--- Watch Silvia Colloca share all the joys of Italian cooking weeknights in Made in Italy and Cook like an Italian episodes from 6pm on SBS Food through to 30 October ---
Italian home cooks are highly skilled at pulling together speedy, nourishing meals that deliver on flavour. What's their secret? A well-stocked pantry is a good place to start, followed by a seasonal approach to weekly meal planning.
Luciana Sampogna, who runs cooking classes through her school Cucina Italiana in Sydney and Venice, believes in letting the seasons inform a dish. "In Italy we have access to fresh produce, so quite often we go to a local fruit and vegetable shop, butcher or fishmonger and buy something that is in season," she says. "Then it is up to you to use your imagination and decide between a pumpkin risotto if the pumpkin is in season, or a simple pasta made with fresh, sweet tomatoes."
"Preparing meals for the family every day can be quite the task, especially when you’re trying to sneak in some nutrition."
Once you've got your ingredients, you'll need a handful of fast, easy and delicious recipes up your sleeve. Host of Cook Like an Italian, Silvia Colloca, says a fuss-free repertoire is particularly important when you're cooking for others. "Preparing meals for the family every day can be quite the task," says Colloca. "Especially when you’re trying to sneak in some nutrition."
Here are a few ideas that prove you needn't forego flavour to keep mid-week cooking to a minimum.
Sampogna's weeknight go-to is risotto, a dish favoured for its versatility as much as its quick cooking time. "I can't live without risotto as I am from the north of Italy," says Sampogna. "I always have homemade stock in my freezer, so it is just a question of playing with flavours and the seasons." Keep some chicken stock on hand for a spring green risotto or lemon, leek and chicken risotto, serving guests (or yourself) a nice glass of wine to sip on while you stir.
Colloca's risoni with cherry tomatoes and pippies offers a similar look and consistency with half the cooking time. "Risoni looks like giant grains of rice, but it’s actually a type of pasta," says Colloca. "Italians love using it in soups and stews because it cooks twice as fast as rice and its texture allows any fresh ingredients you might add to remain the hero of the dish."
Pasta is an eternal crowd pleaser that can be adapted to suit everyone in your household. For a quick midweek dinner, Sampogna favours a green and zesty northern Italian classic. "For entertaining, I adore a good pesto," says Sampogna, who makes her pasta from scratch. Colloca is also a fan, often turning to a tomato-based Sicilian pesto with penne that can be made in eight minutes flat. "Making a quick meal doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice on flavour," says Colloca.
"Making a quick meal doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice on flavour."
For a seriously swift plate up, you can't go past spaghetti – spaghetti alla puttanesca can be tossed together in 20 minutes with tomatoes, anchovies, capers and garlic, while Roman classic spaghetti alla carbonara offers a comforting combination of pork, egg, cheese and black pepper.
With all the time you've saved on the main you'll be able to whip up a treat to end the night. Impress the house with a slice of lemon and polenta cake with limoncello and citrus syrup. The citrusy dessert can be prepared in 10 minutes and popped in the oven while you clear the plates away. Save yourself even more time by making the syrup a few days ahead and storing it in the fridge.
If you have mid-week visitors and need an after-dinner treat in a jiffy, Colloca's lemon and almond ricciarelli are the perfect accompaniment to an espresso. With a crunchy top and soft, slightly chewy interior, this traditional almond biscuit is made using just four ingredients – almond meal, sugar, eggs and lemon zest – and can be baked in the time it takes to boil the kettle. "Ricciarelli are one of the most classic Italian cookies," says Colloca. "They are a confectionary marvel."
For this Italian treat, a panettone is filled with ricotta, cream and chocolate then chilled and covered in more chocolate for an addictive, decadent dessert.