Simple Tasty Italian flavours.

A take on the classic Italian anti pasti, caprese salad, but on this occasion done as a bruschetta.
A perfect starter or as a light lunch served with a rocket, parmesan and pesto salad.

Italian food has been a staple in the UK for as long as I can remember and early outings to restauraunts were often to Italian ones.  The combination of simple tasty food, good value and a focus on the whole family were often what drew people to them all those years ago.  Even now I think that all of those things stand true even though we are more exposed to food from all corners of the world and many of us have ventured to destinations far and wide and have been lucky enough to enjoy the food withing the countries they come from.

I think the difference now is that we probably look for something more authentic, because we have been lucky to experience real food from the country it is from.  Italian food is very much about seperate courses, a pasta course, a meat course, a vegetable course, a seafood course etc etc.  All with little to no other accompaniments with them as the focus on the plate is the main ingredient.  We are more used to serving a lot of them together to make the meal.  I think that's because the British culture of meal time is more about feeding yourself and not as a social gathering, I do thing this is changing more and more within the UK and certainly whilst we are in this locked down state, as a family we are spending much more time eating together than we would normally do, just because the pace of life has changed and we have no where to go!!

This blog will deliver a full 4 course Italian meal that uses fresh ingredients, is easy to do and is packed full of flavour.

  • Tomato, mozzarella and basil Bruschetta.
  • Riagatoni Bolognese.
  • Rocket, parmesan and pesto salad.
  • Lemon Granita.

4 versatile recipes that can be adapted and changed to suit what you have in your fridge and cupboards and to suit your own personal taste.  Once you have made your own granita, you will wonder why you have never tried this before.

Bruschetta

The finished dish from the recipe.

Tomato, mozzarella & basil salad bowl

A bulk version of the Caprese salad.

Plated Salads

How the dish can evolve into a plated salad for larger numbers.

Refined salad

Further evolution into a more refined one, without losing what it is. The addition of home dried tomatoes, oven roasted ones, tomato dressing all add to it.

Caprese - Tomato, mozzarella & basil Bruschetta.

Beautiful heritage tomatoes, a real luxury in the summer months, but so worth it for the different colours, textures and flavours. So much more interesting than just your bog standard round salad tomato. Even better if you are able to grow your own as well.

Ingredients - 6 side portions approx

1 ciabatta loaf

1 clove garlic

2 balls buffalo mozzarella

1 clove garlic

0.25 bunch basil

500g vine tomatoes (cherry tomatoes, Plum tomatoes, herritage tomatoes.  Good ripe tomatoes are the key)

Extra virgin olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

Salt and Pepper

Dried oregano for sprinkling                                                                                              

Method

Dice the tomatoes and place in a bowl and season with salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Leave for 5 minutes.

Cut or tear the basil.

Dice or rip the mozzarella.

Drain and reserve the juices from the tomatoes to use as the dressing for the bruschetta.

Mix the tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and some oregano together.

Cut the ciabatta into 1cm thick slices.

Drizzle with olive oil.

In a hot griddle pan char the bread and then rub with the garlic. Set aside.

Top the breads with the tomato mixture and serve with some of the dressing, this can be adjusted for taste with more salt and pepper, emulsify with extra oil and a touch of sugar added to adjust the acidity of it.                                                       

Notes

Other variations of bruschetta can be made by changing the ingredients.  Char grilled Mediterranean vegetables make a nice variation.  The addition of olives, marinated artichokes.  Different cheese like feta could be used.  You could even add meat or fish if you like.

Rocket, parmesan and homemade pesto salad.

A simple salad of rocket, parmesan and homemade pesto. You can change the leaves, use different cheese make a different dressing. It really is flexible and can be tweaked to your taste.

Ingredients - 6 side portions approx

1 bag rocket

25g pine nuts

40g basil

25g parmesan or vegetarian alternative

75ml olive oil

1 garlic clove

25g parmesan, grated or shaved                                                                                               

Method

Make the pesto in a food processor.

Lightly toast the pine nuts in a pan or on a tray in the oven.

In the processor blend all the pine nuts, basil, garlic, parmesan and oil.

Wash the rocket if required and dry with paper towel.

Grate or shave the parmesan.

Make up the salad by tossing the rocket, pesto and parmesan.                      

