Nutty about Nuts! Curry Nut Roast

I have copied this directly, word for word, from my former food blog, http://www.myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com, because for some unfathomable technical reason that blog post won’t show any of the photos I had uploaded at the time.  Which is a shame since this is a relatively stress-free, plan-ahead, vegetarian/vegan friendly (if one cuts out the egg) and delicious concoction of foods that anyone can enjoy (unless one is allergic to nuts naturally).

I had written the post back in November 2011.  As we all know, fashions come and go, and that includes food choices and preferences, as well as trending, innovations and fads.  Well, I think this is a recipe that can stand the test of time, although there is always room for tweaking.

I was drawn to the mysterious disappearance of the photos by my daughter, who wanted to make this dish two days ago.

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In the event, this is how she presented the dish.  Surrounded by strips of sunny yellow capsicum/pepper, a sprinkling of rocket leaves and a handful of almonds.  It looks most inviting, even if I say so in a proud mamma way! 🙂

If you think you might enjoy making this, read below.  And again, bear in mind that I wrote it almost six years ago.

Nuts are a wonderful invention of Nature and it’s a pity, really, that we tend to eat nuts mainly, or only, as ‘nibbles’, to accompany a drink at happy hour, or to add crunch to a cake.

They are full of all kinds of nutritional goodies (1 Brazil nut a day will give you enough selenium for optimum daily intake) and keep many nasty health conditions at bay (walnuts for instance repel diabetes) and yes, the are fattening, but so what!  Instead of ‘fattening’, think ‘filling’ and healthy and unless you allergic to them, nuts can become a best friend on the dinner table.

The following is a recipe that my vegetarian friend Sarah taught me many years ago, called a Curry Nut Roast.  It may be vegetarian friendly but that doesn’t mean that omnivores can’t enjoy it too!  It can be served as a starter or as a main course, accompanied by rice or salad or even some lovely, thick Greek youghurt.  It is eaten at room temperature and is great for parties — and leftovers can be frozen too.  What more do you want!

The first thing to do is preheat the oven at 200°C.

THE INGREDIENTS

Hazelnuts 150g, walnuts 150g (or any other combination of nuts of your choice), 100g bread crumbs, 1 large onion, one red pepper, some olive oil, 250g plum tomatoes, curry powder, dried herbs of your choice (I used oregano), 1 egg to bind the mix, salt and pepper.

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On the far right is a special salt I happened to have, containing many herbs.

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Chop the onion and the red pepper and transfer to a frying pan with some olive oil in it.

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Have your curry powder, herbs and salt ready for use …

 

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Turn the heat on and let the onion and red pepper sweat for a few minutes over a medium heat.  After about 10 minutes add the curry, herbs and salt …

 

 

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The aromas wafting about in the kitchen at this point are truly delectable, especially if you like curry! When the veggies have had their sweat and are suitably wilted … time to add:6

The tomatoes.  These are cherry tomatoes (organic at that) out of a jar but plum tomatoes will do just as well, as would fresh tomatoes.

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Combine and stir, mixing everything up and cook for a few minutes.

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Meanwhile, while all this is happening or even before if you prefer: Put the nuts and the bread crumbs into a food processor and …

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Pulse until the nuts are smashed up and mixed in with the bread crumbs.

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Add them to the frying pan, combine and stir well with a wooden spoon. And that’s it. Switch off the heat and let it cool a little.

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There is your egg.  Beat it and add it to the mix.

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Here is superbly old-fashioned pyrex dish (circa 1970 for sure! I inherited it from my mother’s kitchen).  I buttered it first and then added the curry nut mix and pressed down with a spoon.

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I popped it into the oven and baked it till it was done … 30 minutes.  It could even take 40 minutes … the timing depends on the oven a lot.  And that’s it … finito, ready.  All you have to do is remove it from the oven and serve it.

If you are anything like me, you might want to drizzle a tiny amount of olive oil on it.  It is a very rich dish and a little goes a long way.  Enjoy!

