Thoreau and a Chicken Cordon Bleu

“To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.”

I came across this quote of Thoreau’s only very recently.   It must have struck an existential chord because my mind seems to want to regurgitate it, to be mulled over, in unexpected ways.   Cooking daily meals for instance.  Cooking a family meal ranks among ‘the hightest of arts’, say I.  And for the most part, I engage in all that it entails with great gusto.  There are some days, however, when the very idea of ‘affecting the quality of the day’ makes a Gordon knot of one’s already twisted knickers.

Picture the following virtual scene.  ‘All right then … what would you like for dinner this evening?’, I ask members of my family.  This question is met by blank stares more often than not, and that’s if they are even looking in my direction.   The hesitant response is usually a variation of: ‘Oh whatever. Whatever is easiest.’   They think they are being obliging and nice.  And they think I am being nice.  I am not being ‘nice’, not altogether at least.  I am asking because I am in a hurry or tired or otherwise constrained by deadlines that day and having to think up a menu will mean yet more efforts calling upon my implacably dwindling attention.

It’s hardly right, now, is it.  And so I energetically enjoin members of my family to kindly understand how unhelpful they are being and to put forward at least one meal suggestion.  That’s when they realise I mean business and get to work but even then, on average, their ideas are a bit random and not necessarily inspiring.   And that’s because thinking requires ‘existential’ effort as well as taking up non-negotiable ‘physical’ time.  It may be an ‘invisible’ activity but … it most definitely requires time and we are all prone to wanting to cut corners in that regard.

If the details of life are to be worthy of our contemplation, we must find ways to coax meaning into them — otherwise anything we do that has to be done will be heavy and feel like a chore or dreary drudge.   Cooking takes time, it does.  And creates work by way of washing up.  That and one has to do the shopping first.  But I cannot think of a better way ‘to affect the day’ than to imbue the act of nutrition with the seasonings of care and affection.

………………………………

The devil in the detail of this recipe was the fact that my son used to adore this dish when he was a kid.  In those days, and before I knew better,  I used to buy pre-prepared cordon bleu cutlets at the supermarket.  They were so quick and easy to prepare and resulted in smiles all round in the kiddy department.  Once I got wise to the list of dubious-quality ingredients that went into these industrial cordon bleu cutlets, they were naturally banished from my kitchen.  My son reminded me of this a few weeks ago when, upon my refrain, ‘What would you like for dinner this evening?’, his answer was quick off the mark – cotolette cordon bleu.  You should have seen the arch of my raised eyebrow.  Now that was a ‘proper’ suggestion, and none of that feeble ‘oh everything you make is so good Ma, whatever is easiest’.  And the following is the result.

 

1Gruyère cheese, eggs, ham, slickes of chicken breast.  Breadcrumbs too.2Beat the eggs and add some freshly grated parmesan.  I tablespoon per egg.  Also add salt and pepper to this egg mixture and, if you like it, a pinch of nutmeg.3Beat well and set aside.4Compose the cutlet.  Place a little bit of ham and cheese on one half of the chicken breast.5Then fold it over so that the ham and cheese lie snugly within.  Prepare all the pieces of chicken like this and set aside.

I made a celery and potato mash to accompany the cutlets.

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Boil the celery in salted water until tender …
8Process …9Add the boiled potatoes to the celery slush ….10Add a nice lump of butter and mash it all up. Set aside.

Time to cook the cutlets.
11Dip them in the egg mixture first so that they are well coated …12Press them well into the breadcrumbs, again … so that they are thoroughly coated in them.

13Make sure you press very hard.14Here they are, ready to be pan fried.15I used olive oil.16Fry first on one side … only for a few minutes …
17And then on the other side.  These cutlets are quite heavy, so I used two spoons to turn them over.18I overcooked one of them a bit … sigh.19But it still tasted damn good !20I obviously wasn’t inspired enough to slice the radishes a little bit more thinly. Ah well.2122I had also steamed some broccoli florets.  What you might call … meat and two veg.  Not bad for a week-day dinner.

