Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Budino di riso con salsa mou - Rice pudding with toffee sauce

Budino di riso con salsa mou - made in individual moulds to avoid excessive greadiness
This is Marcello dall’Aglio’s mum’s recipe for rice pudding, as she wrote it out for me when we came for lunch one bitterly cold day in Bologna around Christmas 1990. An apt dish for winter. A perfect accompaniment is salsa mou, toffee sauce. Make more than you need and store it in the fridge. The addition of the eggs makes this a denser pudding than the English version. It needs to be sliced rather than spooned onto the place.

Dare I say that you can improve the method by boiling the rice in water until it is soft and most of the water has evaporated, then adding the rest of the ingredients? That way, the rice is less likely to stick to the bottom of the pan. Otherwise, you must watch it like a hawk.


for the rice pudding

1 lt whole milk

2 tbl rice for risotto

pinch salt

1 zest of a lemon

150 g sugar

50 g vanilla sugar

2 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

for the toffee sauce

300g sugar

150ml single cream


1. Boil the milk and add the rice, salt, lemon zest and the sugar.

2. Simmer carefully for about an hour until the rice is soft. Allow to cool.

3. Beat together the eggs and add to the rice mixture.

4. Tip into a buttered oven dish and place in a bain-marie half full of water.

5. Bake in a medium oven for about 2 hours until the top only just begins to brown.

6. Heat the sugar in a pan until it begins to caramelise. Remove from the heat.

7. Heat the cream in another pan. Slowly and carefully add to the sugar, combining the two with a wooden spoon.

Salt cod croquettes with roasted red pepper and tomato sauce

For a southern European Christmas eve repast, I have teamed salt cod with prawn tortellini. Home salted cod is not quite the same thing as the real thing but it does produce the same firm fish flakes. It can be deep fried, in a light batter, fried or made into croquettes, as I suggest here. The sauce makes a lovely contrast in terms of flavour, colour and texture.


300g cod

20g sea salt

3 eggs

100g cooked mashed potato

50g parsley

salt and pepper

3 large red peppers

1 red onion

2 cloves of garlic

200g baby or small plum tomatoes

4tbsp olive oil

breadcrumbs or crackers finely crushed in a bag with a rolling pin

100cl sunflower oil


1. The day before, place the cod in a plastic box and sprinkle over the salt. Weigh it down so the salt is pushed into the fish and place in the fridge.

2. The next day, wash off the salt and replace the cod in the plastic container with fresh water. Rinse the fish under running water after an hour or so. Repeat and drain the fish.

3. Place the red peppers in a roasting pan and place in a hot oven for 30-40 minutes until the peppers are blistering and beginning to turn black in places.

4. Chop the onion and garlic finely and fry until soft.

5. Peel the red peppers when they are cool enough to handle and process with the onion and garlic.

6. Coarsely process the fish, 1 egg, the potato, parsley, salt and pepper.

7. Create croquette shapes 6cms long and 3cms in girth. Beat two of the eggs and place in a bowl.

8. Saute the tomatoes in olive oil and when they are beginning to soften add the red pepper puree. Stop cooking and keep warm while you cook the croquettes.

9. Dip the croquettes in the beaten egg and then in the breadcrumbs or crushed crackers.

10. Deep fry in hot oil. Drain and place on kitchen towel to absorb surplus oil.

11. Place two or three croquettes on each place and alongside them a small pool of the sauce.

Prawn tortellini with chickpea puree

Before midnight mass on Christmas Eve many Italian families sit down to a fish dinner. In Bologna, this might consist of prawn tortellini followed by salt fish. (The recipes are given separately here.) The tortellini are light and delicate and come served on a bed of pureed chickpeas if you are lucky enough to find this dish on the menu at Marcello dall’Aglio’s La Locanda del Castello in Sasso Marconi.

Salt fish is not widely available here but you can make a more than passable version at home using fresh cod and sea salt. This could be fried, deep fried in a light batter or, as in this case, used to make croquettes. It is accompanied by an irresistible sauce made out of roasted baby tomatoes, red onion and roasted pureed red peppers.

The tortellini are best prepared ahead because they are tricky to make at the last minute. You could also prepare the salt fish dish and its sauce in advance so if you really were coming back for dinner after midnight mass it could be on the table in minutes.

If you consider tortellini too fiddly, you could make a larger filled pasta or even serve the prawn filling between two small sheets of pasta, but it will be less delicate.

The chickpea puree needs careful preparation. Chickpeas and aubergines are two foods that are too often poorly prepared because they are taken for granted. Soak the chickpeas overnight. Bring them to the boil and then immediately put in a very slow oven for several hours or simmer on a low gas. They hate rapid boiling and tense up. If you live near a Spanish or Portuguese shop, you could buy a jar of sumptuous cooked garbanzos.

Preparation time: in inverse proportion to the time taken to down the tortellini.

Ingredients (for four generous portions)

for the tortellini pasta

300g pasta flour

3 whole eggs

3 egg yolks

½ tsp salt

for the tortellini filling

200g uncooked large prawns

2 tbsp olive oil

25ml brandy

50g ricotta

4 spring onions

salt and pepper

for the chickpea puree

150g chickpeas

4 cloves of garlic

3tbsp extra virgin olive oil

50g parsley

salt and pepper

for sauteeing

2tbsp olive oil

25g butter


1. The day before, soak the chickpeas in plenty of warm water

2. The next day, bring the chickpeas to the boil along with the garlic, then immediately transfer to a slow oven (140 degrees C.) or a low gas so that the chickpeas simmer.

