I think everyone will remember what they ate the first time they met their parents-in-law. The memories imprinted in your brain of the awkward smiles, moving the cutlery from one side of the plate to the other, the nervous conversation. My mum also remembers what she ate, the first time she was invited to lunch at her parents-in-law’s, demonstrating how my grandmother’s cooking has always stood out as a defining feature in our family’s memories and recipes.
The dessert, my grandmother’s greatest love, was the mantovana cake: rich in butter, sugar, eggs and almonds. I don’t have any information about the second course, but I would guess a roast rabbit. As far as the first course is concerned, it has become somewhat of a classic in our family, yellow and green tagliatelle with cooking cream (double cream would be the best substitute), with Ortolina paste (a tomato and vegetables concentrate) and prosciutto.
There are certain ingredients and recipes which manage to bring you back to a precise moment in your past.
For me, cooking cream is one of these ingredients, an ’80s craze, now somewhat forgotten, or rather carefully avoided. From tortellini with prosciutto to farfalle with vodka and salmon, cooking cream appeared often on Italian tables. One of my mum’s classic dinners was chicken fillets with cream and mushrooms. Since she wasn’t great at juggling various pots and pans, she would cover the meat with a luscious layer of cream and everything would taste more delicious. Now and then, I nostalgically think back to the times when I would mop up every last, single drop of cream on my plate, with a small piece of bread, without giving it a second thought.
The heart of this recipe, however, is not the cream, but the Ortolina paste, a reduction of the tomato and basil sauce my grandmother has always used. Ortolina was one of those essential ingredients in a pantry in the countryside, a necessary addition to stews, sauces and soups.
However, we think that ortolina has made its mark for this pasta, which my grandmother learnt from Aunt Dina. She made it when Aunt Teresa came to her house on Sundays, with Cesare, her boyfriend who made the most of his free day from military service. She made it for my mum, to welcome her into the family. My grandmother is a woman of few words, but how many words there are wrapped up in her food.
Uncle Cesare, a few months ago, reminded my grandmother about the dish and, out of the blue, it appeared again on our table, strictly on Sundays-only on special occasions, such as Claudia’s birthday, then Tommaso’s birthday and a family lunch.
Yellow and green tagliatelle with cream, prosciutto and ortolina
Today, I’ll tell you about it, because with all the ground we have covered in these years of blogging –from Matcha tea to macarons, right up to the ubiquitousness of the avocado nowadays –now and again, it’s good to come back to basics, to understand where we’ve come from.
Perhaps my love for cooking it’s partly due to these yellow and green tagliatelle with cream, gently pink-coloured with the ortolina and intensified with a generous dusting of dried oregano, the delicious kind which comes, every year, from Melfi or which I bring back with me from Salento.
- An amount of yellow and green tagliatelle as written in this recipe
- 50 g of butter
- 200 g of thinly sliced prosciutto
- 200 ml of cooking cream
- 2 spoonfuls of Ortolina
- 1 large spoonful of dried oregano, the good kind
- 1 spoonful or grated Reggiano Parmesan
- Set a pot full of water to boil, where you will cook the tagliatelle.
- In the meantime, take a large pan, where you will be able to stir the tagliatelle and toss the pasta and sauce with a good flick of the wrist. Thinly slice the prosciutto, and put it in the pan with the butter. It might seem like a lot, but I’ve already reduced my grandmother’s amounts. If you are feeling particularly healthy and want to make an exception, at least do it properly!
- Melt the butter on a low heat with the prosciutto and let it cook until the prosciutto has dried and become crispy.
- As soon as the tagliatelle are ready, they should be al dente, drain them and add them to the pan. Add the cooking cream, two spoonfuls of Ortolina – adjust the amount as you see fit, the sauce should become pink, not red – and the oregano.
- Toss the pasta in the pan and add the grated Parmigiano.
- Bring the steaming tagliatelle to the table and serve onto plates. Remember to spoon out more, because the crumbs of prosciutto will have fallen to the bottom, and whoever was served first should have some more sauce added. Lucky are those who are served last...
I know that Ortolina isn’t the most refined condiment on the market, and perhaps revealing this weakness of mine to you has lowered me a peg or two in your eyes. But this is who I am, for better or for worse, someone who will make the yellow and green tagliatelle fresh at home and then add ortolina and cream, savouring the intense taste of a memory.
What’s your recipe from the past, which you hold dear? Is there a dish filled with fond memories which you can never give up? Are you brave enough to tell me about it? In the meantime, I went on the search of vintage recipes, and this is what I found:
- Lately Ruth Reichl is publishing a selection of Gourmet Magazine vintage recipes, some are hilarious, some are incredibly up-to-date. Just a few examples as the mincemeat pie, lime and green peppercorn fruitcake or a cobbler’s cake.
- Felicity Cloak is always the answer. Read her article on how to make the perfect prawn cocktail.
- Fan of Mad Men? Check this retro menu with Mad Men-inspired foods. Yes to beef Bourguignon!
- From The Great British Bake Off, a selection of retro cakes from the Seventies.
- Last but not least, Ladies and Gentleman, this is the Ortolina! The most famous ready to use Tomato Sauce in tubes, made with ripe and sound tomatoes, fresh vegetables, olive oil, without any colorants or preservatives. Quick and easy to use, it enriches the flavor of pasta dishes, boiled meat, fish, soups and crostini.