Those cheeky chappies at Thomson Al Fresco sent me a fabulous food hamper and asked me to create a recipe inspired by one of the great countries you can go to when you visit one of their parcs. Thomson Al Fresco offer package camping holidays in some of the highest rating campsites in Europe and rest assured you stay in a mobile home, not a tent (luxury - I love my tent, but I think once in a while not having to carry my house around on holiday would be nice!)
I decided to take my inspiration from Thomson Al Fresco's self catering holidays in Italy. I adore Italian food and their use of simple but fabulous ingredients makes the cuisine exciting on the palette but quick to prepare.
The hamper I had included a whole variety of ingredients, including pasta, tapenade, tomato sauce, taralli, infused olive oil, wine and amaretti biscuits, so I looked what was there and also what we already had in and decided to make a vegetarian dish, which makes a real show of some lovely Mediterranean vegetables, and some more that we associate with closer to home.
One of the pastas that was included in my hamper was caserecci. I haven't used this particular type of pasta before so I decided to spend a little while reading up on it, to find out the best way to use it. Coming from Sicily and the region of Puglia, caserecci pasta consists of slightly twisted tubes, which are almost S shaped in profile. Made from semolina, they are shaped to hold sauces well and are often used with a meat or sausage sauce and also are considered to hold up well in a baked dish.
Vegetable casarecci with baked baby aubergines
Ingredients (serves 4)
The Pasta and Aubergines
250g caserecci pasta
Jar of fresh tomato sauce (our hamper contained tomato and oregano sugo)
Dash of cream
Spoonful of cream cheese with herbs
8 baby aubergines
4 cloves of garlic
100g grated cheese (an Italian cheese like parmigiano if you have it, but we had Welsh cheddar in and it worked fine!)
A slug of herb infused olive oil
A teaspoon of fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
Salad dressed with another drizzle of herb infused olive oil
A handful of delicious Taralli al Peperoncino
A glass of a lovely Italian pinot grigio
Time to from prep to plate - approximately 45 minutes
- Put the oven on to preheat at 180'C and put a kettle of water on to boil for the pasta.
- Top your baby aubergines, cut them in half lengthwise and put a criss cross along the meat without breaking through to the skin.
- Place the aubergines in a baking dish and drizzle with herb or chilli infused olive oil.
- Put into the oven for 10 minutes.
- While the aubergines are cooking, put the caserecci on to boil for 9-11 minutes until al dente.
- As the pasta cooks, finely slice the garlic and leek and cut the courgettes into cubes.
- Lightly saute the vegetables in a light drizzle of oil, reserving a quarter of the garlic for the aubergines.
- When the pasta is cooked and the veg is softened, drain most of the cooking water from the pasta and add three quarters of the jar of tomato sauce, add a drizzle of cream, a spoonful of cream cheese and rosemary, salt and pepper to taste.
- Stir in the sauce and the sauteed veg and place in an oven proof dish.
- Sprinkle on three quarters of the cheese.
- Meanwhile, take the aubergines out of the oven. Sprinkle over the reserved garlic, the remaining tomato sauce and the remaining cheese. Season to taste.
- Put both dishes in the oven for 15 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and starting to turn golden brown.
Serve the whole lot up with some dressed salad, your taralli (curled Italian bread snacks) and of course, a delicious glass of wine. I had it with a glass of red - The Boy had a glass of the chilled Venetian pinot grigio - this is quite a versatile dish because of the creamy tomato sauce so will match with whatever colour of wine you prefer! Hooray!
So there you have it. All this and more could be yours. This isn't a difficult dish to make, it's a straight forward, Italian inspired feast that we thoroughly enjoyed. It is reasonably healthy, although the fat content is a little high. Each portion contains in the region of 400 kcals and 17g of fat, although that doesn't include the taralli or the glass of wine!
Now I am occupied by the difficult problem of what to do with a packet of delicious looking amaretti biscuits which keep shouting "Just eat me with coffee!" every time I open the cupboard. They are tempting me, but I'm pretty sure I can make them into someething even more amazing with a little thought. Watch this space...