the spaghetti diaries


a collection of pasta stories and recipes

Orecchiette with Ricotta, Sage & Citrus

Orecchiette alla ricotta, salvia & agrumi


Puglia is a wonderful region in Italy.  After just returning from a week of gastro-indulgence between Bari and Taranto I have brought back some pasta, oranges, oil and wine and I’m keen to continue this style of food and flavours for now at least.  But – saying that, I need to cut back on the quantity and calories and this pasta dish does it.

All the ingredients used in this pasta dish (including the pasta) is typical of this area.  We hiked along the gravines of Massafra and the wild shrubs of sage, thyme and rosemary were brushing against our clothes, the scent permeating and following us on our trip.  ( I couldn’t help to think about how some wild boar or goat would taste that could be grazing on these).

It is a light and delicate pasta recipe, not as robust as what is typical from this area.  The ricotta is added at the last minute so the dish will not be hot, for me it suits the sunny days that are approaching this spring.

This is very quick and simple.  Serves 2.

3 handfuls of orrechiette, 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, 7 fresh or dried sage leaves crumbled or torn, finely grated rind of half a lemon and orange *, a few shakes of dried chili flakes,  2 tablespoon of ricotta, a few fresh fennel fonds finely chopped (optional, but highly recommended – I added these half way through my meal and I loved it)

Prepare the water for the pasta and meanwhile over low heat, put the oil in a frypan with the sage, citrus rind and chilli.  Allow to slowly heat up.  The oils of the citrus and sage will infuse the olive oil.  After 5 minutes, turn off and read a book or something while you wait for the pasta to be al dente.

When the pasta is pronto, drain it very well (otherwise the oil wont stick to the pasta and it will be a watery oily mess) add the pasta to the oil and mix well so it coats the pasta.  Add the ricotta too and mix.  Serve on plates and finish with the fennel tips.

* grating citrus fruits for pasta requires a very fine grater for the best results.  Chunky bits of lemon or orange rind isn’t pleasant for most.  A fine microplane grater works best, or a zester followed by some crafty knifework to get the pieces tiny will work if you’ve got the patience.  Also make sure that when you grate you don’t grate in one place for too long.  The white pith is bitter!


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Spaghetti alla Puttanesca

My fridge is becoming quite bare as I’m approaching a week away down in Puglia.  So it is a good reason to cook puttensca today for lunch.  The puttanesca sauce comes from Naples and refers to the “working ladies” that either had no time to cook, shop or the money to.  It essentially consists of a “soffrito” of olive oil, onion, garlic, olives, anchiovies, capers and chilli, with a tin of tomatoes added.  So this is my version, but like most pasta recipes, be flexible to what you’ve got on hand and your personal taste for the amounts used.

Pasta – use long style such as spaghetti, linguine etc and prepare according to the package instructions for 2 people.  To a saucepan, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, half an onion finely diced, 1 bruised garlic clove, a handful black de-pitted olives, 2 tsp capers (if salted rinse first), 3 anchovy fillets and some chilli to your tasting.  Sweat on medium heat (you don’t want to bbq the onions) and when the onions are translucent, add half a tin of canned tomatoes.

Allow the sauce to simmer away while the pasta cooks.  When the pasta is ready, the sauce will be ready too.  The longer you cook any tomato sauce, the better it will be though.  After 20 minutes of simmering, it will start to turn slightly orange.   This  mean that some tasty chemical reactions have taken place  – making the sauce more delicious.

As with most sauces, drain well your pasta when it is al dente, add to the sauce (or mix in the dry pot of the pasta, which ever has room) and mix through.  Remove the garlic clove and  serve with a hard cheese and extra olive oil.

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Spiced Poor Mans Pasta

My latest pasta addiction is a breadcrumb and anchovy based “sauce”.  Yes – anchovy.  But don’t turn away to the next blog because of the A – word.  If its not quite your thing, but you’re a bit adventurous,  this is a good way to introduce them into your diet.  I am speaking from experience here.  They are to be smashed up, so you don’t get the texture of them which is major turn off for some.  It fits the not-quite-winter-yet-not-quite-spring flavouring, takes little effort and most of the ingredients you can have on hand.   So get your salted pot boiling, add your pasta of choice  and follow the rest.   Will serve 2.

Add a good glug of extra virgin olive oil, a smashed garlic clove, some chilli flakes, a sliced anchovy and finely diced shallots into a fry pan.  Saute over a medium heat until shallots are translucent.  Add a third of a cup of breadcrumbs and allow the oil to soak through.  On a medium heat the breadcrumbs shouldn’t burn but become crisp.  Finely grate the rind of half a lemon and add it at the last minute with a handful of torn rocket (if the rocket/arugula is too long, the dining elegance factor will be disrupted while trying to manoeuvre the long stems into the mouth).  The rocket only needs to go in at the last minute to wilt and become a vibrant green.

