I am having the most wonderful time over in Italy filming for my latest TV series. ‘Neven’s Italian Food Trails’ will air in September and I can’t wait to see it. The food as well as the country itself has been breathtaking.
I have been to Venice, Parma, Florence, Sorento and so many more places to date and I can promise you the food you will see has been some of the best I have ever eaten. I even tried some 25 year old balsamic vinegar and I have to say it was like liquid gold! The pasta, the Parmesan and the local seasonal ingredients have just been out of this world.
The Italians love their food and are so so proud of it. It is a country of great tradition and the care they take in everything they do around their cooking is something that I think is just fantastic. They care deeply about where their produce comes from and they insist on only using seasonal ingredients, something that I agree so strongly with.
I just know you are going to love the new series and I can’t wait until September to see it but in the mean time let me share with you one of my own dishes. We all love Italian cooking and I think it is fair to say that Italian food inspires us all. So please enjoy my take on lasagne below and happy cooking everyone.
Spinach and Ricotta Lasagne with Mozzarella
4 x 300g (11oz) packets of fresh
spinach and ricotta ravioli
12 slices prosciutto
2 x 120g (4½oz) balls of buffalo mozzarella, sliced
25g (1oz) freshly grated Parmesan
lightly dressed mixed salad,
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 x 400g (14oz) cans Italian plum tomatoes
good pinch of sugar
handful of fresh basil leaves, plus extra sprigs to garnish
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
This is a fantastic lasagne that you can have on the table in no time at all. Choose the largest shop-bought ravioli you can find, as they will be easy to work with. It’s also worth paying a little extra for the best cans of Italian plum tomatoes you can find. There really is a world of difference in the taste, and the richness of their flavour means you don’t even need to use tomato purée. I promise you’ll never look back.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F/gas mark 6). To make the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a wide pan over a medium heat and gently sauté the onion for a couple of minutes, until softened but not coloured. Tip in the tomatoes, then add the sugar and season to taste. Mash down with a potato masher, then bring to the boil and boil fast for about 5 minutes to reduce and thicken.
Add the basil leaves, then blitz with a hand blender until smooth. Cook the ravioli for 2–3 minutes in a large pan of boiling salted water or according to the packet instructions, then drain well.
Arrange half of the ravioli in the bottom of a 2.5 litre (4½ pint) capacity ovenproof dish and cover with half of the tomato sauce. Add a layer of prosciutto slices and then repeat with the remaining ravioli, tomato sauce and prosciutto. Cover with the mozzarella and sprinkle the Parmesan on top.
Bake the lasagne in the oven for 15 minutes, then quickly flash under the grill until the mozzarella and Parmesan are bubbling and golden. Garnish with a few basil sprigs and serve straight to the table with a separate bowl of salad.