Spuds “Royale” – Otherwise Known as Gattò di Patate

I am reposting a post I wrote almost 10 years ago – when Prince William and Kate were about to marry.  Their wedding made me think about the wedding that took place between Marie Antoinette’s sister Maria Carolina and the somewhat eccentric King of Naples, Ferdinand.  And how Parmentier’s eager encouragement of the potato led to even wealthy people now eating the humble spud.  Except that the ingredients that accompanied the potato were far from humble – as befitted aristos.

A Royal Wedding and a misspelled cake – gattò di patate

A Royal Wedding and a misspelled cake – gattò di patate

I was musing over the forthcoming wedding of Kate and Wills the other day and imagining what a nightmare a royal banquet must be these days for the planners and organisers.  Can you imagine! — it’s not just a question of choosing a few dishes and putting a grand menu together, oh no, you’ve got to take into account how ‘gastronomically diverse’  the wedding guests are going to be.  There are bound to be vegetarians,  and not just vegetarians but vegans too, and then there are those who cannot eat pork, and then there are those who are celiac, and then there are those who have intolerances and finally those who are beset by allergies.  And then of top of that, you’ve got make the menu as ‘British’ as possible because royal weddings are as patriotic an event as you can get.  Some things never change.

Flash back to 1768 and picture, if you will then, the Italian brigade of kitchen staff vying with the newcomers, the French chefs, all banding together to plan and prepare for the wedding of Marie Caroline (sister of Marie Antoinette) to Ferdinand, King of Naples.  There is a dish that is typical of the Campania/Naples region called ‘gattò di patate’ made up of mashed potatoes, eggs, butter, cheese and ham.  And it is accepted historical kitchen lore that the dish was specifically ‘invented’ on the occasion of this royal wedding.

It is unclear whether the inventors of the dish were the French or the Italian chefs at court but it is generally agreed that that the dish was indeed created in the royal kichens of Naples and that all the ingredients, save for the very French use of butter of course, were all available locally, all very Sourced-in-Kingdom-of-Naples.

The name ‘gattò’ is a corruption of the French word ‘gateau’ and is not the only kitchen term to have found its way into the Neapolitan culinary parlance … ‘gattò mariaggio’ is what became of ‘gateau du mariage’ and the appellation ‘Monzù’ for a high-ranking chef is how ‘Monsieur’ was rendered in pidgin; croquettes became crocchè and ragout became ragù.  One of the most elaborate, fancy and famous of Neapolitan monzu-inspired dishes is the meatball-filled rice-cake ‘sartù’ which probably derives its name from the French ‘surtout’.   It’s amazing what a royal wedding can spark off, isn’t it!

Anyway, if gattò di patate was good enough for Marie Caroline and Ferdinand, it’s good enough for me!  I love it and so does all the rest of the family.  It can be eaten hot but it’s usually eaten at room temperature.  It can be a meal in itself, accompanied by a crisp and rich salad.  Fantastic for stand-up dinners, for picnics and for parties.

POTATOES – THE MAIN INGREDIENT

Boil some potatoes (as many as you are going to need, be sensible), drain them, and mash them.  There is no need to worry too much about the consistency of the mash, we are not making a purée of mashed potatoes.

Shave some butter … quite a lot of butter actually … in fact, loads of butter … into the mash.  This is for a wedding banquet remember, no one is on a diet.  One variation of this recipe calls for some milk.  I don’t think it needs it, but you decide for yourself.

The potatoes are still very hot, so it’s easy to melt the butter while you mash.  When you have finished, grate some nutmeg into the mash.  Add salt and pepper.

THE OTHER INGREDIENTS

Here on the table are the rest of the ingredients.  Two eggs, ordinary ham cut up into small squares, slices of buffalo mozzarella that has been drained for a bit to get rid of excess liquid (we don’t want our gattò get soggy), grated parmesan cheese, and breadcrumbs (in the white canister behind the ham).  On the right is the oven dish.

ASSEMBLING THE GATTO’

Butter the oven dish all over and then dust with breadcrumbs.

Beat the eggs and add them to the mashed potatoes and mix them in.

Add the grated parmesan cheese and mix it in … Taste the potato mix and make sure you like the taste … add a little salt or pepper if need be (but make sure the pepper is white, not black).

Divide the potato mix into two, more or less equal, amounts.  Then use half the mix to line the oven dish, one serving spoon at a time.

Line the sides of the dish too.  Pat the potato mix down with the spoon and try and make this layer even.

Add the ham.  You could also add salame and mortadella … there are quite a few variations to this recipe as regards cured meats.

Add the mozzarella.  Just so you know, it is also very common to add either provolone or scamorza cheeses at this stage too.  I prefer it without.

Add another whole layer of the potato mix.

Sprinkle breadcrumbs all over the top layer.

Dot this layer with knobs of butter … be generous ….

Stick the oven dish in the preheated oven at 180° centigrade and cook for about 45 minutes.

And here it is just out of the oven.

And this is what it looks like when sliced … silly me, I didn’t take any other photos that would have done justice to this most royal of ‘gateaux’ — the potato cake known as ‘gattò di patate’.  Try it some time — I promise you, you won’t regret it!

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Jo’s Own Carbonara Mayonnaise Tip

Little could Kay Chun imagine what an outpouring of indignation her New York Times recipe for tomato-infused carbonara would unleash, particularly in Italy – it stands to reason.  That said, I follow many non-Italians who know a thing or two about food on Facebook and they were similarly outraged. 

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Being a professional chef, you’d think Kay Chun would have learned a lesson from the oh-woe-is-me response to Gordon Ramsay’s previous revisitation of carbonara on youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5t7JLjr1FxQ), in which he advises the audience to add crème fraiche and smoky bacon to the recipe, as well as a touch of olive oil and, horror of horrors, masses of garlic! Oh and mushrooms too while we’re about it. He mentions  milk for some unaccountable reason.  Fresh peas to round it off. And all of this in order to make it ‘more exciting’. 

Question: what is ‘unexciting’ about carbonara in the first place? 
Another question: why do we have to make recipes more ‘exciting’ than they already are?  Jokes – countless jokes – have been made about bedroom behaviour and the lackadaisical, if not downright pathetic, once-a-week missionary position sex. Fair enough. It’s good to shake things up if that is indeed the case.  The same does not obtain in the kitchen department, however.  A good recipe is just that, GOOD.  Leave it at that.  Do not paint the lily.  Do not gild the lily.  Leave well alone.  However, if your quest for excitement cannot be quenched … well then. Do as you OCD please, by all means.  Add cornflakes if you think it will add a je ne sais quoi, or gorgonzola, why not?  But in the name of good pasta governance, please, please, please, give it another name.  Do not call it carbonara.  Because that is an insult to carbonara.  And by the way, there are some variations on carbonara in Italy too.  I’ve had one with truffles.  There is a seafood version.  And there is a vegetarian version (courgettes).  There cannot be a vegan version because eggs are the whole point of a carbonara.

Actually, in historical or chronological terms, it is the pecorino cheese that has given birth to the main four pasta dishes of Rome and central Italy. 
Number one is “Cacio e pepe” – literally, just pecorino cheese and pepper. 
Number two is the Gricia (adding pork and its fat to the grated pecorino). 
Number three –  by adding tomatoes to the Gricia ingredients, you end up with Amatriciana. 
Number four is the Carbonara.  I place it last on the list because its existence, testifiable existence that is, harks back to just barely after the Second World War and there are all kinds of theories and legends as to how it came to be created. 

All you need to know and accept for now is that a Carbonara has only four ingredients: guanciale, eggs, pepper and pecorino. Important to realise, however, and this will indeed gobsmack many Italians and not just foreigners, is that the recipe for carbonara as we now know and rave about it in Rome, i.e. using guanciale instead of pancetta, not a hint of cream, not a whiff of garlic God forbid!, actually ‘came together’ as late as the 1980s. There were all kinds of previous renditions before this gastronomic apotheosis, and they got thankfully relegated to the “never-again” file of the pasta world.

