Patata L-Forn – Maltese Roast Traybake

Since my Nanna died in October, 2017, I have found myself increasingly turning to Maltese cuisine when it comes to dinner time. I guess that is the transcendental power of food: it can spiritually connect you to a time, place or person no matter how far they may be. Interestingly, this is not a dish that I really remember my Nanna making for me – she probably did, but when I think of eating at Nanna’s house, I think of Hobz biz-Zejt for lunch, soups like brodu, minestra or my Nannu’s favourite ‘Widow’s Soup’, baked rice or pasta, Maltese ravjul (the ‘big sister’ to Italian ravioli), and the ‘good’ pastizzi! By ‘good’ pastizzi, I mean the pastizzi from ‘the old Maltese man who makes them’; these pastizzi were, and still are, like something you can only get on the Black Market – made the traditional way by a mysterious old Maltese person that you probably need to meet in a dark alley with a briefcase to get your stash…

But back to this recipe. This recipe is one that I really associate with my mother. It was, and very much still is, Mum’s go-to. For her, it is as much about the aniseed flavour that punctuates the roasted meat and vegetables as it is about convenience. I have made this for friends when they have come over for a dinner, primarily because it is a cinch to make and robust with flavour; it can be prepared in advance and thrown in the oven an hour before you’re ready to eat. It is as technically demanding as peeling and slicing some potatoes, but what you end up with is a whole meal in a pan which cooks itself while you are busy doing other things.

Patata l-forn literally translates to ‘potatoes in the oven’ but think of it more as a roast traybake. Maltese juries will be divided over how to make the perfect patata l-forn: Chicken, lamb or pork? Peas or no peas? Fennel seeds or caraway? This is likely to be a controversial blog post as my Mum and aunts and cousins are all following. Patata l-forn is to the Maltese what a roast chicken is to the English or Australians – there is no real one way to do it, but if you ask me there are a few things which cannot be compromised.

The first is potatoes. You want a good roasting potato; an all-rounder like Desiree will do nicely. What you cannot compromise on is potato placement: they must be arranged on top of the meat, covering the protein and vegetables below and very slightly overlapping. The contents below steam the underside of the potatoes as they roast making them soft to eat while going and crispy on top; the steam produced under the potatoes also makes the meat incredibly tender. Nanna and my Uncle Jim’s mum would sprinkle some Keen’s curry powder on top of the potatoes for an extra kick, and my mum likes it with a little paprika. Uncle Jim’s mum would often beat a few eggs with parmesan cheese and pour it all over the potatoes in the last five minutes of cooking. I am yet to try this myself, but I am intrigued.

The second is peas. And by peas I mean trusty, reliable frozen peas that you will nearly always have in the freezer. You’ll think that roasting peas in the oven would make them go mushy; they do go dull in colour and soft, but they do hold they shape well. Mum and Aunty Margaret will often add carrots and even cherry tomatoes. You could even add some sliced capsicum, zucchini or fennel, I suppose, but I tend to like the simplicity of the peas and potatoes alone.

Third for me is caraway seeds. Mum and I are #TeamCaraway while my Nanna and Aunty Margaret are #TeamFennel. Use either until you find your tribe. What you do want, though, is a whole spice seed that permeates the roast with that pungent aniseedy aroma.

The last is liquid, and this is the bit that will be controversial and potentially where I run the risk of making a Maltese cross (pun intended). Perhaps it is my Italian sensibilities at work here but I need something to mop up with a piece of crusty bread at the end of my meal; the addition of a little tomato paste dissolved in stock make this almost a self-saucing traybake. The peas and onions tenderise while the juices of the protein and aromatic spices thicken and flavour a light gravy that can be spooned over the meat and potatoes or absorbed by bread later. Mum, Aunty Margaret and my Nanna omit this entirely, pouring just a little water into the pan for moisture and steaming. I don’t know where I got the idea from that this was just how you made patata l-forn, but it is certainly how I make it and how we like to eat it.

You can essentially use whichever protein you like. My preference is chicken pieces: bone in and skin on, rubbed with a little oil and seasoned before covering with the potato duvet. Aunty Margaret and Uncle Jim love this with pork chops, and it is commonly made this way.

But as somewhat an ode to my mother, I have given you the recipe for patata l-forn with lamb chops, her protein of choice for this favourite dish.

