All Hail A Sauce for both Steak and Snail (Amongst other Dishes)!

Judging from the response to my previous post, the one regarding snails, a post I actually wrote many years ago, I could not fail to appreciate that snails entice only a very small portion of society.  Chacun à son gout and all that and I will not take up a zealous quest to reform people’s gustatory orientation.  That said, I like to be inclusive so, dear Reader, even though this post is dedicated to those who do indeed enjoy a platter of snails, the recipe for the sauce lends itself to enhancing other dishes too, a good steak for instance.  My inclusive bent does not extend to vegans I realise because it includes butter but the market now abounds with vegan butters and I am sure they would make an adequate substitute.  The sauce would probably be delicious melting over boiled potatoes or adding zing to the humblest  (and hence cheapest) of fishes.  A spoonful here and there would up the ante in any stew be it carnivore, vegetarian or vegan.  And an added bonus is that one can freeze it, hip hip hurrah.

I am inclined to think that the sauce is very ‘old school’ and rooted in French cuisine, made up as it is of butter aplenty, parsley and garlic.  I remember by mother making something almost identical to accompany a fillet mignon and she told me she had picked up the recipe in Sweden, in the 1950s, where it was most likely served in elegant restaurants at a time when posh nosh meant French cuisine coursing through the courses.

By accident of birth, I am a half-aunt to a niece who is actually six months older than I am (my Swedish father was her grandfather, that’s the connexion, making her father my half brother).  Her name is Ulrika and she says I’m her favourite aunt, which is of course true since no other aunt is alive to vie with me for her affections.  And I must say that, as nieces go, she is a gem and comes and visits at least once a year.  She and I share a dread of cold climes and a passionate love for warm weather and swimming in the sea.  As a proper Swede (I am only half Swedish), she is able to bathe in temperatures that Nordics consider ‘normal’ whereas I can only deal with waters that are fit for sissies like me.  My name is Jo and people who love me have come to call the correct swimming temperature as “Jo proof”. 

Well may you mock but this disinclination of mine for the cold prevents me from falling in love with most of the coastline of Sardinia, for instance.  The waters and beaches of Sardinia are world famous for their pristine and sometimes wild beauty (the Aga Khan who built up the exclusive resorts in the early 1960s wasn’t just a pretty face you know) but you can keep most of them: too cold, too cold, too cold. I tried swimming in the Atlantic waters of Portugal once and got as far as my big toe.  Same thing of a July in California somewhere.  Stunning beach, unfriendly cold water.  It was then that it was brought home to me just why the Mediterranean became so popular with the aristos and the very wealthy of yore …. it wasn’t only the picturesqueness of Southern France or Capri, nor the breathtaking views of natural beauty to take in: it was the warm waters too!  The British Isles have beaches that their subjects can be immodestly proud of but, unless there is a heat wave such as the one in 1976 which saw me swimming in Bournemouth, they are a natatory disincentive for the likes of me.

I am aware that I am babbling on like a brook going hither and thither in my meanderings but, stay with me, there is a reason.  Which is: just like the optimum temperature for an enjoyable swim, a dinner should be composed of an optimum array of dishes to suit all those partaking of the meal.  The pleasure principle.  Eating for pleasure and not just for sustenance.  In 2008, Geoff Andrews published a book called “The Slow Food Story: Politics and Pleasure”.  Please allow me to quote Amazon’s review.

 “The Slow Food movement was established in Italy as a response to the dominance of fast food chains, supermarkets, and large-scale agribusiness. Defending “the universal right to pleasure,” it promotes food production and consumption based on “good, clean, and fair” local products. In twenty years Slow Food has grown into an international organisation with more than 80,000 members in over 100 countries. With roots in the 1960s and 1970s counter-culture, Slow Food’s distinctive politics link gastronomic pleasure and environmental responsibility. The movement crosses the left-right divide to embrace both the conservative desire to preserve traditional rural communities and an alternative “virtuous” idea of globalisation. In the first in-depth study of the fascinating politics of Slow Food, Geoff Andrews shows that the alternative future it offers can be extended to all aspects of modern life. The Slow Food Story is an extensive critique of the fast-moving, work-obsessed contemporary capitalist culture.”

Whatever your political or spiritual views, you can’t deny that most of us live in a rush.  It took Covid lockdown to slow us down.  The narrative I want to underscore is that life is too short and that we, those of us who are lucky enough to afford good (simple even) food on the table, should reconsider the pleasure of dining as one of life’s paramount activities. In the last decades, in my experience at least, it seems to me that people worry about WHAT to eat, afraid of putting on weight, afraid of eating foods that are deemed unhealthy these days, afraid of not fitting in with the latest politically correct nourishment directives, to the point that meals become a source of anxiety instead of pleasure.  Two syndromes to prove my point: orthorexia and citophobia. It does not surprise me that the Slow Movement originated in Italy where eating can easily be considered a national past-time; yet even in this country anxiety over food and eating is doing its damage.   Thank goodness for people like us, no?

Ulrika’s partner is Juan and despite his Spanish name he too is Swedish. Unlike Ulrika and me, he can weather and even enjoy any temperature storm and is totally at ease camping in the woods in Sweden during the Winter (!), sleeping in special hammocks.  Ulrika and I just raise our eyes heavenwards in shivering disbelief and disapproval but there you go … it takes all sorts to make the world go round.  Ulrika loathes and abhors snails whereas Juan is rather partial to them.  I espied some farmed snails at the covered market in Frascati just days before their arrival last Summer and lovingly bought some for Juan, picturing his smiling face on being told the news.  Ulrika’s disgust knew enough bounds to look the other way as we seated ourselves to the dinner table to enjoy the snails cooked Juan’s way but I made sure that she too had something delicious to eat.  The meal had to be Ulrika-proof as well as Juan-friendly.


250g of butter, a big bunch of parsley, as many or as few cloves of garlic as you prefer, pinch of salt.  Plenty of bread to mop up any sauce on the plate.


Put all the ingredients in a blender and process until creamy smooth. Spoon the mixture over the previously cleaned, boiled, cooled down snails (see previous blog for all this) and place in a hot oven for a few minutes –  basically the time it takes for the butter to melt and coat and season the snails.


You can spoon the mixture onto some parchment paper and roll it into a log shape.  Place in freezer and, when required,  remove from freezer until still very firm.  Slice rounds off to put over a hot steak or potatoes or put to any other culinary use you prefer.