Notes

The pesto can be made with ifferent herbs other than basil.  Like coriander, parsley, tarragon or even rocket.  Other nuts can be used as well, almonds, cashew, walnuts.  You could even make an Oriental version with coriander, chili, garlic, peanuts, lime, sunflower oil and a dash of fish sauce.  Homemade pesto is a great thing to have in the fridge, it can be used for simple pasta dishes, its a great topping on grilled fish with breadcrumbs sprinkled on it to create a super tasty pesto crust.  It's also brilliant with roasted or BBQ'd lamb.  To be fair pesto is one of those foods that goes with almost everything!  

Rigatoni Bolognese.

Ingredients - 6 portions approx

500g beef mince

1 tin chopped tomatoes

½ tube tomato puree

2 cloves garlic crushed

2 red onions

1 carrot

2 celery sticks

1 tsp dried oregano

¼ bunch fresh basil

¼ tsp marmite

30ml balsamic vinegar

1 tblsp olive oil

1 beef/chicken stock cube (mixed into 250ml boiling water)

Rigatoni Pasta (50g approx. child portion, 100g approx. adult portion. Dried)

Fresh Parmesan                                                                                                       

Method

Finely chop the onion, celery and carrot and sweat it in the olive oil.

Add the mince and brown, add salt and pepper, dried oregano and crushed garlic.

Now add the tomato puree, balsamic vinegar and stir in.  Once the vinegar has reduced slightly add the Marmite and tinned tomatoes.

Stir together and add the stock.

Reduce the heat and simmer for between 30 mins to an hour. Finish with fresh basil. 

In a pan of boiling salted water, add some olive oil and required amount of rigatoni.  Follow cooking instructions for timings.  Once cooked, drain. Do not rinse as the starch on the pasta helps the sauce stick to it.

 

Notes

This can be served with any pasta, as a jacket potato filling.  Add some spice to it to turn it into chill, cumin, chili, fresh coriander and kidney beans.  Red wine can be added to the sauce at the same stage as adding the balsamic venegar and then reduce this right down before adding the marmite and tinned tomatoes.

Sweating the vegetables.

Onion, celery, carrot and garlic in the pan being sweated until translucent before adding the mince.

Adding the Mince.

Add the mince to the vegetables and stir in to start to seal it off.

Next stage.

Add the tomato puree, marmite, vinegar and wine if using and reduce.

Getting saucy.

Now add the tinned tomatoes and stock and simmer gently. Slowly, slowly, build the flavour.

The final countdown.

It's almost there, make sure your pasta is on & when ready, drain & add to the pasta sauce and fold through. Serve with torn fresh basil & lots of grated cheese.

Lemon Granita.

There is something so satisfying about a homemade granita. It's so simple to make, yet so refreshing. You just need a little bit of patience.

Ingredients - 6 portions approx

litre water

300 g sugar

lemon juice (about 6–8 large lemons)

Grated zest of 1 lemon                                                                                          

Method

Place the water and sugar in a small pan and gently simmer over a low heat for 10 minutes, until the sugar dissolves and the liquid reduces slightly, and develops a syrup-like consistency. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.

Zest one of the lemons before juicing and keep zest aside.

Juice the lemons.  Strain the lemon juice through a fine sieve and add to the cooled syrup. Mix well and leave to rest for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.

Stir in the lemon zest, pour into a plastic container with a lid and place in the freezer. After 30 minutes, remove and beat with a fork, then place back in the freezer for another 30 minutes. Repeat the procedure three times, for a total of four hours. Keep in the freezer until ready to use. Alternatively, place in an ice-cream maker and churn until it is well amalgamated, but not as firm as ice-cream.                                                          

Notes

You can use this syrup method to make any flavor of granita/sorbet that you like.  An easy substitute would be orange, grapefruit, lime.  You can make a puree from other fruit like mango, strawberries, raspberry, granny smith apple.  Mix the puree through the syrup and repeat the same steps for freezing.

Stage 1.

The zest goes into the sugar syrup.

Stage 2.

Juice the lemons and add to the syrup mix.

Stage 3.

Place in the freezer and whisk or stir every half an hour until starting to freeze more solid. Then scrape with a fork to create the ice crystals.

All Done!

Simply serve on it's own as a delicious refreshing end to a meal. Close your eyes, sit back and imagine you are in Tuscany.