Locally-made cheese and a spicy pasta recipe
My role as a parent seems to have morphed into someone who ferries my offspring from a to b, opening my wallet somewhere along the way. I’m glad they have social lives that are interesting and interests that they are committed to and passionate about, but I still haven’t got used to having the plans for my own time that I’ve dreamed up turned completely upside-down.
Bumble-box organic market has rebranded itself as Ripe over the summer and relaunched to rave reviews by all accounts. Seeing a gap in my schedule as chaffeuse and motivated by the news of the debut of a stall-holder who makes cheese, I visited last weekend. The Dubai Garden Centre is almost a misnomer these days as it seems to sell an Aladdin’s cave of items not related to anything in the outdoor environment. From coffee machines to distressed furniture, from second-hand books to fish tanks, their strategy isn’t very focused and the weekly organic market is squeezed into a section that makes browsing quite difficult. However, customers were very focussed at getting in and out with their organic veg boxes and by 10 o’clock stocks were dwindling.
White, glistening shapes beckoned me to the cheese stall and the lady in charge (whoops – no name – I wouldn’t make a journalist!) said in a lyrical Italian accent “local milk, Italian expertise”. Regular visitors will know of my obsession for cheese but I managed to restrain myself and just bought a container of five balls of mozzarella (40 AED). They also had bocconcini, burrata, ricotta and scamorza – all looking fresh and quite sculptural.
While at the market I ate my first ever piece of biltong – cured locally – and some similar cured sausage, bought some fennel pickle from Pickle in d Middle and ‘sampled’ from Toffee Princess quite a few times (whoops!)
I bought a huge hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano on the way home and made this baked pasta dish which pleases the whole family ( I’ve tweaked a Jamie Oliver recipe here as I haven’t found a better version of this). The quality of the mozzarella really makes a difference. I hope the cheese-makers, Italian Dairy Products, (tel: 06 5269042) are a permanent fixture as the cheese is good, fresh, cheaper than the supermarket and doesn’t use food miles to get here (although arguably the feed for the cows to make the local milk does – but that’s another issue).
Spicy baked amori with mozzarella and tomatoes (Pasta al forno con salsa di pomodoro e mozzarella)
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
400g of pasta shapes (I used amori)
3 x 400g tins of plum tomatoes
1 dried bay leaf
1-2 fresh red chillies (can used dried)
red wine vinegar
3 balls of mozzarella (approx 100g each), sliced
Approx 100g Parmesan, grated
A large handful of fresh basil leaves
Salt and black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 200 C and put a large pan of water onto boil.
- Heat some olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan (I use a cast-iron Le Cruset) and cook the garlic and onions over a low heat until they are soft and translucent. This takes about 10 minutes.
- Gently add the tinned tomatoes to the onion and garlic taking care to keep the tomatoes whole. Pierce the chillies with a knife; add with the bay leaf and about half a tin of water; simmer slowly for about 30 minutes.
- 10 minutes before the sauce if finished bring the water back to the boil and cook the pasta until al dente (about 1-2 minutes less than the time specified on the packet).
- When the sauce is cooked, take off the heat, remove the bay leaf and chillies and use a stick blender or food processor to blend to a smooth sauce. Taste and season with salt, black pepper, a dash of red wine vinegar if you like and torn fresh basil leaves (I use scissors to snip them in).
- Add half of the sauce into the drained pasta and mix thoroughly.
- Put half of the pasta into a lightly oiled, oven-proof dish.
- Layer with some tomato sauce, mozzarella and some Parmesan.
- Add the rest of the pasta on top.
- Pour over the remaining tomato sauce, mozzarella and a generous amount of Parmesan plus a drizzle of olive oil if you like.
- Cook in the oven and the top is golden and bubbling. Serve with additional grated parmesan if desired.
Variation: Layer some Parma ham in the middle instead of half of the mozzarella