Fromage With Love

The recipes & food loves of a wanderlust cook.

Month: September, 2013

Pasta al Ragù di Anatra (Pasta with Duck & Red Wine Ragù)

Duck RaguThe duck ragu we had that night in Gambassi Terme was significant for several reasons. One, it was the first time I had ever tried duck in the Western culinary world. Two, I had rather low expectations of what the evening’s menu would entail. Three, it was one of the most delicious dishes I have ever eaten. The ragu was melt-in-your-mouth and full of flavour. It was with this meal that I really began to appreciate the Italian countryside and the people who cook there. It was warm and loving and every meal left the wonderful impression of someone’s nonna being behind it all.

That night there was also a unabashedly yellow saffron and porcini pasta dish, which was equally decadent but just didn’t nudge past the duck for me. This was one of Buzz’s favourite meals from the entire trip, and so I knew I just had to attempt to recreate it.

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Pasta al Ragù di Anatra (Pasta with Duck & Red Wine Ragù) (Serves Eight)

four pieces of organic or free-range Maryland duck
one cup of flour
salt and pepper
olive oil
one onion, diced
one celery stalk, diced
two small carrots, diced
three garlic cloves, crushed
700g sugo or passata
half a cup of water
small handful of rosemary and thyme
one teaspoon of grated nutmeg
one bay leaf
one cup red wine

Mix a teaspoon each of salt and pepper into your flour. Dust the duck pieces in the flour and pan-fry in a tablespoon of olive oil over a medium heat. Five minutes on one side, til golden brown, then five minutes on the other. Set browned duck pieces aside.

The fat will have rendered significantly. Drain the pan of the fat, leaving two tablespoons worth (you can reserve this fat and keep in the freezer for a rainy day when you’re baking potatoes!).

Over a medium heat, cook onions, carrots and celery off in the same pan for a few minutes until softened. Add garlic and cook for a further minute. Add wine, herbs, passata, water and nutmeg, along with a big pinch each of salt and pepper.

Submerge your browned duck pieces in the liquid. Cook on a medium heat til it starts to bubble, then turn down to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook on a slow heat for two and a half hours. Stir three or four times over the course of it slow cooking to make sure nothing catches on the bottom of the pan.

When the time is up, turn the heat off and remove the duck pieces from the pan. The meat should separate easily – remove bones and large fatty pieces and discard. With remaining meat use two forks to pull apart into shreds.

Return this shredded meat back into the sauce, taste and season accordingly.

When ready to serve, bring a salted pan of water to the boil, and cook pasta to package instructions. Go for thicker pastas, like fettuccine, tagliatelle or, as we had it in Italy, with pici. Warm the sauce through and serve over pasta with some grated parmesan and a glass of wine.

This makes a bulk amount of sauce. I use half to serve four people for dinner, then freeze the remainder to use again over pasta, or it is particularly delicious in a lasagna, too.

Gambassi Terme

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Gambassi Terme is the kind of town that if you were cruising by in a car, it would easily pass you by and fade into the insignificance as just another small thoroughfare. Luckily for us, we were on foot. Gambassi Terme was the end of day one of our hike, and like most Italian towns, was at the top of a hill. It was a classic case of The Tortoise and the Hare, with me (the hare) not quite having the stamina to get up that hill, while those leisurely enjoying the day passed me by and crossed the invisible finish line first.

The town was relatively quiet and our B&B squatted next to the town square. In true European fashion, there was noone at the front desk and so we took a moment to catch our breath on a bench while communicating in broken English and terrible Italian to those around us. Finally, we were let to our rooms, pretty standard quarters with the added bonus of a shower that was situated over the toilet. I’m certain it’s a prerequisite to encounter at least one of these on any sort of overseas trip you take.

Dinner was to be served at the restaurant beneath the bedrooms, and to be honest I was expecting a rather hum-drum affair. We had a few hours to ourselves before our meal, and set out to explore the limited town that there was. Next door was a dry cleaners, with a lovely and smiley young woman, who we asked very politely to do some of our washing for us. She had it cleaned, dried and neatly folded within 2 hours and only asked for 7 euros! I just had to give her 10, and even then she seemed very embarrassed and said it was unnecessary.

The dry cleaners was next to a gelato store that also sold alcohol. You could buy wine by the glass and take it across the road onto a leafy green park, where we sprawled on grass and benches in the sunshine. A half-moon shape barrier separated the square from a drop below, at which there was a beautiful view across the hills. We could see the town we would walk to the next day, and that was very comforting to know it was that close!