Juan was very veeeery happy with his snails!

Making Clarified Butter – Why Not?

This is a very old post, from my previous blog. Clarified butter may be “old school” but it is never “agé”. And besides, ghee IS clarified butter.

Let’s be amused … making clarified butter

Posted on November 4, 2010by myhomefoodthatsamore

I was very amused by an ad on British TV (dating back to the mid 1980s I think) for Rawlings Indian Tonic Water … you know, for gin and tonic.  In it are featured a threesome made up of a very old Queen Victoria, a very stately Mr Rawlings and, in attendance,  a very handsome and younger turban-clad Indian manservant, Tandoori.

Picture the scene if you please: Queen Victoria telephones Mr Rawlings using the very first version of a telephone … and the conversation unfolds as follows:

Queen Victoria (rather pompously and condescendingly):  Mr Rawlings, We find your tonic water most refreshing and We have today ordered another bottle.

Mr Rawlings (very chuffed indeed by this compliment): Thank you very much Ma’am.

Queen Victoria: We are intrigued, Mr Rawlings, as to why it is called Indian tonic water?

Mr Rawlings, now visibly flustered by this question to which he obviously does not know the answer, turns to Tandoori, and, covering the telephone mouthpiece so that Queen Victoria won’t hear him, asks him:

Mr Rawlings:  Tandoori, why do we call it Indian Tonic water?

And the answer is:

Tandoori: Why not?

Mr Rawlings (hastily making up something credible):I regret, Ma’am, but that must remain of necessity a trade secret.

Queen Victoria hangs up in response.

Mr Rawlings (in a resigned voice): She was not amused.

Love it!

And that’s how I feel about making clarified butter.  About eight years ago, a friend popped round in the late afternoon for a quick cup of tea because she had to pick her children up from some activity or other (and yes, we do drink tea in Italy! Though nowhere nearly as much as in other countries and milk in one’s tea is unheard of).  And there we were, deep in conversation, sipping our tea when she turned to the stove top and asked me what I was cooking.  She was quite nonplussed when I answered that, actually, I was making clarified butter.  “I never heard of anyone making clarified butter just like that in the middle of the afternoon!“ she exclaimed, wondering what on earth would drive anyone to do such a thing.

Just like Tandoori in the above sketch, however, my answer was and is : Why not?

It’s not actually something that one “makes” as such… one lets it “happen”. And, once ready, the clarified butter keeps forever in the fridge.  It requires a fairly large amount of butter (at least 500g) otherwise it would not be worth the endeaver, and there is some wastage in the process. Unless you are willing to use a dropper (and even that might not work), there is no way that you can filter all of the melted butter.

This time I used a whole kilo of butter!  It needs a double boiler so that the butter can melt bain-marie style … a slotted spoon for removing the caseous cheesy part of the butter … a sieve … and a glass jar for storing the clarified butter in the fridge.

It requires quite a long time before the butter melts properly, so that any water contained therein evaporates and so that it separates into a liquid gold and into a white caseous sticky substance.  The butter should melt away for one hour, which is a fairly long stretch of time … but it doesn’t need any special attention at all.  You can read a book or watch a film while it’s “happening”.

I do not have a large enough double-boiler and I expect not many people do … So you might do worse than copy my necessity-mother-of-invention solution which was a pair of  kitchen tongs.

Pour in some water and switch on heat and pop in the  butter and …

1 kg of butter!

starting to  melt …

The “stuff” that rises to the service is we do NOT want … and that’s what the slotted spoon is for

every little bit has to be removed!

This is what gets thrown away …

And this is what we keep and treasure.  Do this gently and filter slowly … and if you are a purist (I aim to be merely pure of heart), you can use a muslin cloth inside the sieve.

This part is easy enough …

And this is when it gets tricky: careful — you only want the liquid gold, not the white stuff

Notice that some of the clarified butter gets left behind with the white stuff: that’s because there is no way I could sieve any more into the glass jar without the white stuff trailing in too.

Liquid gold … isn’t it an amazing colour!

P.S.  If you want to see the Rawlings ad in all its silly glory, click on

And Old Post about Snails

I am posting this once again becaue there are lots of photos showing just how cumbersome it is to TREAT the snails before cooking them. The cooking part ends up being really easy … The next post will be how I cooked them last summer, or rather how a welcome guest did.

Adventure at a snail’s pace

Posted on December 5, 2011by myhomefoodthatsamore

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear: what an adventure!  WHAT possessed me to want to cook snails?  I tell you, these farmers markets … they’re ‘dangerous’! With their colourful and scented wares, their clever and friendly banter, their slow-living pace, they entrance and entreat and bewitch you into wanting to try all kinds of recipes that are best left to the experts.

So there I was, some time in October, enjoying a leisurely wander around the Ariccia weekend Farmers Market, when I came to the stall selling snails.  A sensible person would have gazed at the stall for a few seconds and moved on …

Imperial snails, no less!  Loredana Isopo smiles as she talks to me about them.

Snails are notoriously time-consuming to clean … they need to spend something like 24 hours in water which has to be changed at least 4 or 5 times.  They are still alive during this cleansing process.  Here at the stall, the sales pitch is brilliant: these beauties have already been cleaned!  All you need to do is cook them!  And we EVEN provide a few recipes!  Oh, and did I tell you that snails are protein-rich and nutritious too, containing many essential amino acids and other goodies such as calcium, phosphorous, iron and copper!  What is a poor girl to do?  Of course I gave in and bought some.

“You shall rue the day” is an expression in old films that meant very little to me until the time came for me to deal with snails.

It didn’t start off too badly … The very first thing to do was to put the snails in a large tub of water and leave them there for five minutes.  At this point, because they are still alive, the snails will start peeking out of their shell.  As they start sliding out of their shell, they need to be transferred to another container, with a lid on top to stop them from escaping.  Any snail that shows no sign of life is to be thrown away.

And there were very few actually.  Here are the dead snails and other ‘bits’ that left their mark on the tub of water.

And here, instead, are the snails that were put into my double-boiler pasta pot for safe-keeping, very much alive and wanting to move about.

You see how clingy they are! and why it’s a jolly good idea to keep them under a lid!

