Frascati Mutton Stew – Spezzatino di Castrato e Piselli al Frascati DOCG

castrato del mercatoI bought some mutton at the Mercato Contadino of Ariccia some time ago on a Sunday morning.  The Azienda Agricola Fratelli Frasca farm is not far from Anzio and is called ‘Il Vecchio Ovile’, which translates as ‘The Old Sheep Farm’. Mr Frasca gave me ample instruction on how to make a great pasta sauce with the mutton and I will one day make one as per his instructions but I ended up making a stew instead.  You never know with mutton or ‘castrato’ as it is called in Italy … it can be a tough, chewy meat, however rich in flavour.  It is traditional in Italy to soak cuts of castrato in a marinade of wine or vinegar plus herbs, because it is supposed to be quite a ‘strong’ tasting meat and in need of taming. Mr Frasca assured me that his castrato needed no such tenderising and that its delicious taste was quite capable of speaking for itself.

I live in the Frascati wine-growing hills called the ‘Castelli romani’ south-east of Rome, and it came to me that, just as a Piemontese will proudly strut over a ‘brasato al barolo’ (braised beef in Barolo wine), we Castellani should likewise put our wine where our mouth is.  And so I decided to enjoy creating a recipe where local ingredients would play the lead role and whose only ‘secret’ ingredient might be a playful element of Betty Hutton’s inimitable singing of ‘Anything you can do, I can do better’ in the 1946 musical ‘Annie, Get your Gun’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WO23WBji_Z0?).  Not everyone might share my love of old musicals but this duet is guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone’s lips.

It is a Spring dish on account of the fresh peas.  For those who follow a Lenten non-meat diet, this will be a lip-smacking treat to look forward to on Easter and after Easter.  It is not a difficult recipe but does require good ingredients and, say I, Frascati white DOCG wine.

PARTI I

1 Here are the castrato chunks …  I decided to trust Mr Frasca and eschewed the idea of a marinade.   I did, however, think it would be wise to briefly boil the meat in boiling water for a few minutes, as one does when making Blanquette de Veau, to remove any ‘scummy’ elements.   It is easily done …2 Bring a pot of water to a strong boil …3 Plunge the meat inside and very shortly … this is the ‘froth’ that will rise to the surface.  Remove the froth by and by, with a slotted spoon.4 After about 4-5 minutes, drain the meat and place it in a good casserole … an earthenware one or a heavy bottomed pan, that comes with a lid.5 Open a bottle of Frascati DOCG … I chose Fontana Candida’s Santa Teresa.6 Pour the entire bottle into the pan.7 Drizzle a little evoo … not too much, just a little to coat it.8 Add 4 cloves of garlic, whole.9 Cover with a lid and start simmering, over a low heat.

 

PART II – Adding Basic Vegetables for Taste

10 Fennel seeds …11 Cut up some celery, carrot and onion … the classic Italian soffritto vegetables … and gently stew them in some evoo with a teaspoon of fennel seeds and a few cloves of black pepper.12 After about 12 to 15 minutes and after having sprinkled some salt over the soffritto …13 Add it to the meat and cover again.  Carry on stewing.

 

PART III – Cooking the Peas14 It was my saintly son who went to the trouble of shelling the peas.  It is something that can be done the day before, while watching something engrossing on television.15 Roughly chop up one onion and cook it gently in some evoo with the addition of dry mint.

Repeat : dry mint.  This will add a depth to the stew that I can’t describe but one that works beautifully, trust me.  Granted the mint I obtained was the kind the Romans call ‘mentuccia’ (and a search on the internet identifies is botanically as Mentha pulegium), it’s the one that makes trippa alla romana or carciofi alla romana so delicious.  I got my dry mentuccia from Maria Regina Bortolato’s line of organically grown herbs ‘Erba Regina’ (I can’t wait for the inaguration of her Castelli farm hotel in early May — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcTTMf82zzY).  As you can see, I tried to make my ingredients as much Lazio and Castelli-sourced as possible.  And yes, the evoo too … it is Quattrociocchi’s and hails from the area near Alatri, in Lazio’s Ciociaria land.

Anyway, on with the recipe.16 Add one teaspoon of sugar to the peas, as well as a good pinch of salt.17 Then add a few strands of either guanciale or pancetta.  I prefer the guanciale, myself, but either will do.  Add two ladles of water and cover the peas and cook until they are tender (this took a lot longer than I thought, half an hour).  Set aside.

