Italian, Pasta, Pork

The Best Spaghetti Carbonara

Serves: 6

Where does one start?

Spaghetti Carbonara is that dish that divides more than any spaghetti dish. Cream or no cream?

Or mine is the best or that is the best?

This is the traditional or this one is even more traditional?

Or that Italians don’t even do Spaghetti Carbonara and it is an invention of the Americans: Italians don’t do pasta like this.

I don’t mind a cream-based Spaghetti Carbonara and how couldn’t you? Anything with pasta and cream – at its best – is amazing.

Though it isn’t traditional in the sense that I cannot find any pasta Italian cookbook of mine that asks for even a touch of cream.

Equally though, I can’t find a Carbonara in any of these books.

Which I think means that Carbonara definitely shouldn’t have cream though it probably isn’t an Italian invention either.

Which leaves us here: what is the best ‘traditional’ Carbonara recipe.

For 8 years straight until he was 18, for his birthday, my middle brother Adrian asked nothing else of me than that I cooked this pasta for his birthday.

This recipe was something my mother would do after a day on our boat and as kids, and it simply never failed to wow us.

After years and years of telling Nat this Carbonara was the best she would ever have, she finally let me make it.

And Nat – and the boys – agreed, this is simply the finest Carbonara that exists.

This truly is the best Spaghetti Carbonara you will ever cook.

And this is from someone that makes a point of ordering every time it is available.

THE BEST.

Ingredients

9 slices bacon, trimmed and julienne
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 tbsp butter
½ cup julienned ham (or prosciutto)
12 tbsp grated parmesan
6 eggs, beaten
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
Spaghetti

Method

  1. Brown the bacon and pour off any fat.
  2. Cook the spaghetti.
  3. Add the olive oil, butter and ham and saute for 5 minutes without browning.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan and beaten eggs, Place over the heat only to sufficiently to firm up the sauce.
  5. Season with salt and pepper and pour over the spaghetti.
  6. Serve with more grated spaghetti.
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Italian, Pasta, Vegetarian

Penne Pasta in Creamy Vodka Tomato Sauce with Mushroom (Pink Sauce)

Serves: 4

We live in Cammeray in Sydney and there has been this hole-in-the-wall pizza joint here since I was a kid catching the school-bus past many, many years ago.

Brick facade, large pizza-oven style window out the front, dark inside.

Until we moved to Cammeray, I had never been into the pizza place though I had always wanted to. Old-school pizza places are the best.

Our first meal there was memorable and for all the right reasons.

And it turns out that the place has been there since I was a kid, run by this Italian who cooked pizzas every night for 40 years or something.

Sadly, he passed away a year ago, though he left the restaurant to his nephew, who, when we arrived, was still finding his feet: cash only, several items on the menu not available, the poor guy cooking and serving and cleaning up.

But wow, his pizza and homemade pasta was just awesome.

And $50 with no corkage.

A real win.

Half-a-dozen visits since and he has found his feet, though the important elements remain. A dark, cosy, pizza restaurant with locals handing over cash for excellent pizzas. There is a second guy in the kitchen and a young girl taking orders and delivering the pasta.

We have mixed it up every time we have been there and last time we had a pasta similar to this one; mushroom spaghetti in a pink sauce: essentially half cream, half tomato.

I didn’t ask for the recipe though I found this one online and it is pretty much on the money.

Ensure you cook the alcohol off and you are left with a really wonderful dinner: pretty much what you would expect from a local, 40-year-old pizza joint that only cooks 6 pizzas and a rotation of the same number of pastas.

Do this some Saturday night and put your feet up.

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
½ medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 can tomatoes (400gm)
¾ cup vodka
½ tsp chilli flakes
Handful fresh basil, torn
½ tsp dried oregano
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 cup cream
¾ tsp salt
500gm penne (we used spaghetti)
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated to serve

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan, and then add the onion and garlic and slowly saute until the onion softens. Add the tomatoes, vodka, chilli flakes, basil and oregano. Break up the tomatoes if necessary.
  2. Bring the mixture to a medium-heat and then reduce to a simmer and simmer for 20 minutes. Add the mushrooms and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  3. Add the cream and salt and continue to simmer ensuring that the alcohol is cooked out. Season.
  4. Meanwhile, cook the pasta, drain and add to the sauce. Mix through and season again if necessary.
  5. Serve with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
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Pasta, Vegetarian

Basic baked Mac and Cheese with Crispy Breadcrumbs

Serves: 6

We had dinner at a great friend’s place a few week’s back, both as a long overdue catch-up and as a test of his new kitchen.