Ramsay opts for parmigiano. Had he resorted to the preferred cheese for this recipe, i.e. pecorino romano, he could have achieved all the excitement he was after and shortened the shopping list by four ingredients.  And, most of all, not riled the Italians or people of the world who have a healthy respect for unadulterated Italian cuisine.  As for Jamie Oliver, he too should have known better than to add garlic (though he gingerly removes it just before serving, a plus point) but otherwise gets it right (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_2DBLAt57c).  Bravo, phew.

I realise it is can be difficult for some non-Italians to appreciate why many Italians are prickly about renditions of their food by foreigners (and it’s not just foreigners, there is much local and regional interfighting too).  Why they think that drinking a cappuccino after a big meal is sacrilege.  Why, put bluntly, they are so prescriptive about their recipes and the way they eat.  It would take a whole book to consider these issues which is obviously beyond the scope of this post.  I raise the question, on the other hand, because the matter of “cultural appropriation” is finally getting the respect it deserves and I am personally fed up with segments of society who take the piss out of other people’s values.  Case in point, for instance, is The Guardian writer Tony Naylor’s take on Spaghetti Bolognese. The title alone can spark off a heated pasta spat, for in Bologna the sauce is the tried-and-tested traditional accompaniment to egg noodles, “tagliatelle”, and not spaghetti): https://www.theguardian.com/food/2021/jan/29/how-to-eat-spaghetti-bolognese.  I found his stance truly appalling.  I couldn’t get to the end of the article, I found it so annoying.  I expatiated hands-on-hips about it on Facebook, I just couldn’t let it go.  But now that a few weeks have transpired and I have been able to draw some healthy distance from such nuisances both culinary AND cultural, I feel I too can write a post about carbonara in which I offer a couple of tips that I consider helpful.

As mentioned, Jamie Oliver’s technique and ingredients (except for the garlic) are spot on.  I love his passion too, which never hurts when one is cooking. I am a firm believer that our emotions are a vital ingredient in our cooking.  We produce better results when we cook with ease and relaxation or enthusiasm.  Anyway … yes, Jamie Oliver makes it look very easy but in actual fact his technique could be a little physically daunting for some … and the outcome might very well be curdled-carbonara instead of creamy carbonara.

BACKGROUND

It dawned on me one day that making the egg sauce for the carbonara could be thought of as a mayonnaise of sorts, with the fat rendered from cooking the pork jowl standing in lieu of an oil.  And it went from there.

Recently, it also dawned on me, that if one prepares the carbonara sauce the way I am about to tell you, it can – unheard of!!! – actually be prepared in advance, even 24 hours in advance (perhaps more but let’s not push it).  All one has to do is store it in a sealed container n the fridge, the way one does with ordinary mayonnaise.  Now, tell me that isn’t an advantage?

The third advantage is … these TV chefs we all admire (and do indeed merit our admiration of course) … who are they cooking for? Meaning how many people are they cooking for? Right?  That’s right.  Usually one person, maximum two. Now, if you are having people over for lunch or supper and there are going to be six or more of you, say … ha! … what then, eh? What?  All that sautéing business with the saucepan, that acrobatic tossing up in the air and catching of pasta – it can be learned, admittedly, I am not bad at it myself.  But you try doing that with 600g upwards of pasta instead of just 100g or 200g!  Mmm. Not easy.  So … my tip obviates the necessity for such flexing of arm exercise.

Ready? Here we go.

INGREDIENTS – ONLY FOUR OF THEM AND NO MORE! (Well, pasta, water and salt too which makes Seven in all if you want to be picky)

Eggs – First of all, nearly all Roman chefs eschew the use of a whole egg – they use only the egg yolk and that’s how I’ve been making my carbonara for the past ten years now.  1 egg yolk per person plus 1 more if it looks like it will help.  Especially if your eggs are small ones.  (You know how it is with the pot of tea?, same sort of thing. I teaspoon of tea leaves per person plus one for the pot.)

Pasta – 100g per person is a very healthy ‘helping’.  If there are going to be 4 of you, you may as well make that 125g per person so that you use up the whole half-kilo pasta packet.  Spaghetti marry wonderfully well with the carbonara sauce.  I suggest you use short-shaped pasta, such as mezze maniche or rigatoni, when you are making larger amounts.  They are far easier to handle.

Pork fat – Think of 30g/40g of guanciale preferably (otherwise pancetta if can’t find any or, yes, even bacon if that’s all you can get hold of) per person. Watch out though: if the bacon or pancetta are too salty, you might be better off using smaller amounts

Cheese – pecorino romano is the ideal.  If you find this too strong, you could go half and half with parmigiano.  Parmigiano on its own, however, doth NOT a carbonara make.  Carbonara is not for the palate of sissies.  It is robust. So, think of using 1-2 tablespoons of freshly grated pecorino romano per person. Set a little more aside, just in case.

Pepper – toast the peppercorns until their aroma is released (usually less than 1 minute) then bash them about with a mortar and pestle. 

JO’S CRAZY METHOD

(1)The first thing to do, is put the water on to boil.  Then slice the guanciale and cook it over a low heat so that it renders all its fat.

(2)While this is happening, place the egg yolks and pecorino in a processor.

(3) When the fat has rendered, allow it to cool a little, and then pour it over the cheese followed by the egg yolks.  Set the cooked guanciale aside.  If you are going to be eating the carbonara straight away, place it in a large bowl.  If you are going to eat the following day, place it in a sealed glass jar in the fridge.

(4) The water should be boiling by now.  Add 10g of salt per litre of water. Put the pasta in to cook for as long as it takes to reach a pleasing ‘bite’, what’s known as ‘al dente’ – as opposed to overcooked mush!  Follow the instructions on the pasta packet but use your own judgement. And decide when the pasta is indeed cooked to your satisfaction.

(5)  Half way during the cooking of the pasta, or when you are 5 minutes into the cooking, remove about 1 cupful of the cooking water. And set it aside to cool down somewhat.

Time to blitz!

(6) Process the rendered fat, egg yolks and cheese.  The consistency should be thick.  Now add some of the cooking water, a tiny bit at a time.  Taste.  Does it need a little bit more cheese? Yes, no? If so, add a bit more pecorino.  Process again.  Until you reach a beautiful creamy consistency.  Now add the pepper to finish it off.

Again, just as suggested above with the cooked guanciale, you can use this sauce straight away, or else safeguard it in the fridge in a sealed glass jar for use the following day.

(7) Pour the carbonara cream into the large bowl and place it where it’s handy for you.

(8) Because you still have some water reserved from the cooking water, you can drain the now-cooked pasta into the sink.  Alternatively you can add the cooked pasta, a little a time, directly into the large bowl that is ready and waiting.

(9) Use one or two wooden spoons to make sure all the pasta is coated with the sauce (none of that tossing).

(10) Sprinkle a little more pecorino on top and serve.

Here are the photos.

Below … I am slicing the guanciale, and I’ve put the water on to boil.

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Above is my mise-en-place.  I have weighed 200g of pasta.  There are the three eggs that I am going to deal with, separating the egg yolks from the egg whites.   And I’ve just used the small food processor to grate some pecorino.

And below is the glass bowl I will use.  Mortar and pestle.  And a little cup for the cooking water.

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Next:

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On the left I am cooking the slices of guanciale over a low heat.  On the right I am lightly toasting the peppercorns.

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Once the guanciale has toasted to a delightful crispness, I transfer it to the large bowl in which I shall season my pasta once it has cooked.

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I wait for the rendered fat to cool down a little, and then I put it in the processor together with the grated pecorino.

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The water has come to a boil, I add the required salt.  I put the pasta in the boiling water.  (Please ignore the steaks … they have nothing to do with the carbonara.)

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The pasta is cooking merrily away.  I have bashed the peppercorns to my sastisfaction.  I have added three egg yolks and some pepper to the processor.  The egg whites will go in the fridge – I might even freeze them.

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I have blitzed the egg yolks, fat and pecorino.  I taste the mixture and decide it needs a little more pecorino.

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More blitzing.

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Time to add a little of the cooking water.  It is still hot, but it’s not boiling.

