The Forte Family’s Secret Recipes

Rocco Forte Hotels

Charles Forte’s favourite pasta dish; conchiglie con cipolle

Wonderful food is at the heart of every family occasion, the glue holding all celebrations and important conversations together. To celebrate the season of families uniting to share memorable moments, we debut the first in a series of the Forte Family’s ‘Secret Family Recipes’. We begin with Charles Forte, the son of Sir Rocco Forte. Though he currently holds the position of Development Manager at Rocco Forte Hotels, Charles is no stranger to cooking and began his career as a waiter and an extra pair of hands in the kitchens. Below, he shares one of his favourite secret recipes.

“This is quite possibly my favourite pasta dish, to eat and to make. It reminds me of home the second I smell it; Parmesan and sprigs of fresh thyme. I was taught this method by my maternal grandmother, Nonna Lolly, when I was 18 or so at our family home in Tuscany. It is a dish that we, as a family, eat often.

“Conchiglie is a beautiful type of pasta that looks like conch shells. My grandmother is Venetian, from Conegliano, but the recipe is not necessarily from the Veneto region. I imagine it is a dish made all over Italy and from the cucina povera (poor cooking) tradition, but I have never managed to find an online recipe that matches that of my grandmother’s. This is a simple pasta recipe, but it will appreciate your constant affection.”


Ingredients for 4 people

Conchiglie pasta (the larger the better) x 500g

Large white onions x 12 (3 per person) 

Butter (a knob or two) 

Thyme (a few sprigs) 

Parmesan (160g-200g + extra to grate on top)

Water (as you go, at least a few cups) 


"This is quite possibly my favourite pasta dish, to eat and to make. It reminds me of home the second I smell it"

The methodology is as follows

  1. First, thinly slice your onions. Slices must be cut equally, and thinly. Not paper thin, but a few millimetres
  2. Place a pan that’s large enough for all of your slices to touch its surface on a low heat. Add your knob(s) of butter and let it melt and cover the pan
  3. Add your onions to the pan and salt generously. Then mix through and let the onions sweat. You can add your sprigs of thyme at this point too. You want your onions to start to colour, but slowly
  4. After around 15-20 minutes add a cup of water, or enough to almost submerge the onions. The liquid should bubble softly, softly. If it starts to get a bit rowdy, turn down the heat. The cooking process should take a minimum of three hours (minimum! Ideally you’ll let the onions sweat and caramelise for more than four hours) adding water as you go whenever the onion ‘sauce’ starts to go a bit dry. A bit like a risotto, you don’t just add all of the water/stock at once. You’ll drown it like that. You have to add water as and when the onions ask for it (as Fulvio would say). You will know when it is done – the onions will be totally translucent and will have transformed into an almost jam-like consistency. The taste should be sweet, yet salty, and it should have a luxurious and smooth consistency
  5. Add your conchiglie to boiling salted water (you need a large pot that can easily cover the pasta) and cook for two or three minutes less than stated on the packet. Don’t overcook your pasta. It’s inedible if it’s overcooked and you’ll look like a mug. It will continue to cook as you bind it with the onions in the pan, in any case
  6. Make sure to retain a cup, or two, of the pasta water before you drain it. Pay particular attention to keeping the foam. This is starch and part of what helps make the sauce creamy
  7. Place the pasta directly into the saucepan with the onions and gently cook on a low heat, adding the Parmesan, and your leftover pasta water if needed, to retain the right consistency. The sauce should coat the pasta well. The pasta shouldn’t be too watery or too dry. Stir for a few minutes, making sure everything is bound together nicely
  8. Then serve, add extra Parmesan if necessary. You can also fry off some breadcrumbs and add them for extra texture and taste

    The fresh scents and sights of Tuscany are all on your doorstep when you stay with us at Hotel Savoy in Florence. Book your stay by emailing or calling +39 05 527 351.

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