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The Chicken Kiev Conundrum

The name of this recipe, for starters.  A Saveur Magazine said: “Though it’s named for Ukraine’s capital city, chicken kiev is probably not a Ukrainian dish.  Some say it was conceived by the French inventor Nicolas Appert in the 18th century; others claim it was created at private club in Moscow in 1912.”  In a similar vein, a Russian cuisine website says: “Turns out that Chicken Kiev is originally from France. It was invented by French chef, Nicolas Francois Appert and was known as côtelettes de volaille.  Côtelettes de Volaille arrived to Russia during the times of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna. Russian Empress Elizaveta Petrovna was brought up by a French tutor, spoke French and was fascinated by French culture. By the late 18th century, French dishes and fashion were widely imitated in Russia.  However, it is generally believed that côtelettes de volaille have been renamed to Chicken Kiev by New York restaurants trying to please Russian clientele in the 20th century. The dish was also known as Chicken Supreme.” (https://www.funrussian.com/2011/07/10/russian-chicken-kiev-recipe/)

According to an article in The Telegraph dated 10th May, so yes, very au courant, this recipe has even been the subject of recent political controversy: “In February this year, a New York Times reporter noted on Twitter that a dish identical to chicken Kiev was being served  in the canteen of the Russian Foreign Ministry called Chicken Crimea – interpreted by some as a statement of Russia’s claim over the Ukrainian peninsula. The Russian Ministry were quick to point out that the dish was different because it was made with chicken thigh, not breast.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/features/10-things-didnt-know-humble-chicken-kiev/

What we can all agree on is the fact that it was a cult dish of the 1970s.

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I am so very glad I bought a book called “The Prawn Cocktail Years” written by Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham.  It came out in 1997 and it was alread ‘old’ by the time I got to purchasing it, circa 2008.  The title said it all, how could I resist buying it!  It’s a book I’ve often leafed through with expressive smiles on my face and chortles and chuckles popping out.  It is entertaining.

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I found a  a website called “Not Delia” (http://www.notdelia.co.uk/the-prawn-cocktail-years/) that has this to say about it:

“The premise of the book is that, as food fashion has changed, some dishes have been “loved and lost”. In many cases this is a good thing – brown Windsor soup, anyone? But some dishes are inherently Good and, despite going out of fashion, remain popular to this day. “Everybody, but everybody, loves Prawn Cocktail”.  Dishes which were once exciting (Coq au Vin, Spaghetti Bolognese) “have been slung out like old lovers, while we carelessly flirt with the flavour of the month”.  The authors’ “mission” is to rehabilitate these classics – and they are classics because they’ve stood the test of time – in “a country now obsessed with culinary novelty”. All the dishes in the book “have the potential to be truly excellent”, and were good in the first place. As stated in the book’s introduction: “The purpose of this book is to redefine the Great British Meal and rescue other similarly maligned classic dishes from years of abuse…”  “There are eight chapters, taking us through the eras of Great British dining out. From the 1950s hotel dining room to the Gentleman’s Club, the Sixties Bistro, and more, culminating in Chez Gourmet. It’s an interesting culinary tour through modern social history.

“Most of the recipes come with a bit of nostalgia or other interesting observation wittily written. On Trout with Almonds (Sixties Bistro chapter) they have this to say: “Finding a wild river trout these days is about as easy as not coming across sun-dried tomatoes on the menu of yet another fashionable restaurant.” (Remember the book was published in 1997. Maybe a future book will be called The Sun-Dried Tomato Years.)”

End of quote.

My family used to eat a version of Chicken Kiev when I was growing up in East Pakistan (1969-1971), I am almost sure of that says my memory.  So … question.  Who taught our cook how to make Chicken Kiev? Aha!  Very mysterious.  And it was always considered a bit of a treat, to be served on special occasions.  Now, of course, many would think that Chicken Kiev is naff and slightly silly.  The authors say that it is ‘simple’ to prepare but I have to disagree with them.  It is what I term ‘fiddly’ and requires some dexterity and plenty of time.  I only made it once, three years ago, and that sort of says it all.    But it WAS “downright tasty” and “texturally brilliant”, yes.