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I add a teensy more cooking water and my crazy mayonnaise-carbonara sauce is practically done!  How easy was that?

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I pour all the sauce into the large bowl containing the guanciale.

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I drained the pasta in the sink.  Now it’s ready to go into the bowl.

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And here is my daughter mixing the cooked pasta with the sauce.  Using a wooden spoon.  No tossing with fear of tumbling – just steady stirring.

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As you can witness for yourself … it’s as creamy as can be.  No dreaded curdling!

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Ready to be dived into but not scarfed down (never hurry a carbonara ….).

PS I have ordered a book by Luca Cesari all about the history of pasta recipes and their origin, “Storia della Pasta in Dieci Piatti”. He rages against ‘gastropurists’ who think they know all there is about a recipe without any real proof of how it came about.  I can see I am one of those who will get their knuckles rapped if I’m not careful, ha ha!!!

 

 

Oranges and Chicken Breast

Years ago I wrote of a way to brighten up drab chicken breast – it made sense then, it makes sense now. Basically it’s about adding some zest to your chicken breast.

So I am reposting: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/the-doleful-door-stop/

zest

The Doleful Door Stop – Chicken Breast and Orange Slices

Posted on December 19, 2010 by myhomefoodthatsamore

I had started this piece a nearly a week ago but my temperamental computer went into awry mode and had to be taken to the computer doctor to get better.  As a result, especially in terms of efficiency, the last few days have been a little befuddling for me and it was brought home to me how important it is for us, when we are in a bit of a hurry, to be able to put together something nice for dinner without a lot of fuss.  So I do hope the dish I am proposing will impress its ease upon you as it did upon my daughter when she first started cooking for herself.

BACKGROUND STORY

It just so happened in her second year of university that she ended up spending a few months living with my sister (herself no slouch in the stove department) and they took it in turns to prepare supper and got on, culinarily speaking, very well indeed as a whole.  When I chanced staying with them for a few days, and the three of us were deciding what to eat one evening, my daughter proposed we cook “petto di pollo”, i.e. slices of chicken breast that one cooks in a frying pan.  I would have gone with that proposal, thinking it a very good idea, but my sister looked totally unconvinced and so we opted for something else.  We had a repeat performance from her the following day, and then again after that, at which point I found myself somewhat perplexed – this unwillingness to go along with a suggestion was not the normal behaviour of my very easy-going and sweet natured sister.  My daughter and I shrugged our shoulders and exchanged glances of bewilderment.  Later that evening, my daughter confided to me that my sister would never let her make “petto di pollo”.  Strange indeed but there were more interesting and other important topics of conversation for us to share and so we left it at that.  The matter would have rested there, I suppose, had not I stayed with them again some time later; on this occasion, I maternally stepped in, in favour of my daughter’s proposal and insisted we have “petto di pollo” for supper.  “I don’t know how you can bear to eat petto di pollo!”, my sister complained.  To which both of us answered that, true, it may not be the food of the Gods but there was nothing wrong with it either, a very suitable midweek dish if ever there was one.  My sister looked at us as though she were indulging a set of very wayward children who wanted to be difficult at all costs.

Picture her face, then, when she unwillingly consented to put some of this fare into her mouth!  She shut her eyes, re-opened them with a startled gaze, and let out all kinds of sounds of enjoyment as she chewed and swallowed.  Now it was my daughter’s and MY turn to be unconvinced … was she pulling our legs?

No, no she wasn’t.  She was loving every minute of it, it tasted divine.  She wanted to cry.  “I wish I had known it tasted so good, I would let you make it countless times!  You see, whenever I conjured up visions of “petto di pollo”, I thought of what they used to serve us at school … yuck!  It was like a wedge … all horrible consistency, and dry texture, so difficult to swallow, and it just wouldn’t go down your gullet.  It was just like eating a door stop.”  Hence the title of this blog.

For such an easy recipe, this dish does require a basic but very important approach that should never be taken for granted — and that is how and when to flour a piece of meat prior to cooking and how much oil, butter or clarified butter to use to avoid the dreaded door-stop effect.  The other tips or hints concern how to peel an orange if you want to cut it in round slices and last and never least, how to look after your fingers when chopping anything with a large knife.

Repeat: this is a very easy recipe but in order to show you how easy it is, I have had to take a massive amount of photos.  So I shall provide ingredients and instructions first and photos after, okay?  Okay.  And every time you cook this dish, which can be done using lemon instead of orange, or butter and sage instead of those, or yet again some slices of ginger and olive oil only, remember our manifesto: we eschew the door-stopper in favour of the show-stopper.

INGREDIENTS

OSP: Oil (extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil), salt and pepper

Thin slices of chicken breast

Some flour to dust the chicken before cooking it

2 oranges

Optional for today’s recipe is the Radicchio (this is a chicory too! – remember my last blog on cicoria and my dilemma with all things chicory?). The variety I used is called “radicchio di Treviso” and I like it because it takes no time to cook and is not as bitter as some of its chicorial cousins.

PROCEDURE

When it comes to sautéing any meat the Western way, not the high-heat Wok way, it is indispensable that there be PLENTY of fat to coat the meat and prevent it from going dry and rubbery and ‘orrible.

The clever cook always knows what size of pan is required every time he or she is going to cook meat this way.  A smaller pan for less meat, a larger pan for a greater amount of meat.  It’s only a question of logic.

The rule of thumb is the following: make sure the entire bottom of the pan is covered in either olive oil or melted or clarified butter, depending on your preference.  And don’t worry about the amount of fat: you do not have to eat it all, you can leave what you don’t like behind.   I love fat myself and don’t have a problem with it but some people do and it disgusts them.  So, repeat, eat however much you like and leave the rest on the plate.  HOWEVER, unless you use LOTS of fat when sautéing the food … you will end up with some inedible lump of meaningless meat … and that would indeed be a waste as well as a pity.

(1)  Put some flour in a large plate or bowl so that you can easily dredge each slice of meat in the flour, pressing down firmly on both sides.  And by firmly, I mean firmly.  Press hard with your fingers.  Then shake off the excess flour.  IMPORTANT: do not attempt to do this in advance, it will spoil the dish.  The meat must be dredged in flour only just before it is to be cooked.  So remember the importance of timing …

(2) The oil doesn’t even need to be very hot when you put the slices of meat in it and indeed you don’t want to apply a high heat, a medium one will do.  You turn the slices of chicken breast over ONCE only, when they are done on the first side.  When they are cooked on both sides, that is the time to pour the orange juice over the meat and cover the pan with a lid for a couple of minutes.  Add salt and pepper towards the end and serve.

One last detail: depending on the amount of chicken fillets to be served at the dinner table, you will probably be cooking the meat in batches of a few slices at a time.  If so, remove the first batch of cooked slices from the pan and transfer to a serving dish temporarily.  Cook the second batch and transfer to the serving dish and ditto if there is a third batch.  At that point, when finished, put all the slices of chicken breast back into the pan, turn up the heat and now pour the orange juice over them.

This is one of the oranges: cut it in half and set aside.  Peel the other orange, trying to remove as much of the white stuff as possible (I know it’s good for you but in this recipe we don’t want it).

Here is the other orange: sliced into rounds — set this aside too.

Now pour the olive oil into the frying pan …

See?  The bottom of the frying pan is entirely covered with olive oil.

FLOURING THE PETTO DI POLLO

Press down very firmly on one side …

Turn the fillets over on the other side and …

press down very firmly on the other side too …

Shake off the excess flour.

THE COOKING BEGINS

Don’t be in a hurry … place each fillet gently, one at a time …

There is the radicchio in the background ready to be chopped …

The fillets are cooked on one side, now turn them over on the other side (turn them over only once!)

When cooked on both sides, transfer to a serving dish for a few minutes.  Now it’s time to use the oranges:

Slide them gently in … the oil isn’t at a fierce temperature but it’s still hot!

Turn the orange slices over once too, using a set of tongs ..

Slide the chicken fillets back into the saucepan …

Add salt and pepper to your liking … Then fetch the other orange that you had halved in two and ..

