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Rome-based food writer Rachel Roddy’s new cookbook is a love letter to Italy’s favourite food. Here she shares three pasta recipes inspired by the country she calls home.
Alfabeto, bigoli, casarecce. Ditalini, farfalle, garganelli. Lumache, mezze maniche, orecchiette. We are, of course, talking pasta – and in Italy, where the beloved food is an irreplaceable component of the cuisine, there are hundreds of different types. Short, long, sheet or stuffed, the possibilities are endless.
But if you really want to get the most out of the special flavour profiles of different pastas, you have to know how to cook them. And there are few people better qualified to school us in these matters than Rachel Roddy.
What started as a brief Italian adventure in 2005 turned into a brand new life for the acclaimed food writer and author, who has now spent more than 15 years shopping, cooking, eating and writing in the historic neighbourhood of Testaccio in Rome (the quarter of the city shaped like a wedge of cheese).
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Every week, Roddy pens dispatches from her Roman kitchen for her food column in The Guardian, shining a light on the beauty of simple, seasonal Italian fare and opening a window onto her surroundings: think bustling trattorias, residents gossiping on street corners and fruit and vegetable stalls piled high with fresh produce.
This celebration of everyday Italian life is viscerally present in Roddy’s acclaimed cookbooks: Five Quarters, Two Kitchens and her latest project, An A-Z of Pasta. Condensing everything she’s learned about Italy’s favourite food, Roddy delves deep into her adopted country’s culinary psyche via 100 essential pasta recipes, interwoven with essays that meditate on centuries of habits, history and traditions. Not only will you learn to tell your gigli from your trofie, you’ll discover the art of cooking pasta the Italian way.
Below, Roddy shares three traditional Italian recipes to help you serve up a perfect plate of pasta: fresh capelli d’angelo with prawns and lemon; cavatelli with sausage, mint and tomato; and linguine with courgettes, egg and parmesan.
Fresh or dried, these pasta varieties can all be found online, courtesy of Italian delis such as Lina Stores, Vallebona and The Italians – and besides being the anchor that draws these dishes together, there’s something immensely satisfying about seeing beautiful pasta shapes in your kitchen cupboard or fridge.
All that’s left to do is pour the wine…
Maccheroncini di Campofilone con scampi e limone (fresh capelli d’angelo with prawns and lemon)
Rachel says: “As far back as the 16th century, in a town called Campofilone in Le Marche, maccheroncini – remember that for centuries the word maccheroni was the generic term for all pasta – was described as so thin it was like angel hair. Nowadays Maccheroncini di Campofilione is protected by an Indicazione Geografica Protetta or IGP (PDO – protected designation of origin in English), which defines how it’s made and in which specific area geographically.
“This recipe is inspired by a dish served at an elegant fish restaurant called Chalet Galileo, whose windows open on to an almost white beach in Civitanova in the region of Le Marche. Prawns cooked swiftly in olive oil, with white wine and scented with lemon zest, are netted for the second time in fresh egg pasta. Cooking times for the prawns and the pasta are brief, so the dish comes together incredibly quickly. A bright, swift tangle of a supper.”
- olive oil
- 1 small clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
- a pinch of red chilli flakes
- 400g small prawns, peeled
- 120ml dry white wine
- 400g fresh egg pasta, cut to approx. 1mm thick, alternatively tagliolini or spaghettini
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 heaped tsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Bring a large pan of water to the boil for the pasta.
In a large frying pan, warm the oil, garlic and chilli gently to infuse the oil. Add the prawns, stir, then raise the heat, add the wine and a pinch of salt and allow to bubble for 3 minutes while you cook the pasta – which will only take a minute or so.
Drain the pasta, or lift directly into the prawn pan, add the lemon zest and parsley, then toss for the last time, and serve.
Linguine con zucchine, uova e parmigiano (linguine with courgettes, egg and parmesan)
Rachel says: “A family favourite which never fails to feel like a bit of ordinary alchemy. It is important that you cut the courgettes thinly, almost as thin as the linguine.
“The effect is rather like carbonara, in that the egg and cheese meets the fat and starch from the pasta and forms a cream sauce, and like carbonara you need to be careful you don’t get a scramble; the key is hot courgette and hot pasta so there is enough residual heat for you to bring it all together off the stove.”
- 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion or 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
- 300g courgettes, cut into 5cm long, 2mm thick strips
- salt and black pepper
- 400g linguine, spaghetti, bucatini, pici, fusilli
- 2 whole eggs, plus 2 extra yolks
- 70g parmesan, grated
- a few fresh basil leaves
Bring a large pan of water to the boil.
In a large frying pan, warm the olive oil over a medium-low heat, then cook the onion and courgettes gently with a pinch of salt, turning them regularly with a wooden spoon until they are very soft and tender – which will take about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.
Add salt to the boiling water, stir, then add the linguine, fanning it out, and using a wooden spoon to push it down. Cook until al dente (check the cooking time of the packet and start tasting at least 2 minutes before).
While the pasta is cooking, in a large bowl whisk together the eggs, extra yolks, parmesan, a pinch of salt and lots of pepper.
During the last minutes of pasta cooking time, put the courgette pan back on the heat to thoroughly warm the fat and vegetables and add the ripped basil.
Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water.
Add the pasta to the frying pan, stirring so it tangles with the vegetables.
Take the pan off the heat, and, working quickly, add the egg mixture and a splash of pasta cooking water, then stir and swirl the pan vigorously until each strand is coated with creamy sauce and the consistency is slithery.
Add a little more pasta cooking water if it seems too stiff and stir again.
Cavasuneddi or cavatelli con salsiccia, menta e pomodoro (cavatelli with sausage, mint and tomato)
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 400g sausage meat, crumbled
- 150ml white wine
- 400g ripe tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
- a sprig of fresh mint
- 450g fresh, 400g dried cavatelli, orecchiette, fusilli, casarecce
- grated pecorino and red chilli flakes, to serve
In a capacious pot over a medium-low heat, fry the crushed garlic in the olive oil.
Add the crumbled sausage and stir until all pinkness has gone.
Pour in the wine and raise the heat. When the wine has evaporated, add the diced tomatoes and cook for another 5–10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened.
Finally, add the mint leaves and salt to taste.
Cook and drain the cavatelli, put them into the pot with the sauce and let them simmer for a few minutes, stirring and adding some of the cooking water if needed.
Serve, passing round grated pecorino and red chilli flakes for those who want them.
An A-Z of Pasta: Stories, Shapes, Sauces, Recipes by Rachel Roddy (£25, Penguin) is out now
Photography: Jonathan Lovekin
Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.