It’s been a day when I’ve been thinking about Italy a little wistfully. Firstly the weather seems to have really turned here in the UK. We got up early as ever this morning and it felt like winter as we crept downstairs. So the ‘on’ button for the central heating was pressed into action. I was still shivering when I clicked my laptop into life to find a message from our good friend Matt in Italy telling us that the weather was still pretty great out there and that our pool, which he’s looking after for us, is still in mint condition. Sigh. Then earlier some of our recent guests over in Italy popped round to show us some of their photos from their stay at our place – mostly beautiful daybreaks and sunsets. More sighs. Catching my mood I sense, C came up with a lovely pasta dish for dinner which is simple and quick and really tasty. And a perfect dish for those of us who think they can’t cook but would really like to. Grab a glass of your favourite tipple fellahs and get in that kitchen.
This is a variation on the carbonara style of pasta dish which the Italians do so well but it’s with a bit of a Brit (in fact Welsh) twist. Cooking for 4 you will need:
– about 250-300 grms of your favourite pasta. Personally I like the really thin strands of linguine which are great for absorbing flavours but it’s your choice;
– a 125g packet of pancetta, alternatively slice up a little pile of small-cubed bacon pieces;
– a bunch of chopped mushrooms – try something nutty-flavoured;
– a couple of medium leeks trimmed, washed and closely-sliced;
– a few glubs of creme fraiche or even marscapone;
– some parmesan shavings or other hard cheese eg manchego;
– some seasoning – a bit of crusty salt, black pepper, touch of olive oil and, optionally, a bit of chopped parsley or mint or basil
Re-fill that glass and put a pan of water on to boil. If preferred add a touch of salt and a tiny splash of oil to the water, then the pasta. Stir occasionally. It’ll only take about 6-7 minutes of boiling for a light pasta to be ready (al dente) and about 10-11 minutes for a chunkier variety. But keep it under rather than over-cooked. Meantime get a medium sized frying pan and heat it up with a tiny splash of oil (my wife C thinks this is unnecessary at this stage) and add the pancetta (which can be fatty) and cook for a few minutes until it just starts to crispen. Add the sliced mushrooms and a touch more oil depending on how quickly the cooking oil is absorbed and the leeks. Fry for 5 mins or so until the leeks and mushrooms tenderise. I actually like them a little crispy but it’s not to everyone’s style. Taste a piece of mushroom and leek as you go along – when it’s just as you like it take it off the heat. You may need to top up that glass – hot work in the kitchen fellahs.
Now it’s at this point that opinions vary as to the best way forward. Some say drain the pasta and add the other ingredients either into the saucepan or into a separately-warmed serving dish. I’d certainly have a serving dish warming in readiness but I always drain the pasta but keep a quantity of the water in a bowl/measuring cup/gravy boat. Then I add the pasta to the ingredients in the frying pan so that the pasta can absorb the last of the frying oils too. Add the creme fraiche/marscapone and stir it all together. Now put a fork through the mix and have a quick taste. It’s very easy for it all to go a bit gloopy and dryish at this stage. If it does add a tablespoon or two of the still hot boiled water that you kept back and mix in. It’ll instantly return your pasta to its best moist consistency. Transfer to nicely-warmed serving dish and add a bit of the chopped parsley or other fresh herb if you like (it’s entirely optional) but I’d suggest not too much. It’s already going to be tasty.
Finally allow folks to transfer to plates and have the parmesan, crusty salt and black pepper to hand for everyone to add their preferred cheese/seasoning levels. Add some nice crusty foccacia bread on the side and/or even a fresh mixed leaf salad to add extra breadth to the meal if you want.
Start to finish 15 mins. Take the plaudits and toast yourself with a refreshed glass. If this menu doesn’t work for you and your friends & family then I’ll be amazed. Cook like an Italian and you’ll be making a great meal for 4 for around £5. Molto bene!