Pressure in the World Grand Prix Motorcycling Race – No Pressure Making Sunday Lunch’s Bolognese with the Pressure Cooker

39Many people who are a dab hand in the kitchen are of the opinion that pressure cookers are passé and (secretly, laughably) temporally naff, embarrassing even.  Well, I disagree.  My trusted pressure cooker saved the day today, as it has done on many an occasion.  When the adjective ‘slow’ is cause for inward groaning, i.e. on those occasions when timeliness and swiftness are of the essence, a pressure cooker can be a gal’s best friend.  Here is my story today.

What’s a poor gal to do.  She knows that her boys want to watch the MotoGP Finale on TV, the one to be held in Valencia on Sunday afternoon, beginning at 2 p.m.  Which is that time of day that signals a quasi atavistic pull of what goes into family-bonding lore – the Sunday lunch, ‘il pranzo della domenica’, as nostalgically spoken of in hallowed terms in Italy as is its counterpart in the United Kingdom , the famous Sunday Roast.  Traditionally, the pranzo della domenica is the preferred meal of older folk, because they weren’t used to eating a large meal in the evening.  It heralds and permits gastronomic specialities and even excess, it revels in conversation, debate and catching up, and sometimes includes card playing and favorite TV programmes to follow, not to mention furtive or blatant siestas.  Sunday declares it is not a day of work, it is a day to forget about the woes in life, it is supposed to be a day of rest and recuperation.  Time slows down on a Sunday.

The only hitch,  truth be told, is that the traditional pranzo della domenica actually entails a lot of work and scotches the very notion of a comfy lie-in to catch up on any sleep lost from the surfeit of Saturday night’s carrying on.  If  you don’t mind doing all the shopping and schlepping on the Saturday, and then getting up early on the Sunday morning, to do the rest of the cooking, set the table and fiddle dee dee … then indeed it can be truly delightful.  It’s not often that I cherish waking up early on a Sunday morning, however, and that is why we rarely have a proper ‘pranzo della domenica’ in our home.   We are more Sunday supper kind of people.  That said, a feeble essence of what should constitute a Sunday en famille has always clung to me.   We owe it to ourselves to make one day in the week a little special for us.  It’s a civilised thing to do.  My last post was all about how I attempted to make a plain courgette risotto a little ‘special’ on a Sunday, and I probably wouldn’t have bothered to do that had I had to make the risotto on any other day of the week.

Anyway, back to today.  The boys announced that they were going to be gripped by a whole afternoon of live-sports TV watching – first the exciting motorcycle world championship final and then the ordinary Sunday football matches (the Roma-Lazio match being very close to the knuckle today).  I don’t know much about either but I did know that Valentino Rossi is the big name in motorcycling racing, and when I innocently ventured to ask why he was not in starting the race in pole position … I got an earful of explanations that were quite beyond me.   All I managed to understand was that there had been some hanky panky behaviour on the part of another motorcyclist Marc  Marquez in a previous race in Malaysia and that some of the protagonists of these races were not above chicanery and trickery (Read more about it at this link: http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/motorsport/34731253).  Human nature is human nature, I suppose, in whatever guise it presents itself, be it in the world of racing or in plain everyday life.

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(The boys engrossed in the MotoGP finale in Valencia showing live on TV)

Friends had invited my husband and me to a spiffing dinner last night, one that we overindulged in because every single plate and dish was just so tempting.  I don’t normally go for puddings and desserts and yet even I ended up tucking into freshly made panettone by Rome’s purveyor of gastronomic goodies,  Roscioli … on top of a passion fruit, chocolate and ricotta pudding, home-made chocolate and pistachio log and dessert wine both bubbly and still.   All this to say that the last thing I wanted to think about this morning was … food.  And yet, it’s a funny thing … people get hungry again, even after large meals – go figure!

So off I trotted to the Sunday farmers’ market at Ariccia, and bought some veggies and spuds and good bread and fresh fettuccine.  It was well past one o’clcok when I got home and started to get on with the lunch.  Some would call me ambitious or silly or both.  Me? I know I can rely on my trusty pressure cooker on occasions like today.