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There has been a ginormous thunderstorm, complete with lightning and hail, which has all added to the mood-making chicken kiev mystery as I write this post.   Anyway, on display are most of the ingredients: chicken breasts, eggs, softened butter, garlic,  parsley and tarragon, flour and Italian style breadcrumbs.  You will also need 2 shakes of Tabasco sauce, the grated zest of one small lemon, as well as its juice.  Finally, to complete the recipe list, add good quality oil, and plenty of it, with which to fry the stuffed chicken breasts.

I cheated and got my butcher to cut a slit in the skinned chicken breasts, from the side, in order to create a cavity or pocket, or whatever you want to call it.

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Now that I look at the photo(s), I realise the cartilage should have been removed too.

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And, this was my personal addition, some grated parmesan.  Also, a pinch or two of sweet paprika (it never hurts).  Their recipe called for, as an option,  2 tsp of Pernod – but I didn’t have any and did not live to rue its absence.  It also required chives but, again, I didn’t have any.

To begin with, I set out to make the garlic and herb butter.  The recipe says: “Blend the first 10 (8 in my case: no chives or Pernod) ingredients together in a food processor and allow the mixture to firm up slightly in a cool place (not the fridge).” The last tip didn’t make any sense to me and I, overcome by a somewhat rebellious mien, deemed it advisable to go so far as even putting the mixture in the freezer, ha!  I am so anarchic …5

I added salt and pepper to the lemon juice containing the garlic, lemon zest, and Tabasco.

The butter and the herbs got whizzed up.  I dribbled in the lemon juice mixture a little at a time.

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I then placed the mixture on some parchment paper.

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I added the parmesan and combined all the ingredients.

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I used the paper to shape the butter mixture into a long, slightly flattened sausage.

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And in it went inside the freezer.  I can’t remember for how long, but probably 15-20 minutes.  Long enough for it to harden, but not freeze.

Meanwhile, I got on with the next step.  I added some paprika to the flour.  And put plenty of breadcrumbs in a bowl.  I beat the eggs in another bowl.

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And here is what my mise en place was looking like: (1) chicken, (2) paprika stained flour, (3) egg wash, (4) breadcrumbs, (5) groundnut oil.

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This is a photo of the butter mixture out of the freezer and sliced into a stick shape.

It’s a good idea to put a tiny amount of flour even into the cavity.

Because the butter has hardened, it makes it easy to insert the filling.

Once the butter mixture is snugly inserted in the cavity, press the flaps of the chicken firmly together.

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Dust the chicken breasts with flour, then coat with the egg wash and, finally, dredge in the breadcrumbs.  I seem to have spotted some green ‘bits’ in the breadcrumbs .. probably some leftover parsley.

One must take taking care to fill all the little crevices.  Preparation complete.  Now it’s time to fry these as best you can.  The first rule is that there should be plenty of oil, plenty.  The second is that the temperature should be around 160°C.  For those who do not own a thermometer, and I did not at the time, “this is when a scrap of bread turns golden after a couple of minutes”.  Rule number three: fry in small batches, in this case it was two at a time.

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Once one side of the chicken has browned, turn it over to the other side.  30

The recipe says to deep fry the chicken for 8 minutes.  I honestly can’t remember how long it took me.  Maybe a little more, who knows?

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I had turned the oven on low heat, and left the chicken pieces there to keep warm while I got on with whatever else I was doing at that point (laying the table? making mashed potatoes?).  The authors say Chicken Kiev should be served with chips (French fries) and lemon quarters and watercress.

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This is what I mean about the recipe not being ‘simple’.  I cut one to check that the meat was cooked properly (i.e. not pink), and it was lovely to see the sauce ooze out but I was not so mesmerised by the crunchy part sliding off the chicken with such slippery insousiance.  Sigh.

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I sprinkled some salt and pepper on them just before serving.

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The sauce really was most delicious, I have to admit.

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And, aesthetics be damned, the crunchy coating did taste “texturally brilliant”.

Next time, I think I would place the chicken, duly stuffed, in the freezer for a few minutes and THEN dip them in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs.

 

 

A Searing Saga Sequel – Part 3

I am getting a bit sick of this searing saga title(s).  I promise you this is the last one!