Matt undersells himself in the kitchen though I secretly think he knows he is pretty good. And he is.

Which is all sort of funny.

He is the most true-blue Aussie I know, being a member of the Cronulla Surf Life Saving Club, able to crush tinnies on his head and definitely driving a bogan, 1999 Commodore. Not much to see there and definitely not what should be a food guy.

On the other hand, he owns and lives in an extraordinary mansion in Newtown, his beautiful wife Hannah is super beautiful, sophisticated and cosmopolitan and Matt loves his food and fine wine. Cooking, eating and drinking it.

This is a wine tour guy if ever you met one.

Genuinely, there are few people I enjoy a meal more than with Matt and a highlight was when Nat and I had lunch with Matt and Hannah (and her parents) at the Ledbury in London a few years back, one of the world’s best restaurants.

So, here we are for dinner and Matt – as usual – delivers.

Though it wasn’t the chicken-pot-pies (with homemade pastry) that blew our socks off.

It was this Mac and Cheese.

Ask anyone that knows me and Mac and Cheese would be my last meal.

And it could seriously be this one.

Lordy.

We love you Matt and Hannah. You guys are brilliant and this Mac and Cheese keeps me smiling.

This is his recipe and you should cook it.

Ingredients

3 cups whole milk
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
250gm dried elbow pasta
1 ½ cups grated cheddar cheese
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
½ cup panko

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Cook the pasta in boiling water until al dente. Drain and rinse the pasta in cold water.
  3. Heat the milk over a medium heat until it starts to bubble but not boiling for 3 – 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
  4. Heat the butter over a medium heat in a separate pot. When the butter has melted add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown; around 3 minutes. Remove from the the heat.
  5. Slowly pour the warm milk – about 1 cup at a time – into the butter-flour mixture, whisking constantly. (It will get very thick when you first add the milk and get thinner as you add milk.)
  6. Once all the milk has been added, set the pot over a medium-high heat and continue to whisk for 2 – 3 minutes until the sauce becomes silky and thick. (If the sauce sticks to the back of the spoon, you’re done.) Add the salt.
  7. Add the sauce and both the cheeses to a pan and cook over a medium heat until the cheese is barely melted; around 3 minutes. Add the cooked pasta and continue cooking whilst stirring continuously until the pasta is hot and steaming; another 5 minutes.
  8. Place the breadcrumbs on a baking sheet and put in the oven for 5 minutes or until they are lightly brown, toasted colour.
  9. Fill your baking dish or ramekins with pasta mixture. Sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
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Italian, Lamb, Pasta

Slow braised Shoulder of Lamb Ragù with Gnocchi

Slow braised Shoulder of Lamb Ragù with Gnocchi

Serves: 6 – 8

A few weeks back, we slow cooked a wonderful lamb shoulder for lamb, cumin mayonnaise, braised onion and rocket rolls.

As with pretty much any slow-cooked meat – stuffed in a baguette – it was a pretty amazing treat.

Though – as happens with a 2kg piece of lamb shoulder – there was plenty of shredded lamb left over.

So we borrowed from this recipe by James Martin, a talented British chef I’ve followed, to make this equally amazing ragù.

Two points to be made.

Firstly, in the lamb shoulder we cooked for the lamb rolls, we used currants, orange rind and verjuice whereas this recipe calls for a much more traditional thyme, rosemary, red wine sort of combo. After all is said and done, you’ll be left with a rich, soft lamb either way. Yes, there will be nuances depending on how you cook your lamb though they’re nuances you’ll soon get over.

Do it either way or then some.

Secondly, we used some frozen gnocchi we had left over, using the amazing Anne Burrell gnocchi I have previously typed up. I have typed up James Martin’s gnocchi because it is quite a cool approach and no doubt it is very good knowing him, though if you get a chance, try Anne Burrell’s go at it. It is sublime.

This is rich, screw-you Sunday cooking at its best.

Ingredients

Slow-braised shoulder of lamb

1 tbsp olive oil
1 x 2kg shoulder of lamb
1 bulb garlic, skin left on, cloves separated
4 sprigs thyme, leaves only
4 sprigs rosemary, chopped
200ml red wine
200ml lamb or beef stock

Ragù

200gm pancetta, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 celery sticks, finely chopped
400ml can Italian tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato puree
175ml red wine
500ml lamb stock (we used chicken stock)
6 tbsp fresh basil, torn

Gnocchi

4 medium potatoes
200 – 300gm salt
75gm plain flour plus extra for dusting
50gm grated Parmesan
1 egg yolk, beaten
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

150gm Parmesan, freshly grated to serve

Method

For the lamb

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Rub the oil into the lamb shoulder and season with salt and pepper. Place the lamb in a deep baking tray and surround it with the garlic, herbs, red wine and stock and roast in the oven for 30 – 40 minutes.
  3. Reduce the heat the 120c, cover the lamb with the aluminium foil and continue to cook for 4 ½ hour. Remove and leave to cool. Once cool enough to handle, shred the meat.

