madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


spaghetti with salmon and brandy

spaghetti in a light cream and tomato sauce with a dash of brandy

I am born in a time – early 60s if you are curious – when food was not too fashionable.

I still remember the arrival of cream in my life. My mum did not use cream, she was Sicilian. By her law, a sauce is red and must be made with tomato and olive oil. A stick of butter lasted easily a couple of months in our fridge as she had no use for it. Cake was for winter and gelato -4 or 5 flavors, not 30 like now – was for summer. A simple life.

Then the 70’s and ’80s exploded with all sorts of sophistication. Tortellini with cream and ham, crepes rolled with Bechamel and champignons, tiramisu, pannacotta. White was the new red and it was everywhere.

This recipes is oh so ’70 that is almost forbidden. Modern pasta is often naked, no tomato, no cream, a few extravagant ingredients scattered on top of some mysterious watery juice. Alchemic, interesting, but rarely suitable to real life.

This one is good for any day, my husband loves it. Please note the quality of the ingredients and the modest amounts of condiments which are necessary to achieve balance.


  • 250 gr  good quality spaghetti (possibly bronze drawn)
  • 1 small onion, diced very finely
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil plus extra for finishing.
  •  300 gr (10 oz) canned diced tomato (about 2/3 of a can)
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2-3 tablespoon brandy
  • 100 gr (3 oz) smoked wild salmon, diced
  • 1 fresh red chili pepper, sliced (optional)
  • 2 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley

Using a shallow pan – a frying pan with high sides is ideal – saute the garlic and onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil over very low heat. If the onion starts browning deglaze with a little white wine. Add the diced tomato, cover and simmer until a little thicker, about 5 min. Add salmon and cream, bring back to simmering temperature and switch off, you don’t want to cook the flavor of the salmon away. The whole preparation should take no more than 7-8 min.

Meanwhile cook the spaghetti according to package instructions until al dente. When the pasta is cooked, turn the heat under the sauce pan to high. Drain the pasta and transfer into the sauce pan.  Add chili pepper now, if using.

Stir the pasta quickly into the sauce as explained here. Add some pasta water – up to one tablespoon per person – and stir some more until the excess liquid is absorbed. Add a generous dash of brandy  and stir again to incorporate. Sprinkle with parsley . Serve on warm plates with a drizzle of fruity extra virgin olive oil.

Serves 2-3

voilà, one my favorite summer pasta



preparing a Norcia-style sauce

preparing a Norcia-style sauce

NORCIA is a marvelous medieval town in Southeastern Umbria, blessed by fresh mountain air and by the breeding of pigs. Already in the IX century the delicious animal represented a main source of income for the locals. One can modestly say that they have a long standing expertise in making the best sausages of the world. This simple and hearty sauce is available in most restaurants in Umbria and prepared regularly in Umbrian home kitchens.


  • 1/2 kg (1 pound) sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 1 medium onion finely sliced
  • 4 tablespoon heavy or whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 pound short pasta like fusilli or penne
 or homemade stringozzi
  • 4 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • Optional:  1 teaspoon grated truffle or preserved truffle paste

Sauté onion and sausage in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until cooked through, breaking up large pieces with a fork, about 10 minutes. Deglaze with 1/2 cup white wine. Add cream and  set aside.

Umbrian fresh sausages are liberally seasoned with black pepper and garlic. If you can’t find a similar sausage, add 2 cloves of minced garlic and a good sprinkle of black pepper just before deglazing with wine.

Cook the pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain pasta reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

Transfer into the saucepan pot with the sausage and cream mixture, stir quickly, then add the cooking water and  grated cheese and stir some more to coat and absorb the excess liquid.  Add truffle if using and serve immediately with additional grated cheese and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serves 4


fusilli with Norcina sauce

fusilli with Norcina sauce


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