Pasta with fresh tomato cream and sausage

Image shows a large bowl of casarecce pasta with a tomato cream and sausage sauce, a sprinkling of parmesan, and steam coming off the top

Fresh tomatoes are incredibly versatile and it is so quick and easy to make tasty pasta sauces with them, it’s hardly worth buying any tinned varieties (though they have their place in every kitchen, of course, and are a very cost-effective way to make pasta sauces). Although I call the sauce a ‘tomato cream’ – crema di pomodoro, there is no cream in this recipe. The creaminess comes entirely from the tomatoes and the cooking method (‘risottare‘ – see below).

For this recipe, I used Italian fennel sausage, which I think works best. If you can’t get any, try to get a high meat and high fat content sausage that has nice and chunky meat and fat, rather than very finely-ground meat and fat. Or you could make your own sausage meat – see my recipe here. I usually buy mine either online from Nifeislife, or in person from The Leeds Deli, when they have some in stock. Having a good, tasty sausage meat will make a big difference to this sauce.

For the pasta, I used casarecce this time, but any good durum wheat pasta with a bit of a hollow to ‘grab’ the sauce, or a nice rough surface for the same reason (fresh tagliatelle would work well, or pappardelle, if you like long pasta; other short pasta varieties such as orecchiette, conchiglie, mafalde corte etc would also work).

This recipe is quick and easy to make and only takes about as long as it takes to bring the pasta water to the boil and cook the pasta. The pasta will be partially cooked in boiling water, then finished off in the sauce, using the method known as ‘risottare‘ (imagine risotto being turned into a verb, i.e. ‘to risotto’, or ‘to cook risotto-style’). It is this cooking method that makes the sauce so deliciously rich and creamy!

Let me know what you think of this once you’ve tried it, and feel free to share your photos, too!

Ingredients (for 4 people):

  • 4 chunky Italian fennel sausages (see comments above re where to get them)
  • Approx. 600g baby plum tomatoes
  • Fine sea salt (to taste)
  • Extra virgin olive oil (a good splash – on an Italian recipe blog, you would see ‘q.b.’, which means ‘quanto basta’, i.e. as much as needed)
  • A sprinkling of freshly-grated parmesan cheese
  • Enough pasta to feed 4 people (about 500g is usually ample, especially as this is a very filling sauce with the sausage meat added). If you’re doing this as a traditional ‘primo piatto’ to be followed by a meat dish, roughly halve the quantities.
  • Coarse sea salt for the pasta water

Method:

Put a large pan of water on the hob to bring it to the boil.

While the water comes to the boil, halve the tomatoes lengthways and place them into a medium-hot large frying pan or sauté pan with a good splash of olive oil, sprinkle on some salt and cook them until they can easily be squished with the back of a spoon (this only takes a few minutes), stirring frequently.

Remove the tomatoes from the pan and let them cool for a couple of minutes. While they are cooling, skin the sausages and break the sausage meat into small chunks, then brown them in the same pan you fried off the tomatoes in.

Meanwhile, if the pasta water has come to the boil, add a generous handful of coarse sea salt to the water, then drop in your pasta. You only wnat to cook the pasta about halfway to its proper al dente eating consistency, so look at the pack instructions: For the casarecce I used, the pack recommended 8-10 minutes (8 for al dente), so I cooked it in the water for 4 minutes before proceeding to the next stage.

While the pasta is cooking and the sauisage meat is browning, blitz the tomatoes to a smooth consistency using a high-powered food blender. I use the Ninja Foodi Power Nutri Blender, but any blender of that ilk will work. If your blender is not as powerful, you may end up with bits of tomato skin that you’ll need to sieve before using the tomato cream. A powerful blender will also give the tomatoes their lovely pale and creamy consistency.

Add the tomato cream to the sausage meat in the pan and ‘rinse out’ the blender with some of the pasta cooking water, which you will then also add to the tomato cream and sausage meat in the frying pan. Stir the sauce and keep it gently simmering, to avoid it evaporating too much before the pasta goes in.

As soon as the pasta is cooked about half-way (it doesn’t have to be exact – a shorter time in the water will simply mean a longer time cooking in the sauce), scoop it out of the water with a slotted spoon and drop it straight into the pan with the sauce. It’s ok if some water comes with it. You will need the water to help it cook. Stir it through and turn up the heat under the frying pan so the pasta and sauce bubble away nicely to help the pasta cook. Keep the pasta cooking water, as you will need to ladle a bit in at a time to keep the pasta cooking – like making a risotto (except you would use stock for a risotto).

Cook the pasta in this way, stirring regularly to make sure it cooks evenly and absorbs the flavours well, adding a bit of the starchy cooking water as needed, from time to time. Don’t add too much water at once, as you need to be left with a rich, creamy sauce at the end, without having the pasta drowning in sauce!

The pasta will be cooked when it is a nice al dente consistency and you have a rich, creamy sauce – the starch from the pasta helps make it lovely and thick & creamy! 🙂

Take the pan off the heat and stir through a little bit of finely-grated parmesan, then serve immediately! Each person may wish to add a little more parmesan over the top, to taste.

