As much as we love cooking with spring and summer produce, there is something special about the winter season. The brisk temperatures and shorter days lure us into the kitchen to prepare deeply satisfying dishes with intense flavors. It’s the perfect time to light candles at home, put Miles Davis on the sound system, and pour ourselves a glass of full-bodied red wine as we create a comforting menu. This time of year reminds us to take everything a little slower and it embodies the very Danish word of hygge. A philosophy we brought with us to the medieval town of Todi in Umbria.
Winter in Italy
Winter also reminds us of just how spoiled we are here in Italy. Even in the coldest and darkest months, the markets are still stocked with delicious and colorful produce. You will find pumpkins in all shapes and sizes, and cabbages that are leafy, curly, or robust. Citrus fruits from the south light up the market stalls in infinite numbers. And, Italy’s prized artichokes abound just begging to be boiled, fried, and braised to sweet surrender. Winter produce may not always be the most visually appealing but it forces us to dig a little deeper. It forces us to be a bit more creative and think outside of the box. Once you give it a second chance, you’ll be amazed at what you can do with a celeriac or a bushel of carrots.
The abundance of great seasonal produce was one of the main reasons we decided to start a new life here in bella Italia more than 10 years ago. After training as chefs back in Copenhagen and operating an Italian restaurant and enoteca for 12 years, we wanted to get closer to the country and the people we had grown to love. We wanted to meet the farmer who made our pecorino and hand-pick the most perfect artichokes directly from the crate. These simple gestures are such a luxury for a chef.
Today we run Il Ghiottone Umbro, a small B&B and cooking school in the town of Todi. Here, we spoil our guests with cozy bedrooms and seasonal cooking classes. We’ve also recently launched Kitchen Notes, our love letter to the season. It’s packed with delicious, easy recipes designed to bring joy around the dinner table (you can subscribe here). These are a few of our favorite recipes from Kitchen Notes Numero Quattro.
Tagliatelle with Pumpkin and Ginger
Pumpkin is one of our favorite autumn and winter produce. They are fairly easy to grow in the garden (if the neighborhood badger will leave them alone). And they store well throughout the winter. Of course, they are also really versatile to cook with.
Although the combination of pumpkin and fresh ginger might sound a little odd for a small hilltop town, this dish has been on the menu of one of our favorite classic restaurants in Todi for over 20 years. This was actually the dish we ordered on our first night in Todi, right after we signed the lease to the house. The ginger is a perfect partner for the sweetness of the pumpkin and the chili gives it a great kick.
- 350 g fresh tagliatelle or your preferred pasta
- 350 g pumpkin, peeled and finely grated (we like Hokaido Pumpkin)
- 20 g fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil + extra to serve
- 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
- lemon juice, to taste
- fresh red chili, to taste
- sea salt and black pepper
- fresh herbs
Heat olive oil in a large pan and sauté garlic and chili on medium heat until lightly golden. Add pumpkin and continue to sauté until the pumpkin starts to get soft, about 5 minutes.
Add about 150 ml of boiling water to create a sauce. Add grated ginger and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Let the sauce cook for about 10 minutes until creamy but the pumpkin still retains some texture.
Bring a pan of salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to the instructions (be sure to save some cooking water and set aside). Drain the pasta and add it to the pumpkin sauce. Stir until well coated, adding some cooking water if it dries up.
Transfer the pasta onto two plates, drizzle with a little olive oil and finish with your chosen herbs. Any soft herb is great, like parsley, basil, mint, marjoram, oregano or coriander - or something wild from your garden.
Roasted Cabbage with Crispy Chick Peas
Cabbage is prolific during the winter months. Although its often disregarded for its bland taste and its smell in the kitchen. What most people don’t realize is once you know how to prepare it, you’ll be rewarded with some seriously tasty dishes. Roasting the cabbage at a high temperature gives it the perfect caramelization and adds sweetness to the root vegetable. This makes it a hearty main course when complemented by pickled vegetables and legumes.
- 2 thick slices of white cabbage, about 2-3cm
- 1 red onion
- big handful of cooked chick peas
- 2 heaped tbsp of hummus
- 2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
- dried chili and smoked paprika, to taste
- extra virgin olive oil
- white wine vinegar
- sea salt and black pepper
- your favorite soft herbs
Start with the onion. Place the whole (unpeeled) onion in a small pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes, until it feels a little soft. Remove from the heat and let it rest in the water for 10 minutes. Remove and cool.
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Place the cabbage steaks on a tray lined with baking paper. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake in the hot oven for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 25 minutes until golden and charred.
Dress the cooked chickpeas in spices, salt, pepper and a little oil. Place in a small oven tray and roast together with the cabbage for 15-20 minutes, until golden and crispy.
In the meantime, peel the cooked onion and cut into wedges. Separate into petals and marinate with a little vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.
Once the cabbage is done, remove from the oven and place on a plate. Top with hummus, crispy chickpeas, pickled onion and fresh herbs like parsley, basil, mint, marjoram, oregano or coriander. Drizzle with a little extra olive oil and serve.
Orange Sorbet with Burnt Meringue
A clear sign of the winter season is the market stalls piled high with sweet and juicy citrus fruits from southern Italy. We love oranges in every way, shape, or form. From savory dishes and desserts to breakfast and the tastiest form of vitamins, a large freshly-pressed spremuta. It might be a bit cold outside but we can eat ice cream all year round. And citrus fruits just beg to be churned into a sweet and zesty sorbet. Filling orange shells with sorbet gives this dish a nostalgic 80s feel. Not to mention that covering them with a blanket of burnt meringue is just good common sense.
Makes 6 shells
- 4 oranges
- 400 g caster sugar + 170 g
- 400 ml water
- 90 g egg whites (about 3 eggs)
- lemon juice
You'll also need a piping bag and small blow torch for the full effect.
Start by making the sorbet base. Combine water and 400 g sugar in a pan. Bring to a boil until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the zest from 1 orange, cut into thin strips. Cover and leave to infuse and cool. Cut the oranges perfectly in half. Juice them, measure 400 ml of juice and add to the cooled syrup. Strain the base and churn in your ice cream machine, if you have one. Otherwise pour the sorbet base into a container and place it in the freezer. Give it a whisk every 30 minutes so you break up the crystals from forming. Continue like this until the sorbet has developed a creamy consistency.
In the meantime, carefully clean the orange halves to remove any fruit or fibers so you're only left with the shells. Place the shells on a tray and pop them in the freezer. Once your sorbet is ready, remove the shells from the freezer and fill with them, making sure to level and smooth out the sorbet with a spatula. Work quickly so you can return the filled shells to the freezer.
To make the meringue, you need to create a bain-marie. Place egg whites and 170 g of sugar in a bowl that will fit snugly into a pan of simmering water without touching the water. Stir the egg whites over the water bath for about 2 minutes to solve the sugar. Once dissolved, remove the bowl and whisk its contents with a handheld mixer for about 10 minutes, until the egg whites are cooled and have formed stiff peaks. Fill meringue in a piping bag and create your favorite design on the sorbet. Then lightly burn the meringue with a small blow torch for the final touch.