Now, then.  The next bit consisted in giving them one last clean, very much as one would with venus clams or vongole, under cold water.  To my credit, I am such a genius when it comes to diminishing work, I came up with the idea of using the colander part of my pasta pot because a) it would make it easier to drain the snails of the water and b) it would stop them trying to escape.

I used a wooden spoon to swirl them around and encourage the removal of ‘bits’ we’d rather not ingest.

Upsy-daisy … see how easy the pasta-pot colander makes this job!

The water is murky and slimy … and so of course I got rid of it and poured more cold water into the tub, to give the snails another bath.

I did this until the water was completely clean … about 5 times, if I remember correctly.

I put a lid on them and sighed.  I took in the portentous task that now lay before me and pondered on the meaning of the verb ‘rue’.  I was losing my nerve, I kid you not.

Aaaagh! Heeeelp!  I looked to my husband for succour … he’s usually very good at encouraging me but even he did a double-take at the prospect of serial snail-killing and came up with the excellent idea of a glass of wine, to fortify my wavering resolve.  After that, I was left on my own.

There, dear Reader, you have before you 1 kg of live snails being hurtled into a pot of warm water.  I was told the water had to be a pleasant temperature in order to induce the snails to come out of their shell.  This makes it easier later on to eat them.  There is less tugging to be done.

See how they enjoy sliding out of their shell and start wanting to move out of the pot …

And then the moment of no-return.  The lid goes on and the snails’ fate is sealed.  The heat is turned up and they simmer for about 10 minutes.

Now is the time to add an onion, a carrot, a celery stick and some parsley.

I also added 1 bay leaf (which you can’t see) and put the lid back on again and simmered the snails for another 30 minutes.

At the end of 30 minutes and steaming.  I let the cooking water cool a bit and then drained the snails and set them aside.


This is a very typical and plain way of cooking the snails, alla romana – the Roman way.  Basically, the snails get to be tarted up in a tomato sauce which includes garlic and anchovy.

And this was my sauce ‘mistake’.  I should have sautéed the garlic FIRST and THEN added   the anchovy.  Instead, I cooked them both together … and this detracted from the quality of the sauce at the final stage.   Also, I added 1 anchovy too many … the anchovy is a taste enhancener and should ‘melt’ into the sauce and not be directly perceptible, whereas the amount I put in resulted in an excessive textural after-taste.

The tomatoes …

Cooking the sauce for about 15 minutes …

Lots of chopped parsley and some chilli for those who like it …

A little extra extra virgin olive oil …

Mix everything very well and simmer for about 5 minutes, to get the snails hot again.  And serve.

And do I have a photo of the snails served? No.

Were they good?  Mmmm.  They were ‘all right’ — but nothing to write home about.  And especially not considering the amount of work and angst involved.  The sauce, which in theory was the easiest part, is what let the dish down — and that was my fault, as explained above.

Ah well … another example of a  ‘beautiful Catastrophe’ in the kitchen! (see my post on kitchen catastrophes dated 17th Februaty 2011 and called “What to seek in Zorba the Greek).

Who knows … I  might muster a little courage some time in the near future and have another ‘go’ at snails!  And when I do so, I shall get buy them from Loredana.

Swordfish Couscous

Dear Readers – WordPress has changed its way of doing things and despite the help of a very nice young person working for them, I still haven’t mastered the art of uploading photos where I want them. So if you wan to have a look at a photo of today’s recipe, just scroll straight to the end and then come back to read. Thanks.


My father-in-law Giose, pronounced Joh-zay and shortened from the very Biblical name Jehosaphat (I don’t know what possessed his parents to saddle him with such a ponderous appellation) turned 91 yesterday and asked me whether I would cook a seafood dinner to celebrate.  There were going to be nine of us family member). What do you think? Of course! 

I really love cooking for celebrations and it got my creative juices going.  When I say ‘creative’ it also translates into the fact that I have to cater the meal because my mother-in-law, Maria, is now in a wheel chair and hard to shift.  She suffers from Alzheimers too but that’s another tragic story.  Luckily, we live in the same building so schlepping the food from our place to theirs is a question of meters and not miles.  Even so, cooking food that needs to be transported presents extra challenges, logistically speaking, and entails an approach that is different from that of preparing a meal that can be enjoyed in one’s own home.  All this to say that I had to come up with a menu that would be in my favour, as it were, and not get my knickers in too much of a prepping twist.

Basically, my idea was to serve lots of antipasti and not just one measly starter/appetizer – that way blood sugar levels rise and the rest of the meal can be awaited in joyous expectation .  When people see lots of food on the table something magical happens.  They may ‘complain’ that “oh-my-gosh this is far too much” but eventually curiosity takes over and they dig in to their heart’s content, picking and choosing.   Also, and this is something people forget to consider at times, whenever there is ‘too much’ it means that there will be leftovers for the next day, another strong point in favour of abundance.

Anyway, in the middle of thinking about the menu the day before, I came up with an idea for a new dish which I have dubbed Giosè’s Couscous. 


Fish stock with which to revive the couscous.  Add some lemon juice to the fish stock.
Rounds of courgettes which are left to dry in the sun before frying in olive oil
Cooked chickpeas (I used a glass jar from a good quality brand)
Swordfish steaks – about 3cm thick and diced into thick cubes
Garlic and olive oil
Dried oregano
Grated pecorino cheese
Pistachio – granulated and preferably from Bronte in Sicily
Fresh mint leaves

(1)The menu had included mussels and prawns.  Once I had steamed open the mussels, I reserved their liquor.  I shelled the prawns and made a bisque with them.  So I used the (a)mussel liquor together with the (b)prawn bisque and some (c)lemon juice to impart a nice fishy taste to the couscous.   If you don’t have mussels and prawn bisque to hand, or can’t be bothered to make one, then invent something appropriate to season the cooking liquid.  For the rest, it is all very straightforward.

(2) Add the fried courgette ‘coins’ and the chickpeas to the couscous. Peas might be another good alternative.

(3) Cook the swordfish. Some olive oil and oregano in the frying pan together with however much garlic you like.  When it turns golden, add the cubes of swordfish and cook over a hight heat until done.  Add the pecorino and, last, the pistachio granola.

Add sprigs of mint for freshness to the final dish.  (I also added some tomato for colour).

