Perfect pasta at Padella

Padella opened in Borough Market in March this year. It’s basically a pasta bar where they make their hand-rolled pasta fresh every day and serve it with sauces and fillings inspired by trips to Italy. The simple menu offers eight handmade pasta dishes and a handful of classic starters. Okay, sounds good so far.

Not so good is that you can’t book. One of my pet hates about restaurants – I hate being disorganised (which not booking implies to me) and I really hate queuing (especially for food). And if the restaurant’s half decent there will be queuing involved – especially with the raft of rave reviews Padella received in its first couple of months open. Stories of queues around the block tend to put me off somewhat.

Anyway, today we decided to brave it. The restaurant is open all day (from noon to 10pm) so our strategic move was to get there around 2.30pm and avoid the lunchtime rush. The perfect strategy as it turns out, there was a queue, a tiny one – the mere two people in front of us were soon seated and so were we. Upstairs is a tiny area set around a main bar with marble counters along the side. The experience is one of total relaxation and there isn’t even much stress involved in ordering as choices are limited (in a good way).

Can’t resist a good Burrata – served here with Puglian olive oil. The simplest of perfect flavours and the amazing soft creaminess of the cheese. It’s an irresistible starter.

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Beautiful burrata with aromatic olive oil

The marinated spinach with chilli, garlic and anchovy was beautifully spicy with slight fishy undertones and a wonderful earthiness. More restaurants should do spinach starters.

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Four simple ingredients combine to produce a delectable dish

Then it was time to choose pasta. Portions aren’t main course size, though they aren’t particularly small either, we ordered three to share between two of us. I’d read great things about the pici (pronounced peachy) with marjoram and golden garlic so that was first on the list. Pici certainly has substance to it and it was nicely coated with the delicate sauce. Delicious, if a little bit too much on the wormy side for me. You can see what I mean.

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The substantial strands of pici

Tagliatelle was served with nduja, mascarpone and parsley. Nduja is a kind of spicy spreadable pork salami paste. It’s got real bite and is perfect melted into fresh pasta.

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Ribbons of tagliatelle with a bite

And next up – the king of pasta dishes for me. Ravioli stuffed with ricotta and served very simply with sage butter. Wow, the flavours and textures and well, everything, combined into an incredible taste sensation. I’d go back every week just for a plate of these scrumptious pillows.

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Parcels of deliciousness to dream about

I did enjoy Padella immensely though I’m still not sure I’m up for a queue of any length to get in – especially in the amazing restaurant land of Borough Market where you’re certainly not short of choice. But it is a treat to eat simple food that tastes like it’s really been prepared with love. There’s a lot of heart in this pasta.

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Pinot Grigio by the carafe and the marble counter

Today’s price point

Our two starters and three pasta dishes cost £29.50.

Prosecco is £4.50 a glass and a 500ml carafe of Pinot Grigio is £14.

Padella is at 6 Southwark Street, London, just opposite London Bridge tube station.

 

Square Meal

Recipe: Goats’ cheese & beetroot fiorelli served with fresh spinach & chive pesto

I love beetroot and am always trying to eat more of it. A vegetable with many health benefits, beetroot was first cultivated by the Romans and belongs to the same family as chard and spinach. It’s know to help with intestinal problems, has a positive effect on blood pressure…and it’s delicious.

So I was delighted to discover Dell’Ugo’s goats’ cheese and beetroot fiorelli. This family business is the longest established fresh pasta company in the UK and offer a delicious range of products. It’s now run by Paul Ugo, the grandson of the founder, who says: “My family have been making pasta since 1929 when my grandfather Luigi arrived in London from Italy and founded the first fresh pasta company in the UK. In the 1960s my father Leo took over the business and in the 1990s I followed suit.” So they’ve had plenty of practice.

The fiorelli comes with recipe and serving suggestions on the packaging so today I decided to make their spinach and chive pesto – a fabulous sauce that would go with any pasta.

Recipes don’t come simpler than this. Whizz up the pesto, cook the pasta, mix and serve. And the combination of flavours is stunning. You have the creaminess of the goats cheese and the sweetness of the beetroot as the filling in the melt-in-the-mouth fiorelli. Then the pesto adds garlic, parmesan and chive flavours to the mix – along with a vibrant greenness. Delightful.

RECIPES SERVES TWO

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The perfectly pretty plate of food in shades of green and pink

250g Dell’Ugo goats’ cheese and beetroot fiorelli

50g baby spinach

Half a bunch of fresh chives

100ml olive oil

20g Parmesan

1 clove of garlic

20g toasted pine nuts

Heat a pan of boiling water and quickly dip the chives and spinach for a few seconds so they soften but are bright green. Remove from the water and cool slightly.

Add the spinach and chives to a blender with the Parmesan, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil and blend to a paste. You can read more about the many health benefits of spinach at www.cooking detective.com

Meanwhile heat a pan of water and once boiling cook the pasta for three minutes until tender. Drain the pasta in a colander.

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Beetroot pasta in all its pinkness

Return the pan to the heat and add the pesto. Warm the pesto through. Add the pasta back to the pan and toss so the pesto coats it well.

