Sunday, 8 February 2015

An evening of Verdi and Italian Country Fare

Dee:  The idea for this blog entry originated on Tuesday evening during a chat with fellow food bloggers about favourite recipes using figs.  My mention of a pasta dish that I was fond of which featured them alongside prosciutto drew much interest, so I promised to do a write up about it.  That quickly grew into a menu, to which Carmela’s excellent bruschetta was added.
There are two great recipes here, nothing too complicated and no lengthy cooking required, and with accompanying soundtrack, to bring a bit of Italy to the table on a cold winter’s evening.

Starter:  La mia Bruschetta con ciabatta (My bruschetta with ciabatta)
Dee:  I found this recipe while browsing Carmela’s web site with a view to purchasing her new recipe book ‘Southern Italian Family Cooking’.  At first glance it appeared to be a fresher and healthier version of a jarred condiment containing sun dried tomatoes, olives, capers and garlic all submerged in olive oil that we buy from the local shop, and we both love making our own dips so this one looked promising.
We had most of a jar of rocket pesto which needed using up and after a quick trip to the shop at the top of the road to buy the remaining ingredients we were good to go.  That’s actually part of this recipe’s appeal.  It can be made quickly, as there is no cooking involved, and with ingredients which are easy to obtain.  We chopped the ingredients up fairly small, as we prefer them that way, but they won’t suffer too much for being a little chunkier as the pesto does a good job binding them together.
We enjoyed this with some dried wafer thin bread slices, which are ideal for either bruschetta or scooping up dips. 
This proved a great recipe.  All of the ingredients were distinguishable on the palate, with a nice mix of smooth and crunchy textures from the raw vegetables and the pesto, and it had the freshness that I initially thought it would.  It’s versatile enough to be used in salads, as a dip, a relish or a bruschetta topping, and it was tempting not to just sit there eating it with a spoon once the bread was gone.”

Main:  Penne con Prosciutto e Fichi (Penne with Prosciutto and Figs)
Recipe from ‘The Opera Lover’s Cookbook’ by Francine Segan
Dee:  It was the inclusion of figs in a savoury pasta dish that first drew me to this recipe, and loved it from the first time I tried it.  It’s one of the simpler recipes from the Opera Lover’s Cookbook, which, I have to say, is more at home in the lounge than the kitchen.  Beautifully bound and presented with interesting pairings of food, drinks and opera, and some good ideas for themed menus, but you would not want to get tomato sauce splashed onto the pages.  The recipes also tend to be quite complex, with lots of ingredients which are a bit of a challenge for the home cook to obtain, but this one is quick, practical and distinctive.
Penne with prosciutto and figs has become one of my favourite pasta dishes.  As I said, it is easy and fairly quick to prepare, looks elegant and has a dazzling mix of sweet, savoury, peppery and rich flavours. 
To make it, cut some dried figs into slices, cover them with white wine and leave them to rehydrate while cooking the pasta.  The recipe calls for penne, which I used this time, but tagliatelle also works well.  While the pasta is cooking, cut a few shallots into slices and saute them in some oil or butter in a large sauce pan.  When they are translucent, add the wine and figs and stir to deglaze the pan.  Add enough chicken stock to make a sauce.  I personally don’t think a lot of sauce is needed so I don’t add much stock at all.  Once the stock is in, simmer the sauce until it reaches the desired consistency.  Once the pasta is cooked, drain it and stir it into the sauce.  Garnish with slices of prosciutto, shavings of parmesan, chopped pistachios and pink peppercorns.  There is no need to season the dish as the prosciutto and parmesan contain salt and the peppercorns are part of the garnish.  I like to tear my prosciutto up into smaller bits but it can go on in whole slices, whatever takes your fancy.  And that’s it.  Done.

To finish we had figs again, fresh ones this time, quartered and drizzled with a tiny amount of balsamic vinegar and served with some creamy white goat’s cheddar cheese." 

A note on the wine
Dee: "Fiona Beckett, the Guardian’s wine columnist, pairs figs and parma ham with a wine called Parma Hills Malvasia, which I’ve not heard of before.  The tasting notes describe it as “Intense and aromatic to the nose, with notes of flowers and savoury herbs, it is dry on the palate endowed with excellent structure and lengthy persistence.”, and the serving suggestion state that it is “Magnificent to accompany all preparations with an aromatic base tending to the sweet.”  It’s also highly recommended with fish, seafood and vegetable dishes.  A quick internet search didn’t reveal any stockists nearby, but it’s definitely one to seek out for next time I prepare this meal."

Soundtrack:  Verdi’s Falstaff
Dee: "Our musical accompaniment was the Opera Lover’s Cook book’s recommended pairing for the figs and penne.  As a comedic opera, it wasn’t too intense and matched the fresh, unfussy food very well.  We don’t tend to listen to operas at home and have never seen one performed on stage but it was nice to have this one on while we enjoyed our meal."

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