My first recollection of an Italian deli was when my mother brought home a piece of fresh parmesan and grated it over a bowl of pasta for me. The flavour was so different from anything I’d had before. It made me realise that authentic, fresh ingredients were crucial in the final flavour of a dish, and this ethos is what Italian cooking is built on: simple food made using exceptional ingredients.
Tagliarini with peas and Italian sausage (pictured above)
Groto de Corgnan, a restaurant in Valpolicella, near Verona, must take full credit for this dish. The restaurant is in an old house in Sant’Ambrogio di Valpolicella, in the heart of the wine region, and I ate there while on a wine-tasting trip. As I walked in, I saw the fresh tagliarini (long, narrow ribbons of pasta, like narrow tagliatelle) displayed by the entrance. We had a set menu and I was so excited when those tagliarini arrived as our primo – golden strands of the thinnest fresh pasta I had ever seen with fresh peas and local tastasal salami. I could have happily eaten three portions.
Prep 10 min
Cook 30 min
300g Italian sausages, skinned and chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot or small onion, peeled and finely chopped
250g frozen peas
Sea salt and black pepper
75g unsalted butter
Parmesan, finely grated, to serve
Heat a large, nonstick frying pan on a high heat. Add the pieces of sausagemeat and fry for about 10 minutes, until the fat has rendered out and the meat has browned, then transfer the meat to a plate and set to one side.
Stir the olive oil into the fat in the pan, add the shallot, reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring, for three minutes, until soft. Add the frozen peas and a cup (250ml) of water, then cover the pan and leave to cook for five minutes, until the peas are tender. Remove the lid, return the cooked sausagemeat to the pan, stir and cook for another five minutes. Check the seasoning, turn off the heat, but leave the pan on the stove, so it keeps warm.
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add the tagliarini and cook for about three minutes, or until tender but still with a good bite. Using tongs, transfer the pasta to the sausagemeat pan and add a ladleful of the pasta cooking water. Stir in the butter, put the pan on a medium heat and cook, tossing, until the liquid in the pan has gone syrupy and emulsified. Serve in warmed bowls, sprinkled with parmesan and black pepper.
Orecchiette with greens and anchovies
This classic, simple pasta dish from Puglia has so much flavour. Put it at the top of your must-try list if you ever visit the region. You can use swiss chard instead of the cime di rapa, but the latter’s turnip-like flavour is unbeatable and well worth seeking out, and not just for the sake of authenticity.
Prep 10 min
Cook 15 min
Serves 4 as a starter
350g cime di rapa or swiss chard
4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to serve
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely sliced
1 small dried chilli, finely chopped
4 salted anchovies in oil, drained
Parmesan or ricotta salata, grated, to serve
If you’re using cime di rapa, trim it so you’re left with the leaves and the middle stem, which looks like a broccoli floret, and discard the tough leaf stems. If you’re using chard, wash it, then strip off the green leaves and cut into 2cm slices; cut the stems into 1cm matchsticks across the stem.
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and add the orecchiette. If you’re using cime di rapa, add that now and boil for 10–12 minutes, until the pasta is al dente. If you’re using chard, add the stalks to the boiling water with the pasta, cook for about five minutes, then add the green leaves. Cook for another seven minutes, until the pasta is al dente (the greens will add a flavour to the pasta as they cook together).
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large, nonstick frying pan on a medium heat. Once hot, add the garlic, chilli and anchovies, and cook very gently for three minutes, until the anchovies melt and the garlic softens but does not colour, then turn off the heat and set to one side.
When the pasta is cooked, use a slotted spoon or spider to transfer the pasta and the greens to the anchovy pan, and set it over a high heat. Add a ladleful of the pasta cooking water and toss and mix everything together for a further two to three minutes, until the veg has broken up and the pasta is coated in sauce. Check the seasoning, then serve in warmed bowls topped with a drizzle of olive oil and some grated parmesan or, even better, ricotta salata.