Sugo d’agnello (Slow-cooked Lamb and Tomato Sauce)

My maternal Nonna wasn’t the most sophisticated cook. She would always make the same two or three dishes, but, to this day, my siblings, my cousins and I are  yet to taste anything as comforting and delicious as her sugo di pomodoro, polenta con salsiccia and sugo d’agnello. It was always fascinating to observe her in the kitchen, effortlessly turning everyday, humble ingredients into delightful feasts. She never once measured anything, her only tools were her hands and her eyes. And her exquisite taste buds! For your sake, I have attempted  to provide measurements, but feel free to adjust to your liking, the way Nonna always did.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 garlic cloves

2 small onion or French shallots, peeled and left whole

1/4  pepper (capiscum)

1 celery stick

1/2 cup of good red wine

1 table spoon of tomato paste (concentrate)

2 tins of good quality can tomatoes or home-made passata

1 rosemary or thyme sprig

a few origano leaves

500 gr (16 oz) of fresh tagliatelle or tagliolini

How to

1. Heat up the oil in a sauce pan; with the back of your knife, bash the garlic cloves in their skin and add them to the hot oil along with a few large chunks of yellow or red pepper (capsicum), the peeled French shallots (or onion), the celery stalk and rosemary sprigs.

2. When the vegetables have taken a bit a colour, brown a few large pieces of shoulder or shank of lamb. De-glaze the pan with a glass of red wine and cook on a high flame until the alcohol has eveporated.

3. Add the tinned tomatoes (home-made would be my Nonna’s preference, but feel free to use good quality tinned ones, like Mutti or Cirio). Turn the heat right down and cook slowly and covered with a mesh lid for 3 to 4 hours. After that time you can discard the garlic, the peppers and the celery stalks. Turn the heat up and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Season with salt and white pepper, to your liking.

Serve generously with home-made tagliolini (pictured below) or any pasta you prefer.

Buon Appetito!

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Minestrone con Cavolo Nero, (Tuscan Kale Vegetable Soup) Super food in a bowl!

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This is the ultimate Italian winter meal. You may call it minestrone, I have dubbed it “super food in a bowl”! How can you go wrong when your meal is packed-full of dark green, robust leaves, antioxidants and vitamins? With the added nutrients of borlotti beans, extra-virgin olive oil and the kick of chillie, you have secured yourself a spa treatment for your insides that is sure to keep you warm from the first winter chill. Minestrone with cavolo nero is so much more than just a soup, so rich of  revitalizing and hearty deliciousness, you feel restored and healthier after each mouthful.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

1 leek, well washed and thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 small carrot, sliced

1 celery stick, sliced

1 chunk of parmesan cheese crust (optional, omit for a vegan version)

2 potatoes

1 small handful of diced pancetta or speck (omit for a vegetarian, vegan version)

2 cups of fresh borlotti beans (or two tins, well rinsed. Alternatively, soak  2 cups of dried beans for 12 hours, then cook in simmering water for 2 hours)

2/3 cup tin tomatoes

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup of Brussel sprouts, quartered and outer leaves removed

4-5 cavolo nero leaves, stalk removed, shredded

3/4 of baby pasta (such as ditalini, orzo, macaroni)

Extra-virgin olive oil (or Chillie oil) to serve

HOW TO

1. Sautee’ the sliced and chopped vegetables with the oil in a large saucepan. Add the pancetta and cheese crust (if using)

2. Add the potatoes and the beans, the tomatoes and cover with water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 40-45 minutes or until the beans are tender. (if using tinned beans, only add them 25 minutes into cooking the potatoes with the rest of the vegetables)

3. Add salt and pepper (only salt the beans after they are cooked, or they will wrinkle up)

4. Add a handful of Brussel Sprouts, the shredded cavolo nero and 3/4 cup of baby pasta (I used ditalini)

5. Cook for 7-8 minutes or until the pasta is nicely al dente. Turn off the heat.

6. Serve hot with a good swirl of extra-virgin olive oil or chillie oil.

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I am not feeling the cold tonight…

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