Everyone raved about it.  Even my daughter, who normally runs a mile from couscous (her other pet hates are potato gnocchi and polenta), was so entrance by the dish and its vaguely Sicilian ingredients,  had a taste and pronounced it lovely.  The unexpected  ‘disappointing’ note in the event was that the only person not to like the couscous was … guess who? … that’s right, my father in law!  Somewhat ironic but never mind.  Thank goodness there were lots of other plates he could and did enjoy.  Here is the rest of the menu.

Tuna mousse -served with toast (the tuna was the kind packed in olive oil, not fresh)
Cod mousse (brandade as it is known) – ditto, served with toast.
Prawn salad served with strawberries (from northern Italy) and fresh pineapple
Mussels gratin (the stuffing included stale bread, garlic, tomato pure, parsley and pecorino
Cuttle fish and potato salad

Pasta course: Chitarrine alle vongole, i.e. an egg-pasta noodle called “little guitars” because they look like guitar strings I suppose, in a clam sauce

The main course included mussels cooked the way they do in the Marche: i.e. olive oil, onion, and rosemary.  Now THIS my father in law absolutely adored thank goodness. The other main course was all about fried fish: calamari, prawns and anchovies – all fresh  not frozen  I hasten to add.

It has to be said that after eating the pasta, people were feeling pretty full.  My husband even suggested that I not fry the calamari etc but I had to because of their very freshness. “They can always eat fried fish tomorrow,” I reassured him.  Ha ha for that.  Once on the table, one tentative calamaro ring at a time, a couple of prawns here and there and hey presto!  Seriously, not much left over!!!

It was a party after all, no?

And no, I did not make pudding.  I hardly ever do.  A beautiful cake was bought. 

All in all it was a really nice evening.  My mother-in-law Maria seemed content, she conversed in her usual gibberish but smiled often and was especially happy when our daughter walked in.  Her mental faculties may no longer recognise her as her granddaughter but the heart knows best.  Anyway, she particularly enjoyed the cuttlefish and potato salad – as I knew she would and the cake, she has a sweet tooth.

Considering we are in the throes of finding an appropriate care home for my Maria and all that that entails, we are particularly grateful for a few hours of serenity.  The sub-heading of my blog is “good food to put you in the mood”.  Good food really does put people in a good mood and it has nothing to do with greed or merely filling one’s stomach. PS Except for the mussels cooked the Marche way, I have posted recipes for all the other recipes in both my blogs (the first one being

Spontaneous but Orderly Chaos and Loving the Moroccan Leftovers

Today is the last day in July and I have not written one single post since May.  Events and evolutions in the world took over.  For me it was not so much writer’s block as much as observer’s ‘sit-up-and-learn’.  It takes a lot to shut me up.  Latterly I have found great difficulty in finding suitable words, an appropriate tone.

Usually, I try and inject some lightheartedness into my posts.  I think that joking and joshing, even a little silliness, are very good for the heart.  But these past few weeks, it seemed to me that insisting on being upbeat would have been a form of disrespect.  Yes, I am referring to the Black Lives Matter movement and the need for the whole world to look back at history with modern, renewed eyes.  Whatever slavery was in the past, the heritage it engendered cannot be glossed over any longer.  And though I am not a fan of statues being thrown away, I can see full well why people would want to vent their pent-up anguish on the symbolic attributions of those who were part of the slave trade – and not just in the United States and Great Britain.  This has been a time to listen and to learn.  I did a bit of research on my own, as much as time permitted.  One of the more astonishing finds for me was that the Knights of Malta ran slave auctions for the better part of two centuries – so yes, there was a Mediterranean slave trade  too.   Today, tomato pickers in some parts of southern Italy may not be considered slaves as such but their living conditions are appalling and shameful to say the least.

This is a time to grieve and to redress and such cultural metamorphosis requires time in democratic situations.  But the rebel in me would like to see matters speeding up; I am very hopeful that we are on a good course-correction route in human affairs and that the younger generations are carrying on the spirit of the 1960s.  “All you need is Love” and “Give peace a Chance” sange the Beatles.  Maybe it’s time to sing those songs again.

The highlight of my cooking during the month of June was a Moroccan-themed dinner.  I’ve never been to Morocco, more is the pity, but I did do a brief culinary class a few years ago, and attended a nice Moroccan dinner chez Stefania Barzini.  It all seems so long ago now.  All those invited were supposed to contribute a dish.  It was the first time we were able to mingle with people post lockdown so the occasion was looked forward to with understandable excitement.  There were eleven of us in all (a twelfth friend couldn’t make it at the last minute), it was a warm balmy evening and we enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere and mingling that a buffet meal is wont to guarantee.  Here are some photos of the dishes.



Lamb sausage – merghez.  Home-made using a recently bought mincer. A very cheep and cheerful one to boot.3

Chicken tagine with preserved lemons.4

The above was actually not Moroccan but Eritrean – a spicy dish called Zighini.  My chef friend Luigi made it.  As well as some of the flatbread.


The above cous cous and meatball dish is actually Tunisian.  Brought to us by our chef friend Sabrina Ferracci, whose mother grew up in Tunisia.  She and I compared home-made harissa.


Sabrina brought extra gravy (in the red bowl) to pour over her cous cous.6

Orange rice: what a find!  Will definitely be making this again.7

Mutton tagine with dates and prunes.


Yes, yes, you guessed.  This is tabbouleh and it’s not Moroccan.  Still delicious, however, and totally in keeping with the spirit of the evening.


Aubergine cooked salad.11

Home-made harissa and preserved lemons (lemons preserved in salt).  Limes, chillies and yellow peppers … just ‘because’.


The food, all of it, was beautiful to look at and gorgeous to eat and there were lots of leftovers.  So much that would not fit in my freezer.  My friend Liz kindly obliged and took stuff back to her house to safeguard for me.

Only last week, we had arranged for some girls to meet for an aperitivo … drinks and nibbles and merry conversation.   Liz was leaving soon and would bring me the famous Moroccan dinner leftovers.  Which was great because that meant I wouldn’t have to worry about cooking that evening.  There was such an air of expectation among us, the girls meeting up after so long.  Some of us had not seen each other in months, some not since last year !  A few early-starters  had been celebrating the reunion a couple of hours before my arrival and our venue, the tearoom called La Stanza del Duca in Frascati, of which I written previously, was basically hosting just us.  The girls.

1 (2)

We had the place all to ourselves with Giancarlo delle Chiaie, the proprietor, running to and fro filling up glasses and bringing more crisps. 


