Rachel Roddy’s Recipes for Easy Summer Pasta | italian food and drink

There were two sacks of flour in the middle of the table. Laura, who was teaching me how to make a pasta shape called strascinati, he unrolled the tops of the bags, which sent puffs of white into the air. He then suggested that he put my right hand in one bag and my left hand in the other. Enjoying the approach of the lucky dip, I placed a hand in almost silky smoothness. That was grain grain, or soft wheat flour, explained Laura, as she served us tea. Meanwhile, my other hand found something completely different, granular and gritty: hard grains, hard or hard wheat flour, he noted, as he took his hands out of the bags. I was familiar with both, but had never studied them side by side. two wheats, one soft, one hard; one powdery white and smooth, the other rough and sandy yellow. I rubbed both hands on my apron.

The word “pasta” comes from the Latin, which borrows from the Greek πάστη (paste), or a mixture of liquid and flour. Any flour! The universe of pasta includes shapes made from chestnuts, acorns, rice, broad beans, chickpeas, barley, buckwheat and corn flour. However, most shapes are made from one of two wheat flours: grano tenero, which often ground to a fine “00” in Italy, and what you need to make fresh egg pasta like tagliatelle, lasagna and ravioli; or hard grain, the second most cultivated species and the most resistant variety, the Muhammad Ali of wheat. Yellow in color, the hardness of durum wheat causes it to break when ground. Coarsely ground, it produces semolina for couscous, soup, breads and puddings. Twice ground, it becomes flour, semolina rimacinata in Italian, durum wheat semolina flour in the UK, the legally stipulated flour for all forms of dry pasta. Look at any package of pasta in your cupboard, and there will be two ingredients: durum wheat semolina and water. It’s also the bag you’ll want to stick your hand in to make flour and water pasta at home.

It was years ago, but Laura’s two bags are still my go-to for pasta flour, especially since a playful approach isn’t a bad idea when making pasta, and the child-friendly instructions are by far the shortest. On your largest surface, wood is ideal but not necessary, make a mountain out of 400g durum wheat semolina flour. Then use your fist to spin the mountain into a wide volcanic crater (Caldera Blanca in Lanzarote is a good visual aid here). The proportions are approximately 2:1, so measure 200 ml of warm water and pour it into the crater. All at once (in which case, be prepared for a chase) or little by little. Either way, the gathering mound will seem useless; too dry or too wet. Have faith and keep pinching, squeezing and gathering crumbs until you have a craggy lump that smells like grits pudding. Italian recipes rarely give tips for kneading beyond sodo e ben lavorato (“firm and worked well”). This is not a bad thing, whatever works, and remember that as a child you were given a cold piece of clay or modeling clay. Chances are you didn’t think or care; you simply squeezed, kneaded and pounded the craggy lump with your warm hands until it was soft and pliable enough to be shaped.

What did you do with the piece of plasticine? Worms (noodles)? Mouse tails (topo code)? Rings (anelli)? Did you press the dough through the clay press to make strings (spaghetti) or creeps? Or roll a lump against a rough surface (gnocchi)? Make a canoe of fingerprints (strascinati) or mark a ball with your thumb (cavatelli) or drag an ear (orecchiette)? Even if you were a young Peter Lord and sculpted monsters, there’s a good chance you’d have made at least four shapes in the process, all set up to make pasta.

Another preparation is to make a rope. Cut the ball of dough into quarters, place three under a bowl upside down so they don’t dry out, and then, with the hollow of your palms, shape a quarter into a rope about 12mm thick. Now cut a 1 cm lump, press your index finger in the center and drag it towards you, the idea is that it curves or even flips, and you have cavato, meaning you have yielded in the lump and you have made a cavatello. Another way to make cavatelli is to roll a lump against something ribbed or rough: a butter paddle, grater, or basket.

To make orecchiette, which means little ears, use a knife to draw the lump into a circle that curls at the edges, then flip it backwards, so it looks like an ear or little cup. Put on some music, pour yourself a glass of wine or a cup of tea, and make another, and another, and another.

Of course, the flour and water pasta can also be rolled in a pasta machine and cut into neat strips or poorly cut pastilles (maltagliati). It’s also comforting to think that cavatelli, orecchiette, and lasagna sheets to break into maltagliati can also be bought dry. Fresh or fried, the orecchiettes are excellent with tomatoes, anchovies and breadcrumbs, the cavatelli with lamb and saffron ragout, while the maltagliati with arugula and pea pesto make for a well-formed lunch.

Orecchiette with tomato, anchovy, arugula and potato

Rachel Roddy’s orecchiette with tomato, anchovy, arugula and potato.

This is a variation of a recipe from Foggia in Puglia. It’s smart because the potato and arugula cook with the pasta, adding flavor, then collapse enough to envelop the pasta and, in the case of the potato, provide a starchy smoothness. Then everything is mixed with garlic, anchovies and tomatoes.

