Antipasto: Squid Panzanella inspired by Ristorante Pepenero in Capodimonte

Back in May, my mother and I took a very short Mother-and-Daughter trip that saw us exploring the northern part of Lazio, the one borders with both Tuscany and Umbria.  This part of Central Italy goes by the name of Etruria (harking back to the Etruscans) as well as  Tuscia.  It is for those who like the road less travelled and is full of surprises and charm.  We had lunch at a little place very close to the town of Capodimonte, on Lake Bolsena.  The major nearest town to take pride of Provincial note is Viterbo.

00000 That’s Capodimonte there on the right …0000 And here was our restaurant, called Pepenero.000And here is my mother a few minutes after we sat down (please note no water or wine or even bread on the table  yet).

Anyway … since it was a hot day and I was going to be driving, I knew that I would want to eat something fairly light and was very intrigued and delighted by an entry that called for the addition of squid to the traditional bread-based dish called ‘panzanella’.
1 This is what it looked like immediately it was presented before me.2 And this is what it looked like after I had mixed things up a bit.  Very appetising indeed.  I decided I would have to try and replicate the same dish at home.

It’s good to have a few new entries in the ‘antipasti’ file.  And so, on one of my whim-inspired antipasti cooking evenings, I decided to also fry some fresh garlic.  Fry it in batter.3 4 That’s shoyu sauce in the middle of the fried garlic and fried courgette plate.5 I had added a little bit of rice vinegar to it too.  Very nice indeed. But let me stick to the squid panzanella story.

6 Boil the squid for the briefest of time in salted water (about 2-3 minutes).7 Drain and cool the squid down in running cold water or iced water until it reaches room temperature.8 Slice the squid.9 10 Then place the sliced squid in a bowl.  Coat the squid with some top notch olive oil, season and, if you like, maybe add some basil.  Set aside.11 12Play lego with a tomato and try and create cubes of an even size.  Sprinkle a little salt and set aside.
13 This is a little bit of onion that was left to soak in a bowl of vinegar and ice.  Vinegar helps to take the sting out of the tart onion and will allow you to talk to close ones without being rebuked for your bad breath.  A red onion would have been better but I didn’t have one at the time.14 Toast some bread … the best way you know how.  I happened to think the griddle pan was the bees’ knees way to do it that day.15 Cut the toasted bread into cubes.  I thought that a pair of scissors would do the trick for me in the most cunning of ways, tee hee hee.

And now … it was time to plate up.

16 17 First the toasted bread and the tomatoes.18 Then the onion and the squid. And finally some torn basil leaves.19 A good drizzle of olive oil, a sneak peek of salt and white pepper .. .and forget about the ghastly basil leaf in ithe middle.  Too ugly for words and I don’t know why I left it there.20

But it did taste very very nice indeed, very very nice.  Try it, it’s easy.  Most delicious!

Potato Cake made with ‘Ramolacce’ Greens -Torta di Patate e Ramoracce

Only a lover of potatoes like me will want to read this post.  Those who sneer at the tuber, those who turn their noses up in disdain at its humble hold at the dinner table and/or presume potatoes to be lacking in taste are kindly requested to go and gorge on rocket leaves or other vegetable of their fancy. Huh!  Harrumph.  I know I am in good company and I know that there are plenty of people out there who adore crisps/potato chips, for instance, as much as I do and pronounce them indispensable at times of emergency … and yes, an aperitivo can be thought of as an emergency-ette when you come to think of it.  The body and mind tell us that it’s time to call it a day, grab a nice drink and be healthy by eating a few crisps so that one is not drinking on an empty stomach.  Anyway, enough about potato scoffers, let us preach to potato lovers and introduce a homely recipe that is guaranteed to delight.

Basically, we are talking about mashed potatoes and boiled greens but the end result is so much more.  “Ramoracce” in Frascati  Italian (as opposed to ‘ramolacce’ in Italian Italian) are hard to find in markets even when they are in season  (Spring) because they are wild of course, and not commercially grown.  I doubt you’ll be able to find ramoracce so think of a suitable substitute – maybe spinach? or swiss chard? or turnip tops?  The leaves have to be simmered before use, so rocket/arugula would not do.

