Yuletide Meatloaf with Porcini Mushrooms

Meatloaf, or polpettone as it is known in Italian, must surely rank as the most evocative of home food repasts both in Europe and North America, the embodiment of what a good housewife/mother or grandmother could put together for the family meal.  Wholesome, tasty, comforting and satiating, a meatlof would never aspire to la-di-da but neither would have the better-off classes sneered their noses down at what is basically a huge sausage.  We have all grown so much more sophisticated these past few decades where meals and cuisines are concerned thanks to TV programmes and social media and, let’s face it, a bit of an obsession over eating in general but I would wager that none of us would think it stonkingly out of place if we were to be served a meatloaf at a friend’s house for a meal – slightly out of fashion maybe, like food from the 1970s, or perhaps quaint, but not ‘wrong’ as such.  And that is because there is an intrinsic honesty to a meatloaf; it can’t lie, and there is only so much tweaking that can be apportioned to it upon pain of distorting, misrepresenting and downright perverting its nature.  So let’s hear it for the meatloaf, say I, let’s make it welcome even in the 21st century.  At the same time, and I realise I might be raising a hackle or two in saying so, let us not turn to any Ottolenghi-inspired makeovers, his shopping list alone would be an insult to what a meatloaf is all about.  Simple.  It is not supposed to make an impression or draw attention to itself.

It is supposed to be good, however, of course !  And the version I am about to talk to you about was definitely most enticing, taught to me and members of a group who had the good fortune to be invited to stay at the Casamora Farm for a gastronomy tourism workshop in Tuscany last June.  This farm and holiday destination is famous for many things, including its top notch extra virgin olive oil.  Owned and run by the erudite architect Maurizio Montani Fargna and his delightful energetic wife Matilde Visconti, a lot of historical family blood and background courses through their veins.  The photo below was snapped by Annalee Archie, who wrote about our experience on her tavoladelmondo.com website (see ‘tags’). They were the kindest of hosts and Maurizio a most engaging conversationalist.

casamora-by-lee

They turned to Stefania Barzini and her trusty friend and assistant Paola Colombo to run the cooking classes and I was overjoyed to take part.  What wasn’t there to like?

1

But first a confession.  I am one of the few people in the world who would find meatloaf a challenge.  Indeed, one of my attempts turned out to be an outsized disaster and saw me transmogrifying a meatloaf into a cottage pie, sigh (https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/sheepish-in-meatloaf-battle-or-cottage-pie-a-litalienne/).  So the fact that Stefania was going to see us through a meatloaf from scratch was quite a boon.

INGREDIENTS

Dried porcini mushrooms, milk, bread, onions, carrots, good extra virgin olive oil, 1kg minced meat/ground beef, 1 egg, roughly chopped parsely, grated parmesan cheese, freshly ground nutmeg if desired, salt and pepper, flour, wine, plum tomatoes

The first thing to do is soak the porcini in hot water for at least twenty minutes, better still for one hour.  The mushrooms will regain some moisture and the liquid will be impregnated with their taste.

2

Then soak some bread in milk until it has softened but not become too soggy:

53Put the minced meat in a mixing bowl.

6

Add the bread and 1 egg.

7Then add the grated parmesan cheese.

9Add the rougly chopped parsely.

10Add some grated nutmeg (if you like it) and combine the ingredients, using your hands.

11Add salt and pepper last.  That’s it for now.  Stefania and Paola work in unison.

It’s now time to make a simple ‘soffritto’: chop a couple of onions and two carrots and sauté them in a frying pan that will be large enough to hold two meatloaves.

4The olive oil we used was, naturally, Casamora’s own evoo, one of the best in all of Italy.

15Once the onion and carrot have softened (about 5-minutes, you don’t want the onion to brown), you can start adding the porcini mushrooms.