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PATATA L-FORN
Potatoes in the Oven (Maltese Roast Traybake)
Serves 4 – 6

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 forequarter lamb chops (or 8 lamb cutlets, or 6 pork chops, or 8 – 10 chicken pieces or 4 – 6 chicken Maryland – chicken must be bone in, skin on)
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 3 or 4 potatoes, preferably Desiree or similar, peeled and sliced into 1cm thick discs
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves, unpeeled but pressed with the back of a knife
  • 500g frozen peas, do not thaw
  • 3 teaspoons caraway seeds (or fennel seeds)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste dissolved in 1 cup of chicken stock
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt flakes and fresh cracked black pepper


METHOD

Preheat oven to 200 C (fan forced).

Tip the peas, still frozen, into a shallow roasting tray; one that will hold the peas and sauce without spilling – about an inch deep. (I have specified 500g of peas but this is approximate; you want to generously cover the full base of the pan

Add onion slices, pressed garlic, and a third of the caraway seeds. Give light drizzle of oil (about a tablespoon) and a pinch of salt, then mix well to evenly distribute the onion and seeds.

 

Season the lamb with more salt and pepper and arrange, evenly spaced, on top of the peas. Sprinkle one more teaspoon of caraway seeds evenly across the meat before lightly drizzling each lamb chop with a little more oil.

Lay the potato slices over the whole tray, slightly overlapping them, and totally covering the meat and peas. Season the potatoes with a generous pinch of salt and some cracked pepper, and the remaining caraway seeds.

Slowly and gently, pour the tomato paste and stock mixture into the base of the pan from one corner, try to avoid wetting the potatoes.

Give the potatoes a light drizzle with oil before roasting in the oven for about 45 mins – 1 hour, or until the meat is cooked and the potatoes are lightly bronzed and crispy on top but tender when pierced with a fork.

Serve immediately with chunky slices of crusty bread to soak up the gravy.

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Pappardelle with Italian Sausage and Cime di Rapa

I will never forget the day I walked into Tony & Mark’s and saw something I hadn’t seen since I was a kid in my Nonno’s garden: a bunch of unappetising-looking weeds that could be mistaken for something that might have been salvaged from the greens bin. I’m not really selling this, I know, but you must understand how overjoyed I was to see I could purchase such wonderment in Australia! Unsurprisingly, I had quite a hard time convincing Matt that this was not only edible but delicious when he saw me chopping up the deep green stalks and leaves and adding them to the pan; however, despite taking his first bite with caution, he was quickly won over, and the seconds and thirds that were to at least cover us for lunch the next day were soon devoured. In fact, this pasta dish should perhaps be titled ‘The Other Pasta Matt Loves To Eat’; it is certainly a dish that is on rotation in our house when we are lucky enough to find the leafy bitter greens at the greengrocer.

Cime di rapa, or rapini or broccoli rabe, is a cruciferous vegetable that looks something like the lovechild of broccolini, rocket and English spinach. It’s tougher stalks give way to deep green large rough leaves with a sprinkling of broccolini-like florets. It is popular in southern Italian and Roman cuisine, often boiled then sautéed with olive oil, garlic and chilli as a side dish or as an accompaniment to sausage in a panino. The bitterness of the wilted greens seems to be the perfect companion to pork, chilli and garlic, and this recipe makes the most of the fire and caramelised butteriness that occurs when these flavours are allowed to infuse together.

You’ll have noticed by now that when I cook, and when I eat, I want full flavour with minimal effort, hence my preference for more rustic dishes. Also, I’m usually too impatient for finicky food when I’d rather be on the couch with a bowl of something comforting than fussing in the kitchen over something complicated. This is one such dish; the accompaniment is ready in the time it takes to boil the pasta. I say ‘accompaniment’ as this is not so much a sauce as it is some spiced sautéed ingredients tossed through some pasta. I specify using Italian pork sausages as opposed to pork mince; the higher fat content of the sausage provides a deeper flavour than pork mince and the texture is squeakier and uneven. Look for pure pork sausages, but if you can only find pork and fennel sausages, you may wish to halve the amount of fennel seeds or omit them altogether.