Having ascertained that reverse searing can be a very useful technique when cooking steaks, I thought I would try it out on roast beef.  Now, when I say ‘roast beef’ I mean roast beef the way Italians think of it which is not the way the Brits would. For starters, the cut of meat is not the same and often it gets cooked on the stove top rather than roasted in an oven.  It tastes really nice by the way! Just ‘different’ – and it is eaten, thinly sliced, at room temperature (usually during summer months).  I wrote about this a few years ago: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/07/01/roast-beef-the-italian-way/.

I asked my butcher to give some meat for the roast beef, all 1.6 kg of it.  I forget which cut it was but I seem to remember the shoulder.  Whatever: it would not be the cut of beef that I would ordinarily use to make a classic roast beef.

Anyway, I began this time by turning the oven on at 200°C – the only reason being that I blithely forgot to consult the article I had read on reverse searing (which advocated 50°C as it turned out).  I think I had a gut feeling that with such a large piece of meat, it was better to deal with a higher temperature.  Also, instead of the 30-minute oven roast … I opted for 40 minutes.  Searing it in an iron saucepan turned out to be a bit of a challenge on account of its shape, which made it wobble.  It wouldn’t sit still  the way the steak did, and in the end I used a fork at either end to curtail its rocking and rolling.

All in all: good results, not difficult to make, and tasted good.  What more could anyone want?

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4It doesn’t look very fetching at this point.

5And, as you can see, its bent shape means that it was difficult to keep still while I heaved and ho-ed getting to sear it.

Use a cast iron saucepan.  My favourite olive oil: Quattrociocchi’s.

8Coat the meat with plenty of salt and olive oil.

9And place it in the iron saucepan only after it has become very hot.

1011There, now.  Finished.

12I am so glad I let it cook in the oven for a little bit more (i.e. 40 minutes instead of 30).

13We had some for dinner that night.  And the rest got put in the freezer, to savour in the not so distant future when the temperatures will soar and we can enjoy it at room temperature with some rocket leaves and shaved parmesan.

15It was nice that evening with mustard and with home-made horseradish.

14Favourite daughter came for dinner that evening and stayed the night.  There were some leftovers for her to take to work.  So that’s another good thing about roast beef .  It can be sliced very thinly and a little goes a long way.

Glossy Baked-Tomato Sauce for a Summer Pasta

When Winter is finally over, and Spring is being enjoyed, all of a sudden I get a craving for Summer.  Weird, isn’t it? My musings based on nostalgia (looking back) somehow have the power to stimulate future-oriented cravings in me.  In this case, the yearning is for a pasta recipe that is eaten at room temperature during the season when tomatoes taste the best: i.e. Summer.  I wrote a post about it I for the “Giardini di Sole” blog but unfortunately it got ‘lost’ in a technical mishap.   All of us at “Giardini di Sole” (Sandy, Libby, Liz and I) love to cook , and we are not beyond the commission of excess in the kitchen department.  Husbands, family and friends don’t seem to mind so I can’t see us reining in any time soon.  This is Liz Macrì’s recipe.

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It was one of the dishes we prepared for our Open House day in the Showroom (SOWA) in Boston in May 2013.

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So, let’s take a look at the ingredients:

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Fresh basil, garlic, Italian or panko type breadcrumbs, olive oil, salt, black olives (pitted), capers and anchovies packed in oil.  Oh! and tomatoes, of course, the little cherry kind, cut in half, the cut half facing the ceiling.  You will also need parchment paper to line the baking trays.  A tip: it is not always that one has access to fabulous tasting tomatoes, so it’s not a bad idea to sprinkle a little sugar over them.

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So … after liberally strewing capers, sliced garlic, sliced olives and ribbons of basil over the tomatoes, douse the tomatoes with olive oil and, finally, sprinkle a dusting of breadcrumbs.

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Don’t forget to sprinkle salt.  I would do this first, actually, now that I come to think about it.  It’s probably best to sprinkle some salt over the tomatoes before you begin doing anything else.

