with 15-25% chilli paste (conservata) fresh weight so the heat is pretty eye watering and aromatic when dried as a salami and a bit less fierce when is still spreadable! Consequently, nduja makes an excellent flavouring for pasta and a handy ingredient to spice up a sauce or casserole.
I always remember a formative experinece on my first trip to a Tuscan market in Figlini Valdarno. An old boy in a big overcoat (on a fine Summer’s day) was loitering about with a hessian sack at his feet. My curiousity was satisfied when a shopper walked up and the man pulled out an ancient pair of iron scales from his overcoat and proceeded to carefully weigh a fresh bambi skinned porcini from his sack! We are lucky enough to have a regular supply of fresh and dried funghi porcini from Gabriella Ruggero in Tuscany who forages up in the hills of San Pellegrino in Alpe in Garafagnana. This is her recipe.
Pilota were the men whom used to remove the husks of great piles of rice in the Po Valley. This recipe comes courtesy of Raffaello Seri from Lomdardia who visited one of our village Pizza Nights. Seeing our Italian sausages we immediately fell into conversation about the food of Lombardia and the sausages of Mantova. A variation “with a handle” is served in a pot with a grilled pork chop served bone end sticking up from the risotto so you can alternate bites of chop with a fork of risotto.
Chickpea soup is a peasant dish customarily cooked to venerate the spirits of our lost ancestors on 2nd November which is the Day of the Dead - the day when Italians visit the graves of their friends and family with flowers and candles. This recipe comes from Ticino near the Gothard Tunnel into Switzerland. Chickpeas are a good allotment crop and a great storecupboard item.
When we visit Genova the first thing we eat is pasta al genovese in a rough and ready café opposite our hotel. Unlike the English method of serving, the Genovese serve their pasta and pesto quite liquid with a ladle or two of boiling pasta water which melts the Parmigiano and spreads the basil “so it looks like the Milky Way at night”. At home we make our pesto fresh daily with a good grating of Parmiggiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano, or Grana Padano DOP if the basil needs a creamier taste. When we get a glut of basil we make quantities since pesto freezes well and there’s nothing better to remind you of those lost Summer days!
Sara cooked this simple recipe for Sue Braithwaite of Slow Food who came to lunch. She used trofie pasta to hold the sauce although penne or conchiglie would do. Note that pine kernels won’t stick to ribbon or spaghetti so well. It embodies simplicity and creativity.
I have always been fond of cooking pasta in a bag since university days when it was the only way of cooking for more than a couple of people with the limited resources of a baby Belling cooker. Even now I look forward to opening the bag and breathing in the fragrant aroma released from the bag so cooking al cartoccio (that’s ‘car-toch-ee-oh’) makes something so easy a great dinner party trick.
In Italy a sausage is not the poor man’s steak made with bread and floor sweepings but a means of getting a well seasoned meat and herb combination to plate. Some of the finest sausages are those from Tuscany and Umbria heading up towards Norcia - the headquarters of Italian butchery. A Tuscan sausage has very little fat and will typically be 95-97% meat with a few herbs like fennel and garlic encased in a natural pork runner. In this recipe, good ingredients and simple presentation are the key and you will have a dish that would grace the finest restaurant.