Rapini can be hard to find, though I have increasingly seen it sold in supermarkets, and tends to be available only seasonally through winter, unless you have access to seeds to grow them yourself or you know a good Italian gardener who will generously give you some. I have grown my own and it is not terribly demanding to harvest your own crop even in containers. Seeds can be purchased online from Franchi Sementi or The Italian Gardener; if you are in Adelaide, I purchased mine from Imma & Mario’s Mercato in Campbelltown. If you crave this pasta and rapini is not easy to acquire, a mixture of silverbeet or English spinach and broccolini make a reasonable substitute.

PAPPARDELLE CON SALSICCE E CIME DI RAPA
Pappardelle with Italian Sausage and Broccoli Rabe
Serves 6

INGREDIENTS

  • 500g Egg Pappardelle
  • 6 Italian pork sausages (approx 450g), casings removed
  • 1 large bunch Cime di Rapa (Broccoli Rabe), roughly chopped
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 brown onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon kosher sea salt flakes
  • Handful of finely grated pecorino + more for sprinkling
  • 1 cup of the reserved pasta cooking water

METHOD

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.

Meanwhile, toast the fennel seeds and chilli flakes in a dry sauté pan over medium heat until fragrant.

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Add half the oil, onion and salt and sauté until the onions start to colour.

Add the sausage meat and cook until browned using a fork or wooden spook to break down the clumps.

Deglaze the pan with the wine and cook a few minutes to evaporate the alcohol.

Meanwhile, add the pasta to the pot of water and cook until al dente.

Add the nutmeg and the tougher cime di rapa stalks to the sausage and onion mixture first and cook for a few minutes until the stalks start to soften but still retain a little crunch. Then add the chopped leaves and the garlic and cook, stirring, until wilted.

By this time, the pasta should be cooked to al dente. Use tongs to lift the pasta from the pot and add straight to the pan with the sausage and wilted leaves. Add the remaining all and the grated pecorino as well as half the reserved starchy pasta cooking water. Toss to combine well adding more pasta water if needed to evenly coat the pappardelle and create a sauce.

Serve into bowls sprinkling with more cheese and dried chilli to taste.

Spaghetti A’Matt’riciana – or the Amatriciana Matt Loves To Eat!

There is something that seems so utterly right about eating Italian food which proudly and unapologetically reflects the colours of the Italian flag. When I do so, there’s a part of me that wonders just how patriotic Queen Margherita of Savoy must have felt when presented with a pizza made especially for her upon her visit to Napoli shortly after the unification of Italy; the combination of basil, mozzarella and tomato on a pizza base is famously thought to be named after her following this particular dining out experience.

Italian dishes are often named after the person who made it, where they made it or for whom it was made. Amatriciana receives its name from the town of Amatrice in the Lazio region, a mountainous area in central Italy, and from whence this sauce originates. My recipe for making this sauce, however, gets its name from my husband, Matt, who requests this pasta sauce more than any other – this is the Amatriciana that Matt loves to eat! Typical of the sugo all’Amatriciana are ingredients reflecting the national flag. Fiery dried chilli, blushing ripe tomatoes and rose-coloured guanciale (cured pig cheek, or alternatively pancetta or bacon) make up the brilliant red of the colour palette, while onions, garlic and pecorino provide the white. While not traditional of Amatriciana, I insist on the stalks and leaves from fragrant fresh basil, equal parts for the extra burst of flavour and for making up the full tricolore – why should Queen Margherita have all the fun?

I must insist that you only ever make Amatriciana with ripe fresh tomatoes – no tinned tomatoes or passata – and you will understand why when you make it. This is not a thick ragu-style sauce like it’s distant cousin from Bologna. Rather, the softened tomatoes and their juices coat the pasta thickened by the starchy water in which is was cooked, snagging flecks of tomato flesh and cured meat in the tangled web of the spaghetti. I must also insist that you do not drain your pasta in a colander or rinse it under water. The starchy water is a necessary ingredient to ensure an even thick coating of sauce over your pasta.

Bacon is perfectly suitable for this dish, though guanciale or pancetta are the ultimate indulgence if you can find it. I turn to this recipe so regularly for emergency dinners because there is usually always bacon in the freezer than can be quickly defrosted, tomatoes in the fridge, and onions, garlic and chilli on hand. If using bacon, you must use middle rashers, rind removed, with still some bacon fat evident that will render and infuse your sauce. You can use whatever pasta you want, but to make an authentic A’Matt’riciana, spaghetti or pappardelle should be favoured. However, my university food obsession was Tortellini Amatriciana – my Italian classes were usually later in the evening and a few classmates and I could often be found at Piatto on Rundle Street for a pre-class dinner: so began my 20+ year relationship with this sauce, preferably coating stuffed pasta belly-buttons (true story, this is what inspired the design of tortellini.)

