Tag Archives: pasta

Spaghetti with zucchini and baby spinach

This recipe of Adam Liaw’s that appeared in the paper a few weeks ago has become a regular one in the Napoli household. All that lovely green! The original recipe is here but I’ve made some minor tweaks. I’ve upped the quantities to make it a main course instead of an entree, and I’ve swapped some of the butter for olive oil as I found it a bit too buttery. I used a mandoline with the finest Julien setting for the zucchini. And I made it with wholemeal spaghetti which added to the flavour. You could probably also add some nuts to this, either toasted pine nuts, some slivered almonds or chopped pistachio. You could make this vegan by using all olive oil instead of butter and omitting the cheese.
Serves 4

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Ingredients
40g butter
250g baby spinach
1 brown onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 medium/large zucchini, cut into matchsticks
salt for seasoning
500g Barilla wholemeal spaghetti
Grated parmesan cheese, to taste

Making it
1. Heat the butter in a pan over low heat, saute the spinach until wilted, season then transfer to a small food processor and puree until smooth

2. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large frypan, saute onion until softened, then add zucchini and toss for a few minutes until softened. Drain the spaghetti and add to the frypan, season then stir through the spinach puree an combine well so that all the spaghetti is well coated. Serve with parmesan cheese as desired.

Casarecce with asparagus and baked ricotta

With the arrival of Spring comes an abundance of Australian grown asparagus, rather than the wilted imported stuff we get a lot of the year.   Often I gently bake it with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, but that evening I felt like throwing it in some pasta.  I chose casarecce, but any short pasta will work well.  The ricotta can be done a day ahead. Serves four.

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Ingredients
250g fresh ricotta, well drained
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
3 bunches of asparagus, cut into 3cm length
500g casarecce, or pasta of your choice

Breadcrumb topping
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tbps olive oil
Half a cup of finely chopped flat leaf parsley
3/4 cup finely grated parmesan
2 tbps finely graded lemon zest (optional, or to taste)

Making it
1. For the ricotta, add a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper and combine. Place in a mini cake tin or loaf pan sprayed with olive oil, and bake in a 200 degree oven for about 30 minutes. Allow to cool in tin then remove and refrigerate until ready to use.

2. For the breadcrumb topping, heat the olive oil in a small pan, and gently fry the bread crumbs until golden and crunchy. Place in a bowl and allow to cool. Add the parsley, parmesan and lemon zest and combine.

3. Blanch the asparagus for a minute in a pot of boiling water, remove with a slotted spoon, and set aside. You can then use this water to cook your pasta

4. While the pasta is cooking, in a frypan, add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and fry the asparagus for 3 or so minutes. Add the drained cooked pasta once read, crumble in the baked ricotta, season and drizzle with a little more olive oil if desired, and serve. Top with the desired amount of the breadcrumb mix.

Pasta Sundays

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Growing up, every Sunday was pasta Sunday.   We did have pasta dishes other nights too, but Sunday was the day of the traditional, slow cooked tomato sauce. Mamma Rosa would always get up early to start it, so that the meat, usually pork and beef, would gently braise for four or so hours, falling off the bone and luscious to eat. If I were to drop in on any cousin, Zia, Comare or other close family friend on a Sunday before lunch, I would find the same slow cooking sauce going on, it was like there was a code.

These days there is also a vegetarian sauce bubbling away on the stove for my Marito. Mamma Rosa took the non meat eating quite well when I first bought him home for Sunday lunch during the dating phase. My relatives in Italy, not so much. You know that scene from the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” where there is stunned silence when she tells them all her boyfriend does not eat meat? We had that exact moment with my Zia in Calabria. She had prepared some melanzane ripieni – stuffed eggplant – for our arrival. After a moment of looking at us incredulously, and asking “what do you mean” three or four times, she insisted that he could eat them anyway, because the amount of meat in them was “ ‘na fesseria “, trifling, so it didn’t really count.

But regardless of the sauce, Mamma Rosa’s silky strands of homemade tagliatelle are an absolute treat. Eggs, flour and a little salt. The ingredients seem so simple, but the art is in the lightness of touch, getting the amount of folding and rolling right, and knowing when the sheets are ready to become the pasta. Today we got together for Mamma Rosa’s birthday. When it’s all of us, and our children, its quite a group and the giant oversize pasta pot comes out. It is cooked in a few minutes, drained, the hearty sauce is added, and we sit around the table and the sounds of contentment and slurping of tagliatelle follow.

