Just off the south of France lies the island of Corsica or as it is sometimes called, the ile de beauté, meaning beautiful island. As the name suggests, it is strikingly beautiful with its forests of green oaks, chestnuts and pine, glittering bays, and bone white beaches along 1000km of coastline.
Corsica has been shaped by a hotchpotch of cultures from the ancient Greeks to Genoese settlers and the cultural melting pot can still be felt at work today. The heart and soul of Corsica is to be found in its mountains which are shrouded with shrubs, trees and unruly scrubland or maquis. This is where you will find the wild herbs which flavour the island's cheeses and charcuterie.
Once the preserve of bandits and berges or shepherds, the mountains today are more frequented by trekkers. The GR20 hike, a footpath running north-south and about 180km long, will take you through a wondrous landscape of peaks, forests, waterfalls and mountain lakes.
Corsica not only has this splendid diversity of landscapes but has also has the diversity of diet and the best quality of foods to offer you. If you can imagine the quality of meat you would have from cattle grazing on rich pastures and aromatic herbs, pigs feeding on chestnuts and acorns, this is what you have in Corsica. Fruits are left to ripen in the sun and the sea gives forth its catch which is the envy of its neighbours.
Of course the island has been poor for centuries and the fishermen had to live off their catch with the people living in the mountains living off the produce they had grown.
Cornmeal and chestnut flour was the most used and this had to been ground by hand. However, these hard times have given us the most delicious food which was created by these housewives who varied their diet by using what was available to them at the time. They have been handed down the generations and today they form part of the islands cuisine.
The pigs were slaughtered each year to make the cured meats; the sausages which were hung to dry out or smoked over the fire are still a speciality today and often prepared in the same manner.
The last century has seen some changes with the planting of olive trees, citrus groves, almond orchards, and peppers, tomatoes, avocados and Corsican Kiwi.
The cuisine is very much original, like its people in many ways, individual and fiery. Roast lamb is served not with mint sauce but with a spicy vinaigrette. Their tomato sauce or coulis is again, often spiced with pimento before being served with fish.
Their omelettes are no ordinary omelettes; they are made with the most delicious local cheese, the brocciu cheese, made with ewe's milk and lots of local wild herbs such as nepita or sweet marjoram or wild mint.
They also make the most divine cakes, pancakes and polenta and other specialities such as ravioli and other pasta dishes. This is probably as a result of the Italian influence when Corsica was ruled by Italy and it can still be seen in the dialect as well as the most wonderful cooking.
So for this month's recipe I have chosen a hearty Corsican pasta dish using the local cheese and if you have the time to spare, a wonderful meaty sauce to accompany it. The sauce can be a meal in itself as it is a good old fashioned meaty sauce cooked with red wine. So if you are wise you can plan ahead for two meals here, which is what we do with this combination.
If you prefer you can make a tomato coulis to accompany your pasta dish which is equally delicious; if you have the time the meat sauce or Stufatu sauce is a traditional recipe and is wonderful.
Le Stufatu (Corsican Meat Sauce)
- 1kg/2lb meat such as shin of beef
- 2 onions or 4 shallots finely chopped
- 2 - 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
- 200mls/7floz red wine
- 1 teaspoon of tomato puree
- 1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 bayleaf
- Salt and pepper
Brown the meat in the hot olive oil, remove from pan.
Brown the onions and garlic making sure they do not brown too much.
Add the wine with the tomato puree to the pan.
Mix well then add the meat back to the pan.
Add about two glasses of warm water, the bayleaf and finally, the seasoning.
Simmer for about 2 - 3 hours until the meat is tender. You may need a little more water if the sauce has reduced too much.
You now have a wonderful sauce, although it is more than a sauce, the meat will make a hearty dish in itself. This sauce can be made with most meats but beef has been used for this recipe.
Now for the pasta dish to accompany your meaty sauce:
Les Ravioli au Brocciu
Serves 4 - 6 people
- 500g/1 lb plain flour
- 6 free range eggs
- Pinch of salt
For the filling:
- 500g/1 lb spinach, fresh or frozen
- 6 fresh sage leaves or 1 teaspoon dried sage
- 250g/ 8oz Brocciu cheese (or Ricotta)
- Salt and pepper
Cook your spinach, squeeze out the moisture and leave to cool.
Sift the flour and salt onto a large wooden board or table.
Make a well in the centre of the flour and break the eggs into the hollow.
Quickly, draw up the flour with your fingers (you may find the egg may run over the mound and on to your board but just scoop it up into the flour if it does!)
It will be quite sticky but continue to mix it into a ball of dough.
Lightly flour your board again and start kneading your dough by stretching it out with the palm of your hand, sort of stretching and pulling.
Do this for about ten to fifteen minutes. The dough will become soft and pliable.
Divide your dough into four pieces.
Roll out each piece to form a thin rectangle shape.
Take your filling and using a teaspoon, place spoonfuls of the mixture on to the pastry leaving about 2inches between them. You can make bigger ones or smaller ones as you wish. I have made slightly bigger ones in my recipe.
Brush the area around the filling with water and then place another sheet of dough over the top of the fillings, pressing down in between the fillings.
Cut the ravioli pieces either with a sharp knife or a pastry wheel if you have one.
To cook your ravioli, simply drop them into a pan of salted boiling water for about five minutes or until they float to the top.
Remove the ravioli with a slotted spoon and layer them in a shallow baking dish or serving dish and a generous serving of grated parmesan cheese over the top.
At this stage if you have made the Stufatu sauce, pour about 3 serving spoons of the sauce over your ravioli and serve immediately.