Squeeze hard and get as much of the juice out of the orange … and then cover the saucepan.

Cook on a low heat for a few minutes to allow the chicken fillets to absorb the citrus flavours and in the meantime:

Chop the radicchio.  Please notice how I tuck in the fingertips of my left hand to keep them out of harm’s way!  Knives can be very dangerous so please please please ALWAYS keep your fingertips curled under (as above) when chopping anything …

Almost ready …

That black “thing” you see on the right-hand side is a black peppercorn.  I just adore black peppercorns and sneak them into nearly everything I cook because I think they impart a je-ne-sais-quoi to any preparation.  But that’s just me, you don’t have to.  The reason I mention it is because that peppercorn in the photo could be mistaken for an insect or something nasty …

Aren’t those colours simply gorgeous!!! (yellow and red just like the colours of the Roma football club)

Use a wooden spoon to carely mix the ingredients together.

TIME TO SERVE!

Transfer the chicken fillets cooked with slices of oranges and with orange juice and chopped radicchio di Treviso to a serving dish, one at a time.  (It might be an idea to keep the serving dish in a hot oven prior to this …)

However hard I try, I always manage to get things a little messy on the plate but ….

All one has to do is get hold of a napkin or some paper towel and wipe the rim of the plate clean before serving.

Petto di pollo all’arancia: and may your dinners always be good!

ROAST CHICKEN SAUNA

Do you want super-soft silky-smooth and, also and especially, crispy-skinned roast chicken?

Then you might want to give it a sauna before roasting it.

Let me explain.  I’ve said this before but years ago I read about a technique for cooking duck.  This entails boiling it for a good 40 minutes, then draining it until it dries.  And, last, popping it into a hot oven – without any oil or butter required because the bird’s reserves of fat are a surfeit of plenty.  The duck is moist within, and crispy without.  So, I thought to myself, why not try the same thing with a chicken.  Did it work?  Yes, it worked.  Why bother? you might well ask – there are plenty of other ways to achieve a succulent proper roast chicken (including brining) .  My answer is – try it first and then come to your own decision.

The technique is risibly easy. 

(1) The chicken needs to be steamed for 20-30 minutes or until cooked without any need of pampering – just the chicken.  (2) When cool enough to handle, transfer the chicken to a roasting pan.  Place some lemon and rosemary in its cavity. Sprinkle salt and drizzle it with olive oil.  (3) The oven has to be preheated to 200° C.  Roast until cooked, which will take about one hour (this depends on the size of the chicken). 

Repeating the first line of this post: Do you want super-soft silky-smooth but crispy-skinned roast chicken? To which I add: and you get some delicious gravy out of it too?  Who could wish for more!

Positives: ease of preparation (no fuss), delicious results, can be steamed the day before and left in the fridge until the next day, incredible texture both of its flesh and its skin.

To bear in mind: the time factor.  The chicken needs to be steamed for 30 mintues and cooked for about 1 hour.  You can be doing the crossword puzzle or an ordinary puzzle or email a friend, or read a book or magazine while all this is going on.  It requires hardly any supervision.

I served the chicken with plain spinach and not-at-all plain mushrooms.  The steaming of the chicken delivered a kind of chicken broth. I wasn’t about to throw that away.  So I used the broth to boil some potatoes.  I then mashed the potatoes and hashed them into a potato cake.  Not just a potato cake – a woderful potato cake according to my husband who is not usually much of a ‘potato’ guy.  High praise indeed.

THE RAW CHICKEN

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Here it is perched on a bamboo steaming basket nestling inside a dutch oven.  

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I decided to add some rosemary and sage to the pot. That’s pretty much all I have on my balcony just now. I then added enough water to reach the top of the steaming basket base, put the lid on the pot, turned the heat on and forgot about it for about 30 minutes.

THE CHICKEN AFTER THE SAUNA

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The chicken has gone a very pale white and is very hot. You can’t see it in the photo, but the base of pot contained quite a bit of liquid.

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I transferred the still-hot chicken to the roasting pan. Liberally sprinkled salt (no pepper – I prefer that for later, so that the pepper can give off its lovely scent when freshly milled). I also drizzled some olive oil all over the chicken. The cavity I filled with half a lemon cut in two and some fresh rosemary.

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Here is a close-up.

I put the chicken in the oven and switched the heat on to 200°C. This is not normal practice. The done thing, usually, is to pre-heat the oven. But, since it was already cooked, I wasn’t too bothered.

THE ROASTED CHICKEN

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It smelt divine …. Roast chicken is a happy-inducing smell.

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Okay, okay, I realize that in my enthusiasm I am putting up too many photos maybe. It’s just that I am trying to show you how crisp the skin turned and how much gravy seeped through to the bottom of the oven pan.

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And no photo can do justice to the whiteness of the chicken’s flesh, nor its suppleness and softness.

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Plenty of gravy … good to add the spinach now.

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The spinach had been blanched and roughly chopped. The spinach loved its puddle of gravy and absorbed all the lovely tastes.

SAUNA BROTH POTATO CAKE

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As mentioned, here are the potatoes being boiled in the broth that had resulted from the steaming of the chicken earlier.

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Once the potatoes had cooked (absorbing all the broth I might add), I mashed them.  I then added some salt and rosemary and started sautéing them with some olive oil over a fairly high heat.

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And voilà – we have very tasty potato pancake or cake or whatever we want to call this.

In conclusion – I would not go out of my way to steam a chicken just so as to be able to make use of its broth to cook potatoes! But, since I DID have that broth left over, there was no point wasting it, no?

The Fried Tagliatelle Dish Invented by the Town of Monterubbiano

There is a little hilltop town in the Marche Region of Italy called “Monterubbiano” – and it was the birthplace of my late mother-in-law Maria who moved to Rome in her late teens. Her husband, also from the Marche but resident in Rome since the age of fifteen, decided to buy a house there when he retired and it became the go-to summer holiday place for me and my husband and our two young children. The Marche can boast a fabulous cooking tradition and set of dishes, including seafood. This little town invented a dish. One that is laborious to make, and every summer some of the women organise a street-food festival highlighting it. Punters, holiday-makers and residents all queue up for this dish (and other foods) and enjoy eating outdoors and making revelry.

There is also a band playing old-fashioned and outdated songs and children like to run around and some older people like to dance. During the three or four nights that the “Tagliatelle Festival” takes place, we who resided there slap bang in the middle of the village would moan and groan (oh so entitled!) that we were forcibly prevented from parking close to home in order to allow safe space for all the trestle tables when we came back from a day at the seaside. But all in all, it was a minor nuisance. The real ‘nuisance’ – and funnily enough the word is somehow related to the word ‘noise’ – was the live bands’ frequent renditions (covers) of internationally well-known hits, generating a lot of eyebrow raising and sniggering. One of the singers who was actually pretty okay went by the name of “Claudia Forever” – but we did sometimes wish she wouldn’t keep singing ‘forever’ when the town clock rang in its 13 chimes to mark 1 a.m. Mid-August in Monterubbiano, no one gets to sleep before 1 a.m. – not unless you have ear plugs. After a nasty earthquake damaged the town clock, the one saving grace was that it could no longer boom out the 13 chimes at 1 a.m (12 to mark midnight, you see, and 1 to mark the first hour of the day).

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The force behind the Tagliatelle Festival – which in Italian is rendered by the word “Sagra” – so let’s call it Sagra from now on – is that indomitable woman, Liana.

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A good, great, generous, kind, witty, with-it, sharp, thoughtful lady and great friend of my mother-in-law. The 15th of August is a national holiday in Italy and it is dedicated to Mary, Jesus’s mother. Well, despite being swept off her feet by her to-do list for that day, Liana never, not once, ever forgot to swing by our place with a bunch of flowers for Maria, my mother-in-law, on her name-day. On other days, she might bring her famous cake, a ‘ciambellone’. Below are some photos of her teaching my sister-in-law outside in our courtyard.