1 2 3 Start by boiling and mashing the potates.  Set aside and allow to cool.4 Here are the ramoracce … brought back home from the market.4a And here are a couple of onions, cooking in a pan with some olive oil.  We don’t want to let them burn,  but they must develop a bit of a brownish colour. This requires a low flame and some patience … about 20 minutes, all in all.5 6 Aren’t these ramoracce just crazy ! I love how they look.7 I don’t love cleaning them, however, sigh.  We only want the leaves, not the stems and this can take quite a while to achieve.  If you can find someone to do this job for you, all the better.  Keep the stuff on the left, ditch the stuff on the right.  8 Once removed from the stems, the leaves need to be thoroughly washed.9 Simmer them in salted water (do not add a lid ever otherwise the green hue will lose its brilliance and intensity).10 Drain the leaves and allow to cool.  Then press them as hard as you can to get rid of any excess water.11 When the leaves are cool enough to handle, place them on a wooden board and chop away to your heart’s content !

So … at this point … we have: a) potatoes that have been mashed, b) leaves that have been cooked and roughly chopped and c) onions that have been caramelised.  Time to put everything together.

12 Use a big bowl. Place the potates and leaves in it and add salt and pepper.13 Then add the onions.14 And now mix …15 And when the three ingredients have been combined, hark back to when you were little and enjoyed playing with sand or playdoh.  Time to use your hands and form one big huge patty!  But first … get hold of a large enough saucepan and drizzle some oil so that all the bottom is coated in it.16 Place your big huge patty in the saucepan and turn the heat on …17 See how thick it is? Well over two inches !18 Cook, cook, cook away … for about 10 minutes say? and then flip this patty onto a large serving plate.19 Here it is.  Now slide the patty back into the pan, cooked side up.20 21 And cook, cook, cook away again.  Doesn’t the crispy top look beautiful already!
22 Slide it back onto the plate …23And serve.  And enjoy.  And let’s hear it for potato lovers of the world!

P.S. The botanical name for ramoracce is : Raphanus raphanistrum … that would make it a relative of the radish family.

Spare Ribs and Sausage Sauce for Home Made Pasta

Here are photos of another of my home-made pasta endeavours recently … the photos speak for themselves.  The sauce was what was left over from the night before’s dinner, spare ribs and sausage to accompany polenta.  The grated cheese in question was pecorino romano.  What a shame we can’t convey tastes over the blog !1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9Here are photos of another of my home-made pasta endeavours recently … the photos speak for themselves.  The sauce was what was left over from the night before’s dinner, spare ribs and sausage to accompany polenta.  The grated cheese in question was pecorino romano.  What a shame we can’t covey tastes over the blog !


Fusion Flour Pasta and an Asparagus and Tomato Sauce

My mother is a dab hand at making home-made pasta – her fingers dance all over the wooden board, known as ‘spianatoia’ in Italian, and the precision with which she slices the final rolled-out dough is incredibly neat, almost geometrically perfect.  She only recently confided to me that she had learned the art of pasta making from the signora Pierina who hailed from Bologna (my mother grew up in Frascati, near Rome), which of course is home to the art of egg-dough pasta.  It is called ‘sfoglia’ and is made using tender wheat flour (00 flour as it is known in Italy).  In central and especially in Southern Italy, eggs were eschewed from the pasta picture and the dough was and continues to be made with flour and water only, the flour in question being the same as that used for commercially dried pasta (as well as bread), the ‘hard’ durum wheat called ‘semola di  grano duro’.  The typical sfoglia is rolled out very thinly, and is soft and velvety to chew.  The pasta made using durum wheat, instead, is a little more resistant to the tooth, it has a little more bite.  In neither case, however, does one worry about  having to cook it ‘al dente’ – and besides, fresh pasta takes far less time to cook, ranging from 2-3 minutes max from the minute the water starts boiling again after the pasta has been added.

I confess that I do not often make my own pasta – I buy it either freshly made on the day at a local ‘pastificio’ (pasta shop) or else use commercially dried egg pasta.  My favourites seem to hail from the Marche, where my in laws come from.  The pasta from Campofilone and from Camerino are really really good, try them one day.  The egg pastas of Marco Giacosa typical of Piedmont (tajarin or tagliolini) are top notch.   Having been asked to conduct a cooking class around pasta making, I thought it would be a good idea to get some practice in and so I  became a bit of a pasta fanatic recently – making it at least twice a week.  It had me experimenting too … using a mix of both 00 flour and durum wheat flour, hence the ‘fusion’ in  title of today’s post.


Always use the best flour you can get your hands on and these days I won’t touch flour that is not organic.  The brand I used today is Molino Conti which is in Lazio, and not very far from Tivoli.  The table you see is our dining room table.2My three fingers are there to show that I weighed out 300g of the durum wheat flour.