16Remember our meat?  Now is the time to divide it and shape it into two loaves.  Then, using plenty, and I mean plenty, more than one would think!, flour … dredge the loaves so that they are utterly coated in flour.  No skimping !

17And now that the mushrooms have cooked a while, Stefania is about to lower the loaves into the pan.

And here we are: both loaves are in, the flame is a strong one, and a lid is placed on top of the pan.

20After about 10 minutes, off comes the lid, and in goes plenty of wine.  Please note: never sprinkle the wine on top of the meat itself.

21Stefania  makes a little room between the loaves and then turns them over (not as easy as one might think).

22In go two tins of plum tomato passata.  Unlike with the wine, it’s okay to slather the loaves with the tomatoes !

23On goes the lid … and we have to wait a little bit.  By a little bit,  I mean … oh very well, then, I’ll have to own up: I can’t remember how long.  Probably about 20 minutes or so ?

25

Tieta Madia doesn’t mind waiting (https://chivoltailculamilan.com/).

24

Nor do Matilde Visconti (centre) or Annalee Archie (on the right).

26

And then it’s time to pour in some of the water that the porcini mushrooms had steeped in.  Dried porcini mushrooms are notorious for wanting to hang on to the soil they grew in, and there is bound to be some grit in the water.  Better to strain the porcini water through a fine mesh strainer before pouring it into the pan.  And now is the time to banish the lid.  The liquid has to cook down.

27After about another 10 minutes or so (yes, I know, I  know, I am only guessing – but surely I can’t be too off the chronological mark?) …. the sauce has thickened beautifully, the meat is cooked through and all is well in the meatloaf world.

28This is what one of the loaves looked like just before being served.  I wish I had more photos of it on the plate but I was too busy eating and enjoying my lunch by then.

So yes … a humble dish with an aristocratic ingredient, the porcini mushroom, also known as ceps in English.  Not too shabby as a yuletide dish … what do you reckon?

 

Kaling the Cod – Baccalà with Cavolo Nero and an Oriental Crisp Factor

I suppose this is a story of how thrift can contribiute to creativity.

I was clearing up a small store cupboard a few weeks ago and came across a half finished box of Kroepoek – Kroepoek is the original Asian snack made from fresh shrimps and tapioca flour. It is deep fried the way pappadums are, and kroepoek (pronounced “crew-pook, with pook rhyming with book – isn’t that correct Stefan?) look like tiny pappadums now that I think of it, and take no time at all to fry.  I had bought the box back in January and had served them for an Asian themed family dinner, and fond though the memory of that evening was, I had also to deal with a gnawing sense of nostalgia creeping into my veins. I hate it when that happens.  Once I finished frying them and had eaten a few, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of them.   I just didn’t have the heart to throw them away, so stuck them in the oven to deal with the next day.1Here are the fried kroepoek …
2 The next day I also had to deal with some tomatoes that were very pretty, yes, but that were also getting perilously close to losing their freshness.15And I had bought some salt cod that morning.  Baccalà.

8

And I had also bought some kale – cavolo nero or cavolaccio.

I posed myself a little culinary challenge – how could I come up with a dish using all these ingredients?

I began with the tomatoes and started making a very plain salsa di pomodoro.

