Monthly Archives: January 2009

Jelly grows up

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Before we talk about the grown-up jelly above – sorry it is not elegantly formed in a fancy mould by the way – a moment to recall our jelly years.

Jelly, just saying the word makes me happy.

When I was little I thought jelly was not only delicious – yummy was probably the word I used back then –  it was fun and encouraged all sorts of naughtiness and silliness. You didn’t just eat jelly, you giggled as it wobbled in the bowl and wiggled on the spoon, from which it often escaped, flopping on the table, splat, giggles dissolved into hysterics. You didn’t just swallow jelly, oh no there was serious squelching and gargling to be done before that.

‘She leapt up on the telly, she pirouetted on the cat, she gargled with some jelly and she spat in Grandpa’s hat’ Brain Patten ‘Gargling with Jelly

My mum used to make us happy, instant puddings with either a packet of  Rountrees concentrated orange jelly cubes and a tin of tangerines or red cubes. Red cubes of course, were strawberry, but at that age jelly was all about colour, you didn’t tell your best friend your were having lime jelly, it was green jelly which for obvious reasons was the funniest of all.

More than one of those packets never made it to the table, as it wasn’t long before we cottoned on to the fact a packet of concentrated jelly is effectively a great big bouncy gummy sweet. My brother and I would clamber up the pantry shelves to swipe one and then hide behind the sofa scoffing our jelly loot.

My jelly years like my childhood were happy. Even when I became a stroppy and rather unhappy teenager, asserting my independence and angst by pulling my sleeves down so far I appeared to have lost both hands, wearing industrial quantities of black eyeliner and dabbling in various food fads, I would happily forget to be fussy in the presence of jelly. My hands would appear and I would join my younger siblings in a gargle.

As we grew up, so did Jelly in our house. Mum started using leaves of gelatine and simmering up delicate jellies sweetened with fresh fruit and more often than not a generous dose of alcohol, Sauternes, muscat, port. I think I was about 15 when I first tasted Port jelly - grown-up jelly my mum said – deep ruby-red port and a little sugar simmered with leaves of gelatine and then left to set. I thought I was in heaven, delicate, deeply flavoured yet still wibbly and a bit silly, I seem to remember my dad winking at me as he raised the spoonful of quivering jelly to his lips, then almost imperceptibly he slurped, then squelched and I giggled and did the same. My palate had grown-up a little, but faced with jelly, I clearly had not and more importantly, nor had my Dad. .

Then I forgot about jelly, for the last 20 years I have been almost bereft of jelly. I seem to remember I ate a rather nice muscat jelly at a very serious dinner party once, but the company was tedious and nobody even smiled let alone giggled as it wobbled, so that doesn’t count. Oh and various trifles with a jelly layer but that’s not proper wibbly, wobbly jelly of the sweet gargling kind.

Then about a week ago, I found this recipe.

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It’s from Simon Hopkinson‘s ‘Second helpings of Roast Chicken’

I managed to spray the whole kitchen with orange juice which was not entirely necessary. I arrived home after work, not only had it set but Vincenzo had cleaned up my mess, the two best things that had happened all day. We ate it for pudding, fresh, clean, fragrant, the slivers of oranges dissolving in your mouth. Grown-up jelly indeed, but with an unmistakable wibbly, wobbliness which made it impossible to take it too seriously.

Prosecco and orange Jelly

  • 8 good, juicy oranges
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 5 leaves of gelatine
  • About 200ml extra freshly squeezed orange juice strained
  • 250ml champagne or prosecco

Put the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water to soak until spongy.

Using a sharp serrated knife cut the skin and pith from the oranges. The best way to do this is to cut a slice from each end of the orange, stand the fruit on its end and then cut downwards in a curved motion.

Take a peeled orange in your hand and over a bowl slice between and against the membrane to allow a segment to fall out. You want delicate slivers without any pith or membrane.

Strain the juice created by segmenting the oranges into a measuring jug and top up with the freshly squeezed orange juice until you have 250ml.

