TWO SIMPLE SPAGHETTI DINNERS + Photos from an Italian Adventure

3rd October 2019


I understood the true meaning of al dente during my recent trip to Italy. “Firm to bite” really is just that. Who would have known I have been over-cooking pasta all these years?! Today, I share two simple spaghetti dishes inspired by the highlight dishes of our trip.

But first, a few tips on getting that pasta perfectly al dente + scroll down for a series of images from our trip…

To cook pasta, first, weigh the quantity of pasta per head. A general rule of thumb is 60g to 80g a person for dried pasta and 100g to 120g for fresh pasta. This depends on the number of toppings involved, for the simple dishes below, go for the higher pasta weight.

Bring a large pot (at least three litres) of water to a rapid boil. Add ½ teaspoon of salt per litre to the water, and immediately follow with the pasta. Cook for 6-8 minutes (10-12 minutes for gluten-free) until a sampled piece of pasta is al dente (remember, firm to bite). Drain in a colander and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil to prevent sticking.

Spring Pesto with Broccoli Shoots

This is a springtime version of pesto. It's so simple and flavoursome, using broccoli shoots that will sprout from your broccoli plants once you cut the main head (or from a sprouting broccoli variety). Be aware not to overcook the broccoli, just a flash in the pan to soften the stalks.
Servings 300 g
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes


  • A bunch of broccoli shoots, about 200g (or 1 small head of broccoli, stalk included)
  • 2 tablespoons boiling water
  • A pinch of salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • Small bunch of flat-leaf (Italian parsley), about 50g
  • 30 g grated parmesan or pecorino, or 1-2 tsp miso paste for a dairy-free option
  • About 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • Cooked spaghetti to serve - directions above


  • Wash the broccoli shoots (if using a head of broccoli roughly chop), and place in a small saucepan with the water and salt. Cover and steam briefly for three to four minutes, just until the shoots turn a vibrant green. Drain and cover with cold water to refresh while preparing the remaining ingredients.
  • Thoroughly drain the broccoli shoots in a sieve, then place in a food processor with the garlic, lemon juice, parsley, and parmesan or miso. Process briefly to combine, then with the machine going, drizzle in the olive oil until a rough paste is achieved. The aim is to have a thick dollop-able sauce if it's not then add more oil. Season to taste.
  • Spoon the pesto into a jar and store in the fridge for up to three days.
  • To serve, cook the spaghetti as described above, then fold through two heaped tablespoons per person. Serve with grated parmesan and olive oil.

Ligurian Spaghetti with Mussels

This dish uses butter which is used equally as often as olive oil in the Ligurian Coast (Genoa Province). If you can source fresh clams or cockles, this would be my first choice to make an authentic dish. However, mussels are incredibly economical, with the quantity for this dish costing $2. And an added bonus is that they are on the greenlight list in Forest & Bird's Best Fish Guide. Download their app to your phone to have handy when shopping.
Servings 2 people
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes


  • 30 g butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 16 mussels or 24 cockles
  • A splash of white wine
  • A twist of freshly cracked pepper
  • A squeeze of lemon juice
  • Cooked spaghetti for two people - see directions above


  • In a wide, shallow pan such as a wok, melt the butter over a moderate heat. Add the garlic and cook for two minutes. Dial up the heat and add the mussels or cockles and a splash of wine.
  • Clamp a lid on and cook, shaking often, for five minutes until the mussels open. Add the cooked spaghetti and a generous grind of black pepper, and toss to combine. Heat through then tip on to two plates, squeeze over lemon juice and serve immediately.


Images from Italy – August 2019

All images by Ana Galloway.

Starting in Venice

The Dolomites

Then to a magical night in Verona

Cinque Terre coast

And finishing in Florence for a cooking class.


Join the Conversation

  1. Joanne Davies says:

    These recipes look so delicious and easy – I am going to be brave and try your recommendation of 6-8 minute pasta! Absolutely stunning photos, what a wonderful experience for you with your sister 🙂

    1. Hi Joanne, make sure the water is boiling rapidly the whole time or it will take longer to cook. I use the largest hob on our stove and adding salt just before the pasta will help to keep the temperature high. So often I think the temperature drops too much then the pasta doesn’t cook evenly. There is a real art to it 😉

  2. Trevor Nicholls says:

    I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong, but the best fish guide no longer seems to be available in the Apple app store. I’m hoping that means that an updated version is on the way.

    1. Hi Trevor, that is interesting. I have an Andriod and downloaded fine, but I just checked the Forest & Bird website and seems the iPhone app isn’t downloading. Hopefully, they get this updated soon as it is a really helpful app when buying fish I use it often.

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