I was once told that in order to qualify as an authentic Italian recipe, a dish shouldn’t contain more than five ingredients. And if you plan on using olive oil.. that had better be included in your five!
It’s this simplicity, creativity and mule-headed stubbornness that makes me love Italy. Everything about Italian life, and Italian food, is embedded in a tradition that developed out of sheer necessity. It’s easy to forget that not all that long ago, Italy was a humble country where locals had to make do with what they could grow. Italians became masters at eating seasonally and reinventing leftovers by turning simple legumes and vegetables into incredible sauces, foraged herbs into medicinal liquors, and more. It’s this resourcefulness and creativity that inspired me to explore plant-based recipes that maximize flavors while minimizing ingredients.
I grew up in a hilly area near Lake Como where mushrooms sprung up like arguments at a family gathering. The memories of my childhood are shaped by lashings of hot polenta, risotto and porcini sprinkled on everything. It was only when I left home to study in Scotland that I realized how much I missed the simple, authentic flavors of Italy’s home cooking. Here are a few of my favorite, 15-minute pasta recipes that guide me home wherever I am – and that are sure to transport you to Italy, too.
Pasta con Broccoli
When it comes to simple dishes, you can’t beat pasta with broccoli. With just one vegetable and a handful of garlic cloves, you’ve got one of the best nutritious, quick and simple pasta dishes ready in about 15 minutes.
The trick here is to add flavor to your oil and cook your pasta in the same water where you cook your broccoli. This zero-waste recipe is packed with flavor and is perfect for Sunday lunch or even a springtime picnic. The miso paste is optional but it’s a great vegan alternative to the anchovies that would traditionally be used to add a salty umami flavor.
- 200g Pasta
- 1 Head of Broccoli
- 1TBS Olive Oil
- 1Tsp Miso Paste
- 1 Dried Chilli
- 2 Cloves of Garlic
Prepare a pan of salted boiling water. Add your broccoli to the boiling water until soft - usually about 12 minutes.
While the broccoli is cooking, heat the oil in a pan, chop the chilli and garlic together and add them to the oil.
Once the garlic is golden and fragrant remove the garlic and chilli from the oil (keeping the oil in the pan). Add the miso paste to your oil and mix it in. Remove the broccoli with a slotted spoon and cook your pasta in the broccoli water.
Add the broccoli to your oil and break it down with a spoon until it has formed a uniform sauce. If it’s too thick add some of the cooking water from the pasta once it’s ready. Serve with a little vegan parmesan or nutritional yeast and enjoy.
Pasta with Zucchini, Olives and Sage
There are few things I love more than a healthy, delicious pasta sauce that can be whipped up in the time it takes to boil your pasta noodles. This recipe does so much in a short amount of time and it’s easy to scale up or down, so it’s become my go-to recipe for parties and potlucks. You may not think to toss zucchini with olives and sage but they marry beautifully in this simple recipe with strong, fresh flavors.
- 350-400g rigatoni (or pasta of your choice)
- 2 zucchini
- 180g Taggiasche Olives
- Juice of half a lemon
- Handful of chopped sage
Put your pasta water on to boil. Meanwhile chop your zucchini into thin rounds and fry on a low heat with some olive oil. Blend your olives, a pinch of salt and the juice of half a lemon in a food processor. Taste and if you think it needs more lemon add some of the other half.
Once your pasta water is at a rolling boil add your pasta. Stir and flip your courgettes regularly. When they are soft and translucent and there are 5 minutes remaining on your pasta cooking time add the sage to the courgettes and mix. Once you have drained your pasta add the olive and lemon sauce along with the courgettes and mix well.
Pasta with Porcini Mushrooms and Blueberries
I couldn’t leave you without sharing my favorite local of recipe. This earthy sauce captures the scents and flavors of the woodland area I grew up in and is a perfect example of Italian resourcefulness: “What do we have, berries and mushrooms? Ok, we’ll make it work!”.
I know what you’re thinking, I’ve broken the one rule I set out at the beginning! The truth is that if anyone knows that rules are sometimes meant to be broken, it’s Italians. After all, how can you explain a complex story of your home, your culture and your traditions without sneaking in an extra little flavor every now and then?
- 400g Pasta
- 40g dried porcini mushrooms
- 125g blueberries
- 4 sage leaves
- 4 sprigs of rosemary
- 20g vegan butter
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Put the mushrooms in a small bowl of boiling water and soak for ten minutes. While the mushrooms are soaking, finely chop the sage and rosemary and mix together. In a pan, heat the drizzle of olive oil and melt the butter into it, then add the herbs.
Remove the mushrooms from the broth, setting the water aside for later and chop them; I like to do one third fine and two thirds chunky. Add the mushrooms to the pan, and after a few minutes add the mushroom broth. Make sure not to add the last bit of the water, as this will naturally contain some grit from the mushrooms.
Once the mushroom mixture is bubbling, add most of the blueberries and stir. Reduce for 10 minutes. After the blueberries have softened and broken down into the sauce, add the remaining blueberries and cook for a further 5 minutes until their color changes.
Drain your cooked pasta and add directly to the pan. Toss and enjoy!
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