In a small pan warm the orange juice and sugar over a modest heat and add the gelatine leaves. Stir until the gelatine is melted,

Take the pan off the heat and then slowly add the prosecco – it will fizz so stir very gently.

Line a terrine mould with cling film and pile in the orange segments. Pour over the orange and prosecco and gently nudge the segments around to distribute them evenly.

Put in the fridge to set for at least 4 hours or overnight.

To serve dip the mould in hot water for a few seconds and then invert onto a serving plate. Slice carefully using a serrated knife dipped in hot water.

Eat and feel free to gargle and giggle.

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A recipe for lentils

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Maybe it sounds better in Italian, una ricetta per le lenticchie or as David Tanis suggests French lentils, I could even make something up like superlative recipe for lentils gently pan fried in a saute of seasonal vegetables – but then you would have to punch me and then I might have to punch you back, it would all get very messy, libellous even, so I won’t call it that. Actually, I don’t really know where I am going with all this, I like it, straightforward, simple, it’s a good name, a recipe for lentils. After all its the name my friend scribbled at the top of the recipe she jotted down for me on the back of a shoe repair shop receipt (which I still have, £12.99 was the price of a repaired boot zip) long before I had even heard of David Tanis.

A recipe for lentils it is.

First up some good lentils, the tiny slate – green french lentilles de puy or the highly and rightly prized Italian lenticchie di Castelluccio di Norcia are both ideal. Joyfully needing no soaking the lentils are simply rinsed, covered with cold water and then gently cooked at a lively simmer with an onion, carrot, stick of celery, a couple of bay leaves and some whole black peppercorns.

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While they cook, creating a most pleasing scent in your kitchen, you soften some finely chopped onion, carrot and celery in a shallow pan. Once the lentils are suitably tender but still with a some bite – about  20 -35 minutes depending on the type and how old the lentils are – they are tossed with the softened vegetables, seasoned and voilà.

I like the earthy, robust yet delicate taste of lentils particularly when they are cooked until they reach a point of moist creaminess – without being total mush- ready to soak up any flavours or juices you offer, whilst maintaining a very slight nutty bite . This way of cooking lentils renders them gloriously flavoursome, vegetables and bay leaves lending their goodness to the lentils while they simmer away, then the trio of gently softened carrot, celery and onion bestows the second layer of flavour.

I think this is one of the best and most useful recipes I have been given in the last few years, it is certainly delicious and one we return to weekly, eating it hot, cold (not too cold) and everywhere in between. We often eat it topped with a poached egg – as I just have, 2 actually.

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While we are on the subject of poached eggs, I am having a phase a bit like the one I had for olive oil fried eggs, the ones I plonked on top of nearly everything. The fried eggs have been sidelined, a bit like your best friend when you tumble into the first heady weeks of a new love story. Of course your best friend will return to center-stage, she is your best friend after all and she understands, it has happened before and she will return the favour when it suits her. So now its poached eggs on nearly everything. It all started about 3 weeks ago after reading in Elizabeth David’s book ‘Is there a nutmeg in the house‘ and her advice on how to prepare neat, plump, well shaped and comely poached eggs. Neat, plump, well shaped and comely poached eggs – goodness, I don’t just want one, I want to be one.

This is the jist of her advice. Fresh Eggs, well not too fresh, 3 days old is ideal, Yes, I know, how. I suppose until I get my own chickens I had better get friendly with the egg man at the market and get pencilling dates on eggs.

Ordinary pan, 2 small cups, a slotted spoon, a metal tbsp.

Choose small eggs and plan to poach only 2 eggs at a time to start. Three – quarters fill a ordinary pan with cold water. bring the water to simmering point and add a tablespoon of wine vinegar. Break each egg into a small cup and then slide them gently into the simmering water. Count to 30. Turn off the heat. With a metal spoon roll each egg over once or twice (ED notes this sounds dangerous but will work if the eggs are in the right condition.) Skim of any white bits that have floated to the top, cover the saucepan and leave the eggs for 3 minutes. With your perforated spoon lift out the eggs and blot on kitchen towel before serving immediately.

