Spaghetti Lucia

Picture yourself at a seafront restaurant in the Isle of Ischia off the Bay of Naples on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon. After a walk on the beach you’ll probably want to treat yourself to a cool glass of white wine and platefuls of pasta with freshly caught seafood.

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We were lucky enough to enjoy this ourselves on our recent trip to Italy. The setting and  the food both made such an impression on us, giving us the inspiration to create our very own seafood dish.

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Our lunch was spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and anchovies, and penne with a smooth tomato cream sauce and prawns, topped with rocket. Both sauces showed how simple ingredients can be brought together to create brilliant food and how pasta can be a great conduit for flavour.  We wanted to bring combine these two dishes, keeping the essence of their tastes while creating something new and distinct.

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When creating a sauce in Italian cooking, there’s an array of ingredients to choose from – do you have garlic, onion or chilli; which fresh herbs do you use; how much tomatoes; and which of the cheeses, if any? The trick is to achieve a balance where no single flavour dominates but instead all components compliment each other. We settled on a tomato and anchovy sauce with rosemary, dried chilli and a dash of cream, mixed with prawns, lemon and chopped rocket leaves.

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The restaurant in Ischia was called Bagno Lucia and, coincidentally, Lucia is also our second daughter’s name. So in their honour, we have decided to call our new dish Spaghetti Lucia. We would love to see you at our pop up restaurant, where we could give a flavour, at least, of a Sunday lunch in Ischia.

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Greatest Hits

Last month was the first anniversary of our pop up restaurant. It’s been a good year – we’ve enjoyed the hard work, learnt new recipes and met many interesting people. To celebrate, our pop up in October included the most popular dishes from throughout the year in what we called our ‘greatest hits’ menu.

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We started off last year with the intention of having a new menu every time and we’re glad to say we’ve achieved this. This actually proved to be relatively easy; with the depth and breadth of Italian cuisine we were spoilt for choice. We also aimed to cook with produce that are in season and this has shaped our offerings throughout the year. We had Torta Pasqualina at Easter, Ribollita in autumn and kudos to everyone who ordered asparagus carbonara in May.

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We’ve particularly enjoyed researching and trying new soup recipes. It’s a dish often overlooked in modern cooking but we’ve found it to be one of the most popular choices of our starters. It’s a great way of capturing the flavours and colours of the season, with the warmth of pumpkin soup in autumn and the freshness of pea soup at the start of summer. We also wanted to offer people authentic Italian food produce that are not commonly offered in other restaurants. Although we try to use locally sourced ingredients, like the brilliant dairy products from ‘Longley Farm’ in Yorkshire, we do import from Italy when necessary. We now try to include a signature antipasto plate on all of our menus, featuring a trio of lesser known cold sliced meats, local Italian cheeses and olives or other preserved vegetables.

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The central concept of the restaurant was always to deliver the sort of pasta dishes one might expect to enjoy from a great Italian home cook. Our presentation is therefor simple and uncluttered, leaving the flavours and ingredients to speak for themselves. All our recipes are drawn from around Italy, like the wonderful Tuscan wild boar ragu, pesto with troffie from Linguria and Neapolitan meatball lasagne. We try hard to make every dish special and we think we offer a unique variety of pastas and sauces; honestly, researching, preparing and cooking them is almost as enjoyable as eating them!

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One aspect of our menu that doesn’t change as much is our desserts, with our chocolate torte and lemon tart featuring every time. Served with crème fraiche, their rich and intense flavours are such a good way to end a meal. Our homemade ice creams and sorbets are also very popular; we often use seasonal fruits mixed with lemons and sugar to create bold flavours reminiscent of Italian gelato.

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We are grateful to everyone who has helped and supported us from the very beginning. Thanks especially to our customers – we’ve got lots of ideas of how to get bigger and better next year and we’re looking forward to sharing them all with you!

Butta la Pasta does Naples!

We’ve recently booked a long weekend away in Naples as a treat to ourselves and in anticipation of the food that we’ll be enjoying while we’re there, we’ve decided to create a fully Neopolitan menu for our next pop up restaurant.

