Drunken Spaghetti (Spaghetti ‘mbriachi)

No, I haven’t completely gone mad. This is an actual recipe I found in the March issue of La Cucina Italiana, an Italian food and cooking magazine I sometimes manage to get my hands on. This dish comes from the so-called Roman Castles area (Castelli Romani), a set of small towns on the Alban Hills, not far from Rome. After the fall of the Roman Empire, many wealthy and noble families decided to leave the ransacked capital to build themselves a fortified castle on the hills surrounding Rome and start over. Now the Castelli Romani is one of the biggest residential areas outside Rome and a very popular tourist destination too. Every year tourists flock there to take in its history and try its food and, most importantly, the local red wines.

This extremely simple recipe combines a few local ingredients, namely red wine, parsley, pecorino (a hard goat’s cheese) and chillies. The wine is slowly reduced to an almost syrupy consistency, while the pasta should be slightly undercooked so that it can absorb the deep red grape juice while cooking. The result is a non-alcoholic dish (the alcohol evaporates during cooking) which boasts bold and simple flavours without trying to mask them with unnecessary embellishments. If you can’t find pecorino, don’t worry. A strong cheddar or another cheese along those lines would do just fine.

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Ingredients

  • 500ml red wine (choose a good one)
  • 350g spaghetti
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bunch of parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • pecorino, grated
  • salt

Method

  1. Pour the wine into a saucepan and bring it to a simmer. Cook for a good 20 minutes, until reduced to approximately 50ml or the liquid takes on a slightly syrupy consistency. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  2. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil, then add the spaghetti and cook until slightly harder than al dente.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pan, then add the finely chopped parsley (reserving some for decoration later), red chilli and garlic. Cook over a gentle heat for 3 minutes, then remove from the heat and add the boiled down red wine.
  4. Drain the pasta reserving a ladleful (2-3 tbsp) of water, pour that into the saucepan then add the pasta and continue cooking, tossing frequently, over medium to high heat.
  5. To serve, plate the spaghetti and grate some of the pecorino on top, then sprinkle with some of the leftover parsley and enjoy!

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Spicy Chicken and Green Quinoa Salad

On a recent business trip to Vienna, I stayed with one of my former classmates from my MA in interpreting at the University of Leeds, Aimee, who now works as a freelance interpreter for the OSCE (and is a genius). She introduced me to the concept of food cooperative, something which is all the rage in Austria but is almost unheard of in Italy. In a nutshell, a bunch of people group up to order directly from farmers and producers so as to cut out the middlemen. This also means you get to choose what kind of food you want (organic, for instance) and can also check whether the farmers you order from are respecting certain standards and looking after their livestock. You then arrange weekly deliveries and stock the supplies in a common place where all of the members of the cooperative can go and get it from.

It’s an amazingly easy yet effective agreement, but it relies on the goodwill of some of the cooperative’s members to go get the deliveries, print out the distribution lists, etc. Not for me, then, at least not now I have a pretty hectic lifestyle. I have, however, decided to start ordering food from an organic farm which delivers nationwide and I have to say I am very satisfied both with the quality and the service (it’s Abel & Cole, in case you’re wondering). This recipe was put together before my organic epiphany, but I like to think it’s a bit of a precursor. What better way to celebrate the start of spring than to use brightly coloured food and arrange it artistically on a plate? Original recipe credit goes to the BBC Good Food magazine, albeit with minor changes.

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Ingredients

  • 2 organic chicken breasts
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 160g quinoa
  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 2 spring onions, sliced
  • 150g baby spinach leaves
  • a bunch each of coriander and mint, chopped
  • 1/2 pomegranate, seeds only
  • 30g peppadew peppers
  • 200g cooked beetroot (not in vinegar), sliced
  • 100g feta, crumbled
  • 1 mango, peeled and flesh cut into chunks
  • lemon and lime juice, to taste
  • vegetable oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 180C. Lightly brush the chicken breasts with some oil, then rub with the paprika, chilli powder, salt and pepper. Heat a non-stick frying pan over high heat, then sear the breasts on each side for about 2 minutes. Arrange on a lined baking tray and roast for 20-25 minutes or until cooked.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Rinse the quinoa under cold running water, then put in the pan with some sea salt. Cook for 15 minutes (or follow packet instructions) until the quinoa is translucent and transparent. Drain in a sieve and set aside to cool slightly.
  3. In a food processor, add the spring onions, coriander, mint, chilli, spinach and blend. Add some lemon/lime juice and some seasoning to taste, then whiz to a smooth puree.
  4. Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to rest for at least 10 minutes. Cut into slices.
  5. Add the vibrant green puree to the cooked quinoa and mix well to tinge the latter a bright green. Arrange on a plate, then start adding the other ingredients, including the mango, beetroot pieces, feta and chicken pieces, then sprinkled with some extra spring onions and sliced chilli (optional), then serve and enjoy!

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