3And there it is … 300g of sifted flour resting on the wooden ‘spianatoia’ (it might help if I spelled it as it is pronounced: sp-yah-nah-toe-yah). The spianatoia in question was placed over a towel on the dining room table.
4And now I decided to add 200g of whole wheat, tender wheat flour this time (as opposed to Durum wheat). The brand of this flour is Molino Fratelli D’Emilio, from Artena … which is even closer to Frascati than Tivoli.  Artena is famous for its good bread.5And I mixed the two flours up.  I did not sieve the whole wheat flour.6I then set aside 5 whole eggs (1 egg for each 100g of flour) … and my son was having fun with me while I was taking this photo … adding his own hands to the photo just to confuse the reader even more !

I mixed the eggs in with the flour and started making a dough …the dough was very hard, however, too hard indeed for me to knead and so  I just had to add some water to soften it — and to avoid a sprain in my fingers!

7I ended up adding 150ml of water to the dough in order to be able to knead it properly.  The dough required 10 minutes of kneading with my hands for it to become soft enough.  I then covered it in clingfilm and set it aside to ‘rest’. Any pasta dough has to ‘rest’ at least 30 minutes.  This will make rolling it out afterwards much easier.8I rolled out the dough into strips … quite thick ones, called “fettuccine” … and here they are !
9It’s a good idea to shower the freshly sliced fettuccine with plenty of flour, so that they won’t stick together.

And the sauce?  I had some asparagus left over from the day before …1011I cut up some cherry tomatoes and cooked them in a saucepan with olive oil, a clove of garlic and slices of pork jowl (guanciale).12I cooked the sauce for about 15  minutes and add the asparagus only towards the very end.13It does not take long for the fettuccine to cook: about 3 minutes.  Never throw away the cooking water ! fresh pasta is very very thirsty and will soak up anything in sight !14Indeed, I had to add about one cup of the cooking water to the fettuccine as I mixed them up with the sauce directly in the saucepan.  I grated some parmigiano …16And there we are ! Home-made fettuccine with asparagus and tomato sauce. Buonissime.  Buon appetito !  And yes, my boys were very happy with their lunch that day.  

Polpette with a Crunch – Polpette con Doppia Impanatura

The cheaper cuts of beef that the Romans use to make stock (il lesso) are often eaten either sliced up and accompanied by a ‘salsa verde’ or else reheated with onion and tomatoes for a dish called ‘picchiapò’ ( .  A third option is to mince up the meat and turn it into meatballs, which are breaded and quickly shallow fried (   They really do taste so much better than they sound, I promise you! and that is in part, I conclude. because of the contrast between the crispy outer coating and the soft interior of the meat patty.

I had an ‘aha!’ moment the other day and thought to myself … ‘Why, I wonder whether we could make ordinary meatballs (i.e. polpette) taste like that too?’.  Such is the low scale of my adventurous mind these days that it was with some trepidation that I broached the experiment.  After all, the ‘normal’ Italian meatballs take pride in being as soft as a pillow … was it worth incurring the wrath of the Polpette Police ?

See for yourselves …

1Dunk the meatball in egg wash (beaten egg) and then coat it with breadcrumbs a first time.  The egg wash you see above had bits of choped parsely in it, it was just an added ‘thing’, you don’t have to follow suit.2 And then … repeat the process.  Dunk the polpetta a second time  …3 And slather it in breadcrumbs a second time.4 5 Set aside.6 Shallow fry the polpette and low and behold … the two layers of breadcrumbs come into their own.  I used olive oil for this procedure.7 While I was cooking the polpette I was also frying some courgette slices in plain flour-and-water batter as a little antipasto.  I had cooked the capsicum the day before in the oven.8 I had made some confit tomatoes the day before (together with the capsicum).9 And here are the pert and crispy polpette resting inside a wreath of oven cooked tomatoes.10 A good sprinkling of salt … always (and make sure it’s air dried salt, not nasty chemically dried table salt).11

And Bob’s your uncle !  They were really good, I mean really good (they all got gobbled up, that’s always an indicative sign).


I had some prosciutto languishing in the fridge.  I felt sorry for it.  So I turned it into polpette too.  The texture was naturally completely different from the above, but it proved a viable experiment … and one in keeping with my ‘Loving the Leftovers’ lark.

IMG_3735 Chopped up prosciutto …IMG_3736 Breadcrumbs, egg and salt …

That’s it.  Polpette can save the day … and always taste good !