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Indulgently silken pesto

Divide the pasta between two bowls and serve.

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The Dell’Ugo range is available from Waitrose and online at Ocado. The goats’ cheese and beetroot fiorelli costs £3.49.

You can find out more about the company at dellugo.co.uk

 

Tapas-style Italian at Bocco di Lupo

Today it’s time for a leisurely Saturday lunch in the heart of Soho. How I love Soho with its myriad bars and restaurants, food stalls, stylish people and quirky shops.

After much consideration we picked Bocca di Lupo as today’s lunchtime venue. It opened in November 2008 and has become a firm favourite on the Soho restaurant map.

The restaurant is dominated by a long welcoming bar that runs down its length. And we managed to nab top seats – at the end of the bar alongside the window.

From our prime position we overlooked the drinks pouring activity, which made it impossible to resist that Italian classic – a Bellini. This delicious cocktail, made of Prosecco and white peach puree or nectar, was invented sometime between 1934 and 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriano, the founder of Harry’s Bar in Venice. He named it a Bellini because of its unique pink colour which reminded him of the toga of a saint in a painting by 15th century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini. It looks stunning and tastes even better! What a good start to lunch.

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The prettiest of refreshing cocktails

Sipping on our Bellinis we pondered the delightful menu options – a wide range of regional Italian food and wine from all over the country. And you can choose small or large portions for most of the dishes.

We also overlooked a luscious leg of Parma ham ready for slicing and were soon feasting on a platter of the thinnest of tenderly sweet meat served with amazingly juicy orange melon. A simple, classic dish made perfect by the most fabulous of ingredients.

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Parma ham and melon have never tasted sweeter

A creamy ball of mozzarella sits atop beautifully thin marinated and grilled aubergine, tomato and chilli. Vegetables don’t get more intensely flavoursome than this, and combined with the cheese and olive oil it’s again a masterpiece of simplicity and taste.

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The best of the tastes of Italy on one plate

There’s a section called Fritti – which means fried. Here you can order a range of fried morsels and you can order them individually – they’re a couple of mouthfuls each. We tried the saffron, bone marrow and gremolata mini arancino – classic Milano risotto surrounded by a delicately crispy crumb.

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Classic risotto balls of crunch

And here’s a sage leaf filled with anchovy, battered and fried. One of my favourite mouthfuls ever.

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Herby, fishy and crunchy – a mouthful of heaven

There’s a range of pasta dishes on offer, we selected to have two small portions. First up nettle pappardelle with duck ragu. Vibrant green ribbons appeared smothered in melt-in-the-mouth duck ragu.

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Rich duck ragu served with vibrant pasta

The fazzoletti came with broad beans, their puree and pecorino. This is a miracle of simplicity with the thick, rustic handkerchief pasta covered with the silken sweetness of broad bean puree and a cheesy finish.

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Springtime broad beans make for a silkily sweet sauce

Bread and olives are delivered to your table while you’re pondering menu choices. Deliciously warm, soft onion-topped bread, shiny olives and olive oil with a fresh and spicy bite.

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The classic bread, olive and olive oil combo

I love the bar at Bocca di Lupo. Get there early like us and nab the corner seats by the window. You’ll find it hard to tear yourself away. Well, I always do.

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The stylish bar seating area

I’ve had requests to include a guide to menu prices in my posts, so I’ll include my price point at the end of each post. If there’s anything else you’d like to see do let me know,  I am here to help after all.

TODAY’S PRICE POINT

Lunch for two cost £100 including 2 Belllinis, a bottle of white wine and service.

Pasta dishes cost from £8 for small plates to £20 for large plates.

Items on the fritti section cost from £1.50 to £4.50 each.

Bocca di Lupo is at 12 Archer Street, W1.

Square Meal

Recipe book review: Gennaro’s Italian Family Favourites

Gennaro Contaldo is an Italian chef and restaurateur who has kept me entertained for years, with his engaging personality and passion for food and cooking. His series with Antonio Carluccio called Two Greedy Italians was a joy to watch. He also is credited as being the person who inspired Jamie Oliver to learn all about and fall in love with Italian food when he worked with him. Gennaro is still involved in Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain (which I love and visit a lot).

So when I was sent his cookbook Gennaro’s Family Favourites to try out I couldn’t wait to get cooking. It’s subtitled “Authentic recipes from an Italian kitchen” and is packed with over 100 delicious recipes that are wonderfully easy to cook. From simple pasta dishes like farfalle with pancetta and peas, spaghetti with courgette carbonara and conchiglie with rocket pesto and cannellini beans to more complicated feasts like marinated rabbit with olives, capers and pine kernels, porchetta (gotta make this one) and rack of lamb with artichokes and sun-blushed tomatoes, there’s plenty to choose from.

I love a good sausage dish and am also partial to lentils (something I always mean to eat more of), so the first recipe I had to try was the lentils stewed with sausages. From the moment I started frying the base to this dish, composed of the most basic of ingredients – onion, bay leaf, sage, celery and carrot – the most tempting aromas filled my kitchen. Add the sausages, lentils, potatoes and stock, leave to cook and you’ve created a wonderfully flavoursome casserole-style dish.

