Classic Italian recipes that are affordable, zero-waste and delicious

In an era of excessive convenience and disposable food waste, Gennaro Contaldo’s newest cookbook could not come at a better time. Lauren Taylor takes three hearty recipes for a whirl

Wednesday 15 February 2023 07:00 GMT
Replace aubergines with pumpkin in this classic dish
Replace aubergines with pumpkin in this classic dish (David Loftus/PA)

Parmigiana was originally a dish made with aubergines from southern Italy, namely Campania and Sicily, says Gennaro Contaldo.

“Whereas aubergines are abundant during the summer, pumpkin is plentiful during the colder season, especially in rural locations where this autumnal squash provided necessary nutrition for families and so was used in a variety of dishes,” he explains.

Parmigiana di zucca

Serves: 4-6


1 x 1.4kg pumpkin (you need approx 1kg prepped weight)

3-4 eggs

Plain flour, for dusting

Abundant vegetable oil, for deep-frying

2 balls of mozzarella cheese (each about 125g), drained and roughly chopped

75g grated Parmesan cheese

For the tomato sauce:

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes

6 basil leaves

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. First make the tomato sauce. Heat the olive in a saucepan, add the onion and fry over a medium heat for about five minutes, then add the tomatoes, basil leaves and some salt to taste. Leave to simmer over a gentle heat for about 25 minutes until thickened.

2. In the meantime, peel the pumpkin, cut it in half, then into quarters, remove the seeds and then cut into slices about five-millimetres thick. Lightly beat the eggs in a shallow dish with a little salt and pepper. Dust the pumpkin slices with flour, shaking off the excess, then dip into the beaten egg.

3. Heat plenty of vegetable oil in a deep frying pan until hot, then add the pumpkin slices (you may need to do this in batches, depending on the size of your pan) and deep-fry for a couple of minutes on each side. Remove using a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil.

4. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/gas mark 6.

5. Line an ovenproof dish with a little of the tomato sauce, then place some pumpkin slices over the top, sprinkle with a little black pepper, dot around some mozzarella, sprinkle over some grated Parmesan and top with some more tomato sauce. Continue making layers like these until you have finished all the ingredients, ending with a final sprinkling of mozzarella and grated Parmesan.

6. Cover with foil and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake for a further 15 minutes until the cheese has melted and has taken on a golden brown colour. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Passatelli in brodo

This pasta – passatelli in brodo – is a great way to use up leftovers (David Loftus/PA)

“Originating in Emilia Romagna, this type of pasta consists of leftover stale bread, which is made into breadcrumbs enriched with egg and grated Parmesan,” says Contaldo.

Traditionally, a simple tool known as ‘fer’ is used to make the passatelli, but a potato ricer also does the job.

“This ‘poor man’s pasta’ is traditionally served in a chicken stock, but it can also be cooked in a beef or vegetable stock, or cooked and served as it is with a sauce,” he says.

Serves: 4


100g stale breadcrumbs

100g grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra to serve

2 eggs

2 pinches of grated nutmeg

Zest of ½ lemon

Plain flour, for dusting

1L chicken stock

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Combine all the ingredients (except the flour for dusting and the chicken stock), including a little salt, in a bowl and mix well until you obtain a dough-like consistency. Form into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest at room temperature for at least one hour.

2. Remove the clingfilm, then take about a quarter of the dough and press it through a potato ricer with large holes, cutting it off with a small sharp knife when it is about five to six centimetres in length. You may get varying lengths and that’s fine. Place them on a lightly floured board, taking care not to break them.

3. Repeat with the rest of the dough, a quarter at a time.

4. In the meantime, bring the chicken stock to the boil in a large saucepan, then drop in all the passatelli and cook until they rise up to the surface. Remove from the heat and divide the mixture between four individual bowls. Serve with a little black pepper and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan.

Fave e cicoria

Known as fave e cicoria in Italian, this healthy lunch won’t break the bank (David Loftus)

“This simple but highly nutritious dish originates from rural Puglia where two main ingredients – fava beans and wild chicory – are widely available,” explains Contaldo.

With just a few other ingredients, it’s healthy and budget-friendly.

You can buy dandelion or puntarelle from greengrocers, pick your own, or use long-stem broccoli instead.

Serves: 4-6


400g dried split broad beans, soaked overnight in plenty of cold water

4 bay leaves

5 garlic cloves, lightly crushed and left whole

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

600g dandelion or puntarelle (gross weight)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


1. Drain and rinse the soaked broad beans. Place them in a saucepan, cover with plenty of fresh cold water, add the bay leaves and three garlic cloves, then bring to the boil and cook, partially covered, over a medium heat for about 45 minutes, until the beans are cooked through and tender.

2. Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaves and garlic, then blend the beans until smooth using a handheld stick blender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

3. Remove the leaves from the dandelion (and the heart if using puntarelle) and save the roots to make a salad. Take the leaves and blanch them in a pan of boiling water for a couple of minutes until tender. Drain well.

4. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan, add the remaining two garlic cloves and sweat for a minute. Add the greens and stir-fry over a medium-to-high heat for two to three minutes, then season with salt and pepper.

5. Heat through the blended beans mixture, remove the whole garlic gloves and then serve with the greens, drizzled with a little olive oil.

‘Gennaro’s Cucina: Hearty Money-Saving Meals From An Italian Kitchen’ by Gennaro Contaldo (published by Pavilion Books, £25; photography by David Loftus), available now.

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