Cooking up a tart’s spaghetti – online cookery class

Hi everyone! Join me and cook along as I cook one of Italy’s most loved pasta dishes, spaghetti alla puttanesca or tart’s spaghetti.

As we cook, we’ll be taking a journey through the Spanish Quarter in Naples, delving back into the history of spaghetti and taking a general look at what pasta means to those who eat it. It’s a fascinating tale of kings, wheat, foreign invaders – and there’s a car wash in Sicily too.

Set your table beforehand. Any checked tablecloth reminiscent of an Italian trattoria will do, or even just your favourite tablecloth. Don’t forget the bread – even when eating pasta, Italians still love their bread – just lay it on the table to break off.

This is one of my favourite go-to dishes, especially when I’m in a hurry and need to get something on the table quick. Plus I have the luxury of knowing that my kids will always ALWAYS eat pasta.

Ci vediamo là? (See you there?)

Date and time: Thursday 25 February, 6 pm UK time (duration: 60 mins)

Cost: 12 euro

Fancy a glass of Prosecco and a giggle with friends as you cook away and listen to stories of Italian food? Book privately for a group of friends – date and time to be arranged upon request.

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What others say…

“As a food obsessive (read: I’m greedy) I really enjoyed Rachael’s cookery session. As well as being knowledgable about Italian food, she encourages participants to get a feel for the ingredients and cook in a way that feels natural rather than prescriptive or too scientific. The class really sparked my creativity as a chef!” – Lizzie Cernik

“This was such a brilliant workshop! Rachael was warm and engaging and the session managed to be both fun and informative. I loved learning about the history of Italian food and getting tips on how to cook it better. And the best part? Getting to eat the results of it! Tastiest dish I’ve ever made too.” – Rae Ritchie

Spaghetti and sauce: online workshop for kids

We’ll be cooking spaghetti, making our very own fresh tomato sauce, busting spaghetti myths, exploring a bit of spaghetti history and learning a bit of Italian along the way. The emphasis is on both cooking and culture, so children will cook their own spaghetti and tomato sauce but also learn about the history of spaghetti and what it means to the people who eat it. I’ll encourage children to ask questions and get curious about Italian food in general. I’ll also teach them a few Italian words and phrases along the way. The aim is that children have fun with food and go away wanting to learn more, try out more recipes, and generally gain confidence in the kitchen. Allora bambini, ci facciamo due spaghi? (So kids, shall we make some spaghetti then?)

Date and time: Saturday 27 March, 11 am UK time (class duration about 60-90 mins)

Cost: 12 euro per household

Recommended age around 6-12 years

What others say:

“What a great way to spend a couple of hours, cooking the Italian way with my 9 year old son. Rachael was friendly, informative and fun plus the resulting spaghetti and sauce was delicious and was wolfed down by the whole family! Would highly recommend you spend some time cooking and chatting with Rachael.” Clare & Douglas

“It was really welcoming which made it fun to participate it. I enjoyed learning about new things and the tomato sauce was the best I’ve tasted.” Isobel, aged 11

“I really felt like I had learned a lot by the end of the session in terms of Italian food culture. Rachael was extremely engaging and the session flew by. The result was delicious too!” Emma, Isobel’s mum

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Casarecce with romanesco cauliflower

This is one of my favourites: pasta with Romanesco cauliflower (cavolfiore romanesco). I made today’s recipe also because I was feeling inspired by a cookery class I did with a friend who’s originally from Puglia a short while ago. We cooked orecchiette with cime di rapa or turnip greens, and she told us how her family used to eat all together, sometimes thirty people at a time on their masseria or farmhouse in Puglia. Which in turn reminded me of eating the best pasta with chickpeas I have ever eaten in a restaurant in the centre of Lecce years ago. I don’t know the name of the restaurant, but I’m hoping if I go back there I might chance on it, and the familiarity of a street take me back there.

This dish also reminds me of my neighbour from Salento. When my kids were kids were little, she used to knock on my door and bring me up dishes of things to try. She’d arrived from the south, I’d arrived from the north. I always like to think of it as our form of communion over food. She taught me possibvly more than anyone that you really don’t need a long list of ingredients to make good food. This is everyday eating around the kitchen table, food that feeds and sustains us, and especially when times may be difficult.

Today I made it for lunch. My friend from Puglia would say that you should cook the cauliflower with the pasta in a pan of boiling water. I actually cooked the cauliflower early this morning. The idea is that if I do it early I don’t get to lunchtime where I’m running off to pick up my kids and still wondering “what shall I give them?!!” Of course it doesn’t always happen, the early morning cooking. I’d hate this to pass as some kind of domestic bliss.

Today I made enough to have leftovers, but for a family of four, I would suggest the following:

One head of Romanesco cauliflower

350g short pasta

1 garlic clove

2 dried chillis

Extra virgin olive oil

Boil. or steam the cauliflower until it’s just cooked. In the meantime, put the water on for the pasta. You need about a litre for every 100g of pasta, so three and half litres for 350g.

Take a large frying pan and put in some extra virgin olive oil. Then peel the garlic. You can either chop it finely or leave it whole. The same applies for the chillis. I usually leave both garlic and chillis whole and just use them to add flavour, then take them out just before serving.

When the cauliflower is cooked, cut it down a bit into smaller pieces and add to the oil, garlic and chilli. Mix it around so that it really takes on all the flavours.