PART IV – Make Mash Potato Italian Style

18 Mash potatoe Italian style includes a few spoons of freshly grated parmesan and a twist of nutmeg.  Set aside.

PART V – Combining the Foods

19 When the stew is almost cooked (and this can take up to 1 and 1/2 hours, it will depend on the meat), add the peas, gently stir, taste and see whether the stew requires a little more salt, and cook for another 10 minutes over a very low heat, without the lid.  I say without the lid because you can keep an eye on what’s going on better this way … it would be a disaster if the meat got too dry at this stage, Saint Lawrence forbid ! (Saint Lawrence is the patron saint of cooks).

And now for a bit of ‘fiddly’.  The meat has cooked in white wine and the sauce that ensued could do with a little thickening.  So … Remove the stew to another pan for the moment …

20 I transferred the stew to the pan where I had cooked the peas.21 And this was the gravy and juices left behind in the casserole dish.22 I used a sieve to add some flour … it looks like an awful lot in this photo, but I seem to remember using about 1 large serving-spoon’s worth of flour only.23 Turn the heat on and use a wooden spoon to mix the flour in and make the gravy thicken smoothly.  Cook the flour for at least five minutes (otherwise the flour will ruin the taste).24 This is an abominable photo … but it was a question of getting the dish right or the photo right, you do understand don’t you.  And it was at this point that I added a shot of Brandy, to impart another layer of taste to the stew.  The recipe I have for coq-au-vin adds Cognac towards the end, so I thought I would do something similar and added some Italian Brandy (Vecchia Romagna – Etichetta Nera).25 And now the stew went back into the casserole dish and all the ingredients reunited at last.26 Use a wooden spoon to gently jostle the ingredients into a harmonious whole.27 A final taste … a twist of pepper, another pinch of salt maybe ?  Cover with the lid and get ready to plate.

PART VI – GRAND FINALE

I know it is trendy and aesthetically pleasing, not to mention gastronomically inviting, to plate individual dishes, and I would expect no less at any restaurant.  At home, however, nothing speaks more loudly of home cooking and love of friends and family as does a generous serving dish, however 1970s and ‘naff’ that might seem to people who scrutinise such practice disdainfully.  Home isn’t about being trendy, though home can indeed be elegant.

28 So here is the beautiful serving dish, designed by artist Cassandra Wainhouse who has made Italy, and San Gimignano and Florence in particular, her home for decades now. Her serving platters are not just gorgeous to look at, their shape makes for versatility with a capital V.  Even a sad ol’ salad can look inviting on one of her platters … they glint with gold (literally … there is gold leaf on them).29 I being no artist, on the other hand, was having a bit of a struggle trying to  make a ring mould with the mashed potatoes.  The mash was very hot otherwise I would have used by fingers … I had to make do with the wooden spoon instead.30 I then spooned the mutton stew into the centre of the potato ‘ring’.31 And did a bit of silly-billy strewing of fresh mint leaves on the potatoes.  32 It may not look much …33

Stews aren’t famous for their looks.  How did it taste?  Well, with little care for modesty on this occasion, can I say? … it was bloody good.  Blushingly happy.  It was everything one would expect of a stew … the words ‘filling’ and ‘satisfying’ come to mind.  But it was also light and ‘playful’ on the palate, and the taste wanted to linger on.  Which was just as well because we polished the lot in record time …

 

Posted in Basic Techniques, Herbs and plants, italian home food, Secondi (main course, usually meat based) | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Baked Cauliflower and Potato Patties

I am doing my very best to find ways to reconfigure cauliflower into delectable and delightful concoctions, for cauliflower has never been my favourite veggie and never will  be.  I am not saying my efforts have been herculean but they do indeed require adding all sorts of other ingredients in order to make cauliflower palatable, to take the edge off the intrusion of its clumsy flavour.  I made a rather good cauliflower salad recently, for instance, using the following recipe: http://tastefoodblog.com/2014/08/10/warm-cauliflower-couscous-with-lemon-and-chiles/ … and the reason it turned out to be so appetising was, as mentioned, the addition of a series of ‘companion’ ingredients.

The recipe I am presenting today is similarly reliant upon a sexy bedfellow to bolster the cauliflower’s unattractiveness: the dipping sauce, a shop-bought barbecue sauce at that, full of goodness know what filthy additives and colourings.  I suppose ketchup would have done equally well.  Repeat:  Cauliflower simply cannot hack it doing solo.

