I cooked Italian food at the weekend, something that I rarely do. I don’t know why I don’t cook Italian cuisine more but I think it’s because I haven’t educated myself more on the regional variations of dishes that Italy provides. Instead, I stick to cooking the standard dishes that quite frankly, I’m bored of.
In comes Tuscany Now, who challenged me discover Italy through their food and wine pairing tool. Always up for trying something new, I set upon my mission to browse recipes from twenty different regions in Italy. Italian cuisine is known for its simplicity, with many dishes having only four to eight ingredients. Less is definitely more.
After much deliberation, I decided to make Orecchiette alla Potentina which is a traditional Sunday dish from Potenza, the regional capital of Basilicata. Now what on earth is Orecchiette alla Potentina? It’s pasta with a spicy meatball sauce and heaps of cheese. Since my dad was over from Paris and my boyfriend was at my house, it was the ideal time to whip the recipe up to have at the dinner table (something we rarely do together).
While writing out my ingredients list to go shopping, I instantly hit a minor problem. I knew my local supermarket, Morrisons, did not stock Orecchiette pasta. In fact, I had never heard of Orecchiette beforehand (It means little ears in Italian, and is commonly served with thick, chunky sauces FYI).
Luckily, Twitter came in handy. I reached out to Waitrose and Whole Foods Market, one came to my rescue! Thankfully Whole Foods Market in Giffnock, Glasgow had Rustichella d’Abruzzo Orecchiette in stock. I snapped a few packets up and even booked myself & my mom into a Sushi class for later this month!
After purchasing the rest of the ingredients I needed, it was all systems go! It was the first time I had ever made meatballs from scratch and now certainly won’t be the last. They were quick and easy to make, which is always a bonus but they also tasted so much better than pre-packed meatballs you buy. The meatballs are a mix of pork and beef, but of course if you don’t eat pork then you can just use 100% beef, or maybe some turkey mince instead?
To compliment the dish, Tuscany Now’s food and wine pairing tool suggested that we pair the pasta with a bottle of Aglianico del Vulture which is a deep red wine, with notes of damson, pepper and wild herbs; full bodied and full of liquorice, blackcurrant and chocolate. Since I’ve stopped drinking alcohol, my dad and Ross (that’s the boyfriend) shared a bottle of a similar red wine since I couldn’t find Aglianico del Vulture.
Now all I need is to be transported to Italy and live out my dream of road tripping through Italy, eating my body weight in pasta and pizza, take part in a cookery class and enjoy the scenery. In the short term, I’ll just work my way through making new Italian dishes and imagine myself in Tuscany!
- 226g ground beef
- 226g ground pork
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup fresh bread crumbs (preferably homemade and coarse)
- 60 ml whole milk
- 2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
- 2 ½ teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tins of canned chopped Italian plum tomatoes (San Marzano are best)
- 500g orecchiette
- 200g fresh or smoked mozzarella, coarsely grated
- 25g freshly grated Pecorino Romano
- In a bowl, mix the ground beef and pork together with the garlic, egg, bread crumbs, milk, parsley, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, ¼ teaspoon of the pepper, and the chili flakes.
- Mash vigorously with your hands until smooth, about 3 minutes. Shape the mixture into small balls.
- Heat the olive oil in a pan large enough to accommodate the pasta later; add the meatballs, and when they have browned evenly, after about 10 minutes, add the tomatoes. Season with ¼ teaspoon of the salt and the remaining ¼ teaspoon of pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°c (425°f)
- Cook the orecchiette in boiling water with the remaining 2 tablespoons of salt until al dente; drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water if needed to dilute the sauce, and fold into the pan with the meatballs. Cook for 2 minutes, or until the pasta has absorbed some of the sauce, adding some reserved cooking water if needed.
- Transfer to a casserole dish; top with the mozzarella and Pecorino. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until bubbling, and serve hot.
Have you ever been to Italy before? What is your favourite Italian food to eat? Ever made a dish with Orecchiette? Why don’t you use the food and wine pairing tool and explore Italy through food and wine. Let me know in the comments!