3 I roughly cut up the tomatoes and let them simmer over a medium and then low heat until they fell apart – about 15 minutes.4 I used some tongs to get rid of the skins, and got rid of them.5 I then dribbled a good bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt … 6 I tasted the salsa/sugo and it was sweet enough, it did not need any sugar.  I added some fresh basil leaves.  I continued to let the salsa simmer for about another five minutes and then switched off the heat.7 At that point, I added a spoonful of butter and put the salsa aside.
9a I poured some olive oil into a nice big frying pan and added a handful of guanciale (cured pork jowl) and then a little bit of garlic.10 After a few minutes this is what you get …11 And this is when it’s time to add the kale … be careful! It splutters.  Best to add the kale a little at a time …12 The kale wilts almost immediately.13 Cook for a few minutes and then add some white wine.  Sprinkle a little bit of salt, put the lid on the pan and cook until the kale is tender.14 And here is what you end up with.  Set aside.15 Here is the baccalà, with its skin on.16 It’s not that hard to trim the baccalà of its oily skin.17 I suppose one could do something intelligent with the skin but the only thing I could think of that evening was to throw it away (I don’t have a cat either).18 I cut the baccalà into cubes.  The fish on the right hand side of this photo? I stored it in the freezer for future use.19 I now placed a few slices of lardo into the frying pan, together with some rosemary sprigs.20 Turn the heat on … I let the lard cook without any olive oil at first and then added it: the lard renders into the olive oil, and the rosemary infuses this delicious fat component.   While this has going on ….21 I used the kale to cover the bottom of a serving dish, a bit like a mattress.22 I began cooking the baccalà … it takes very little time to cook, less than two minutes.  23 The lardo was crispy enough … out of the pan and onto the serving dish.24Turn the baccalà over very carefully, using two spoons if it helps.
25
And now serve !26 I poured dollops of the tomato sauce on top of the kale and then placed the baccalà on top of that.  I put kroepoek all around the serving dish.  It looks a bit overcrowded in this photo, sorry.27 Here is the dish served on the dinner plate.  Just one kroepoek to give the dish a crispy element.28So … did all the ingredients blend together okay?  Ahem … not saying this recipe can’t be improved upon but yes, I’d say it was pretty good.  The kroepoek delivered a little crunch … there was plenty of taste … the tomato sauce provided a dash of acidity and the kale a pinch of bitterness.  Surprisigly, the baccalà held its own.  Baccalà is a proud fish, it’s hard to cover it up.

Panzerotti alla romana

Please note: after I had written this post, a reader kindly pointed out that I had got the feast day all wrong: the feast day in question is (was) The Immaculate Conception, whereas I wrote of the Annunciation (which is celebrated in March).  And to think I was raised a catholic ! Shame on me … but not on my feelings !

……………………………………………

Today, December 8th, is a public holiday in Italy and a holy feast day for practising catholics all over the world.

It is the day of the Annunciation, of the Archangel Gabriel visiting Mary and informing her that she has been chosen amongst all young women to bear the son of God.  Traditionally in Italy, until the advent of commercial impositions that herald the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ as early as November, today marks the time when Christmas festivities and decorations could formally begin.

A-annuncia_Fra_Angelico.jpg

This, by Fra Angelico,  is probably one of the most famous paintings of the Annunciation . I love the array of colours on the archangel’s wings and the look of serenity on Mary’s face. It is all somewhat hush hush, alluding to respect and dignity.

the-annunciation-lorenzo-lotto.jpg

In this Annunciation, instead, by Lorenzo Lotto, the news comes with a bit more oomph and drama, frightens the cat and sort of unnerves Mary.

I love both paintings.  And, looking back to how I felt upon the discovery of my two pregnancies, I find that alternating undulations of serenity and alarm did indeed course through my emotions at the time.  The bearing of a new life is definitely a miracle, even though we ordinary mothers need to be impregnated by mere biological means.

Why all this talk of pregnancy and motherhood?  Well, I was looking through photos of food that I had prepared this year and came across the recipe for today.  More than the recipe, I remember the sheer joy of making it for my son and his friends.  My son left to live in Milan earlier this year and the tug at my mother’s heart could have escaped no one – I cried for days and developed an unsightly pimple on my lower cheek which corresponds to the Chinese Medicine point of the lungs, which in turn refers to the emotion of grief.  It was indeed a form of grief for me, even though I was really happy for him and his new job. I am so glad that society has started talking about the empty nest syndrome because I am convinced that just as there are biological, endocrinologically caused upsets in behaviour during adolescence, there must surely be a ‘reason’ other than co-dependency for a mother’s upset when her children ‘naturally’ leave home? “Partir, c’est un peu mourir”, say the French – going away, leaving, is a little bit like dying.  So maybe, when our children leave we are reminded of our own mortality? of time passing so quickly?  I do know mothers who are more than happy when their children leave home, so it is not the same for everyone.  And happy ‘departures’ are a very healthy thing.  All I know is that I am so glad to live in an age where telephones and the internet exist.

