Eat like an Italian!

I have a great fondness for Italian food.  I think it has an integrity to it, an honesty that celebrates the provenance of it’s origins and this is something that all food producers should take seriously.   My husband and I spent a few years travelling and working overseas on cruise liners before we got married, docking many times in different Italian ports.  We have great memories of indulging in spectacular food and wine, all served up with a passion for good cooking and good quality, local ingredients.  When Paul and I decided to get married abroad, Italy really was the only option for us.  We exchanged vows in the tiny 17th century chapel of San Pietro in Positano, perched on the edge of a rocky cliff overlooking the Bay of Naples on Italy’s stunning Amalfi coast.  The venue for our reception was the exquisite Ristorante Caruso in Sorrento, where Paolo Esposito and his amazing crew took great care of us.  Course after course of divine indulgence saw us and our 40 guests celebrate the occasion in true Italian style and the meal went on for well over four hours!  To this day (almost nine years later) our guests comment on the food that day.  A real testament to fantastic cooking and the wonderful memories it can bring.   Cooking Italian food at home is something I enjoy doing and our children are big fans of it too.  Some day we’ll bring them to visit where Mam and Dad got married but in the mean time, we will have to bring Italy to our own kitchen table in Ireland!    Authentic Italian food and ingredients can be tricky to come by in this part of the world so imagine my delight when I recently encountered http://www.ufuud.co.uk   They stock REAL Italian food, everything from oils to pastas, cheeses, meats, all manner of condiments and more.  They ship all over Europe and last week I was the excited recipient of some gorgeous pecorino cheese, aged Parma ham, pasta and an intriguing little jar of creamed white truffles with porcini.  Here are my ideas for bringing a little bit of Bella Italia to your kitchen!

Breakfast
Steamed Asparagus and aged Parma Ham with a Poached Egg

Ingredients (per person)
4 or 5 spears of asparagus
couple of slices of Parma ham
1 large poached egg
Seasoning

1. Put a small pot of water on to boil for poaching your egg and get your steamer on.
2. Trim the woody ends off your asparagus and steam it for 4 to 5 minutes. Try not to overcook it, soggy asparagus is horrific! It should still have a good bite to it.
3. While the asparagus is steaming, poach your egg. I do this by gently cracking andd dropping the egg into barely simmering, salted water. If the water is bubbling too much, the egg will break up
into pieces. Poach for about 4 to 5 minutes, ensuring it’s ready about the same time as the asparagus!
4. Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove your poached egg and pat dry with some kitchen paper. Take up your asparagus and arrange on a plate with the Parma ham and egg. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil if you wish. Serve with a mug of decent coffee or tea and enjoy.

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Pasta
Spaghetti with Pan Roasted Cherry Tomatoes Basil and Pecorino

Ingredients (per person)
100g to 150g dried pasta/ spaghetti (how much depends on how hungry you are!)
10 to 15 of the juiciest, best cherry tomatoes you can get. Quality is important, especially as there are so few components in this dish.
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped or minced
Few gluts of olive oil
100g of the best pecorino cheese. I got some gorgeous stuff, encased in ashes with the most wonderfully deep flavours. It’s on the UFUUD website http://www.ufuud.co.uk
A few fresh basil leaves, torn
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1. Put a pan of salted water on and bring to the boil. Add the pasta. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, making sure it’s “Al dente”, meaning there should be a little bite to it.
2. Heat some olive oil on a pan and add the garlic and cherry tomatoes. Toss to avoid the garlic sticking and burning. Cook for about 4 to 5 minutes and set aside. Grate the pecorino cheese.
3. When the pasta is cooked, drain but keep in some of the pasta water. Add most of the grated pecorino and mix through the pasta and water. This will create a sauce. Add the tomatoes and plate up. Tear the basil leaves and scatter over the pasta with the remaining pecorino and a few good twists of freshly ground black pepper.

