An Italian cooking in England: food, photography, recipes.

Spaghetti ai pomodorini

Posted on July 28, 2014

A couple of weeks ago we joined a tour of the Manchester Town Hall. The building is stunning – much more fascinating and rich than you’d ever expect by walking past it. If you’re ever around here, I highly recommend it. Possibly some of the best £7 I ever spent. The guide, a quirky middle aged man wearing a hat and carrying a big black leather bag, dotted the talk with references to local history. For example, did you know that the vegetarian movement was born around here about 200 years ago? It all started in Salford, Greater Manchester as a religious movement led by the Reverend William Cowherd (the irony in his name escapes no one). He was the one who said that eating meat and being Christian couldn’t go hand in hand. Apparently he managed to get a good following of early vegetarian adopters, but that might be due to the fact that he used to provide free (meat-free!) meals as well as free burials to his congregation. Later on, Martha Brotherton, wife of Salford MP Joseph, wrote what is believed to be the first vegetarian cookbook. Today vegetarian cookbooks try to entice readers and promote vegetarianism as a cool, responsible and fun choice, but Martha decided to rather somberly title her book “Vegetarian cookery, with an introduction recommending abstinence from animal food and intoxicating liquors“. Editorial choices, I guess. You can read more about the history of the vegetarian movement on the Vegetarian Society website. I tried to find Martha Brotherton cookbook at the library to see what kind of recipes it presented, but it’s been out of print for so long now that the only libraries that seem to hold copies are those devoted to rare books. Nevertheless, a librarian from the University of St. Andrews blogged about cooking a recipe from the book. Spoiler alert: she may have described the end result as “edible, if bland”. Which is just the clue I need to introduce my (vegetarian) dish of the summer, edible and most definitely not bland.

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When I was still living with my parents, we had this dish so many times that for a long time I avoided spaghetti. I think I wasn’t too keen on the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes either. A month or so ago, though, I saw a beautiful box of plum cherry tomatoes as the greengrocer’s. I thought of the spaghettini I’d bought only days before, and it just made perfect sense to prepare this dish. It helps that it’s ready before you can say ‘spaghettini ai pomodorini’ (you know, if that takes you 15 minutes…) and that, spaghetti aside, you can count its ingredients on the fingers of one hand. The one you’re not using to hold the fork. To Martha, William and the other early British vegetarians: I’m sure you would have liked this.

Spaghetti ai pomodorini

The ingredients below are for one person. Simply multiply the quantities by the number of people you’re going to feed.

Ingredients
1 garlic clove
150 gr cherry tomatoes
fine salt
80 gr spaghetti (or spaghettini, my preferred choice)
olive oil
1 tsp freshly grated Parmigiano or Grana
a few basil leaves
pepper

Put a large pot of salted water on the hob. While you wait until it starts boiling, mince the garlic clove and halve the cherry tomatoes. Put them in a bowl along with a pinch of salt. When the water is boiling, put the spaghetti in the pot and cook until not quite al dente. This is because you will finish cooking the pasta in the pan along with the tomatoes, and you still want it to be al dente when it gets on the plate. 5 minutes before the pasta is ready, put a large pan on medium-high heat, add a glug of olive oil and add tomatoes and garlic. You want the tomatoes softened, not dried. Drain the spaghetti and add them to the pan. Toss for a minute, then serve along with some fresh basil leaves, grated cheese and black pepper.


Cherry chocolate frozen yogurt

Posted on July 6, 2014

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Last week I suddenly remembered cherries. We were at the cornershop not far from our house. British berries were just then starting to come plentiful and cheap, so we picked up a couple of punnets of strawberries and raspberries each. Next to the entrance door there was a pile of cardboard boxes, each full of cherries, piled on top of each other. I reckon each box weighed about 2kg. A handwritten note stuck to the wall behind the boxes said “cherries £1.99″. ‘That’s not right’, I thought. The price was either wrong or the price tag misplaced – it should have gone next to the small punnets of cherries sitting right next to the raspberries. I poked my head inside the shop and asked the man at the checkout. I couldn’t believe my luck when he said that yes, it was the big boxes that were less than £2 each. I grabbed one and firmly held it between my hip and arm. Of course, it was too good to be true: the cherries turned out to be relatively tasteless and dry, although, truth be told, they weren’t the worst cherries I’ve ever had. Between B. and me, we ate as many cherries throughout that week as people normally have in a whole year.

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Whilst in the middle of this cherry-binge, I remembered about a frozen yogurt I made last summer – around this time, in all likelihood – when we were still living in Lancaster. I found some cherries at the shop that were black, ripe and oozing burgundy juice. Along with dark chocolate, I added them to frozen yogurt and took some photos. At the time, the pictures didn’t entirely convince me. While I was pondering, summer was getting to the end and it was time to move to warmer and more substantial foods. After then, I just forgot about it. Even though they’re not my favourite fruit, I like cherries. That mediocre box of them reminded me just how tasty they can be, either popped whole in your mouth or mixed with dark chocolate, then frozen into a smooth and addictive frozen treat.

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Cherry chocolate frozen yogurt

You can use a mix of plain and Greek yogurt if you want a richer end result. If using plain yogurt which is on the runny side, strain some whey using a fine muslin.

Ingredients
250 gr fresh cherries
80 gr dark chocolate
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp brandy (optional, but highly suggested)
500 gr plain thick yogurt
150 gr caster sugar

Wash and stone the cherries, then finely chop them and put them (along with the juices) in a bowl. Finely chop the chocolate and add to the cherries. Add to the bowl the almond extract and the brandy, if using. Leave to rest for at least 1/2 an hour. Start preparing the frozen yogurt. Mix yogurt and sugar in a jug until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cherries and chocolate mixture to the yogurt, mix then churn in your ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. Firm it up in the freezer for a few hours.


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