Tagliatelle casseroles with Aubergines and Mozzarella

Intro

My mum suggested me this recipe when I was actually much more interested in my new mini Le Creuset casseroles than in their future content. These four beauties are her lovely gift for my birthday…which I obviously wanted to experiment straight away.

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This is a slightly more laborious recipe than the previously published ones but the result is too good and too pretty not to attempt. You can either opt for a vegetarian version or for a meaty choice. Also, this can be served either as a starter or as what Italians would call ‘first entrée’ or ‘primo piatto’ – the dish after a starter and before a second entrée of meat or fish.

Ingredients for four:
Important tools: four mini casseroles or you can choose to use a bigger one and then serve the pasta in separate plates.

200 gr tagliatelle
125 gr mozzarella
A handful of grated parmiggiano
100 gr smoked bacon cubes (for the meat option)
1 big aubergine
1 can of passata/cherry tomatoes/plum tomatoes
A quarter of onion
Few basil leaves
Frying oil
Olive oil
Coarse and table salt
Pepper

Preparation and cooking time: 1 hour

Fry the aubergine

Thinly slice the aubergine following its length. Ideally you should get three or four slices per casserole.

Heat up the frying oil in a wide pan, when very hot fry few aubergine slices at the time till they are golden-brownish. Prepare a wide plate with kitchen paper on it and once fried place the aubergine slices on the paper in order for it to absorb the extra oil.

Prepare the sauce

In the meanwhile or after frying the aubergine, finely chop the onion and fry it in a sauce pan with some olive oil. Chose a pan where you will be able to add the pasta once cooked.
Vegetarian option: once the onion is golden add the passata. If you opted for peeled tomatoes add those and gently squash.
Meat option: once the onion is golden add the bacon cubes and simmer till the meat is pink and cooked. Then add the passata. If you opted for peeled tomatoes add those and gently squash.
Let the sauce simmer while stirring for ten or fifteen minutes till the tomatoes, onion and bacon have shared flavours. Add just a pinch of salt, pepper and the basil leaves. Stir well.
Take the sauce off the heat not to let it dry.

Cooking the pasta and final preparation

In a big pot have a good amount of water to boil with a handful of coarse salt. When it boils add the pasta. Cook it for three or four minutes less than the suggested cooking time.
In the meanwhile, prepare the casseroles. Add just a tiny bit of sauce and drop of olive oil at the bottom of each casserole in order for the aubergine and pasta not to stick. Arrange the aubergine slices in the casseroles: place half of the slice in the casserole and let the other half hanging out, like flower petals. After adding the pasta you will have to fold them over.
Cut the mozzarella in little cubes.
Once the pasta is ready, drain it and pour it into the sauce pan with parmiggiano. Mix well.
With the help of a fork, roll up a good quantity of tagliatelle and place it in the casserole. Repeat for all the casseroles. Divide the mozzarella cubes into each casserole. Add a bit more pasta on top. Gently fold the aubergine petals on the pasta and close the casseroles.
Cook in a fan oven at 180 for fifteen minutes.
Once ready the casseroles will be burning hot hence let rest for ten minutes before serving.
Serve directly into the pretty casseroles.

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Gnocchetti with Shrimps and Crab Meat

Intro

Difficult to say whether this recipe is intrinsically Italian or from any other nationality. Definitely my mum taught it to me, after learning it from her elder sister, so there is a touch of Italian creativity to it. However, I like to think that it can bring different corners of the world together. You do not have many ingredients in this recipe hence their own taste and freshness is pretty vital to its success.
Your main actors here are the crab meat – which ideally should come from the beautiful shores and cliffs of Cornwall. Shrimps – I suggest small shrimps – from South East Asia should work, as the smaller size  facilitates the mix and happily marries the gnocchi. And the passata…Italian please! De Cecco or Cirio are good brands.
And so, in probably less than thirty minutes, you will have brought England, Asia and Italy to your dining table.