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She is a great cook and numbers (or bad weather! don’t forget we are talking about al fresco dining here, rain can ruin the whole Sagra shindig) never faze her. When my father-in-law turned 90 almost two years ago, we asked her to prepare the slap-up lunch for 60 of us – why would we even dream of going to a restaurant when we have Liana? Just to be clear, Liana does have other helpers …. Even she can’t do it all on her own! Below is a photo of Liana and her co-caterers digging into their lunch after serving everyone else. The photo, the only one I took (!), does no credit whatsoever to their sense of humour, their team spirit and all the fun they had while preppaing, cooking and serving. Shame on me for not taking a better photo.

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The proceeds from the sale of the Sagra delle Tagliatelle Fritte go to sponsoring the local Sports Cooperative. About thirty years ago, disaster struck Liana’s life. Her husband went to fetch their son who was away at university one evening, and a road accident killed both of them. She has another son, a footballer. We rarely speak of this but sometimes she did comment, that the pain, the pain never goes away. And yet when you meet her she is all sunshine and smiles and asking after your life – the very opposite to those “I-me-and-myself” people who inhabit our world (I’m sure you know a few yourself). I have no words to do justice to describing her – the only word that comes to mind is the pedestrian “amazing”. So, for me you see, tagliatelle fritte are all about the incredible Liana.

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Delicious though they are, these fried tagliatelle balls are incredibly filling and I don’t usually manage to eat more than maximum two! There used to be a restaurant in Monterubbiano called “Pazzi” which laid claim to the origin of the recipe – but we’ll never know. Now, if you want to enjoy a tagliatella fritta – and not just during the summer sagra – you can enjoy them at the only eatery left in the village (the population of villages in Italy sadly dwindles from year to year). The place is called “Il Coccaro” and it’s worth going there just for the view of the surrounding hills and the sea in the distance. Click on the link below and take a look. http://www.ilcoccaro.it/ .

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As for Chindanai (remember? my post on chicken liver and my picky eater/gourmet inclined nephew?) he can never get enough of them. The photo was taken in 2012 – the same year Liana was interviewed by a local TV group. If you wish, you could watch the video even if you don’t understand Italian – it’ll give you an idea of the whole ‘atmosphere’. Go to 1 minute 50 to get straight to the point.

2012

Cauliflower Cheat Cannelloni

Today is “martedì grasso”, Italian for Mardi Gras which is French for the English Shrove Tuesday. A day when the pancake or crepe rules supreme. The recipe I am about to show you actually harks back to last December but seems to be appropriate enough for today’s pancake theme. 

I am dedicating the first part of the recipe to my friend Victoria Bonadonna.  Victoria is convinced that béchamel is something difficult to make.  This is to persuade her otherwise. 

HACKING BECHAMEL

Version 1:

I wrote about the beauty of this white sauce in an old post: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/the-queen-of-sauces/.  Follow that recipe and you can’t go wrong.  Then, only about a year ago, I decided to ‘experiment’. 

Version 2:

What I did was put the entire list of the ingredients in the saucepan, cold milk included, ALL AT ONCE (horror, shock!), turn the heat on, and hope for the best.  Yes, it did require my stirring a little, especially at the beginning when it’s important to combine the flour with the milk.  But that was it.  Lo and behold, a few minutes later, life presented me with a perfectly good white sauce, aka béchamel.

Version 3:

A twist on either version above … Remember my last post and my nephew Chindanai’s aversion to dairy?  Well, who says we can’t make béchamel with another liquid – it does not have to be milk!  If you are simmering vegetables, use the water they cooked in in place of the milk.  It won’t  be quite the “white queen of sauces” but it will do very well.  Alternatively, you could go half-and-half (half milk, half vegetable broth).  I suppose if you’re vegan you could use olive oil instead of butter?

So much for making béchamel.  Onto my recipe for Cauliflower Cheat Cannelloni

THE PROBLEM WITH CAULIFLOWER

There is no problem whatsoever with cauliflower – if you like or love it that is.  I have commented more than once on how I, Jo the great lover of vegetables, who tends to describe herself as “a vegetarian who eats a lot of meat”, well … on how I, instead, remain underwhelmed by this pretty–looking cruciferous.  It’s become quite the ‘thing’, hasn’t it? over the last few years, someone should write a book about the human capital involved in its popularity, running neck to neck with that of avocado.  Roasted cauliflower, cauliflower steaks, cauliflower soup (just the thought makes me gag), cauliflower couscous, cauliflower rice, cauliflower curry.  The way I see it, cauliflower always needs a lot of help, it does not do well ‘solo’.  I am trying, however, I really am (8 out of 10 for effort) and my quest for a delicious riff on cauliflower somehow brought me to creating this recipe.  I think laziness played a big part too.

THE MAKING OF A RECIPE

I resorted, for inspiration, to my great love of the recipe involving pancakes called “crespelle alla fiorentina” – which has become quite the family favourite over the years: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/florentine-crepes-crespelle-alla-fiorentina/ – but it is also quite the labour of love.  Pancakes have to be made, béchamel has to be made, a tomato sauce has to be prepared, spinach has to be cooked and ricotta left to drip, and, last, plenty of parmigiano has to be grated (I hate hate hate grating cheese, despite the availability in my home of many types of cheese graters).

What I had on my hands were the following: cauliflower, sausage and mozzarella.  Sausage will perk up any insipid ingredient, I knew sausage alone would save the day.  The cauliflower had to be pre-cooked and I could use its cooking water to make a béchamel.  But did I really want to go to the trouble of making fresh-pasta cannelloni sheets or else, alternatively, pancakes? No.

TORTILLAS TO THE RESCUE

Where am I going with this, you must be wondering.  Okay. Okay.  Let me try and explain.  My birthday last year had a Mexican theme and I found myself with a good number of tortillas left over in my store cupboard.  They had to be eaten up.  Maybe I could save myself a lot of trouble and use them, the way I use pancakes to make “crespelle alla fiorentina”? Instead of making pancakes from scratch, i said to myself, why not utilise those tortillas? I still had to make a quick and simple tomato sauce, and I still had to great the parmigiano but that’s par for the course.  Sigh. 

My father in law really loved it!  And I shall be making it again I am sure.  It’s a versatile dish.  Look at it this way, if you remove the sausage, it’s totally vegetarian.  Remove the butter, parmigiano and sausage and it’s vegan (in which case I don’t know how you would amp up the tastes that sausage meat and cheeses confer).  And on top of it tasting good and satisfying your hunger, it also gives you cause to become all superior as you hold forth to your friends, whether you be omnivore, vegetarian or vegan, on the health benefits of it all.

INGREDIENTS

Cauliflower, nutmeg, butter, flour, cauliflower ‘broth’ (i.e. the water the cauliflower cooked in), olive oil, sausage, mozzarella, parmigiano, garlic, tomato sauce – and not forgetting Mexican tortillas !!!

The first thing to do is turn the oven on at 180°C. That is if you intend to prepare and cook straight away. You could always prepare this earlier in the day, and cook it later in the evening.

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First things first – boil the cauliflower in salted water. Careful to drain the cooked cauliflower with a slotted spoon into a bowl – you want to keep the cooking water. Allow it to cool.

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Next, make the tomato sauce. A very simple one. Sauté some garlic or onion (you choose) in olive oil, add the plum tomatoes, salt and any fresh herb of your choice. Simmer for at least 20 minutes, to develop the full, friendly, tomato-y taste. Should it be too ‘acidic’, just add a pinch of sugar or, better still, a new approach, a pinch of bicarbonate of soda. Works a treat in dealing with acidity!

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Here is the cauliflower béchamel. Look up the link above on how to make the ordinary béchamel and then adapt it. In a nutshell: 1 part of flour and butter to 10 times their weight in milk/broth. So for instance: 30g butter, 30g flour and 300ml liquid. Easy, no?

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Here is the mozzarella, slice it up and set aside. Also, grate a good amount of parmigiano. Set aside, ready in waiting.