Back to the lentils

A pile of these lentils goes beautifully with some poached cod or alongside some meaty sausages or roast pork. For grander occasions you could pair them with gamey things, venison, pheasant or best of all smoked goose – look at me all grand. I admit I only ate this particular combination once, but they were a very fine couple indeed.

A recipe for lentils

serves 4

first stage

  • 250g lentilles de puy or lenticchie di Castelluccio di Norcia
  • 1  medium carrot peeled and chopped in 2
  • 1 small mild onion peeled and chopped in 2
  • 1 small stick of celery
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 whole black peppercorns

2nd stage

  • 4 tbsp good extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 medium stick of celery finely diced
  • 1 small mild onion, peeled and finely diced
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pick over and rinse the lentils then put them in a pan along with the carrot, celery, onion, bay and peppercorns (first stage ones.) Cover with plenty of cold water.

Bring the pan to the boil and then reduce the heat to a lively simmer until the lentils are just done – this should take about 20 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking in a large shallow pan gently warm the oil over a modest heat and then soften the diced carrot, celery and onion (stage 2 ones) until soft and translucent, this should take about 10 minutes..

Drain the lentils, discard the vegetables, bay leaves and peppercorns if you can find them.

Combine the lentils with the softened vegetables and then season accordingly with salt and freshly ground black pepper.


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Fergus Henderson’s Salt cod, Potato and Tomato.

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I have been mulling over how to write this post for 3 days now, I have started it at least 5 times only to delete everything, put the computer to sleep and mull some more. You see, I just can’t seem to find the appropriate and fitting words to pay tribute to a chef , a restaurant, a book and a recipe.

The 4 objects of my procrastination are chef, Fergus Henderson, his restaurant St John, his book, Nose to tail eating and his recipe, salt cod, potato and Tomato.

My usual list of superlatives and excessive adjectives for praise just don’t seem right for the above 4, even though many of them are bouncing around in my mouth like a class of unsupervised over excited, hyperactive 5 year olds when I think of any one of this quartet - brilliant, inspiring, cult, classic, tour di force, awesome (did I ever say that, ok, slap my face and wash my mouth out with salt water). I would like to write something that at least vaguely honours the style of all 4, unpretentious, straightforward, without an ounce of hyperbole. So, how about, just great, oh, and considering this is all about food, lets put the emphasis on the latter part of the word, as in grEAT.

To write something I am vaguely happy with, maybe I need to take myself back to when I first encountered Fergus Henderson’s cooking about 8 years ago. My  friend Joanna took me to St John. It had been open about a year, we ate in the bar, anchovy toast, welsh rarebit, hard boiled eggs with celery salt, a salad with crispy pigs tails, roast bone marrow with parsley salad. I knew nothing about the fast growing fervour for this white, cavernous, ex- smokehouse of a restaurant, even less about the man at the stove with a penchant for cooking way beyond the fillet. I just knew the place was wonderful, the food simple, honest, original and utterly delicious, the staff really nice and the experience, well great.

Lots of visits ensued, usually with Joanna, occasionally in the restaurant but mostly in the bar, each experience like the first, great. I bought the book, I took it home, its great. The recipes, to make that simple, honest, original and utterly delicious food are, yes, GREAT.

That’s it, that’s what I wanted to say, the aforementioned 4 I have been mulling over are, well great. My over excited, hyperactive 5 year old words are bouncing again, stop it Rachel, you have said enough.

Now, the book. Much has been written, feverish admiration, squeals, commotion about FH’s masterful way with lesser used cuts and bits of beasts, noses, tails, spleens, hearts and feet. FH’s reclaiming the inspired use everything, of nose to tail – something French an Italian mothers have never forgotten, that the trotters, necks, kidneys, intestines and to put it bluntly, blood and guts, in the hands of a thoughtful and gentle cook are some of the most delicious, flavoursome morsels you can eat (if meat is your thing.)