Lots of chatter, lots of fun, girls bonding galore. 



Victoria, in the middle, is famous for many things including her incredibly white teeth. Want to find out Victoria’s secret ha ha?  Not telling you.

As the evening wore on and it got cooler but not yet dark, I suddenly felt a little strange, a little weak and realised I had not eaten practically all day and was bloody starving.  It was 9:15, no wonder?  My husband and Juan my niece’s partner who were staying with us sauntered up and gave meek but enquiring looks; both very gentlemanly they did not want to intrude.  Even so, it really was getting on for supper time.  And that’s when I realised this was no time to break up a party and so, what else was there to do, I invited everyone over for leftovers.


I am not sure who took this photo but I bet you it was  just after I’d told my husband Pino that I’d invited all the gals over for supper.

What a shame, what a crying shame, that there is not even one single photo of us crowded around our living room, spread out even on our tiny balcony, enjoying the perfumed food, drinking plenty of wine, and talking and just enjoying life and being together.

I think that Victoria’s fourteen year-old daughter was the only one who was not indulging in the God of Wine’s nectar, for which Frascati is rather famous.


The bottle bins the day after.  Says it all.

So yes, what is it the Bible says about there being a time for everything (Ecclesiastes: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven) ?

There are some serious, very serious evolutions (revolutions?) going on in the world that need our keen attention and involvement, our good will, our kindness and understanding and our willingness to stand up for decency.   Having a nice evening with friends can only bolster our resolve, give us the energy to carry on.

Squid-Ring Cous Cous and Sunday Lunch

So a week ago last Sunday, we … well I … cooked lunch for us (my husband and me) and his parents.  Lunch is a big thing still in Italy, especially among their generation and especially on a Sunday.  Il pranzo della domenica … Sunday lunch.  It’s tradition, it’s heritage, it’s culture, it’s what’s important as far as meals go.  Food fads come and go but this one has not lost its popularity in terms of family meals.

I too think that a luncheon can be a delightful event but only if it is special in some way, otherwise I much prefer dinner.  Lunch for me is the time of day I feel a bit hungry and need to feed myself.  A very basic biological need that needs to be met, nothing cultural about it.   I tend to eat something left over from the day before or else cobble together whatever I find in the store cupboard or fridge.  I ‘feed myself’ as opposed to ‘dine’, if you catch my drift.  I am one of those who can easily be reading a book while munching on lunch.  Dinner, supper, whatever you want to call it, is something else. To me it marks the time of day that has to be celebrated whatever else happened during the day, good or not so good.  And that’s when I’ll have a glass of wine, or two, or three.  I can’t drink at lunch, instead, not even one glass, it makes me very sleepy.  In the evenings I seem to tolerate it very well and sooner or later, it’s bed time anyway.  Another reason I tend to look askance at cooking a lunch is that: well, one has to get up early.  Who wants to get up early on a Sunday?  And the last reason is that I like to sip some wine while cooking but I can’t sip wine in the mornings and it would seem that coffee just doesn’t have the same effect on the cook in me as wine does.   So, I have given you three good reasons why dinner is preferable in my world to lunch.  That said, there is magic to a Sunday lunch despite it all.  And that’s because it’s all about the people.  The why we sit at the same table to eat.  The meaning of sharing food and conversation.


Last Sunday I decided to go for fish.

2I prefer to cook in my own kitchen but finish off the dishes at the Nonni’s flat.  What you see is what we brought over to theirs.   Let’s take a look at the menu.

For starters I opted for everyone’s favourite this time of year: courgette blossoms stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy fillets and fried in batter.

5Clams for the pasta course: spaghetti alle vongole.

6Vegetable side dish (contorno) number one: asparagus, served simply with olive oil and lemon juice.

7Contorno number two: plain boiled potatoes seasoned with olive oil and chives.  Salt and pepper too, of course.

8Main course, boiled fish.  No parsley sauce this time but home-made mayonnaise instead.  The fish on the plate is seabream (orata) and salmon.  The presentation looked prettier in real life when I brought it to the table with sprigs of parsley and the purple flowers of chives.

9And this is the recipe du jour, the recipe for today’s post.  Let me explain.  I was going to serve fried squid rings (calamari) together with the courgette blossoms as a starter.  But time was running out and I took a short cut.  I brought the cous cous to life using the fish stock I drew from simmering the fish.  And I simply cooked the calamari rings on the griddle, coated in olive oil.  I seem to remember a good squeeze of lemon juice to add some panache.  The friendly parsley and voilà: a dish is born ta da!  It just goes to show that being a teensy bit lazy can prove fruitful at times.  Had it been the evening, I would never have faltered before frying the calamari.

Dessert was a fruit salad of strawberries and bananas.  Easy peasy.

I felt thoroughly chuffed about this new recipe.  Takes hardly any time, is very tasty and I shall definitely be making it again.



How to Hype Frozen Tripe – Fry It!

What got into me that day? Spoken aloud with much groaning and aaargh-ing and virtual hair pulling exasperation.   Why, why oh why did I decide to defrost the stand-alone freezer on my balcony?  

And no, it was not a rhetorical question. I really did ponder what prompted me to undertake such an ill advised course of action when, really – really, really, really – all I wanted to do was hunker down on the sofa, enveloped by a comforting plaid, whilst sipping a cup of pukka loose-leaf tea and watch a good old-fashioned film or series on TV.  That is: chill out, relax, not think, be mentally (and very lazily) transported to la la land. Anything but the consciousness of being in the present, the mantra of ‘be here now’. I didn’t like ‘now’.  I wanted to escape. This was a few weeks ago, when it was still nippy.

Did the Covid lockdown have anything to do with it?  A freezer full of food and leftovers is not to be scoffed at under any circumstances but especially so when thoughts on survival and Maslow’s pyramid start to stare at us in the eye. Clothes for one’s body. Shelter from the elements. A roof over one’s head. Enough food and water. Vital connexions to the outer world via telephone calls, the internet and zoom meetings (the so-called ‘veetings’, such an ugly word for a God-send of an invention).  One becomes perforce more ‘aware’.   Emotions see-saw between anxiety and gratefulness.  Between irritation and peacefulness.  Between boredom and inspiration.  Alternating between escapism and reality checks.

