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I joined the Foodie Blogroll the other week but forgot to write about it because I’ve been too busy clicking through the 500-odd blogs on the list!

Anyway, in homage to the Leftover Queen, Jenn, who set up the Foodie Blogroll in the first place, I thought I would make a dish with some kind of ‘left over’ element to it.* So, when my eyes landed on a wine bottle with some of the red stuff still in it (after a night of drinking to forget Ireland’s lacklustre performance at the Rugby World Cup last week), I seized the opportunity and made tomato sauce.

It’s a pared-down version of a recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favourites, which originally suggested throwing in a lot of ground fennel and dried basil, along with the red wine. That proved to be just too many overpowering flavours** when I first followed this recipe a couple of years ago and I dismissed it as a bad ‘un. But seeing the last of the red wine last week set off a little memory alarm bell somewhere in my brain and I figured that I should have another go. Every recipe deserves a second chance. In fact, does any recipe ever turn out perfectly first time round? I guess that’s why there’s so many food blogs out there. Everyone likes tinkering, tweaking and offering their own spin on how to make things work 🙂

For this particular recipe, I’m much happier with the result second time around. The wine adds a pleasant depth of flavour and was good to have a change from my usual tomato sauce recipe (which is a cracker but it was getting monotonous).

Of course, Ireland is about to play another rugby match tonight and, seeing as it’s such an important game for the tournament, we’ll soon have some more wine leftovers for tomato sauce, whichever way it goes…

Tomato wine sauce, adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favourites

You’ll need:

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 red wine
3 cups undrained canned tomatoes (or 2x 400g tins)

1. Warm the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the onions and garlic, sprinkle with the salt, cover and sauté on a very low heat for 5 to 7 minutes or until the onions begin to soften.

2. Add the oregano and cook for another minute. Pour in the wine and bring to a boil.

3. Whirl the tomatoes in a blender until just puréed and add to the pan. Cover the sauce and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cook’s notes

I made double the batch because there was a wee bit more wine left in the bottle… So now I have some tomato sauce stashed in the freezer for one of those ‘can’t-be-bothered-cooking’ days. Yep, they happen more often than you might think.

The very dark picture at the top of this post shows orecchiette pasta with tomato wine sauce, mozzarella and olives.

* A lot of our weekday meals are recycled leftovers but, you know, it’s a tenuous link to a recipe. Any excuse.

** The original combination of two teaspoons of ground fennel, plus the other herbs and the red wine made it taste kind of medicinal. Food as medicine, sure – but does it have to taste like medicine too?

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A trip to the Dublin Food Co-op at the weekend threw up some lovely surprises – a raw food stall, which I think VK will be very interested in, a comprehensive dried goods section for all your pulse-, legume- and grain-based needs, a baker offering several yeast-free and gluten-free alternatives, and veggie producers selling, amongst other things, one of my all-time favourite vegetables – fennel.

I hadn’t seen any in the local shops – maybe they don’t stock it because there’s little demand for it, or maybe they’re being ultra-strict about seasonality as fennel only really comes into its own about now. Whatever the reason, it’s been a while since I’ve had the chance to cook with fennel, so I greedily popped four bulbs of aniseedy goodness in my basket and skipped off with a big smile on my face. Clearly, I don’t get out enough if this sort of thing counts as exciting.

Bulb number one was eaten straight away – raw and unadulterated. Some people find it too harsh/unpleasant but I’ve always been a savoury girl rather than sweet (no jokes from my family, please) so the pleasure of that refreshing, sharp flavour is something I look forward to and enjoy enormously.

The second one was thrown into a salad for some extra crunch and bite. Numbers three and four went into the following pasta dish, the aniseed overtones baked down into a backnote to complement rather than overpower the other ingredients.

This recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Happy Days. He recommends it as a tasty side dish and then, in a throw-away note, mentions that it would make a sexy little pasta. I’ve never used it as the side dish – I can’t get past making this creamy, soothing, very satisfying dinner.

Fennel, tomato and ricotta pasta – adapted from Happy Days by Jamie Oliver
(Serves 2)

You’ll need:

2 fennel bulbs, cut into quarters
A punnet of cherry tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme
Olive oil
A few dots of butter
About 125g of ricotta
A handful of grated parmesan
14 black olives, stoned and sliced

Enough pasta for two

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.
2. Put the fennel quarters in a saucepan, cover with water and simmer for 10 minutes.

