The Anatomy of a Pea and Veal Stew – Spezzatino di Vitella con Piselli

What is it about peas that make them so delicious? Even frozen ones? Is it because of their colour, bursting with the green vibrancy of Spring, a trumpet call to us that grizzly Winter is finally over?  Is it because it’s actually quite fun to zip open a peapod and shell the pretty little green spheres within?  Enjoying eating a few on the way?

The Italian word for pea is ‘pisello’.  So far, so good.  Number one.

There is an Italian saying that goes like this: “Uomo avvisato, mezzo salvato”.  A man who has been warned is a man who has been at least half saved –  caveat Emptor sort of thing.  Number two is that …the Italian children’s word for penis is ‘pisellino’ … meaning ‘little pea’ – think ‘willy’ or ‘weenie’ in English.  And yes, even a grown man’s penis can be called ‘pisello’.

So picture my utter embarraassment and dismay when, a few years ago around this time of year, I popped into my greengrocer’s and espied the novelty of large crates of fresh peas, peas in their pod.  Literally clapping my hands with joy, I proceeded to pick one up and brandished it enthusing to all and sundry just how much I loved peas; “Quanto mi piacciono i piselli !!!” (three exclamation marks) meaning: Oh how I love peas.  Followed by an appreciative, sigh-accompanied “Il pisello è proprio bello!” , meaning ‘the pea is really gorgeous’.

Harmless enough appreciative commentary to make in any other country save Italy, or Rome rather, where shopkeepers like a bit of banter.  Some of the amused people in the shop, those naughty so and so’s, chose to discern the double meaning for male genitalia when the greengrocer raised an eyebrow and muttered a knowing ‘eh già!’.  The phrase ‘eh già’ itself is utterly harmless and has no direct translation in English;  it is used to proclaim assent, it is used to express agreement, very much the equivalent of  ‘for sure’, or ‘yep’ or ‘quite’.  And yet … and yet …

What had happened, basically, was that I had announced to everyone in the shop that I was a bit of a  ‘goer’, even as I gushed over the beauty of … well, you know, ‘piselli’. Ahem.  Double ahem.  It  took me less than two seconds to  realise that I had no one but myself to blame for prompting the shopkeeper to mutter the ‘eh già’ ,  even though he did so with restraint, butter not melting in his mouth.  Such are the linguistic pitfalls that can befall a housewife on her daily round of shopping.

“Yes, thank you, I’ll have 2 kg’s of those please”, I nodded in the direction of the peas and quickly added other items to my shopping list, pretending that I hadn’t understood what had just transpired and mustering as much dignity as I could.

On with the recipe.   I chose this dish in honour of my father in law who loves it so and he and my mother in law were coming round for dinner.  I think that an added bonus of this dish is that the meat is very tender and as we know … as we get older, our chompers tend to have a little more difficulty in doing their job.  So … lots of taste, the freshness of Spring peas, and tenderness.  Oh .. and did I mention how easy it is to prepare?

 

IMG_2721 Veal cut into bite-size pieces on the left … shelled peas on the right.IMG_2722Coat the veal in some flour …
IMG_2723 Pepper corns and garlic in an olive oil puddle …IMG_2724 White wine at the ready … Frascat DOCG of course !IMG_2725Roughly chop an onion and start cooking it over a gentle heat in another saucepan.  The peas are cooked separately from the meat at first.
IMG_2726 In the other casserole, brown the veal over a fairly strong heat for a few minutes.IMG_2727 Then add the white wine and some salt.

IMG_2730Wait for the stew to reach bubbling point and then add 1 teaspoon of tomato puré (the thick tomato concentrate that comes out of a tube). Simmer until tender, under a lid.  It should take about half an hour or so … (the cooking time depends on the meat).IMG_2728While the veal is stewing, cook the onion very very gently.  It has to take its time and wilt without burning (do not let it brown in other words).  Then add the peas, a good pinch of sugar, and salt.IMG_2729Now pour some water into the saucepan, and cook the peas until they are done.
IMG_2731 When both peas and the veal are cooked … unite them into a one-pot stew.  Add a sprig of rosemary and turn the heat off.  After about 3 minutes remove the rosemary.IMG_2734

Here is the veal and pea stew before I removed the sprig of rosemary and just before I brought it to the table to be enjoyed and appreciated.  It’s an old fashioned dish and I knew it would speak volumes to my dear father in law.  I made sure there was enough for them to take home to be relived on the following day.  I love how food can make us so happy (yes, and we won’t mention the embarrassing incident over the pea and anatomy connection ….) !