We sauntered back to the restaurant, which was cramped with other walkers and loud locals. Teenagers played and joked loudly in Italian behind us in the street, moving out of the way of the occasional car. As had become tradition, we began the meal with a round of Aperol Spritzers. And then. Wow. Any idea of hum-drum cookery I had flew completely and utterly out of the window.

Because here, in this tiny, dot-speck on a map town, an array of gastronomic delights were about to be laid before me and turn Gambassi Terme from so-so to amazing. This little restaurant beneath a B&B where a shower sat over a toilet is where I had one of the most amazing meals of my life.

Beautiful ribbons of meat cascaded over antipasto plates with crunchy squares of bruschetta. The softest tagliatelle in a saffron and mushroom sauce sat beside a fall-apart-in-your-mouth duck ragu. Panchetta wrapped beef was garnished with slivers of white truffle like shavings of parmesan. Full to the brim as we were, tiramisu followed and it was pillowy and creamy and chocolatey and everything that a dessert would be.

Looks can be deceiving, don’t judge a book by its cover and all those other mantras that are spouted to remind us that we can still be delightfully surprised all united in this remote Italian town and cemented Gambassi Terme as a place I wouldn’t forget.

As we would head off in the early morning the following day, I was rejuvenated and ready, with a skip in my step as we headed down the hill.

The Fabulous Frozen Factory, Mexico

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To be filed under “I wish we had one of those”.

The Fabulous Frozen Factory is a newly built dessert haven in Mexico where candy-coloured Kitchenaids meet cryogenics to create marvellous sweets right before your eyes.

Luckily, N2 Extreme Gelato has arrived in Melbourne to fill the ice-cream shaped hole in my tummy so a visit to Mexico will have to stay on ice for now.

All photos and further information can be found here.

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Aperol Spritz

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During our hike through Tuscany, the hardest part about the day was the end. This wasn’t just due to fatigue, or blisters, or a weird limp we had managed to pick up, but rather an unforgiving hill that without fail would present itself in the last few kilometres. You see, those medieval Italians had the bright idea of putting their towns at the crown of a very steep incline, no doubt to wear out any attacking enemies. I can safely say if I were a knight storming the village I would have been useless.

So here I would find my self, at the tail end of each afternoon, with the prospect of what always felt like a Mount Everest between me and that delicious moment when I could take my boots off. I would trudge into each town, panting rather ungracefully with wild hair and red cheeks and an uncomfortable burning feeling on the underside of my feet.

Fortunately, those wily Italians, with their putting of towns on top of hills, were simultaneously the cause and solution to all my problems.

Why? Because on top of mozzarella, panchetta and delightfully coloured army uniforms, they also found the time to invent that all-healing orange-hued elixir – the Aperol Spritz.

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A glass of Spritz became a tradition on our hike to cap off each day. It really seemed magical, how so few hours before there was pain and a desperation to reach the next village, as well as repetitive lectures in my head of how I really ought to spend some time getting fit once back home. But then in an instant, with a wine glass in hand and a slice of orange floating merrily between the ice, everything was calm and happy and satisfying.

I drank Spritz in poky bed & breakfast dining rooms, at the city walls of medieval fortresses with vineyards at my feet, in town squares and surrounded by fairy lights. Every time was different, some sweeter and some more bitter, with everyone in our group arguing over which one was their favourite. No matter the victor, Tuscany wouldn’t have been what it was without a cold glass of this drink in my hand as the sun went down.

As the taste varied so vastly in my experience, I’ve provided three different variations for this recipe of which you can choose your favourite. Or, make all three and really have a party!

Choose Your Own Spritz-Venture!

The Original
30mL Aperol
30mL soda water
Prosecco (or any sparkling wine of your choice)

Add ice to a wine glass, then Aperol and soda water. Top with Prosecco, stir gently and garnish with a slice of orange.

Middle of the Road
30mL Aperol
30mL lemonade
Prosecco (or any sparkling wine of your choice)

Add ice to a wine glass, then Aperol and lemonade. Top with Prosecco, stir gently and garnish with a slice of orange.

A Sweet Tooth
30mL Aperol
60mL Prosecco (or any sparkling wine of your choice)
top with lemonade

Add ice to a glass, then Aperol and Prosecco. Top with lemonade, stir gently and garnish with a slice of orange.