IMG_2700 IMG_2701 Boil the potatoes until they are mash-able …IMG_2703Simmer the cauliflower florets until they are tender … and yes, I mean tender, no undercooking.

IMG_2707 Mash the potatoes and the cauliflower together … add some paprika and plenty of salt.IMG_2708 Add a good grating of parmesan cheese …IMG_2710 Add one egg  … and maybe a twist of nutmeg while we’re about it.IMG_2711Now shovel on the breadcrumbs and perhaps dot the mixture with some fresh thyme or other herb of your liking.IMG_2712 Add as many breadcrums as are required to create a thick ‘paste’.IMG_2713 Make patties out of this ‘paste’ …IMG_2717 Place them in a baking tray, lined with parchment paper … anoint with some olive oil and bake in a preheated oven (180* C) for about 20 minutes.  Turn them over and bake for another 5-10 minutes (the baking time will depend on your oven).IMG_2718 On the serving platter, as part of nibbles preceding dinner.  The barbecue sauce acting as dip in the centre, with wedges of lime for extra reinforcement if required.  (For those of a visually fastidious bent, as I myself can be on occasion, I would like to apologise for the dab of BBQ sauce ruining the aesthetic effect on the side of the dipping bowl.  I had to snap the photo quick before all got eaten and didn’t have time to remove the offending slither of BBQ sauce.)IMG_2719

I will never concede that cauliflower can be delicious … but let’s say that these patties were all right and that it was well worth the effort.

Vegetarian friendly, naturally, and without the parmesan this would be vegan friendly too. And last, for those who are afeared of frying, the fact that they are baked in an oven must assuredly be a bonus, am I right?

Posted in Antipasti, Basic Techniques, Herbs and plants, Polpette: Meatballs as well as vegetable crocquettes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Birthdays and The Little Things That Please Us

It has taken me quite a long time to get used to the fact that a lot of people actively  desist from celebrating their birthday after their third decade.   For me, a birthday is not so much about being feted and made a fuss of (only once a year? are you kidding?  I wanted to be feted and fussed over a bit more often, thank you very much!) as it is about celebrating life … and sharing a bit of good will and warm, fuzzy feelings with people one cares about … the usual suspects: friends and family.  I can understand people wanting to go away on a trip for their birthday, or for keeping it low-key or thoroughly intimate with one’s lover or partner … that makes perfect sense.  But not celebrating at all seems like an awful waste of time … it’s not as if one’s unconscious doesn’t ‘know’ that another year has indeed gone by, the unconscious is relentless that way.  I wouldn’t go so far as to seek a moral to the story here but if there is one way to look mortality straight in the eye, surely it is by making the most of the ‘little things’ in our life, including a little bit of festivity around a birth date from long ago?

Recently, two friends of mine decided they wanted to share their birthday party and asked me to cook for them … and I was delighted to be asked!  Once we sorted out how many people were going to come (20 … gulp) and what sort of theme they preferred, I set to imagining the menu.  That’s the best part of organising a dinner for me … all the ideas, the imagination, the colours and textures that one can conjure, I even see facial expressions, smiles or eyes closed with pleasure, hear the tinkling of glasses, witness warm embraces, or shoulders moving with laughter, and when I know that it will end in dancing … that too.  Once the menu is finally crafted, the recipes consulted and the shopping list written … which is quite a little feat in and of itself … one would think that partial relief would set in.  Uh-uh. Instead that is when  butterflies start swarming in my tummy — am I alone in being like this?  However often a dish has been made succcessfully, however often friends and family have warmly complimented my meals, however easy a recipe is to repeat, the fact remains that things can go terribly wrong when it comes to cooking, and that a plan B must always be drawn up.  And cooking on behalf of friends just added to this kind of preoccupation … the success of their evening rested at least 50 percent on my being able to deliver a dining experience worthy of the occasion.