End of musing for today, and on with the recipe !

…………………………………..

Favourite son came down from Milan for a brief visit last June and a dinner with his mates was hastily organised.  It’s always lovely when the house fills up with youthful energy and loud conversation and laughter and joking.  Said son (actually he is my only son) drove down with three other ‘passengers’ from Milan (the Milanese girlfriend of one his best friends, plus two of her friends) so it was imperative that I make a good ‘Roman’ impression for the meal.  Those who know me culinarily know that I am a FFF, a fried-food-fanatic and so of course I included courgette/zucchini blossoms fried in batter, stuffed with mozarella and anchovy, and other fried foods I can’t recall just now.

The one I do remember is a fried starter/appetizer known as ‘panzerotto alla romana’, ‘panzerotti’ being the plural term.  What I love about the panzerotti is that the dough is incredibly easy to make and you can stuff it basically with whatever you like.  I, however, did the traditional thing which is parma ham and cheese.

The young ‘uns came, sat down, had drinks, and we all enjoyed a really nice dinner together, with much gratifying head-nodding from them over my choice of menu.  And then they were off, in a tearing hurry, happy and excited, as is the wont of young people who want to hit town and do whatever young people like to do.

remains-of-the-day

As I contemplated the ‘remains’ of the dinner … I consoled myself by remembering that cooking for others really does make me happy.  Cleaning up afterwards, less so … but there you are.

And before long it dawned on me that I had not had the time to fry the panzerotti !  What was I to do?  A sensible person would have placed them safely in the fridge.  I? You guesesed it, yes, after cleaning up, I fried them at 1 a.m. !  I knew that favourite son gets really hungry when he comes home after a night out and so they wouldn’t  be wasted.  I tasted one myself and heartily approved.  His friends ate them at room temperature the next day… wolfed them down.  So, all turned out well in the frying world.

Panzerotti are great finger foods for parties.  They can be prepared earlier on and frozen. Take them out of the freezer about 10 minutes before deep frying.

INGREDIENTS

For the dough:

Flour – 300g

Butter- 20g

Egg yolks – 2

Water – 100ml

For the stuffing:

Parma ham – 75g, thickly sliced and then cubed

Gruyère cheese – 125g, cubed

Parmesan – 1 tablespoon

Groundnut oil or olive oil for frying.

1

2Place the sifted flour, 2 egg yolks, butter and water in the processor.  A pinch of salt too.

 

4Process the ingredients until a dough  is formed …5Shape the dough into a ball, cover with clingfilm and let it rest for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.  It will take another half an hour or so, depending on room temperatures, for the dough to be ready to roll out.  So take that into consideration too.

678That’s the parmesan sliced and cubed.

9That’s the gruyèrer cheese cubed.  Cheddar will do if you can’t get gruyère.

10

The grated parmesan.  Time to mix things up a bit!

12Put all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and add one whole egg.

13Combine all the ingredients and add some salt and pepper.

14Cut up the ball of dough into four parts and roll them out.

15Make sure your surface is well floured.

16This ‘mess’ is what I managed at that ungodly hour in the middle of the night.  It actually didn’t matter although I am sure that more preciseness is always a boon.  Plop a spoonful of the stuffing onto one side of the rolled out dough.

17The mess in all its glory!  Coyly cover the stuffing by drawing the other side of the dough to cover it.

18Use a cutter to shape the panzerotti roughly into a half moon shape.

19This is the result of my exertions.  Not too pleasing on the eye, let’s admit it.  But … tough: we do what we can do.  And this was the best I could do.

