Italy

Super Slutty Spaghetti alla Puttanesca


Good news folks! My urge to play in the kitchen has returned, and, given the blog needs a top up of tasty coupled with a spot of scintillation, here's the perfect combo - Spaghetti alla Puttanesca. It's my 'when' dish. When there's a chill in the air, when time is poor, when a robust red deserves a tasty counterpart, when loved ones suddenly lob and need feeding. Been a number of 'when's lately. Wins too. A friend recently exclaiming 'this recipe's going straight to the blog'! Right said I, for who can resist a quick and tasty, easy on the waistline dish that can be knocked up in 10 minutes from mere pantry staples when one's too lazy to trawl the supermarket?

'Slut's Spaghetti', 'Working Girl's Pasta', 'Prostitute's Pasta' - so what's in a name?

Puttanesca has a sauce base of capers, olives and tomatoes and is usually served with spaghetti in a dish known as 'whore-style pasta'. Nigella calls her version 'Slut's Spaghetti', Jamie's recipe titled 'Working Girl's Pasta'. 'The name 'Prostitute's Pasta' originating from folk-law claiming the savvy Puttanas (prostitute in Italian) made the quick and easy pasta sauce to minimise down time between clients. Others say the robust aromas of the dish were designed to entice clients into the house of ill repute. A less audacious version indicating the sauce was created by a chef who had a volume of guests arrive at his restaurant late one night just as he was about to close and, not having enough of any one ingredient to make a meal for them all, pulled everything from the kitchen together to make this legendary Italian pasta sauce.

My favourite theory? Tongue in cheek, LV Anderson (Prostitutes have nothing to do with it) says Italians use puttana (and related words) almost the way we use shit, as an all-purpose profanity, so pasta alla puttanesca might just have originated with someone saying, “I just threw a bunch of shit from the cupboard into a pan.”

The origins of its name might be debatable but one thing's for certain - it really does make an easy, quick, cheap and delicious pasta sauce! And seriously, who can resist a dish with such a shady title? Here's my version. Enjoy!

Need:

  • 400 g dried spaghetti (or linguini)
  • olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced (avoid using a garlic crusher for finely crushed garlic will burn before absorbing the aromatics)
  • 3 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
  • 1 small Chorizo sausage, roughly chopped (optional)
  • tablespoon tomato puree
  • a small handful of salted capers, rinsed and drained; or brine version, drained
  • 1-2 fresh red chillies, sliced (seeds in if you like it hot, hot, hot, out if you like it mild)
  • a small handful of black and/or green Sicilian olives, de-stoned
  • 2 handfuls very ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
  • a small bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked
  • Parmesan cheese, to serve

 Do:

  1. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, then add the spaghetti and cook according to packet instructions.
  2. Meanwhile, place a large frying pan over a medium–high heat. Add a good lug of olive oil, followed by the garlic, anchovy, chorizo, capers, chilli and tomato puree. Tear in the olives and stir for 2 minutes, or until the garlic starts to turn golden and the anchovies start melting.
  3. Add the cherry tomatoes, a good splash of pasta water and cover with a lid. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the cherry tomatoes start to cook down slightly.
  4. Drain the pasta, reserving a cupful of the cooking water.
  5. Add the basil to the sauce along with the pasta and a splash of the reserved cooking water, to loosen.
  6. Taste and season if needed.
  7. Transfer to a serving platter and top with a good shaving of fresh Parmesan and Basil leaves.
  8. Reap accolades while smiling to self 'prostitutes be damned'
Recipe based on Jamie Oliver's Gennaro's Spaghetti Alla Puttnesca

On Italians, Tiramisu…and Grappa

This time last year…

I’m standing on the edge of a cliff, freshly plucked sweet crimson cherries in hand, gazing at sun sparkles shimmering across a breathtakingly azure ocean and clear blue sky, and squinting to identify where the two actually meet. Grappa impaired vision.

The small terra cotta and mustard hued fishing village surrounded by heavy grape vines and silvery olive trees below looks to relinquish its tenuous grip on the valley and tumble into that ocean. A number of villas actually did in the Autumn of 2011when flash flooding tore through the township consuming everything in its path to the sea. You’d never know it today though. Stoic folk these Ligurians…good thing that Grappa.

