Day 66: Orecchiette, Radicchio Pesto & Walnuts
inspired by Pasta Nostra
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep my head buried in the sand. Like it or not, I’m starting to face up to the realities of how this pandemic has changed the lives of myself and those around me.
As we see the tentative relaxation of lockdown and the first steps towards meeting up with loved ones, it becomes all the more clear which parts of our culture can operate in a socially distanced world, and which will struggle.
Theatre, an industry that I have worked in for the past decade, is amongst the hardest hit. Anything that encourages large gatherings of people, especially indoors, cannot be on the cards for a while.
An article about measures German theatres are taking to make themselves able to open in line with government social distancing policy is, on the surface, a positive message.
They talk of removing seats to keep audiences members at suitable distances. Scrapping the interval and allowing toilet breaks whenever people need, to avoid the dreaded queue. Keeping numbers of actors onstage small and avoiding stories that rely heavily on physical contact. A very different theatre. But a theatre that can open again. Not yet, but it will be possible.
However one line from the article stands out.
There is a striking contrast between subsidy levels for theatres in Germany and theatres in the UK, where it is more difficult to reduce capacity and still make enough income to cover running costs. According to the British producer Sonia Friedman, most theatres need to sell 60% of seats just to survive.Philip Oltermann, The Guardian
This is where the problem lies. How can a theatre still make enough money to employ people and put on shows when it has to operate at such a reduced capacity?
A question that has also crossed the minds of every restauranteur and landlord across the country. For theatre, restaurants and pubs all face a similar challenge. How to invite people back into their venues, whilst also being able to make ends meet.
As more and more friends and colleagues are faced with cancelled projects, termination of contracts and moving out of their rented homes, it’s tricky to see a solution.
This is what I was thinking about, rather glumly, this morning as I made a loaf of sourdough bread. Kneading the dough providing a welcome distraction from my growing anxiety.
I covered the finished dough with a teatowel and left it to prove for three hours.
Three hours later and I was staring at a dozen shortbread biscuits on a cooling rack, a cake baking in the oven and a pile of misshapen homemade pasta. I had not left the kitchen.
Well, other than to quickly dash to the corner shop. I had used up all the butter. My stress levels were high enough without adding butter anxiety into the mix. As my mantra recently has been everything is better with butter, a house without it was unthinkable.
As I stared at the piles of food I had made something dawned on me. We all know about comfort eating. But this wasn’t it. I hadn’t eaten any of it (yet).
I was comfort cooking.
I’ve often said that I view cooking as a kind of therapy. The feeling of creating something, working with your hands, and making a dish that brings pleasure to others can only make you feel good. Obviously, as subconscious as it was, I had decide that this is what I needed this morning.
Plus the added benefit of spending a few hours with my hands covered in different types of dough, butter or oil means that I can’t go near my phone.
So no social media black holes for me to fall into, doing nothing but intensify my fears for the future. I swear I cannot even glimpse at Twitter at the moment without coming out in some kind of cold sweat.
So after shaping my bread and setting it aside for it’s second prove, I’m going to cook my homemade pasta for lunch.
“Orecchiette, Radicchio Pesto & Walnuts”
This is on the menu at Pasta Nostra, which is one of my favourite pasta places. Close to one of Aidan’s pubs near Old Street, we would often pop in for a bowl of pasta and a glass of wine after work.
And their pasta is exquisite.
They were already doing takeaway pasta for lunchtime office workers and locals in the evening. Now they have expanded to offering delivery nationwide so that everyone can enjoy their pasta and deli items. Another brilliant example of how resilient restaurants are right now.
On their menu it signifies that this is a vegan dish.
I might tweak this slightly, as for me a pesto needs parmesan.
So for the sauce radicchio, garlic, walnuts, vinegar and oil get blended in a food processor and then the grated cheese is stirred in.
I have a few leftover anchovies in the fridge so they go in too. Definitely not vegan now.
The pasta is really fun to make. I’ve wanted to give orecchiette a go ever since I watched Jamie Oliver make it in his Italian TV series. They make it look easy, shaping the pasta with the back of a knife.
I can’t get the hang of it. After rolling the dough out into a long thin sausage and cutting it into small pieces, each one needs to be pressed and rolled with a blunt knife. However when I try either the knife tears the pasta if I press too hard. Or doesn’t shape it at all if I don’t press hard enough.
Instead I make this ear shaped pasta by forming little balls and then flattening each one with my thumb. By rotating my thumb I can create a sort of miniature bowl shape with the pasta and then I peel each one off my thumb and leave them on a plate, dusted in flour so they don’t stick.
It’s a slower process than rolling pasta out with a machine. But it’s incredibly satisfying.
To finish I add some chopped walnuts and more roughly chopped radicchio to a pan and fry in a little olive oil as the pasta cooks. This only takes a few minutes.
Toss it all together with the pesto and I have made a delicious lunch.
And apparently quite a lot of things for dessert.
The future of our hospitality and entertainment industries might be uncertain right now.
But I can be certain of one thing. A plate of pasta will always make me smile.
Now I really should get out of the kitchen.
Orecchiette with Radicchio & Walnut Pesto
- 200 g orecchietti (or you could use any other pasta you like)
- 1 garlic clove
- 2 anchovies
- 1 handful walnuts
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp grated parmesan
- 1 tsp white wine vinegar
- 2 radicchio
- Roughly chop one of the radicchio and peel the garlic clove. Add both to a food processor with the olive oil, vinegar, anchovies and half the walnuts. Blitz to make the pesto. Stir in the grated parmesan and season.
- Finely slice the other radicchio and roughly chop the remaining walnuts.
- Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta until al dente.
- Meanwhile heat a drizzle of oil in a small frying pan and add the walnuts and radicchio, keeping the heat low.
- Once the pasta is ready add to the frying pan with the pesto. Toss everything together and add a bit of the pasta cooking water to loosen the sauce.
- Dish up. You can top with more parmesan, chopped walnuts or fresh herbs if you like.