u3a - Italian Cuisine

 Luca Tagliavini2 Helen Elliot3

Italian Recipes

by Luca Tagliavini of Romsey & District u3a

Helen Elliott of Eastbourne Meads u3a

About our u3a Chefs

About Luca

My name is Luca Tagliavini, 57 and although my last job before early retirement was in an office job for Southampton City Council, my background is in catering.

I was born and educated in Italy where I qualified as a Chef at the early age of 16. I had already been working in professional kitchens since 14, in a seaside resort called Rimini.

After a few years of working in Italy in various establishments, including 5* hotels and restaurants, I came to Southampton working as a Chef on cruise ships. This is where I met my ex-wife and where I settled working as a Chef again in hotels, restaurants and then catering in education.

I come from a very food orientated family where my grannies, mum and aunties were great cooks (my mother won awards and my aunt published a recipe book) and I love to feed people and am always happy to share recipes and tips with anyone.

About Helen

My name is Helen Elliott and I am keen on Italian food. I have visited Italy many times and I find that, as a vegan, many of the dishes are eminently suitable or adaptable to my tastes.  At home, I cook pasta and rice regularly, my favourite fusion snack is to turn mini flatbreads into pizza. I also eat a lot of Italian inspired salads.


 Oranges Prawn Risotto

Risotto ai Gamberi e Arance

Luca's Risotto ai Gamberi e Arance (Prawn & Orange Risotto)

Recipe for 4 servings


  • 2 Oranges
  • 8ozs of peeled prawns(defrosted)
  • 10ozs of risotto rice(superfino arborio normally)
  • 1 Tbsp of olive oil
  • 2pts of fish or vegetable stock
  • 1 glass of orange juice (if stronger orange flavour preferred)


  1. Zest the oranges then squeeze them
  2. Sweat the zest(tind) of the oranges with the oil for a couple of minutes then add the rice and toast for a further minute
  3. Add the orange juice and stir until absorbed. Slowly add the boiling stock making sure to stir regularly and continue adding unril the rice commence to soften.
  4. Add the prawns and further stock until the rice is "al dente" (normally requires 20 minutes cooking.
  5. Serve immediately and hot
  6. For an exotic flavouring, you could add a splash of orange liquer before adding the orange juice

Luca's Pasta e Fagioli (Beans & Pasta Soup)

Recipe for 4 servings


  • 2 tins of borlotti or cannellini beans (or 1 of each)
  • 4 ozs of small pasta or broken up spaghetti
  • 1 potato cut into small pieces
  • 2 rashers of streaky bacon or pancetta cut into strips or small cubes (omit to make the recipe vegetarian)
  • 2 cloves of garlic chopped
  • 2 pinches of fresh chopped parsley (can use dried parsley)
  • 2 tbsp of oil (preferably olive oil)
  • 1 & 1/2 pints of stock (can be vegetable)


  1. Gently fry garlic and parsley until golden, add bacon and brown then add potatoes and beans and fry for a further few seconds, keep stirring.
  2. Add stock and bring to a gentle. After stirring leave it to boil for 10/15 mins.
  3. Collect half of the beans with a slotted spoon and put them into a blender to puree, then return them to the soup, taste and season to taste.
  4. Bring this back to a gentle boil add the pasta and cook until this is soft (may need to add further stock if too thick)

Serve hot with warm Italian bread

pexels Pasta Bean

Helen's Pasta Recipes

Pasta is an essential part of the Italian diet.  For us it is often the main course, but, for Italians, it is often the first course, (after the appetiser) followed by the main course of meat or fish and vegetables.

As you know, pasta comes in many shapes and sizes, and the sauce suits the type of pasta. Smooth sauces generally go with smooth pasta, like spaghetti or linguine. Chunky sauces suit chunky pasta, like penne or farfalle. However, many people choose to ignore this and eat short cut pasta because it is easier to eat than long strands!  Add Parmigiano cheese or vegan alternative, if you desire, but I am fine without.

