Friday, 22 July 2011

The Art of Food: Isabella and Lorenzo Pasta

Here I am again, the evil love child of Jan Marsh and Fanny Cradock.  For my last dish of the week I present you with that age old question:  Who else thought of how much pesto she could make when looking at Isabella and the Pot of Basil by William Holman Hunt?  Come on, it can't just be me...

Isabella and the Pot of Basil (1876) William Holman Hunt

I love making pasta, and am willing to suggest that it is maybe the most fun you can have on your own, with your clothes on, without upsetting the Pope.  Here therefore is a pasta recipe in honour of the love for one woman and the pot of Basil which holds her lover's head.

Isabella's Flaming Heart Ravioli with Lorenzo's Pesto

For the pasta:

100g strong white flour per person
1 egg per person
pinch of salt per person
2 sun dried tomatoes per person

The idea is that you multiply the ingredients by the number of people you are feeding, or how hungry you feel.  I won't judge you.

Puree the sun dried tomatoes and place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients and mix into a dough.  Kneed until smooth and let it rest in the fridge for an hour or so in a bag.

You may need a pasta machine for the next bit.  I love mine, really I would marry it if it wasn't illegal and weird.  Plus, Mr Walker would have some strong views on the subject.  The idea is that you are rolling out balls of the dough on smaller and smaller settings.  It is possible to do this with a rolling pin and a great amount of patience, but there is something very naughty about draping the pasta sheet over your arm as it appears from the roller.  You are aiming for something that feels like a silk stocking, satin soft, but strong.  Lay this sheet out on a floured surface and cut out heart shapes with a biscuit cutter.  Keep re-rolling the off-cuts until you have enough pairs of hearts to feed all your guests or until it drives you crazy.

Filling: half a dozen pieces of chorizo, mozzarella, spinach, ricotta or anything else you fancy.

Place a tiny amount of filling on one heart and cover with another heart.  Seal edges with a fork, pressing down along the edges.  If it seems a little unwilling to stay shut, dampen the edge with a tiny amount of water.  Don't lick it like a stamp, especially if anyone is watching. Really, I won't tell you again.

Boil for about five minutes, until the pasta is tender and serve tossed in a pesto (process 50g basil leaves, 2 cloves of garlic and 4tbsp of toasted pine nuts with 60ml olive oil.  Add another 60ml oil, scraping down the sides occasionally.  Scrape into bowl and beat in 25g pecorino cheese and season to taste).  If your brothers have just murdered the love of your life, it is acceptable to use shop-bought pesto as that sort of thing can really take it out of you.

Isabella and the Pot of Basil (1897) John White Alexander

When I first saw this picture of Isabella, it gave me chills as she is ghostly and that pot is big enough for a head, so no imagination is needed.  She holds the basil pot so tenderly, but its terrible secret is so utterly horrifying you wonder what on earth will happen next.  It can't be the end of the story, she has a severed head in a pot plant, for God's sake.  Will she use the basil for cooking, will she slowly feed her lover to her brothers?  Bloody Hell.  Dinner is served...


  1. Fantastic,my mouth waters .Great post !

  2. love child of Jan Marsh and Fanny Cradock - how funny - but I'm with you.

  3. Any excuse to eat, not that I usually need an excuse. Glad you enjoyed.

  4. There's actually an episode of Two Fat Ladies where they mention Isabella and the pot of basil. I had to go look it up! I don't think the poem is as well-known in America as it is in Britain.

    I just discovered your blog and I'm excited about your combination of pre-raphaelite art and cooking. I'm going to have to browse your archives!

  5. Actually, I've always thought she squandered a perfectly good pot of basil by not trimming it before it flowered....:-)


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