But you have to be disciplined and organised too.  Start by putting the ingredients together:

1 carrot, 1 celery stalk, 1 onion for the soffritto, 500g of minced/ground beef mixed in with 2 Italian sausages, evoo, tomato sauce (passata) 660g, 2 tablespoons of tomato concentrate out of a tube, half a glass of milk, 1 glass of red wine, butter, parmesan cheese, salt, nutmeg

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The first thing to do is get the soffritto going… which I  started off straight away in the pressure cooker.
1a I put the water on to the boil, and added some bay leaves and another celery stick that was lurking about in the fridge.  The bay leaves and the celery would add a je ne sais quoi to the cooking water … but they are not a necessary ingredient.2 The minced and sausage meat …3 Sprinkle salt over the meat, together with just a hint of nutmeg.4 5 6 Squeeze the tomato concentrate directly into the glass of red wine.7Give it a good stir.
8Add a good ‘pinch’ of salt to the milk.10 Grate plenty of parmesan cheese.

Okay, now that the soffritto got going, and I had all the ingredients to hand, I got on with the recipe.

12 This was the time.13Pour some evoo into a frying pan, and add a few peppercorns and 1 clove.  Add the minced meat and cook it over a high heat.14 Meat cooking on the left, soffritto almost cooked on the right.15 When the meat has browned, 16Add the wine all in one go.  17 Use the wooden fork to un-clump the meat, to loosen it as it were.18 Now add the passata.  Stir it in.  Once it has combined (in less than a minute, surely?), switch off the heat.  Transfer all of this to the pressure cooker.19 Combine the meat, its sauces with the soffritto.  Stir well.20 Remember the milk?21 Time to add the milk. Stir.22 I liked the idea of adding some parsely stems.  Again, stir.23 Secure the lid of the pressure cooker … and away we go.24 What’s the time?  Right …25 The pasta water is bubbling merrily away …26I decide to make some hummus while I wait.  I may as well, it doesn’t take long.  I can hear the boys in the other room exclaiming and groaning and commenting like crazy.  Much good it will do me, don’t understand a thing about this race other than poor Valentino Rossi has been penalised.  What ‘s the time now?
28 Ten past two.  The pressure cooker has been on for 20 minutes.29 Switch off the heat.  Move the pressure cooker to another burner that is not hot.  Release the steam etc and open up the lid.30 Now place the opened-up pressure cooker to a burner with the heat on, to simmer. While the fettuccine cook.

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The fettuccini take less than 5 mintues to cook.31 Remember the first frying pan?  It’s still streaked with some of the sauce.  Add a knob of butter.  Fellow blogger Stefan (http://stefangourmet.com) commented on the generous portion of butter added to my risotto last week.  This is to show him that it’s not just risotto that stands to benefit from butter, tee hee 🙂 !

Time to dish out!  It’s nearly ready!
33 Put some of the ragù in the frying pan.  Turn the heat on.  The butter will start to melt straight away, because the ragù is hot.34 Drain the cooked fettuccine straight into the large pan.35 Use a wooden spoon and a wooden fork to combine everything.  Make liberal use of the pasta water when you see things drying up a bit – don’t worry about adding too much, egg pasta is notoriously greedy when it comes to pasta water, it will absorb it with gusto.36 Do add more ragù too … until you reach the proportion of meat sauce/fettuccine that pleases you.37 Add a teensy bit more on top.38 Shower with parmesan.39 40 And yes … I love food and I love cooking food for the people I love.41 Fettuccine with ragù alla bolognese … served in a lovely hand-painted ceramic plate (c/o Giardini di Sole) and served on a bog-standard IKEA plastic tray, ahem.  Is there a better way of watching a race on TV?

 

And later on … phew … the Roma team beat Lazio 2-0.42Lefotvers for tomorrow … or to freeze.

Risotto with Courgettes/Zucchine

There used to be, in the days of yore, days that were composed of working life followed by ‘normal’ life, i.e. the 9 to 5 day.  Kids went to school on their daily time schedule, and dads went to work from 9 to 5, and the family would eat supper together at some point.  Now we all work.  At all times.  During all days of the week, including Sundays.  It’s ridiculous and none of us really enjoys it but … what to do? what to do?  We just have to get on with it and get by, grow, and hope for the better.