Posted in Basic Techniques, Contorni and/or side dishes, Herbs and plants, italian home food, Secondi (main course, usually meat based) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Monday’s risotto – Risotto with Beaten Eggs

myhomefoodthatsamore:

An old post but apt for today … with the weather changing (i.e. getting colder) comfort food is required for sure …

Originally posted on My Home Food That's Amore:

So … Monday late morning, almost lunch time,  and I’m fighting shy of a foul mood on account of the foul weather and realise there are going to be 4 of us for lunch today.  I do not normally “do” lunch and that’s because it’s usually just me at home and so I tend to eat leftovers, or see what’s in the fridge and make a salad, or scrambled eggs, or some cheese or ham. And besides — who has time to cook lunch?

But there was a definite nip in the air today and this called for something hot to keep the rest of our busy day going.  Home-maker’s dilemma?  What to do, what to do, what to do? (say it fast enough and you’ll sound like an owl or a turkey).

The fride door, once opened, revealed the menace of its ajar state.  Not much there.  Not even…

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Frascati and Principe Pallavicini Wine

One of the pleasures of living in the Castelli Romani, south east of Rome, is that one is surrounded by hectares and hectares of vineyards and olive groves.  Big, brutish buildings unfortunately also abound – the kind much favoured by developers with a penchant for over-cementification from the 1950s onwards – and are a shameful blot on this territory’s natural and historical escutcheon. Vittorio Sgarbi is an Italian art critic,  art historian, politician, cultural commentator and a famous Television personality.  He is also known for his irrascible temper and bellicose manner in any conversation that so often has him degenerate into rude name calling and downright swearing of the most appalling kind. There is one issue, however, over which I would forgive him for such bad behaviour and that is the one regarding post-war architecture in Italy.  He is on record for saying all these ghastly buildings should be razed to the ground and new ones put up.  I agree.

And yet earlier today, as I meandered through the hilly roads to get to the shop of a wine estate, that of Principe Pallavicini, all I could do is take in the beauty of this area and the long history of this part of the world, one that is antecedent to that of Rome even.  The sun was particularly balmy which always helps and thoughts of disappointment and let-downs were not allowed to intrude upon my reverie.

1 I parked my car.  And here it was.  The estate’s selling point.  Housed inside a former tavern off the ancient Via Casilina.2

My friend Michelle knows all about the history of the Pallavicini princely family and its wine estates.  She writes that this tavern or ‘Osteria’ as it is called in Italian “was mentioned in various Grand Tour guides (18th-19th centuries) as a place at which to stay and refresh oneself, and has always been a reference point for ancient travellers”.

3 You can read more about the wines at their website: http://www.principepallavicini.com/eng/index.html4 A couple of tell-tale leaves on the ground issue in Autumn …5 6 7 And here finally was the entrance.8 Romano was there to explain about the wines and other products on sale.  I was somewhat surprised to find this wine shop to be quite so small.9 Small but very easy on the eye.  As a lover of anything ceramic, I of course ooohed and aaahed over their showcasing choice.  Romano, when asked, was unable to confirm, that these were De Maio tiles came from Vietri – but I am almost sure that they are.10 I was very much intrigued by this bottle sleeve as a nice way to present a bottle of wine to someone as a gift.
12 Also on sale were wine holders, useful for carrying bottles.  This one is called Battle (www.battlepro.it/battle.html).  I know of something similar, which is excellent for travelling,  called Wine Hugs (http://winehug.com/).

12a Glued on the shop’s door were various stickers including the recent Easyfrascati.com, the brainchild of my above-mentioned friend, Michelle Smith.  An Englishwoman born in Australia, Michelle has lived in these parts for 35 years, speaks Italian like a local and her enthusiasm for the Castelli (its wine, its history, its architectural and artistic treasures, etc.) is equal to, if not even greater than, mine.   She has put together a brilliant and much needed website highlighting all that this part of the world has to offer (and not forgetting the wine of course!) and I look forward to sharing a lot of Frascati/Castelli-based adventures with her.

