Italian birthday feast (with recipes)

It was my Marco’s birthday today! The three of us had a little lunch out to celebrate and saw the new film, The Addams Family in the cinema. However, we celebrated with the family a couple of days ago at home. I wanted to make something special for his birthday lunch like I do every year. I was far too tired to do something as epic as my Feast of Seven Kingdoms, which I did a couple of years ago. And we only had a couple of extra guests. But since it was a special occasion, it was still a good excuse to get out my pasta machine and gnocchi board. I don’t make fresh pasta very often in my day-to-day life. I really should because it’s super easy. When I know I’m making a special meal though, I like to treat my guests (and myself) to some fresh pasta. Gnocchi I do make a bit more often whenever I have too many potatoes piling up in my pantry.

So on the menu today we had Sausage and Basil Lasagne, Gnocchi with bacon, mushrooms and sage, Panzanella salad and Sauteed Kale with raisins and almonds. I was inspired by Joy Behar’s famous Lasagne recipe, which was recently featured on an off-air video on The View. You can also find the find recipe here. My version was similar, but a little different. I made fresh pasta, some of the ingredients varied a little and I didn’t include ricotta and egg in for my cheese layer. To be honest, I totally forgot to include those ingredients when I was planning it out in my head. However, my lasagne turned out pretty good and very similar to my old Abruzzese neighbour’s version. Hers is also amazing and doesn’t include any bechamel or ricotta. As for the rest of the menu, it just evolved on the day, from ingredients I had on hand. I have included all the recipes below. Hope you like them!

Sausage and Basil Lasagne

For this lasagne, you can totally use store-bought lasagne sheets and pasta sauce. Just make sure you heat your sauce with some water added, before layering the lasagne. My lasagne was about 8 layers, but you don’t have to make yours as high. I just made a lot of pasta with 500g of tipo 00 flour and 4 eggs. I really recommend slicing your own fresh mozzarella and grating your own Pecorino or Parmesan, because it really makes a difference. It will taste better and it won’t have any anti-caking agents or preservatives.

Ingredients for fresh pasta:

500 grams tipo 00/organic plain flour

4 eggs, cracked into a bowl

1 tbsp olive oil

chilled water

Ingredients for sauce:

Olive oil

1/2 white onion, diced

1 celery stick, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 can Italian diced tomatoes (I used Anna Lisa Italian Diced Tomatoes with basil and oregano BPA free)

700g Italian Passata (I used Mutti Passata)

1-2 tbsp Tomato paste (I used Mutti Tomato Paste Double Concentrate)

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Layering ingredients:

10 Italian pork or plain pork sausages (free-range/organic)

350g Mozzarella cheese ball, thinly sliced

1.5-2 cups freshly grated Pecorino/Parmesan

couple handfuls of fresh basil leaves, torn

Method:

  1. First make your pasta dough, either by hand or with a stand mixer. The following instructions are for a Kitchen Aid, so you will need the dough attachment and the lid. Add the flour and place on speed 3. While the mixer is running, add the eggs one by one and then add the salt and olive oil. Mix until a dough stands to form, if the dough a bit dry, add some chilled water, one tablespoon at a time, until it forms a dough. Lastly, shape the dough into a ball and cover with a damp towel or cling wrap and place in the fridge for 30 mins.
  2. Once pasta dough has rest, you can start making pasta sheets. First, attach the pasta attachment to your stand mixer or set up a manual pasta machine, and put some flour on a large chopping board. Cut the dough into 6 pieces and leave the remaining dough under the damp cloth to stop it drying out. Roll the small piece of dough into a bit of flour onto the board, if it is too sticky to work with. Set the setting on the pasta attachment to 1 and speed on the mixer to 2. Run the pasta dough through, fold over and put through again and repeat. Then increase the pasta settling to 2 and put through the machine. Continue to increase the pasta setting and put the dough through, until you have put it through to setting 6. By this stage you will have a long pasta sheet, so you will carefully cut it in half on the chopping board and then trim them into two lasagne sheets. Depending on the size of your tray, you may need to cut the second piece in half to fit. Place these sheets into a flour-dusted tray/baking dish and place paper towels on top. Continue to make the pasta sheets until all your dough has been used and have been layered between the paper towels, to stop them sticking. Set aside until you are ready to use the pasta sheets, on the bench or in the fridge.
  3. Now its time to prepare the sauce. Heat a medium heavy-based pot with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and then add the diced onions, carrots, celery and a pinch of sea salt. Cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat, until the ingredients are lightly fried. Add the diced garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Lastly add the crushed tomatoes, passata, 1/2 cup of water, salt and pepper to taste. Let this simmer for 15-20 minutes.
  4. While the sauce is cooking, heat a medium-size sauce saucepan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then add the sausages. Cook for about 10 minutes on low-medium heat, until they are all cooked through. Remember to rotate them while cooking. Once they are done, chop the sausages in round slices.
  5. Now its time to put the lasagne together. First, preheat the oven to 190 degree celsius and take a large baking dish. First put a little bit of sauce on the bottom of the dish, to stop the lasagne from sticking. Next layer the lasagne sheets across the sauce, top with more sauce, scatter pieces of sausage, torn basil and lastly top with sliced mozzarella and grated pecorino. Continue layering the lasagne this way, until you get to the last lasagne sheet, which will just be topped with sauce, mozzarella and pecorino.
  6. Cover the lasagne with aluminium foil, carefully not touching the top of the lasagne. This will help it stay moist while cooking. Place in the oven to cook for 20 minutes. Remove the aluminium foil and cook for a further 10 minutes to brown the top.
  7. Allow lasagna to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Gnocchi with bacon, mushrooms and sage