Even so, I find it very irksome that I should have to deal with the mundane aspects of running a home on a Sunday – think washing machine loads, hanging out the laundry to dry in good weather, using the dryer when the weather is less clement, tidying, de-cluttering, ironing, sorting out and generally trying to make a better place of the space one lives in.  It’s exhausting.  And yet it must  be done.  And at some point one gets hungry, and one must eat.

And this, then, is the Sunday lunch recipe for when household duties rule the roost and leave little time for anything special.  But, because it IS a Sunday, our repast MUST somehow be special … and here is the result.  The ingredients are dime-a-dozen desultory and available to all (save perhaps for very good extra virgin olive oil) but the end result is more than the sum of its parts and speaks of defiance and says ‘we shall overcome’.  Yeah.

THE INGREDIENTS
1Three large courgettes/zucchine.  1 onion.  A few black peppercorns. Some marjoram.  Some sage.  Salt.

2About 2 tablespoons of butter.
3Parmesan cheese … grated.
4 Plain vegetable stock/broth: made up of celery sticks, carrots and 1 courgette/zucchina.

LET’S GET STARTED

5So, back to our ingredients.  There are 3 large courgettes.  I of them needs to simmer in the vegetable stock, whole.
7 The other two courgettes need to be cut in such a way that we utilise only the green part of the vegetable and hardly any of the white part.  The ‘wedge’, that big white thing you see in this photo ….8Here is a close.up.  They represent the unsexy part of the vegetable, taste of nothing, and are basically good for nothing and would normally be thrown away.  But since I was making a vegetable stock … I added these white leftovers to it.6The vegetable stock simmering away (for about 15 minutes).
9Here are the other two courgettes, roughly sliced, and ready and waiting..10The onion is the next one to get the chop.
11And now we can begin.  Place some peppercorns in a saucepan, together with plenty of olive oil.  And yes, it does have to be olive oil, preferably evoo (extra virgin olive oil).12 Turn the heat on, and add the onion and the courgettes at the same time and cook over a fairly high heat.13 When the onion and courgettes are cooked … remove from the pan and place in a plate, and set aside.14 This is what is left back in the saucepan.15 Now add the rice (this was Carnaroli rice – but you could use arborio or vialone nano, so long as you use Italian rice).  Turn the heat on, to toast the rice.16 Toast the rice until most of the rice goes transluscent …17 And then pour about a glass of wine into the pan … and watch it sizzle and steam as it hits the heat!

18Add one ladle of the vegetable stock, and stir the rice until it has absorbed all the liquid.
19 I didn’t bother to remove the veggies from the stock.  So I used a cone-shaped colander to filter the liquid.20 See?21 Do this a second time – i.e. add enough stock to cover the rice, stir with a wooden spoon until all the liquid is absorbed by the rice.  22 Now add a good pinch (or two, or three even) of good quality salt.  I tend to use Celtic salt mostly (sel de Guérande).23 Stir …24 At this point, the risotto can handle itself for a while.  Pour more stock, enough to cover it by about 1 inch …25 26 And while it toils and bubbles …27 It’s time to deal with the one courgette that had cooked in the stock.28 Add a pinch of salt, and then process it with an immersion blender.29 Add it to the risotto, stir and carry on cooking.30There was a brightly coloured, rather cheerful looking persimmon just waiting to be used up.
31 So I sliced it.

32About 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time,  I added the previously sautéed courgettes and onions.

34 It was time to stir now.   Just 1 minute before the end of the cooking time, I added the herbs.35 I stirred them in.36 I switched off the heat.  Added the nice big lump of butter.  And smiled with glee as it melted into the risotto.37 Once the butter had melted, it was time for the grated parmesan.38 39 One final stir, and it was now time for a little rest.40 I covered the saucepan with its gleaming lid and left the risotto to ‘mantecare’ (to rest) for about five minutes.41 Served on the plates and ready to be enjoyed …42 43 44 Plate number one.45 46Plate number two.

And yes, the persimmon went very well with the risotto over and above providing some good cheer for the eye.

It’s the little things in life that make the difference.  Humble courgettes, vegetable stock and rice somehow banded together in perfect harmony and made Sunday lunch a nice one.