We’ve been eating quite a lot of Italian food during the last month…this coincided (not coincidentally) with the arrival of Rachel Roddy’s book in my letterbox – “Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome”. This is such a good book; full of stories from her life and experiences living in Italy. Details of food markets, local eating places, quirky characters and of course, her own cooking and learning. It makes me CRAVE a trip to Italy (I’m very impressionable) so that I can do all the things that she does! But in lieu of that, I’m making full use of her book so that I can get that delicious Italian feeling.
The first time I used her book was following a trip to the Mediterranean Food Company -one of my favourite places to shop in Christchurch (just for the ambience if nothing else) – where we bought beautiful Italian wines, salami, cheeses and cured meats for a Saturday afternoon platter. This was then to be followed by a large pot of Pasta and Potato Soup.
To go on the platter I made a batch of Rachel’s Marinated Olives which is incredibly easy but super delicious. Olives are mixed with olive oil, shed loads of lemon and orange zest, chilli and herbs and it’s recommended that they’re left to sit for at least 3 hours. However…being slightly greedy and impatient, I put some of the olives and their marinade into a small pot after just a couple of hours and gently heated them to further infuse their flavours. As an added bonus, they’re absolutely divine served warm. I also didn’t realise until that moment just how great olives and citrus are together.
Following the platter we had a surprisingly satisfying pot of Pasta and Potato Soup. It’s an incredibly simple soup to make; just cook up a soffritto (finely diced onion, celery & carrot) with some guanciale (cured pork cheek) then add finely diced potato, pasta and water. As Rachel says in the introduction to the recipe, it sounds like it’ll be too heavy and slightly boring but it’s neither of those things. On first tasting, it has a very delicate flavour, but after a few mouthfuls you start to fully appreciate the purity of the flavour coming through – Rachel describes the soup as “pure-tasting, elemental even…” – I wholly agree with this comment. I’m very much looking forward to making it again as it’s also quick and easy to prepare. The perfect meal to follow a platter and to accompany copious amounts of wine.
In the vegetable section of the book is a “Recipe for Lentils”. I’m a sucker for lentils and so decided to make this the central element of our dinner rather than a side dish. I had some leftover guanciale from the Potato and Pasta soup so I added this to the lentils (fantastic decision if I do say so myself). It’s basically lentils cooked with a soffrito which gives them a wonderful deep, savoury flavour. The recipe suggests serving the lentils with sausages which would be delicious, but I served them with blanched fresh greens from the garden which I quickly fried in some of the fat from the guanciale.
The first pasta dish I made from this book was selected on the basis that we have lots of courgettes in the garden at this time of year…in future this recipe will be selected because it is sooo so tasty. The recipe is Linguine with Courgettes, Egg and Parmesan (Linguine con Zucchine) – basically a vegetable version of Carbonara. To look at the finished dish with its basic ingredients, it’s hard to imagine that it would have flavour to match a more typical carbonara, but looks can be very deceiving! My husband looked particularly skeptical but on tasting it we were all blown away. I have found that this is typical of the recipes in this book – a few basic ingredients which deliver a purity of flavour that has me licking my plate (…I know).
Not surprisingly, the next recipe also contains courgettes, although this was a slight adjustment to the recipe on my part. The recipe is Bucatini with Tomato & Cured Pork Sauce but in this case I substituted courgette spaghetti for the bucatini. The sauce was absolutely to die for, and I have to admit that it would have been better with traditional pasta rather than courgettes. It’s another very basic looking recipe (only 5 ingredients) that delivers big flavour – primarily just tomatoes, wine and cured meat cooked until their flavours intensify, seasoned with a healthy dose of pecorino romano (as tends to be the case with a lot of these recipes) and then…scoffed.
The final recipe consists of very slow roasted tomatoes and spaghetti. This was intensely easy to make and intensely delicious to eat. Simply put 1kg of small tomatoes in a roasting tray, add a generous amount of olive oil and salt, then roast for about an hour until they are sticky and sitting in a thick sauce made up of their juices and the oil. Tip cooked spaghetti directly into the roasting tray with a bit of pasta water, mix well and serve. Too too easy…too too tasty 🙂
So this is the beginning of my foray into Rachel Roddy’s book “Five Quarters” and I feel that it is the only the start of what I am sure will become a long and meaningful relationship. In fact, I’m already looking forward to cooking Sweet Pepper and Tomato Stew tomorrow night with the tomatoes I have sitting on the bench from the garden…and while I eat it I will revel in that delicious Italian feeling 🙂