Finally, invest in a good drinking dry white wine – you want about a cup for the pan and you will appreciate a glass or two while eating. Tonight’s choice, an Adelaide Hills Seabrook Pinot Grigio, was on point. There’s something about the way the dry wine counterbalances the acidic tomato and punchy chilli that is most satisfying.

I hope you will love to eat this as much as Matt does.

SPAGHETTI A’MATT’RICIANA (or the AMATRICIANA THAT MATT LOVES TO EAT!)
Serves 4 – 6

INGREDIENTS

  • 500g good quality dried spaghetti
  • 4 large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped into chunks
  • 400g bacon (middle rashers, rind removed), roughly cut into 1cm pieces; or guanciale or pancetta finely diced
  • 1/2 bunch fresh basil; stalks finely chopped and leaves roughly shredded
  • 1 large red onion
  • 2 teaspoons dried chilli flakes, plus extra for sprinking
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 200ml dry white wine
  • salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup of water in which the pasta is cooked
  • grated pecorino cheese, to taste
  • A few tablespoons of fresh ricotta (optional)

METHOD

Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil.

Meanwhile, in a large non-stick pan (one that can be covered securely with a lid), heat the oil over medium high heat. Add  onion, garlic, chilli flakes and basil stalks with a pinch of salt to prevent burning and sautee until softened but not browned.

Add the bacon (or guanciale or pancetta if using) to the pan and sautee until the meat softens and just takes on the slightest hint of colour. You do not want dry or crispy bacon pieces.

Add the tomatoes and combine with the sauteed onions then add the wine. Stir well then reduce the heat to medium, clamp on the lid and allow to simmer for 5 – 10 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened and starting to form a pulpy sauce. Check occasionally during simmering and help the tomatoes along by pressing them down with your spoon.

While the sauce is simmering, cook your spaghetti in the pot of salted water until al dente.

Once the pasta is cooked and the sauce has come together, add 1/2 to 3/4 cup of the pasta water to the tomatoes and stir for about a minute or until the starchy water has thickened the sauce.

Use tongs to lift the spaghetti from the water and add it straight to the sauce. Sprinkle over a small handful of grated pecorino and the torn basil leaves and toss the pasta through the sauce to coat evenly. Add a little extra pasta water if needed, and taste to see if you want a little extra cheese.

Serve topped with fresh ricotta and more basil, dried chilli flakes and pecorino.

‘Stolen’ Lamb and Potato Packets

The idea for this recipe really started in the 15th Century, when Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire. A band of highwaymen turned self-appointed resistance fighters, descendants of the Greeks who took refuge in the country regions to resist and oppose the looming Ottoman rule, became known as the Klephts.  These men were often bandits trying to avoid taxes, debts, vendettas against them, or on the run from Ottoman officials. They survived by ransacking travellers and settlements while they hid in the mountains and dense countryside. Famously, they would steal lambs and goats and cook the meat with potatoes, or whatever they could find, in fire pits dug into the ground. The pits would be filled with hot coals, the meat and vegetables wrapped in a parcel, and the pit would be covered over with dirt so that no smoke or fire could be seen, concealing  their whereabouts from those who might be out to get them. The Greeks call meat and potatoes cooked this way ‘kleftiko’. The word kleftis in Greek means ‘thief’ and without sounding like the Dad in ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ it isn’t hard to see the root of the traditional Greek word in words like kleptomaniac, a person who has the compulsion to steal.

In the spirit of the Klephts, I have remorselessly stolen the idea for my own meat and potato packets. I had the idea for making some sort of ‘food pack’ for dinner when we had a group of people over for a bonfire night. Ideally, I wanted something that we could cook in coals to christen our new fire pit; I wanted something fitting for sitting around a campfire – I wanted some sort of gourmet campfire cuisine. It also happened to be the case that majority of people at this bonfire night were Greek, so it seemed apt and brave to make something Greek inspired for dinner. I wasn’t game enough to try cooking them on the coals, so I relied on my oven which did the job perfectly.

