Cook like Mamma mia (+recipes)

By Angela Casley

Expand your Italian food repertoire beyond pizza and pasta with these tasty dishes

Italian beef stew with creamy polenta, creamy blue cheese and herb tart, tiramisu. Photo / Babiche Martens
Italian beef stew with creamy polenta, creamy blue cheese and herb tart, tiramisu. Photo / Babiche Martens

We tend to associate Italy with pasta and pizza, and we eat our fair share of both, but there is far more on the menu in Italy than just that. Although, I confess to eating more than my share of quattro fromage pizza when I lived there for six months, skiing in the mountains north of Lake Como. Thankfully, powering down the slopes counteracted our consumption. We shopped at the local village, drank grappa from flaming jugs, took freshly made fontina cheese and hot bread up the mountains for a quick lunch and indulged in pizzoccherie (a local dish made up of a massive amount of garlic, pasta, potatoes, olive oil, cabbage and parmesan cheese). What fun it was.

Thinking about Italy and the wonderful food experiences sends me off into dreamland - there are so many wonderful dishes. One fond memory is of a fabulous Italian mamma who became a good friend. She would cook over a single element, combining a load of garlic with her homemade pasta, eggs, herbs and parmesan cheese to make the best carbonara I have ever eaten. She was very insistent that we did not enter her kitchen, it was her domain.

From there she would fire orders at us to get herbs from the garden and open the vino ... It would all come together for a relaxing long lunch outside in the garden under the grapevines. Lots of laughter, lashings of wine, cheese and fruit.

Rather than pasta, I've gone for an Italian beef stew - simple and tasty, the bacon adds a subtle, smoky flavour. Porcini mushrooms you will find at specialty shops but if you can't source them, simply use fresh mushrooms.

This is delicious with polenta, which is as easy to make as your morning porridge. Hot and creamy, it's the perfect accompaniment to the stew. Just be sure to serve it immediately or it will start to thicken.

When you have mastered this, you can add cream, cheese and herbs for different flavours. Also try cooling your polenta then slicing it into chips and frying. Serve these with a scrummy tomatoes and olive sauce for a delicious snack on a cold winter's afternoon.

For something a little lighter, the ricotta, blue cheese and herbs tart is a must. Serve it warm with a side salad. Traditionally, Italian side salads are simple; fresh wild greens tossed with a flavoured oil, such as walnut or lemon.

Top of my dessert list in Italy would have to be tiramisu, closely followed by zabaglione (a warm egg yolk and masala custard, fluffy and light, cooked over water). Tiramisu is great for a big gathering. Double the recipe and eat leftovers for breakfast. Buon appetito.


Italian beef stew with polenta
Ricotta, blue cheese & herb tart

For more of Angela Casley's fabulous recipes, visit


- NZ Herald

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