Salt the water for the pasta when it starts to boil. About two dessert spoons should do it. Don’t worry if it looks like a lot of salt. The pasta cooks in it, and it’s healthier than having insipid pasta to which you need to add salt later. Then cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. A word of advice: always taste the pasta before draining it. Sometimes cooking times can vary slightly, and you don’t want to end up with undercooked pasta because you didn’t taste it. Trust me, I’ve been there!

The pasta should be al dente, so still have a bite to it. I tend to drain my pasta really quickly so it still has some of the cooking water hanging around, which means that when you add the pasta to the sauce it will bind more easily. If you’re unsure, just take out a ladle of pasta water before you drain it, put it in a cup and add a bit if you see that it needs it to help it come together better.

When you’ve drained the pasta, add it to the cauliflower and mix it around for a couple of minutes so that the pasta really soaks up all those flavours. This is a pasta dish that doesn’t actually need cheese, but if you do want to add some grated cheese, pecorino is perfect.

Throw a couple of bowls of olives and maybe also cherry tomatoes on the table, and pretend you’re in Puglia at the masseria of your dreams.

Tales from Italian haute couture online talk

Had a very enjoyable talk this morning with the loveliest bunch of ladies from the Benvenuto International Club in Monza about fashion, Rome and la dolce vita. It’s the time when Rome was known as ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’ and the city’s film studios Cinecittà welcomed film stars and film directors who made films such as Quo Vadis?, Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita. In fashion terms, couturiers were dressing film stars, aristocrats and everyone who was anyone, and many of the couturiers were aristocrats themselves.

The talk Tales from Italian haute couture: princesses, frocks and la dolce vita is a star-studded journey through Italian Alta Moda. This is the first of the online fashion talks I’ll be offering to tie in with the publication of my book The Fashion Lover’s Guide to Milan which will be published on March 31st by Pen & Sword books.

If you’d like to join or wish to organise an event at your cultural bookstore, boutique or cultural organisation, I can be contacted at rachaelmartinfreelance@gmail.com.

“You took me back to the years I spent in Rome during the 1960s and I remembered it all, 1968, the atmosphere, everything.” Elda Elvedese

“It was great to listen to you talk about the dolce vita but especially about haute couture and all the relationships and the history of Italy and Rome. You reminded me of my mother when she was younger. She founded Desfile in Argentina, which was similar to Vogue, but came before Vogue.” Luisa Forlini

Photo of Irene Galatzine in 1951, Wikimedia Commons

Focaccine

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m making focaccine, or little focaccia as adding the diminutive ‘ino’ or in this case ‘ina’ makes it little. So these are little focaccia, although if you’re familiar with the true Ligurian focaccia, don’t expect that. These are more like mini pitta breads and taste like piadina rather than true focaccia which is the type that oozes olive oil and can only really be eaten in Liguria. If you ever go to Liguria, the first thing you need to find out is where you can buy the best focaccia. Trust me, the locals will know. They always do.

While true focaccia involves proving times and is not always as easy as it looks, focaccine are very easy, and before you know it you too will be rustling them up like a pro for that Friday night aperitivo. They’re literally child’s play, and I can testify to this because I have made them with children. They’re also cooked in minutes and you don’t need a whole list of ingredients either.

To make them you’ll need the following ingredients to get around twenty, although don’t quote me on that as when I counted them we’d already eaten a few. Also don’t forget to add salt. The first time I made these I did forget the salt as my kids pointed out rather vociferously. Teach kids to eat well and appreciate food, and you’ll have active food critics for life.

Ingredients:

400g strong flour (in Italy we use farina 00, if you can find it)

200g soft ricotta, the fresh type that’s stored in the fridge and comes in a tub – this is what makes the focaccine so lovely and soft

140ml water at room temperature

50ml extra virgin olive oil

1 packet of fast action dried yeast (the ones I use are 15g)

Salt (and be generous or they will taste bland)

Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. You’ll need to sieve the flour before you do this, add the yeast and salt, then the ricotta and finally the oil and then the water. I always add the water last because you get more control over it. Start to mix it all together with a wooden spoon and then when it’s started to come together, put it on your kitchen worktop or table and knead it a bit with your hands. It won’t feel as strong as bread dough. This is softer and less elastic.

Then, get out your rolling pin and roll out the dough. You need to roll it out quite thin – just a couple of centimetres. After you’ve done this, get a glass and cut out circles. Bind all the leftover bits together and then roll out again, cut more circles and repeat until you’ve used all the dough. With the last bit of dough you can just shape and squash it into a circle with your hands.

Take a non-stick frying pan and pan lid, and without adding any oil, start to lay in the focaccine and then put the lid on the frying pan. You need to put the lid on as this will help them to cook. Also, cook them on a fairly low heat or they’ll burn on the bottom before they’re ready. Leave them for a couple of minutes and then turn them over. Put the lid back on and leave for a further few minutes. If you want to test whether they’re done, just take one out and pull a bit off and take a look inside. If it looks ‘bready,’ then it’s cooked. As you take the cooked focaccine out of the pan, you can put them on a metal tray to cool.

Although believe me, these are utterly divine straight out of the pan still warm with a slice of Parma ham on top. Serve for aperitivo, or even better add a couple of pizzas, a few dishes of olives, cherry tomatoes and crisps and other various things you fancy and call it apericena. Apericena is a cross between aperitivo and dinner meaning that you can sit back, relax, feeling suitably virtuous about your freshly home-cooked focaccine, and enjoy your evening.

Dream of Italy.