The book is nose to tail of the beast heavy, 73 of the 139 recipes. But just say I developed a life threatening allergy to all things beast, (which would be a terrible thing) I would still prize and return joyfully to this book for the fish, vegetable, salad and sweet recipes which are every bit as wonderful as the rest.

Finally to the recipe.

No, I have not developed a life threatening allergy to all things beast, I just fancied some salt cod when I thumbed through Nose to Tail last Wednesday. Actually it wasn’t entirely by chance I chose something starring salt cod, it had been on my mind ever since the day before, when I read that one of FH’s favorite cooking play-lists includes the soundtrack of Zorba the greek and that he fell in love with his wife while dancing to it and discussing salt cod.

Yes, lets discuss salt cod, not in great detail I hasten to add, I will leave that to wikipedia. I know this is another ingredient which provokes delight or revulsion rather than indifference, the particular smelling salted and preserved pieces of cod which when carefully soaked can produce the most delicious platefuls – I should just add that salt cod if different to stock fish which is dried cod.

I fall onto the delight side of the fence and I consider myself lucky – you may say unlucky I suppose, if you fall onto the revulsion side – because Italians are lovers and masters of cooking salt cod, known as Baccalà. You can buy it everywhere here in Rome, where the cooking of salted and preserved cod (the worlds oldest method of food preserving) is shrouded in history, religion and faith, politics and commerce and for many, the weekly ritual of eating it.

baccala

You can buy salt cod ready soaked, but I prefer to soak it myself because its cheaper and if its over salted or over soaked and fuzzy, I am to blame, not left cursing somebody else. There is some soaking time involved, any thing from 14 – 48 hours and about 8 water changes depending on the size of the piece – are you gasping, ok, buy the ready soaked.

So this fine recipe is as I promised before, simple. honest, and utterly delicious.

Flakes of salt cod, its robust yet delicate and pleasingly chewy texture quite unlike fresh cod tossed with roasted small tomatoes, garlic, and pebble like cubes of boiled potatoes. The 4 are dressed simply with the sticky, oily, tomato and garlic juices which collected in the roasting tin and a big handful of chopped parsley.

We ate in warm for lunch with some Focaccia to mop up the juices.

Vincenzo declared it delicious and we raised our glasses to the fine Quartet of chef, restaurant, book and recipe.

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Fergus Henderson’s Salt cod, Potato and Tomato.

Adapted from Fergus Hendersons Nose to tail eating.

  • 8oog vine tomatoes
  • 12 cloves of garlic, peeled.
  • sea salt and pepper
  • about 200ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1kg flavoursome potatoes
  • 1kg salt cod, soaked as required,carefully patted dry, skinned, small bones picked out and cut into 3cm chunks
  • a big handful of parsley roughly chopped

Chop your tomatoes in half and place them with the peeled garlic in a oven dish, sprinkle with salt and dribble over the oil.

Roast in a medium oven, about an hour, until the tomatoes are soft and giving and just a little caramelized at the edges,

Peel the potatoes and boil under tender. Drain and allow to cool enough to handle and then chop into rough chunks.

Gentle poach the cod pieces in a shallow pan of simmering water for 5 minutes and then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on some kitchen towel.

In a large bowl mix the tomatoes, garlic, potato chunks, poached cod. Tip over the sticky, tomatoey, juices from the roasting tin and another glug of oil if you think it needs it. Add the roughly chopped parsley, season carefully with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Mix the ingredients together gently but firmly so the flavours mingle, the cod will crumble, this is good.

Serve just so with good bread.

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Gratin of artichokes

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I don’t cook artichokes very often.

It is quite foolish of me because I adore them and Roman markets have the most extraordinarily abundant harvest of them at this time of year. It’s me, I just don’t cook them very often.

It’s not that I’m not afraid of them anymore. I used to be, the preparation all seemed far to complicated and messy for the likes of me and my first experience of trimming 6 fine specimens was frankly distressing as I mauled and cut them out of all recognition. My fear abated and modest artichoke skills only emerged when I discovered Marcella Hazan and her book Italian food and her superlative description of how to handle this beautiful vegetable.

