Play your carbs right: Skye Gyngell falls for the charms of potatoes and pasta

They may be everyday favourites for the rest of us, but potatoes and pasta were forbidden in her kitchen for years. Now Skye Gyngell has finally been won over by these wholesome nutritional staples
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Over the four years that Petersham Nurseries has existed, I have always been adamant that I would not put potatoes or pasta on the menu. Throughout my career I've always felt that carbohydrates of these kind are a little heavy for my style of cooking. They work a bit like blotting paper – soaking up or dumbing down the other ingredients that I work with and preventing the complex flavours from really singing.

Well, I have recently had a complete change of heart and am currently cooking with both obsessively. Used in the right way, potatoes and pasta, I have come to realise, don't have to overpower subtle flavours, but can work as a delicate complement.

Recently we acquired a pasta-making machine at Petersham, and I have been experimenting endlessly with it. I started out with one basic recipe and have been working on it over the past few days. Over time, I've been adding increments of more and more egg yolk, which seems to be working well. The following ravioli recipe is the one we are working on at the moment. It's good, but still a work in progress. I'd love to find the perfect recipe one day. So if anyone has it, please let me know.

Alongside the pasta – ravioli with a delicious Parmesan and potato-based filling – I've done a simple flat bread.

I'm off to Australia now for the Melbourne Food Festival. Hopefully, by the time I get back I'll be laden with bounty from the first of the new season to tell you about.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627

Ravioli with potato, sage and cavalo nero

Serves 4

For the cavolo nero
1 bunch of cavolo nero
80g/3oz unsalted butter
Sea salt and black pepper
For the filling
350g/111/2oz little potatoes (I like Roseval)
140g/5oz unsalted butter
100g/31/2oz freshly grated Parmesan
A small bunch of sage, leaves only, chopped
Sea salt and black pepper
For the pasta (makes about 600g/21oz)
500g/171/2oz flour
4 large eggs
2 yolks
A pinch of salt
A small amount of beaten egg

First, strip the dark leaves from the tough central stalk of the cavolo nero. Place a pan of well-salted water on to boil and plunge the cavolo nero in. Cook for three to four minutes. Drain and set aside.

Place the potatoes in cold, well-salted water and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook until they are tender and falling apart. Drain, place in a bowl and add the butter, Parmesan, sage and salt and pepper. Mash together, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

For the pasta, ensure all the ingredients are at room temperature. Sieve the flour into a bowl then tip it into a mound on a clean work surface. Make a well in the centre, add the eggs, yolks and salt. Break the eggs up lightly with your fingertips and move your fingers in a circular motion, gradually incorporating the flour until you have enough to start forming a ball. Start working the dough with heel of your hand, folding the dough back on itself, turning it clockwise as you do so. If the dough is dry, wet your hands. Knead for 10 minutes. The dough should feel smooth and springy.

Divide into two balls, wrap each in a damp cloth and leave to rest for at least an hour. Then roll the dough until it is roughly one-inch thick. Place your pasta machine on its thickest setting and feed the dough through, supporting it with one hand and turning the handle with the other. Reduce the setting and feed through again; keep reducing the setting and feeding through as you do so. You should go down three or four settings. Now fold the pasta back on itself. Put the machine back on its thickest setting and repeat the process. The pasta will begin to get longer and finer. Feed it through gently this time, as it can crinkle; dust with flour between each feed.

Now cut the pasta in half, fold each half in two and feed first one then the other through the thickest setting to the finest widthways. Repeat with the second piece. Then repeat this process until you havea pasta that is about 1.5mm thick.

To make the ravioli, lay the first strip of pasta on a floured surface, place little mounds of filling at intervals of about 4cm, brush the sides with beaten egg and lay the second strip on top. Cut into little squares, leaving a border of a couple of centimetres. Boil a large pot of water and cook the ravioli for three minutes, then drain.

Now warm the cavolo nero in the butter, and season with salt and pepper.