Homework 10 minutes
Cook 15 minutes
It serves 4

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed, but left whole
1 pinch of red chili flakes
6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
12–15 cherry tomatoes
Cut in half
3-6 anchovy filletsdrained, to taste
1 large potato (about 250g), peeled and cut into 1cm cubes
500 g fresh orecchiette or 400 g dry
(or cavatelli, fusilli or linguine)
150g arugula
discarded hard stems
toasted breadcrumbsto serve (optional)

In a skillet over low heat, fry the garlic and chilli in the oil for a couple of minutes. Turn up the heat, add the tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes, pressing down on them with the back of a spoon, until they turn piquant. In the final two minutes, add the anchovies and press down with the spoon to break them up.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt, then add the potato. If using dry pasta, add it two minutes after the potato and the arugula six minutes after; if it is fresh, add it six minutes after the potato, along with the arugula.

Once the pasta and potato are cooked, drain, then pour into the sauce in the pan and toss. Serve topped with a little breadcrumbs, if desired.

Casarecce with lamb ragout and saffron

Rachel Roddy's casarecce with lamb and saffron ragu.
Rachel Roddy’s casarecce with lamb and saffron ragu.

Inspired by a recipe from Aquila, the capital of the Abruzzo region, this lamb stew in white (white instead of red, with tomato) also includes saffron for a rich, warm flavor. Watch the consistency, add more liquid or cook off excess liquid, if necessary; the end result should be a smooth stew with just a bit of rich liquid, and the meat so tender it breaks apart gently. The pecorino mixed into the pasta first is functional and helps the meat sauce stick together. A traditional way is cecatelli (small and canoe-like), but I also love cavatelli, casarecce, fusilli or tagliatelle with this.

Homework 15 minutes
Cook 1 hour 30 minutes
It serves 4

1 onionpeeled and finely chopped
1 small carrotpeeled and finely chopped
1 stick of celeryfinely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 small dried red chili
finely chopped
6 tablespoons olive oil
700 g braised boneless lamb
cut into 2cm cubes
Up to 750ml of white wine
1 large pinch of saffron
soaked in 200ml lukewarm water, lamb or light vegetable broth
500g fresh or 400g dried casarecce, cavatelli or cecatelli (or fusilli or tagliatelle)
grated pecorino

Put the onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, chilli pepper, oil and a pinch of salt in a large heavy-bottomed pan and fry, stirring frequently, over low heat for seven minutes, until soft.

Turn up the heat a little, add the lamb and cook, stirring, until browned on all sides. Add another pinch of salt, turn the heat up a bit more, then add the wine and let it bubble for two minutes. Add the saffron and its soaking, cover and let simmer for an hour and a quarter, stirring occasionally and adding more wine if the mixture seems dry. If there is too much liquid left at the end, cook uncovered for the last few minutes to reduce. Test and adjust the seasoning.

Towards the end of the cooking time, cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water, then drain, turn into a bowl and sprinkle with a handful of pecorino. Add the sauce, mix well and serve with more pecorino on the side.

Maltagliati with arugula pesto, basil and peas

Rachel Roddy's Maltagliati with arugula, basil and pea pesto.
Rachel Roddy’s Maltagliati with arugula, basil and pea pesto.

Inspired by the classic Genovese pesto, this pesto (meaning “pounded sauce”) is a delight. Arugula and basil bring herbal heat, while peas add sweetness. I have given quantities, but it really is a recipe that invites improvisation according to taste. As always, a little of the pasta cooking water helps loosen the pesto, so it coats the pasta, while adding a little milk to the ricotta means it’s softer to spoon on top.

Homework 10 minutes
Cook 10 minutes
It serves 4

1 large handful of basilplus extra to finish
1 bunch of rocketsleaves only, tough stems removed
100g peascooked briefly in boiling salted water
20 g of almonds or pine nuts
1 clove garlic
120-150ml olive oil
50g Parmesan cheese
200g ricottamixed with half the Parmesan and a little milk to make it smooth and spoonable
500 g of fresh maltagliatior fresh cut lasagna sheets, or 450g dried linguine or tagliatelle

In a food processor or blender, puree the basil, arugula, peas, walnuts, garlic, a good pinch of salt, and about 60ml of oil into a coarse but consistent paste. Add half of the Parmesan and the remaining oil, slowly, because you may not need all of it, until the pesto is the consistency you like, then put half in a large, warm bowl.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in well-salted water until al dente. Using a slotted spoon, lift pasta into pesto bowl; adhering water will help loosen the pesto. Put the rest of the pesto on top, then mix and divide among four bowls. Top each serving with a dollop of ricotta and a few basil leaves, and serve.

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