I cooked this pasta dish the other day on the hoof and filmed myself making it for Instagram stories (now in my highlights). It wasn't a rehearsed recipe or video so, for sure, it doesn't look perfect but I can assure you, it tasted delicious. The recipe's quite interesting; its title might seem a bit fancy and inaccessible, but in reality it's simple, quick, cheap, tasty and seasonal; very much how I enjoy to cook. Indeed, it was dreamt up as part of a fridge raid dinner, nothing more.
Inspiration for the dish came from a Maurizio Terzini dish I chose as one of my Rush Hour Recipes a few months ago. He combines ribbed penne (the ribs hold the sauce) with orange, tallegio, parmesan and parsley. I was fascinated by the idea of using orange in a savoury pasta recipe. But then I thought about it some more; I often use orange in savoury salads, combining it with caramelised celeriac or fennel, nuts and perhaps a little crumbly goat's cheese, its sweet rounded qualities softer amd more gentle than its yellow or green cousins. So in essence, why not use it in a pasta dish, it's really not that unusual.
And that's what I love about creating recipes; thinking about the balance of flavours, imaginging different ingredient combinations and considering other executions of similar ingredients as inspiration. I love imagining the textures and colours of a dish, sometimes nodding to recipes other chefs have created or sometimes building on a recipe I've made before; I thrive on the creative license to do what i want, the allure of creating something unique and very personal that expresses what I stand for as a cook.
This concept of a culinary identity is a focus for me right now. And as I try to pinpoint my own culinary identity, I've realsied I fall victim far too often to a fatal error; I compare my food to that of others. And Instagram and other social media platforms are the perfect tools for indulging in this dangerous passtime. I can stare for hours at the beautiful shop windows of fellow cooks and chefs, their beautifully plated dishes, their wonderful props, their perfect lighting and their great ideas. And all this does is build on insecurities, making me feel my own recipes are inadequate in some way, that the food I cook isn't polished enough and somehow pales in comparison to that of these super Instagrammers. In a way, it makes me feel invisible in a sea of perfection, eroding my sense of identity, the very thing I'm trying to work out.
So I've made a pact with myself to avoid this unhealthy corrosive habit. After all, they're simply inanimate pictures that I'm comparing my food to! I know that my food tastes great (people tell me that all the time), that it's interesting and varied and that I have a good palate. I know equally that my style is accessible to all sorts of different kinds of cooks. I cook food that people want to cook and eat, food that's within reach of my audience. So, I'm happy to have a slightly less polished instagram feed, to have the odd slapdash image on there, to perhaps eminate a slightly less aspirational look and feel... and when I do eventually improve my photography and food styling, I'm going to remember not to polish them up too much; for me, it's about keeping it real and accesible!
Rigati Paccheri with roast delica squash, oyster mushrooms, smoked pancetta, orange and sage
- 100g smoked lardons or pancetta
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- Olive oil
- 1 tbsp finely chopped sage
- 1 clove garlic, crushed or finely chopped
- 100g oyster mushrooms, torn into strips
- 40g butter
- Zest and juice of an orange
- 100g roasted squash
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- 50-75g finely grated Parmesan
- Salt and pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil, to finish
Put your pasta on to cook in boiling, well salted water. Heat a glug of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the lardons and onions and cook on a medium heat for about 5 minutes until the onions have softened and are starting to turn slightly brown at the edges and the pancetta has browned.
Add the sage, garlic and a little nutmeg and give it another minute or so. Now add the mushroom strips along with the butter and allow to cook on medium for another couple of minutes until the mushrooms begin to cook down a little. Season with some salt and black pepper.
Add the orange juice and a ladlefull of the pasta cooking water to help thicken the sauce. Turn the heat up and boil fiercly until reduced a little. Then add the roasted squash and cooked and drained pasta and gently coat in the sauce. Mix through the Parmesan - the sauce will emulsify and thicken and cling to the pasta. Serve in bowls topped with a little more cheese, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some more freshly ground black pepper.