Gurnard (Gallinella) … A Fish that makes a good pasta Sauce …

Let’s make fish ragù with Gallinella

 

This post is all about using fresh, caught fish to full ‘advantage’.   The fish in question is called ‘gallinella di mare’ in this part of Italy and translates as ‘tub gurnard’ in English.  I’d never heard of tub gurnard in English before and do not remember eating much gallinella whilst growing up in Italy.  But spurred as I was a few weeks ago, indeed almost driven, to just pop into a fishmonger’s and pick up whatever fish took my fancy that day, I opted for this strangely named creature of the sea.  My mother had given me a basket of her home made fettuccine just hours before and I thought I could cook up a wonderful fish stew (ragù) as the height of fresh egg-noodles accompaniment.

My first mistake was not following the fishmonger’s kind suggestion that he fillet the fish for me (Oh no no no no … quoth I to him …. I can do that at home, fish is very tactile and all that, and filleting fish kind be a very zen exercise).  The second mistake, or at least misunderstanding on my part, was to have blithely disregarded the cost of the fish.  The fishmonger handed over the gutted gallinella to me and smilingly conveyed the price: EU 42.  I almost did a double-take but meekly complied with the payment — after all, it wasn’t the fishmonger’s fault.

Hmmmm.  I got home and took more than just one photo of Mr Fish the Tub Gurnard cum Gallinella.  Take a look.

On a silver platter …

And here were my mother’s fettuccine …

She just has a way with the fresh pasta … Oh I am so envious ….

“You’d better taste good!” I said out aloud.   Then I proceeded to fillet it and cursed my hubris.  I had never dealt with these gurnards before and ‘tough’ doesn’t begin to describe how frightfully medieval-like-armoured-mail their whole demeanor is. I actually cut myself at one point and had to put my bleeding finger under running water and then bandage myself up before carrying on.  This was not boding well.  Why oh Why? Why why why?  Why had  I done it? What what WHAT had induced me to want to buy that silly fish?  Sigh.

And then, when I looked at the amount of flesh I managed to extract from the whole fish, I felt even worse!  There really didn’t seem to be much to eat for 42 euros!  Take a look!

Lovely colour, however, and definitely fresh fresh fresh.   And then the magic of pasta kicked in, and I reconnected to an atavistic will to make the most of what lay before me.  After all that fretting over the filleting, I was damned if I wasn’t going to come up with a fantastic ragù for my mother’s superb home-made fettuccine.  Hands on hips, hah!

For those of you who are really interested in cooking, read on.  For those of you who are fond of me and are my friends but don’t necessarily want to cook …. go straight to the end of this post!

MAKING FISH STOCK

Whatever I wasn’t able to use for the ragù, I used to make the stock.

I added water, some herbs, onion, a tiny amount of lemon zest, some pepper corns and … sorry, can’t remember.  Probably a bit of wine too. Oh yes, and a bay leaf.   Bay leaves are wonderful for stocks.

ADDING PEAS TO THE RAGU’

Can you see two cast-iron saucepans?  I sliced a big wedge of garlic from a whole head of garlic, into one slice, and put it into one of the saucepans together with a a healthy helping of butter — one large tablespoon’s worth.

I switched on the heat and added a long shaped pepper corn … look at the butter foaming gently as it cooks both the garlic and the pepper.

Add the peas …

Add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon full of sugar …

And since the fish stock has been bubbling for a while now, add a little bit of that too.  After all, this is going to be a fish-based ragù!  Give it a good stir and set aside.

THE TOMATO SAUCE

In another cast-iron saucepan, sauté some sliced up garlic with a few coriander seeds and plenty of olive oil, over a gentle heat.

Here are some cut up cherry tomatoes …

Add them to the sauté of garlic and coriander seeds and, again, cook over a gentle heat.

Season with salt …. and a pinch of sugar.

Add a small ladle-full of the simmering fish stock too.

Owing to the fact that I was short of fresh tomatoes, I decided to add a good squirt of concentrated tomato  purée, straight out of a tube.  Life saver …

As the tomato sauce was drying up, I added yet more fish stock …

Yes … now we are getting somewhere!  I wish I could convey the scent at this point of the cooking … it was very, very engrossing.

Add the fish stock, a little at a time and as necessary.

Glossy and simmering … taste and make sure the seasoning is right.

FINAL TOUCH

Time to add the previously cooked peas … and give everything a good stir.

Looking gorgeous, smelling divine.  I switched off the heat.

At this point … it was time to get the pasta cooking.

Once the fettuccine were cooked, I drained them and put them straight into the casserole with the fish ragù in it, having turned the heat on again.

The drained fettuccine went straight into the ragù casserole …

I added the last dregs of the fish stock, filtering it ….

And then put the lid on the casserole to get the heat going so all the ingredients would meld together nicely … if only for a few minutes.

DISHING OUT

I took the lid off and stirred the fettuccine …

In the servng dish …

A close-up ….

There was enough fettuccine and fish ragù to serve six hungry people … which in terms of arithmetics comes to Eu 7 per person/per serving for the fish alone.  Expensive? yes.  Worth it? Even more …

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