Drain the pasta well before adding it to the breadcrumbs.  Otherwise the crispy breadcrumbs will become too soggy. The contrast in texture of the crispy breadcrumb against the soft pasta is all part of the attraction with this dish.  Add a good serving of  Parmigiano Reggiano cheese or another hard cheese and have the option of adding more olive oil available.

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Penne with fresh tomato and basil sauce

The first food magazine I bought, I think, was in 1994 and I remember Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise were the celebrity focus of the issue. I was still in high school and perhaps this was the first sign of my future direction. There was a recipe in particular that interested me. A tomato pasta sauce that was made from real tomatoes. How fascinating. So one day, I was home by myself and followed the recipe, from the blanching, peeling and de-seeding the tomatoes. It was a very therapeutic day and the pasta looked impressive. It tasted unlike any bottled commercial sauce that I was more accustomed to. It was a revelation and perhaps it is what started my love affair with pasta.

A good glug of olive oil, 1 brown onion, 2 garlic cloves, 600g (4-6) roma tomatoes, 5 or so basil leaves, salt & pepper

Bring a pot of water to the boil. Prepare the tomatoes by cutting an x at the base, keeping the incision shallow by only piercing the skin. Once the water is on the boil, turn down to a fast simmer and plunge the tomatoes in. When the skin starts to peel away at the x spot, take them out and run under cold water to stop the cooking process and make easy the peeling process. Proceed to peel the skin off and cut the tomato in half. Scoop out the seeds, discard and chop the flesh. What you now have is called tomato concasse (CON-CAR-SEE).

Finely dice the onion and garlic. Add to a saucepan with the olive oil. Sweat and when translucent, add the tomatoes. Allow to simmer, adding a little amount of water if it becomes too dry. After 20 minutes and the tomatoes have “turned” (ie, they have started to change colour from a deep red to orange-like) season with salt and pepper and take off the heat. Add the basil at the end as it is delicate and will turn brown with heat. Serve with penne or nearly any dried, fresh and/or filled pasta. Add extra olive oil to the finished dish for a flavour boost.

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Paccheri with Salsiccia, Roasted Capsicum & Cherry Tomatoes

I know yesterday I said  that linguine was my favourite pasta. However, their are a few other paste that I have become familiar with since I was on a stage at De Cecco, one of the best pasta companies in Italy. Paccheri is one of them. They suit a variety of sauce styles and also can be filled as mini cannelloni. Perhaps this will be my next paccheri rendezvous.

Serves 2

150g paccheri, olive oil, half onion finely diced, chilli sliced, 1 garlic clove finely diced, 100 g pork and fennel sausage, 1 punnet cherry tomatoes sliced in half, half yellow capsicum (bell pepper) membrane removed, 2 T tomato paste, 100 ml red wine (stock or water can be substituted if none on hand)

Lets start with the capsicum and cherry tomatoes. Place the cherry tomatoes on an oiled baking tray, sprinkle with salt and thyme and put in the oven for 40 mins at 140°C. For the capsicum, blaze the skin on the flame of the gas stove so that it is black and blistered (otherwise in the oven at 220°C). Allow to cool and then peel the skin off.

It is time to organise the pasta. Bring some salted water to the boil and add the pasta and cook according to the advice on the packet.

Take the sausage out of the skin, add a little salt and roll into little bowls. Pan fry with a little olive oil until golden. Take out and put aside. In the same pan, add 1 Tbl oil and sweat the garlic, onion and chilli on a medium flame. When the onion is translucent add the tomato paste and wine (or substitute). Stir and mix well. After 3 minutes add the cherry tomatoes and capsicum. It may start to dry out. Add some water from the pasta as this contains starch and will give it some thickness and velvety goodness. When the sauce has become homogeneous from the addition of water, turn off while the pasta finishes cooking.

Drain the pasta and add to the sauce. Coat all the paccheri well and serve with basil and parmesan.

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Linguine algli Zucchini

If I was forced to choose a favourite pasta shape, it is possible that the winner would be linguine. Then it would also get double points for either being fresh or wholemeal. The texture of fresh pasta is too good, being all unctuous and slippery, while the integrale (wholemeal) has more bite and strength to it. Then to add one of my favourite vegetables and it is like pole-dancing. The zucchini needs to be cut into thin strips to mimic the pasta. This will ready in no time. Maximum 3 minutes to cook the vegetables. I like my vegetables to be al dente. However if I am cooking integrale linguine, I would cook the vegetables a little longer to make them softer. Conversely, with fresh pasta I would cook a fraction under al dente. The contrasting texture finishes it off superbly.

Serves 2

Linguine, decent handful

Olive oil

Zucchini, 2 pieces 4 cms long

Red onion, half

Garlic, 1 clove

Anchovy, 1 (optional  vegetarian)

Lemon rind of half lemon


Herbs such as chives, basil, parsley

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil, and when ready, add the pasta and cook according to the timing suggested on the packet.