12b And this is what I bought.  Whites: (1) Poggio Verde (that earned three glasses from the Gambero Rosso just a couple of weeks ago).  (2) And 1670 … my favourite.  The year 1670 is the date to which the wine estate can refer back to !  These wines have been served to popes and gentry and noblemen … and now to us, thankfully !12c For the reds … Petit Verdot … and Amarasco (the latter comes from the family’s wine estate oof the northern coast of Lazio).13 It was almost lunch time by now and I was starving.  Across the road … and very conveniently too … was a porchetta stand, run by Carlo and Anna.  Yay !14 Here they are … Carlo and Anna …15 And my porchetta.

As I ate my sandwich on my way home, being careful to drive carefully because eating and driving can be very dangerous indeed, and as I contemplated the many things I now had to get on with … (lists lists and more lists) … I harked back to another reality as regards wine in the Castelli area.  Just a couple of days ago, it just so happens, Michelle and I met with another friend to have an aperitivo in Frascati.

16 As I walked into Piazza dell’Olmo … I was blown away by the heavy scent of grapes being pressed and processed by a local Osteria.  One that is not going to produce quality wines like Principe Pallavicini’s but which will still be appreciated by many nonetheless.17 That’s a tub on a tractor, there on the right … with a machine to catch the grape juice as it is pressed …18 19 Look at all these grapes in the tractor-tub !20 And here was Remigio, the man in red, running the whole operation … and pulling the leg of the guy on the right, telling him with a straight face that he was pressing Tasmanian Goji berries that are so very different from New Zealand lingon berries … You can see the consternation of the poor guy’s face on the right !21 The pressing machine was quite noisy …

22 And this (the above) is what’s left over after the grapes have been pressed.

This Osteria in Piazza dell’Olmo in Frascati is much sought after with a devoted clientèle.  Last Christmas, outside their Osteria, they dressed up a wine barrel to make a Christmas crèche …

23 Some might find this very odd indeed … using a wine cask as a backdrop for a Nativity scene.  But this is Frascati !24And this is Piazza di Santa Maria in Vivario … fondly known to all of us as Piazza San Rocco.  And this is where Michelle, Claire and I had our aperitivo, with the Bishop’s 15th Century palace to our left, at a place called “La Stanza del Duca”.  The Duke in question being … the Duke of York.  Why the Duke of York?  I’ll tell you another time …

This too is Frascati and I love it !

 

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Aesop, Morals, an Indian Summer and Frying Foods to the Sound of Cicadas

Did any of you study French at school? Did any of you study La Fontaine and his interpretations of Aesops’ fables?  If so, you might empathise with my frame of mind …

There are only a few hours before October makes its entrance, and Autumn (Fall) sets in and I for one cannot resign myself to the seasonal finality of it all.  I twitch and twirl during this seasonal turning point of the year.   Once October truly gains ground, I find myself going with the flow and enjoying so much of what it has to offer here in Italy … but until the last of the Summer days and temperatures give up their ghost, I find myself battling against despondency.  In some ways I am much like the grasshopper or the cicada in Aesops fable.  The naughty one who liked to dance throughout Summer and found itself without food to live off once Winter came rapping at the door.  The one who fell foul of that very nasty Ant … whose self satisfied response to the grasshopper’s request for some food was one of sheer meritocratic venom.  “So what did you do all summer long? you sang?  Well … you can jolly well dance now ! huh! see if I care” … sort of thing.