So before we talk about the gratin, first, Preparing artichokes.

At this point – if your artichoke skills are honed – you may choose to skip straight to the recipe or you may decide to skip me altogether and pull your copy of Italian food off the shelf and learn with Marcella her very self or even click on The Italian dish for a lovely demonstration of how to tame your globes…….still with me…..ok

artichoke-whole

Leaving the stem intact for now. First you need to discard all the dark, tough outer leaves which are inedible. Begin by bending back each leaf, pulling it down towards the base and snapping it off just before the paler end of the leaf which is tender and delicious.

As you get deeper into the artichoke you will see the leaves are paler, pinky white and the point at which you snap the leaf gets higher and higher from the base. Keep pulling off  leaves until you have exposed a central core of leaves that are only green at the very tip.

Slice an inch off the top of the central core and rub the cut edge of the artichoke with half a lemon to stop it discolouring.

Now, look into the center of the core, you will notice very small leaves with prickly tips, the fuzzy ‘choke,’ Using a knife with a round tip gently scrape out these little leaves but be careful not to damage the tender base.

artichokes-5

Now with a sharp knife and your half lemon ready return to the outer leaves. Carefully shave away all traces of green and tough looking leaves and then carefully pare away the tough green fibrous part of the stem to expose the very pale tender part of the stalk which is one of the tastiest parts. While you work keep rubbing the lemon half on the exposed tender flesh to prevent it from discolouring.

Ok, all the hard word done, the artichokes are quartered, briefly boiled and then arranged pleasingly in a shallow dish, dotted with butter and covered with plenty of freshly grated parmesan and baked for about 15minutes.

I can vouch for the delicious simplicity of this dish, I have just eaten most of the contents of the above dish standing up leaning against the work-surface with the sun on my face, a most modest portion remains for vincenzo when he gets home.

As for serving suggestions, well standing up at the work-surface with the sun on your face is one, as an antipasti with some nice bread to mop up the buttery juices is another or maybe it would go well with some tender lamb chops – let me know if you have any ideas.

Gratin of Artichokes

  • 6 large globes artichokes
  • half a lemon and 1tbsp of lemon juice for adding to the boiling water
  • 50g butter and extra for buttering the dish
  • 80g freshly grated parmesan
  • freshly ground black pepper

Prepare your artichokes as described above.

Cut each artichoke into quarters rubbing each quarter with half a lemon to stop them discolouring.

Bring a large pan of salted water and 1tsp lemon juice to a fast boil.

Drop the artichoke quarters into the boiling water. once the water comes back to a boil allow the artichokes to cook for 5 Min’s.

Drain the artichokes and once they have cooled enough to handle cut each quarter into 3.

Butter a medium sized shallow dish. Arrange a layer of artichoke slices in the bottom of the dish, dot with butter and sprinkle over a handful of parmesan. Now, repeat the procedure, building up layer of artichoke. Arrange a final layer of artichokes and for the last time dot your butter and cover with very generous quantity of parmesan.

Bake at 190°c/375°F for 15 minutes until the parmesan forms a light crust.

Allow to rest for a few minutes before serving

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Our oil has arrived.

Our oil has arrived. 20 litres of first cold press extra virgin olive oil from Umbria.

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Vincenzo’s parents drove out to the Azienda Agricola Lea Comaschi in Amelia on Saturday to collect the annual 60 litres, 20 for them, 20 for Vincenzo and I and 20 for their daughter and her husband (the good ones, the ones who did it properly, the marriage I mean, the heavy duty catholic one, all in white and serious.)

Talking of serious, I love that oil is taken so seriously by the Caristia family. Each year Bartolomeo and Carmella make a little pilgrimage to Amelia to meet with the priest (yep)  who overseas the modest production of this fine oil to collect their annual bounty. Each year, sometime in January, after a good Sunday lunch the oil is dutifully dolled out to the two siblings, the husband and I.

