Note from Vachak:
See these Recipes
To see this story with its related links on the guardian.co.uk site, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2008/jul/20/recipe.foodanddrink
Italian without the pasta
Britain's top food writer kicks off our Italian Special
Sunday July 20 2008
Pizza, pasta and risotto aside, much of Italy's home cooking has a freshness and lightness to it that is perfect for summer eating. Bright tasting salads and bruschetta, uncomplicated roasts and refreshing desserts abound. This is the sort of food I am cooking this summer - classic Italian fare, but on the lighter side
A salad of peas, beans and pecorino
Italian cooks have a certain spare artistry with a salad, be it of tomatoes, peppers and bread, or raw fennel and slices of porcini. They keep the ingredients minimal and the dressing unintrusive. This is such a salad.
broad beans - 250g (shelled weight)
peas - 400g (shelled weight)
100g pecorino sardo
salad leaves - 4 generous handfuls
mint leaves - a good handful
ciabatta - 4 small slices
For the dressing:
olive oil (fruity and peppery) - 4 tbs
balsamic vinegar - 1 tsp
Put a pan of water on to boil, then lightly salt it. Cook the beans in this, drain them, then rinse in cold water. Put more water on and cook the peas. Drain them and mix with the beans. Both peas and beans will need barely more than a couple of minutes if they are small and sweet.
Make the dressing by dissolving a good pinch of salt in the juice of the lemon then beating in with a fork the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a grinding of black pepper. (Alternatively put all the ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake.)
Toast the slices of bread on both sides then tear them into short pieces. Drizzle a little olive oil onto each one then shake over a light dusting of sea salt. Toss the salad and mint leaves in the dressing then add the peas, beans and the pecorino in thin shavings. Tuck in the toasted ciabatta and serve.
A herb sauce for a summer fish
The first time I encountered mint with fish I was surprised, maybe even a little sceptical, but it is not unusual in Italian cooking. But there is a caveat. The herb should be used in conjunction with lemon and, perhaps most importantly, the sun must be shining. I have been deliberately non-specific about the variety of fish - either whole or in a thick slice, the choice is up to your pocket and conscience. Last time I cooked fish this way I used farmed halibut from Scotland.
the juice of a large lemon
olive oil - 4 tbs
garlic - 2 or 3 plump cloves
a small handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves
mint leaves - about 12
oregano leaves - a handful
fish of your choice, enough for 4
Halve the lemon and squeeze it into a bowl then stir in the olive oil. Peel and slice the garlic, chop the parsley, mint and oregano leaves and stir into the oil and lemon with a grinding of salt and pepper.
Cook the fish, lightly seasoned, in a little olive oil in a non-stick pan. Tip over the lemon and mint sauce. As soon as the sauce is warm, lift out the fish, spoon over the sauce and serve.
Bruschetta with roasted peppers, mozzarella and basil
There is a point in the summer when the tomatoes and peppers are ripe, the basil deeply scented and peppery and the mozzarella as cool and milky as ice cream. With all four in place I like to make a bruschetta, fairly straightforward, but utilising the gorgeous juices from the baked peppers in a dressing to pour over at the last minute.
red peppers - 4, medium-sized
basil - a small bunch
ciabatta or sourdough bread - 4 thick slices
a clove of garlic cut in half
tomatoes - 4, perfectly ripe
buffalo mozzarella - 1 ball
red chillies - 2, seeded
Set the oven at 200?C /gas 6. Cut the peppers in half, set them on a baking sheet or roasting tin and pour over a little olive oil. Bake them for 40 minutes or until they are truly soft and their skins are dark brown and easy to peel off. Remove their skins, saving as much of the juice as you can.
Make the dressing by stirring 4 tablespoons of olive oil into the pan juices left from cooking the peppers. Shred the basil leaves and stir in. Season with salt and black pepper.