There are so many things to love about this dish. You can prepare this well ahead of time and keep the foil parcels in the fridge to infuse the flavours taking them out an hour before you’re ready to cook to come to room temperature. You can use whatever meat and vegetables you like. The first time I made these for the bonfire night I used chuck steak, potatoes, green beans, capsicum and zucchini and they were a hit. I don’t know that I would use zucchini and capsicum again, though, as these vegetables tend to give off a lot of extra water, but cooking is all about experimentation after all. If using chicken, go for cuts like thigh which will not dry out. Also, this is rustic cooking at its best: once you prepare the parcels and pop them in the oven, it is really set and forget, whether you are making this for one, two or ten people, and presentation is really not a factor. Every person has their own parcel to open, there’s no fancy plating up, and if you eat them straight from the packet as the Klephts might have, there is minimal washing up. Above all, the foil parcels ensure that the meat cooks tenderly and the trapped steam ensures the contents are infused totally with garlicky, salty, citrusy and herby flavours that make up the spice mix.

An easy herbed yoghurt sauce, a squeeze of lemon juice, some grilled pita wedges and a quick Greek salad helps to make this a complete meal. Or try my Warm Greek Bean Salad to complement this on a cold night whether on the couch in front of the heater or around your own camp fire.

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‘STOLEN’ LAMB AND POTATO PACKETS
Serves 2

INGREDIENTS

  • 350g lean lamb, diced
  • 2 – 3 good roasting potatoes (I used Royal Blues), peeled and cut into 1.5cm slices
  • 2 teaspoons dried orgeano, plus more for sprinkling later
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • zest and juice of half a lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons soft butter (not melted)
  • About a teaspoon each of salt and pepper
  • A small handful of mint, roughly shredded (optional)

For the herbed yoghurt dressing you will need

  • 4 Tablespoons Greek natural yoghurt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • zest and juice from the remaining half lemon
  • A good pinch or two of salt
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh mint, finely chopped

METHOD

Preheat oven to 200C (fan forced).

Place meat, potatoes, garlic, nutmeg, lemon juice and zest, salt pepper, oregano and rosemary and half the butter into a large bowl.

 

Mix together with your hands, making sure you smother the meat and potatoes totally with the herbs and the butter. You may need to squeeze the butter with your hands to help soften it and ensure even coverage of the spices and butter all over the meat and potatoes.

Cut 2 pieces of aluminium foil per packet, about 40cm lengths, and lay them criss-crossed one on top of the other.

Place half the potatoes in the centre of the top piece of foil then arrange the meat on top of the potatoes. Give another quick sprinkle with seasoning if you think it needs it. Place half the remaining butter on top of the meat.

Bring up the ends of the top piece of foil to begin creating your packet, totally covering the meat and potatoes. Now do the same with the bottom piece of foil. You have created your first packet!

Now create your second packet using another two piece of foil, placing potatoes on the foil first, then meat, a little extra seasoning if you wish, and the remaining butter.

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Place both parcels on a baking tray and cook in the oven for one hour.

While the parcels are cooking, add a clove of minced garlic, a good pinch of salt, a tablespoon of chopped mint, the zest and juice from the remaining half lemon to four tablespoons of natural yoghurt and mix thoroughly to combine to make your herbed yoghurt topping.

 

Use a tea towel or tongs to tip the parcels upside down for a few seconds before opening to give the meat and potatoes a quick coat with the melted butter, careful not to lose any of the juices from the packet.

Open the packets and top with the herbed yoghurt dressing, a lemon cheek, a sprinkling of dried oregano and some fresh chopped mint before serving.

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Let’s Talk Traybakes: Chicken and Chorizo

Let’s face it, you’re a busy working mum – regardless of gender. You have a partner and a house full of offspring, you’re the parent of fur-babies, or you are the urban professional singleton with a lot going on. Your week is hectic trying to fit in work, gym, housework, wine time with your mates, family obligations and generally functioning as a human being. And as much as you love having people around your table to share a meal you have prepared, sometimes it’s the last thing you need on your one night free when really all you want to do is sit on the couch, binge watch old episodes of ‘Will & Grace’ in your loosest fitting clothes and drink Prosecco straight from the bottle. Well, I can tell you, this crowd pleasing feed-an-army recipe is almost as effortless as pouring yourself another glass of wine. I think we all have room in our lives for a recipe like that.

