Italian cooking class – the secret ingredient!

I promised to tell more about the amazing Italian food from the cooking class I went to. I talked last time about making pasta from scratch – something I had never done before. The next step was to make sauces to go with them. Sugo is the word for sauce and we made two simple but delicious sauces to coat the homemade pasta.

Our teachers shared a secret ingredient from Italy or perhaps Puglia. A little something added to sauces, soups – anywhere that you might add a stock cube or stock powder. We all like to be let in on little secrets. This is essentially a replacement for stock powder and a teaspoon or two is the key to the perfect flavour.

By blending carrots, celery stems, onions and basil together and then preserving the mixture by salting it to be stored in sterilized jars you have little pots of magic.

750g carrots, 350g celery, 300g onions and 100g basil finely chopped using a food processor.

Mix in 500g of salt and let it soak for 1 hour.

Put it into sterilised glass jars and you have your very own pot of Puglian Secret Ingredient. You only need a small amount to add a little something to your dishes.

At the class we made two sauces, one tomato and the other mushroom – they were so simple and very delicious. I think it is easy to add lots of ingredients when we throw together a sauce for pasta at home but it is more traditional in Italian kitchens to use a minimal number of good quality ingredients when making a sauce for pasta.

For a family size portion of sauce, finely chop one onion and saute it in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add a spoonful of your secret ingredient if you have some but it is not essential. Add about a litre of passata or finely chopped canned tomatoes (whatever form you like really) with a teaspoon of sugar and season to taste.

Allow this to simmer for at least 20 minutes (longer if you want to reduce the sauce and for it to be thicker)

If you like basil then add this at the very end – don’t cook the herbs!

Our teachers were quite insistent that we shouldn’t put garlic into a tomato sauce! And not to put onions in the mushroom sauce!

This was the sauce that was used to make the Melanzane but I think will keep that for another post! Just to keep you all interested!

This sauce was simply mushrooms, olive oil, garlic and parsley. You could add some cream or bechamel for a more creamy texture. You could also add some crumbled sausage or some fried pancetta or similar for a little meat. However, it was divine as it was.

Clean and finely slice around 500g of mushrooms, a mixture of different kinds is best. Finely chop the garlic and parsley.

In a large pan, heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and fry the garlic until it is brown then add the mushrooms and black pepper to your taste. Cover the pan with a lid to help the mushrooms release some of their liquid.

Remove the lid, add the parsley and allow to cook for 10 minutes or so longer. Mix the cooked pasta into the sauce. Maybe serve with a little parmesan. Delicious and quick.

Next installment will be my favourite dish – Melanzane Parmigianna. It was divine. Really divine. The aubergines were silky and the flavours of the cheese and sauce rich and satisfying. It is a dish I can easily eat more than is comfortable when it is as perfect as it was at the class. The recipe was subtly different from any I have made before and it was a recipe that takes a time to prepare. The best things in life are worth a bit of effort and a bit of patience.

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