Eggplant and tomato pasta sauce

The original recipe for this appeared on Good Food but I changed the method and ingredients a little to make it ‘piu Italiano’. The vegacquarian Marito loved it; this is a very hearty, robust vegetarian sauce that would convert any meat eater. The quantity of sauce below is enough for at least 8 people, but any excess can be stored in the freezer. You could throw in a whole red chilli during the simmering for a mild infusion of heat, or chop in some chilli for a bigger punch. I used casarecce shaped pasta for this as I thought it would “hold” the sauce well. Rigatoni or any chunky and tubular pasta would also work.

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Ingredients
125ml olive oil
About 800g eggplant, stalk removed and diced
2 tsp salt
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 x 400g tinned tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 bay leaves
25ml caramelised balsamic
50ml red wine
Grated parmesan to serve (optional)

Making it
1. Heat 100mls of olive oil in a large frying pan, add the eggplant and one teaspoon of salt, then fry over a high heat until golden. Spoon the eggplant onto a plate and set aside.

2. Add the remaining 25mls of olive oil to the pan, add the onion, remaining salt and fry off for 2-3 minutes to allow the onion to soften. Add 200mls of water and simmer until the water evaporates and the onion starts to turn golden.

3. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and bay leaves, cover and simmer for about 25 minutes

4. Add the balsamic and wine and simmer for a further 5 to 10 minutes. If the sauce seems too thick and it is sticking to the bottom of the pan add about ¾ cup of water, then add back the eggplant and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the eggplant is tender but not collapsed. Check for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Meanwhile cook your favourite pasta, and once cooked, toss through the sauce and serve with grated parmesan if desired

Antonio Carluccio’s Pasta Imbottita con Vegetali al Forno

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This is an extravagant, hearty, baked vegetable pasta dish, a bit of a labour of love, but worth it. You’ll need quite a deep baking dish for it.  Serves 8-10

Ingredients
600g large rigatoni
salt and pepper for seasoning
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed
500g melting cheese (you can use a mixture of mozzarella, fontina and taleggio) cut into 1cm cubes
200g Parmesan, freshly grated
1 quantity of spinach balls (recipe below)

Tomato sauce
2 large onions, peeled and finely diced
100ml olive oil
1.5kg tomato pulp or canned chopped tomatoes (I used 4 cans of peeled tomatoes)
10 basil leaves, shredded

Filling
2 eggplants, cut in 8mm thick slices lengthwise
3 medium zucchini, cut in 8mm thick slices lengthwise
plain flour, to dust
4 eggs
olive oil, for shallow-frying

1. Make the tomato sauce first by frying the onion in the olive oil until soft, about 5-6 minutes. Add the tomato and basil and cook gently for 20-30 minutes. Season with salt and set aside.

2.For the filling, dust the eggplant and zucchini slices with flour. Beat the eggs together, and dip the vegetable slices in this. Pour enough olive oil into a large pan to cover the base generously and heat gently. Shallow-fry the vegetable slices, a few at a time until golden, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Set both vegetables and oil aside. If you haven’t cooked them in advance, the spinach balls can also be cooked in this oil.

3.Meanwhile, boil the fennel bulbs in lightly salted water until al dente, about 6-7 minutes. Drain well, and cut into thin slices and set aside.

4. Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente, about 5-6 minutes. Drain and mix with little of the sauce. Preheat the oven to 200ºC

Spinach balls
500gspinach leaves, washed thoroughly, tough stalks removed
2 free-range eggs, beaten
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
110g breadcrumbs
50g grated parmesan
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Blanch the spinach leaves in a pan of salted, boiling water for 1-2 minutes, then drain well and refresh in cold water. Using your hands, squeeze out as much water from the blanched spinach leaves as possible, then finely chop the spinach. Transfer spinach to a bowl, then stir in the beaten eggs, nutmeg, breadcrumbs and parmesan. Season to taste. Mix well until the mixture binds together, adding more breadcrumbs or more water, as necessary, to bind the mixture. Roll the spinach mixture into walnut-sized balls and place onto a baking tray. Fry the balls in olive oil for a few minutes each side until golden brown all over and drain on paper towel. Set aside until assembly.

Assembly
In a baking tray or dish, now assemble all the ingredients. First put a layer of pasta on the bottom on which you distribute slices of zucchini and eggplant, slices of fennel and a few spinach balls, then some pasta. Sprinkle over some of the cheese chunks, some of the tomato sauce and some of the grated Parmesan, and repeat. Build a few layers according to the size of the baking tray, and finish on top with tomato sauce, a few chunks of cheese, a few spinach balls, and the remaining Parmesan. Bake for 30-40 minutes in the preheated oven. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving, cut in squares.