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This looks like a mess – granted. What I did was: sauté some garlic in olive oil, and add the sausage meat I had removed from its casing and roughly chopped. I most probably added a splash of wine at some point when the sausage meat had almost cooked, and then added the previously cooked cauliflower. I can’t work out what those green ‘bits’ are … thyme? rosemary? We’ll never know. Salt and pepper and taste, taste, taste. It’s okay for the cauliflower to get all ‘mushy’, don’t worry. Add some of the béchamel to the mix and combine well.

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Time to assemble! Place the tortillas for a short while in the oven so that they become nice and soft before using them. Spoon in the stuffing, and roll the tortillas/fake cannelloni. Smear the oven pan with a layer of the béchamel and then lay each tortilla down, seam side down.

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I seemed to have a lot of stuffing on my hands so I placed some on top of tortillas too – and, finally, the mozzarella.

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A full coat of béchamel all over the tortillas and then the tomato sauce.

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Yes – plenty of freshly grated parmigiano.

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Pop the Cauliflower Cheat Cannelloni in the oven and bake for about 40 minutes? To be honest, I can’t remember. But you’ll know when they’re done.

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What do you reckon? Inviting?

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There was some leftovers for the day after too – another bonus. I expect one could prepare these in advance and freeze them until required.

Maybe even pitta bread might work, who knows? But I reckon the tortillas work better ….

Chicken Liver Paté for Chindanai and – while we’re at it – the Real Need for Beeswax Wraps

As mentioned in my previous post, my husband will not eat liver, which is a shame because – even if I say so myself – I make a pretty good Tuscan-style chicken liver paté. 

My friend Liz and I asked a proper Tuscan butcher, from the Bacci butchery in Lastra a Signa (see link at the bottom for the post on Chinanina meats) how he made his paté and I just take it from there.  When I say, I ‘take’ it from there in the present tense, let’s just say the intervening six years since that consultation with the butcher have played their part in undermining my once excellent memory.  What I do remember as fact is the use of onion and fresh sage leaves (which must be removed before puréing the livers).  I add fresh rosemary too.  “Fact” when it comes to chicken liver patés in Italy always seems include anchovies and capers.  Some use butter, others do not, preferring olive oil. Cognac is used in the United Kingdom.  In Italy, it is more the case of a sweet wine, a dessert wine.  And that’s to detract from the overly bitter taste of the livers themselves.

So, who is Chindanai? He is my nephew, and the son of my former brother-in-law Enrico.  Enrico is a self-made chef and ran two restaurants in Rome and Marino which sadly did not have a happy ending, the economy of these past few years being what it is.  Dire.  He is still in the restaurant/food business and hopefully success will catch up with him, he certainly deserves it.  We were talking patés a few years ago and I asked how his mother made it (apparently hers is a real benchmark) and that is when anchovies and capers were reconfirmed.  And then when I mentioned the dessert-wine bit, he came up with genius alternative.  Not everyone has dessert wine lying about at home so …. So, use grated apple instead, to add the sweet note.  Yay! Which is what I’ve been doing ever since.

Fortunately my daughter loves my chicken liver paté; I often make it for her when I know she’s coming over, in quite large batches, so that she can take some home with her and freeze it.  The rest I scoff all on my lonesome self.  Until one day Chindanai’s mother told me that, actually, he too was very fond of the stuff.  So of course I gave her some to take to him,  And he pronounced it very good, very good indeed.  Chindanai, having grown up with (a) foodie Dad (hate the word ‘foodie’ but sometimes it comes in handy) and (b) not-at-all-slouch-in-the-kitchen Mum Nadia, is a bit of a pain the the backside when it comes to meal preferences.  In that there are certain ingredients he shuns (dairy for instance, and that’s maybe on account of his being of Thai origin);  then there are perfectly tasty ‘normal’ dishes that he finds utterly unconvincing  and beneath his discenrning palate; last, when it comes to dishes that he does indeed like, Glory Halleluyah, well, they have to be prepred ‘just so’.  A young gourmet in the making (he will be twent-four later this year).  You will therefore appreciate how chuffed I was to have his benediction in the paté department.

My son groans every time I tell him a dish is ‘easy’ to prepare.  Well, this IS easy to prepare.  And very cheap too.  Cheap and most cheerful.

INGREDIENTS

Chicken livers, olive oil, fresh sage, fresh rosemary, 1 apple , salt-dried capers, anchovies packed in oil, butter.  Optional: cognac or a dessert wine.

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Surprise! I didn’t have an apple on me that day.  Only a pear.  So what’s wrong with pears? Nothing.  Did it turn out just as well as with the apple? Answer: yes.  

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I spy with my little eye something beginning with B, hmmm I wonder what that could be?  That would be Brandy.  Italian run-of-the-mill brandy that I use for cooking.  The brandy may not be chee-chee but the cut-glass bottle is, wouldn’t you agree. I have peeled the pear and very roughly cut it up.

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Start by sweating and sautéing the chopped onion in olive oil.

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Add the chicken livers, soon after, when you feel like it.

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Add the capers and the fresh herbs, straight away after that and cook away.

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After the chicken has cooked for a few minutes, let us say around 8-10 minutes or at least when the inside is not longer ‘bloody’, add the pears.

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Add the anchovies, turn the heat up, and finally pour some brandy and cook for a further minute or so.

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Livers have cooked, as has has the pear, anchovies have ‘melted’.  Turn the heat off.  Remove the rosemary and the sage (which I didn’t, as you can espy in this photo, but really you ought to) and add a good dollop of butter.  Which will obviously melt with the heat of it all.

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Wait for the mixture to cool somewhat, then process. Taste, add salt and pepper if necessary. Taste, taste, taste until you achieve your heart’s content.

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You can serve the paté warm … with delicious bread or crackers.

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And if you need to set aside for a while, cover it NOT with clingfilm. Please. At the risk of sounding who-do-you-think-you-are self-righteous, please can I plead with you to try and use less plastic from now on? I don’t always succeed, I have to be truthful, but I am doing my best. The above pretty avocado-decorated ‘coverlet’ is a present from friends in Australia, the newly-wed young couple Beatrice and Paul (and he a chef). They sent it to me as a present together with their Christmas card. So sweet of them. My friend from New Zealand, Alison, she too brought me over a few of these when she last came – so obviously they are making great inroads in the Southern Hemisphere. Wish I could find more of them here. I believe the correct name is “re-usable beeswax wraps”.

On the other hand, another sweet young friend, the most wonderful creative Mélanie Iorio, mother of two toddlers, has created a beeswax ‘bag’ for storing foods in the fridge or larder or pantry. Look her up on instagram – the brand name is “saccomattobio”, which means “crazy bag” in Italian. The design and decorations are gorgeous! Below is her website. And below that the link the post about the butcher in Lastra a Signa.

And below that still is yet another link (will the links NEVER stop in this post!, you may well ask). One of my favourite old movies is “Funny Girl”. The scene in which Omar Sharif tries to seduce Barbra Streisand in an elegant restaurant. At one point in the duet, he enquires whether she would like a bit of paté? Her answer, not knowing what it is he is offering her, is “Oh I drink it all day”. Nonchalance.

https://www.saccomattobio.com/?v=cd32106bcb6d

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/the-chianina-shop-at-lastra-a-signa/

Jo-Proof Orange Cake

Knock knock!
Who’s there?
Banana.
Banana who?

Knock knock!
Who’s there?
Banana.
Banana who?

Knock knock!
Who’s there?
Banana.
Banana WHO?

Knock knock!
Who’s there?
Orange who?
Orange-you glad I didn’t say banana again? Ha ha.

I couldn’t resist dredging up this old knock-knock joke because I made an orange cake the other day.  And that’s what this post is all about. And the first thing you have to know is that making cakes is not my culinary forte. I baked this cake out of wifely love.