Whether people are coming around for a midweek dinner or a weekend lunch, I almost always turn to this recipe. And it makes sense: tray-bakes are not so much cooking as they are throwing ingredients into a pan, tossing them in oil and spices, and whacking them in the oven for a good hour. As for plating up, dress some salad leaves in whatever you have patience for and put both the salad and tray-bake on the table with multiple tongs and serving spoons, and let everyone serve themselves. Done. We love eating this way when friends come over as it is the very essence of what sharing food and sharing good company is all about, not slaving away in a kitchen for hours trying to out-Heston yourself. Entertaining should be casual, relaxed and…entertaining, for the host too.

I have been converted to the simplicity of tray-bakes for dinner parties since my sister-in-law first made this particular recipe for us one night, so don’t be surprised when you see more tray-bake recipes on my blog in the future. In fact, a risotto stuffed tomato and a Maltese style chicken or lamb tray bake are two of the other dishes that are very regularly created in my oven and are already earmarked for future posts – the tomato traybake can be served vegetarian (so long as your vegetarian friends don’t mind a little pecorino cheese) or can be porked up with Italian sausages. The convenience of tray-bakes is not just the simplicity of a meal-in-a-tray or that you end up with only a couple of trays and a salad bowl to wash up, it is also the fact that you can prepare this hours ahead of time, wrap in cling wrap or foil and keep it in the fridge until you are ready to bake; doing so often means the protein has more time to infuse the flavour and fragrance of the spices and seasoning making for a delicious roast later on. Just bring the trays out of the fridge half an hour before you are ready to bake to bring to room temperature and away you go.

This tray-bake, however, is Nigella Lawson‘s, straight from her book Nigella Kitchen. Nigella is not called the Domestic Goddess for nothing, she has many recipes for different tray-bakes for easy and satisfying entertaining that are worth trying out, but this has become a household favourite. The original recipe can be found on her website but the recipe below is written the way I make it. One adjustment I have made is the addition of smoked Spanish Paprika which just gives the chicken some extra warmth. Nigella also specifies to use chicken thighs with the bone and skin still on, and while I agree that it is totally necessary to use chicken pieces with the bone and skin on to keep the chicken moist and to absorb the flavours of the chorizo and herbs, I prefer to buy a couple of packets of mixed portions so your guests can choose between a medley of wings, breasts, legs and thighs (sounds racier than I intend); my sister-in-law often uses just drumsticks.

While the original recipe caters for 6, I find the best rule of thumb is adjust the recipe based on the number of people around your table – I have made this for 8 – 10 people as many times as I can remember making it for 4 – 6. The following is a good guide:

  • 2 decent sized chicken portions per person + a few extra pieces in case some are particularly hungry or if you want leftovers (more on that later)
  • 3 – 4 baby chat potatoes or one large potato per person
  • 1 chorizo (approx 15cm) between two people + one ‘for the pan’
  • Make sure you have enough space on your tray that you don’t end up ‘stewing’ your bake in juices. If you are making this for 10 – 12 people, you might want 3 trays going in your oven if your oven can handle it

The photographs on this post show the recipe made for 4 people – with a little left over.

Leftovers the next day are good chopped up, mixed together with some fresh parsley and a diced fresh tomato, quickly panfried to heat through in an ovenproof pan – pour over four or so beaten eggs (or enough to cover the chopped chicken and veg in the frypan) and pop in a moderate oven until the eggs firm up and turn golden on top: leftover Spanish chicken and chorizo tortilla. Boom.

This is one of those dishes we love to eat regularly. Word of advice – be generous with the chorizo because that’s what everyone ends up picking at!

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SPANISH CHICKEN, CHORIZO AND POTATO TRAY BAKE
Serves 6

INGREDIENTS

  • 12 chicken portions, skin on, bone in (you could use a whole chicken, jointed) (see note above re adding extra pieces if you think you need)
  • 4 chorizo, cut into 2 – 3cm pieces
  • 18 baby chat potatoes, halved, or 5 large potatoes, quartered – unpeeled
  • 6 cloves garlic, unpeeled, bruised
  • 2 red onions, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • zest from one orange
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • A handful of fresh flat leaf parsley, roughly chopped

