la dolce vita, or the good life, can be experienced through some of Italy’s best ingredients: pasta, ricotta and all lemon. And while sitting somewhere with a plate of pasta on the Amalfi Coast is among life’s great pleasures, you can experience something similar in the comfort of your own kitchen with the contents of an Italian pantry. Today’s dishes are inspired by my time spent in Italy over the years, greedily licking plates several times as a child, and even now, as an adult.
Grilled Torgett (pictured above) with Garlic Ricotta, Raisin Agrodolce, and Crisp Capers
In Italian “agro” means sour and “dolce” means sweet. Agrodolce, it follows, is a sweet-sour Italian condiment. It’s really easy and quick to make, and keeps well in the fridge, so make extra if you like, and to spread on meatloaf sandwiches or to drizzle over grilled meats and roasted vegetables.
to submit Twenty minutes
cook 35 minutes
works 4-6 as a side
120 ml apple cider or red-wine vinegar
50 grams golden raisins
60 ml honey
sea salt and pepper
tsp chili flakes
60 ml olive oil
40 grams capersdry and pat dry
250 grams ricotta
1 garlic clovepeeled and crushed
1 lemon, Zest grated, to get 1 tsp, and 2 tsp for extracting juice
800 grams small to medium gooseberrySlice and cut at an angle into cm-thick slices
5G Mint leaves (about 2½ tablespoons), roughly chopped
5G basil leaves (about 2 tablespoons), roughly chopped
First, make agrodolce. In a small saucepan over medium heat, add vinegar, raisins, honey and tsp salt and cook until syrup forms, eight to 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add chilli flakes and leave to cool.
Heat oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat and, once hot, add one-third of the capers and fry for two to three minutes, until they burst like a flower and become crunchy. Lift with a slotted spoon and remove on kitchen paper, and repeat in two batches with remaining capers. Remove the pan from the flame and keep the oil to cool down.
Combine ricotta, garlic, lemon zest and juice and teaspoon salt in a small bowl, mix well, then cover and set aside.
Set a pan on high heat. While it’s heating up, put the tortillas in a large bowl, adding a tablespoon reserved, cooled caper oil, teaspoon salt, and a fine grind of black pepper, then mix well. Working in five or six batches, grill the courgettes for two to three minutes on each side, until well-striped with four marks, then transfer to a large skillet and leave to cool.
To make the bed for the patio, spoon the ricotta onto a large plate. Mix zucchini with chopped mint and basil, and arrange on top of ricotta. Spoon over reserved caper oil and raisin agrodolce, sprinkle fried capers over top, and serve at room temperature.
Tongue of Crab, Saffron and Tomato
Making pasta from scratch requires a pasta machine, and if you don’t have one, just ask around: You’re sure to find someone who will be happy to lend you theirs, at least. less so it doesn’t get some real use! If you want to make ahead, make the pasta the day before and refrigerate it in an airtight box, and make sure you flour it well before storing it. Alternatively, buy some linguine and add saffron to the sauce instead. You can also swap out the crab for other fish or shellfish of your choice.
to submit 25 minutes
cook 75 minutes
rest 1 HourR
tsp saffron threads
200 grams ’00’ flourplus extra for dusting
2 large eggsdefeated
60 ml olive oil
6 garlic clovespeeled and thinly sliced
fine sea salt and pepper
1 red chili (10 g), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 celery sticks (75 g), cut on the diagonal into cm-thick slices
100 ml dry white wine
50 grams brown crab meat
1 large plum tomato (140 g), roughly grated and peels removed
100 grams white crab meat
10 grams (about 2¾ Tbsp) parsley leavesroughly chopped
5G (about 1½ Tbsp) tarragon leavesroughly chopped
200 g cherry tomatoeshalf
2 tbsp lemon juice
For pasta, put the saffron in a small bowl or cup, add a spoonful of boiled water and leave for 10 minutes.
Take all purpose flour in a big bowl and make a well in the middle. Knead the dough by mixing the tip, saffron and water soaked in it with your hands in the beaten eggs. Place dough on a clean work surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth, elastic and bouncy. Wrap the dough tightly, then refrigerate for an hour (or overnight, if you want to make ahead).
Meanwhile, start the sauce. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium heat and, once hot, saute the garlic for a minute, until lightly golden. Pour the mixture into a small sieve set over a small bowl, then leave both the fried garlic and the aromatic oil to cool.
