Spaghetti cooked Risotto-Style

A few nights ago, I had dinner at my cousin Elena’s house in Milan. She is the sweetest, most gorgeous girl, but, notoriously, she can’t cook to save her life! Lucky for all the guests, she also invited her bother Giorgio along, who was born with the cooking gene. Giorgio has always been a flamboyant wine connoisseur and a passionate amateur cook and has certain savoir-faire in the kitchen, it always is a pleasure for me to watch him at work and exchange tips and recipes. That night he made Italy’s most loved summer classic, Spaghetti con Pomodorini (with fresh cherry tomatoes), with a little twist. He cooked the pasta “risotto style”: forget about boiling, draining and then dressing the pasta with your sauce! When you do it “risotto-style”, the spaghetti cooks in a rich and velvety fresh tomato liquor, slowly absorbing all the flavors, while the starch released by the gentle and constant stirring motion creates a luscious sauce.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

2 shallots

4 tablespoons of EVOO

1 garlic clove, skin on, bruised with the back of a knife

2 tins of tomatoes (to 2 lb of Passata)

1 punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved

basil leaves

salt, to taste

1 packet of Spaghetti

Freshly grated Parmigiano to serve

HOW TO

1. Heat up the oil in a heavy-based frying pan or large saucepan. Stir fry the shallots and garlic over medium-low heat, for 1-2 minutes or until the onion is soft and the garlic smells fragrant. Add the tinned tomatoes or passata, season with salt, bring to a simmer, then turn the heat to low.

2. Cook the sauce for 20 minutes.

3. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cook th spaghetti in it for 1-2 minutes or until the pasta has softened. Using kitchen tongs, lift the spaghetti straight into the tomato saucepan. Cover with enough pasta cooking water so that all the pasta is submerged with liquid. Stirring gently, continue cooking until the pasta is Al Dente and the liquid has been absorbed and you are left with  thick, rich sauce. This will take 5-7 minutes, according to the size of spaghetti you use. When the pasta is al dente, add the cherry tomatoes and basil leaves. Turn the heat off. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

4. Serve hot, with a generous dusting of parmigiano and plenty of bread to mop up that delicious sauce.


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Polpette della Nonna (the very humble meatballs)

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How many of you recall that famous scene from Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp”,when, as they fall in love by the suave notes of “Bella notte” being played on the mandolin, the dogs share a strand of spaghetto and Tramp nudges the last meatball over to Lady, as his promise of love and devotion? Everytime I cook spaghetti with meatballs I can’t stop myself from feeling utterly romantic, even if the dish itself is the most humble and unpretentious and even though Richard would rather set his own hair on fire than hand over the last meatball….Many and varied are the recipes for polpette. Pretty much every Mamma and Nonna in Italy will tell you they hold the best one, and so I have to go with my Mamma’s and Nonna’s and pay tribute to their moist mixture of mince and other loveliness.

Ingredients for 4 people

2 slices of stale bread, crust removed, cut into chunks

1 cup of milk

1 lb (450 gr) of premium beef mince

1 egg

1 handful of chopped up parsley leaves

1/4 teaspoon of grated nutmeg

1/3 cup of grated parmesan cheese

2 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of ground white pepper

1 brown onion, chopped up

1 garlic clove bashed with the back of a knife

3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup of red wine

2 tins of tomatoes

1 cup of water

salt to taste

spaghetti  or crusty bread to serve

How to

1. Soak the bread in milk for about 10 minutes.

2. In a bowl, mix together the  beef mince with 1  egg, salt and pepper, chopped parsley, the tip of a s teaspoon of grated nutmeg and  grated Parmigiano (or Grana Padano) . Use a spoon if you feel squeamish about touching raw meat, but in my opinion hands are your best kitchen tools.

3. Squeeze the milk out of the bread ,add to the meat mix and amalgamate.

4. Using the palms of your hand, roll the polpette the size of small manadarins and set aside in the fridge to firm up for 15 minutes.

5. In the meantime, pan fry the chopped onion and garlic in a little olive oil until the onion is soft and translucent.

6. Add your meatballs and brown them on both sides, then add 1/2 cup of red wine. Let the alcohol evaporate, then add 1 bay leaf, two tins of tomatoes and water. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer with the lid on for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Adjust with salt and pepper.
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Serve with crusty bread or mix through spaghetti, cooked to a perfect al dente!
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Spaghetti Vongole (Spaghetti with Clams and White Wine)

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Spaghetti vongole is one on the most popular Italian classics. I can recall countless summers spent in the Adriatic coast, having a bowl of this wonderful pasta most days, without ever getting bored with it. This is my brother’s Gianmarco’s recipe for Spaghetti Vongole and it really sets the standard for me. The sauce will cook while the pasta is boiling and they all end up in the same pot at the end. It couldn’t be easier. Or quicker. So, as you bring the water to the boil, get chopping! This nutritious and flavousome meal can be yours in under 12 minutes.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4 

350 gr (3/4 packet) of Spaghetti or Linguine

2 Garlic cloves

1 red chilie (or half, according to what heat intensity you can handle)

Parsley (leaves and the tender bits of the stalks), about 1/3 cup

1 kg (2 lb) of Vongole *

Good quality extra Virgin Olive Oil, about 4 tablespoons

Good quality dry white wine**, about 1/3 cup

Chopped parsley to serve

HOW TO

1. Fill a large pot of salted water and bring to a fierce boil.

2. Take your spaghetti or linguine, drop it the pot, stir through so that they don’t get stuck to the bottom and let it bubble away for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. While the pasta is boiling, put a large frying pan on the stove with a little extra-virgin olive oil. Heat it up and drop in garlic, chilly and parsley mix and let sizzle for about 15 seconds, then add a good splash of white wine and let the alcohol evaporate. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly, keeping in mind that vongole will add their sapid kick to the dish.

4. Drop your clams in, cover with a lid. They will take about 2 to 3 minutes to open up and release their beautiful juices. Once opened, lift them out with a slotted spoon and set aside.

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5. Drop your 3/4 cooked pasta in the vongole and wine juice adding some of the pasta cooking water***, enough so the spaghetti can finish to cook until al dente and the sauce creamy in texture.

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Turn off the heat and add your cooked vongole, chopped up parsley leaves and extra chillie, if you like it.

Serve immediately!

Buon Appetito!

TIPS:

* Vongole are alive when you buy them and you want to make sure they are still alive before you cook them!

Soak them in cold, salted water as soon as you bring them home from the shop and keep them in the fridge. Discard any ones that come to the surface, or have broken shells at this point. They are dead. Trust me, you don’t want to cook with a dead clam!

Change the water once or twice. This way they will release the sand they have trapped inside

**Don’t skimp on the quality of your wine. As a rule, if it’s not good enough to drink, don’t use it for cooking.

***We call it “acqua di cottura”. It is full of starch and it will help bind the sauce together without having to add extra ingredients. This is a clever little secret in Italian cooking.

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