Our friends from Rome, the Mancinis, came to stay with us on the farm for Easter. Guido Mancini is a great cook and we often swap recipes, chat about new things we’ve cooked and I make him taste things like Marmite (which he tried with a pancake of all things) and strange liquors made with juju berries.
When I was showing him and his daughter Maria around the grove Guido got very excited by all the wild chicory growing there. I’d never really noticed it before, and I can’t say I was convinced that it would be edible, let alone tasty. Anyway, playing the accommodating host I helped him and Maria collect a decent bucketful of the stuff and we carted it back to the house with a rumbling tummy ready for lunch.
Proving what an accomplished cook he is Guido made one of the most delicious pasta dishes I’ve ever eaten. His trick was to half cook the pasta in water and then finish it off mixed in with the chicory and chilli and anchovies so that it soaks up the flavour and gives a nice starchy gooey consistency to the sauce.
Ingredients for 4 people
Spaghetti – 400g/14oz (or any pasta you fancy)
Wild chicory – 500g/18oz (plain chicory is available in most supermarkets)
Chilli – one dried one, chopped
Anchovies in olive oil – 3 fillets (optional)
Garlic – 2 cloves
Extra virgin olive oil – 5 tablespoons
Parmesan – 75g/2.6oz grated
Black olives (optional)
Wash the chicory well, cut it up roughly and put it to boil in plenty of salted water. Boil for 15 minutes or until the thicker bits are soft. Drain. Boil a pan of water for the spaghetti. In a big pan or wok heat the oil on a low flame and add the garlic roughly cut into quarters, the anchovies and the chilli pepper. After a few minutes add the chicory and cook slowly for another 10 minutes. Add the spaghetti to the water and cook for about 5 minutes until ‘half’ cooked. Then spoon out the semi-cooked spaghetti into the chicory mixture (keeping the spaghetti water) and mix well.
Add the spaghetti water to the pasta/chicory one ladle-full at a time (like cooking risotto) and keep on stirring. When the spaghetti is nearly cooked add the grated parmesan, leaving a bit to sprinkle at the end, and mix well. This method gives you quite a creamy sauce, so that’s what you should be aiming for. Check for salt and serve. If you use short pasta instead of spaghetti it’s a bit easier because as Guido say ‘non si fa casino’, ‘you don’t make such a mess’.