1 I decided to make fennel and prawn tarts … these can be baked in advance.2 Here they are fresh out of the oven.  They then went into the freezer for safe keeping until the appropriate time.3 This is a dessert wine from Lazio’s Castelli Romani ….4 I used it as part of the veal soufflé I prepared … and again directed to the freezer for the time being.5 On the menu was boeuf bourgignon … This was one of two trays of meat that needed browning (4.5 kg of beef cubes).  I put on some Brazilian bossanova music to see me through this culinary phase.6 Some pancetta for the boeuf bourgignon.7 A home-made bouquet garni for the boeuf bourgignon …8 Just to give you an idea of the size of pot we are talking about to hold the beef.  It simmered away for hours. And then, on the following day, the onions and pearl onions had to be added and simmered a little more.9The taste was slightly disappointing.  So I transferred half of the beef stew into another casserole and ‘doctored’ it with funghi porcini to give it a deeper flavour.  I reunited the beef in the big pot again … and finally pronounced it good.
11 The day before I bought these lovelies … king prawns or mazzancolle as they are called here, from Sicily.  I made a bisque with their shells … which I subsequently used to cook some emperor rice in (see photo further on).  I deveined these mazzancolle, wrapped them tightly in clingfilm and consigned them to the depths of a cold fridge until the following day (for the fennel and prawn tarts).

And then it was D-Day … and the party was on !  Everyone hold their breath!

On the table:
1 Veal paté with cream and pistachio …2 Scallops with avocado and mango …3 Asparagus and clam soup …4 Smoked salmon and sour cream canapés …5 Emperor rice, octopus and strawberries …6 Gorgonzola nuggets with walnut and saffron-honey …6a 7 A large chunk of aged parmesan cheese with a little bowl of balsamic vinegar as a dip …8 Camembert baked in phyllo pastry with a sprinkle of rosemary …9 Endive leaves holding goats cheese, halved orange segments, almonds and rose jam with a drizzle of sherry vinegar.10 The fennel and prawn tart on the plate …

No photos of the tasting spoon with burrata, garlic-free pesto and tomato sauce nor the boeuf bourguignon and potatoes dauphinois (which my friends made).11One of the two birthday cakes.  This was a chocolate cake made by my friend Liz Macrì …
12And here was the other birthday cake … saying it all !

 

Posted in Antipasti, Fish and seafood, Herbs and plants, Recipes from outside Italy | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Quiche Frascataine

Warning … caveat Emptor … this is a rather long post … if it’s the recipe you are after, and to be honest it would be worth your while taking a look at it, just scoll down until you come across the photos. …… A friend of mine who was peering over my shoulders as I squinted over various photo albums on my computer burst out laughing when she saw the title “Quiche Semi Lorraine”.  I explained that the ‘Semi’ stood for the fact that I had strayed considerably from the original recipe, adding ingredients that had nothing quiche-y about them whatsoever. That same friend got me engrossed in a conversation about Frascati’s history in general and how it had inspired restaurants and cafés to make use of  its name in many parts of Europe, in North America too, the more famous ones being Café Frascati in Paris and Frascati’s at 32 Oxford Street in London (https://fynesharteharrington.wordpress.com/tag/frascatis-restaurant/).

It was this same friend, journalist and local historian Emanuela Bruni, who informed me that Alexander Dumas père had compiled a Gran Dictionnaire de Cuisine (Great Dictionary of Cuisine) that even contained a recipe for ‘Gateau Frascati’.   Paris was its point of creation.  This gateau is not to be found in Frascati these days, nor do I believe it ever was.  The mind has to wonder just why the moniker ‘Frascati’ used to be so popular and beloved during the 18th and early 19th centuries.  True, Frascati had been a customary stopover for anyone embarking on the famed Grand Tour of yore, whose visitors comprised famous people and artists of the calibre of Turner, John Singer Sargent, Georges Sand, Edith Wharton and even Escher.  Goethe referred to it as a ‘corner of paradise’ and I would agree with him.  I have a passionate love for Frascati, my mother’s home town,  in that ‘warts-and-all’ fashion and have suffered as I witnessed the slow but relentless battering it has taken due to the the economic dip and recession of the last seven years.  Ever the optimist, I can safely say that a turning point seems to have been reached last year and that there are signs in plain sight in this town, in this area, pointing in the direction of recovery.

The one sector that thankfully showed little sign of suffering during this same period, on the other hand,  has been the wine production sector and the evolution of the quality of its wines.  In 1966, the Frascati denomination had been one of the first Italian wines to be awared a DOC (Certified Denomination of Origin) status and was always loved and greatly indulged in, down the road in Rome as well as all over the area of the Alban Hills. Bottles of Frascati wine were reputably to be found even in the wine cellars of Buckingham Palace! When production exceeded quality during the 1970s, however, Frascati’s wine reputation was inexorably and justifiably blotted.  In recent years, wine growers  have gone to great lengths to remedy the situation, thanks also to the efforts, work and resolve of the Frascati DOC and DOCG Wine Consortium, and the time has come, say I, hands on hips, to scotch the former tainted reputation.  I certainly hope that Frascati wines are again to be mentioned with the respect they deserve when they will be showcased at the Milan Expo this year.