Food waste, something I always try to avoid in any case, became a real issue. And I can immodestly pat myself on on my back for being good at combining both thrifty/homey productions that were still pleasing, together with naughty-but-nice meals that indulged our more decadent yearnings at table.  Variety, after all as we all know, is the spice of life.

On most days I’m as happy as a puppy when it comes to thinking about food and cooking the meal. It’s the rest of the overall food-eat equation that can be tiresome (the shopping, the schlepping, the queues, the storing, the cleaning, the prepping, the washing up etc).  I knew trouble was encroaching when the freezer showed signs, owing to all the untidily placed stuff inside, of not shutting properly. I solved the problem by placing a couple of plant pots on it to keep the lid down (it worked).  Fyi, the photo below was taken a few days ago.  The balcony and the freezer were a different story back then.


“It’s just temporary, I’ll deal with it tomorrow,” I said to myself, almost believing that I would.  But ‘temporary’ turned into tomorrow never comes.  Please tell me I’m not the only one who is gripped by procrastination?  After a while, the niggling feeling that had weaseled its way in the hinterland of my recall began to migrate upwards into the nakedness of conscious thinking, until I had to face up to facts.  I just DID NOT WANT TO defrost the freezer. So much work, sigh.

What was it that finally managed to split the straitjacket of my indolence? Looking back, I think it might have been a wan desire on my part, counter-intuitively enough, to elude reality, to pretend that Covid had not forced us into lockdown or was causing unnecessary deaths, strife and stress.  Sometimes, ‘realistic’ does not inspire, it just blocks.  Sometimes, the game of ‘let’s pretend’ can, instead, act as a stimulant.  After all, it’s what children do all the time.  So I made up a cock-and-bull story that I was about to prepare a feast for loved ones based on what the freezer held.  A culinary challenge, ha ha, so to speak.  Well.  That feast in particular will have to wait BUT, as a reward for yours truly, a new recipe did come out of all that hard work.  I am not sure I am going to make this recipe often but whenever I do, I shall feel almost saintly remembering how creatively I managed to waste-not on that fateful freezer-defrosting day during lockdown.

What I found in the bottomless depths of the freezer was a container full of tripe cooked the Roman way, that is served up with freshly grated pecorino cheese and mint.  Delicious.  That’s if you like tripe which I didn’t until about ten years ago.  My mother used to make it for my husband and he always raved about it.   I asked her for the recipe, good little wife that I am.  If you want the recipe, please refer the the post preceeding this one.


My father-in-law is also very partial to tripe and so he got a share of this bounty; he and my mother-in-law live in the same block of flats as us and as we are their caretakers, we see them on a daily basis.  My mother lives in Grottaferrata, about three kilometers from Frascati.  She is going to turn 94, he 91 and my mother-in-law 85 this year.  You can imagine their anguish upon keeping up with the daily news, and the death toll of the elderly in care homes.  Looking after old people is not all fun and games but we do try to inject some irreverent humour into our interactions with them, which might strike some as callous. “What? you’re still alive?” my husband will say to my mother (in a very loud voice too because she has become increasingly hard of hearing) when he answers her call.  And please don’t worry, she gives back as good as she gets; if anything it’s this kind of humour that keeps her going.  She likes to say that she ‘killed off’ two husbands and that had she married a third time, she was sure she would have killed that unsuspecting husband too.  Another of her favourites is, “amarsi sempre, sposarsi mai” – which translates into “it’s always a good thing to love but never to get married”.  My father-in-law, instead, is what you’d call ‘quiet’.  Very quiet.  Monosyllabic even.  When things go wrong, he is never surprised, he is that kind of a ‘realist’.  And yet, even he had to give in to ‘surprise’ when his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimers.  It’s just cruel, cruel, cruel, is all I can comment. 

All this to say that it can’t be easy for our old folk, no, not at all.   And, likewise, not easy for us their children.  There are good days, of course, and not so good, mostly the latter.  So … yet again, food to the rescue!   Eating food they like seems to be one very good way of making life tolerable.  My mother has become a little ‘picky’ in her food choices but as for my father-in-law: food is of utmost comfort and he sits down to his two square meals every day, with wine to accompany both.  Covid has in no way affected his appetite, bless him.  So I knew he would appreciate a helping of trippa alla romana.  But what about the rest?


See this?  It’s a bowl containing a flour-and-egg batter.  Batter and roughly chopped mint and parsley.  So my invention of the day was: use some of the previously cooked tripe to make: fried tripe!

3Here I am frying it in batches.

4It looks a bit like fried squid.

0Sprinkle of salt and pecorino and Bob’s your uncle.

I realise that tripe is not for everyone, fair enough.  But if you should have any left over, why not fry some in batter as an amuse-bouche?  You know me, the fried food fanatic (FFF)

Tripe Cooked the Roman Way

I am reposting a recipe on trippa alla romana that I wrote eight years ago – my goodness how time flies.

Re-reading it, tears came to my eyes remembering Gareth Jones who died in 2015.  Miss him so much.  His brilliant blog seems to have disappeared into thin internet air? – can’t seem to open any page, I wonder why.  What a shame, I was going to recommend you read some of his posts – memorable, informative, inspiring, funny and eye-opening.  That and he did know how to cook.  He called himself ‘the last of the independents’ and he wanted each meal to be a feast, whatever the budget.  His campaign was for a ‘blue collar gastronomy’.

If you do indeed like tripe, this recipe will not disappoint.  It takes quite a long time to prepare but there is nothing ‘difficult’ about it.  It can be frozen.  Aha!  And when you defrost it, you can turn it into yet another recipe – I’ll tell you about that in my next post.



The MarmiteLover Blog: Volunteering to Cook for the NHS and Key Workers during Covid19 Lockdown

Chef Kerstin Rodgers is famous for her supper club in London, an activity she had to shut down on account of Covid.  No work, no income, no partner to bring in an income.  And yet, and yet, she has managed to put her culinary skills to pursposeful use during Lockdown in London by volunteering to cook for the National Health Service (NHS) and the recently created People’s Army, founded by 29 year-old Hazel Jhugroo (next time someone harps on about millenials I might become a little more voluble in their defence).

You know something?  I haven’t mentioned Covid much in my last posts because, let’s face it, did I want to be yet another person putting in her two cents’ worth of on the dire situation or falling into the mire of stating the obvious?  But there is one urge I do want to honour now and that is the very first ‘gut feeling’ I had when lockdown in Italy took off.  “Something good will come of this,” I thought, “It might get worse before it gets better but something good will eventually come out of this.”  And Kerstin is just one example.