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Mercato e Cucina, Gladesville

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It was a bad day when Vanessa Martin closed the one hatted Il Piave on Darling Street – her pasta dishes were always right up there.  Its been a long time between drinks, but finally here she is again running the show at Mercato e Cucina, where one side operates as a “mercato” where you can buy fruit and vegetables, meat, charcuterie, pasta, olive oil, and the other side as the “cucina” where you can enjoy a quick pizza or a long and leisurely meal.  The wine list too is fairly impressive, and the cocktails were unexpectedly good though a little on the small side for the price.

We start with the salumi board, a very attractively presented board with some top quality prosciutto, ham and the like which you can buy to take home from the store.  The olives too were fat and delicious.  We also go for the pork belly, which is tender and juicy; it has an onion jam on top which has a tang and a cabbage and apple salad underneath.

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The calamari was beautifully cooked and the accompanying mint, caper and red onion aioli is bursting with flavour.  The scallops on the other hand, served with a sweet corn puree with basil oil and crispy herbs fall a little short, I find them bland despite all the surrounds, perhaps a touch underseasoned.

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The pizza gets approval from around the table, a good crust and quality toppings.  The buffalo mozzarella is generous, no skimping here, and the seafood pizza too is beautifully fresh.  But the menu doesn’t mention that it is also full of anchovies, and it should, since it is one of those polarising ingredients.  I find they overpower the delicate mussels and vongole.

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And then comes a bit of a showstopper and the dish of the day – a white mushroom risotto with burnt butter and truffle pecorino.  Seriously rich and seriously good. I think it will go on my list of Sydney’s must have pasta dishes.

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The other pasta dishes also shine – the squid ink fettucini, and then a succulent ragu, topped with ricotta salata (and be warned, it is salty, so just take it off if its not your thing).  They are generous, which is what Italian food is all about.

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We were too full for desert, so I’ll have to try that next time.

I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews on this place, mostly directed at service.  I couldn’t really fault the food and we were warmly welcomed and the waiter we had was very polite.  They do however need a few more floor staff, particularly on a busy Saturday night, to make sure everyone is attentively looked after – if there are any shortcomings, it was that a few extra hands on deck would have been useful.

There’s also a semi private dining room and some well priced banquet menus.

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Mercato e Cucina, 297-307 Victoria Road, Gladesville, ph (02) 9817 3457
http://www.mercatoecucina.com.au/

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Quattro Paste, Balmain

This tiny Italian 40 seater is in the quieter part of Balmain, and you’ll be welcomed with open arms by the friendly staff who’ll kiss your babies and squeeze your cheeks. The menu, like the restaurant, is compact and not overly fussy, and what you’d expect to find at a neighbourhood trattoria in Italy, with a blackboard sketching out a few extras.

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We start with some stuffed zucchini.  I’ve downed a good few of these in my time, but I’ve never had a creamy potato and eggplant filling, and it’s delicious.  The four are great value at $15.
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This is followed by a fritto misto, mostly calamari and a few prawns.  The calamari is a little chewy but the flavour is good.
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Then onto our pasta choices for the night.  I loved the terracotta dishes they served them all in. First is the tagliatelle with ragu.  The tagliatelle have great consistency and are well cooked. I had high hopes for the ragu sauce, but it lacked the depth and flavour of say Sopra, Gatto Matto or A Tavola.  A good smattering of parmesan helped.

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Gnocchi (with the same ragu sauce) – again the gnocchi are excellent little pillows with good consistency. Certainly this Tuscan mob know how to make pasta.
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Ravioli with Burrata.  This dish was unfortunately a let down. First the serve was very small compared to the other dishes.  The amount of burrata inside was also very small and hard to taste, and the sauce was very salty.

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And finally a mushroom risotto  – well flavoured and an easy eat.

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Then onto the sweets.  I have to give the tiramisu a whirl and out comes a big bowl and our waitress scoops out a generous spoon.  And its an absolute knock out, pretty much up there with my Mamma Rosa’s.  I was tempted to ask the waitress to leave the whole bowl!

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We also tried the chocolate and pear cake.  This was very very dry, you really needed to mix it with the gelato.  The vanilla gelato seemed to have a hint of lemon or something, and was delicious.

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It is reasonably priced, you can eat here for $40-45, and there is a selection of Italian wines by the glass or carafe. Its not quite the suburban Italian gem, but has a lot of potential.

Quattro Paste, 85 Reynolds St, Balmain, Ph 02 9810 9125
http://www.quattropaste.com.au/

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