What’s wrong with dancing and singing throughout summer?   Surely it brings pleasure to all of us?  I love the sound of cicadas … to me their croak is the epitome of Summer.  And I was very suprised just the other night, a very hot and sultry night for this time of year, while I set about making some supper, to realise how passionately they still sang … despite it being almost the end of September.  Cooking can be a very self-absorbing business but their song was just so full of ‘life’ that evening that it interrupted my train of culinary thought.  So much so that I dropped everything and taped them, outside our balcony (where scaffolding is up because of work being done on the building).  Go on … have a go … you listen too and tell me that their chirping doesn’t transport your spirit to a place of tranquil wishfulness !

 

1 The batter …2 Broccolo romano … blanched in salted water, drained and set aside to cool.3 4 5 The sliced courgettes are coated in flour.6 7 The apple is cored and then sliced …8 And the frying begins!9These implements for frying could be taken for surgical tools I suppose … they are very useful indeed.
10 11 Fried apple rounds … sprinkled with grated pecorino romano cheese.12 Fried broccolo romano florets …13 Fried courgettes ….14 I kept thinking of that despicable ant as I trotted the food to the table …15 What is food for? ….16 If not for sharing?

Could that have been the moral of Aesops fable, after all, only in disguise?

The Cicada and the Ant.
Jean de la Fontaine (1621 – 1695)

The Cicada, having sung
All summer long,
Found herself short of everything
When the north wind came.
Not a single piece
Of fly or tiny worm.
She went, starving,
To her neighbor the Ant,
Begging her to lend her
Some grain to survive
Until the spring.
I will pay you back, she said,
Before August, animal’s word,
Interest and capital.
The Ant is not a lender
That is the least of her flaws.
What were you doing during the warm days?
She said to this borrower.
-Night and day, to everyone,
I was singing, don’t you mind.
-You were singing? I couldn’t be more pleased
Well!  Dance now.

La Cigale Et La Fourmi.
Jean de La Fontaine.

La Cigale, ayant chanté
Tout l’été,
Se trouva fort dépourvue
Quand la bise fut venue:
Pas un seul petit morceau
De mouche ou de vermisseau.
Elle alla crier famine
Chez la Fourmi sa voisine,
La priant de lui prêter
Quelque grain pour subsister
Jusqu’à la saison nouvelle.
Je vous paierai, lui dit-elle,
Avant l’oût foi d’animal,
Intérêt et principal.
La Fourmi n’est pas prêteuse :
C’est là son moindre défaut.
Que faisiez-vous au temps chaud ?

Dit-elle á cette emprunteuse.
-Nuit et jour à tout venant
Je chantais, ne vous déplaise.
-Vous chantiez ? j’en suis fort aise

Eh bien ! dansez maintenant.

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Figs and Paté and all is Okay!

Lord knows I am too old to be pregnant but a few days ago I was unaccountably overcome by the persistent desire for a particular food that was most akin to pregnant women’s so-called ‘crazy cravings’.  Huh!  Chicken liver paté.  I wanted chicken liver paté.  I just had to have chicken liver paté.  On toasted bread too.  So, once I got home after having bought the chicken livers …

1

I wasted no time in assembling the other ingredients.

2 Salted capers (I left them in some fresh water for a bit, then rinsed them several times to clear away any excess salt).3

A few sage leaves and a couple of anchovy fillets (the kind that are processed in olive oil).

And then I slapped my forehead (gently, however, I am not into self harm) as I realised our home was completely out of both vin santo and any sweet, dessert wine.  Mmm.  What I did have, thank goodness,  were some overripe figs.