The olives were harvested in October and early November and were pressed immediately after to yield this first cold press extra virgin olive oil (first press- as in the oil from the first pressing of the olives, the best, cold- as no heat was used which would change the oils chemistry.)

The oil is an almost luminous green. As is typical of Umbrian extra virgin olive oil it has a beautifully low acidity, distinctive, full, robust, fruity flavour with a delicious peppery aftertaste which lingers on the tongue.

We were all reminded by the priest that oil does not keep indefinitely, each tin or bottle is marked meticulously, we should use it within a year and keep the large bottles in a cool dark place, decanting a small quantity into a smaller bottle to use each day.

I am sure this oil is one of the reasons I love to cook here so much, it is not super fancy, nor does it claim to be the finest oil in Italy (even though its mighty fine) or boast a designer bottle or price tag (I know some people love that stuff), but it is  delicious, lending its robust fruity depth to so much of the food we eat. We will use it to cook, sometimes to bake and pour it generously over salads, vegetables, soups, pasta or simply mop it up with good bread.

bread-and-olive-oil

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It’s all about pasta.

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Yep, its all about pasta, and it’s a serious business for this Sicilian. Nothing fancy mind, pasta burro e parmigiano, spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino. pasta al pomodoro crudo, spaghetti alla bottarga !! just whats needed every day, EVERY DAY.

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Spaghetti with tomato sauce and ricotta

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I think I might of mentioned Vincenzos relationship with pasta, the passionate and devoted one, the one that means if he doesn’t eat it everyday he is decidedly out of sorts.I don’t really understand it. Don’t get me wrong I adore pasta and will happily eat it everyday, lunchtime being my preferred hour, but I don’t need it in the way he does. Good thing is, I don’t need to understand his dependency, I just need to cook a lot of pasta.I am not about to start giving you a pasta tutorial, you probably know better than me, but I would like to share a recipe which I think I have practised and  mastered in a humble way. It is a recipe which never fails to delight Vincenzo, he says the sugo is almost as good as his nonnas, he kisses me when I hand him the plate.

If it was summer I would be recommending some startlingly red  San Marzano tomatoes with their firm flesh, comparatively small core of flesh and full flavour or vine ripened Roma for the sugo. Unfortunately its not summer, most definitely not summer and so completely satisfactory tomatoes are not available, so it is better to use a tin of very good imported Italian plum tomatoes.

This recipe is from a muddle of sources and a host of Italians. It is a combination of endless sauces I have watched being made, helped to make, made and eaten. It also owes a enormous debt to Marcella Hazan, as does much of my cooking.

This sauce is dense and dark, slowly cooked over a base of sauteed vegetables

Spaghetti with tomato sauce and ricotta

Inspired by many, guided by Marcella Hazan.

serves 6

  • 500g tinned plum tomatoes
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 tbsp very finely chopped onion
  • 6 tbsp very finely chopped carrot
  • 6 tbsp very finely chopped celery
  • salt
  • 500g – 600g good spaghetti
  • 200g fresh Ricotta di pecora
  • some sprigs of basil

First make your sauce.

In a large heavy based pan warm the olive oil and add the onion. Raise the heat to modest medium and saute the onion until soft and very pale gold.

Add the carrot and celery, stir well and cook for another 2 minutes.

Add the tinned tomatoes and a good pinch of salt and stir. Lower the heat and allow the sauce to gently cook and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes stirring from time to time.

Just before you turn off the heat, taste and add more salt if you feel the sauce needs it.

About 15 minutes before the sauce is ready, bring a large, deeper than wide pan of cold water to a fast boil and salt it generously (about 10g to each litre of water.)

Drop the spaghetti in the water and cook to al dente perfection. depending on the brand this will take anything from 6 – 10 minutes.

Once the pasta is ready drain it quickly. You have timed this perfectly, so your sauce is now ready.

Working quickly divide the pasta between your warmed pasta bowls. Spoon over some of your sauce and place a slice of ricotta, a sprig of basil and a dribble of raw oil on each serving.

Serve immediately

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