Toast the ciabatta on both sides. Rub the cut edges with garlic then drizzle with a little olive oil. Lay the peppers, cut into smaller pieces if you wish, on top of the toasted bread. Slice the tomatoes thickly. Tuck in pieces of mozzarella, roughly broken or sliced, the tomatoes and then drizzle with dressing and a little chopped fresh chilli.
Pork with fennel seeds and rosemary
I make a point of ordering the meat from the butcher in advance, asking for a piece of loin cut from the rib end, boned and with the skin scored for crackling. If you can get him to leave some of the belly on then it will make the rolling easier. The bones must come home too, as it on these that you will roast the joint and is what will enrich the thin, wine-based meat juices. I worry that this dish costs the best part of 30 quid, but it does serve at least six and sometimes more. We ate this last weekend in the garden, with a side dish of salad leaves and some new potatoes that I had roasted separately with rosemary and salt.
Serves 6 or more
a piece of boned pork loin, skin on and scored - 2kg
For the filling:
onions - 3 large
olive oil - 4 tbs
garlic - 3 or 4 cloves
rosemary - 3 or 4 bushy sprigs bay leaves - 4
dried chillies - 3 small ones
fennel seeds - 3 tbs
black peppercorns - 12
white wine - 2 glasses
Lay the pork loin flat on the work surface, skin side down. Have some string ready. Set the oven at 220?C /gas 8.
Peel one of the onions and slice it thinly, then soften it in the olive oil. Peel and crush the garlic and add it to the softening onion with the rosemary needles pulled from their stems, the whole bay leaves, the crumbled chillies and the fennel seeds.
Grate the zest from the lemon and stir this in together with its juice. Crush the peppercorns coarsely, and use to season the mixture with a generous grinding of salt.
Rub the filling all over the meat. I sometimes cut a pocket just under the fillet and stuff some in there, too. Roll the meat up holding the filling in place as best you can, then tie at 3cm intervals with string to hold the whole joint together in a roll. Rub a little oil and salt into the skin then put the bones in a large roasting tin and lay the meat on top. Cut up the remaining onions, without peeling them, and put them in among the bones.
Roast for 10 minutes then turn heat down to 180?C/gas 4 and continue cooking for approximately one hour and 15 minutes. Remove the meat from the tin and cover with foil (loosely, otherwise the crackling will soften). Discard the bones but not the onion. Put the roasting tin over a moderate to high flame and pour in the wine. Bring to the boil, scrape any caramelised meat juices and tasty detritus that has adhered to the pan
into the juices so that they dissolve, then keep warm.
Carve the meat thinly, and serve with the hot pan juices.
It sounds odd, the idea of a sorbet topped with whipped cream, but in this case the dairy addition is essential to form some sort of balance The soft, smooth-tasting cream is a perfect contrast to the crystalline texture and keep-you-up-all-night quality of the granita. The partnership works well, as in the other great Italian coffee and cream dessert affogato al caffe, where blisteringly hot espresso is poured over freezer-hard vanilla ice cream. I give myself quite a bit of time to make this classically Roman end to a meal as it takes a while to freeze by hand. Should you take the option of using an ice-cream maker, then you will end up with a smooth coffee sorbet, which will be delicious but will lack the essential granular texture of true granita.
still mineral water - 300ml
sugar - 150g
espresso coffee - 350ml, hot
softly whipped cream to serve
Bring the water to the boil then add the sugar and stir until dissolved. You have produced a light sugar syrup. Pour in the coffee and leave to cool, then chill thoroughly in the fridge.
Place a metal or plastic box in the freezer. When it is very cold, pour in the coffee syrup and leave in the freezer for a good hour. Remove and stir the ice crystals that have formed around the edge into the liquid middle and return to the freezer. Leave for a further 45 minutes to an hour then repeat, folding the frozen edges into the centre. Continue this, every hour or so until you have a box of frozen, coffee-coloured ice crystals.
Whip the cream until it lies in soft folds.
Divide the granita between four chilled glasses (the ice melts quickly, so don't skip the step of getting your glasses thoroughly cold) then spoon on the whipped cream.
Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008