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 …



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’.


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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 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 , , , , , , | 5 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:


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 , , , , , , , , , , | 9 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!


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.


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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Meatballs with Peas – Polpette con Piselli

There is a bit of a wink-wink, friendly,  dig-in-the-ribs ‘thing’ going on amongst food bloggers based in Italy (and Rome in particular) as regards the making of meat balls … (or is it just the one word, meataball? Hmmm).  ‘Rachel Roddy started it !’,  say I, pointing an accusatory finger at her – she of http://www.racheleats.wordpress.com fame  … she’s to blame for it all, although, bless her it I can vouch with hand on heart that it was never her intention to spark off any competitive hoo-ha over the modest meat preparation that is a … ‘polpetta': the Italian word for a meatball. Rachel, in this sense, reminds me of  the most classy and  classical protagonist of Greek Myth fame, Aphrodite … such a naughty one.  Think Helen of Troy and guess who was behind it all, eyes raised to heaven, with index finger resting lightly on bottom lip, mouth ever so slightly and innocently open as if to say: “qui, moi?”.  Aphrodite indeed … Rachel and Pino Take a look : “Aphrodite can also be said to have caused the Trojan War. This came about in the following fashion. When the hero Peleus was married to the sea-nymph Thetis, all the gods were invited to the ceremony — all but one that is. The slighted goddess happened to a specialist in sowing discord, so she maliciously deposited a golden apple on the banquet table. The fruit was inscribed with the legend, “For the fairest”. Immediately all the goddesses began to argue about whose beauty entitled her to be the rightful possesor of this prize. Finally it was decided to put the dispute to arbitration. Reasonably enough, the designated judge was to be the most handsome mortal in the world. This turned out to be a noble Trojan youth named Paris, who was serving as a shepherd at the time. So the three finalists — Aphrodite, Hera and Athena — sought him out in the meadow where he was tending his flocks. Not content to leave the outcome to the judge’s discernment, the three goddesses proceeded to offer bribes. Hera, Queen of Olympus, took Paris aside and told him she would help him rule the world. Athena, goddess of war, said she would make him victorious in battle. Aphrodite sized Paris up and decided he would be more impressed with the guaranteed love of the most beautiful woman in the world. This was Helen, who happened to be married to the king of Sparta. Paris promptly awarded the golden apple to Aphrodite, who in turn enabled him to elope with Helen, who thenceforth became notorious as Helen of Troy. Helen’s husband and his brother raised a Greek army to retrieve his wife, and this was the inception of the Trojan War.” (quote from http://www.mythweb.com/encyc/entries/aphrodite.html). Well … none of us wants to spark off any kind of war, especially not a culinary one … so I hope you will enjoy today’s post about … yet ANOTHER meatball/polpette recipe. This one hails, originally from Emilia Romagna … but you can’t take the pancetta and/or pork jowl out of a Lazio gal like me … so I just had to add some to the original.

And now for a look at the ingredients: 1Bread soaked in milk, minced parsely, a packet of frozen peas, salt and pepper, nutmeg, two tablespoons grated pecorino cheese, 2 eggs, and roughly 500g of ground beef. 1a Put the ground beef, 2 eggs, grated pecorino, salt and pepper, twist of nutmeg and minced parsely into a processor … and just blitz/whizz or whatever the verb is.1b And this is what you end up with.   A bit … soggy.1c Sogginess … not a problem.  Add some breadcrumbs, a tablespoon at a time, until you reach the texture you desire.  The meatballs have to be pillow-soft, remember? Don’t overdo it with the breadcrumbs.1d And then … find some amiable soul who will be all too willing to respond to your husky, Aphrodite-kindly request … as in, ‘Darling … would you mind making up a few meatballs for me, it would make life so marvellously simple for me if you did, and I would be FOREVER grateful …?’ blink blink, sweet smile on your face … you know what I mean.  In my case, favourite husband obliged most decently … the darling man.  But then, he knows which side his bread his buttered on … Ready? Time to start cooking.  But before we do … one more step.2 One carrot, 1 onion and 1 celery stalk … and some tomato sauce (passata di pomodoro).  In terms of weight … you will need the same amount of weight of passata as you will of meat: so in this case, it was 500g meat, 500 ml passata di pomodoro.2a The Roman/Lazio in me … pork jowl … aka … guanciale.  I can’t think of any preparation that doesn’t stand to benefit from this ideal savoury ingredient.3 Chop up the carrot, celery and onion … and cook over a low heat with some evoo.  The so-called and much loved Italian ‘soffritto’.  And while the soffritto is cooking away … dice up as much or as little of guanciale/pork jowl as you think will enhance this dish: 4And then add add it to the soffritto: 5 Once the guanciale has rendered its fat …6 Time to add the passata di pomodoro (tomato sauce).  Add a pinch of salt and 1 of sugar …7 And now … time to get the meatballs simmering away ….8 Add them to the tomato sauce.  Take your time, gently does it.9 Simmer, with the lid on, for about 30  minutes, over a not-too-low heat.10 10a 11 Then … add the frozen peas.  Turn up the heat for a few mintues …12 Lower the heat again and simmer for another 10 minutes.13 And here they are … these beauties !14 This was what was left the next day …15A good amount … enough to warrant some freezing … good for a rainy day, hey!