Frascati wines have one advantage over other … all be they excellent … wines from the rest of Italy: they pair with Roman cuisine beautifully.  Now, I love pairing bubbly with porchetta … so don’t get me wrong, Frascati is not the ‘only’ wine to accompany hearty Roman dishes.  That said, Frascati is one of the rare wines that will ‘work’ with artichokes the way few other wines can.  Huh.

Goodness me, the sommelier classes I took (and did not finish, mind you) imparted a grave lesson as to the sheer severity of artichokes on the palate … such a bitter taste, Oh woe is me!, and they all but told us that wine could only jostle against this ‘ingredient’. Excuse me? There is something orgasmic about artichokes and there is no way people are going to refrain or abstain from eating them just because wine experts tell us that there is a huge problem finding an appropriate wine to play duet with them.  All I can say is that … you really could do worse than pair a good Frascati wine with your next plate of artichokes, cooked the Roman way.

And now onto the whole purpose of this post. “Finally”, I can hear you sighing. My ‘take’ on quiche … includes guanciale (pork jowl) and artichokes … and because these ingredients are so typical of Rome and this part of the world, and my beloved Frascati, I have decided to name this dish: (roll of drums and trumpet call) …. Quiche Frascataine. I do hope you enjoy it, if ever you should feel prompted to have a bash at it.

Cin cin! say I, as I raise a glass of Frascati wine – from a bottle of De Sanctis “Abelos” if you want to know (http://www.frascati-wine.com/wines.php).  And for those who are interested in this sort of thing … the De Sanctis wines happen to be not only quaffable, but also organic.  The two are not mutually exclusive … If you are interested in Frascati wines and the history of this part of the world … why not have a look at what my friend Michelle Smith has put together on her inspirational website: http://www.easyfrascati.com.  An English rose by birth, genetically that is, Michelle has lived in Italy for the past 35 years and her love for the Castelli Romani is unwavering …

RECIPE

Ingredients

For the pastry: 400g flour, 200g cold butter diced into cubes, 2 tablespoons cold water, 2 eggs, pinch of salt, pinch of English mustard powder.  Extra flour for dusting.  Rolling pin and greaseproof paper.

For the filling: 3 medium to large sized artichokes sliced fairly thinly, 1 packet of bacon rashers (pancetta or guanciale would be preferable), 8 eggs, 200ml full fat milk (cream would be better), 100g freshly grated parmesan cheese, freshly grated nutmeg

STEP I – The pastry casing

1 400 g of flour … I used the Italian ‘O’ kind.2 200g diced butter …3 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons very cold water …4 Pinch of English mustard powder (not vital, so don’t worry if you don’t have any) …5 Pinch of salt … and freshly ground white pepper …6Use the ‘pulse’ function on your food processor.  You don’t want a ‘mush’. 7 Make a ball with the dough … cover it in some flour … and then envelop it in a plastic bag.8 Place the dough in the fridge for at least 1 hour … 2 would be even better.

STEP II – Cooking

9 All right … time for confession.  I didn’t have the usual guanciale (pork jowl), or even pancetta in the fridge … so I resorted to … bacon.  I love bacon anyway … so no problem. Cook the slices of bacon over a moderate heat, without adding anything …10 When the bacon crispens up …11 Remove the bacon, and set it aside.12 Artichoke party time ! Party my foot! artichokes are a lot of work, it takes more time to clean and trim them then it does to cook ’em.  So remove all the outer leaves … bla bla bla … you know the routine.   If you don’t, please email me and I’ll tell you. 14 Slice the trimmed artichokes fairly thinly …15 See all the lovely fat that the bacon left ?16 One, very large, leek …17 Cut the leek in rounds and cook the rounds over a low heat in the bacon fat (more appropriately pancetta or guanciale fat, if you have access to either of them).18 Add the sliced artichokes after a while …19 I could see there were signs of ‘drying out’, so I added some evoo … (will you just take a look at the colour of this evoo?  It’s the Quattrociocchi brand, if you want to know … and no wonder they have won prizes for best organic olive oil at international competitions! I am so proud … because this is an olive oil that hails from Lazio ! )20 Okay, ahem, excuse the excess of my enthusiasm… Where was I? Ah .. yes …a  pinch of salt.  You literally cannot get a dish to taste the way it ought to … without salt.  And the quality of salt is most important.  I tend to use Celtic (grey) salt most of the time … from the Atlantic Coast of France.  I love Maldon salt on meat … and I love the naturally dried whole salts from Italy’s Cervia on the Adriatic and Motthya in Sicily … Sea salt does it for me … others would prefer the pink Himalayan salt.21 As the artichoke slices cook, they can get a bit dry … The thing to do is edge over the artichokes to one end of the pan … and add a little bit of water to the pan on the other side. Avoid pouring the water directly over the artichokes, in other words.  Once the artichokes slices are cooked, remove from heat and set aside to cool.

