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Recipes: Brenda Costigan with Italian cuisine


We associate Italy with sunshine, but winters there can be very cold, especially in the mountains. This is why, as well as lovely summer dishes, Italy has a really nice, comforting winter cuisine too.

A hearty pasta dish can be wonderfully warming as the days get colder. A tasty Bolognese sauce with pasta is one of the country's classic dishes. If you have time, it is worth making double or treble amounts and freezing the rest for days when you are a bit hassled. Simpler dishes, which are equally delicious, include pasta with a creamy mushroom and bacon sauce. Tuscan sausage is perfect with pasta, and other typical ingredients include spinach, goat's cheese and, of course, Parmesan -- all ingredients which are full of nourishment and flavour.


There is just no doubt about it, but Italian-style meat sauces improve with long, slow cooking. If possible, make this dish a few hours in advance, or the day before. For a change, instead of using minced beef, use finely chopped beef to give a chunky texture to the sauce. The Italians often use chicken livers to flavour their meat sauces, so I have included some, but they are optional. The finished sauce is served on cooked tagliatelle or spaghetti. Serve with a tossed salad and some crusty bread. Serves 4-5.

You will need:

2-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

2-4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large carrot, finely diced

1 large stick of celery, finely diced

2-4 smoked rashers, (streaky or back), finely chopped

600-700g (1 1/4-1 1/2lb) rib or round steak, cut in small chunks

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

50g (2oz) chicken livers, chopped (optional)

150g (5oz) mushrooms, chopped

1 x 400g (14oz) tin chopped tomatoes

2-3 teaspoons tomato puree

1 glass of red wine (optional) -- or else make a little extra beef stock

1 beef stock cube dissolved in 300ml (1/2pt) boiling water

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

2-3 fresh bay leaves

450g (1lb) spaghetti or tagliatelle, to serve

Freshly grated Parmesan, to serve

Tossed salad, to serve

Crusty bread, to serve

Put some of the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the chopped onion and garlic until they become soft. Add the finely diced carrot and celery into the pan and fry them gently for a minute or so. Then lift out the vegetables with a perforated spoon and transfer them into a heavy saucepan. Next, fry the finely chopped smoked rashers in the pan until they become golden, then lift them out and put them into the saucepan also. Now, fry the chunks of rib or round steak, whichever you are using, in three or four lots until all the steak is lightly browned. Transfer the meat chunks to the saucepan and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Fry the chicken livers, if you are using them, and the mushrooms until they become lightly golden and tasty. Transfer the chicken livers, if you are using them, and mushrooms to the saucepan. Add the tin of chopped tomatoes, the tomato puree, the red wine, if you are using it, the beef stock, the dried oregano and the fresh bay leaves. Stir and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat down to very gentle simmer. Cover the saucepan with its lid -- place the lid at a tilt to allow steam to escape -- and simmer everything for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until the meat is tender and the flavours have mellowed together. Keep an eye on it, stirring occasionally.

When the meat is tender, if the sauce seems rather runny, lift off the lid and simmer the saucepan's contents briskly to allow any excess liquid to evaporate. On the other hand, if you find that the sauce is not runny enough, add a little extra stock to the sauce.

When you're ready to serve the dish, cook the spaghetti or tagliatelle, whichever you are using, according to the packet instructions, until it is al dente, or still has some bite to it. Drain the pasta well. Spoon the sauce over the pasta, sprinkle it with some freshly grated Parmesan, and serve with the tossed salad and crusty bread.


Simple and quick, the chilli gives a nice bite to the sauce. Inspired by a recipe from Jamie Oliver. Serves 3-4.

You will need:

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

4 back rashers, preferably smoked, chopped in small pieces

200g (7oz) mushrooms, thinly sliced (see note)

1-2 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2-1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and chopped finely (optional)

4 sprigs of fresh thyme

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 heaped tablespoons creme fraiche

A little fresh cream (optional)

300-400g (12-14oz) pasta, eg spaghetti or tagliatelle, to serve

Freshly grated Parmesan, to serve


Choose the larger flat mushrooms for flavour, or if you prefer, use half button mushrooms and half flat ones.

Put the olive oil into a good-sized pan and fry the chopped back rashers until they are nice and crispy. Add in the thinly sliced mushrooms, the chopped garlic, the deseeded and chopped fresh red chilli, if you're using it, and the fresh thyme, and fry for a few minutes. Season carefully with some salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, keeping in mind that the rashers are salty.

When the mushrooms become nice and tasty, stir in the creme fraiche and bring the sauce to the boil, then let it simmer gently for a minute or two. Add a little fresh cream if you are using it.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the packet directions. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and return to the hot, rinsed-out saucepan. Pour the pasta into the creamy mushroom sauce, mixing everything together.

Serve, sprinkled with some freshly grated Parmesan.

Variation with Tuscan sausage:

Using the above recipe for creamy mushroom and bacon pasta, omit the chopped back rashers and use 350g (12oz) Italian sausages instead.

Take off the outside skin and fry the sausages until they are crumbled and cooked, then proceed as per the previous recipe, adding a teaspoon of chopped, fresh sage instead of thyme to the sauce.

Goat's Cheese and Spinach Lasagne with Pine nuts

This goat's cheese and spinach recipe by Angela Hartnett is also lovely on a cold winter's day.

You will need:

75g (3oz) butter

75g (3oz) flour

500ml (17fl oz) milk

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

500g (18oz)spinach

300g (11oz) precooked lasagne sheets

500g (18oz) rocket leaves

200g (7oz) goat's cheese, crumbled

1 tablespoon pine nuts

100g (3oz) Parmesan, freshly grated

Preheat the oven to 180 C (fan 160 C), 350 F, Gas 4.

To make the white sauce, melt the butter in a pan and heat until it starts to foam. Add the flour and cook for one minute, then gradually add the milk, whisking after each addition to make a nice, thick sauce. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat the spinach in a large pan with two tablespoons of water for about two minutes until it wilts. Remove the spinach and set it aside to cool, then squeeze out as much moisture as you can from it.

Take an ovenproof dish, measuring about 30cm by 20cm (11in by 8in), and spread a ladleful of white sauce over the bottom. Cover with some sheets of lasagne, then add some of the cooked spinach and the rocket leaves, then a sprinkling of the crumbled goat's cheese. Continue building up the layers, finishing with lasagne and the last of the white sauce on the top. Sprinkle with the pine nuts and the freshly grated Parmesan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes until the lasagne is golden and bubbling.


A simple topping for cooked pasta, perfect for when you are in a hurry. Serves 2.

You will need:

3-4 tablespoons fresh white breadcrumbs

1/4 teaspoon oregano

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A few small pinches of nutmeg

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

Mix all the ingredients together and use as a tasty pasta topping.


Some leftover roast chicken is used in this dish. Include all those tasty little bits and pieces that are left on the carcass after roasting a chicken, along with the delicious juices left in the roasting tin. These make a great base for a simple sauce with cooked pasta. Serves 2-3.

You will need:

275g (10oz) penne or fusilli

1 tablespoon olive oil

25g (1oz) butter

1 onion, finely chopped

1-2 garlic cloves, chopped

150g (5oz) mushrooms, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

A few pinches of dried oregano

4-5 tablespoons chopped roast chicken, plus all the little bits picked off the carcass

Juices from the roasting tin

1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or chives

Freshly grated Parmesan

Creme fraiche or sour cream, to serve

Cook the penne or fusilli, whichever you are using, as directed on the packet, until al dente, then drain well, keeping a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Heat the olive oil and the butter in a frying pan and fry the finely chopped onion and garlic until they become soft. Add in the chopped mushrooms and fry until they are soft also. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper and the dried oregano. Add in the chopped roast chicken pieces, the roasting juices and the wholegrain mustard and bring to the boil to heat everything thoroughly. Stir in the chopped fresh parsley or chives, whichever you are using.

Stir in the pasta, adding a little of the cooking liquid to moisten, if necessary. Scatter generously with the freshly grated Parmesan and serve with the creme fraiche or sour cream, whichever you are using, on the side.

Sunday Indo Life Magazine