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Pop the trays into a preheated oven, on a fairly low heat, 120°C, and cook until they are ready.  This can take any time between 40 minutes and 1 hour.  It all depends on the oven and the amount of tomatoes being cooked.

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And here they are, looking gorgeous, just out of the oven.  Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, you will have cooked some pasta and drained it when it was very much al dente.  Check the packet for suggested cooking time and drain the pasta 1 minute before. Choose any kind of pasta shape so long as it is short.

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After draining the pasta, spread it out evenly over a clean towel, so that it will cool down quicklier.  Once cooled, drizzle some olive oil (not too much) and mix well. This is to prevent the pasta from sticking together.

If you want to eat the pasta straight away, you can do without the above step.  If, however, you want to eat the pasta later in the day, or even the next day, you can store the pasta in the fridge, sealed with clingfilm.  It’s best not to eat the pasta cold, so remove from the fridge at least one hour before eating.

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This is the dish we brought to our Open House Day.  Good food tastes even better served in beautiful plates!

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IMG_8205And here we were, just minutes before people started coming in to our Open House, May  2013.  From the left: Liz, myself, Sandy and Libby.  Alanna, a close friend and staunch supporter, took this photo.

Buying Olive Oil the Maritime Way

I have become somewhat addicted to the olive oil produced by Quattrociocchi, in the countryside near Alatri, about 40 minutes away by car from Frascati.

IMG_6008My mother has too.  One of my sisters in the UK has too and every time my mother goes over to visit, she takes three to four 3-litre cans of their Olivastro oil with her.  It’s that good.  It is organic. It was won prizes all over the world, indeed I daresay it might even be the olive oil that has won the most prizes globally?.

I did an introduction-to-olive-oil course last year with Marco Oreggia, he of Flos Olei fame.  It was very interesting and I will eventually get around to writing a post about it. Anyway, Quattrociocchi gets 98 out of 100 points in their 2016 Guide (which is the Flos Olei guide I have at the moment).  Just to give you an idea, another olive oil which I love and is very well known and highly thought of,  Marfuga, from Umbria, gets ‘only’ 95 out of 100 points.  The Quattrociocchi olive oils contain phenolic antioxidant levels that are off the charts – which means it is incredibly good for boosting our health.  And at Eu12 per litre I would say that it is also very reasonably priced.  Whatever, we get through their oil as if there were no tomorrow.

Going to fetch the olive oil has frequently turned into a little jaunt for  my mother and me, with lunch being thrown in for good measure.  When my friend Sally came to visit for an all too brief stay last September, it coincided with my having completely run out and needing to go, otherwise I would have postponed, naturally.  The three of us (Sally, my mother and I) got there later than we had hoped for and when reached the restaurant we normally go to, we found out it was its weekly closing day.  The long and the short of it is that we ended up having lunch in one of these ‘Autogrill’ stopover places on the Autostrada (the Motorway). We could have done worse I suppose, and Sally is never one to comnplain anyway, but still …

Which is why, just the other day, the weather being so sunny and promising, I thought I’d surprise my mother as to the location of our post-Quattrociocchi shopping.  She insisted it was her treat, and I insisted I would choose where.  And that’s how we ended up having lunch overlooking the sea at Sperlonga.  Just to make up for our Autogrill lunch of six months ago.

Sperlonga is a very sleepy town in Winter and is not even wide awake now, as it readies itself for the Summer tourist season.  And that made it even more special an atmosphere to  be sauntering about in.  We ended up having lunch at “Il Portico”, very civilised and pleasant.  And all in all, we had a very special mother-daughter outing.  Now, it’s not every day that I take this long and go so far just to  buy some olive oil! But since life can indeed be so busy, and hard or disappointing, or just plain tiring a lot of the time, I try my best to imbue my ‘to-do’ list with ‘to-enjoy’ moments.  I hope you enjoy looking at the photos too.  I just love the sea! I just love the blue skies!

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Sperlonga sits atop two stretches of beach: this one is on its left.  There are the remains of the ancient Roman villa of Tiberius on this beach.  If you look closely on the horizon, on the other hand, you can just about make out the island of Ischia.

