Cookery: Delicious dishes with a flavour of the Mediterranean
Pasta with butter
“I love butter. I come from a family of butter-fiends. My mother eats it in chunks from the pat, with a spoon, and my father spreads it as thick as cheese on his toast,” explains food writer Letitia Clark.
Smelling butter, she says, is a “sound method” of judging the quality. “A good butter has an unmistakable smell. It should smell of thick, cold, cream: ever-so-slightly cheesy, faintly sweet.
“I urge you to start smelling your butters. The butter out here (in Sardinia) smells very strongly, as butter should. It is purest white, always unsalted, and comes in enormous 500g blocks, wrapped in white waxed paper, like the butter of old. It is a beautiful thing to look at, and to eat.”
In Sardinia, where Clark now lives, butter is “very rarely” used in cooking. “When butter is used, it is as an essential flavour in the finished dish, rather than just a means of cooking,” she explains – which this simple pasta dish demonstrates perfectly.
“Glamorous it may not be, but I could happily eat this dish every day for the rest of my life. It also demonstrates perfectly the essential (and often overlooked) skill in making pasta sauces, and the first thing everyone learns when they start cooking pasta in Italy; that the pasta cooking water must be added to the finished dish, to both emulsify the sauce and melt the grated cheese into a creamy consistency.
“Once you have learnt how to do this, you will never look back. The earthiness of the sage is what really grounds this recipe, so don’t be tempted to leave it out. The echo of a ‘salve’, seems fitting too, as this dish is deepest comfort.”
Pasta with butter recipe from Bitter Honey by Letitia Clark
(For 2 restrained diners, or 1 hungover/fragile one)
220g dried pasta of your choice (I like risoni or any ‘short’ pasta best)
8–10 small sage leaves
70g Parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve
1. Bring a large saucepan of well-salted water to the boil. Drop in the pasta.
2. Place the butter in a wide, shallow pan and put on the lowest heat. Add the sage and cook for a moment or so to gently to release the aromas. Drain the pasta when it is at your perfect al dente, reserving a cup of the cooking liquid.
3. Add half the cooking water and the pasta to the pan with the butter and sage and turn up the heat. Stir and toss well for a minute or so, then add the cheese and toss again and again, until an emulsified and silky sauce forms. If it looks too dry, add more of the cooking water, too wet, carry on cooking. Serve with more cheese.
Deep-fried peppers with anchovies and capers
“Sardinians love deep frying. Deep frying the peppers here means they become deliciously soft, silky and sweet, but you can achieve a similar result if you roast them slowly in the oven with lots of olive oil,” says cookbook author Letitia Clarke.
“They are addictively good. You can make them the day ahead and they are even better. In fact, they must sit for a few hours for the flavours to mellow and develop. The anchovy, vinegar and capers make a wonderfully piquant dressing to foil the sweetness. Serve at room temperature, with plenty of crusty bread and some shards of salty pecorino cheese.”
Deep-fried peppers with anchovies and capers recipe from Bitter Honey by Letitia Clark
500ml olive oil, for frying, plus extra for drizzling
3 large red peppers, deseeded and cut into eighths lengthways
8 anchovy fillets, torn lengthways
1tbsp red wine vinegar
A few basil leaves, to serve
1. In a frying pan over a medium heat, warm the olive oil and then fry the pieces of pepper until they are completely soft and just beginning to take colour. Remove and drain well on kitchen paper.
2. Heap the peppers into a mixing bowl and stir through the anchovies, capers and vinegar. Taste for seasoning. They shouldn’t need salt as the anchovies are salty but if they are insipid, then add a pinch.
3. Stir well and leave to sit for at least one hour – even better, three to four hours. Serve at room temperature, scattered with some fresh basil and drizzled with your best oil.