Hats off to her and to the People’s Army.

Below is the link to her latest post with recipes.

Cooking for the NHS and key workers during the Covid19 lockdown

At the end of her post, after the recipes, Kerstin provides links if you would like to contribute:

Please donate to the crowdfunder


Ask for support or volunteer at the website
Twitter: @peoplesarmyldn
Facebook: Peoples Army Islington Covid19 Support Group

On Matters of Batter and Fried Chicken

I think that brain matter, likewise, has to muscle into the preparation of this recipe.

I don’t know about you but my memory is starting to play up in certain spheres.  I used to be blessed with a very fine memory, one that came in most useful during the final weeks preceding examinations; I was an adept swotter with a quasi OCD approach to note-and-rote learning, with close to photographic results.  But there is another kind of memory that nearly always comes to my aid.  To this day, friends and family will remark on how extraordinary it is that I can still remember a series of events, or even the day of the week something happened.  Well that, instead, I attribute to a very ordinary practice of logical sequencing, linking or deduction: putting two and two together, as it were.  “How on earth do you remember that it was a Tuesday?” for instance, someone will ask.  And I will answer, “Well, because I used to go to gymn classes on Tuedays, that’s how.”  Nothing Sherlock Holmes about this, just plain ol’ Watson.

I did write a diary for a while, starting in my teens at boarding school.  And one can’t deny that a diary involves some kind of  memory function.  Goodness knows what I wanted to record, to save for remembrance.  I suppose it was a way of keeping time, of making sense of the uneventful progressing of the days.  People sometimes wonder whether I had a hard time at boarding school and I answer no: in an age when it is all too easy to fingerpoint at horrid priests and nuns for the maltreatment of their pupils, I must attest to our nuns being actually very nice on the whole.  But life at boarding school was hardly exciting, let’s face it, so my diary was mostly the jotting down of desultory homework requirements, disappointing match results of games played, or an unhoped for change in lunch menu; commenting on a spat between best friends or, yes!, the break-up even of best friends; the changes in mood due to an imminent menstrual period (we used to call it the ‘curse’) and the excitement of someone buying a new l.p. record.  To this day I cannot bear certain songs (John Lennon’s Imagine for one) because we used to play such records to death, over and over again in the space of a few hours.

And I was always ‘pining’.  Oh what a piner I was!  Longing, awaiting, yearning for, moping, hankering after, languishing for, craving … you get the picture.  I suppose it’s what many young girls feel while growing up?  I can recognise much of myself in Anne Frank’s diary – being able to talk to yourself is a way of trying to make sense of things, of giving words to a troubling feeling, it can soothe restlessness, it can stimulate consciousness.  There is a confessional side to writing a diary, an intimacy of ‘sharing’ that one only usually does with loved and trusted confidantes.  What is life all about?  Who can I consult?  I did French for ‘A’ level and was totally taken by the whole existentialist outlook – with the underlying agnosticism or indeed Godlessness somehow not interfering whatsoever with my catholic religion.  I asked hard questions at times, and I fell in love with Camus (never liked Sartre, horrid toad of a man, was not surprised later in life to discover that he used to require his girlfriend to pimp underage girls for him).  One of the set books was Camus’s The Plague and ouff, how ironic that it should come to mind in this Spring of 2020.  In the mid-seventies, his book could be read as a metaphor for the plague of recurring war (the Vietnam war was still going on), and as a generation we were indeed worried about the possibility of a nuclear war. And here we are – at the very start of the third decade of the 21st century, witnessing a very real virus-driven outbreak, who would have thought … who could have thought?  Camus, like all good things, never goes out of fashion.

One thing I did know for sure: I wanted to ‘live’ and not merely ‘exist’.  And yes, laugh if you will, but that desire is with me still.  My idea of ‘living’ might not be yours, of course – travelling and travel of the mind, and friends and family are its four pillars.  To each their own, as they say, and bringing life into this world, having children, has been my most memorable ‘achievement’, that which made me feel ‘alive’ as no other experience had ever previously done.  Can it be altogether coincidental, I am asking myself as I write, that I began a blog round about the time I was dealing with the empty nest syndrome? (One child had already left home, and the other was about to.)  I am not sure I would have started keeping a diary if I hadn’t gone to boarding school.  Then, despite beloved friends with whom I am still close more than forty years later, it was my family I missed the most, my parents, my sisters, even our dog.  The diary helped me cope with what was missing.  And I can only surmise that the blog has served a similar purpose, this time the people missed being my children.  And I am still asking hard questions.  If you think about it, a blog is a bit like a diary, no? It’s about food all right but, also, food for thought.

Now that I’ve gone off at a tangent let me try to get back to the recipe and why I want to have it carved in blog-stone.

The main reason is that, fried chicken never goes out of fashion.  And it requires a good batter.  The second reason has to do with the slings and arrows of a failing memory.  I want to get this recipe down pat, once and for all.

I have made chicken fried in batter at least a dozen times, and each time it’s been a bit different.   The first attempt was based on a Nigella episode where I learned the crafty art of a) pre cooking the chicken in milk and b) shaking the chicken bits in a plastic bag filled with flour (or was it breadcrumbs, mmm?) to coat them – very clever trick indeed.  Successive attempts always included egg somewhere in the recipe but it wasn’t until two years ago that I made a batter to coat the chicken, as opposed to just flour and breadcrumbs.  And that was because my mother was harping on and on about how wonderful (“out of this world” according to her) our cook in Bangladesh’s fried chicken was.  And could I try and replicate it?  Which I dutifully and gastronomically did to general acclaim.  Jolly good.  Except, now, I can’t remember what I did!

I read quite a few food blogs and found myself being intrigued about fried chicken recipes.  Some amount of marinading is always called for.  A magical ingredient known as buttermilk (which we can’t get here in Italy) is presented as to a cut above  yogurt.  Seasoning ranges from family secrets to the ubiquitous salt, pepper and paprika.  Some opt for chopped onion, others for dried garlic.  Fresh herbs? Dry herbs?  So much to consider, so many choices.  The following are my conclusions, which I am most happy to reconsider based on any new information coming my way.