STEP III – PLAYING WITH PASTRY 22Take the pastry ‘ball’ out of the fridge and cut it in half … 23 Punch down one half and roll it in a bit of flour …. and do the same with the other half.24 Place the dough on one sheet of parchment/greaseproof paper … and then cover it with another sheet.  A sandwich of sorts.25 Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough … Because the dough is encased within two sheets of greaseproof paper, it won’t ‘stick’ and be nasty to have to deal with.26 Place the rolled out dough inside two round, butter-greased baking trays.  Use a fork to prick and prod and and if you are upset with anyone … here is your chance to let off some steam, pretend you are having a ‘go’ at them and be ruthless with your fork.27 You will require … 4 whole eggs, a good amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese and 100ml of milk for each of the two quiches frascataines.  A pinch of salt and a twist of nutmeg.  Next time, I will add cream too …28 Place the cooked artichokes and bacon bits inside the pastry casing …29 Add the egg and milk mixture … and bake in a pre-heated oven, for about 45 mintues at 180°C.  I found that I had to bake it for almost one hour … this could depend on many a factor and you will have to be the best judge of your oven ‘baking power’.

STEP IV – BAKING

30 Out of the oven and smelling gorgeous …31 32 On a round serving dish …33 About to be sliced …34 35And frankly … buonissima ! Quiche frascataine is to be enjoyed with a good quality Frascati wine … I insist!

Posted in italian home food, Recipes from outside Italy, Travel and Tales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Risotto alla Carbonara

We love our pasta in this family, we do.

For a variety of reasons, one of which is that pasta lends itself to being concocted in the briefest of time frames and using whatever ingredients are there to be sourced, easily within reach in the fridge or in the store cupboard.  Woe betide us otherwise … It has to be said, fortunately, that woe has not had cause to betide us ever!  Not … that is … until last Saturday when I realised that our home was woefully bereft of any pasta! (Signature dramatic music and rolling of the drums !)  Gob-smacked and reeling from the shock (it was past one o’clock) …. what to do, what do to?????.

A packet of Carnaroli rice stood to attention in the store cupboard.  Noblesse oblige.

And that is how this strange recipe came about … instead of making a ‘normal’ Carbonara (i.e. using pasta), I ended up making a Carbonara risotto.  And, hey!, in for a penny, in for a pound … there were a few courgettes lurking about so I added them too.  What is a girl to do? Sigh.

Shame faced but artfully camouflaging the fact, I infused my voice with a tone of glee as I announced to the usual suspects, my oft forebearing family members, that they were going to be delighted by a ‘new’ dish today.

I began by toasting the rice the usual way, and adding some chopped up onion, and adding half the guanciale to the mix … and then boiling water.  I didn’t have time to make a vegetable stock.

IMG_2347 While the risotto was cooking merrily away …IMG_2348 I cooked the guanciale until it was almost crispy and then added some sliced courgettes.IMG_2349 Two egg yolks straight from the fridge …IMG_2350 Some grated pecorino cheese (pecorino romano) ….IMG_2351 I mixed the egg yolks and the pecorino and made a thick paste (a ‘roux’).IMG_2352 When the risotto was cooked, I switched off the heat and added this egg and cheese paste.IMG_2353 I used a wooden spoon to combine it and create creaminess in the risotto ….IMG_2354 And then added the courgettes and guanciale that I had cooked separately.IMG_2355 On the plate with lashings of freshly grated pepper for me ….IMG_2356 IMG_2357Would I make it again … sure, why not?  Guanciale, pancetta and sausage make anything taste better anyway.  Presentation could definitely benefit from a little more care but … can I tell you?  We were all starving and there just wasn’t time for that.   A good appetite has a way of setting priorities in proper order.  Crotchety people are very often hungry people.