My husband is a good eater and there is very little he won’t bite into (liver and innards, bluntly put) so he is generally a pleasure to cook for.  Additionally, although raised in Rome on your typical, very good Roman-mamma menus, he has always been open and even eager to try out recipes and foods from other cuisines – and, again, there is very little he won’t appreciate. When we had lunch in Abu Dhabi once, he ordered a camel hamburger for instance.  He still raves about the tomato soup  and railway lunch we were served on the train from New Delhi to Agra, the famed Shatabdi Express, twenty years ago.  Both of us really enjoyed eating with my relatives in Sweden, friends in Portugal and Tunisia, and of course what is wrong with proper good English food ?  Nothing, that’s what.  The train from Brighton to London back in the 1990s used to offer the best greasy bacon sandwich and we have drooled over many a great pub meal or Sunday roast.  We love English cheeses and English bubbly is nothing to sniff at either.  There you go.

When it comes to breakfast, he is a bit of a ‘wobbler’, as I put it.  He appreciates a savoury one but wobbles over in the direction of a sweet one.  When my sister came to visit last year just days before lockdown, she brought over batches of crumpets knowing how much he appreciates a crumpet on occasion.   Full English breakfast, bacon, sausages and all? Bring it on.  But not every day.  Continental breakfast with Eggs Benedict? Tout de suite s’il vous plait at the nice hotel.  Marmalade on buttered toast? Yes please.  The one thing he, like every single Italian I know to whom I’ve offered it, could not countenance has been Marmite.  This man was able to delve into raw fish, snails, small birds, very bleu blood-dripping meat, camel meat and yet the whole Marmite ‘thing’ just didn’t make sense to him.  Strangely enough, I ‘caught’ him spreading the thinnest amount on some toast just a few weeks ago.  Imagine the surprised look on my face.  With his usual aplomb, he informed me that, actually, it wasn’t so bad after all.  Hmm. Wonder where that came from.  My husband ‘thinks’ for a living (seriously) … it is the sort of thinking  that then goes into organising conferences or think-tanks or writing papers or books.  It requires a lot of concentration.  And, perhaps you may not know this but our brains require an incredible amount of ‘energy’ when thinking.  Our brain is the largest ‘consumer’ of our body’s glucose.  But we also tend to crave salt when we are in a bit of energy overwhelm, thinking wise.  So, who knows, maybe that day he craved something salty – just as I crave crisps when stressed.  What do you crave? 

All this to say that, on the whole,  my husband has remained ‘Italian’ as far as breakfast is concerned.  Which is to say, on a day-to-day basis and when not on a trip abroad or staying with friends etc, he will desire something sweet for breakfast.  He drinks two to three cappuccinos (small ones) until lunch.  I don’t have a sweet tooth on the whole and that explains, in part, why I am not a good dessert or cake maker.  I can make him a jam tart (crostata) and I can make some pretty good Tuscan-style almond biscuits (cantucci) and the doughnut-shaped thick biscuits known as “ciambelle” that are typical of around here … and that’s about it.  The rest we buy sort-of-thing. 

Then, last year, I stumbled upon a recipe for a sponge cake that looked so easy (for a non baker like me) that I simply had to make it!  And make it I did, more than once.  It was so simple ingredients-wise that I memorised the recipe and forgot all about it until two weeks ago.  This memorising business had not gone as well as I had hoped.  I just couldn’t remember the amounts.  So off I trotted, good little dutiful wife that I am, to pore over notes and search the internet for the original and, ta daa!, glad to say I found it without great difficulty.

It requires a big orange …no need to peel. Read that again: the orange, the whole orange and nothing but the orange (actually, better to remove pips if there are any). Butter, sugar, flour, pinch of salt, eggs and a raising agent. You plop everything – yes, every single ingredient – into the food processor and drum-roll, voilà … you have cake mixture (or is it cake ‘dough’ or ‘batter’ – ouff, never mind).  Butter the cake pan and bake until done.  Brilliant.  For some reason, the cake did not rise as much as my efforts last year, which was a little disappointing – but it tasted just fine so who cares.  My friend Liz who is a very good cake maker suggested that I add the rising agent at the very end, when all the other ingredients had already been processed.  So I took her advice, and she was right.  This time the cake rose to a more pleasing height.

When we go swimming, I get teased mercilessly by people over the amount of time it takes for me to get into the water (usually the sea).  I don’t know what it is about my body’s thermal system, I certainly don’t seem to have inherited my Scandinavian genes in this respect, I just can’t bear getting into cold water.  Or, rather, what I consider to be cold water.  And no, diving in just does not ‘do’ it for me – never has.  Once in, however, I can swim for a very long time – longer than the others who tease me for my slow entrance.  Anyway, over the years, when people who love me and know me want to encourage me to get in, I ask them “is it Jo proof?” (my name is Josephine but everyone calls me Jo).

I feel something similar about cake making.  This orange cake is most definitely “Jo proof”. This is a cake I can bake and be proud of. Go on then, you too have a go?

P.S. For those of you who are professional cake makers compared with me, you might also want to take a look at the Torta di Arancia on Stefan’s blog. Stefan never disappoints: https://stefangourmet.com/2021/01/31/orange-cake-torta-allarancia.
Most coincidentally, Stefan and I were making an orange cake at the same time! Great minds think alike. And yes, NOW is the time for good oranges in Europe.

INGREDIENTS:

3 eggs,
250g sugar,
250g flour,
100g butter (optional – you’ll have to read to the end of the post to discover why)
pinch of salt,
raising agent (in Italy we are lucky, we get to buy little sachets for this, I expect it’s a mixture of baking soda and cream of tartar),
1 big orange or 2 small ones I suppose? Better if untreated, obviously. Easy enough for us living in Italy or Spain. If you can’t get hold of untreated oranges, use baking soda: https://www.healthandwellnessalerts.berkeley.edu/topics/healthy-living/winner-a-baking-soda-wash-for-fruits-and-vegetables/

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The first thing to do is turn the oven on, at 180°C.  I always go for the fan oven mode.  I have been told that this is a no-no when it comes to baking but it has always worked for me so … that’s what I do.  After that, butter your loaf pan or cake pan.

Then, if your butter is not already at room temperature, put it in a small pan and gently melt it.234

Place the 3 eggs, pinch of salt and sugar in the food processor and pulse until blended.  Then add the flour and blend that too.  Then add the cut-up orange and blitz everthing, so that the orange zest gets reduced to tiny bits.   This all happens in less than a minute, you do realise?  The important thing is to add the raising agent only at the very end (as per instructions from my friend Liz). Done!

Use a spatula to pour the cake mixture into the loaf pan and bake for about 40 minutes.

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When the cake came out of the oven, I was beaming like the Cheshire cat! How beautiful, the scent so fragrant.

And then disaster struck. Look what I found on the kitchen countertop, that I had not noticed before?

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Oh yes …. the butter!  I had forgotten to add the butter in my haste to take photos for this post!

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Fortunately, according to my grateful husband, it tasted just fine! Even without the butter.  

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My next door neighbour Rossella also approved. Good. Oh, and by the way, what I did was slice the cake in three parts and wrap each one in very damp greaseproof paper, to keep it moist. It’s not like my husband can eat a whole cake in one or two days!

The Incredible Hulk and a Rocket Mayonnaise

A long (and heroic) title for a short post.  In which our heroine staves off a sad dinner.

Sometimes leftovers can offer an exciting opportunity to come up with ‘something new’, they add an extra notch to our  personal feel-good creativity-board.  Sometimes, it’s just the opposite, the leftovers are soothing, they represent a welcome respite from the rigours of dinner making.  Even for someone like me, I who love to cook so much … there are times when I’m simply not in the mood or a bit on the tired side.  And yet another kitchen situation is when the leftovers are neither here nor there; one knows one has to use them up but … but their allure has gone, and it feels almost as if one is being culinarily ‘punished’.  A case of when the proverbial “waste not” is very wanting indeed.

The food on offer the other night was a brace of roasted quail and some very bland, sad-looking pan-cooked chicken.  The kind that is served as hospital food as we call it.  I get grumpy over ‘bad’ food, I can’t help it.  Something had to be done to salvage dinner.  I looked in the fridge and espied a handful of limp rocket leaves.  Hmm.  I remembered that many years ago I used to pan fry slices of chicken breast and serve them with orange slices and a ‘sauce’ made of olive oil, lemon juice and ruchetta – arugula or rocket or whatever you want to call it.  That sauce should do the trick, I said to myself.  I added a clove of garlic too, this time.  And a good pinch of salt, of course.

