When I started writing this post we were basking in sunny weather now it’s a tad cooler and damp…I’m not complaining we have had lots of sunshine in Cumbria this year. I’m planning to enjoy some summery food and this homemade basil pesto really is a taste of summer.
It takes me back to sunny Italian holidays where beautiful food and eating together were really at the heart of family life. Here the homemade pasta itself was very important and was served with just a tiny amount of sauce rather than being flooded with sauce as is more the case here. Indeed it was often just served with oil and parmesan. The key was good quality pasta either fresh or a superior variety. Here we can buy better quality ones such as Barilla or De Cecco made from the finest durum wheat. For some strange reason I’ve often found this in bargain shops such as Poundland, so if you see it you can stock up!
Cook the pasta in lots of salty water in a big pan and don’t overcook it, it should be served ‘al dente’ -with a bit of bite when you test it. to You do need a lot of basil so, if you have a greenhouse, you could make a mental note to grow your own next year. Traditionally the pesto is made in a mortar and pestle but I am using a food processor for ease.
Give it a go and I promise that you too will be transported to sunnier climes.
I really enjoyed a pasta making demonstration by Carmela Sophia Sereno at the New Bookshop in Cockermouth and loved her book-Southern Italian Family Cooking.
Carmela is very engaging and amusing -a more down to earth sort of Nigella without the affectations and irritations of the latter.
From an Italian family she is influenced by her mother and grandmother’s cooking and has then developed her own style and recipes. Her business ‘Carmela’s kitchen’ has blossomed from teaching in her family kitchen to large scale demonstrations, radio shows and pop up kitchens as well as writing books. Happily, she is enjoying a whirl wind of activity at the moment despite having 4 bambinos at home. I was exhausted just listening to her.
We watched as Carmela made basic pasta, with the speed of someone who does it all the time and knows what she is doing even though she only had a tiny table to work on in the middle of a bookshop! She showed us how to cut all the different shapes and sizes with only some basic equipment. This was an impressive performance whilst keep up the constant chat, anecdotes and tales of her family’s cooking back home. Particularly impressive was the pretty, parsley lasagne-laying individual leaves on the pasta and them repeatedly passing it through the pasta machine until it stretched in situ. Holding the pasta sheet up to the light it did look like very pretty wall paper!
Carmela’s (first) book –SOUTHERN ITALIAN COOKING–simple, healthy and affordable food from Italy’s cucina povera is widely available. I liked it, not least, because it is a small paperback (A5 size) and simply printed, in fact just like a family recipe book. It doesn’t have the beautiful photographs you almost always see in cookery books nowadays and is all the better for it. These, dispiritingly, look nothing like the dishes that you will produce at home. Nowadays the camera, almost certainly, will lie. Her recipes are family friendly, easy to follow and you can really feel the echoes of home Italian cooking. I was intrigued by Carmela’s advice not to put cream in Spaghetti alla carbonara and tried her recipe to the letter (now that’s a first for me) and it was lovely and rich without it. It did remind me of when I travelled around the poorer regions of Italy many (many) years ago. I suppose over the time we have ‘anglicised’ Italian pasta dishes serving them with far too much sauce perhaps to disguise poorer quality pasta. Now I am going to try the lasagne without the béchamel sauce.
Also in the book are recipes for antipasti, homemade pizzas, soups, bread, risotto and biscotti, cakes and desserts including a special Tiramisu recipe from her grand-mother. I must give this a go, it must be one of the most popular Italian puddings made here probably incorrectly.