I hope you enjoy reading this pasta-packed update as much as I enjoyed producing it.
Saturday the 8th of September 2008, the day after our Italian wedding...
With both Laura and I exhausted after driving from the town Rapallo (on the North West Italian coast), through some snarly rush-hour traffic to Villa Pitiana near Florence in Tuscany, our evening got off to what we’ll call a ‘questionable’ start with the news that we weren’t actually booked into the villa’s restaurant for dinner, as expected.
Still, not to be disheartened (after all, you’re still on one heck of a high the day after your nuptials), we wandered instead into the villa’s bar, thinking we could at least then could get a panino (sandwich) and a glass of local chianti to wash it down. (I figured I could also catch a glimpse of the friendly Italy vs France soccer match on the big screen; what excellent timing eh!)
Well it's at times like these it seems the Lord or whoever you subscribe to grins knowingly down and exclaims, ‘Ye shall eat like a King’, for out of the kitchen wondered a tired but smiley chef, whose name we sadly never learned. Whilst planning on watching the game himself, he did however reckon on having enough time to whip us up some leftovers...
“Un po’ di pasta?” (a little pasta?) he asked. Why of course!
Ten minutes of wedding stories and general ‘Can you believe we’re official?’ chatter later, and our new pal walks back in with two dishes of green tagliatelle (freshly made pasta of course), coated in a glorious wild boar ragu sauce. We found a nearby drawing room – featuring another TV of course – grabbed a pair of the comfiest ‘wingback’ chairs in the place, and got stuck in.
Now how can I best explain the treat we enjoyed? Well, call us sad no-lifers, but put it this way... we still talk about how delicious that food was – and this is a year later! That gives you a clue of just how mouth-watering this dish was.
You see, unlike bolognese sauce, which is made with minced beef (or pork), ragu is typically made by slow-cooking a whole chunk of meat (in this case boar; a rather unfriendly wild pig often found snuffling around the woods of ‘Toscana’), right until this meat eventually falls apart and breaks down into small, mightily succulent chunks.
In our case, these softened lumps of hearty protein were then poured over and mixed - thick gravy and all - with spinach-coloured ‘al dente’ strips of pasta, to give us the kind of start we’d dreamed of for our food-focused honeymoon. Buonissimo!
And your favourite pasta memory?
I would love to hear your favourite pasta story so please do
let me know what and where you ate your most memorable Italian feast. I’ll not only publish these stories in a special section of Pasta Recipes Made Easy, but I’ll also pop you on the list for a future recipe e-book I’m working on.
And look out for ragu…
I’m also working on Pasta Recipes Made Easy's first ragu recipe page. Obviously this needs to be ultra-easy in order to make it onto the site, so it’s still a work in progress, but it won’t be long before it hits. (Make sure you don’t miss it by signing up for instant site updates on my site’s blog page.)
First up in this inaugural Pastastic! is a super-sweet, radioactive orange beauty in the form of my butternut squash ravioli recipe.
The original recipe I was taught was a complex beast, full of multitasking and therefore - in my case - head scratching. However I've simplified this into a version that any fool can nail. After you've cooked and enjoyed it once, next time try overlapping some of the steps to speed it up.
(Really short on time? Then check out the sauce-only version of this recipe here and pour it over any short pasta such as penne.)
Second comes a vegetarian delight in the form of this totally authentic Italian minestrone soup recipe.
Much less gravy-ish than the tinned nonsense I ate as a student in the UK, this meat-free filler is packed with nutrituous vegetables and, of course, a generous portion of tiny pasta shapes. You'll want to savour this biggest of broths.
For those looking for a light and breazy, health-conscious pasta dish, this
Delicate to taste and packed with brain-friendly Omega 3 oils, this tomato-flavoured seafood winner could, I think, easily become a staple of your working week.
And last but certainly not least, the pasta dish that Laura and I cook up most regularly. This pasta with ricotta feast is seriously creamy, and you can throw in belly bacon ('pancetta') for a carnivorous fix if you like.
It's not light on the calorie front, thanks to all that sumptuous soft cheese, but you can balance this out by a quick jog or a game of catch with the kids. Believe me, it'll be worth it...
When cooking any form of tomato sauce, what you're dealing with is a main ingredient that's really pretty acidic. And while toms usually lose their sourness in the process of being cooked, sometimes they just don't seem to sweeten.
Therefore, if you're halfway through cooking your tomato sauce and it still tastes face-scrunchingly sour, throw in just one pinch of sugar and keep stirring; the sugar will counterbalance the acid and it will also have time to bind all those flavours together, making your creation sweet to eat!