Follow the advice of Italy’s favourite cook with a small pasta starter, followed by a beautiful, healthy, simple crusted salmon fillet, and finish off with a historic orange cake recipe. The three courses will cost you no more than $9 per head for eight people.
First Course: Maccheroni con Salsiccia (click here for recipe)
Rarely do children’s menus extend far beyond about half a dozen usual suspects including brown discs wedged between buns, or swept up chicken scraps plunged into hot, bubbling lipids. But not in Italy and not at La Drogheria Della Rosa in Bologna, a restaurant awarded 5 stars in The Times by notorious critic AA Gill.
Housed in a former pharmacy still equipped with apothecarial remnants, owner Emanuele Addone dispenses culinary prescriptions sufficient to raise his restaurant above many others in the food capital of Emilia-Romagna, one of the great food regions, in one of the greatest food countries on earth.
I think this is the only restaurant from which I’ve ever departed with an extra bottle of wine, a gift from Emmanuelle. But one of the other highlights was the pasta dish recommended to my three year old. Here, there’s no menu, you’re just told what’s coming and all we heard about this dish was “macaroni”. What arrived was one of the most delicious pasta dishes I’ve ever tasted.
“Maccheroni” is the ancient word for cut pasta and is also interchangeable with various types of short pasta. The maccheroni presented to my daughter were not the little elbows synonymous with anglicized macaroni, but instead were lovely delicate curled torpedoes with a slightly unctuous texture, seemingly a bespoke creation designed to entrap the simple sausage and cherry tomato accompaniment in their delicate folds.
Whilst addressing my primo piatto (first course) of the Bolognese classic Tortellini in Brodo (broth) my hand regularly slipped across the white table cloth to the child’s dish as Emmanuelle distracted her with his unique and scarily authentic rendition of a chirping robin. The rest of the meal was also magnificent and as the children spooned up a simple dessert of chocolate buttons swimming in a runny mascarpone, Emanuele fortified us with complimentary Madeira and then presented me with a bottle of wine and a bill so disgustingly small that I questioned my Australian citizenship.
Despite the ebullience of the evening I made a mental note of the maccheroni’s flavour profile and vowed to recreate the dish at the earliest opportunity. Pasta, broken up sausage, cherry tomatoes, garlic, white wine. That seemed about it. On returning home I produced an excellent approximation of this dish using these pleasantly inexpensive ingredients. The special maccheroni really makes the dish and can be found here in delicatessens and good food shops under descriptions including Maccheroni Calabresi, Maccheroncini (slightly shorter) or Fileja do Tropea (the longer version). In Italy, pasta is eaten as a primo piatto – a first course dish and that’s what I recommend here. Child’s play.
Main Course: Dill & Lemon Crusted Salmon with Nordic Waldorf Salad and Sautéed Beetroot (click here for recipe)
“Meat strengthens the body’s fibers, while starches, which pastas are usually made of, create fatty tissue, which cause flabbiness…..small amounts of pasta are for those who tend to put on weight and would like to keep such gains in check.”
The above statement is a prescient forerunner to the low-carb movement from the most unlikely of sources: Pellegrino Artusi, native of Emilia-Romagna and author of Science in the Kitchen and Art of Eating Well, first published in 1891 and the most important food bible for many Italian families.
Artusi was always ahead of his time and on the matter of carbs he was no different. So, in the interests of nutritional balance – and following a starter based on a recipe from Bologna, a town known as “The Fat” due to its love of food – the main course helps counteract any potential deleterious health impacts courtesy of a lighter, but no less delicious salmon, salad and beetroot dish. (Although Artusi did say of Bologna, “when you hear someone speak of Bolognese cooking, salute it, because this cooking deserves it”).
Like most fish, the cost of salmon at $25-30 per kg seems to add up quickly. The solution is to purchase by weight, rather than by number of pieces, allocating approximately 150g per person so that for eight people you are buying 1.2kgs. Even without a hearty sausage pasta starter, you rarely need much more than 175g per piece, so simply purchase the total weight required and then when you return home, cut the larger fillets lengthwise to create the desired quantity of pieces. This will ensure you do not have a cost explosion, or left-over and unwanted fish lurking in the fridge for days.
Serve the fish with the relatively low-carb option of sautéed beetroot and a healthy fibrous salad which no doubt Artusi would approve of.
Dessert: Orange Cake (click here for recipe)
Based on a recipe from the Green & Gold King’s College Adelaide school fundraising cookery book, originally published in 1923 with all recipes supplied by mothers. I was unable to get in contact with the presumably deceased Mrs. G Bradley of Torrens Park whose intellectual property is the inspiration for the recipe here, but nonetheless hope she approves of the result.
Total cost for three courses $71.95
Cost per head $8.99
Cost per head per course $2.99