Posted in italian home food, Primi (first courses - usually a pasta or risotto), Risotto | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

A Garland of Potatoes and Vegetables and a Good Bit of Scraping

You know the lyrics to the Blues Brothers’ “Rawhide’ song, don’t you?  that bit when the verse is all about ‘ rollin rollin rollin ‘ repeated ad infinitum ?

Well, I was using a wooden spoon to dislodge the bits of crispy potato that had stuck to the bottom of the pan yesterday and found myself humming the rawhide tune, substituting ‘rollin’ for ‘scraping’. It shall henceforth be known as the ‘scraping, scraping, scraping’ potato dish in my household.

1 It all begins with some guanciale  (pork jowl) …2 Parboil the potatoes for about 10 minutes, then drain them and place them in a comfy frying pan with plenty of olive oil to welcome them.  I had a couple of  bayleaves handy so I added those too.  I suppose thyme or rosemary would have also been very good. Turn the heat on.3 Once  the potatoes have started to brown on one side, shake them about a little bit and then add the chopped up guanciale.  Carry on cooking …4 At some point, the potatoes are going to crispen up to the poin that they will stick to the frying pan.  Not a problem.  Start scraping and carry on cooking.5 Once the potates are indeed cooked … set them aside in another dish.  And now the scraping begins in earnest.  Sing the rawhide tune to the words ‘scraping, scraping, scraping’ … and then add those delicious crispy bits to the potatoes.6

Here … see? And this was step one.

Step two:

7

Cooking small onions in a sweet and sour sauce.  Boil the onions until fairly tender, then drain.  Put them in a small frying pan, add olive oil, spoonfuls of sugar, pinch of salt, and a good glug of vinegar.
8 And this is what they look like after a while.

Step three:9

 

Step three was cooking some cavolo nero (kale) that had previously been blanched together with some plain ol’ cabbage.  I did add a little garlic to the mix but removed it before serving.

And now it was time to assemble the vegetable garland.10

Start with the green vegetables on the outside …11Fill with the scraping scraping scraping potatoes ….

12And dot the outer rim of the serving dish with the cipolline in agrodolce (the caramelised baby onions).


14 A close-up to show the gloss.  Glossy vegetables are the best, aren’t they?

I was very pleased with myself in a Little Jack Horner what-a-good-boy-am-I sort of way and thoroughly enjoyed creating a garland of vegetables to accompany the rest of the meal.15 16
A fitting accompaniment that was very much appreciated.

Posted in Basic Techniques, Contorni and/or side dishes, Herbs and plants, italian home food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

A Craving for Sartù – Using Leftovers Backwards

Yesterday I wrote about some leftovers … see photo below:1Here are the remains of what had been meatballs cooked in a tomato and pea sauce.  These leftovers could have easily been used to coat a lovely plate of pasta but, somehow, and blame it on the cold weather if you will, I was in the mood to ‘cook’ yesterday … i.e. to spend some time fiddling with the minutiae of ingredients, pottering with ‘bits’ to my heart’s content, my small scaled kitchen groaning under a welter of pots and pans, and aluminium bowls and wooden boards.  I knew the oven would have to figure in the picture somehow (what can be pleasanter than a hot oven on a cold day?) … and thus it was that I got inspired. Inspired to make a rice-based dish called ‘sartù’ … with its princely origin in Campania … and one that is usually made only for special occasions.   The list of ingredients is mind boggling … I am surprised that Ottolenghi hasn’t had a look at it and succumbed to the sheer number!

I had only made sartù once before, about seven years ago, at a cooking class at the Gambero Rosso School, under the kind and knowledgeable supervision of Chef Sandro Masci (who is now at the head of Rome’s Les Chefs Blancs – http://www.leschefsblancs.it/).   He made it all sound so straightforward and do-able … but you can’t fool me and by the time we were assigned the task of creating tiny tiny meatballs (and I mean lilliputian) I knew that this wasn’t a recipe I was going to repeat any time soon — not unless I had a lot of helpers around me to give me Dutch courage.

Such is life, however, and there I was yesterday … postively gagging to have a go at sartù making and — which goes totally against the traditional culinary grain in this case — using leftovers to boot! Veeery naughty, veery adventurous.  So … I promise I will make a proper sartù before the year is out, following my printed recipe from the Gambero Rosso lesson, starting from scratch.