20Deep fry the panzerotti, a few at a time, in plenty of peanut/groundnut oil or olive oil, until crisp.

21Sprinkle a little bit of salt over them … “Il fritto vuole il sale” is the Italian expression for “fried food wants its salt”.

22That’s the one I had.  Jolly good it was too.  Yawn.  A glass of water.  Brush my teeth.  Go to bed.  Have to make these again soon …. Yawn.  Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

And 36 hours later they were off again: four of the five  below.  From Frascati all the way to Milan in a tiny Cinquecento.  Buon viaggio !

 

Chicken Meatballs from the Roman Jewish Cuisine – Gozzaroddi

img_5252

I was watching a TV programme about Roman Jewish cuisine back in Spring conducted by Gambero Rosso chef Laura Ravaioli and was intruigued by one recipe for meatballs, called ‘gozzaroddi’ (and other versions of this name) or ‘polpette col sedano’, i.e. meatballs with celery.  I jotted down some notes as I watched this particular episode of Ravaioli’s series on Roman Jewish Cuisine and here I am writing about it.  The interesting thing was the mixture of chicken and veal for these meatballs – I had never heard of that before.  And also, the addition of a little bit of cinnamon which instead is not so unusual in meat stews in Italian cuisine (I myself add a little bit of cinnamon to my oxtail stew, coda alla vaccinara).

INGREDIENTS:  1kg of minced meat (750g of chicken and 250g of veal): the proportion is 3 parts chicken to 1 part veal; 1 egg, cinnamon, 5 tablespoons Italian type breadcrumbs, plenty of celery, plum tomatoes or passata, salt and pepper

1 2Here are the breadcrumbs … you can use stale bread instead if you prefer.
3 Add enough water to make the breadcrumbs go ‘soggy’ and set aside.4 Put some water on the boil …5 Clean a few sticks of celery (let’s say 4?) and trim them of their fibrous exterior.6 Slice the celery into ‘sticks’.7 Divide the sticks into two sets – you will need to blanch them in simmering water, one set at a time.8 Add some salt to the boiling water and ease the first set of celery sticks in.  Let them simmer for about one minute.

9a

Use a slotted spoon or whatever to drain the celery and place immediately in a bowl with ice-cold water in it.  Set aside. Repeat the procedure with the other set of celery sticks.  Do not throw the water away, it will come in handy later on.9Once cooled, chop the second set of celery sticks into cubes.  Set aside.10 Place the minced meat, the egg and a good pinch of cinnamon into a mixing bowl.11 Add the sodden breadcrumbs.12 Add salt and pepper.13 Find a nice casserole … dribble in plenty of olive oil.  Add a few peppercorns (that’s my addition, I simply love peppercorns).  Turn on the heat.
15 Now add the cubed celery and let it cook for about two minutes – no need to ‘brown’ this celery.16 Now add the passata and another pinch of salt and one of sugar.  At this point, while that sauce is simmering away, we can get on with preparing the meatballs.  As I write about the recipe months later, I realise that it could be done the other way around: i.e. prepare the meatballs first, and then the sauce. Whatever.17 18 Keep some nice fresh celery leaves for the final touch.19 The meat has to be very firm to the touch.20 The mixture needs to be shaped in an elongated sort of way – more meat-‘plums’ than meatballs !21 Place the meatballs inside the casserole.22
23a
Add a little of the water the celery got cooked in so that the meatballs are completely covered in the cooking liquid.24 Shake the casserole so that the meatballs aren’t on top of one another.25 Cover and cook with the lid on for about 15 minutes …26 27 28Remove the lid, and add a handful of fresh celery leaves as well as the previously simmered celery sticks …
29 And cook for another 15 minutes or so.30 31Very ‘differen’t … very fresh (on account of the celery) and with that lovely hint of cinnamon.  Definitely worth making again.