Place the ravioli in a bowl and spoon the warm, buttery cavolo on top. Serve with a little freshly grated Parmesan. '

Grilled poussin with yoghurt, smashed tomatoes and flat bread

Serves 4

4 poussin (ask your butcher to spatchcock them for you)
2tbsp good-quality sea salt
The juice of one lemon
4tbsp olive oil
1 small bunch of marjoram, leaves only
1 red chilli, finely sliced, seeds left in
For the tomato sauce
5 plum tomatoes
2 sprigs rosemary
1 clove of garlic
1tbsp red-wine vinegar
120ml/4fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
1 dried red chilli
A good pinch of sea salt
For the yoghurt
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
50ml/2fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
A pinch of salt
180ml/6fl oz thick Greek-style yoghurt
For the flat bread
1tsp fennel seeds
225g/71/2oz plain flour
1tsp baking powder
2 whole eggs
2tsp plain yoghurt
1tsp olive oil
A pinch of salt

Lay the chickens flat and scatter the salt over. Cover lightly with a damp cloth and store in the fridge for 24 hours.

Preheat a barbecue or flat grill. Take the chickens, scrape off the salt, wash and pat dry, then lay on a large plate, squeeze over the lemon juice. Drizzle over the olive oil and scatter over the marjoram and chilli. Massage the birds to incorporate the flavours in their flesh. Set aside.

Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise and place on the middle shelf of the oven at 160C/325F/Gas3 for 30 minutes or until they are slightly caramelised at the edges. Remove and allow to cool slightly. Place a third of the tomatoes in a pestle and mortar along with the rosemary leaves and garlic, and pound until you have a mushy paste. Add the vinegar and olive oil and stir to combine. Chop the remaining tomatoes roughly and add to the paste; add a good pinch of salt, stir once again then set aside for the flavours to marry.

To make the yoghurt dressing, add crushed garlic, olive oil and salt to the Greek yoghurt. Stir well then set aside.

To make the flat bread, warm the fennel seeds in a little pan to release their aniseed flavour. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, make a well in the centre and add the eggs, yoghurt and olive oil. Stir to combine, dragging the dry ingredients into the wet. Soon you will have the beginnings of a dough; add the fennel seeds and salt. Place a little flour on a work surface and knead the dough for four minutes, then return to a clean bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Place in a warm place to rest for half an hour. When you are ready to roll it, flour a work surface and break the dough into little balls – this quantity will make 10 flat breads. Using a rolling pin, roll the balls into flat, long pieces of bread 1/8-inch thick. They can sit for a couple of hours in the fridge or throw them on the grill straight away. Serve brushed with a little olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.

Place the chickens flesh-side down and grill for eight minutes; move them around every now and then so they cook evenly. Turn and cook for six minutes on the underside. A couple of minutes before they are ready, throw the flatbread on the grill and cook for a minute on one side; turn and cook for a few seconds on the other.

To serve, arrange the chickens on a large plate. Pass the sauces and flat bread around for people to help themselves. '

Dark chocolate cake

This cake is probably the easiest dessert in the world to make; it simply requires good-quality chocolate. It is exceptionally dark and rich – with no added sugar. The smallest slice is all you need.

225g/71/2oz dark chocolate
250ml/8fl oz double cream
2tbsp cocoa powder

Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a bain-marie (it is important that the base of the bowl should not touch the water, as the chocolate should steam-melt, rather than cook). Do not stir, just let the chocolate melt gently on its own. In a separate pan heat the cream, then stir into the melted chocolate.

Line a 15cm cake tin with parchment paper and pour in the chocolate and cream mixture. Allow to cool to room temperature, then place in the fridge for about an hour.

To serve, remove from the cake tin and slice with a sharp knife that has been dipped in hot water.

The Forager by Wendy Fogarty

Petersham's food sourcer on where to go for the best hand-made pasta...

The highest-quality pasta is made from durum wheat, pure spring water and pressed with traditional bronze dyes before slow drying for 40 to 60 hours at low temperatures.

Valvona and Crolla , the famous Edinburgh delicatessen ( www.valvonacrolla-online.co.uk) sells an extensive selection of quality pasta including:

La Molisana a brand from the Molise/Abruzzo region of Italy, which makes more than 130 different pasta types, including bucatini, capellini, penne ziti and rigatoni.

Caserecci del Gargano, which is made in coastal Puglia, where The Cooperativa di Pasta Gragnano represents artisan pasta-makers to ensure that the traditional methods of production are maintained.

Savoria ( www.savoria.co.uk) sells conchiglie, trucioli, lumachine, riccioli and tortiglioni from fellow Puglian artisans Pasta di Gina & Sofia.

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