Paul Flynn: Grown-up pasta, straight from Venice
You can still go to Italy. These three delicious dishes will take you there
Bigoli in salsa. Photograph: Harry Weir
These days, I always seem to be looking backwards. The future has been postponed, so I find myself reminiscing more than ever. A friend posted a live picture of St Mark’s Square in Venice recently. It was devoid of any life and eerie, almost apocalyptic.
We visited Venice in a crisp, bright January, when restaurateurs take holidays. This beauty had been on my bucket list for some time. It was love at first sight. The steps from the main train station in Venice descend into a Caneletto. The Grand Canal assaults you with its bustling, breathtaking beauty.
We found All’Arco. We ate delectable little toasts and desperately tried to fit in. I have been dreaming about it ever since
As ever, I had food on my mind. My guide for the city was Russell Norman, owner of Polpo restaurants. His cookbook of the same name contains an essential list of all the places he loves in the city. Narrowing down his favourites was a conundrum. Busy even off-season, Venice’s network of tiny streets can be daunting. We spent most of our time lost as my quest to find the Holy Grail increasingly became a chore.
Rialto fish market was base camp. A man trimming artichokes with preposterous speed caught my attention. We found All’Arco. In a tiny space, it delivers some of the best food in the city. We ate delectable little toasts and desperately tried to fit in. I have been dreaming about it ever since.
The recipes for two of this week’s dishes are a homage to All’Arco. The bigoli is a grown-up pasta. It divisively contains anchovies, the brown salted ones. I adore them, but have pared my version back for anyone who is new to them or slightly dubious even.
We also ate cod brandade on toast. I’ve adapted it a little into an easy, creamy delight. And if you don’t want this on toast, it’s wonderful with a summer salad and boiled potatoes, or as a gentle sauce for pasta.
This gratin honours the artichoke and the craftsman from the market. I’m using bottled artichokes here. They are not the same, but they are easy and quick. If you can’t get them, don’t worry, substitute a tin of butterbeans. I added salami, too. I just love its fatty saltiness, or maybe just it takes me back to Venice.
BIGOLI IN SALSA
4tbsp olive oil
2 large white onions, peeled and thinly sliced
10 brown anchovy fillets
A small glass of white wine
300g wholegrain spaghetti
A generous knob of butter
A twist of black pepper
1 Gently sweat the onions in the olive oil in a large heavy-based pan. Cook them for about 20-30 minutes until they really soft and nearly falling apart.
2 Add the anchovies and then the white wine.
3 Continue to cook gently until the wine reduces, mashing the anchovies into the onions until you have a thick chunky sauce.
4 Cook the pasta as per packet instructions in lightly salted water, making sure you keep it authentically al dente.
5 Drain the pasta but retain 100ml of cooking water.
6 Add the pasta, reserved cooking water, butter and pepper to the sauce and mix well, coating the spaghetti thoroughly.
7 Serve straight away in warm bowls.
CREAMY BACCALA ON TOAST
250g cod fillet
½tbsp salt, rock salt if you have it
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
50ml extra virgin olive oil and a little more for drizzling
Squeeze of lemon
6 slices of country bread toasted
1 Sprinkle the salt over the fish, cover it with cling film and put in the fridge for four hours.
2 Rinse the fish thoroughly in cold water.
3 Bring a medium pan of water to the boil add the cod, then straight away remove the pan from the heat.
4 Allow the cod to cool in the water, then remove it and flake the flesh into a bowl.
5 Add the garlic and the cream and start to whisk and break up the fish.
6 When it starts to thicken, drizzle in the olive oil and lemon juice.
7 Serve on toast with a drizzle of oil over the top.
CRUSTED SUMMER GREENS WITH LEMON, ARTICHOKE AND SALAMI
1 packet (200g) tenderstem broccoli, washed and trimmed
6 artichoke hearts, from a jar, halved
1 small red chilli, finely sliced
120g sliced salami, cut into strips
60ml olive oil
200g fresh breadcrumbs
50g grated Parmesan
Zest of one lemon
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
50g flaked almonds
Salt and pepper
1 Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
2 Top and tail the courgettes, then slice them at an angle, 1cm thick.
3 Put them on a large shallow roasting tray along with the broccoli, artichoke, chilli and salami.
4 Add half the olive oil to the tray, season, mix well and spread evenly.
5 In a bowl mix the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, lemon, garlic, almonds and the remaining olive oil. Season and sprinkle over the vegetable mixture on the roasting tray.
6 Bake for 15-20 minutes until everything is cooked, golden brown and crunchy. Serve immediately.