gluten is better)

240 ml warm water (40-46C)
90 ml olive oil + a bit extra for greasing
40 g sugar
1 tbsp salt
225 g high-gluten flour
200 g bread flour (= normal supermarket flour, in the Netherlands this is already quite high in gluten)
1 tsp coarse sea salt

Herbed Garlic Oil
15 g fresh rosemary
15 g fresh thyme
15 g fresh oregano
120 ml olive oil + a bit extra for roasting the garlic
1 head of garlic

First make the oil. Cut of the top of the garlic head so you can see the cloves. Rub them with a bit of oil, wrap in aluminium foil and roast 30-45 minutes at 175C. The garlic will be soft and slightly darkened, but not browned. Let it cool and squeeze it out of the skin. Chop the herbs finely. Heat the olive oil, add the herbs and garlic, remove from the heat and let infuse for at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight.

To make the sponge, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add the sugar and the flour, mix well with a fork and then knead for 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Cover and let rise in a warm place until the sponge is maximally risen and starts to fall.
To make the dough, add the warm water to the sponge together with the olive oil, sugar, salt and high-gluten flour. Mix well with a fork, then start kneading. Add in as much from the bread flour as necessary to form a very soft, smooth and elastic dough. Form the dough in a ball, cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
Coat a baking tray with olive oil (or use baking paper). Place the dough in the centre and stretch it out as far as possible. Cover and let rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in bulk.
Stretch the dough until it covers the entire sheet pan. Let the dough relax a few minutes if necessary, then stretch further. Press your fingers in the top to mark it with dimples. Let it rise until it is 1,5 times the original size.
Spread the herb and garlic oil gently on top, then sprinkle over the coarse salt. Bake in a preheated oven with a baking stone at as high as possible, it will take about 15 minutes, depending on your oven and the baking stone. Take out and leave to cool before cutting in squares and serving.

Ricotta gnocchi and courgette gratin

Two Greedy Italians is a BBC food show with Gennaro Contaldo and Antonio Carluccio that travel around Italy. They left more than 40 years ago and discover now what has changed in Italian culture and the way they eat. It is a great show, giving insight in Italian food culture in the past, and nowadays.

The programme inspired me to cook Italian myself. Italian food is all about cooking with good products and keeping it simple. And this dish is certainly simple! The recipe for the ricotta gnocchi comes from the show, I knew that you can make gnocchi from ricotta, but not that they are so much simple than potato gnocchi, and so delicious. Making the dough and forming the gnocchi does take some time, but it is really easy to make a double batch, cook it, and keep some for another diner. The ricotta keep very well (cooked) in the fridge, and it is really tasty to cover them with some bechamel sauce and gratin them for a nice crust on top.

The courgette gratin was my own creation. I like courgette a lot, I’ve even have some courgette plants in my small garden, but sometimes they get a bit boring. Elaborate and complicated dishes with courgette will not work, the delicate taste of courgette will just be overpowered, so it had to stay simple. So I came up with a variation on grilled courgette, which I like a lot: courgette gratin. Just slice the courgette thinly, arrange the slices neatly in an oven dish, sprinkle with salt, peper and some grated parmesan and cook in a preheated oven (180C) until the courgette is tender and the cheese has molten or browned.

Ricottagnocchi with courgette gratin.

Ricottagnocchi with courgette gratin.

Ricotta gnocchi (3-4 servings)
from BBC – Two Greedy Italians

200g 00 flour, plus extra for dusting
225g ricotta
3 egg yolks
30g parmesan, grated, plus extra for serving
pinch nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
knob of butter

Mix the flour, ricotta, egg yolks, parmesan, nutmeg and seasoning together in a large bowl to form a soft, moist dough.Tip the mixture out onto a floured work surface and knead for 3-5 minutes. Roll the dough into a long, thin sausage shape, then cut into dumplings about 2cm long.Cook the dumplings for 3-4 minutes in a large saucepan of salted boiling water (they will float when ready). Meanwhile, heat a frying pan with a knob of butter. Remove the dumplings from the pan with a slotted spoon and add them to the frying pan. Bake until slightly browned. Serve hot with some extra parmesan.