Gennaro Contaldo shows us how to master pasta… In Italy

Gennaro Contaldo shows us how to master pasta… In Italy

By Kat Silverfield

When you’re invited to Italy to spend the weekend learning from the UK’s father of Italian cooking, Gennaro Contaldo, you say ‘sì.’ And pronto!

And that’s exactly what I did.  Gennaro was chosen by Bertolli to reveal their brand new pasta shape and develop four easy, original midweek recipes using the new pasta and Bertolli with Butter. Throughout the trip in Puglia (the heel of the boot-shaped Italy for the geographically challenged) Gennaro demonstrated just how easy and tasty these recipes are. The new conical pasta shape is perfect for stuffing with cheeses or serving with savoury sauces, like pesto, that the cone can scoop up.

New bertolli pasta shape
If you’ve watched Gennaro on one of his many TV programmes like Two Greedy Italians or Jamie Oliver’s FoodTube, you know he has a gift with words and he is passionate about what he does. And with his passion comes a slew of cookery tips.

Throughout the trip’s cooking demos Gennaro touted the use of Calabrian chillies. He talked about how chillies aren’t just about the heat but also the intensity of flavour. The best way to tell if the chilli is flavourful? Break it open and give it a sniff. He also made it very clear that pasta, after boiling, should be finished off in a pan with the accompanying sauce so that it can soak up the flavour. And you’ll want to save some of that starchy cooking water to pop in the pan as it helps the sauce adhere to pasta. Below he points to the lovely ‘shine’ the pasta gets when cooked with Bertolli with Butter.

Gennaro contaldo cooks in Puglia
After our long Italian lunches we would head back on our coach and drive through the Puglian countryside to our next destination. On the road we passed rows upon rows of olive trees as far as the eye could see. Puglia produces nearly 40 per cent of Italy’s olive oil so they’re not hard to come by. Gennaro, who occasionally took on the role of tour guide, would point out the older trees and estimated their ages to be up to 800 years old.

We had a variety of pitstops while on the road including a trip to a farmers market in Osteria. There, Gennaro talked us through picking out the very best produce, how to spot the good mushrooms (the stems should be bouncy not dry) and how to pick out the best artichokes (the leaves should be firmly closed).

Gennaro contaldo trip to Puglia
This adventurous weekend took us to places both on and off the itinerary. That’s what happens when you have someone as passionate about food as Gennaro. He ended up finding a small farmhouse, that also serves as a bakery, on a remote road not far from where we were staying. This ended up being one of the highlights of the trip. This family-run bakery and cheese shop sold products right out of their home. They make everything on premises. We tried goat’s cheese, ricotta and loads of focaccia. The shop itself doesn’t have a name but, if you’re ever in Puglia, you can find it here.

Gennaro contaldo trip to Puglia
It wouldn’t be a trip to Puglia without stopping by the capital. Bari is famous for producing a special pasta shape called orecchiette which means ‘little ear’ in Italian. And it’s not formed by machinery. The orecchiette ladies of Bari Vecchia (Bari’s Old Town) are the real deal.

You’ll find them working out of open flats that serve as storefronts in a narrow, yet charming alley. This is where they hand make the pasta with such ease and speed it’ll make you dizzy. Check out the video of them in action, below…

 

Gennaro made a wide variety of pasta on the trip but two of them really stood out for me: the baked pasta cones filled with ricotta, and the pasta with broccoli and pancetta.

The former is a clever take on cannelloni. The new Bertolli pasta shape is perfect for stuffing and the tomato sauce is simple but pairs perfectly with the creamy cheese. Get the recipe here.

Baked-pasta-cones-filled-with-ricotta,-mozarella-and-basil-with-tomato-sauce
The second dish is a broccoli lover’s dream. Broccoli is essentially turned into a pesto by blanching and then blending it with a chilli and garlic. It’s so simple and perfect with the pasta – or it could even be served on its own as a soup. Get the recipe here.

pasta-with-broccoli-crispy-pancetta
 

If you can’t make it to Puglia, I urge you to try these recipes and get a real taste of Italy. Buon appetito!

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