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The southern Italian city of Naples has been a gastronomic hotspot for centuries.  A combination of its warm climate, fertile soil and rich sea life give the city all the ingredients to make great food. As a port city it brought in spices and ingredients from around the Mediterranean. Until today the surrounding areas are still well known for their olive groves,  fruit orchards and vineyards. But the real story of Naples lies in its politics and economics with the wealthy and the poor creating their own culinary identities.

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We’re particularly interested in ‘cucina povera’ or cuisine of the poor which is based on making the most of produce available to the city’s lower classes. This relies heavily on extracting the maximum flavours from seasonal vegetables with the more expensive meat dishes enjoyed only on special occasions. For our menu, starters will include Neopolitan favourites like spicy mussel soup; baked peppers stuffed with cherry tomatoes, anchovies and capers; and, from the nearby island of Capri, insalata caprese. These dishes are from this culinary tradition and their simplicity show that you can produce great flavours from just a few ingredients. This really appeals to us and it is the essence of what we’re trying to create with Butta la Pasta.

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Our pasta main courses will feature classics such as Neopolitan lasagne; courgette with ricotta and herbs; and spaghetti baked in foil with prawns, white wine and chilli. The other pasta sauce we had to include is a Neopolitan ragu. Traditionally made on Sundays or for celebrations, it requires very slow cooking of meat with wine, onions and tomato sauce. No two recipes appear to be the same but ours will have beef brisket, pork ribs and Italian sausage. Cooked together over many hours, it will make a dark, rich, meaty sauce that we’ll finish off with parmesan and fresh basil.

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 Our desserts feature our usual selection of homemade ice creams (this is a Neopolitan menu after all!) and lemon tart made with Sorrento lemons. We’ve swapped our usual chocolate torte with torta caprese which is very popular around the region as well as in our house. It’s a light, flourless cake made with just five ingredients including dark chocolate and ground almonds. Served with creme fraiche, this will be a perfect ending to a  great meal.

We think this is our best menu yet and we’re almost as excited about it as the holiday itself! We hope it will give you a taste of Naples and bring you a bit of Southern Italy here in sunny Sheffield.

Springtime in a Bowl

With Springtime here our menu is beginning to look suitably green to reflect the produce in abundance at this time of year. It is the season we look forward to as the colour and freshness of flavours say goodbye to Winter and hello to a culinary new year.

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Our pea soup is everything that modern cooking should be; it’s healthy, looks and tastes great, and it’s quick to make.  We’re using young peas for their sweetness and cooking them with red onions and mint. Italians have got a knack for combining fresh herbs with the right vegetables and this well known pairing of pea and mint works really well here. Drizzled with olive oil and topped with grated pecorino, it is Springtime in a bowl.

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Our favourite Spring vegetable has to be the beautiful English asparagus. Although asparagus is available all year long (from Peru!) the English asparagus season only lasts from May to June. Their flavour and texture is so much better so we try to enjoy them in as many ways as possible while they are plentiful. At home we serve them dressed with butter alongside roast meats, in soups and risottos, and naturally, in pasta sauces. One of the star dishes in our May pop up restaurant is asparagus carbonara which is a mix of egg yolks, parmesan, butter, asparagus and marjoram. No need for anything else – this is a classic combination of flavours showing simple Italian cooking at its best.

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We’re looking forward to our sixth pop up restaurant this weekend. We’re bringing back a few of our most popular dishes together with our seasonal fare. With the lighter evenings and warmer weather we’re sure it will be a really great evening at the farm.

Ribollita

This post is about a soup. Although it might sound boring it is actually a perfect example of the sort of cooking we like to do. We think this is exciting and we want to celebrate it.

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Soups in Italy remain an important part of home cooking. In La Cucina there are over a hundred pages filled with soup recipes from all over the country. There are soups with all kinds of meat and fish; rice, pasta and bread; eggs and cheeses; vegetables and herbs; beans, nuts and pulses. They may not be all to our taste – anyone for tripe and bean soup? – but they certainly put our selection of tinned soups to shame!