This gnocchi dish is really simple to make. You can omit the bacon if your vegetarian and use Cashew ‘Parmesan’ and dairy-free butter if your vegan. I made my own gnocchi, which is quite easy to do. For the dough, I just used of steamed dutch potatoes, that have been placed through a potato ricer and cooled, plain organic flour and salt. The more you make gnocchi, the better you will get at judging the correct feel of the dough, so that they cook into puffy little clouds. I also recommend freeze-drying the gnocchi on a tray for at least 30 minutes before cooking, because they cook a bit firmer.

Ingredients:

500 gr fresh homemade or store bought gnocchi

1 tbsp olive oil

250-300 gr free range nitrate-free bacon, diced

8 white mushrooms

2-3 cloves garlic, diced

6-8 sage leaves, roughly chopped

2 tbsp salted butter

sea salt

1/2 cup grated Pecorino or Parmesan

Method:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add salt.
  2. While the water is boiling, take a large frypan and heat olive oil. Add the bacon and cook for 3-4 minutes on medium heat, until it starts to get a bit of colour.
  3. Add the mushrooms and sea salt. Continue to cook until the mushrooms have released any liquid.
  4. Add garlic and sage and cook until fragrant and then turn off the heat
  5. Cook the gnocchi, until they rise to the surface. This should take about 3-4 minutes.
  6. Add the butter and cooked gnocchi to the frying pan. Place on medium heat to allow the butter to melt. Sprinkle most of the grated cheese on the gnocchi and gently stir it through with the other ingredients.
  7. Serve gnocchi with and garnish with the rest of the cheese.

Simple Panzanella Salad

I recently made a Panzanella salad for a dinner party that I hosted and everybody loved it. Marco requested it again for his birthday. Although this one was thrown together really quickly, it was still a big hit. When I first came across this salad in an Italian cookbook it said to soak fresh bread in water. I didn’t like the sound of this so instead I toasted the bread and then let it soak up some of the vinaigrette prior to serving.

Ingredients:

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

4 sliced of sourdough bread, sliced into cubes

sea salt

2 punnets of baby truss/cherry/grape tomatoes, halved

1 cucumber, sliced

1/4 red onion, sliced

handful of basil, roughly sliced

Method:

  1. Combine the extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar in a small bowl.
  2. Place the bread on a baking tray and toss with some olive oil and sea salt, until coated. Grill for 3-4 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown.
  3. Place the tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and basil in a large mixing or serving bowl.
  4. Coat the salad with sea salt and then add the dressing.
  5. Add the toasted bread to the salad and mix through.
  6. Serve the salad after 30 minutes or preparing, allowing the dressing to marinate the ingredients.

Sauteed Kale with raisins and almonds

This is one of my favourite warm salads to serve. I love the salty wilted kale, the sweet onions and raisins and creamy nuts. Its not Marco’s favourite because he doesn’t like the raisins or any dried fruit in savoury food, but he was happy enough to leave them out of his serve.