Behind me, nestling beneath a burgeoning Cherry tree, sits il Ciliegio (‘il Ciliegio’ translates to ‘the cherry tree’), a quaint little restaurant lovingly tended by a welcoming family who’ve just taught me how to cook five delectable Ligurian dishes. Each course consumed with great gusto and washed down with Prosecco, Frascati, Chianti, Sciacchetra (a delicate sweet wine from the region) and finished with a rich espresso….and Grappa.

As the last sediment of city deadline driven tension dissolves I smile and whisper to myself…’girlfriend you’ve made it!’ The Italian Riviera. The Cinque Terra. Monterosso al Mare…your new home! My gracious hosts are chortling for I’m also squealing ‘bello! magnifico! splendido!’ Damn Grappa mouth. Here’s one of those recipes…Grappa optional!

Tiramisu (the Ligurian way)

Need:

500g mascarpone cheese
4 eggs
Zest – thick strips of the surface of one lemon
4 tablespoons sugar
Coffee
Savoyard (lady finger) biscuits
Cocoa or shaved dark chocolate for dusting

Do:

• Separate eggs
• Beat the 4 yolks with the sugar and strips of lemon zest until light and fluffy (the zest removes the ‘eggy’ taste, remove it and discard after beating)
• Add mascarpone and incorporate well
• Beat egg whites until soft peaks form
• Fold egg whites into the mix, stir gently
• Prepare strong black coffee
• Reserve six of the Savoyard biscuits
• Break two Savoyard fingers each into the bottom of six individual glasses
• Soak the biscuit in each glass with two tablespoons of coffee
• Top with the mascarpone cream
• Liberally dust with cocoa or shards of dark chocolate
• Insert the remaining Savoyard finger
• Serve with espresso and dessert liqueur of choice.

Grappa – an alcoholic beverage, fragrant, grape-based pomace brandy of Italian origin that contains 35%–60% alcohol by volume. (Wikipedia) Damn Grappa!

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Oops I found Manarola…

Confession. Took a train ride between villages without a ticket! It was a ticket machine malfunction officer.

La Spezia to the first of the five villages of the Cinque Terre – Riomaggiore, Vernazza, Corniglia, Monterosso and later, on to Genoa. Meanwhile just one last village to conquer…Manarola.

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20130822-114204.jpg20130822-114357.jpgThe ‘Via dell’Amore‘ was closed due to rock slides. A shame. The Lovers Walk, a narrow pathway linking Riomaggiore and Manarola, clings precariously to the rocky cliffs along the ocean front and provides the perfect platform for viewing spectacularly romantic sunsets. Hence the name.

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20130822-114844.jpgThe village, again tucked into a tiny crevice has quaint lanes so narrow, the jumble of tall buildings clinging one atop the other almost touch, held strong only by random stone archways. Cool, dark and perfect for dodging the drips from washing strung high above, smiling at Nona’s sweeping doorsteps and searching for the little surprises that whisper of the village personality.

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Emerge at the top of the main thoroughfare, quick glance in the local church, light a candle then on down the promenade past the same linens, lemons and lazy diners as the other villages, and on to the harbor.

20130822-114636.jpgQuaint, sheltered between large jagged rock formations, smeared with bright towels and sunbathers and topped with teens daring to dive into deliciously cool water between rowboats of softy hued blue yellow and red. They do, to the raucous cheers of folk lining the narrow side steps leading to the cliff walks.

Continuing around one of the cliff paths, discover a whole other little world tucked in behind steeper rock formations, again hosting swimmers as well as a number of large yachts anchored in the still waters.

20130822-114928.jpgExhausting the camera’s battery, indulge in a Ligurian style pasta brimming with seafood followed by a tiny scoop of Lemon Gelato then, with a satisfied smile, slip discreetly into a tourist wave and back onto the train.

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And thus concludes my dreamy days in the Cinque Terre…have I inspired you?

Stay tuned for the French Riviera!

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