Marinading – I don’t know what all the fuss is about.  Chicken is tender, to me it doesn’t need marinading or tenderising.  The tastiness comes from the spices you are going to add to the batter, not the marinade.  So I give this step a miss.  Shoot me.

Pre-Cooking the chicken: well done Nigella, as I already said.  In this version, however, instead of simmering the chicken pieces in milk, I steamed them.  It took about half an hour. Easy enough to do and one less ingredient to add to the list.  The reason for pre-cooking is kind of obvious: when it comes to frying the chicken, it will take less time and you don’t have to worry about eating semi-raw chicken.  All you have to be worried about is getting the batter to turn crisp.  Note to self for next time: rub a little olive oil over the chicken parts and add some salt.  I am sure this will enhance the overall taste.

Batter Ingredients:

(1)Eggs – egg whites only.  There is a scientific (chemistry) reason why we should eschew the egg yolk.  I think it has something to do with the crisp factor.  I confess, I read about it but have forgotten why.

(2)Alcohol – I used grappa, you could use vodka or some other strong alcoholic drink (not wine and nothing sweet of course).  Apparently, at high heat (and frying does require high heat), the alcohol evaporates and makes the batter extra crisp.  We are talking about tablespoons of alcohol, not great big mugfulls!

(3a)Flours for the batter:  both ordinary flour and corn flour/starch

(3b) Plain flour for coating the chicken pieces before immersing them in the batter; for flavouring, read below.

(4)Breadcrumbs: optional

(5a)Dry spices and/or herbs: you choose what you like … paprika, allpice, parsley, thyme, rosemary – not mint or marjoram I shouldn’t think.  Indeed, you don’t have to add any spices if you don’t want to.  But salt and pepper, yes. Especially salt.  No salt, no taste.

(5b) Fresh herbs: parsley, chives, dill, fresh coriander (even teensy amount of sage) finely chopped – but if so, add them to the batter only at the end, just before you fry the chicken.

(6)Fresh stuff: by ‘stuff’ I mean onion and garlic.  Dry garlic is heaven sent and is what I used. I did use chopped onions on one occasion and it was a tad overwhelming – but that is a matter of personal taste.  I suppose spring onions might be a good alternative?  Whatever stuff you choose to include ‘fresh’, make sure you add it to the batter ONLY at the last minute.  Otherwise it will dilute it.

(7a)Tomato paste – to add colour and a hint of acidity.


(7b)Grated lemon zest – to add freshness, but just a touch. If  you are after a lemony fried chicken drumstick, then by all means add to your heart’s content.

(8)Slurry: there used to be an ad on British television about Murray Mints and the line was, “Never hurry a Murray, it’s far too good to hurry”.  So, mutatis mutandis, it’s a good idea to take your time to make a proper slurry.  Sounds awful, somehow, doesn’t it, conjuring up something slimy.  The slurry basically IS the batter, just not a nice name for it.  It will include beaten egg whites (I used three) diluted with cold water (you could use beer I suppose?) to which you will then add all the other ingredients mentioned above.  The ratio of flours is 30 percent corn starch, 70 plain white flour, but you could even do 50/50 why not.  The final consistency has to be fairly thick.  Go ahead – taste it.  You might want to add a je ne sais quoi to make it just right. Last: it’s not a bad idea to cool the batter in the fridge.  A cold batter will ‘react’ with the hot oil for a crispier result.

(9)Frying oil: groundnut/peanut oil has a good smoke point.


(1)Coat the chicken pieces with olive oil, season and then steam for about half an hour or until ready.  Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely.

(2)While the chicken is cooking, you can prepare the slurry/batter and put it in the fridge.  .

(3)Dredge the cooled-down chicken pieces in a bowl full of seasoned flour (3b above).  Alternatively, place this flour in a large plastic bag, slip the chicken pieces into the bag and shake it until they are evenly coated.

(4a) Place the floured chicken pieces on a rack or large plate, awaiting to be dunked in the batter before being fried.
(4b)Alternatively, place the chicken pieces in a bowl large enough to hold them, pour the batter over them so that it covers them completely, seal with clingfilm and put in the fridge until the next day.  It’s okay for the batter to be cold but …but fridge-cold chicken will take longer to cook.  Hence, it’s a good idea to remove the chicken from the fridge-cold batter at least one hour before frying.

(5)Heat the oil.  It’s a good idea to use a deep frying pan.  If you have one, even a Dutch oven works very well.  When the oil is ready to receive the chicken (at around 180°C), first dunk each piece of chicken in the batter and proceed with frying in sensible batches (don’t fry them all at once).



Fried chicken makes everyone happy, it is festive.  People of all ages like it, it is democratic, it can be eaten with one’s fingers.  Fried chicken is a treat.

And, as we all know, fried chicken tastes fab eaten cold the next day.  Great for a picnic!  Remember Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in the picnic scene in To Catch a Thief ?  Who says fried chicken can’t be sultry and sexy!

Here are some photos from my latest batch, cooked last Saturday and shared with my parents-in-law.  There is something naughty about fried foods, isn’t there, and I wanted my in-laws to live a little – heartburn be damned.

UQXP5354Here are the cooked, cooled chicken pieces coated with spiced-up flour.

WLRP7294Here is one chicken piece about to be coated in the batter.  Notice how slightly ‘pink’ it is in colour.  That’s because of the tomato paste in the batter.

EYHC4361Frying away …

QZFY4900Just out of the frying pan and onto a white carpet of kitchen paper.

IMG_7604And this is one piece that got gobbled up by me before dinner.  After I had sprinkled a little bit of salt over it.   We had fried chips for dinner too.  And home-made mayonnaise but not home-made ketchup.


We also had the above stuffed courgette blossoms fried in a different batter.  Saturday night was definitely fried-food night!  (Although in all fairness I did steam the asparagus.)


There were leftovers next day and we enjoyed those cold.  I brought some over to my mother a day after that.  And that’s when she told me she had notes for the fried chicken recipe of our cook in Bangladesh!  The one she always raved about.  Odd that she hadn’t mentioned she had the recipe before.  It didn’t take her long to find the recipe notes, written on a sheet of paper bearing the letterhead of the company my stepfather used to work for.  IMG_7621I must say looking at that letterhead really threw me back … decades ! Talk about bittersweet memories.  Anyway, our cook was called Toka.   Toka’s Fried Chicken might well  be the title of another post from me in the not too distant future.