And then … last but not least … there was some saucy sauce with peas left over … Hmmm, the mind boggled … and I’ll tell you about it in my next post.  Another entry in my “Loving the leftovers “. 16

Posted in Basic Techniques, Herbs and plants, italian home food, Loving the Leftovers, Polpette: Meatballs as well as vegetable crocquettes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rice and Lentil Fritters – Loving the Leftovers

Happy New Year everyone ! … and I am hoping this is going to be a very good year for us all.  The last few weeks, especialy the run up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve, saw me so engaged in PPE (planning, preparation and execution) that I had little room in my mind for blogging — an activity, as you may imagine, I really enjoy or else I wouldn’t be doing it for so long now.  I have become more closely acquainted with some fellow bloggers over the years and the fact that I got to meet a few in real life is a bonus that makes it even more worthwhile an activity.

One virtual friend whom I have yet to meet in person is Frank Fariello, and if you don’t already subscribe to his “Memorie di Angelina” website, hurry up and do so, you will not be disappointed.  I find that we often write about the same Italian recipe and it brings a smile to my face.  His post today about rice and lentils (see link:  http://memoriediangelina.com/2015/01/09/rice-and-lentils/ ) reminded me that when making this same dish a couple of months ago, I had used up the leftovers to make some fritters.  The result was most un-Italian but since they tasted so good, I think it is worthwhile blogging about them.

1 Here are the remains of what once was ‘riso e lenticchie’.   The food was at room temperature.

2 I reached for some curry powder.

3I added a couple of teaspoons of curry powder as well as an egg.  Then mixed it all together.  I expect I tasted it at some point, and probably added a little salt.
4 Having shaped the mix into fritters/patties, I proceeded to shallow fry them with some olive oil.5Here are the fritters in the serving dish.
6And here is a solitary rice and lentil fritter on a plate. The dark sauce oozing away in the background is Worcestershire sauce.  Surprisingly good !

Italian rice and lentils, curry powder and Worcestershire sauce …. ehm … er.. the mind boggles.  What was it exactly that I was harping on about in my last post on fusion cooking, eh?

Cooking can be so humbling.

Posted in Antipasti, Loving the Leftovers, Recipes from outside Italy | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Roman Oxtail and Cus Cus – Fusion, Confusion and Creativity


14AWhen I hear or overhear people enthusiastically call themselves ‘creative’ cooks, I
confess that, unless the person in question is young (under sixteen) I tend to shudder inwardly and, outwardly, try to change the subject of conversation if need be.   I know what will happen next and that is that, very often, all things ‘creative’ will now veer towards, or become equated with, ‘fusion’ — for an amusing and cautionary article on fusion food, read the following:


At the risk of being labelled ‘somewhat conservative’ at best, or a downright stick-in-the-mud gastronomic dinosaur at worst, I have to admit that change for the sake of change is, in my opinion, best left to chefs who know what they are doing, who have had a suitable amount of hands-on experience and who have travelled and tasted dishes as they are supposed to taste in the country of their origin.

When cooking, and often with the benefit of a glass of wine infusing our veins, we all indulge in adding a bit of this, adding a bit of that, and making things up a little as we go along – and that is to be welcomed and absolutely fine !  It is a breath of fresh air in the kitchen and keeps our batteries going.  (It also explains why someone like me will never amount to much as a baker.  Baking is a serious profession and allows for no ‘tweaking’ – baking rules exist for a reason and they cannot be breached.)

So what am I trying to say … ?

I think what I am trying to say is that, much though home cooking should and often does entail a lot of fun, a person is not going to become an adequately good home cook unless he or she practises cooking regularly and develops his or her palate by tasting good food either at other people’s homes or in good restaurants.

It’s a bit like going to school, you need to learn you ABC before you can spell properly.  Reliable magazines can be bought and relied upon, too, naturally, and if expense is an issue … the internet is full of recipes that can be referenced.  Trying out recipes can be fun in and of itself!  So I think that sometimes those people who gush and pride themselves on being ‘creative’ cooks are … enthusiastic, yes …. inventive and spontaneous … that too … but … a little lazy.  And presumptuous also as regards all those other cooks who have put in hours and hours of practice to get a recipe just right.  Put it this way, you’ll rarely hear a good cook (an adequately good cook that is, and not necessarily the best !) define themselves as being ‘creative’.   The act of cooking itself is … creative per se.