Ingredients – Serves 4

Crab Meat 250 gr.
Shrimps 100 gr.
Gnocchetti or Gnocchi 350 gr.
Shallot 1
Passata or Chopped Tomatoes 200 gr. (more or less)
Milk – four spoons
White Wine – two fingers
Butter
Parsley
Olive Oil

Preparation

You can decide whether to use cooked or fresh shrimps. If you choose the latter, peel them and boil them in salt water for just few minutes.

Finely chop the shallot, have a knob of butter melting in a frying pan, add a little bit of olive oil and add the shallot. Let it fry till it gets a light golden colour. At this point add the shrimps and crab meat. Add the white wine and let it evaporate, just try not to dry out the mix.

Add the passata and a pinch of salt according to your taste. Let it simmer a bit till it slowly grows together. At this point add the milk and stir gently.

Boil the gnocchi in salt water. Remember! Gnocchi cook very quickly, they are usually ready in two or three minutes. As you will have them going in the pan for a couple of minutes, try to keep the boiling time one minute behind.

When they are ready, drain them and add them to the mix in the frying pan. Mix for a couple of minutes till homogeneous.

Add a final handful of parsley and serve hot.

gnocchi-alla-polpa-di-granchio

Lasagna di Carnevale

Italy

We all know how good Italian cuisine is. I want to open this session of my blog with a celebration to it. This is my grandma and mom’s recipe for Lasagna. We usually make during Carnival (February) as it is extremely rich an colourful. It does take time. But in a fulfilling, almost cathartic way. Sometimes I like to do it when I am stressed or upset, and surprisingly, its long and accurate making turn my mood around. So get ready for a four-hour long purifying journey.

Lasagna di Carnevale – serves six

Ingredients for Meatballs

300 gr. minced beef
1 clove of garlic finely chopped
1 egg
2 spoons of grated parmesan cheese
a handful of breadcrumbs
a bit of minced parsley
black pepper

Meatballs Preparation

Beat the egg for just few seconds in a large bowl. Add the minced meat, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, parmesan and black pepper. Mix the whole with your hands till the ingredients are well integrated. Then, take a pinch of the mix at the time and start working the meatballs. They must be small! Possibly not larger than a finger tip. The reason is, these will go among the layers, and you do not want your lasagna to look like an earthquake.

Ingredients for the sauce – this must be prepared at least one hour in advance.

3 bottles of passata (Italian! De Cecco or Cirio are good brands)
300 gr. sausages
1 chopped onion
Extra virgin olive oil
Basil

Sauce Preparation

Cook the onion in the olive oil till it’s golden. Add the sausage and sear it. When brownish, add the passata and add a glass of water. Add the meatballs. Leave to cook at low flame for at least one hour. Add a bit of salt, pepper and basil towards the end. Do not allow it to dry up, try to keep it ‘loose’.

Final Ingredients

750 gr. Lasagna sheets
500 gr. ricotta
500 gr. chopped mozzarella
300 gr. chopped mortadella (you can use ham if you struggle to find mortadella)
5 boiled and chopped eggs
200 gr. grated parmesan cheese

Final Preparation

Take the sausage and meatballs out from the sauce. Chop the sausage. Prepare your table to have the tray in the middle and all the ingredients around it so that it will be easy to assemble. In the meanwhile, warm up the oven at 220° for 10′.

Spread a bit of oil and sauce on the bottom of the tray. Lay the pasta sheets to compose the bottom layer, try not to put the sheets next to each other, but slightly overlapped instead. You can decide how many layers your lasagna will have, therefore use the ingredients accordingly. Two or three layers is usually the norm.
Add the sauce and spread it even on the past sheets, then add all the ingredients in this sequence: parmesan, sausage, meatballs, mortadella, mozzarella, eggs, ricotta.
Repeat  for as many layers as you like.
Close with a final layer of pasta and sauce on top.
Cover your tray with foil and pierce it with a fork. Cook for 40′ or 45′.
Once done, remove the foil and add a bit of parmesan, leave to melt in the oven for few minutes.

Remove the tray from the oven and leave the lasagna to rest for about 30 minutes.
Enjoy!

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