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Pork Fillet with mushrooms and a White Truffle Cream Sauce

This dish was road tested on my beloved older sister who was a truffle Virgin and doesn’t really like pork.  A bit of a challenge I’d say! She was very quiet all the time eating away and when I looked over at her at the end of the meal, she was licking her plate.    To say she liked it is an understatement so I’m thrilled to be sharing this recipe.  It’s also very, very easy thanks to one spectacular little ingredient in the form of this.

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This stuff is amazing.  It has that intense, distinctive aroma unique to white truffles that swirls up out of the jar to greet you the second you open it.  I pan fried some pork fillet which I cut into 2 cm thick medallions, seasoned just with salt and freshly ground black pepper and did them for about 2 minutes each side in hot olive oil and a knob of butter.  I finished them off by placing them in a roasting dish, covered in tin foil in a preheated oven (170 degrees Celsius) for 8 to 10 minutes.  The pan frying has the effect of sealing the meat and getting some delicious, golden colour on the meat and the oven gently finishes the meat off by steaming it in a way.  The result is juicy, moist pork.  While the pork is finishing off in the oven, make your truffle cream sauce.  All you need is:

about 1 level teaspoon of La Tartufata per person

a few sliced button mushrooms (about 4 to 5 per person)

single cream/ cooking cream (about 100 to 150mls per person)

some finely chopped fresh parsley to serve.

Using the pan you cooked your pork in (you want to incorporate the lovely meat juices into the sauce), heat a little more butter over a medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and cook for about 5-6 minutes.  Add the cream and La Tartufata and mix through.  Add a little of the fresh parsley (about half a handful).  Season to taste.  Serve over the pork medallions with the remaining parsley scattered over alongside potatoes and vegetables of your choice.

Asparagus and Pecorino Tart

For the shortcrust pastry base:

200g plain flour

120g butter or margarine and a little extra for greasing

pinch salt

100-150mls cold water

The base can be made ahead of time, which is really handy.

Filling ingredients:

8 asparagus spears, woody stems removed and washed.

3 large eggs

100mls milk

125g pecorino, grated

half a red pepper, chopped into chunks and roasted (optional)

1. To make the pastry, add the salt and flour to a large bowl.

2. Next, rub in the butter or margarine into the flour using the tips of your fingers.

3. When it resembles fine breadcrumbs, add a little water.  Use a knife to mix through to make the dough.  Add a little water at a time until the pastry dough comes together without being wet.  Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius.  Grease a flan dish or quiche tine with butter.  The dish should roughly be the diameter of a fairly large dinner plate.

5.  Steam the asparagus for about 3- 4 minutes (you only want it partially cooked so it doesn’t over cook later when it’s continuing to cook in the tart).

6.   In a large jug, combine the milk and eggs and season well with salt and black pepper.  Whisk well to combine.

7.  Once your pastry has chilled, remove from the fridge and cling film and on a floured surface, roll out until it will fit the size of the dish.  Carefully peel it back from the worktop.  I find it helps to do this draping it over the back of the rolling pin.  Fit it into the dish, tucking the sides in.  Remove the excess pastry draping over the sides using a knife.

8.  On the pastry in the dish, place a sheet of baking paper/ grease proof paper, smooth side down.  Place baking beads (if you don’t have these then dried peas or beans of even rice will do!).

9.  Place in the middle of the preheated oven for 7-8 minutes.  Remove the paper and beads and bake for another 5 minutes.

10.  Remove the dish with the pastry case from the oven and scatter the pecorino cheese over the base.  On top of this, arrange the asparagus spears in the shape of a wheel.  Pour over the milk and egg mixture and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the middle of the tart is set and no longer wobbling.

Serve with salad, hot or cold.  The tart is lovely for supper or lunch and if you’re picnicking or dining Al fresco, all the better!

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One thought on “Eat like an Italian!

  1. I completely agree with you on the respect Italians have for their food, which is often simple but wholesome and flavourful. My wife and I love it so much we also got married there! It was as much so we could eat Italian for a fortnight as anything else 😋. I’m going to give the asparagus and pecorino a go. Great post!

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