April 25th marks the day that Italians celebrate their liberation from Nazi occupation in 1945 - 70 years ago today!
Without really intending to, at lunch I managed to cook a pasta dish that was suitably patriotic in its hues. I was supposed to be studying today (as always) but severely underestimated the time it would take to make lunch - which of course includes a primo and a secondo at the very least!
Before sharing the recipe for the pasta (which was actually a pasta risottata - more on that later), here are a few photos of my stay in Milan this time around. Milan is actually one of the more heavily populated cities in Europe yet it's easy to forget this when wandering away from the main streets. There's a quiet peace to the city in the smaller vie - something that will come in handy once the flood of Expo visitors descend on the city!
In Italy, everything just naturally seems more beautiful, like this shaft of afternoon sunlight falling across a rather retro hotel sign or the park in the late afternoon. I've been treated to a mix of velvety warm air, fresh breezes and luscious bouts of rain that have managed to selectively hold only the best scents of the city down, such as that of wood smoke and the heavy blossoms that droop from terraces and balconies across the city.
Michele and I paid a visit to La Brisa, easily one of the prettiest restaurants in the city. Most of the restaurant is situated in this long, glass room that juts into a leafy courtyard. I went there with my Mum last year and had a beautiful, lazy lunch out beneath the trees (here - but beware the food porn).
Milan is a brilliantly hectic juxtaposition between the old and the new. It has a real sense of history lurking in its castle courtyards and old trattorias whilst the newly developed areas like Piazza Gae Aulenti pulse with the life of the city. The piazza is one of my favourite spots and always on my to do list for new visitors in the summer. There are a few shops, a couple of bars (important), a Grom gelateria (very important), huge table football.. um.. tables and in the summer, they put rugs and cushions out for groups to lounge around and play boardgames on. At night, they turn the lights on underneath the fountains, making some look like champagne is running through them.
Of course, only the coolest kids have their afternoon merenda there. The merenda is an afternoon snack to keep you going until dinner. Martina and I decided to have ours with our aperitivo.
But we hid the milk away because people were giving us funny looks.
So that's my two weeks here in a nutshell! The rest of the time I've been looking at dream houses on Zoopla and thoroughly revising the Buzzfeed back catalogue whilst convincing myself that I've been revising for exams. I'm off back to university in a couple of days which won't be nearly as warm and sunny but nevermind. Maybe I can take some recipes with me and convince myself I'm back on the peninsula.
Which brings me back to my pasta (risottata) tricolore. Now I know that people love one-pan pasta because it's simple, easy and delicious. But in this house, cooking must never be simple (not with Michele around anyway). And so I introduce my three-pan pasta. Which is actually two-pan pasta really but there are three different stages so... it sounds better if there are three pans and three colours, so three-pan it is. I promise the extra washing up will be worth it.
I made it for three people and used...
- 2 medium aubergines (eggplants)
- 1 can of chopped tomatoes
- 2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes
- Olive oil
- 360g of dried pasta (I used macaroni but your favourite is good)
- Rock salt
- Freshly torn basil from Michele's windowsill herb garden overlooking the picturesque courtyards of Milan (ahem)
First, slice up your aubergines and salt them well. Apparently this is essential. I don't usually do it but hey. The Italian says it's a must. Slice them up, salt them and leave them in a colander or sieve underneath a heavy weight for an hour or so.
Next, rinse them off and pat them dry - mine went all wrinkly like this!
Cut each slice into halves or quarters so you've got bite-size pieces and quarter your cherry tomatoes too. Get some garlic cloves sizzling in a pan of oil and after a little while, throw your aubergines in. Wait for them to soften a bit and then add your cherry tomatoes and then pour in your chopped tomatoes. Watch out, it might hiss and spit at that point as I stupidly did not realise #coveredinsauce
Once that's done and gently simmering, turn your attention to the pasta. Salt a pan of water and put it on to boil. Once it's boiling and only once it's boiling (again, the Italian way, don't ask me) pour your pasta in. Make sure you set a timer; this is crucial (I don't do this at home. Michele. Enough said.)
And now here's where things get a bit strange. Instead of leaving your pasta to simmer away like usual, take it off the boil 5 minutes before it would normally be ready. Use a slotted spoon to transfer your pasta into the sauce (this mixture of pasta and sauce counts as my third pan by the way). Add a cup of water and turn the heat up. If you like salty dishes, use the pasta water, provided you salted it before putting it on the heat. For the rest of the time it takes to cook the pasta, add a little water every now and then to keep it all cooking. It's like cooking a risotto - hence pasta risottata - so try and balance between it drying out and becoming overcooked. Go Italian style and aim for pasta al dente.
Ok so I know it seems like extra, unnecessary hard work. Admittedly I was all down for boiling the pasta and then chucking the sauce on top like a normal person. Michele definitely pressured me into making the risottata. I wasn't massively happy. I threatened him with the slotted spoon. But it turned out good so you should try it too.
The sauce is your red. The pecorino is your white. And then the basil, the pinnacle of all Italian dishes surely, is your green. Tomatoes, cheese and basil. Italy on a plate.