Prima Piatti Recipes

Asparagus and Mozzarella Bake

Risotto alla Milanese

Tagliatelle with Porcini Mushrooms [Tagliatelle con Porcini]

Zuppa del Contadino [Peasant Soup]

Asparagus and Mozzarella Bake

I use this recipe a lot when asparagus is in season, they are delicious when really fresh.  This is a good dish for vegetarians who are ok with cheese.

16 large asparagus spears
6 tbsp Italian extra virgin olive oil
knob of butter [unsalted if possible]
2 large mozzarella balls, finely sliced
1 bunch basil leaves
600g/1lb 5oz Italian tinned chopped tomatoes
300g/10½oz parmesan, grated
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cooking Instructions

  1. Cook the asparagus in salted boiling water until al dente.
  2. Drain and allow to cool then toss in the olive oil.
  3. In a baking tray (approximately 22cm x 12cm/10in x 5in), spread some butter all over the bottom and sides.
  4. When ready, lay eight of the asparagus spears on the bottom, cover with some of the mozzarella slices and sprinkle some basil leaves on top.  I cut the basil leaves into small pieces with a pair of scissors as I find it quicker than trying to chop or dice small quantities.
  5. Pour over half the chopped tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and then sprinkle 100g/3½oz of grated parmesan on top.
  6. Repeat the process making sure that the top is covered with the remaining parmesan.
  7. Bake in the centre of a preheated oven at 180C/356F/Gas 4 for approximately 20 minutes.
  8. Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow to rest for five minutes before serving.
  9. Great served with warm crusty bread.

Risotto alla Milanese

The Arborio short grained risotto rice is grown in the Po river valleys of Piedmont. There are four different varieties: ordinario, the shortest grain; semifino; fino, a medium length grain; and superfine the finest and largest of them all. I make this lovely creamy risotto with the superfine variety; it is one of my favourites. I use a normal size tea mug for measuring the ingredients. This recipe is for 4 people but I have on occasions got 5-6 helpings from it, depending on the size of portions served. Two things worth mentioning are that the quality of the wine you use affects the taste of the risotto, it is better when the wine is really dry. The second point is that you really must use unsalted butter; otherwise the risotto is prone to burning. Risotto is a dish that should be coaxed towards perfection. It should not be boiled or left for long periods without stirring. Be sure to always stir well as you add the hot stock.


⅛ tsp saffron threads

½ medium onion finely diced

1 cup Arborio rice

¾ cup dry white wine

3 cups chicken stock

¼ cup heavy cream

4tbsp unsalted butter

¼ cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Cooking Instructions

  1. Add the saffron threads to the dry white wine to allow the saffron to bloom. Warm slightly if desired to shorten blooming time.
  2. Heat a large sauté pan over a medium heat and add half the butter to the warm pan.
  3. Add the finely chopped onion to the hot butter and sauté until translucent.
  4. Add the Arborio rice and sauté briefly until the hard white amylase centre of the rice is visible.
  5. Add the white wine/saffron mixture to the pan and cook slowly until most of the wine is absorbed.
  6. Add the chicken stock approximately ½ a cup at a time – only enough stock each time to barely cover the rice grains.
  7. Cook slowly, stirring often until all the liquid is mostly absorbed.  
  8. Continue adding the stock in increments until the rice has reached the desired consistency. The risotto should still have a centre that is slightly firm to your tongue.
  9. When the rice is almost done add the heavy cream stirring often until it is absorbed into the risotto.
  10. Remove the pan from the heat, add the remaining butter, the grated fresh parmesan cheese, stir well and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Tagliatelle with Porcini Mushrooms [Tagliatelle con Porcini]

I always try to use fresh pasta, but living in Italy means I can easily get good quality fresh pasta so why wouldn’t I? For those of you who do not have a constant supply of the real stuff, it is possible to substitute with store bought dried pasta. So long as you don’t overcook it any brand will do.

The most important rules for cooking dried pasta are:

·        Add it to a large amount of boiling water then add the salt;

·        Give it one good stir then leave it alone to cook until firm but tender – al dente;

·        Drain it immediately it is ready, remember it will continue to cook slightly even after you remove it from the water;

·        Never rinse the pasta after you have drained it

·        Do not be tempted to dry off the cooked pasta over heat after it is drained. It is better to leave a little of the cooking water still clinging to the sides of the pasta. This ensures any sauce will bind well and not slide off.

·        Whenever possible mix the pasta in the pot you have cooked the sauce in, this is the way the Italians do it. It works to keep the pasta hot and ensure it is well bonded with all the flavours in your sauce.

·        Don’t keep the pasta sitting in hot sauce for long because it will continue to cook, serve it immediately it is combined.


2oz/50g assorted dried porcini mushrooms. Can be chanterelles, shitake and morels

OR 1oz/25g of dried porcini mushrooms and 12oz/375g fresh white mushrooms

¼cup olive oil

3 garlic cloves finely chopped

2 shallots finely chopped

½ cup dry white wine

¾ cup chicken stock

1lb/500g fresh tagliatelle, fettuccine or pappardelle pasta

½ cup of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated

3 tbsp fresh parsley leaf finely chopped

1 tsp coarse salt

Freshly ground salt and black pepper seasoning

Cooking Instructions

1.      Cover the dried mushrooms in a bowl of warm water and soak for 1 hour. If you are using a combination of fresh and dried mushrooms use only 1 cup/250ml warm water to soak.

2.      Strain through a sieve lined with cheese cloth or coffee filter and reserve the liquid.

3.      Clean and dry the fresh white mushrooms

4.      Chop all the mushrooms finely and set to one side.

5.      In a large heavy based pan or skillet heat the olive oil over a medium-low heat. Add the chopped garlic and shallots and cook for 2 minute or until soft.

6.      Stir in the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally.

7.      Pour in the wine and cook for another 3 minutes.

8.      Stir in the chicken stock and reserved mushroom liquid and bring mixture to the boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 12 minutes or until slightly thickened.

9.      Do a taste test and add salt and pepper if required.

10.  Add the course salt to a large pot of boiling water. Cook the pasta until tender but firm then drain.

11.  Remove the mushroom and stock mixture from the stove and add in the pasta. Toss gently to mix.

12.  Transfer into a warmed bowl and serve with the fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano grated cheese.

Zuppa del Contadino [Peasant Soup]

‘Contadino’ means peasant farmer in Italian and so being poor farmers ourselves I was attracted to this recipe. It is really easy to make. Here in Piedmont the late summer months bring heaps of plum tomatoes to the weekly street markets. They give this soup a great colour and taste. ‘Ditalini’ is a particular pasta that is made especially for soup but it is also possible to use any of your favourite short hollow pasta. Don’t use a quick cooking variety because it will go soggy.


3 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic cloves finely chopped

1 large onion peeled and finely chopped

1 lb ripe but firm plum tomatoes

8 cups of chicken stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 oz Ditalini pasta or other short hollow pasta

¼ cup roughly chopped flat leaf parsley

6 slices of rustic country style bread brushed with olive oil and grilled or oven toasted

Cooking Instructions

  1. In a large pot heat up the olive oil over a medium heat.
  2. Add the chopped garlic and onion and cook for a few minutes unto softened.
  3. Stir in peeled chopped tomatoes and stock.
  4. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Bring to the boil and stir in the pasta.
  6. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until pasta is tender.
  7. Put a slice of pre toasted bread in the bottom of each soup plate and ladle soup over the toast.
  8. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.




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