Set up a pasta machine, then lightly flour both the machine and a clean work surface. Divide the dough into two parts and, using a dough rolling pin, roll both the pieces into a machine-wide 1 cm-thick rectangle. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll the pasta through the machine twice on each level, starting with the widest setting and dusting with flour as you go. Stop on the last setting, when the pasta is about 1 mm thick. Repeat with the other piece of dough.
Cut each sheet of pasta in half width-wise so that you now have four pieces, place these on separate work surfaces, and dust liberally with flour. With the smaller side of a sheet facing you, roll out each piece of dough loosely, then use a sharp knife to cut it lengthwise into cm-wide strips. Repeat with remaining sheets, then unwrap all strips of noodles and leave to rest in another generous dusting of flour.
Bring a large saucepan of well salted water to a boil. Pour in all pasta, cook for three minutes until al dente, then drain, saving 50ml of pasta cooking water.
Meanwhile, heat one tablespoon of the reserved garlic oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and celery, and fry for four minutes until soft and lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in wine, brown crab meat and grated tomato, and cook until thickened, a few minutes. Add the ladle, drained pasta, white crab meat, herbs, cherry tomatoes, a quarter teaspoon finely ground salt, and a good amount of black pepper to the reserved pasta water, and toss for about a minute, until the sauce is emulsified.
Remove from heat, add lemon juice and remaining garlic oil, divide among four shallow bowls, sprinkle with fried garlic, and serve.
torta della nona
There are as many versions of this Tuscan custard tart as there are nonnass who make them. Here’s my take: a celebration of its two key ingredients, namely lemon and pine nuts, that don’t require blind bake.
to submit 25 minutes
cook 3 hours 45 minutes
cold and cold 2 hours
for the custard
150 ml double cream
550 ml whole milk
1 lemon – To get 11/2 tsp, grated finely, then make juice
2 eggs plus 2 egg yolks (save the whites for another use)
110 grams castor sugar
30 grams ’00’ flour
30 grams cornflour
3 tbsp lemon curd (homemade or store bought)
300 grams ’00’ flourplus extra for dusting
1 tsp baking powder
120 grams castor sugar
150 grams fridge-chilled unsalted butterCut into 1cm cubes, plus a little extra for greasing the tart case
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
30 grams pine nutstoasted and roughly chopped
1 tbsp thyme leavesroughly chopped
1 lemon – finely grated, then cut into 12 wedges, to yield 1½ tsp
for honey syrup
30 grams running honey
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp oregano leavesuncut
30 grams pine nutstoasted and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon icing sugarto dust
To make the custard, add the cream, milk, and lemon zest to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat eggs, egg yolks, and sugar vigorously until pale, about two minutes. Add the flour and cornflour, and whisk for a few minutes more, until the mixture is fluffy. When the cream mixture begins to steam, slowly pour it into the bowl of the eggs, whisking quickly and continuously, then pour back into the saucepan. Place the skillet over medium heat and cook the custard for three or four minutes, stirring constantly, until the custard begins to steam and thicken – taking care not to over-fry it. Pour the custard into a deep tray, leave to cool, then put in the fridge to cool.
For the pastry, pulse the first four ingredients in a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add remaining five ingredients to lemon wedges, pulse three or four times until combined, then tip onto a clean work surface and, using your hands, bring it together into a smooth, uniform dough. Cut off a third of the dough, then wrap both pieces and leave them to rest for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 210C (190C fan)/410F/Gas 6½. Lightly grease a 24cm tart tin with a removable base, dust the inside lightly with flour, then place it on a baking tray. Take the custard out of the fridge, add lemon curd and smooth using a stick or regular blender.
Take the big piece of dough out of the fridge. Dust a work surface with flour, then roll out the dough into a 28cm-diameter thick circle. Using a flat baking tray or dough scraper, carefully lift the dough, wrap it over the tart tin, and press gently into the edges. This pastry is delicate but forgiving, so patch any holes with flour sacks. Pour the custard mixture into the tart case and smooth the top.
Roll out the second piece of dough into a 25 cm-diameter circle, and prick around gently with a fork. Place it on top of the tart so that it covers the edges, then gently roll the rolling pin over the sides of the tart tin to seal. Trim any overhangs.
Bake for 40-45 minutes until the tarts are golden on top, then remove and place on a rack to cool slightly before molding.
In the meantime make syrup. Add honey to a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until deep golden, three to five minutes. Remove from heat, add lemon juice and oregano, then leave to cool. When the tart pops out of the tin, brush the syrup over, scatter over the pine nuts, and leave to cool completely.
When cool, garnish the tart with icing sugar and serve with lemon wedges.