3. Drain the fennel, then add to a large roasting dish, along with the tomatoes, garlic and thyme. Slosh some olive oil in the pan and mix the vegetables up to make sure they’re well coated. Then dot some bits of butter around the pan. Very scientific, this.
4. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables look cooked through. Remove from the oven and let the veg cool enough to handle.
5. Cook the pasta, according to manufacturer’s instructions.
6. In the meantime, chop the cooled fennel into pieces about 2cm big.
7. Drain the cooked pasta and return to the saucepan. Add the ricotta and parmesan – stir to melt the cheese (no need to use the the stove top for this, the heat from the pasta is enough.)
8. Add the chopped fennel, the rest of the roasted veg mixture and the olives. Stir through and season if neccesary.
9. Serve.

‘Are you enjoying your meal?’ asked Victor.

‘Yes – I am. I really am,’ came my slightly tipsy reply. ‘I’ve had a cr@p day at work, perhaps the cr@ppiest ever. But this meal is making up for it beautifully, thank you.’

Victor looked at me. He doesn’t know me from Adam but I was quite clearly telling the truth. So he decided to take pity on me.

‘Well, seeing as it’s been that bad… What do you prefer? Red or white?’

‘Uuuurm. Red’ (I said I was a bit tipsy – it took a little longer than usual to remember.)

At this point, I was digging my way happily through dessert – a large slab of cassata siciliana, a sponge cake/ricotta/dried fruit combination, soaked in Maraschino liqueur (you’d think I’d had enough alcohol, but no) and topped off with bright green marzipan and creme fraiche on the side. It satisfied both my love of kitsch (bright green marzipan? c’mon…) and delicious puddings.

Back came Victor from the bar with a glass containing what has to be the best red dessert wine I have ever tasted in my life. Although that wouldn’t take much. Red dessert wine normally means port and that’s a bit too heavy for me, so I tend to avoid it. But this stuff…

‘It tastes like raisins… Or cherries! It’s so smooth! What is it?’ (That’s about as Jilly Goulden as I get.)

The wine that was dancing around on my tastebuds (Casa Roma – Rabosa Piave) turned out to have been produced by the Peruzzetto brothers in the Piave region of Italy – and they’re one of the very few left who use that particular grape (rabosa nero). It’s been aged in oak for a couple of years, which means that the tanins have mellowed out (according to Victor) and given it that smooth, rounded taste. If you’re a wine buff then this won’t be news but it really was the first time that I ‘got’ what that last sentence means.

The brothers Peruzzetto mainly supply America and just one restaurant in the UK – the one I was sitting in.

Centotre opened on George Street, Edinburgh a couple of years ago and has been busy ever since to much acclaim. Victor is Victor Contini, who you’ll usually find chatting away to old friends and strangers alike, making everyone feel welcome and comfortable. He runs the place with his wife Carina, and together they set out to provide Italian food made from the best possible produce. They’re so committed to doing it properly that they take a weekly delivery of goods from Milan and they know all their producers well. It probably also helps that they’re part of the family which runs the famous Valvona and Crolla delicatessen on Leith Walk. They know their onions. They know their pasta. And they certainly know how to run a successful restaurant.

So the quality of that dessert wine and the support of the small producer was no suprise – it completely fits in with the Contini ethos that runs through everything they do. But it’s not about swanky pretentious ‘oooh daaaarling, you must simply try this fabulous little wine I picked up in the Veneto, very exclusive’. It’s about ‘there you go, try this – we think you’ll like it because it tastes good.’ And if you ask where it came from, they’ll tell you, without any faff or snobbery. I’m so glad I asked. It turns out Luigi Peruzzetto is more than happy to show visitors around his vineyard, if you’re in the area. Personally, that’s unlikely to be any time soon but I’m filing that information away under ‘one day when I win the lottery’.

I realise I’ve completely ignored my starter and main course so far, which isn’t right as they were both excellent. Bruschetta with a winning combination of creamy mozzarella, salty/spiky anchovies and peppery rocket. I wolfed that down in a very unlady-like way – but rocket is very difficult to eat politely, so I just got stuck in. Toothsome orecchiette pasta with peppercorn-studded Italian sausage, broccoli, Provola di Bufula, chillies and garlic. Simple ingredients put together with little fuss. What’s not to like?

Rolling home happily starched-up and sated, I found out that Victor and Carina are going to open another Edinburgh restaurant soon – Zanzero in the New Town – thank you trusty eating and drinking guide from The List. Apparently, it’s going to be up and running in late May 2007. Hmmmm. Hope I get a chance to try it before moving to Ireland… If not, what a great excuse to come back.

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I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
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