Inspired by Florence: Pomodorino pasta with truffle salami
Fairly recently, around the Easter period, I went to Florence in northern Italy. This post was started in draft form over a month ago, but work and my travels have got in the way. Perhaps I should spend more time on this blog. I sure would like to, but I find that being a part time blogger with a full time job means some posts are long in the gestation.
Anyway, the wonderful city of Florence is part of the province of Tuscany. Tuscany is famous for its beauty, scenery, great food and wine. It is the home of Chianti, Montepulciano and Brunello de Montalcino. It is also the birthplace of the Renaissance, making it exquisitely rich in art, culture and architecture.
The food market in Florence is totally inspirational. Full of amazing produce, it leaves you feeling rather jealous that you will have to go back to the supermarket when you get home. Most envy inducing for me is the fresh fruit and vegetables and fresh fish. The colours of the fruit and veg always seem more vibrant, the sizes and shapes more varied. And given the lack of availability of fresh fish generally in the UK, I don't think I need say any more! This is a market you wish you could drag back home so you can do your shopping there every week.
At the market, I couldn't resist buying some food products to bring home. I bought vacuum packed pancetta, 24 month aged parmesan, sun dried tomatoes, and sliced dried porcini. I also bought the key ingredient of the recipe I am going to tell you all about here; salami with truffle. Combining the practicality of curing the meat (so that it can be preserved without refridgeration) with the indulgence of including truffle as an ingredient, this is not quite the 'peasant' food that salami was originally intended to be!
Some of the best food in Tuscany is simple. You may be deceived into thinking that working with a relatively small number of ingredients would not pay off with great flavour and taste. You'd be wrong. The cooking of Tuscany is all about bringing out the best of those simple ingredients, and about using the best quality ingredients you can get.
My pasta dish is inspired by that philosophy. It shouldn't take longer than 30mins to get it to the table from start to finish. And everything should be available in the supermarket, because we can't all visit the food market in Florence every day, however much we may wish to!
The pasta I used here was dried. I have tried making my own, but it is rather time consuming and fiddly. That great authority on Italian food, Valentina Harris, says that Italians DO make their own fresh pasta, but only on special occasions. How special? Not birthdays, she says, but 'really special occasions, like when the family agree to sell their farmhouse or something' (as she said in her demonstration on pasta making at the Real Food Festival on the South Bank). So, I used Napolina's brass dye extruded Gnocchi Sarde which are small and have small ridges, all the better to catch the juices of the cooked tomatoes. Tasty and available in the supermarket, they take only 13 minutes to cook when added to boiling water.
The tomatoes to use are the little ones. But please ensure that they are are ripe and flavourful as possible. They can be a bit squashy and too ripe for a salad, that is fine. Don't be too worried about the variety or origin, as long as they are red, ripe and sweet. You could substitute the shallot with half a white onion, but I wanted to use the slightly sweet and more subtle flavour of shallot to allow the tomatoes to shine through. When making a sauce using a tin of tomatoes, the tomatoes are usually robust enough to be cooked with ordinary onions. In my view, fresh tomatoes often need gentler treatment. I would not use anything other than fresh tomatoes in this dish. Tinned tomatoes need a longer cooking time as they are often quite acidic. This is designed to be a light sauce.
Salami with truffles is not the cheapest ingredient in the world, and isn't always available at the local supermarket. So I am sure you can substitute regular sliced Italian salami (such as Milano Salami). Since I am also proposing Truffle oil as an ingredient, you can just add a little bit more than I suggest below to add the extra scent and delicate flavour of truffle which would have permeated from the Truffle Salami.
Pomodorino pasta with truffle salami
3 cloves garlic, very finely diced
1 shallot, finely diced
2 tbsp oregano, finely chopped
200g small ripe tomatoes, diced
5 tbsp parmesan, finely grated
100g salami, peeled if necessary, finely sliced and then halved
Dash truffle oil
2 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Prepare all the ingredients in advance since the cooking should happen quite quickly.
2. Put the olive oil in a saucepan and heat up on a medium heat. Once hot enough (about 2 minutes and a single piece of shallot will bubble/sizzle), add the chopped shallots.
3. In another saucepan, heat up 1 litre of tap water to the boil.
4. Add the garlic to the sauteing shallots, stir and fry for another 5 minutes.
5. When the garlic is fragrant, after 5 mins, you can put the pasta on to cook. It will take the same time as the remaining part of the sauce. Set a timer to be sure!
6. Add the tomatoes, salami and oregano to the pan. Keep on a medium to low heat whilst the pasta is cooking, stirring frequently. You want the juices to come out of the tomatoes, all the ingredients to heat up and flavours to meld together. You are not looking for the tomatoes to totally break down.
7. When the pasta is done, drain in a colander. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the cooking water in case you need them later.
8. Now add the pasta to the sauce. Mix thoroughly. If the sauce has become too dry to coat the pasta, add the reserved cooking water. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and mix some more.