4 I peeled the figs and set them aside.5 I got some white wine vinegar standing to attention …6

And began sweating one onion that I had cut ever so thinly … using a mandoline in point of fact.  Over a low heat and with some olive oil.  Don’t rush this phase otherwise the onions will take on a nasty taste.  I even added a pinch of sugar and a tiny bit of hot water after a couple of minutes.
8 Once the onions were cooked and soft, I added the capers, the anchovies and the sage leaves.  I now know that one is supposed to add the anchovies only at the very last minute for a pasta sauce (see the bottom of my post http://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/clams-on-the-run-le-vongole-fuiute) but in this case it would not have made sense.9 I then added the chicken livers and raised the heat … liver should not cook too long otherwise it gets very tough.10 I added the figs straight away too …11 I now sprinkled some salt ….12 And, finally, a splash of vinegar.13 Once the vinegar’s vapours had vanished, I switched off the heat and added about 1 tablespoon of butter.  At this point, I removed the sage leaves.14 Out came the mixer to process all the other ingredients.15 I added a little more olive oil.  Tasted it.  Added a little more salt and some pepper.16And there it is … my lovely paté … bread about to be toasted … and a nice glass of cold, crisp white Frascati (Casale Marchese if you want to know).  The overripe figs saved the day!

Not too shabby for an aperitivo, now, was it!

PS Joking aside, I read an article that maintains liver is a kind of superfood and excellent for when one is exhausted (which most of us are a lot of the time) so mayby my ‘craving’ was a sensible one, after all.  Here is the link if you are interested:

http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/exhausted-this-superfood-can-get-you-off-the-couch/

Exhausted? Liver the Ultimate Superfood Will Get You Off the Couch

 

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Polenta Wafers – Inspired by Salvatore Tassa and his “Colline Ciociare” Restaurant

1

And now … for something completely different! As the Monty Python used to say.  And by ‘different’, I mean something a trifle unnecessary but oh-so-delightful in the kitchen department.
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Goodness knows, anyone who has cause to read my blog on any regular basis (aka loyal family and friends) gets a bellyfull of ‘so easy to make’, or ‘quick and no fuss’, no nonsense, down-to-earth comfort food recipes.4Not that the recipe I speak of is particularly difficult to make …
5

But no one in their right  mind would go to the trouble of making it unless he or she really wanted to.  Seriously? Have really go nothing more important to do?

6

Unless, of course, you are a cook.  Like Salvatore Tassa.

7My husband took me to his restaurant, Le Colline Ciociare, to celebrate our wedding anniversary … and yes, Mamma mia!, what a truly lovely dinner that ended up being.  He even had a name for his menu … he called it The Odyssey …
8

Not that I thought so when first we were shown to our table.  The atmosphere was forbiddingly quiet with only four other uber-discreet customers in the room.  Uh-Oh.  Talk about pin-drop silence.

9Now, normally, music in restaurants makes me wince but on this occasionI confess I would have welcomed even muzzak to counteract such dusquietingly monastic  hush hush.  Hardly the romantic mood, albeit age appropriate, I was looking forward to.

10In the event, the only recourse left to me was to order a Martini cocktail to jazz things up a bit (a Martini on an empty stomach works wonders).  Not that my husband and I guzzled that evening, but suffice it say that the world looked beautiful and rosey by the end of the dinner and I even have a photo of myself and Mr Tassa looking relaxed as he smokes a cigar, satisfied with his work and our pleasure at his culinary talent.

Now I did take photos that evening (yes, the very same photos pictured above) but, most annoyingly, not even one of the one thing that impressed me most.  Which was a polenta wafer sprinkled with seeds … a huge big thing, standing upright in its semi cylindrical shape, a bit like half a lamp-shade if you know what I mean, biscuit coloured but gossamer like and crisp to the snap.  Quite delicious.  It came straight away with the rest of the home-made bread and sang a song with my Martini. How on earth did he manage it, I wondered.

Picture my joy then when I later chanced upon the recipe for a polenta wafer that was not sprinkled with seeds, nor shaped like half a cylinder, but a polenta wafer nevertheless. Ha!

polenta wafer recipe book

In the book “Alice e le Meraviglie del Pesce” by Sandra Ciciriello and Viviana Varese which I bought at the Verrigni Pasta factory in the Abbruzzi.  Here is my rendition of the recipe.


3 That is 100g of quick cooking polenta on the left … and 10g of salt on the right.  That’s what the recipe called for, and so I did as I was told.  I used coarse salt, however, maybe that was my mistake … and for some reason … it turned out to be far too salty! So next time I shall definitely use much less salt, be it fine or coarse.  The suggested amount of cooking water was 500ml.4 Cook the polenta according to the package instructions (for just under 30 minutes).