METHOD

  1. Preheat oven to 200C (fan forced)
  2. Put a tablespoon of oil in two shallow roasting tins or trays. You need a tray with a bit of a lip as the chicken and chorizo can give off a bit of juice.
  3. Divide the chicken pieces between the two trays then rub the skin side of the chicken in the oil to coat evenly.
  4. Divide the potatoes, chorizo, onions and garlic between the two trays and toss together with the chicken a few times. Evenly distribute the chicken, chorizo, potatoes and garlic across the trays ensuring the chicken is well-spaced and skin-side up.
  5. Grate the orange zest over the trays, then sprinkle with paprika and oregano. If you are preparing this in advance, cover with foil or cling wrap and place in the oven. Remove the trays from the fridge half an hour before baking to bring to room temperature.
  6. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes then baste the potatoes, chorizo and chicken with the juices in the pan. Swap the top tray with the bottom tray in the oven and bake and extra 30 minutes or until the chicken juices run clear when poked with a skewer and the potatoes and chicken appear golden.
  7. Sprinkle over with chopped parsley and serve straight on the table, in the pans, with enough tongs for people to help themselves, and salad leaves dressed with extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Cavatelli with Molisian Mixed Meat Ragù

There are few things in life more satisfying than handmade pasta. Sure, you can’t beat the texture of the dough you have formed and loved with your own hands, not to mention the fact that when you make something yourself – from scratch – you can be sure of what has gone in it. But perhaps most satisfying is actually having the time to patiently form the dough, let it rest for as long as you want, and then carefully cutting and forming each piece into the shape that you fancy – today, cavatelli! But here’s the thing: this pasta is quick to make. You could be impatient and use a mixer with a dough hook, but this is a very forgiving dough. You’ll have it resting in the fridge in under 10 minutes. How long you then let it rest before quickly cutting and rolling the curls is entirely up to you.

My inspiration here is Silvia Colloca, the Italian born and Australia residing medio-soprano singer, actress, food lover and passionate cook. I spent this week rewatching her series ‘Made in Italy’ on SBS On Demand. If you haven’t seen this sensational series where Colloca returns to her family home in Torricella to trace the traditional cuisine of her heritage throughout Molise, Marche and Abbruzzo, then you are missing out! It is such a relief to see Italian cooking presented in the way it truly is: uncomplicated, rustic, highlighting fresh local produce and, ultimately, generous! ‘Made in Italy’ showcases the food and these parts of Italy in exactly this way, so if you plan on making Italian food at home I think it is essential that you use the best ingredients you can find, use good local oils and wine, and prepare and serve your food with absolute generosity. In the spirit of sourcing locally, I used Italian sausages from Barossa Fine Foods, extra virgin olive oil from Gumeracha in the Adelaide Hills, fresh herbs from my own garden, and a Montepulciano from my favourite winery in Marananga in the Barossa.

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A note on the wine: Tscharke’s Wines are a revelation. Just down the road from Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop you’ll find a cute little villa posing as a cellar door. It looks like a Gingerbread house overlooking the vines; in fact, you’d walk through the door and expect to see Hansel and Gretel eating a biscuit window frame or Snow White dancing around with half a dozen dwarves. Instead, what you will find are the loveliest and most welcoming staff who are all too ready to generously showcase winemaker Damien Tscharke’s European influenced varieties: Savagnin, Mataro, Graciano, Touriga, Tempranillo, and my current preference – Montepulciano. The lighter drinking style and dry finish of Tscharke’s ‘The Master’ Montepulciano is perfectly suited to this meat ragù; it’s not so bold that it overpowers the other flavours. You only need a cup of wine in this sauce but you do not want to leave it out as the sauce needs the depth of flavour that the wine provides. If you’re not a red drinker (mind you, my husband isn’t much of a red drinker and even he enjoyed a few glasses of this bottle with me over the weekend) I would prefer that you salvage the rest of the bottle portioned into snap lock bags and keep it in the freezer for the next time you need a cup or two of red wine in a recipe. It keeps well and you won’t feel so guilty using a good bottle of wine since nothing is going to waste – another characteristic of Italian cucina povera.

I have used Colloca’s recipe for the cavatelli pasta and it is an excellent dough, and I have followed the basis of her meat sauce but, like every Italian recipe since the dawn of Italian time, I have edited it based on what I could find and what I had on hand – and also what I instinctively thought would ‘work’. Colloca’s original recipe can be found here and in her book ‘Made in Italy’ which features the recipes and stunning scenery from her tv series. My recipe for cavatelli with Molisian mixed meat ragù follows.

