My mum’s dishes are very simple but extremely tasty. She sticks to two basic rules in her cooking mode/approach: give it time and don’t make it too elaborate. Here are a few recipes she taught me in my recent visit to Italy.
Pasta e ceci (pasta with chickpeas)
Soak 400 g of chickpeas for 36 hours or use a canned product. Boil them in salty water for about one hour. Warm some extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan with a clove of garlic. When the garlic become lightly brown remove it and add the chickpeas and the water. Let it boil and add some rosemary, three tbsp of passata and 200 g of pasta (macaroni). Let the pasta cook and serve it warm.
Coda alla vaccinara (oxtail stew)
This is an old recipe typical of Rome. You need about a kilo of chopped oxtail (or better veal tail) and plenty of celery. First boil 3-4 celery stalks in 2 litres stock for half an hour. In a pan fry some pancetta cubes in extra virgin olive oil and add some chopped celery, a carrot, an onion, one clove of garlic and parsley, add the oxtail, salt and let it cook. After half an hour add a glass of white wine, when it evaporates add 4 tbsp of passata. Finally add the water where you had cooked the celery stalks till it covers the oxtail. After half an hour add the celery stalks chopped. Let it simmer and the water evaporate. Serve warm with mashed potatoes.
Carciofi alla romana (artichokes in the Roman way)
The most difficult thing here is to find the artichokes, good tender ones. There’s plenty in Italy in December and my mother can pick the right ones just pressing her fingers on the outer leaves. Once you have them (let’s say from 5 to 10 pieces) you need to get rid of some of the outer leaves and cut the upper part to get rid of the thorns. Ideally only the stem and the most tender leaves around the choke should be left. Once it’s clean, pass half a lemon around it or soak it in water and lemon. Place a piece of garlic (a quarter of a clove) and some leaves of parsley inside, add salt and pepper. Cook in a pan head down with plenty of oil and some water. Cover the pan with a lid and put a paper (kind of bread bag paper) under the lid so the water doesn’t evaporate otherwise the artichokes will burn. It needs about half an hour to cook.
You can make this dish with the vegetable you like, my mum uses carrots, courgettes, broccoli, celery, cauliflower, potatoes, spinach and onions. She chops them and boils them in water for about two hours. She adds stock to the water, salt and some passata as well. She usually has it without pasta but you can add some macaroni if you like or you can also puree it if you prefer. She only adds some extra virgin olive oil and parmigiano once she serves it.
Spaghetti ai frutti di mare (spaghetti with seafood)
We had this dish on Christmas Eve when we usually have fish. Cook the sea food (mussels, king prawns and squid) on a frying pan with some extra virgin olive oil and a clove of garlic. Add salt, pepper, chilli, parsley and 3-4 tbsp of passata. Add some black olives as well if you like. Let it simmer for half an hour. Cook 250g of spaghetti in salty water, drain it and mix it with the seafood in the frying pan. Toss it and let it warm for five minutes. Serve it warm.
Torta di mele (cake with apples)
This is a special cake with apples cooked in white wine my mum and I made during Christmas holidays. You need to peel, core and slice the apples (about 800 g), then cook them in 150 g of white wine and 100 g of water with 80 g of sugar. When they are soft set them on a plate and pour the juice of one lemon on them. Let the wine and water boil till it thickens to make a sort of syrup. Prepare the cake by mixing 280 g of flour, 1 tsp of baking powder and half a tsp of bicarbonate of soda, 70 g of melted butter, 4 yolk of eggs, the juice and grated zest of a lemon, 120 g of sugar and the whites of the eggs whipped till stiff. Pour half of the mixture in a greased tin cake, spread half of the sliced apples on it, then pour the rest of the mixture on top and finish with the remaining apples. Bake the cake for about half an hour at 180 °C. When it is still warm pour the syrup on it and let it cool before serving.