3. Make the pasta by combining all the ingredients and kneading until the dough is elastic and no longer sticky, 10-15 minutes. Wrap in clingfilm and transfer to the fridge.

4. Remove the intestinal channel and shells from the prawns and quickly fry in olive oil until they turn pink. Add the brandy and flambé.

5. Chop finely or process along with the ricotta, spring onion, adding salt and pepper. Place in the fridge.

6. When the chickpeas are soft, strain them and process with the peeled garlic, olive oil, parsley, salt and pepper.

7. Roll out the pasta dough using a rolling pin or a machine until it is almost transparent. You will have a number of wide strips of pasta that you should cover with a cloth to keep them moist until you come to use them.

8. Mark out 4cm diameter circles using a pastry cutter. Place a half teaspoon of filling in the centre of each one. Fold the pasta over to make an envelope and pinch it together ensuring that no air is trapped inside.

9. You can finish there or you can make the characteristic shape of tortellini by wrapping the pasta around your finger so that the two wings touch and then are pressed together. It will help if you gently push the filling into a fat little cord shape once you have created the envelope.

10. Heat the puree in a dish over a pan of simmering water or in a microwave. Put on a salted large pan of water to boil, reduce to a rapid simmer and add the tortellini a few at a time.

11. Depending on the fineness of your pasta, they will take 4-6 minutes to cook to al dente. Try one after four minutes. Strain them when they are cooked.

12. Heat a oil and butter in large frying pan, tip in the tortellini and sauté for two minutes.

13. Place a mound of puree on each plate, flatten it slightly with a spoon so that it provides a platform for the tortellini.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Pasta e fagioli – Pasta and beans

Meat-free winter comfort food, as many versions as there are comuni in Italy. Here it is Bolognese style, in other words, with quite a lot of parmesan and more than a hint of balsamic. The beans I used were gigantic runner beans, harvested when the pods had yellowed and stiffened in October, but you could use borlotti beans just as well, or even chick peas. Equally, you can use almost any kind of pasta - I used some home made pappardelle. The quantity of garlic may seem excessive but slow cooking mellows it. In the photo, I served the dish with a dollop of pesto on top but that is optional.

You can watch a different version being prepared, espresso at http://fooyoh.com/nowwatch/watch/EzOxrjiYL3s


200g dried beans

4 bay leaves

1 head of garlic

1 onion

3 sticks of celery

2 carrots

4tbls olive oil

1 can chopped tomatoes

2tbls good balsamic vinegar

50g parsley

200g pasta

75g parmesan


1. Soak the beans overnight. The next day bring them to the boil in fresh water with bay leaves and garlic, then place them in a slow oven for several hours to soften. Then strain and keep warm, discarding the bay leaves. Squeeze the garlic out of its skin and add to the beans.

2. Meanwhile, finely chop the vegetables – onion, celery and carrot – and gently fry in olive oil with the lid on until they soften and begin to brown. Now add the chopped tomatoes and balsamic vinegar and half a cup of water, bring to the boil and simmer for an hour until the ingredients have amalgamated to form a sauce. Add the beans and the finely chopped parsley.

3. Cook the pasta until just al dente, drain and add to the sauce and the beans. Stir in the parmesan.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Focaccia con patate – Focaccia with potatoes

When I was last in Bologna, Federico Aicardi, singer and chemist, urged me to try his patent ‘yeast’. So I did and it was like something out of the sorcerer’s apprentice. His lievito produced a very impressive rise and a fine crumb but a focaccia double the normal height. Lievito Aicardi contains two small sachets, one containing cream of tartar (10g) and one containing baking soda (5g) which are mixed with a spot of warm milk.

Coarsely mashed diced boiled potato adds an interesting texture and flavour to the focaccia in this recipe. It toasts well so can be used for bruschetta or as an accompaniment to salami and soft cheese, a Bolognese favourite.


325g potatoes, peeled and diced

450g strong white bread flour

1 sachet of dried yeast or 2 sachets of Lievito Aicardi (or your version made up at home)

33ml olive oil

5tsp sea salt – for the potatoes, the dough and the topping

1 sprig rosemary, finely chopped


1. Set the oven to 200o C.

2. Boil the potato in salted water (2 teaspoons), drain and mash coarsely

3. Add the flour, 30ml of olive oil, salt (2 teapsoons) and the yeast to the potato and mix by hand or with a machine.

4. If using a mixer, slowly knead the dough for 5 minutes until it has become smooth and elastic.

5. If kneading by hand, it will take a while longer until the dough becomes smooth.

6. Cover with clingfilm and leave to rise for an hour.

7. Transfer the dough to a large flat metal roasting dish, greased with plenty of olive oil.

8. Leave it to rise for another hour then using your finger or the end of a wooden spoon create small depressions all over the surface and sprinkle over sea salt and the rosemary.

9. Bake until golden brown on top, about 50 minutes. When you turn it out to cool on a wire rack, check that there’s a hollow sound when you tap the bottom, otherwise put it back to bake for another 5-10 minutes.
Perfect with salami and soft cheese