A chicken and herb ballotine, cooked, then sliced thinly as a sandwich filling
Proper porchetta, ideally from a street food stall in the Trastevere quarter of Rome, is an unbeatable, delicious and super-tasty food. I stress here that I am not trying to reproduce this, particularly not with chicken instead of pork.
What I am proposing here, instead, is a delicious and healthier alternative, inspired by this delicious Italian food that I love so much! 🙂
This porchetta-style herby chicken is relatively simple, but a little bit fiddly to make.
Ingredients (for 2 generous portions):
4 Chicken thigh fillets
A handful of herbs of your choosing (I used fresh thyme, flat-leaf parsley, sage and rosemary)
2-3 garlic cloves
a sprinkling of fine sea salt
Start by finely chopping all the herbs and garlic together (I did this in my Ninja Chopper but you could do it by hand, if you are less impatient and lazy than I am).
Then use a meat hammer to flatten out the chicken thigh fillets. Season both sides of each flattened fillet with fine sea salt.
Lay the fillets out on a large piece of clingfilm, forming a large rectangle of chicken, ensuring there are no gaps, then sprinkle the chopped herbs and garlic generously over the fillets.
Using the clingfilm to help you, roll the rectangle of herb-topped chicken thigh fillets into a tight ballotine (like a large sausage shape) and tightly twist the clingfilm at both ends. If you have enough clingfilm overhang at both ends, you can bring these together into a knot. You can cook the ballotine in the clingfilm, or do what I did and further wrap it in tinfoil, also tightly twisted at both ends.
Place the ballotine into a large pan of boiling water, cover with a lid and boil for 35 minutes.
Once the ballotine is cooked, you can either leave it to cool in the clingfilm until you are ready to slice it, or if you prefer to serve it warm, you can unwrap it and cut it into thick slices or even serve it in pretty chunks. It will be almost impossible to slice thinly while it’s hot, as it will fall apart. To get lovely thin slices, leave it to cool fully, and ideally in the fridge for a few hours, before slicing it with a very sharp knife or an electric meat slicing machine (this is what I did). Some slices may still fall apart, but will taste just as delicious.
Store for 2-3 days in an airtight container in the fridge and serve either in a sandwich or plated up with a salad. Enjoy!
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
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.
Pasta with tomato cream and sausage – Gloriously Simple, Gloriously Good!
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)
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).
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.
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!
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.
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 – Gloriously Simple, Gloriously Good!