5Line a baking tray with parchment paper.  Pour the cooked polenta over it … and spread it out.
6 Spread the polenta as thinly as you possibly can.7 Place it in a pre-heated oven at 130°C and bake for 3 hours.8 And this is what it looks like when you take it out!9 Take care when peeling away the parchment paper …10 Use a sharp knife to cut it into shards …11 I am trying to give you an idea of how ‘thin’ this wafer is …12See how gossamer like?

Yes … but … but … what do you actually ‘do’ with this polenta wafer?

That’s up to you.  I think it would look very nice presiding over a risotto.  Or served with cheese? with cured meats? with a dip?

Enjoy ! And if you ever get the chance to actually go and eat at Salvatore Tassa’s restaurant, you are sure to enjoy a whole lot besides … and not just his amazing polenta wafer biscuit.

Ristorante Colline Ciociare

Via Prenestina, 27 Acuto (FR) – Lazio

Tel. +39 077556049

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Carbonara Cauliflower Mac n’ Cheese

“Loving the Leftovers” … that is a category I added to my posts because ” l’arte del riciclo “, which translates into English as the art of using leftovers, is all about creating a FRESH dish using the remains of a previous meal.  I think Italian food lends itself to this technique for reasons best sought  in its history and tradition (If there were any leftovers to be had, people were so poor they wouldn’t dream of letting them go to waste, let alone throw them away).  The bilinguist in me chuckles at the semantic difference ascribed to the root word “re-cycle”.  In English it is about rubbish (garbage to the Americans), i.e. how to make use of what is deemed disgusting; whereas in Italian it is about creating something delicious to eat !

I am not sure that my ‘riciclo’ last night was smack-your-lips delicious; it engendered more of the head-nodding, quietly approving, savouring sort of appreciation.  It’s because I have had quite the stressful week this past week and even my autopilot brain was showing signs of flagging.  I was flummoxed almost to the point of tears by the predicament of a fridge full of containers that on other occasions would have been a very stimulating sight to behold.  My heart felt heavy at the thought of ‘recycling’ it … euphemism for you know what.  Thus it was that I resorted to that most useful of decision-making fillips: Eeny Meeny Miny Mo.  And here is the ‘riciclo’ result.  Take a look … I leave it to you to decide whether it was a Mac n’ Cheese, or a Cauliflower Cheese with a twist !

LEFTOVER INGREDIENTS

1. I had simmered a cauliflower in some milk, with an onion, a bay leaf, and some nutmeg.  I had then puréed it.

2. I had made a carbonara using egg pasta — I had made far too much and the remains were stored in the fridge.

3. I had some sausages that my in-laws had brought for us from the Marche.

4. I had some grated parmesan cheese in the fridge too.  Breadcrumbs.  Butter.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

IMG_9482 The carbonara pasta … and the slices of sausage …

IMG_9483 The cauliflower puré …IMG_9484 Smother the pasta and sausage with the puré ….IMG_9485 Let it snow parmesan cheese over the surface ….IMG_9486 Camouflage it all with plenty of breadcrumbs and scattered hillocks of butter … Pop it into a previously heated oven: 200°C … for about half an hour … and up to 40 minutes (it will depend on the oven.  Ovens have a mind of their own, and  each one will have its idiosyncratic quirky way with you).IMG_9487 Fresh out of the oven !IMG_9488 I made these sweet-and-sour onionettes as an accompaniment to the rest of the dinner … in the event, they paired beautifully with the leftovers.  Ha! go figure …IMG_9489 IMG_9490 IMG_9491

Whatever would we do without ovens, eh?

Wishing you all a very happy weekend …

Posted in Basic Techniques, Loving the Leftovers, Primi (first courses - usually a pasta or risotto), Secondi (main course, usually meat based) | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments