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Tomato pan

Tomato pan

A while ago, I had to improvise a quick side dish to accompany grilled salmon. The result was this Italian-style dish, which takes less than 10 minutes to prepare and turned out to be extremely tasty and fruity. This recipe is a side dish for 2-4, depending on the size of the main dish and whether you have other side dishes as well.

The taste depends very much on the tomatoes, which is why you should use aromatic cherry tomatoes rather than regular ones.

  • 1 tbsp good olive oil
  • 1 smallish onion, finely chopped
  • ½ yellow bell pepper, deseeded and cut in small (¼") pieces
  • 1-2 dried chilies, crushed
  • 300g (10oz) cherry tomatoes, San Marzano or similar, halved or quartered depending on size
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 8-10 basil leaves, cut in stripes
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the onion and fry at moderate heat until slightly yellowish. Add the crushed chilies and chopped bell peppers, stir-fry for 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Stir carefully so that the tomatoes. The tomatoes don't need to be fried, they just need to be heated up, and they shouldn't fall apart. 1-2 minutes should be enough. The skin should not wrinkle and not come off.

Turn off the heat, add the basil leaves and lemon juice. Stir carefully. Let stand for 1-2 minutes, then serve.

Penne all'arrabiata

Penne all'arrabiata

John Keys recently linked to Pasta Shapes, but I can't help feeling that the page has a bit of an American slant -- some shapes are not what I expected them to be. Barilla, the famous Italian pasta manufacturer, has a great list of their own pasta shapes online (sadly, it's all one big Flash animation, so I can't link to it properly), and then there's the pasta glossary at Plus a complete whopper of a website, The World Directory of Pasta Shapes and Names (unfortunately, this seems to be under construction with many pictures and descriptions still missing).

But now, without further ado, here's my favourite pasta recipe, and a fairly simple one at that. Serves 4, I think.

  • 500g Penne Rigate
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small or medium-sized onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 1 can peeled tomatoes
  • 3 peperoncini or dried red chilies
  • salt
  • optional: 20g smoked bacon slices, chopped
  • optional: finely grated parmesan cheese

Bring a pot of well-salted water plus one tablespoon olive oil to the boil, add pasta and cook until al dente (usually, you'll find cooking times on the pasta box).

Option: if you like your pasta with meat, roast the bacon in a pan, then cut into tiny cubes.

In a pot, heat one tablespoon olive oil (careful, not too hot, or it will become bitter!). Add the chopped onion and fry until transparent; then add the chopped clove garlicand fry until the onion is yellowish.

Put the peeled tomatoes, peperoncini, onion and garlic in a blender and whizz until smooth. Put the sauce back into the pot and let simmer for at least ten minutes. Salt to taste.

When the pasta is cooked, strain in a sieve, then add to the sauce. Add the bacon if you wish (I prefer my penne meatless). Stir well, mixing sauce and pasta.

Serve immediately. Penne all'arrabiata is usually NOT served with basil or oregano, but parmesan cheese is okay if you like it.

Pizza all' alice e fiori de zucca

Pizza all' alice e fiori de zucca

Although the first pumpkins are already in the shops, some of those in the garden are still in bloom, and it would be a real shame only to harvest the pumpkins and let the blooms go to waste. You can harvest the blooms once you think they've been pollinated, or when, after a few days, the outer edges of the blooms get wrinkly.

We're preparing this pizza alla Romana, meaning with a thin, slightly crispy base (unlike the Neapolitan thicker or the American very thick dough).

For a one-person pizza, you need:

  • ½ cup (100ml) tepid water
  • 12g fresh yeast
  • 150-200g flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 fresh tomatoes
  • 2 pumpkin blooms or courgette blooms
  • 4-5 anchovies
  • 125g mozzarella cheese

Dissolve the yeast in the tepid water, then add the olive oil. In a bowl, mix the salt and flour, then pour in the water, mix well until you have a dough. Remove from the bowl and knead well, adding more flour if necessary, until you have a smooth dough that does not stick to the fingers. The longer you knead, the better.

Put the dough back into the bowl, cover and let stand in a warm corner of the room for at least 15 minutes.

In the meantime briefly boil, then skin the tomatoes. Whizz them in a blender, then pour into a pot, add a bit of salt and olive oil and let simmer for some 10 minutes, the longer, the better.

Careflully pluck the pumpkin blooms apart, removing the hard bits, so that only the soft petals remain. Then carefully tear each bloom into 4-6 longish vertical stripes, depending on the size.

Cut the mozzarella cheese into smallish stripes or cubes. Pre-heat the oven to 250°C.

Remove the dough from the bowl and roll it out with a rolling pin until it is fairly thin. It should have something like a 12" diameter or slightly more. You can also pull the dough with your hands, but be careful that it doesn't tear.

Put the dough on a slightly-oiled baking tray. With a spoon, put a thin layer of the tomato sauce on top of it (if you didn't let it simmer very long, you may have too much tomato sauce - don't use all of it, or the pizza will not become crispy, but watery and yukky!). Next comes the mozzarella cheese, then the pumpkin petals and the anchovies. As the pumpkin blooms have a very subtle, delicate flavour, don't use too many anchovies, nor a different kind of cheese, or it will spoil the flavour.

Put in the oven and bake for about 5-10 minutes, until the cheese has melted, but not browned. Serve with a glass of red or white wine.