Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Tagliatelle ai funghi porcini – Boletus mushrooms and pasta

Funghi porcini – boletus – are justly highly prized for their taste, smell and appearance. Fresh ones like these – bought in the market in Santa Cruz, Tenerife – produce the most wonderful sauce for pasta. Cut them in half, slice them thinly, then sauté with onion, garlic and bacon. The dried porcini you can readily find in supermarkets are not a patch on freshly picked ones but they will do at a pinch along with maybe some chestnut mushrooms. If you know of a simpler, more delicious pasta dish, please let me know.

300g tagliatelle or pappardelle

1 large onion

150g bacon or pancetta

300g porcini

1 clove of garlic

1 bunch of parsley

2tbl olive oil

40g butter

salt and pepper

50ml double cream

parmesan to grate


1. Put a large pan of salted hot water on to boil; heat four serving bowls.

2. Chop the onion, garlic and bacon finely and sauté until soft in the olive oil.

3. Chop the mushrooms into fine slivers and add to the onion mixture with the butter, and sauté until the porcini are soft.

4. Put the pasta on to boil. Finely chop the parsley.

5. Drain the pasta when it is cooked and add the mushroom mixture and the cream, combining them all. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the parsley just before serving.

6. Pass the parmesan.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Gnocchi di patate – Potato gnocchi

An Estonian reader requests a gnocchi lesson so here goes.

Light and airy pillows of potato and parmesan – that is what I wanted to achieve when I experimented on Friday night with different ratios of flour, parmesan, eggs and potato. The tasting team were torn between two variants. Finally, decisively, I’ve plumped for the variant given below: the 5:1:1 recipe.

As you can see from the photo, I’ve served the gnocchi with pesto but you may prefer butter and grated parmesan, or tomato sauce with prosciutto or even gorgonzola melted in cream. Whatever you do, don’t drown the gnocchi. They’re simple souls that cannot swim. The point is the gnocchi, not the sauce.

Big tip: don’t skin and boil the potatoes – they become waterlogged and then need more flour to cohere. Bake them in the oven or cook them in a microwave.

Potato gnocchi with pesto
Ingredients (easily enough for 4)

500g potatoes, cooked and peeled

100g plain flour

100g grated parmesan

salt and pepper

½ tsp grated nutmeg

2 large eggs

100g pesto

40g butter

3tbl olive oil


1. Bake the potatoes in their skins, in the oven or a microwave until they yield to finger pressure.

2. Once they are cool enough to handle, skin them and chop them into blobs. Put them through a ricer or a mouli or failing that mash them thoroughly. Do not process them unless you want to use the results for wallpapering.

3. Combine thoroughly with the flour, parmesan, salt and pepper and nutmeg.

4. Gradually mix in the two beaten eggs. Once the mixture coheres you may not need all the egg. The mixture should be sticky but not gloopy. (I’m not sure what the Estonian for gloopy is but we want something like the texture of a moist bread dough.)

5. Roll the mixture into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate to firm it up.

6. Flour a rolling board and cut the gnocchi mixture into four lumps.

7. Roll these out into a sausage shape about two cms. in diameter, then cut off pieces about 1 cm. in width. Smaller is good – they cook quicker.

8. Roll each piece into a little ball, and, if you prefer, into a flatter longer more traditional gnocchi shape.

9. Have ready a wide pan several inches deep with simmering water. Poach a gnocchi for three minutes to test the cooking time. Adjust if necessary. Then poach the remaining gnocchi, and as they are cooked lay them on a tea towel to drain.

10. Melt the butter in a frying pan with the olive oil and gently sauté the gnocchi, adding the sauce. Serve.

Friday, 4 February 2011

La Locanda del Castello

Marcello dall'Aglio chef-patron running a cookery course
‘So this is the Locanda’, said the taxi driver, as we pulled up in the courtyard of the medieval Palazzo de Rossi, near Sasso Marconi, just outside Bologna. ‘I’ve heard a lot about this place’, he said looking around in awe. It’s true the setting is amazing but it’s matched by the food. I’ve been eating here for years and never had a bad meal.

On the current menu my favourites include Spaghetti alla chitarra con gamberi e carciofi al profumo di zafferano – hand made spaghetti with prawns and artichokes in a saffron flavoured sauce - sensational tagliata di manzo – grilled beef – and too many gorgeous desserts including a chocolate pudding that you break open to reveal a molten zabaglione filling or amaretto mousse with a bitter chocolate sauce. And then there is the wine list, with lots of good local wines at reasonable prices as well as a range that takes in the best from every Italian region. Upstairs there are lovely rooms where you can sleep it off and wake up to a delicious breakfast spread including home made marmalade, a rarity in Italy.

Let me declare an interest. Marcello and Giulietta, who run La Locanda, are good friends. On the other hand, don’t just take it from me or the taxi-driver. La Locanda was chosen by the then Italian prime minister, Romani Prodi, to entertain, Tony Blair, the newly elected British prime minister and his family when they holidayed in Italy in 1997.

The cost? Well, a Valentine’s dinner is 45 euro or dinner, bed and breakfast for a couple is 180 euro. They also run evening cookery courses.