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Succulent sausages in a flavoursome brothy sauce

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Fry up the veg and herbs and infuse your home with delicious scents

Next up a pork stew with potatoes and peas. Again easy and quick to make with few ingredients coming together to make a wonderfully comforting stew. The pork turned out perfectly tender and combined beautifully with the sweetness of the peas and carrots and more fresh sage. I didn’t intentionally choose two recipes using fresh sage but it did remind me what an aromatic and tasty herb it is to cook with.

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A colourful and nourishing stew

This is a book I’m sure I will cook more and more from. Thank you Gennaro.

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Gennaro’s Italian Family Favourites is available on Amazon for £13.50.

A taste of Naples in Covent Garden

Today I’m happy to say that I’m  headed back to Covent Garden, it’s been a while! And I’m trying out some Neapolitan cuisine at Rossopomodoro (which literally means red tomato). This is a restaurant that was born in Naples – the home of the pizza – and their claim is you won’t find a more authentic pizza outside Naples. All ingredients used in the restaurant are grown and produced in Italy’s Campania region…they’re going for properly authentic here.

On a beautifully sunny London spring day it was a joy to settle down at the window with the sun streaming in, watching the Covent Garden world passing by. The menu offers a range of traditional Italian starters and salad, pasta and pizza dishes with plenty of Neapolitan specialities. And a mozzarella section with starters to share!

Decision made – a large ball of the creamiest of burrata came with bruschetta and heritage tomatoes (in several shades), rocket, pesto and plenty of olive oil. Burrate is basically made from mozzarella and cream, with an outer shell of solid mozzarella and a mix of mozarella and cream inside…yummily melt-in-the-mouth and creamy.

A beautifully fresh and tasty summery starter that shouts Italy.

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Tomatoes, burrata, olive oil, rocket and basil. Italy on a plate

For mains I went for this tasty parpadelle dish – funghi e speck. The thick ribbons of pasta were served perfectly al dente in a mushroom, garden pea, speck and mascarpone sauce. Substantial and satisfying.

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Perfect parpadelle with rich, earthy sauce

The pizzas are certainly authentic and quite a work of art with their beautifully puffed, light bases and luxurious toppings. This is the massese which is topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, spicy spianata salami and basil. This was a new salami tasting experience for me, the large slices were beautifully juicy and spicy with almost a citrussy bite – unusual (in a good way) – and wonderful on a pizza.

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Pizza inspired by Napoli and topped with spicy salami

And then it was time for dessert – not that we hadn’t had an elegant sufficiency, but I have two excuses for indulging today. First, it’s an Italian restaurant – always order dessert in an Italian. And second, there was a special on the menu available only for April.

The Pastiera is a cake that is traditionally eaten around the Naples area at Easter. Fragrantly citrussy with a taste of orange blossom, it’s a light sort of cheesecake filled with ricotta and candied fruit, apparently every Neapolitan household either makes or buys one at this time of year. I’m not surprised, it’s fabulous and would be welcome in my house any time.

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Traditional Easter fare with flavours of orange blossom

Rossopomodoro in Covent Garden is a light-filled welcoming space with a good buzz and friendly efficient service, all in a great location in one of my favourite parts of London.

And the good news is that there are another six around town so no matter where you live in this great city, there’s bound to be one nearby that you can pop into for your Neapolitan fix.

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The light-filled interior and a sparkling, gold pizza oven

You can find out more about Rossopomodoro by clicking here: www.rossopomodoro.co.uk

Square Meal

Recipe: Prawn, pasta and pineapple salad

I hate throwing food away, my leftovers always go back into the fridge. All very good except for the fact that a lot of the time they end up in the bin a few days later. Not anymore…it’s time for me to get creative and think of ways to use those leftovers in delicious dishes. I’m pretty impressed with my first effort.

When we have pasta I always seem to cook too much, hate the idea of there being not enough, I guess, so I had a generous portion of cooked penne in the fridge. I’m in Cape Town at the moment and the weather was sweltering, so I came up with this lovely salad recipe.

The secret with the seafood-style sauce is to make it using twice as much mayo as ketchup. Although, of course, if you prefer different predominant flavours it’s easy to experiment until you’ve got your ideal ratio.

Serves 2

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A tasty salad for a hot summer’s night

For the sauce (per portion – so double for this recipe for two)

4 tbsps mayonnaise

2 tbsps ketchup

A squeeze of lemon juice

A dash of Worcestershire sauce

For the salad

150g cold cooked penne

250g medium sized prawns, cooked and peeled

3 slices of pineapple, peeled and cut into small pieces

1 handful of chopped fresh mint leaves

Half a small iceberg lettuce, chopped

1 tomato, quartered

6 slices of cucumber

Mix all the ingredients together for the sauce.

Add the prawns, pasta, pineapple and mint and mix together thoroughly

Serve in a bowl with the lettuce on one side and the prawn salad on the other, tomato and cucumber arranged around.

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The pasta salad all mixed and ready to serve

Do you have favourite recipes using leftovers? Get in touch and let me know, I’m always looking for new dishes to try.