For the ragù

  1. Heat a large casserole pan until hot, add the pancetta and fry for 3 – 4 minutes or until the pancetta softens and the fat begins to melt. Add the olive oil and then the garlic and onion and fry gently for 1 – 2 minutes until softened. Add the carrots and celery and cook for another minute or two.
  2. Stir in the shredded meat and then add the tomatoes and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, breaking apart the tomatoes.
  3. Stir in the tomato puree and cook for a further minute. Add the red wine and simmer until the volume of the liquid has reduced by one quarter. (At this stage I also had a red wine and reduced it by one quarter.)
  4. Add the stock and return the ragù to the boil. Season, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 – 40 minutes or until the ragù has thickened. Finish with the fresh basil.

For the gnocchi

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Lightly score or prick the potatoes. Spread out the salt on a baking tray to make a bed of salt and sit the potatoes on top. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour or until tender.
  3. Allow the potatoes to cool until comfortable to handle. Cut in half and spoon the cooked potatoes out of the skins. Finely mash the potatoes or put through a potato ricer. Add the flour, Parmesan and egg yolk. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Keep mixing until the potato forms a dough.
  4. Working on a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into four. Roll each quarter into a sausage shape around 20cm long and cut into 2cm pieces. Shake off any excess flour.
  5. Heat a large saucepan of boiling salted water and add the gnocchi; cook for 1 – 3 minutes or until they start floating on the top of the water; drain and drizzle with a little olive oil.

To serve, stir the ragù through the gnocchi and serve with freshly grated Parmesan on top.

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Beef, Italian, Mince, Pasta

Matt Preston’s Bolognese

Serves: 6

As much as I would like to cook something different and a little bit fancy each night, that trick doesn’t always work around here.

When Nat wants comfort and the boys want comfort, that’s what you do.

This bolognese is the best of both worlds.

It’s comfortable and yet, with the excellent soffritto and four or five hours of cooking time, it is certainly on the fancier side of bolognese. Sizzler buffet this is not.

Next time, I’d try to dial it up further with some milk to the soffritto and maybe some anchovies; perhaps veal and pork mince rather than just beef, though the bacon makes a nice touch.

As it was, it was more than fine.

The boys wolfed it down and Oliver asked for it in his lunchbox. Nat said it was the best she has ever had.

This dish won’t change the world though I know I will be asked to cook it again and again and I can certainly live with that!

Ingredients

Olive oil
40g butter
2 medium carrots, diced small
3 medium brown onions, diced small
4 bacon rashers cut into fingernail size tiles
2 celery sticks, diced small
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped and crushed
3 tbsp tomato paste
1kg beef mince
1 lemon; 4cm piece of peel/rind and then halved for juicing
500ml red wine
3 bay leaves
Splash Worcestershire sauce
2 cans tinned tomatoes
500ml beef stock

1 large pack of egg tagliatelle
150g Italian parmesan cheese, grated
1 loaf crusty bread and a green salad for serving

Method

  1. For the soffritto: Heat a heavy pan over a low-medium heat. Add two tablespoons of olive oil and the butter and heat.
  2. Saute the onion, carrots and bacon. After a few minutes, add in the celery and cook the vegetables slowly until translucent. Sprinkle over the brown sugar and stir through. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for a further few minutes.
  3. Set the soffritto aside in a bowl.
  4. Add more olive oil to the pan and when hot, brown the mince. Add the browned meat to the soffritto.
  5. Turn up the heat and deglaze the pan with the red wine. When the wine has reduced by half, add back the meat, soffritto, bay leaves and a couple of good dashes of Worcestershire sauce, lemon peel, tomatoes and stock. Stir.
  6. Season with salt and a good squeeze of lemon juice from one half of the lemon. Reserve the other lemon half.
  7. Bring to the boil covered, remove the lid and turn the heat right down. Cook gently for four hours, turning occasionally to ensure it doesn’t burn. Finish the red wine left over in the bottle and put your feet up.
  8. Taste, season and get it thick, rich and dark.
  9. Cook your pasta, make your salad, grate your cheese, break the bread and enjoy!
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Italian, Pasta

Ravioli al sole with Truffle Butter broth and Pecorino

 

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Stupefacente!

