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.

Lentil and Pasta Soup

As much as I would like to live in a perpetual state of summer, as soon as the days become shorter, the skies greyer and the mercury drops to the teens, I almost immediately start thinking about lentil soup.

In my honest opinion, lentils are unforgivably underrated. In fact, in 2006, the Huffington Post published an article, ‘Lentils are the Superfood You’ve Forgotten About’. While I am not about to get all hipster about this humble legume – I can assure you that my views on the subject of lentils are all about flavour and versatility in cooking – lentils are a rarity in that they pack a punch of both carbohydrate and protein, let alone a whole lot of magnesium, fibre and folate all which aid in lowering cholesterol, improving digestion, combatting heart disease and supporting oxygen flow. All of this in one tiny little seed! If you need any more convincing, how about the fact they are a cheap staple that last an eternity dried in the pantry? Or what about the fact that they could very well make you rich?!

‘Rich?’ I hear you ask?

In Ancient Rome, it was customary to give a scarsella, a leather bag filled with lentils, as a gift on New Year’s Eve. The bag would be worn tied to the belt with the hope that the lentils would turn into gold coins and see the wearer of the scarsella enter into the new year with an abundance of wealth. If you happen to be in Italy for New Year’s Eve, you could walk around with a bag of lentils tied to your belt should you so choose, but perhaps you’d rather just sit down to enjoy a meal of lentils around midnight like most other Italians?

There are so many versions of lentil soups in Italy that you could not really pinpoint any particular one as a being typical or traditional. The base of the soup – onions, garlic, celery, carrot – are the usual suspects in any Italian soup or braise, known as the soffritto. Perhaps what varies the most is the presence, or otherwise, of tomato. The addition of tinned tomatoes or tomato paste gives a slight sweetness to the soup emphasised by the carrots. If using tomato paste in place of tomato, I would add a heaped tablespoon to the soffritto and mix it well to coat the vegetables and herbs in the tomato paste and oil before adding the pancetta and the stock. I often make this without any tomato – whole or paste – which allows the lentils to stand alone; it is earthier and the colour of the soup will be much more like the colour of the lentils themselves.

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I have used the smaller puy lentils (small French style lentils) which are almost black in colour. They don’t need to be soaked or pre-boiled like their larger siblings, though I have a preference for bigger brown lentils in this sort of soup when I have the time to prepare them in advance. With puy lentils, you only need to rinse them in cold water before adding to the soup and they cook quickly in 30 – 40 minutes and tend to hold their shape well.

A note on this soup
The pasta will continue to absorb the water in this soup and plump up, thickening the soup to almost a stew type consistency, especially if you are planning on keeping leftovers to reheat the next day when the soup will deepen in flavour. I like it like this. I usually just add a little extra water before reheating. If you are not a fan of thick meal-in-a-bowl style soups, cook the pasta separately in a saucepan of salted water. When you come to serve the soup, spoon your desired quantity of cooked pasta into your serving bowls and ladle the soup over the top.

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ZUPPA DI PASTA E LENTICCHIE
Pasta and Lentil Soup
Serves 6 – 8

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup puy (small French style) lentil, rinsed in cold water
  • 1 cup ditalini, tubetti or other small pasta
  • 1 piece pancetta, 2cm thick (I have used 2 pieces, 1cm thickness here), finely chopped or minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalk celery, diced; leaves reserved and chopped
  • 400g tinned whole tomatoes, squashed by hand or roughly mashed with a fork
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 3 – 4 cups water
  • piece of rind from pecorino, grana padano or parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 1/2 bunch of parsley; stalks finely chopped, leaves roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon chilli (optional), extra to serve
  • fresh ricotta to serve (optional)
  • 2 – 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

METHOD

Heat oil in a large deep heavy based saucepan.

Add onion, garlic, celery stalks (reserve the leaves), carrots, chopped parsley stalks and thyme leaves and cook for a few minutes until onions start to turn translucent.

Add the chilli flakes, stir to combine and cook another minute.

Add the pancetta and cook for 3 – 4 minutes, or until the pancetta starts to deepen in colour and turn golden and the vegetables have started to soften. You will really be able to smell the pancetta here as it leeches its flavour and fat through the vegetables.

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Add the lentils and stir to thoroughly coat in the oil and combine with the vegetables.

Add the tomatoes, stock, water and celery leaves. Mix well. Drop in the whole piece of cheese rind before covering with the stock and water. Mix well and bring to the boil Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for about 30 minutes or until the lentils have started to soften but are still holding their shape. A taste test here will help you to see if you have a slightly softened yet still al dente texture in your lentils.

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Bring the soup back to the boil and tumble in the pasta. Cook for another 8 – 10 minutes or until the pasta is cooked al dente.

Stir in the parsley leaves before serving. Top with some crumbled fresh ricotta, a small sprig of thyme leaves, dried chilli flakes and a drizzle of peppery extra virgin olive oil if you wish.

A piece of crusty continental bread on the side is almost compulsory.

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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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