I use many sorts of pasta and generally eat chunky sauces and pasta shapes. The best pasta is made with “00” flour and good quality pasta is worth the money. For those who wish to avoid or cut down on pasta with gluten, there are many acceptable alternatives. I like corn, rice and quinoa pasta, for example, and lentil pasta is also very tasty. The texture may not be the same and the cooking times will vary. I suggest that you experiment.

Quantities are not exact. I would recommend 2 ounces of pasta per person, but your appetites may be different!

Main Ingredients:

  • Pasta cooked in boiling water according to the recommended time on the packet. Al dente, not soggy.
  • Onion and/or garlic, chopped.
  • Oil for cooking, olive oil or extra virgin rapeseed oil.
  • Pepper, and salt.
  • Basil is favoured for tomatoes, and oregano is also popular. I tend to use a lot of basil!
  • Vegetables as desired, chopped into small pieces if necessary.

Example's of Helen's favourite pasta dishes:

Penne with Pesto alla Genovese

Trofie are traditional for this dish but this pasta is not easily available in our supermarkets. Served here with boiled potatoes cut into small pieces and chopped green beans. Serve with basil pesto. Add extra fresh chopped basil leaves.

Pesto alla Genovese

Carrot Pasta

You can use any chunky, curly pasta. Cooked with onion, carrots, garlic, and celery, chopped finely.

Grated Carrot Trottole

Artichoke Cavatappi

Use tinned artichokes, well drained and cut up small. Fry the vegetables gently while boiling the pasta, curly, chunky sort for preference. Toss together.

Artichoke Cavatappi with garlic & pine kernels

Courgette Fresh Tomato

Tossed with cooked & well seasoned courgette and fresh tomatoes, you can also serve with gluten free lentil pasta.

Pasta with courgette & fresh tomato

Helen's Risotto Recipes

Some people think that Risotto is a difficult dish to make, and I hope to prove that it is both easy and tasty. The most important aspect is to use only risotto rice, Arborio or Carnaroli being the main types. If you have “pudding” rice, this is also suitable. These are short-grained rice and the texture is different from long-grained rice used for curries or other dishes.

There is one basic recipe and method of cooking. You can add any vegetables that you fancy. Italians also often add seafood or preserved meats, but not meat or fish. Butter is also used in the traditional recipe, but I use olive oil to keep it vegan.

Quantities are not exact. I would recommend 2 ounces of rice per person, but your appetites may be different!


  • Risotto rice (2 ounces per person)
  • Onion or leek, chopped (I prefer leek as the flavour is milder)
  • Oil for cooking
  • A small glass of white wine (optional but it helps the rice to break down)
  • Boiled water or vegetable stock (I keep the water left over after cooking veggies – never pour it down the sink!)
  • Bay leaf (optional, but I love it, it adds a subtle flavour).
  • Salt & pepper to taste, added at the end.
  • Butter or margarine
  • Vegetables & herbs, chopped as necessary


Gently fry the onion/leek in the oil and add the rice, stirring till the rice begins to go clear. Add any dried herbs and cook for one minute. Add the wine and stir till it is absorbed, then add a small amount of stock or water and stir till it is absorbed. Add the hardest vegetables at bay leaf at this point. Add more stock in stages, waiting for it to be absorbed each time. Add any smaller, softer vegetables later in this process. Keep stirring throughout and check the rice periodically by taking a grain and biting it. It should be just over “al dente”, not hard but not soggy either, when it is ready. The liquid should be absorbed but do not allow the rice to be too dry.

It will take about 25 minutes. It is easy but you cannot leave it to cook itself. Enjoy the process!

Add a knob of butter or margarine at the end for extra richness. Serve and eat immediately in wide bowls.

Example's of Helen's favourite risotto dishes:

Pea & Mint

Add dried mint at the start when cooking the onions, adding in peas just before serving and fresh mint added at the end for extra flavour

Pea & Mint Risotto

Butternut Squash & Fennel

Cut butternut squash into small pieces and add after the first round of stock to ensure plenty of time for it to cook.

Butternut Squash & Fennel Risotto


 A huge thanks to all the chefs taking the time to send in their recipes.

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