In the meantime … this is what I did yesterday, on a very cold Sunday, and wearing warm socks.

2 Butter a deep oven-proof pan and coat it with breadcrumbs.3Boil two eggs -hard boiled.
4 Get hold of another 2 eggs and beat them when the time comes.5Avail yourself of some mozzarella, chop it up, and let it stand in a colander so that any excess liquid can ooze away.6 Grate some pecorino romano cheese.  About 2 tablespoons of (maybe more).  Also grate some parmesan cheese, roughly the same amount (sorry no photo).7Soak a couple of dried porcini mushrooms in hot water.  After about 10 minutes, drain and roughly chop.

9 A sartù will normally use boiled sausage in its mix.  Only I didn’t have any … and so used some lovely salami instead (salame di Felino if you wanted to know).  Cut up a few slices thickly and then chop into quarters.10
12 I measured out 350g of carnaroli rice (use arborio otherwise).13This was 150 g of minced/ground beef.
15 And here are the tiny teensy meatballs that I shaped out of just 150g of meat!

TIME TO START COOKING

16Your are supposed to coat the meatballs in flour and then shallow fry them (in olive oil).  I opted for the short cut of not bothering with the flour.
17 Here are the cooked polpettine (i.e. little mini meatballs) ….18 And here is what was left in the frying pan after they had been cooked.  I did not throw it away.  It was a kind of ‘gravy’.19 And so I added some of this ‘gravy’ to the leftover pea and tomato sauce, to loosen it up a little, and add more flavour.   I turned on the heat and brought it up to a strong simmer.20 Here is a close up … I love the glowing patina of this sauce, its shiny sheen.21 And now for another kind of fat: lard !  Time to cook the rice and instead of using olive oil or butter, this time I opted for good ol’ lard.22 Once the rice has almost finished toasting in the pan, I added the chopped up porcini mushrooms.23 I then added some wine …24 And cooked the risotto with  plain hot water, instead of chicken or beef or even vegetable stock.  I added salt, naturally.25 When the rice was cooked but still very very very firm … okay … so ‘almost’ cooked is more like it, I turned the heat off – and ventured to add the grated pecorino cheese to it.  And gave it a good stir.26 Remember the two eggs … ?27 Well, I beat the eggs and added them too to the risotto.  But only after a few minutes, when the rice had had time to cool down a little (otherwise it might curdle).28 After mixing well and adding a bit more salt, I divided up the risotto into two parts: one considerably greater than the other.

TIME TO PUT EVERYTHING TOGETHER

29 I coated the oven pan with rice, making a casing as it were, with the rice lining the sides of the oven proof dish nearly all the way to the top.30 Remember the hard boiled eggs?  Slice them.  Add one sliced egg and some chopped salami in one layer, in the middle of the dish.31 Smother the slices of egg and salami with a thick coating of egg and tomato sauce, and half the meatballs.32 Now shower the lot with a good amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese.33 34 Repeat the procedure a second time …35 But, with a twist this time.  This time we add chopped mozzarella on top of the slices of egg and salami.   Sprinkle a little salt, too, over the mozzarella.36 The sauce and meatballs …37 The parmesan cheese ….38 And last … a layer of risotto, to seal our sartù pudding.39Hide the rice under a layer of breadcrumbs.

40Dot the surface with specks of butter.

41Bake the sartù in a preheated oven, at roughly 160°C, for about 45 minutes.

42Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.  Then insert a sharp knife and slide it around the perimeter of the sartù … to make sure none of it is sticking to the sides. Put a plate over the top and flip it over.

43Aha ! here it is … all golden and juicy looking.

44The top was not looking so good, however.  Sigh.  Never mind.

45And then, it is sliced and put on people’s plates … and said people tuck in and chew and enjoy.  And somehow … it all seems worthwhile, worth all that effort and that long long list of ingredients.

Not that this is a ‘proper’ sartù … not as such.  And this is what I meant about making use of leftovers ‘backwards’ … i.e. using leftovers to create a ‘new’ dish.

I am quite sure that the (almost) full moon had something to do with this sudden craving of mine for sartù.  And so I shall end this post with an adage.  When you are after a boon, make sure there is a full moon.

Posted in Basic Techniques, italian home food, Loving the Leftovers, Polpette: Meatballs as well as vegetable crocquettes, Primi (first courses - usually a pasta or risotto), Secondi (main course | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments