The Italian job - recipes from a top chef and restaurateur
Chef and restaurateur, Jacob Kenedy from the award-winning Bocca di Lupo in London brings diners on a gastronomic tour of Italy. He is one of the culinary talents taking part in the fifth Ballymaloe Litfest which runs from May 19-21 and puts the spotlight on literacy and knowledge about food and drink
Pappardelle with courgettes and their flowers
My dad and I once found ourselves with time to kill in Ciampino Airport - a result of neuroses about flying with small children, and certain others specific to my family (we're early for everything). Taking a random punt on a nearby lake, we headed to Castel Gandolfo, location of the Pope's summer residence. It sits on the edge of a volcanic crater filled with water, Lago Albano. Luck was clearly with us, as we were the only people in a small restaurant perched over the water, where I ate one of the best pastas of my life, made with courgette flowers.
Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main
12 male courgette flowers (the ones with no courgette attached, much cheaper than the female)
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
200g dried pappardelle, or 260g fresh
4 basil leaves
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra to serve
Sweet courgettes are the key to this dish - zucchini romane are best (long, ridged and pale green), otherwise young, firm courgettes are a safe bet.
Slice two-thirds of them across into 4mm discs, and shave the rest as thinly as you can. Season the shaved ones lightly with salt a few minutes before you start to cook, to soften them slightly.
Prepare the flowers by tearing the petals, including the green bases, from the stalks.
Discard the stalks and tear the flowers in half lengthways (many discard the stamens at this point, but they won't do any harm left in).
Cook the thicker discs of courgette with the garlic, oil, and 2 tbsp of water for 10-15 minutes over a medium heat in a wide frying pan until the water has evaporated and the courgettes are very tender.
Meanwhile, add the pasta to another pan of boiling, salted water, such that it should be ready when the courgettes are done (a minute before they are cooked for fresh pappardelle, dramatically longer for dried ones).
To the frying pan, just before the pasta is done, add the shaved courgettes, blossoms and torn basil leaves and cook for maybe half a minute, seasoning with salt and pepper.
Drain the pasta (as ever, reserving a little of the cooked water) and add to the sauce, along with the butter, Parmesan and a couple of spoons of the pasta water. Cook for 30 seconds more, adding a touch more water if the dish looks dry. Serve immediately with a light sprinkling of extra Parmesan.
An unusual recipe this, a cake of ricotta and grain, aromatic with candied oranges and the essence of their flowers. Heavenly, and making it is the surest way I know to befriend a Neapolitan. Pastiera can be made like a deep cake, or shallow tart. Neapolitans tell me my rich filling is too much for a deep cake, though even they admit it does make a good tart.
For the pastry:
500g plain flour
200g icing sugar
300g unsalted butter
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
6 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the filling:
250g grano cotto (cooked wheat sold in jars, otherwise wheat berries, farro, or small barley boiled until tender)
175ml whole milk
30g unsalted butter
350g ricotta cheese
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp orange-blossom water (optional)
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
350g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
30g candied orange peel, finely diced to the same size of the wheat
20g candied lemon peel (or 20g more candied orange peel)
1 large egg white, whisked to moist peaks
To make the pastry, combine the flour and sugar, then work in the butter until almost evenly incorporated a few golden flecks won't hurt a bit.
Add the lemon zest, egg yolks and vanilla and bring the pastry together; wrap in clingfilm and let it rest in the fridge until firm - a flattened pastry will chill fastest.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Combine the cooked grain, milk and butter, and simmer over a medium heat until creamy and viscous, stirring as though for a risotto. Let it cool to room temperature, then add all the other ingredients (apart from the egg white) and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until well mixed and sloppy.
Fold in the beaten egg white and the filling is ready. If you haven't already decided whether to make a cake or two tarts, do so now.
To make a homely cake, line the bottom and sides of a 24cm springform cake tin with baking paper. Roll the pastry about 5mm thick, line the tin well, and trim the pastry level with the top; keep the trimmings for later.
To make fancier tarts - and this quantity will suffice for two of them - roll the pastry out thinner, 3-4mm. Line a pair of 28cm fluted tart tins, trimming the pastry nice and level to the rim.
Prick the bases all over with a fork. In either case, pour the filling into the lined tin(s), and roll the leftover dough out thinly, about 3mm. Cut it into 1.5cm strips, and use these to decorate the top of the pastiera with a lattice.
Bake for about an hour (just more for a cake, just less for tarts) at 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4, until the top is browned, and doesn't wobble when shaken gently.
Leave to cool completely before cutting. Pastiera is best in the evening if made that morning, but will keep for a few days - if you can resist.
Mussels with celery, tomatoes and thyme Veneto
I spent a little over a week travelling around Lake Garda, just as spring was breaking, the snow caps melting, the sun shining but the tourists not yet arriving from over the Dolomites. Curiously, it was in Malcesine that I enjoyed the best plate of mussels I have had in my life - despite the distance from the sea, and the abundance of freshwater fish dishes on authentically local menus. There is, therefore, some claim to say this recipe is from the Veneto, but I have no idea how typical it is. I have probably cooked the dish for more people at Bocca di Lupo than ever ate it on the shore of Lake Garda - of that I am pretty much certain.
Serves 4 as a starter or a light main
3 celery stalks, sliced on the bias into 2cm chunks
4 garlic cloves, broken but whole
8 sprigs thyme
A good pinch of crushed dried chilli flakes
200ml extra virgin olive oil
400g cherry tomatoes (look for datterino or baby plum), halved
1kg mussels, bearded
20 basil leaves
In a wide pan, fry the celery, garlic, thyme and chilli in the oil
very gently for 5 minutes, to infuse the flavours. When the garlic threatens to colour on its broken edges, crank up the heat to high and add the tomatoes and mussels, a good amount of pepper and a tiny amount of salt.
If your pan is wide enough (the mussels no more than two or three deep), you should be able to cook it easily, just by shaking the pan for 3 or 4 minutes until all have opened.
In a narrower, deeper arrangement I prefer to pick the mussels out as they pop.
They are ready as soon as this has happened, and my dislike for overcooked mussels is so entrenched it extends even to the people who make them that way.
In either case, when the mussels are open, stir in the basil, taste for seasoning and serve with good bread.
The liquid will be a rich, velvety broth - quite sparse as it is only the natural juices of the ingredients, hence its pure and intense flavour.