Today marks the official publication of The ASK Italian Cookbook, in support of GOSH – Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity. I’ve had a sneaky peak of the book ahead of the launch and have been busy bookmarking and cooking some of my favourite recipes from it. When I moved to London, aged 18, as a student, the very first job I had was in an ASK Italian restaurant, just off Tottenham Court Road. I have many happy memories of serving (and eating) big plates of pasta and tasty pizzas. Since then, many of the ASK restaurants have had an update. Chef Theo Randall has also been working with ASK to improve the quality of their food and to inspire some of the chefs and team working for the group. Theo has also contributed a number of his own recipes to the book and other collaborators, such as Carla Capalbo and ASK CEO Harvey Smyth have lent a hand, too. As well as giving the home cook the chance to try some of ASK’s favourite recipes at home, part of the proceeds of sale of the book will go towards their favourite charity, GOSH.
ASK’s goal is to raise an ambitious £1 million over the next few years to fund facilities in the new Surgery Centre.
The ASK Italian Cookbook offers a good mix of traditional Italian recipes, including Antipasti, Pasta, Risotto, Pizza, Fish and Meat, Salads and Desserts. There is a section called The Italian Larder, an Italian Wine Tasting Guide and wine recommendations alongside some of the recipes. You’ll also find advice on chosing pasta and making fresh pasta, risotto and pizza dough. Towards the back, there’s a chapter on some of the ASK Italian menu staple sauces and bases.
Photographs from the ASK Italian Cookbook. The photograpy is by Jamie Laing, Sylvie Tata and Carla Capalbo
Last night, I made a big bowl of ASK’s Spaghetti Carbonara, one of the dishes I remember looking forward to eating after a busy shift as a waitress. The purist would never add cream to the eggs, so Theo marks it as an optional ingredient. Other recipes I immediately want to make include –
- Penne Con Salsiccia e Porcini (pasta with Italian sausage, garlic, dried porcini, tomatoes and cream) NB The porcini is duplicated in the ingredients list
- Penne al Pollo Della Casa – this dish flies off the menu at all ASK’s. Baked, creamy, garlic and mushroom chicken with thyme, cheese and pasta
- Lasagna di Caprino, Spinaci e Funghi – Goat’s cheese, spinach and mushroom lasagna perfect for feeding a large crowd
- Risotto con Gamberoni e Zucchine – a really flavoursome risotto made with prawn stock, garlic, courgettes, wine, tomato passata and chilli
- Spalla D’Agnelo con Olive – Slow-cooked lamb shoulder with anchovies, olives and rosemary (Sunday lunch this weekend)
- Torta Morbida di Cioccolato – Theo’s Valrhona chocolate cake made with chocolate, eggs, sugar and cream and cooked in a bain marie
My version of ASK’s Spaghetti Carbonara – Spaghetti with Pancetta, Eggs and Cheese.
Although I have lots of Italian cookery books on my shelf, this book doesn’t over-complicate and makes for easy reading and cooking. It would make a great Christmas present for a young cook, perhaps beginning to dabble in pasta-making or for a student. There are some good cooking tips to be found within the recipes, too, such as buying king prawns in their shells and then using the prawns to make a stock for your risotto by poaching them, taking the prettiest ones out and peeling the rest. You then boil the shells for another ten minutes before straining – you’re left with a really tasty seafood stock for your risotto. Another ASK tip is to use semolina flour to dust the work surface before kneading pizza dough as it will give it a crispier dough.
ASK Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Recipe re-printed with the publisher’s permission
- 250g pancetta, cubed (Italian bacon)
- 1 teaspoon ASK Italian extra virgin olive oil
- 500g spaghetti
- 6 large egg yolks
- 100g Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 100g pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped, fresh parsley
- 50ml single cream (optional)
- freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
- Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Cook the pancetta slowly in a small frying pan in a tablespoon of oil until golden and crispy. Turn off the heat but leave the pancetta in the pan.
- Drop the spaghetti into the pan of water and cook according to the packet instructions.
- When the pasta is nearly cooked, place the egg yolks in a large warm serving bowl and stir in three-quarters of both cheeses and a tablespoon and a half of parsley. Grind in some black pepper. Turn the heat on under the pancetta pan to keep it hot.
- Just before draining the pasta, use a mug to scoop out some of the hot pasta cooking water. Set aside.
- Tip the steaming, drained pasta immediately into the bowl with the egg yolks and stir to coat the pasta and cook the eggs.
- Add half a mugful of the hot pasta water to the pasta and eggs. Top with the pancetta and its hot oil and stir again. If you want to add cream, do it now.
- Serve the carbonara immediately, garnished with parsley and black pepper, and with the rest of the grated cheese on the side.
The ASK Italian Cookbook is available to buy from today in all ASK restaurants. If you buy the book in an ASK restaurant, you can buy it for £10 and £4 will be donated to GOSH.
You can also buy the book online, and a minimum of £1 will be donated to GOSH from all sales. The RRP is £15
With many thanks to Penguin and ASK for my review copy and for permission to print a recipe.