Ingredients:

1/2 red onion, sliced

1-2 tbsp olive oil

leaves from one brunch of curly or tuscan kale

sea salt to taste

1/3 cup nitrate-free raisins

1/4 cup sliced almonds or pine nuts

Method:

  1. Heat a fry pan with olive oil and then add the red onion. Cook the onion for 4-5 minutes, or until it starts to brown.
  2. Add the kale with a good pinch of sea salt and allow it to begin to wilt.
  3. Add the raisins and almonds and continue to cook for another few minutes or until the kale is completed wilted and the raisin have puffed up.

Good Friday for Pasta

I hope you’re having a great Easter weekend. We are spending the weekend at home, cleaning, toilet training and cooking. On Good Friday I decided to was a great opportunity to make fresh pasta, while I had a couple of grandparents home to watch my tot. I love making pasta, but its something I don’t do often. However,  recently I was catching up on Gastropod episodes (my favourite podcast channel) and I listened to Remembrance of Things Pasta: A Saucy Tale. This really got me yearning to make homemade pasta.

So I finally got out the handwritten Italian recipes that I learned while studying in Milan. As part of our Food and Culture course at the university, we had about five cooking lessons that taught us how to make regional dishes. We actually had to write the recipes in Italian, while we watched and help the chef making the dishes. So with a little help from my Italian dictionary, I refreshed my memory on some of those delicious and more unusual dishes we made.

One of the dishes I prepared was Culurgiones Campidanese. This regional Sardinia filled pasta, typically containing potatoes, pecorino cheese, casu ‘e fitta (Sardinian cheese), mint and pepper, but it varies from town to town. It is served with a tomato sauce or butter and sage and can also be grilled or fried. The town of Ulassai  (Ogliastra, Sardinia), until the 1960s, only prepared this filled pasta on the day of the dead (sa di e ir mortos). Other towns throughout Oglisstra and Barbagia regions also served this dish for special occasions, such as giving thanks at the end of a wheat harvest and to honour their ancestors. The culurgiones is a symbol of esteem, respect and friendship.

The recipe that we made at the university didn’t contain cheese, possibly because some of us were dairy free. Since I’m a big lover of Pecorino cheese (a hard sheep cheese), next time I would add it for a bit more flavour. The culurgiones were filled with potato, mint saffron and black pepper. So I have shared my translated and hopefully accurate account of this recipe for you today.

For the shape of this pasta, I consulted this Youtube video. I’m not sure I nailed the shape but I haven’t had as much practice as these ladies.

Continue reading “Good Friday for Pasta”

Hot Smoked Salmon and Ricotta Ravioli

As promised I have written for you today my recipe for Hot Smoked Salmon and Ricotta Ravioli. I prepared this dish for my family on New Year’s day, using my new Kitchen Aid attachments that I received for Christmas. I was lucky enough to get the Pasta Roller and Ravioli Roller from Santa, which I had been dreaming off for years.

I first used an electric pasta machine when I did a cooking class in Milan.  I couldn’t believe how easy it was and wished someday I would get my own. Since then I have been using a manual pasta machine, but I needed a second person to help me. Now I can do it all myself and lucky for little Octavia I can cook her favourite pasta anytime now.

For this recipe, I prepared the pasta from start to finish using my KitchenAid Stand Mixer, Pasta Roller and Ravioli Roller. If you don’t have these items, you can still prepare the pasta dough by hand, use a manual pasta machine to roll the pasta sheets out thin and then fill and cut the ravioli by hand. The ravioli attachment does give you some half-sized ravioli, that you wouldn’t have if doing completely by hand. I still cooked them since they are great for checking if your pasta is cooked through enough. In the KitchenAid Ravioli Roller booklet, it does recommend the setting to use with the Pasta attachment. I did go a bit thinner when I made my pasta sheets since I had already done a trial. The setting they recommended gave me ravioli that was so thick that the filling didn’t shine.

If your dairy free, you don’t need to use ricotta. In the future, I would probably use an alternative, as it doesn’t make much difference with for the filling. You just need something that will help make the salmon a little bit creamy when blending. If you don’t have eggs, you could always use soft tofu for the pasta dough. This is something I am yet to try but wouldn’t mind seeing how it turns out. I recommend the New Zealand  King smoked salmon fillet, which I bought from Aldi. Otherwise wild or organic smoked salmon filet would also be great. If you can’t get smoked you can always use good quality freeze or frozen salmon, which you could and cool in preparation.

Continue reading “Hot Smoked Salmon and Ricotta Ravioli”