Image shows a large bowl of casarecce pasta with a tomato cream and sausage sauce, a sprinkling of parmesan, and steam coming off the top
Casarecce with fresh tomato cream and Italian fennel sausage

Pasta with tomato cream and sausage – Gloriously Simple, Gloriously Good!

Crostata di sbriciolata | Crumble pie

Crumble pie with thick custard filling, shown as a whole pie with one slice cut out of it and slightly pulled away from the rest of the pie.

Crostata di sbriciolata alla crema pasticcera | Custard-filled crumble pie

This is an Italian recipe by Luisa Orizio (Facebook, Instagram), posted on the Giallo Zafferano Blog. I made this today as I had friends coming over and fancied something quick and easy to make for dessert that I could do with ingredients I already had in the house.

It was an absolute hit – nearly the whole lot went (and that was after we’d eaten pizza!), and I was asked to translate the recipe so they could replicate it at home!

Sbriciolata is a effectively a crumble, though the way this was done, the crumble was made with the same dough as the base, then crumbled over the top by hand, rather than an English crumble-making method. A crostata is a pie / tart. Crema pasticcera is a thick egg custard (flour is used to make it thicker than English custard) and is used as a filling in Italian pastries and cakes, and as a dessert in its own right. So, this is a pie / tart, filled with delicious thick custard and topped with a crispy crumble topping. It is simple to make and incredibly delicious! Yum 🙂

Tip: According to the original recipe post, this pie can be kept in the fridge for two days (if it lasts that long!) and can be frozen.

crostata di sbriciolata alla crema pasticcera | crumble pie with thick custard filling. Image shows the pie in its baking tin.

Ingredients (for a 22cm pie tin)

For the pastry:

  • 300g plain white flour
  • 150g butter, left to soften at room temperature (I like to use salted butter as I feel it gives the pastry more depth of flavour, but you can use unsalted, if you prefer)
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 1 yolk from a large egg
  • 1tsp baking powder

For the crema pasticcera (thick custard):

  • 500ml milk (the original recipe calls for 300ml milk and 200ml single cream, but advises you can use just milk and cook it for longer to allow it to thicken…I actually added a little bit of cornflour to the plain flour provided for in the recipe – see below)
  • 3 yolks from large eggs
  • 140g sugar
  • 40g plain white flour
  • 10g cornflour (my addition – see above)
  • 1/2tsp vanilla extract (this was my addition to the recipe; alternatively, you can infuse the milk with pieces of lemon or organge zest, to have a traditional italian crema pasticcera flavour)

Method

Start by making the pastry:

In a bowl, combine the softened butter and sugar, using a spoon. You don’t need to beat it for any length of time, just mix it well to create a sugary/buttery paste.

Add the egg yolk and mix until combined.

Add the flour and baking powder a little at a time, first mixing with a spoon, then as it gets thicker and drier, using your hands, until you have a smooth dough.

Form a dough ball, wrap it in clingfilm and rest it in the fridge while you prepare the crema pasticcera (custard).

Now prepare the custard:

Put the milk and vanilla essence in a saucepan over a low-medium heat.

While the milk is heating, beat (not whisk) together the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl, then add the flour and cornflour and mix well until you have a smooth paste, ensuring there are no lumps.

Once the milk is hot (not boiling), place the thick egg, sugar, flour and cornflour paste into the centre of the bowl containing the hot milk and leave it to cook over a low heat for 2-3 minutes without stirring, until you see some bubbles forming – a bit like little erupting volcanoes.

Tip: I must admit, this step was a bit of a leap of faith for me! I expected to find a congealed, burnt, solid lump at the bottom of the pan! Instead, I found that the milk started visibly thickening before the little volcanoes appeared, and although it took about 3-4 minutes rather than the 2 minutes in the original recipe, sure enough the little volcanoes did start appearing!

As soon as you see the little volcanic eruptions appearing, begin stirring rapidly with a hand whisk and keep stirring for a few minutes, until the custard is thick. Take the pan off the heat and let the custard cool a little while you start preparing the pie base.

Tip: I kept stirring the custard with the whisk from time to time, to help it cool faster and prevent a skin forming.

Time to assemble the pie:

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (fan).

Place 2/3rds of the pastry between two sheets of greaseproof paper (this will prevent it from sticking to the worktop / surface, and make it easier to lift the pastry into the pie tin) and roll it out, using a rolling pin, until it is large enough to cover the base and sides of the tin.

Place the rolled out pastry into your pie tin (one with a removable bottom is preferable) and gently prick the base with a fork all over. If bits of pastry fall off, you can simply press them into the sides / base where they are needed, to plug any gaps.

Pour in the slightly cooled custard and level it with a spatula.

Roughly crumble the remaining pastry over the top of the custard.

Place in the oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes.

Let the pie completely cool (ideally to fridge temperature) before cutting it.

Serve and enjoy!

Crumble pie with thick custard filling, shown as a whole pie with one slice cut out of it and slightly pulled away from the rest of the pie.
Side view of half a sliced thick custard pie with a crumble topping.

Custard-filled crumble pie | Gloriously Simple, Gloriously Good!