Anyway, I put all the ingredients in the elongated tumbler and began whizzing away with the immersion blender.  It was a wee bit too thick so I added a tablespoon of water, and carried on.  Brrm, brrm, brrm went the blender, and as it all came together, it dawned on me that it wasn’t that different from making mayonnaise.  And that’s when I had the Eureka moment: aha! Why not add an egg  yolk? As it happened I ended up having to add two egg yolks.  And yes, voilà mesdames e messieurs,  we have rocket mayonnaise!  The bold over-the-top green of colour was a reminder of the Incredible Hulk, remember that TV series?

Not only did it save dinner, in terms of pleasure, it made me realise that I could make this again and again and serve it with all kinds of fare: salmon? Roast beef? Boiled potatoes.

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Rimini Recipe: Minestra di Manfattini con Vongole (Pasta and Clam Soup)

There is a lovely TV personality on Italian TV called Chiara Maci.  She cooks, she writes, has a blog … that sort of thing.  Her parents hail from both North and South of Italy but Milan is her home from what I gather. More recently, she travels all over the Peninsula to visit home-cooks who belong to an association called “Le Cesarine” which is all about home restaurants.  The Cesarine home-cooks undergo a strict vetoing in order to pass muster and they are under obligation to cook what is typical of their town or regional cuisine – a rule that they are more than happy to comply with, it goes without saying (so why do we always say “it goes without saying” and thus in effect say it?).  That is the beauty of their menus.  We get to know about many dishes and recipes that would never appear in an ordinary restaurant. 

I happen to be a sucker for TV food programmes but some get to be a little on the tired side after a while and even in this series, called “L’Italia a Morsi” (Italy by the Bite), it’s not like the protocol/sequence varies much.  Chiara Maci goes to town, visits a host of all kinds of food shops,  vintners, cheese makers or other artisanal produce – the list is endless – and then makes an appointment with a local “Cesarina” and goes over to cook and eat with her or him and hear all about the local specialities.  The repast is then eaten en famille, and friends and family have helped to set the table and take part in the conversation during the meal. 

What makes Chiara “different” from a few other TV personalities is that she is so un-selfconsciously ‘sunny’ (has a huge smile showing off her very white chompers); true, she does ‘do’ that intense looking-into-the-camera routine à la Nigella but she does not put on an act (not that Nigella does either, I am thinking of other TV hosts).  Chiara is uncondescending, unpretentious and ‘natural’.  She dresses well – meaning that I like her sense of style – but she doesn’t do that God-awful Italian ‘thing’ that some Italian women unfortunately succumb to of ‘overdressing’:  unabashed bling, bobbed-up boobs and bombshell high heels.  Our Chiara is classy just by donning casual or even ‘comfy’ clothes.   She has two children, the second with her husband, the famed Sicilian chef Filippo La Mantia.  I am not sure but I think she might have been a single mother before.  Anyway, here they are below, looking very glam – and happy !

chiara with lamanthis

 In the episode set in Rimini (the town that gave birth to film-maker Fellini), her Cesarine home cook walked her through the recipe of today’s post.  I took notes and was all agog to replicate it.   Manfattini con le vongole is basically a fish broth containing tiny limpets of home-made pasta as well as shelled clams, and proved to be most delicious.  Will I make it again any time soon?  Hmmm.  That depends.

The recipe is somewhat misleading in its simplicity: all it calls for, after all, are home-made pasta and clams.  Ha!  But what it really calls for – spoiler alert –  is a lot of patience!  Every single wee clam needs to be divested of its shell for this recipe. Yes, you read correctly – every single one. Imagine extracting 2kg ‘s worth of teensy vongole from their shells!  Never again.  At least, I will not put myself through this agony again on my own.   Maybe if the travail can be shared with a sympathetic friend, over a glass of wine and some good-quality gossip (i.e. not the nasty kind).   So, my blogpost friend, read on just for the fun of it.  I am almost sure no one who reads this is ever going to make it.

Ingredients for the pasta: 200g flour (preferably the Italian 00 kind), 1 egg, and a little bit of water.  

MAKING THE PASTA

Once you’ve made the pasta and kneaded it until it’s nice and soft, roll it into a ball.   Usually, it is a good idea to let the dough rest for about half an hour.  In our case this respite is not necessary.  All one has to do is slice the dough into rounds first; then ‘roll’ each round into a thick rope.  Last, cut the ‘pasta rope’ into ‘chunks’ the size of your thumbnail, or if you prefer, the size of a gnocco.  Have fun strewing a lot of flour over these chunks.  I shall go into further detail further on, with photos to better clarify, okay?

Ingredients for the sauce: some garlic, parsley, chilli (optional), extra virgin olive oil, half a glass of wine, tomato passata and some concentrated tomato purée, a slither of lemon zest and – last but not in the least bit least – 2kg of those tiny clams that are known as “lupini” here in Italy.  I suppose you could use other clams, why not.

WHAT TO DO

Start praying to San Lorenzo, patron saints of cooks.  Put some music on. Make yourself a cup of tea or grab a gin and tonic, depending on time of day.

The first thing to do is to open the clams and retain their liquor.  That is super easy-peasy.  All you do is place the clams in a pan, cover with a lid, turn the heat on and wait a few minutes until they have all opened.  Below is the precious liquor. Set aside.

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Here are the cooked clams, shell-free – one only still clinging to its shells.

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And here is the proof-positive of my labours!  the empty shells in the dustbin.  At this point, put the vongole back in their liquor – so that they don’t harden or go all rubbery.  Set aside.

Time to make the sauce.

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As you can see, it’s a case of the usual suspects: olive oil, garlic, parsley, some tomato paste as well as tomato passata and, finally, some peperoncino (fresh chilli in this case, twas the season).  I won’t comment on the next few photos: they are pretty self-explanatory.

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And voilà – you have your seafood broth.  This is what you have done (I love how I write ‘you’ rather than ‘I’ – I’m still smarting from all that clam-shelling effort): 

(1) you have sautèd the garlic in some extra virgin olive oil, adding a hint of spice with the peperoncino; ((2) poured a little wine and (3) added the liquor of the clams together with a handful of chopped parsley; (4) you’ve then added about one cup of passata as well as a squeeze of the tomato paste and (5) you’ve added a little water and a surreptitious amount of lemon zest.  Simmer for about 15 minutes.  Remove the lemzon zest and set aside.

There is a lot of “set aside” going on here, have you noticed.

Okay … now we can get on with the pasta.

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You can now heave a sigh of relief.  The worst is over.

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Slice the dough into what? six fat discs? The slices are about half an inch thick. Then, slice each disc and roll the dough into the shape of a rope. Finally, slice the ‘rope’ into chunks.

Like this, see?5

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Make sure you have plenty of flour handy.

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And when you’ve made the “manfattini”, dredge them in plenty of flour and have fun distancing them from one another so that they do not cling togehter. At this stage, they are somewhat ‘sticky’. And, dare I say it, yet again I mean? Yes. Set aside. They have to dry out a little, you should not cook them right now Give them half an hour.

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When it is time to eat, add some water to your fish broth if you think it needs it, and bring to the boil. Taste and see whether the broth needs the addition of salt (it does, trust me – I’m just being gastronomically correct). At this point add the manfattini (shake off their snowy coating of flour before you do so, as in the above photo) and cook until they are done. It should not take more than 4 minutes or so. Add the clams towards the very end – yes, they need to be warmed up but no, we don’t want them to overcook. So perhaps we are speaking of one minute. Two minutes? I don’t know. I just cook and hope for the best. A little bit of practice and common sense always come to the rescue.

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And serve!

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It was a lovely summer’s day and we enjoyed the manfattini and clams in the ‘clamshell’ that is our wee balcony. I don’t normally like to drink wine at lunch time (makes me sleepy) but how could I not on this occasion.

PS The clams in question are the little ones, which we call “lupini”.

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Chiara Maci, Italia a Morsi, Le Cesarine, Minestra di Manfattini con le Vongole