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CAVATELLI FATTO A MANO CON RAGU MISTO ALLA MOLISANA
Handmade Cavatelli with Molisian Mixed Meat Ragù
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS
For the cavatelli

  • 300g ’00’ or all purpose plain flour
  • 250ml lukewarm water
  • Pinch of salt

For the ragù

  • 2 lamb shanks
  • 400g Italian pork sausages, casing removed
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 Tablespoons parsley stalks, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 x 400g tins whole peeled tomatoes (I like Mutti brand pomodori pelati)
  • 1 cup dry red wine (I used a locally produced Montepulciano)
  • 4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Grated pecorino

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To prepare the ragù

In a large deep heavy based pan or casserole dish, heat half the oil then fry the meats to brown on all sides. Start with the lamb shanks then put aside to rest before frying the uncased sausages. The sausages will probably hold their shape – don’t be tempted to mash them up into mince, this will come later. Remove the sausages and place them to rest with the browned shanks.

Add the rest of the oil to the pan then tumble in the onion, garlic, celery, carrot, chopped parsley stems, rosemary leaves and dried oregano. Sautee for a few minutes until the vegetables start to soften.

Return the meats to the pan along with any juices released while resting. Add the wine and cook for a minute or so to let the alcohol burn off.

Add the tinned tomatoes one at a time, squeezing each one with your hand to mash them and release their juices. Half fill each tin with water and give a good swirl before adding the combined water and remaining tomato puree to the pan. Season with salt flakes and freshly ground pepper. Bring to a simmer before placing the lid on, reducing the heat to low, and allow to cook for 3 – 3 1/2 hours. Check the sauce every hour and give a stir to prevent sticking.

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Remove the meats from the sauce. The lamb should already be eager to fall of the bone but help it along with a fork and shred the meat into small pieces. Use the fork to mash the sausage meat into mince then return all the meat to the sauce. Check for seasoning.

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If the sauce it still a little watery, remove the lid and boil on high heat for 10 – 15 minutes or until it has reduced and slightly thickened.

To make the Cavatelli

To make this a low mess, low fuss process, prepare the dough in a large deep bowl. Tip in the flour, season with a little salt, and the create a well in the middle of the flour with your fingers. This is imperative: you are going to make the dough by carefully pouring the water into the ‘well’, a little at a time, incorporating the flour into the water bit by bit with a fork. Wait for the flour to absorb all the water and the mixture starts to crumble before adding more water. Don’t add the water all at once because you are unlikely to need all the water. In Italian cooking, the measurements are usually described as ‘as much as you need’, and this could not be more true than when making a pasta dough such as this.

Keep up with this process until you can form a firm dough. All the flour should come off the sides of the bowl and off your hands – that’s when you know you have added enough water (I probably used 225ml water this time).

Turn the dough onto a floured board. This next step is important: oil your hands before kneading the dough for about 5 minutes. Oiling your hands will ensure that the dough continues to form and doesn’t stick to your fingers like one big goopy mess! Don’t overwork the dough either. A good 5 minutes of kneading will help to activate the gluten in the flour with the heat from your hands helping your dough to produce an elasticity. Wrap the dough in cling wrap and rest in the fridge for at least half an hour. (NOTE: Colloca says you can make this dough well in advance and keep it in the fridge a day or so, just make sure you bring it out of the fridge an hour before you want to use it to bring it to room temperature)

Cavatelli should have a dented appearance, a flat curl of pasta that traps and carries the sauce so that each bite is flavourful. To form the cavatelli, oil your hands and cut the dough into 5 or 6 pieces. The process is similar to making gnocchi. Take a piece of dough and roll it on a floured board into a long sausage shape about half a centimetre thick. Cut the rolled dough into pieces about 2cm wide. Pinch the ends of piece and stretch to help flatten and lengthen the pasta. You are aiming for a fairly thin yet pliable piece of dough which you with then press into firmly with your three middle fingers and roll back toward yourself in order to make the curl.

Place the rolled cavatelli on a floured tray and either snap freeze before freezing in bags for later use, or let dry about 30 minutes before boiling in a large pot of salted water. The cavatelli are ready to be scooped out with a slotted spoon before being lathered and bathed in the ragù when they float to the top of the water. Don’t be tempted to drain them in a colander, the little bit of starchy water that is transferred from the pot with your slotted spoon will help to thicken the sauce so it sticks to the pasta.

Toss the cooked cavatelli through the sauce with some grated pecorino. Serve with more pecorino and dried chilli flakes if you like a little extra heat.

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