Nick Risidi, of Amici Ristorante in East Parade, Keighley, revisits his Italian roots for another taste of the Mediterranean
The origin of Italian cuisine is fascinating.
The origins of the dishes we know and love today are said to date back to Roman times. The Roman Empire was vast, stretching across the Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa. As the Roman Empire conquered different regions, they chose different ingredients to use in their cooking, which shaped the cuisine over the years.
There are basic ingredients that have been used since the beginning and are still used today, such as wine, olive oil, bread, vegetables, legumes and cheeses. Pasta, of course, one of the main ingredients we still use today, dates back to the conquest of Rome by the Etruscans in 800 BC. Food historians have identified a mural, found in an Etruscan tomb, that depicts the making of pasta. It depicts cooks mixing flour with water, using tools such as a rolling pin and a cutting machine to prepare it. Another early influence on pasta is believed to come from the Greeks, who introduced makrios, an early form of short pasta considered a predecessor of macaroni.
During the Middle Ages, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the region was conquered by many different groups who all brought their own cuisines and flavors to the country. Religions also began to shape the diets of different groups, especially around a particular day, such as religious holidays.
The Renaissance drastically changed the cuisine in Italy, seeing more influence coming from neighboring European countries. Food began to become more than something to eat or trade, it was a source of pleasure and a means of socializing, and the wealthy began to staff their kitchens with professional chefs. It was at this time that the Spaniards, who reigned over Naples, introduced the tomato into Italian cuisine, a staple of Italian cuisine. Other foods introduced around this time include vegetables like zucchini, beans, corn, and peppers, as well as things like chocolate, which is also very common in Italian desserts.
The reason why Italian recipes still differ from region to region these days is because of how history has shaped the country. When Italy united in the mid-19th century, the distinct flavors of the peninsula’s different geographic regions shaped Italian cuisine as we know it. And since then, this wonderful and varied idea of Italian cuisine has itself exported to other countries, influencing what is eaten there. The United States, for example, has regions with a strong Italian influence.
Without a doubt, regardless of the origin of the different elements, pasta is a very popular dish in Italy and around the world. The Italians do it well, with so much variety that there’s almost always a pasta dish to please everyone.
This week I am sharing with you a creamy vegetable pasta dish recipe, made with spring vegetables and fettuccine. Quick, easy and delicious. Perfect for a spring evening.
SPAGHETTI AL TONNO
For 4 people
700g tinned tomatoes
200g tuna in oil, drained
2 tablespoons of capers
2 cloves garlic
1 pinch of chilli flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
120ml white wine
Salt and black pepper
1. Heat the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. First, add the capers to the hot oil. To chop your garlic clove, remove the skin, crush it with the flat of a knife then chop the garlic horizontally then vertically until it is in small pieces. Add the garlic to the skillet and cook the contents for one minute.
2. Add dried oregano and chili flakes. Pour in the white wine and cook until the mixture reduces, with about 3 tablespoons of liquid remaining. This should take 2-4 minutes.
3. Stir the canned tomatoes into the pan and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Reduce cooking temperature to medium heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.
4. Stir the drained tuna with a tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley into the sauce. Use a wooden spoon to break up the tuna, allowing for even distribution throughout the sauce. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for another 10 minutes.
5. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, adding a little salt to the water. Cook your pasta according to the cooking time suggested on the package, cooking the maximum time if you like soft pasta, or a little less time if you prefer al dente pasta. Once your pasta is cooked, drain it well and return it to the pan in which it cooked.
6. Once the pasta and sauce are cooked, pour the tomato sauce over the pasta, stirring to mix the two well. Once mixed, cover the pot and let the pasta rest for 3 minutes before serving. To serve, divide the pasta into bowls and finish with a drizzle of olive oil, a pinch of parmesan and a little chopped fresh parsley. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste and enjoy immediately.