We cannot expect recipes to remain exactly the same, but there are some culinary traditions when it comes to Italian food. These may influence our thinking.
Just like food has evolved in Australia (and elsewhere) cooks are influenced by new ingredients, the wide exposure to the cooking of others (media, travel, migration/immigration, eating away from home) and perhaps the wider acceptance of not sticking to the rules, except perhaps as do the nonne (plural of nonna) and in my case, it was also the zie (plural of zia=aunt).
One simple example of how traditional recipes have evolved is to consider the range of toppings with Pizza. Once, there was Margheria, Marinara, Quattro Stagioni, Napoletana and Pugliese (if you were lucky.) Modern combination of ingredients are now extensive and I consider some to be excellent and keeping with my tastes (ingredients like – stracciatella, gorgozola, roquette, roasted pumpkin etc), but somehow I can’t come to accept a BBQ PIZZA as described on the web (with smoked cheese, diced chicken breast, peppers, onions, baby plum tomatoes and barbecue sauce) or a TIKKA MASALA PIZZA (spiced chicken, green peppers, natural yogurt, mango chutney and coriander).
My knowledge about Italian cuisine and ingredients just doesn’t allow it.
I like to experiment in the kitchen, but I tend to stick with ingredients that I think are acceptable within tradition and regional culture. I base my cooking of my knowledge and experience. For example, I have seen recipes suggesting fish sauce as a substitute for anchovies in Italian recipes (by chefs and not necessarily Italian). And why not? But not me. Part of me still sticks some culinary regulations.
The following is an account of my thinking before I cooked dinner on a week night (not special).
I had some fennel and some zucchini in the fridge that needed using.
I needed to make some culinary decisions.
I felt like making a pasta dish but knew that I needed to add something else to these vegetables to pep up the flavour. I consider both these vegetables sweet tasting, and because my sweet marjoram plant is doing extremely well on my balcony, I decided to add this, too. Parsley always pairs with both vegetables as does a splash of white wine or/and stock. I could sauté either onion or garlic before adding the vegetables and I could cook them in butter as well as extra virgin olive oil; I would add a large amount of grated Parmesan at the end. Perhaps also a grind of nutmeg which would complement the marjoram and the sweet tastes of the vegetables. This set me thinking about adding a few walnuts too (influenced by the Ligurian pesto made with marjoram and walnuts). Such a recipe would result in a dish with northern Italian flavours.
If I wanted something spicier, I would need to add some of the following ingredients: olives (either black or green), capers, chilli, anchovies, tomatoes or better still tomato paste. Red wine is stronger than white wine and Pernod would complement the fennel in the ingredients.Either Italian pork sausages (with fennel or chilli,) or pancetta would be good, too. Borlotti or cannellini beans would enhance the taste and textures and add protein to the dish. Adding a contrasting bitter tasting vegetable could also work – radicchio, if I wanted to keep with northern Italian influences, chicory or endives, perhaps, would be more southern and wild fennel would be Sicilian or Calabrese.
I decided on anchovies, olives and a dash of white wine.
With strong flavours Pecorino is better than Parmesan. I always have feta marinating in my fridge (in extra virgin olive oil, fennel seeds, dried oregano, fresh bay leaves and peppercorns) and this would be suitable too. Ricotta would be a sweet contrast to the stronger flavours, but perhaps it would be better as a topping to the milder northern Italian influenced version. And least we forget pan fried dry breadcrumbs as a topping, popular in Sicily and Calabria.
Once I decided on the ingredients, cooking was simple.
4 zucchini (in cubes), 1 head of fennel (cut into smaller cubes), 1 onion (sliced) – I only had a red onion, but because of the strong colour I would have preferred a white/ brown one), about 8 – 10 chopped anchovies (to taste), olives (mine were a mixture of green and black), cut parsley and marjoram and a splash of white wine. I used no salt because of the anchovies and olives. Extra virgin olive oil for the cooking.
Different shapes of pasta hold the sauce and ingredients in a different way. An oily, creamy, thin sauce sticks better to long pasta, whereas a short pasta shape is more suited to a sauce where the bits of meat or vegetables can nestle within, for example, shapes that have a hole (penne, rigatoni, shells) or a ridge or twists (farfalle, casarecce, spiralli) I opted for short casarecce pasta to go with this sauce.
Work out at what stage of cooking the sauce, you will need to cook the pasta. This will depend on your speed as a cook.
For the sauce: Dissolve anchovies in a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil, then add the onion and sauté until it has wilted. Add the fennel and the anchovies and at the same time as sautéing the ingredients try to dissolve the anchovies. The darker colour in the photo above is red onion. Cook for about 5 minutes until the fennel has softened.
Add zucchini, chopped herbs and olives. Sauté again and perhaps cover with a lid until the vegetables have softened to your liking (I didn’t have to)
Add a splash of white wine to deglaze.
Dress the pasta. Present with grated cheese. I selected Pecorino.
And I wasn’t to miss out about Radicchio and Borlotti, so I made a salad. I used celery rather than fennel because I had used fennel in the sauce, used spring onion and aa vinaigrette dressing.
Some examples of recipes that may have influenced my thinking:
PESTO DI NOCI (Walnut pesto/ sauce for pasta)
PASTA CON FINOCCHIO (Pasta and fennel; preferably wild)
PASTA WITH BREADCRUMBS, anchovies and fennel (Pasta cca muddica)
PASTA CON LE SARDE (SARDINES)
RADICCHIO and Borlotti salad
AND BORLOTTI SALAD and BRAISED FENNEL WITH TAPENADE