Here are our top 5 recipes of 2015 as voted by you. Looking back at 2015, there were a few more modern recipes introduced which we had tried in several restaurants in Italy. The winners however were some of the standby classics:
5. Torta verde (chard and ricotta pie) from Liguria
Torta verde is one of my favourite dishes in the world because it is nourishing without weighing you down. My friend always has one waiting for me everytime we arrive in Liguria for a visit. It tastes fresh as it is packed with greens and artichokes but covers the bases with eggs, ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano. The pastry can be a bit of a bother but is easily resolved with good quality store-bought puff pastry.
The key to this dish is ensuring that not too much liquid is released which makes the whole affair a soggy mess. Salting the greens beforehand and wringing them out before then cooking them resolved this issue.
Torta verde is extremely versatile as it can be cut in small squares and served as an aperitif, cut into wedges and served with a salad for lunch or a picnic or be cut into strips and enjoyed as a starter. It is vegetarian but meat eaters will enjoy it every bit as much as a vegetarian.
4. Insalata di fagioli e tonno from Tuscany
This dish and puttanesca are my pantry staples. They can both be made with ingredients stored in the pantry in case of in promptu entertaining, a thrown together meal after returning from a trip to an empty fridge or (as happened to us in Sydney) when your husband blows up the barbecue with dinner cooking on it as the guests walk through the door.
There are two versions of this recipe, version one using dried beans (the soaking and cooking time is rewarded with toothsome beans) and version two using tinned beans (which can be made in 5 minutes). Both are delicious and are even better the next time. Grill some bread and drizzle it with olive oil to serve alongside the bean salad. Guests can spoon it on the toast for a delicious (and nutritious) snack. It is popular with guests young and old.
3. Linguine al granchio (crab linguine)
I am happy that two of the three recipes I have spent the most time trying to perfect made the top 5 list (porchetta and focaccia are the other two). My husband considers himself a connoisseur of crab linguine and I am inclined to agree as I have personally seen him order it every time we have seen it on the menu in restaurants in London, New York, Hong Kong and Italy.
There seem to be three main variations on crab linguine: one heavily butter based, one tomato based and one broth based. Our personal feeling is that the butter mutes the subtle flavour of the crab while the tomato overpowers it. We opt for the broth based one and add back a bit of the richness missing from the lack of butter by adding an egg yolk which also helps emulsify the broth and get it to cling to the pasta.
The accompanying flavourings of fennel, lemon, chilli, garlic, asparagus or herbs I leave to your discretion. I have what we consider to be the perfect crab linguine recipe and then a quick version of it which we do when we are short on time and energy.
2. Spaghetti al Tartufo Nero di Norcia (spaghetti in black truffle sauce) from Umbria
Black truffle spaghetti from Umbria is the epitome of Umbrian cuisine- simple yet decadent with its use of the prized truffle. This is one of the simplest and quickest recipes to make and will always impress because it is truffle based. Find the recipe here.
1. Focaccia from Liguria
This has truly been the most difficult recipe for me to get down primarily because I am a cook at heart, not a baker. It goes against the grain to measure out ingredients and place something in the oven without the ability to fiddle with it. I like to adjust recipes constantly, not place the dish in a box and pray for the best.
I can certify that I have not only baked a lot of focaccia, I have also eaten a lot of focaccia, particularly in Liguria. We eat so much that when my focaccia-loving toddler asked for a snack and I pulled out a piece of focaccia for the 100th time one summer, he cried at the sight of it. I am also always asking for tips on making focaccia. Here is what I have learned:
First I learned about ensuring there is enough water everywhere – in the dough, on top of the dough and in the air inside the oven. Inside the oven I have a pan of hot water making steam, I mist the top of the water and oil-painted focaccia and invert a pan over it in the beginning to ensure it has time to rise before the crust forms.
Then I learned about the biga, a dough starter which makes the bread softer, last longer and has more depth of flavour.
Finally I made a break-through discovery. I had heard of Italians grating boiled potato into dough for cakes and doughnuts but had not realised that dried potato could make light and airy focaccia. I bought a package of instant dried mashed potatoes (called Smash in the UK) and set to work making the focaccia of my dreams. Have a try. See my recipe here.
I am back to work at coming up with the next top 5 recipes for 2016. If you have any suggestions for recipes to feature, please comment below.
Wednesday is Epiphany (La Befana) in Italy, otherwise known as “lasagne day” in my house. If you want to know more about these celebrations, see here. If you also want to make lasagne for Wednesday, please see the recipe here.