1Here, the island of Ischia is much easier to spot – almost floating on the horizon.  This beach is going to be very busy in a few weeks’ time but right now it was just dreamy to behold.  Some intrepid people were even bathing in the sea!

21And this is the stretch of coastline to the right of Sperlonga.  What looks like an island, there on the horizon, is actually the promontory of San Felice Circeo.  It is said that Odysseus/Ulysses was drawn there by the sorceress Circe.  She turned his men into pigs but he was so clever and so damn macho and sexy, I suppose?, that he managed not to be outwitted by Circe and have his men turned back into men again.  They/He enjoyed staying with her for a year before resuming their journey to Ithaca, and he back to his wife Penelope (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circe).

20All of Sperlonga is white-washed. Perched on top of a scraggy promontory to keep safely out of reach of marauding and pillaging Saracens, its streets are very narrow.

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It looks a little ‘Greek’, doesn’ it.  Adore this hue of blue.

18One has to be fit to live here … Can’t imagine people doing a weekly shop here.  More likely a half-day shop!

1716May is the month of roses …

121115My mother enjoyed her fried anchovies.

14I was a little greedier.

10896Love the bougainvillea.

7A huge ficus!

5An olive tree.

Time to go home.  An espresso and off we go.

13The weather is grey and it’s drizzling and the sky is a murky pale grey as I write this post, sigh.  Nothing like the blue of the sky and sea and the dazzle of a sunny day to make life come more ‘alive’.

The poet Ungaretti is famous for his one-liner “Mi illumino d’immenso”, which rolls off the tongue in a very Nabokovian sound-pleasing way in Italian.  Its title is “Mattina”, meaning morning.  It was printed in 1918 for the first time within an anthology entitled “Cielo e mare”, i.e. The Sky and The Sea.  Sometimes it takes a poet to know how to be pithy about the beauty and wonder of life.

Mi illumino
d’immenso.

Quoting from an article in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/may/31/featuresreviews.guardianreview6)

“To Italians, it’s perhaps the most famous poem of modern times: a tiny piece just seven syllables long, four shorter than a single line of Dante. The title is “Mattino” (Morning), and you don’t need to know Italian to catch the beauty of its sound:

M’illumino
d’immenso

A rough translation would be “I flood myself with the light of the immense”, though the vagueness of that is alien to the poem’s terse musicality. The open vowels and the repeated ms and ns create a mood of wonder, evoking the light of a new day starting to flood the sky. The two lines capture something deep in consciousness that responds to this great but commonplace event out there in the external world.

A Searing Saga- Part 2 (Reverse)

In an earlier post, I wrote about a somewhat rambunctious gathering of friends and family during which two big fat steaks were cooked (cooked as opposed to grilled over a BBQ) in my tiny kitchen.  They were first seared on a cast iron griddle, finished off in the oven and then allowed to rest for a few minutes before serving.  This is, I believed, the standard way of cooking a beaf steak. A strong sear and off you go.  And then I read an article about doing things sort of ‘backwards’, i.e. cooking the beef in the oven first and searing it AFTER that experience. The technique is called Reverse Searing or the Finney method.

One of the things I like about me is that I aim to keep things playful in the kitchen and that means trying  anything once (well, most things) even if I am not really convinced, or even if I think I have a recipe down pat already and am very happy with it.   Favourite husband gets consulted in advance about the culinary adventure I am going to embark upon, and gets to act as guinea pig and food critic.  He is also supposed to keep my spirits up as I engage in my daring jaunt and that usually means making sure my glass of wine is replenished and answering the phone.

‘Twas a Sunday night and it had been a somewhat low-key day for us.  And so I went about my experiment in a relaxed upbeat manner.   Take a look.

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The first thing I did was turn the oven on at what I hoped would be 52°C.

1As I waited for the oven to reach the desired temperature, I plonked my nice steak in a cast iron pan that  belonged to my Swedish grandmother (or so my Italian mother told me).  Since my Swedish grandmother was born in 1864 and died in the early 1930s,  this saucepan could literally be about 100 years old!  I treasure this pan and use it only for special occasions.  Also, I had patted the meat with kitchen paper, to get it as ‘dry’ as possible.