Fusion cooking? Mmmm … very dangerous ground and mostly a disappointment to my mind.  I’ve not had the opportunity to taste the excellence of fusion food as invented by the three Michelin starred superchef and master of fusion, Jean-Georges Vongerichten.  To date, the best I have been able to taste was in Boston, at Myers and Chang (www.myersandchang.com).  Last year, I had the most gorgeous mussels experience of my life there … they came with lemongrass, ginger, spring onions and goodness knows what else without them somehow tasting exclusively Thai.  They were Thai … and more !  The waiter, bless him, did give me a rough account of the recipe but I had drunk too many celebratory cocktails that evening to remember it the day after.  This year I thought I would repeat the pleasure but was told it had been struck off their menu.  When asking for something similar on their new menu … I was served a fusion version of what I daresay was a take on an Italian mussel dish called ‘impepata di cozze’ or else on French moules.


Here is the photo.  It looked nice enough, it tasted … okay.  But the bread to be dunked in a soup made up of oriental spices, to me, just didn’t work … and the dish was neither here nor there.  The balance of ‘oiliness was missing’.  Olive oil in Italian mussels, butter and cream in French mussels.  Boo hoo.  (I am one of those people who can cry if they are served disappointing food.  And by the way, rest assured, I did NOT cry … everything else we ate that evening was truly delicious and I was having fun in lovely company.)  I am just making a point: a fusion = confusion point. Which brings me to today’s recipe and my foray into this gastronomic minefield.

Don’t ask me what prompted me want to make a Near-East/North African version of the very Roman oxtail dish known as ‘coda alla vaccinara’.  Number one.  Number two … to want to accompany the oxtail with cus cus cooked in the oxtail’s stock.  It all sounded so logical, so different, so nice, so new, so … ‘creative’ dare I say!  So very Yottam Ottolenghi of me, tee hee !  I don’t know whether you can be bothered to follow me at this point, after such a long preamble to the recipe.  So … because I don’t like wasting time either … all I can confide, recipe wise, is that I don’t think I shall bother making this recipe again.  Just like the mussels dish mentioned above, it tasted okay.

1 2 The oxtail … cut up for me by the butcher.3 I used a pressure cooker.  Oxtail takes forever to cook and a pressure cooker can save the day. I put lots of celery and an onion in the cooker.


A few tomatoes.  A good pinch of salt.  And that was it.  Oh .. and probably some peppercorns … I always put peppercorns in a stew.
5 And here was the oxtail, fully cooked in its stock, about 40 minutes later.  Set aside.6 Spices … coriander, a cus cus mix of spices, and a single clove (I didn’t want to overdo it with the cloves).7 And here is the first ‘surprising’ and ‘creative’ ingredient vis-à-vis any traditional cous cous (how dow you spell it? is it ‘cus cus’ or is it ‘cous cous’ ? Oh never mind …).  Meaning, that cus cus is enjoyed by both moslem and jewish populations who naturally shun pork – in this case, guanciale or cured jowl – as a taboo food.8 In a heavy casserole saucepan, I began by stewing some lovely red onion in plenty of olive oil.9 I then added the guanciale, cut into small strips.10 And after the guanciale had rendered its fat, I added the spice mix.10A Remember our pressure cooker and its contents?11 I transferred the oxtail meat and bone from the pressure cooker to the casserole.12 I turned the heat up so that the oxtail would brown a little.13 I opened a can of plum tomatoes …14 And added them to the oxtail stew.  In some respects, one could call this an …. oxtail amatriciana sauce !  Except that I also added whole cloves of garlic (you are not supposed to put garlic in an amatriciana sauce so you, dear reader, can see how adventurous I was getting, breaking all kinds of rules, huh!).


And this is how I served the oxtail stew eventually … with an addition of fresh herbs – oregano by the looks of it.
15 Okay … and now back to the cus cus.  Remember the stock?  I strained it.16 I put the cus cus in the same casserole saucepan that had just finished cooking the oxtail.17 I added the stock … mixed it in, covered it with a lid and basically followed the cooking instructions on the cus cus packet.18 While the cus cus was plumping up, I ventured to cut a celery stick into chunky sizes.  To add freshness.19 And here was the cus cus, containing some raw celery within it, and sporting some celery leaves on its surface.20 21 22

Oh … and what I didn’t mention was that I had to make polenta for favourite son because he couldn’t hack the hot spiciness of the cus cus.  Now … yet ANOTHER breaking of boundaries on my part.  Oxtail all’amatriciana served with either spicy cus cus or plain polenta.  Creative anyone?

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