Tagliatelle alla Carbonara | Carbonara Sauce

Tagliatelle alla carbonara - Buon Appetito!

Tagliatelle alla Carbonara

Carbonara Pasta | The authentic way to make it

Tagliatelle alla carbonara - Buon Appetito!
Tagliatelle alla carbonara (made here with home-made egg tagliatelle)

I’ve said this before (see my previous Spaghetti alla Carbonara recipe), but it needs to be said again… I may be pedantic, but if you want to cook pasta with cream, mushrooms, whatever… go ahead, it’s your food, but please don’t call it carbonara!

The origins of carbonara are unclear, with stories abounding, but one thing is certain: It is a Roman dish, and as one half of my family is from Rome and I have spent much time there (I also lived in Rome for a short time as a toddler and then again when I was around 9 years old), I have had plenty of opportunities to eat authentic carbonara over the years.  The key is in the simplicity – there may be some debate, even amongst Romans, about whether you should use the whole egg or just the yolk, or a higher ratio of yolks to whole eggs, and whether or not it contains onions. But one thing that is never disputed is this: There is never any cream in carbonara, nor does it contain vegetables of any kind!

Below is my recipe, based on the carbonara I have eaten in many Roman restaurants.  It contains just 4 ingredients: Eggs, pecorino cheese, black pepper, guanciale (it can be difficult to get hold of in the UK – I order it online – so you CAN substitute pancetta, but for the best – and most authentic – taste, try to get hold of guanciale).  And as long as you follow the steps, it is incredibly quick and simple to make.

Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 6 large egg yolks (to avoid waste, why not make meringue with the left-over whites?)
  • 100-120g finely-grated pecorino cheese (enough to make a very thick paste with the egg yolks – the exact amount will depend on the size of the yolks)
  • plenty of freshly-ground black pepper (to taste, but you do want to see a ‘speckled’ effect, ideally)
  • 200-250g guanciale, cut into approx. 1cm-wide, thin strips, or into chunkier matchstick-style sticks (if you really can’t get hold of any, substitute with diced pancetta – I get my guanciale online here)
  • Tagliatelle for 4 people (approx. 600g)

Method:

Place a large pan / stockpot approx. 3/4 full of water onto the hob and turn the heat on high.

While the pasta water comes to the boil, heat the guanciale on a low heat until the fat goes transparent and a little bit crispy (watch it carefully – it can very quickly go from perfect to burnt!).  Turn the heat off as soon as the guanciale is ready (you’ll need to turn it back on again just before you add the cooked pasta to the pan).

Cooked guanciale in the sauté pan
Cooked guanciale in the sauté pan

While the guanciale is cooking, separate the eggs and place the egg yolks in a large serving bowl.  Add the finely-grated pecorino cheese (the finer, the better, as this will help make the sauce lovely and creamy) and freshly-ground black pepper to the egg yolks and stir in with a fork.  Aim for a very thick consistency.

Thick mix of egg yolk, finely-grated pecorino cheese and freshly-ground black pepper
Thick mix of egg yolk, finely-grated pecorino cheese and freshly-ground black pepper

Once the water comes to the boil, add a handful of coarse sea salt.  Add the tagliatelle when the water is boiling vigorously and cook for the indicated time on the pack, but taste it a minute or so before the time’s up, to ensure you don’t over-cook it. It needs to retain a little bit of ‘bite’ – the ‘al dente‘ consistency. If you are using home-made egg tagliatelle, like I did, these will cook very quickly in no more than 2-3 minutes (depending on long before cooking you made them, i.e. how dry they are).

Just before the tagliatelle finish cooking, when the water is full of starch from the pasta, take a spoonful of water at a time, add it to the egg, pecorino and black pepper mixture and stir it in quickly so the mixture turns creamy.  Work quickly, so the pasta doesn’t over-cook while you do this step, but just add a little water at a time, until you have the desired consistency, as you don’t want to risk making it too runny or it getting clumpy from the boiling water melting the cheese and making it stringy, or scrambling the egg!

The creamy egg, pecorino and black pepper with the cooking water
The creamy egg, pecorino and black pepper with the cooking water

Once the tagliatelle are cooked, lift them out of the water with tongs or a slotted spaghetti spoon and drop them straight into the sauté pan with the guanciale – don’t worry if some of the water comes with the pasta, this will help make the delicious creamy sauce. Stir the pasta through the guanciale and its melted fat (and any cooking water that came with the pasta) for about half a minute, to make sure it’s well coated.

Tagliatelle in the sauté pan with the guanciale and its melted fat
Tagliatelle in the sauté pan with the guanciale and its melted fat

Pour the pasta and guanciale into the big serving bowl containing the egg yolks, pecorino cheese and black pepper, quickly mixing them with a serving spoon and fork to ensure the pasta is evenly coated in the creamy mixture and no ‘clumps’ form.

Serve and enjoy immediately!

Tagliatelle alla carbonara - Buon Appetito!
Tagliatelle alla carbonara – Buon Appetito!

Tagliatelle alla Carbonara – Gloriously Simple, Gloriously Good!