We know, we know – an entire month dedicated to the glorious Mediterranean cuisine, what could be better! This April M&S are celebrating all things Italian and we could not be more excited.
You see, pasta often gets a bad rep doesn’t it? We treat it like a naughty indulgence that should be shunned pre-holiday – ‘no carbs before marbs babe’ – and the word gluten has lost all meaning. But we’ve never bought into this line of thought for a few reasons. Firstly, the Mediterranean diet is widely regarded to be one of the healthiest in the world. Secondly, it’s literally just wheat and water (!!) and lastly, the pure unadulterated joy we get from a beautifully made bowl of pasta simply can’t be wrong.
So we were delighted to spend an Aperol-fuelled evening making pasta from scratch with the lovely M&S team. And whilst the fresh pasta was absolutely delicious (we might have gone back for seconds, ok – thirds), we don’t feel like we’re settling by buying M&S’ prepared pasta. They’re quite the experts as it happens, having worked with the same pasta supplier and family-run sauce makers for the past twenty years. In that time, not a great deal has changed. The drying of the pasta takes place out in the open, utilising the pure clean air of the mountainous Dolomites (if you haven’t been, we’ve honestly never taken such deliciously pure gulps of air).
Meanwhile down in Calabria, in Southern Italy M&S work with a third-generation family run businesses to make their delicious sauces. They start by slowly, slowly cooking vegetables down in Italian extra virgin olive oil (what else!), then combine with Italian tomatoes and fresh herbs which are grown in the fields literally outside the factory. We like to think of a gaggle of Nona’s happily working away in the kitchens to bring us the best sauce, as they have done for years and years.
So if that’s got you salivating, read on for our guide to hosting an effortless Italian Feast with M&S…
Start with a round of Aperol Spritz. Quick and easy to make, simply fill a big glass with plenty of ice and remember the perfect serve is 3-2-1 – that’s 3 parts prosecco, two parts Aperol and a dash of soda. Finish with a slice of juicy orange & serve.
For the most effortless of starters, prepare a selection of antipasti. Get out your poshest platters (we like these blue ones as they remind us of the Mediterranean sea) and arrange ribbons of charcuterie in the artiest fashion you can master. Plonk a few sundried tomatoes and flame seared artichoke in a similarly pretty bowl and you’re literally good to go. To ensure your guests don’t go hungry, warm these green olive ciabatta rolls in the oven just before they arrive and serve with the best extra virgin olive oil you can get your hands on – M&S stock one in store which comes in a hand-painted ceramic bottle which is literally to die for.
The Main Event
You could try making your own fresh pasta from scratch (recipe below) or let M&S help you out. They’ve helpfully made a guide to pairing the perfect sauce with the perfect regional pasta shape. We like to keep a bag of the dried stuff in the cupboard for mid-week meals but for entertaining we’ll be splurging on their fresh range. When we’re cooking for a group we like to make a few different types to serve in big sharing bowls for guests to help themselves. Try pan frying some wild mushrooms with garlic before tossing them through tagliatelle with truffle pesto, add their ridiculously indulgent traditional green pesto to ricotta & spinach filled ravioli and go for a creamy tomato & mascarpone sauce with their meat filled varieties along with a handful of fresh rocket. A good tomato and mozzarella salad with fresh basil and cracked pepper is the perfect side dish and a huge bowl of freshly grated parmesan to serve alongside is essential.
It’s got to be Tiramisu. M&S taught us a really simple recipe which can be totally adapted to suit your taste. Like it boozy? Increase the liqueur. Not a fan of coffee, no problem, just go easy on it. The trick though is to only briefly dunk the trifle biscuits, so as to retain a bit of texture in the creamy layers. For extra umph, add a layer of crushed amaretti biscuits. Of course, if you can’t be bothered (or don’t have the time!) M&S have made one for you.
Lambrusco – sparkling red wine so often gets a bad rep but we think it’s a seriously underrated and extremely drinkable wine. This was the best we found on the high street – it’s just PERFECT with this type of food and makes a really interesting alternative to prosecco. We wrote about it in more detail over at The Independent.
Pecorino – Made from 100% pecorino grapes, this rare variety is made in the shade of one of Italy’s highest mountains which gives it it’s slightly chalky base. It’s interesting enough to drink alone but is very obliging with this Italian spread. You’ll finish a bottle no problem so best to buy a case.
Caruso e Minini Perricone – an irresistible Sicilian red full of juicy cherry, pepper, coffee and smoke, we found ourselves overstaying our welcome just so we could finish the bottle. It’s great at full price but an out and out steal when on special offer.
So go forth, eat pasta and enjoy every single delicious bite. buon appetito!
Pasta Dough Recipe
Serves: 4 portions of hand cut or filled pasta
Preparation time: 15 minutes + 4 hours resting
Ingredients for hand cut pasta
130g 00 pasta flour
4 egg yolks
Ingredients for filled pasta
130g 00 pasta flour
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
Mix the dough by incorporating the egg with the flour and work together until a rough textured
dough forms. Continue to knead the dough until its smooth and supple. Wrap in cling film and rest
for 4 hours.
This feature was written in collaboration with M&S, a brand I love.