2I coated the steam with olive oil and plenty of salt.  On both sides.  Please note: no pepper.

4When the temperature was right, I popped the pan in the oven.

I don’t have a meat thermometer or probe or anything like that.

All I knew was what I had read: and that was that the meat should cook for no less than 30  minutes.  And  30 minutes it was going to be.

8In the meantime, some artichokes had been prepared.

7I made some mayonnaise to accompany the asparagus.

9This is what the steak looked like after its stay in the oven for 30 minutes.

10Some nice juices were being coaxed out of the meat, but very few.

When I was ready with the side dishes and the table had been laid, etc., it was time to sear ahead!

11I put my cast iron griddle over the fire and waited for it to get really hot before laying the steak on it.

12I sprinkled a little paprika on the side facing upwards.

13Meanwhile, I put some fresh rosemary, sage and touch of thyme in the (Swedish) cast iron pan.

14See?

15And then I turned the steak over on the other side.  Looking good already.

16Kitchen not looking so good.  Cough, splutter and goodness me: the smoke was getting to steamy levels. And this is when I am so thankful that I don’t live in countries that impose a smoke-control alarm in the kitchen.  It would have gone off big time within minutes!  I just closed the door and opened the window a little.

And when the other side of the steak was done too, I transferred it to the cast iron pan with the herbs ready in waiting.  I now switched the fire off, and opened the window wide open.

1819I had decided to add some red wine to the cast iron griddle, to use up all the good juices that it contained.  And thank goodness that switching the fire off  is the sort of thing one does automatically.  You would not believe the SIZE of the flame that came out of this little cast iron griddle! Huge! Well above my head! I reacted in a phew-I-am-so-glad-my-reflexes-are-still-sharp manner, by grabbing the handle and removing it from the stove top and waiting for it to subside – but in the meantime I shouted out to my husband, “quick quick! come here!” , just in case we needed a damp towel to deal with the situation.  As it happend, the flame went out of its own accord within seconds with my looking on somewhat tremulously.  I had no idea that a flame could arise with no live fire to set it off!  So, yes, let this be a cautionary tale for all of us.  It’s the steak we want to sear, not our faces or hair!

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Here is the steak, lying on the tasty wine reduction and spontaneous gravy.

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All’s well that ends well, phew.  The wine and griddle combination resulted in a delicious sauce.  I added pepper just before plating the steak.  Pepper doesn’t like being seared. And gives the best of itself and its aroma only when freshly milled.

21The steak looked very inviting.

222324And if you have some delicious bread … plenty of juicy sauce to mop the dish with at the end.

Very nice, very nice indeed.  A very clever way to deal with a steak in a home that does not have a BBQ with which to grill it.  And now that I know that some red wine can set a griddle pan on fire, I will know what to avoid and stay well away from pyromania.

Paschal Lamb Ragù (that’s good any time of year really)

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I dedicate this post to Kathy Ayer because it was with her that I bought some fresh pasta from the town of Artena.  Artena is famous for its bread, as is Lariano, but I reckon its flour makes some of the best fresh pasta I’ve ever tasted, with a delicious bite to it.  We are very lucky to find it at the farmers’ markets in the Castelli Romani.  In Ariccia on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, and near Frascati on Fridays.  She and I were in Ariccia on the Wednesday and I asked the vendor whether the pasta would last until the following (Easter) Sunday.  The answer was yes.  I was to leave the pasta in its plastic container, but the lid was to be kept open.  Hmmm.

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Having always challenged the mantra my mother chanted throughout my childhood, and that is “to trust is very good, to not trust is even better”, I found myself annoyingly assailed by doubts that this pasta would indeed be good enough to eat five days after it had been prepared.  On the other hand, I knew I had plenty of other dry pasta at home so it wasn’t going to be the end of the world if I would have to do without it after all, on the appointed day.

The day was Easter Sunday, and in Italy, despite Berlusconi’s protestations as he had himself photographed hugging a baby lamb, Easter usually does mean lamb.  So I thought I would make a Paschal ragù using lamb and a few asparagus.  I asked the butcher to mince the meat for me (leg of lamb) and kept the bone too, to help with both the sauce AND the water with which to cook the pasta.

