Classic Italian dishes to enjoy in the garden on a sunny day | Food

Classic Italian dishes to enjoy in the garden on a sunny day | Food

This is food I’m going to eat in the garden as we’re still a long way from the beach and sandy sandwiches. These summer dishes are compensation to Tilly and me. The advantage of the garden is that we can lay a nice table on a classic 70s cloth.

These dishes (with the making of the fresh pasta aside, which can be done in advance) are fairly quick. It’s food you could get together while the barbecue heats, but that could stand alone as well.

This cavatelli pasta is a Pugliese classic. It doesn’t have to be served piping hot.

Syllabub is something my mum used to make for dinner parties. She never let me try it, I guess because of the alcohol, but I remember her piling it into kitsch sky-blue martini glasses. So it is with particular pleasure I serve and eat this, besides being a good way to enjoy gooseberries, while we have them.

Insalata di mare

Simple seafood salad can be made ahead and kept in the fridge, although it is best if it doesn’t wait around too long. If I can, I simply let the temperature come down to just above room temperature before serving. The fish and seafood require separate cooking. Serves 4

clams 400g, checked, cleaned and washed
mussels 400g, checked, cleaned, washed
black pepper and sea salt
white wine 200ml
courgettes 1 small or 200g
garlic 2 cloves
bay leaf 1
squid 400g, cleaned and prepared
fillets of plaice or other white fish 400g
pine nuts 25g
celery 5 sticks
parsley a small bunch
chilli half
lemon 1, the juice of
extra virgin olive oil

Place a heavy pan over a high heat. Add the clams and mussels with a good tsp of freshly cracked black pepper and a splash of wine then place the lid on top. Cook, shaking from time to time, until all the shells are open – there should be a strong aroma of pepper. Remove from the heat. Take the meat from the shells, leaving a few in the shell for decoration if you like. Keep them in their liquid and set aside.

Dice the courgettes into ½ cm pieces. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil with the garlic cloves cut in two, the bay leaf and remaining wine. Add the squid and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the white fish and after 30 seconds turn the heat off. Leave in the water for 10 minutes then, when cooler, remove the fish and slice the squid.

Toast the pine nuts. Dice or slice the celery. Chop the parsley and chilli and make a dressing with it, the lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of salt.

Mix everything together, gently adjust the seasoning with more black pepper and arrange on a serving plate.

Tuna-stuffed tomato

Alfresco favourites: tuna-stuffed tomatoes.
Alfresco favourites: tuna-stuffed tomatoes. Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

This is also the filling for my all-time favourite sandwich. Serves 4

egg 1, hard-boiled
lemon juice of half
Dijon mustard 1 tbsp
tinned tuna 250g
big green olives 8, stones removed
extra virgin olive oil
oxheart tomatoes or similar, 2
black pepper
basil leaves a handful
sea salt

Peel the egg and place it in your food processor with the lemon juice, mustard and a third of the tuna. Blitz until smooth. Add a tbsp of the olives’ brine and then with the machine running add 4 tbsp of olive oil, one at a time. Add the rest of the tuna to the filling and barely pulse to combine.

Cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out some of the insides. Chop the tomato insides and the olives, stir into the filling with black pepper and the basil, first torn into pieces.

Season the tomatoes with a tiny sprinkle of salt, and then fill.

Cavatelli, cherry tomatoes and rocket

‘APugliese classic’: cavatelli, cherry tomatoes and rocket.
‘APugliese classic’: cavatelli, cherry tomatoes and rocket. Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

It is, of course, acceptable to make this with shop-bought dry pasta; orecchiette would be a good substitute if cavatelli isn’t available. In this case, the rocket should be added to the boiling water 3 minutes before the pasta is ready. Substitute pecorino if you can’t find the harder salted ricotta, or indeed serve without cheese for a vegan dish. Serves 4

For the pasta:
durum wheat semolina flour 200g, plus extra for dusting
whole wheat spelt flour 100g

For the sauce:
cherry tomatoes 200g
extra virgin olive oil
dried chilli 1
garlic 2 cloves
sea salt
basil a few leaves
rocket 150g
salted ricotta or caccio ricotta 80g, grated (available at most Italian delis)

To make the pasta, several hours ahead, mix both the flours together in a large bowl. Measure 150g of cold water in a jug. Pour the water in a stream into the flour, mixing with your other hand as you do so. Then turn the flour over with both hands, keeping your fingers apart, like rakes. Once there are only clumps of flour with little dry flour remaining bring it all together by squeezing and then transfer to the work bench for kneading. Knead for 10 minutes if you can hack it, changing the direction and working the gluten as you do so. It should finish up relatively soft, smooth and springy. Allow it to relax, covered with a bowl or cloth for at least 30 minutes, when it will soften.

Cut a small, walnut-sized – very roughly 50g – chunk of dough. Place on a large wooden board or directly on the work surface. Roll into a sausage just less than 1cm thick. Cut this into 4cm pieces, so you have several little cylinders.

Place your three middle fingers on the top of one cylinder and press down and roll towards you at the same time. This should make a cavatello curled around your fingers which you can remove and place on a flour-dusted edge of a wooden chopping board. The centre will have been excavated. Store them side by side, but not touching each other.

When you’re ready to eat, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Wash the tomatoes and pierce them with a knife. Have a bowl of cold water ready and drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for 30 seconds and then with a slotted spoon move them into the cold water. Peel them by popping them out of their skins.

In a wide pan, add several tbsp of olive oil, the chilli and the cloves of garlic cut in 2. Set over a medium-high heat and fry, turning the garlic from time to time until ever so slightly golden. Add the tomatoes along with a pinch of salt and cook them briskly, squishing them with the back of your wooden spoon as you stir them. Add a few leaves of basil, too. Stir again and turn the heat off after 5 minutes.

Add the rocket to the boiling water followed by the pasta. Cook for another 3 minutes until the pasta is ready (test one by trying it). Add a large spoonful of the pasta water to the sauce before draining the pasta and adding it, too. Add a tbsp more olive oil and toss vigorously. Serve along with the grated ricotta.

Gooseberry syllabub

‘Syllabub is something my mum used to make for dinner parties’: gooseberry syllabub.
‘Syllabub is something my mum used to make for dinner parties’: gooseberry syllabub. Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

You can use brandy instead of grappa if you like, or omit it altogether, but the combination with lemon gives a sort of limoncello vibe. Serves 4

gooseberries 400g
golden caster sugar 100g
dry white wine 150 ml
grappa 1 shot
lemon 1
double cream 300ml
egg whites 2

Place the gooseberries in a pan with 40g of the sugar and place on a medium heat. Cook for 8 minutes until softened, then cool. Mix another 40g of sugar, the wine, grappa and the grated zest and juice of a lemon together. Once the sugar has more or less dissolved, stir in the cream. Whisk at a medium speed until thick.

Whisk the egg whites to peaks, in a clean bowl, adding the remaining sugar halfway through. Fold this by hand into the cream, then add the gooseberries. Spoon into 4 glasses and chill in the fridge for a few hours.

Joe Trivelli is the head chef at the River Café.

The Observer aims to publish recipes for seafood rated as sustainable by the Marine Conservation Society’s Good Fish Guide

Styling by Henrietta Clancy

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