To prepare the sauce, slice onion length ways and the zucchini into thin strips. Finely dice the garlic (or grate with a microplane). Add the oil, garlic and anchovy to the saucepan. After a minute, add the onion and zucchini. After two minutes, depending on the thickness of the vegetables, it should be ready.  Add the herbs, chilli and lemon rind. Stir through and rest until the pasta is ready. After the pasta has drained, mix the vegetables and pasta well. Serve separately grated parmesan.

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Orecchiette with salsiccia, radicchio, ricotta & lemon

Well I have been dreaming about this pasta for the past 2 days. I don’t know if that is a good thing to admit or not. I’ve been adding and deleting ingredients in my head as I walk around town. Finally I finished off the shopping this morning so I could indulge in my fantasy for lunch.

In Bra, we have our own type of salsiccia (sausage) that is made with the local breed of cow and often eaten raw. It is deliciously sexy and I like to prepare it as the french steak tartare. For this pasta, I cooked half briefly and left the other half raw. Both were gorgeous.The lemon, please do not omit. You will be doing yourself a great disservice by leaving it out or substituting it with the fake concentrate. This recipe will easily serve 1-2 people. Just note the quantity of pasta per person. Orecchiette means “little ears” and is a traditional pasta from Puglia in the south.

Extra virgin olive oil 1 good splashing and more to serve

Garlic 1 clove

Salsiccia 70g, skin removed

Capers 4, if salted wash clean

Radicchio 2 leaves, sliced into small bite sized pieces

Ricotta 70g, the freshest you can find or substitute fresh goats cheese

Lemon juice & peel of half a lemon

Thyme and basil, washed

Orechiette 70g per person

This all really happens very quickly. By the time you have brought the salted water to the boil and you are ready to add the pasta, the prep for everything else is also done. Just some notes on the preparation. To have the best garlic and lemon, I recommend using a fine grade microplane. They grate wonderfully, saving so much time and it means no big garlic bits or likewise with the lemon peel. However, assuming you haven’t just rushed off to purchase one, chop both the garlic and lemon peel as finely as you can. With the lemon peel, avoid white pith as this is unpleasantly bitter.

Cook the pasta according to the instructions and suggested timing. When there is 3 minutes left, be ready to start cooking the sausage. Heat the oil and garlic in a frypan. When hot, add the sausage and capers. The radicchio will change colour with cooking, so to keep some of the vibrant purple, add in the final 30 seconds. Turn off the heat and add the lemon juice.

The pasta should be al dente by now, so drain well, especially for this dish.  Mix together the sausage “sauce” and pasta in the best suited frying pan/pot.  Stir well and then add the ricotta and lemon peel. Serve onto plates and top with the herbs and extra olive oil.

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I’ve just returned from 4 lazy days on the Ligurian coast in Italy’s north. It was crammed with young bronzed Ligurians tanning and flirting. They know how to party and eat. Gastronomically speaking, much of the attention is on its basil, the holy herb that is proudly responsible for pesto.

The basil (the Basilico di Pra variety please), pine nuts and olive oil all must be Ligurian. The Parmesan must be the Parmigiano-Reggiano from Emilia Romagna while the Pecorino (a hard ewe’s milk cheese) is from Sardinia. The garlic and sea salt I assume is also local. This rigid list makes up the necessary ingredients to make an authentic pesto. But who rules on the authenticity I hear you ask? Well none other than the ‘Order of the Cavaliers of the Brotherhood of Pesto’. They have applied for their own DOC label (Denominazione di Origine Controlla) as used by the wine industry, to inform the public it’s the genuine product. In this case ‘Pesto alla Genovese’ could only be used for these growers from Genova who comply.

If you can source this type of basil, great. I don’t know if it’s available outside of the region. I recall when I lived in Rome, my Tuscan housemate, came home one day incredibly excited as she had some in her possession. She made pesto and it was fantastic! But don’t be dismayed if Ligurian Basil is not available, use what is known as Pesto Basil. Please try to make this, if only once in your life. Commercial pesto is nothing like the fresh love story you’d have before you. Now aromatic fresh pesto clinging to fresh egg yolk pasta… oh dear I’d be in trouble!

30 fresh Ligurian Basil Leaves
90ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
30g Pine Nuts
30g Parmesan Cheese, freshly grated
30g Pecorino Cheese, freshly grated
pinch Sea Salt

Place the basil, oil, pinenuts and salt in a food processor and whiz at a medium speed until a slightly lumpy sauce. Add the cheese and blitz again briefly. Put in a jar, cover with a thin layer of oil to prevent mould and keep in the fridge or freezer to keep it longer.

Use: Cook pasta according to instructions. Drain the pasta, put back into the pot and immediately stir through enough pesto as your liking guides. At this point, you should be reaching heaven. If that’s not enough, you can also top with additional parmesan, or crumbled feta, toasted breadcrumbs or pinenuts.

Combines well with: spaghetti, gnocchi, egg dishes, chicken, asparagus, zucchini, toasted sourdough bread and mozzarella di bufula.

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