Are you ready?  This is not at all a difficult recipe but it does call for a little attention.  It tasted really good, so I shall make it again.  Try it some time.

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The above is about 350g of minced lamb, taken from the leg.  Of course, we are talking about Italian lamb here, agnello or abbacchio, and this is really baby  baby lamb.

INGREDIENTS

Leg of lamb, with the meat minced and the bone chopped into smaller pieces, asparagus stems (use the tips for something else), onion, garlic, olive oil, peppercorns, red wine (white if you prefer), rosemary, sage, mint, butter, parmesan or a mixture of parmesan and pecorino cheese, fresh pasta (dry if you haven’t any), salt and pepper. Two saucepans. One to start the sauce with, and a much larger one for the end results.

The first thing I did was soak the bones in plenty of water:

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The water goes red, so change it once or twice.

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And that’s what the leg of lamb pieces looked like after their bath.  Please note that there is still some meat attached to the bone (not a lot).

6I filled a large pasta pot with water and added bits of the bone that were meat free.

8I added some rosemary and sage to the water, and turned the heat on, with the lid on.

9Chop an onion, and place it in a nice saucepan together with some peppercorns, olive oil and the bits of bone with meat on ’em.  Start cooking, over a low-medium heat.

10Keep an eye on the onions – we don’t want them to go brown.

11When they are golden, remove them and transfer to another saucepan, in anticipation of the grand finale.  A BIG saucepan that will be able to accommodate all the pasta at the end.

12Back to our smaller saucepan.  Carry on cooking the bones, instead, on a lively heat … they will roast to a burnished colour.

1314When the bones have roasted enough, remove them, and deglaze the pan with some nice red wine.  When finished, transfer the juices too to the other, big saucepan.

15Remove as much of the meat from the bones as you can – and this is mighty tricky, let me tell you.  Not at all easy.  I might get the butcher to do it for me next time.

17And add those bones too, now, to the pasta water.

16Chop the meat you managed to remove from the bones.  Pur this chopped meat into the larger saucepan.

18Back to our initial saucepan which is looking rather the worse for wear – but that’s okay, no cause for concern.  Dribble more olive oil and put a couple of roughly squashed cloves of garlic in the pan. Turn the heat on and wait for the garlic to go golden.

19Now add the minced meat.  Sprinkle some salt.  Carry on cooking the meat until it turns a nice brown but not burnt colour.

20And now, this is what the bigger saucepan is up to at this stage: it contains the (1) previously cooked onions, (2) chopped meat I managed to extract from the bones, (3) deglazed juices, and (4) some rosemary needles.  Salt. Sprinkle salt.21

Now add the cooked minced meat to the bigger pan.  I apologise for the angle of this photo but I don’t know why wordpress uploaded it this way.  You’ll have to crick your neck to see it ‘properly’.  No  matter, you get idea, don’t you?

22I added a nice lump of butter.  I do love butter and a little bit of butter works wonders when there is a pasta sauce that does not have a lot of ‘liquid’ (such as tomato sauce) to it. Remove the pan from the heat for now.

24I removed all the bones and herbs from the pasta water.  All these ingredients had been useful as a kind of broth, and had imparted whatever flavour they could. Time to say bye bye.

2325I put the chopped asparagus and the pasta into the boiling cauldron of flavoured pasta water and waited for them to cook.  About 5-6 minutes.  Notice who ‘oily’ the pasta water is!

26Turn the heat back on …

27Drain the pasta and asparagus and put them into the saucepan.  Add some of the cooking water.

28Combine all the ingredients, adding more cooking water if necessary, and then season the pasta with some grated parmesan.  Use a wooden spoon to help you.  Or two large forks.

2930Taste. Taste, taste and taste.  A twist of pepper.  Maybe a little bit more salt? A few mint leaves?

31Serve and enjoy.

There was more grated parmesan on the table for people to add if they wished.

I normally rabbit on about loving the leftovers.  Well, there were no leftovers that Easter Sunday.  We polished off the lot.