Arguably one of our favourite cuisines here at Oliver’s Travels, Italian food is rich with tradition and centuries-old techniques. From Naples to Modena, and Rome to Bologna, even the place names of the country are infused with flavour
In this guest blog post, we chat to resident Italian chef at The Cookaway (our non-subscription recipe box partners), MasterChef 2011 finalist Sara Danesin Medio, about the things that inspire her delicious dishes.
Read on to discover Sara’s top Italian foodie destinations, a mouth-watering make-at-home pasta recipe, and how to inject some The Cookaway flavour into your next UK cottage holiday.
Hi Sara, was it a short step from MasterChef to The Cookaway?
I was approached by The Cookaway at the end of 2018 and intrigued by their recipe box initiative, as it was very much Chef orientated. Each recipe box is inspired by ingredients and themes from a region of the world and Cookaway Chefs are experts in their particular cuisine. With years of experience running kitchens, restaurants, and cookery schools, the Chefs also have a strong passion for the heritage of the food they prepare, and an understanding of the way it should be cooked. With each Chef promoting a cuisine they know well, quality and authenticity are assured. I love the creativity of being a Cookaway Chef and that I can be an ambassador for Italian cuisine, bringing the authentic taste of Italy into people’s homes.
How have you found designing menus around recipe boxes for The Cookaway?
I really enjoy the creativity around designing recipes and The Cookaway has such high standards when it comes to ingredients, which are all ethically sourced and so fresh, it’s a joy. We design the recipe boxes to include everything you need, along with simple, clear instructions, making your Italian culinary adventure not only delicious but fun too.
We hear nonna’s are prized family members, particularly when it comes to the kitchen! Was a love of cooking instilled in you when you were growing up?
Yes, very much so. My dad and my grandparents owned a restaurant and food was a very present part of my growing up.
We read that you grew up in the Northeast of Italy – do the regions differ when it comes to their cuisines and the produce they favour?
Cuisines vary enormously not just between regions but within them. Italy has a rich diversity of ingredients and flavours.
What is it you love most about Italian cuisine?
With only a few top-quality ingredients and simplicity, there’s nowhere to hide!
You’re pulling together a Spaghetti Vongole recipe for us (yum!) – what made you pick this dish?
This is a very Italian dish reflecting what I said above: only 4 top quality ingredients put together with extreme precision. They are made to sing!
Do you have any tips for people when they are cooking pasta?
Always use top quality brands, and lots of water (1 litre per 100 g of pasta). Make sure you add the pasta to the sauce, and not the other way round, as is often the case.
We know food is good pretty much everywhere in Italy, but do you have a favourite Italian destination to go for the food?
I’ll give you three! Liguria, mostly vegetarian, Sicily, a huge melting pot, Veneto for its seafood.
If you could recommend 3 dishes to people visiting Italy, what would they be?
Spaghetti Alle Vongole
Trofie al Pesto
Melanzane alla Parmigiana
Do you have any favourite restaurants or local haunts in Italy that you always recommend to people?
Bacari in Venice (Locanda Marina)
Il Bocconcino in Monterosso
Flavio al Velavevodetto for the best Cacio e Pepe in Rome
So, please tell us about your recipe, Spagetti alle Vongole.
Perhaps there’s no other pasta dish that spells summer and the seaside like Spaghetti alle Vongole.
The dish originated in Naples, where it’s known as ‘pasta e vongole’ or, in Neapolitan dialect, ‘vermecielle cu ‘e vongole’. It’s popular and appreciated all over Italy.
There are two, or actually, three ways to prepare Spaghetti alle Vongole, and, as with everything related to food, each faction is a fierce supporter of its own version.
The cause of the dispute is tomato: should you use it or not? Some claim Spaghetti alle Vongole should be strictly ‘in bianco’ (no tomato at all); others say they should be dressed in tomato sauce; others still maintain that you should only add a handful of fresh cherry tomatoes.
There’s no definitive answer on who’s right.
Whatever your faction, the most important criteria for the success of this dish is to use high-quality ingredients, true for all dishes where there are only a few ingredients; in the case of pasta con le vongole, you need only good quality pasta, live clams, quality extra virgin olive oil, garlic, chilli pepper and white wine.
Spaghetti alle Vongole Recipe
1kg live clams (palourdes are great)
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley
Small glass of white wine
10ml Extra virgin olive oil
Place the crushed garlic, chilli flakes and extra virgin olive oil in a flat large pan at high heat and mix well.
When piping hot, pour in the clams, stirring occasionally until they have opened.
Add the white wine and allow another 5 minutes of cooking time, then remove from the heat.
When the clams are cooled pick the molluscs out of the shells and discard almost all the shells, keeping just a handful for garnish.
Keep the clams and shells in the big pan and set aside.
Pour all the cooking liquid in a small pan and reduce by 2/3 on a high heat (this will take approximately 10 minutes).
Don’t worry if the liquid tastes salty as the lemon will counter the saltiness in the final dish.
Add a tbsp of lemon, and 10 ml of extra virgin olive oil.
Reduce the volume of the liquid by half, mix well and emulsify. Remove from the heat and set aside.
In a big pan, boil a large quantity of salted water and cook the Spaghetti (10 min).
Whilst the pasta is cooking, place the reduce liquid in the big pan with the vongole and shells and warm through.
Add the well-drained pasta and stir well. Add the finely chopped parsley and some extra virgin olive oil to taste.
Serve at once.
The Cookaway and Oliver’s Travels
We’re excited to be partnering with The Cookaway and their unique no-subscription recipe box service. Offering a range of cuisines and global dishes, from delicious Pakistani-inspired curries to Japanese donburi to Spanish paella, bring a taste of the world to your next dinner.
We also have an exclusive offer to share with our community. Enter the discount code OLIVERSTRAVELS20 to receive 20% off your first Cookaway recipe box. Eating fresh has never tasted so good!