Dinner al dente: Skye Gyngell's perfect pasta

Home-made or dried, nothing beats a warming bowl of pasta – especially with the toppings Skye Gyngell has in store...

Sunday 06 December 2009 01:00

Pasta almost always satisfies me – I often eat it at home after a long day at work when I need to be enveloped in something comforting.

At work, we make pasta almost every day in many different guises – from agnolotti filled with ricotta, dried chilli and sage to plump papardelle made with nothing more than a simple sauce of ripe tomatoes.

Pasta is a lovely thing to make – watching it take its form is quite mesmerising and rolling it out with a pasta-maker makes the process easy. If you have neither the time nor patience to make your own, look for good-quality dried pasta. I steer clear of what supermarkets call fresh pasta, as its taste is often heavy and its texture too soft.

I'd suggest you allow 150g/5oz of pasta per person, unless you are very hungry.

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

Tagliatelle with cavolo nero

Cavolo nero or black cabbage is one of my favourite winter vegetables – but it does need attention to flavouring, so as not to taste too monotonous. Here I have puréed half and seasoned it with anchovies, butter and Parmesan before folding it through long strips of cooked cabbage to create a wonderful green sauce that wraps itself seductively around the pasta.

Serves 4

1 bunch of cavolo nero
A good pinch of sea salt
40g/11/2oz unsalted butter
2 tbsp grassy flavoured extra-virgin olive oil
3 good-quality anchovies, such as Ortiz
3 cloves of garlic
75g/3oz grated Parmesan

Rinse the cabbage well to remove any dirt. Strip the dark fibrous leaves from their stalks and discard the stalks. Boil a large pot of well-salted water, plunge in the leaves and cook for five minutes. Remove and drain. Separate the cooked cabbage in half. Place one half in a bowl and the other in a food processor along with the butter, oil, anchovies, garlic and Parmesan and purée until smooth. Remove and spoon into the bowl, stirring well through the cooked cabbage. Serve with tagliatelle.

Papardelle with oxtail ragu

This robust and rich pasta dish is quite perfect to eat after a long winter's day. I love pasta sauces that can turn a simple dish into a meal worthy to eat on its own – and this is most definitely one of those. Warm crusty bread is all that is needed as an accompaniment to mop up the last of this most delicious meal.

Serves 4

3 tbsp olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and chopped fairy finely
1 stick of celery, chopped
3 fresh bay leaves
1 bunch of sage
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1kg/2lb oxtail
30g/1oz good-quality, chopped tinned tomatoes
700ml/231/2fl oz red wine

Pour the olive oil into a heavy-based pan large enough to hold all the ingredients and place over a low heat. When the oil is warm, add the carrots and celery, bay leaves, sage and garlic and sweat for 15 minutes. The vegetables should be on their way to being quite soft.

Season the oxtail well all over and add to the vegetables along with the tomatoes and wine, and turn the heat up to medium. Place a lid on the pan and bring to a boil, then immediately turn down and cook gently for three hours, by which time the meat will be falling off the bone and the sauce will be glossy and rich.

Remove the meat from the pan and, when it's cool enough to handle, pick off any meat that is still attached to the bone. Discard the bone and return the meat to the pan, then taste and adjust the seasoning.

This sauce can be made up to two days ahead of when you would like to serve it. I suggest thick, flat papardelle.

Pasta con le sarde

The essence of this dish is very southern Italian, hailing primarily from Sicily. It combines the lovely contrasting flavours of sweet and sour – and the sardines give it an undeniable taste of the sea. Bucatini, the thick hollow spaghetti, is traditional, but any long pasta will work.

Serves 4

3 tbsp olive oil
4 very fresh sardines. Ask your fishmonger to fillet them for you
Salt and pepper
1 red chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
50g/2oz sultanas
50g/2oz pine nuts, warmed gently in the oven for a couple of minutes
A few drops of lemon juice
1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, finely chopped

Place a large pot of water on to boil and cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet. While the pasta is cooking, place a non-stick pan on the stove and add half the olive oil.

Season the sardines with salt and pepper and, when the oil is hot, lay the sardines in the pan, skin-side down. Cook for two minutes without turning – the skin should be golden and crisp. Add the chilli, garlic, pine nuts and sultanas and cook for a further minute, then add the parsley, the rest of the olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Taste and add a little more salt if necessary – it will not need any pepper due to the chilli. Serve when still piping hot, tossed through the cooked pasta.

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