Serves: 2 – 4 as a starter

Late last year, I typed up Armando Percuoco’s Truffle Egg Pasta, a gorgeous – and outrageous – pasta made famous at his restaurant, Buon Ricordo.

In my write-up of the recipe, I said do it and certainly, if you haven’t, I still highly recommend you do.

Though if you have, here is your next recipe along the same line.

It is from Tobie Puttock from whose book The Chef Gets Healthy we have been cooking recently. This recipe however, isn’t about getting healthy.

It’s about living the good life.

In his foreword, Tobie explains that he was taught the recipe by Gennaro Contaldo who in turn is famously Jamie Oliver’s Italian mentor; Tobie ran the restaurant Fifteen for Jamie Oliver.

So there is also a bit of heritage to it all as well.

Anyway, we cooked this as a starter a few weeks ago and it is excellent. Actually, more like superb.

Truffle, pasta, butter, ricotta, pecorino and egg superb. Poaching the egg in the stock after blanching the pasta in the boiling water is a neat trick with the ultimate treat being a runny, yellow egg yolk opening up all over the pasta as you eat it.

Yum!

For by-far the best result, make your own pasta and have a fun afternoon in the kitchen like we did. And an incredible starter on your hands following that.

Do it!

Ingredients

⅓ cup (80gm) fresh ricotta
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp grated pecorino, plus extra to serve
100gm salted butter, softened
1 tbsp truffle oil (or 2 tsp truffle paste)
40cm thin fresh pasta sheet
4 free-range egg yolks
300ml vegetable stock

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c. Place ricotta on a lined baking tray, season then drizzle with 2 tsp of olive oil. Bake for 12 minutes or until slightly browned and dry. Cool. Mix ricotta with pecorino, 2 tsp olive oil and a pinch of talk and cover and chill until needed.
  2. Combine butter and truffle oil (or paste) in a bowl. Cover and chill until needed.
  3. Lay pasta flat on a bench. Cut into eight, 10cm squares. Shape ricotta into 4 rounds. Place each one in the centre of 4 pasta squares. Lightly flatten the ricotta with your palm and with your fingers, make a deep well in the centre. Pop an egg yolk in each well.
  4. Brush a little water around the pasta edges then carefully top with the remaining pasta sheets. Use your fingers and a fork to seal the pasta, pushing out as much air as possible while taking care not to break the yolk.
  5. Gently heat the stock in a large frying pan over a low heat. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.
  6. Plunge the ravioli into the boiling water for 45 seconds then carefully remove with a slotted spoon and place in the stock, egg yolk side up to finish cooking.
  7. Add truffled butter, in pieces and gently shake pan for 3 minutes until it melts into the stock and the pasta is al dente.
  8. Season, divide ravioli and sauce among bowls, then top with extra pecorino.
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Italian, Pasta, Vegetarian

Spaghetti with Smothered’ Onions and Parmesan

Serves: 4

This is a fantastic pasta.

I cooked it a few years back for dinner with a friend and despite almost an hour and a half of ribbing that I was cooking a vegetarian dinner – and one primary around onions at that – the ribbing pretty quickly wrapped up after plating.

The flavours are just beautiful. The simplicity, depth, warmth and completeness of it all is just so comforting. The sweetness and texture of the onions after almost one and half hours of cooking. The parmesan. The pasta. I’m excited just thinking about it!

Read those ingredients and then the method and seriously tell me you aren’t thinking how good this dish would be!

(I think I have no choice but to cook this again this weekend!)

Ingredients

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large onions (700gm in all), using a combination of white and red, very thinly sliced
2 fresh bay leaves
2 rosemary sprigs
⅔ cup (160ml) dry white wine
2 tbs chopped flat leaf parsley
500gm spaghetti
⅓ cup freshly grated parmesan

Method

  1. Place the oil, onion, bay leaves and rosemary in a large frypan. Cover and place over a very low heat. Gently cook, stirring occasionally for at least 45 minutes until the onion is extremely soft.
  2. Uncover, increase heat to medium-high and cook, stirring, for another 20 minutes or until onion is a deep golden colour. Any liquid should have evaporated by now.
  3. Season well with salt and pepper (to balance the sweetness of the onion).
  4. Add the wine, increase the heat to high and cook for 15 minutes, stirring constantly, until the wine has evaporated. Stir in the parsley, cover and keep warm.
  5. Meanwhile cook the spaghetti in salted water according to instructions and al dente. Drain then add to the pan with the onions and toss over medium heat to combine well.
  6. Transfer to a warmed serving bowl, top with parmesan then toss thoroughly and serve.
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