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The soup in our November pop up restaurant was Ribollita. Translated it means ‘re-boiled’ and it is a good example of a Tuscan peasant soup which can be made the day before and then reheated. It has a rich, hearty and earthy quality which makes it a great dish at this time of year.

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It has a sofrito base of carrots, onions, garlic and celery. To that you add fresh parsley, celery leaves and tomatoes. Three important ingredients are cannellini beans, stale bread and cavolo nero.

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Cavolo nero or black kale has a strong unique flavour. It is available in some supermarkets but we sourced ours from Heeley City Farm. Italians say the taste and texture are even better after the first frost of winter. We were lucky then as we had frost just a few days before the ones we used were harvested at the farm.  The dried cannellini beans were soaked overnight then cooked separately with bay leaves, tomatoes and garlic before being added to the soup. 

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I researched different recipes some of which included the addition of pancetta, chilli, fennel seeds or parmesan. Although I’m sure these would work I decided to stick with the classic recipe because I wanted to keep the flavours as authentic as possible.

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Making it the day before intensifies the flavour so if you can plan ahead it’s worth doing. The other trick is to be very generous with the best quality olive oil when serving.

The soup was popular on the night and we got wonderful feedback from the customers. We’ll have soups on the menu for all our future pop ups and hopefully they’ll be as successful as this.

Pop Up Restaurant

Having had the idea for a restaurant specialising in brilliant pasta dishes, we came up with a plan of starting off as a pop up restaurant. This would allow us to try out our menus and give us experience in organising and running a restaurant.

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We began by searching for a venue in our local area where we could run our pop up in an evening. We wanted an established cafe with space to prepare and serve our food. After looking at a few places we decided on the cafe at Heeley City Farm.

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The farm is a charitable organization that works on environmental, social and educational projects for the community.  It’s a place we know quite well as we often take our children there. We like the friendly animals, the playground and the gardens. The vegetarian cafe serves home cooked foods including delicious cakes and treats and is popular with families. The staff have been very supportive of our idea from the outset and we’d like to say a big thanks to them especially to Alison, Sam and Gloria.

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One thing we particularly like about the farm is that they grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables both onsite and in other locations around Sheffield. Using their produce for our menus whenever possible fits perfectly with our philosophy of using local and seasonal ingredients.

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We had our first ever pop up restaurant there on the 24th of October and we’re delighted to say that it went really well. We’re hoping to do this one Saturday every month and we’ll give you more details on our next post.

Butta la pasta!

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I’ve been passionate about Italian food and cooking for many years now. It’s hard to say exactly why but I love the marriage of great seasonal ingredients and uncomplicated cooking. It really feels like the sort of food and cooking we should all be enjoying at this day and age.

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I love reading books about the regionality and variety of cooking in Italy. One evening after reading ‘La Cucina’, a brilliant collection of recipes from all over Italy, I had the idea of having a restaurant specializing in pasta main courses.

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All too often we see the same generic pasta dishes in Italian restaurant menus – Spaghetti Bolognese, creamy carbonara, an assorted seafood pasta. None of these represents the authentic local food cooked in Italian kitchens. When was the last time you went to an Italian restaurant and ordered a pasta dish that truly caught your imagination, excited your taste buds and made you want to tell your friends about it? Most people I’ve asked can’t remember which I think is odd for something that many say they and their families love.

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My plan was therefore to create a menu that changed throughout the year with honest dishes originating from various regions of Italy using the best ingredients available.

IMG_6209.2015-07-20_152602 We’ll have great starters of soups, salads, vegetable dishes, cheeses and cured meats not commonly seen in many other menus. And the meal will always be finished with classic desserts such as lemon tart, homemade ice creams and chocolate torte. I’d like a simple, approachable wine list and of course, we’ll have brilliant coffee.

IMG_2403.2014-06-30_145049At this point, I should mention our choice of name for the restaurant which is Butta la Pasta! Translated it means “throw in the pasta!” and is used at home as we say “turn on the kettle” for a cup of tea. I like its simplicity and informality. It is a welcoming invitation to join us and enjoy a great meal.