Consumer Friendly Consommé

Clear soup, that’s what we are talking about.  Something frightfully old fashioned.  I have only heard about it in books or films or TV series like Poirot or other Agatha Christie storylines.  I thought I’d give it a go.

Ingredients for my easy version:

500 finely minced/ground beef (a cheap cut), 1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 celery stick, a few cloves, 1 bayleaf, 1 egg white.

Place all the ingredients in your pot and add cold water – about 1 litre or just over depending on how ‘strong’ you want it.

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You can just about make out the bayleaf up at the top there.4This is the egg yolk that gets left behind; do NOT put it in the stock.  The egg white serves to ‘clarify’ the soup.

5This is a photo to show the egg yolk in the soupd but it’s not very easy to spot.  What I have spotted, instead, is a celery leaf – and that is a major no-no when making stock/broth.  Rule of thumb says no leaves except bay leaf.  Now that I am writing this post, I remember what happened.  I didn’t have any celery in the fridge and these measely leaves were all I had.

Add salt.

6Use a whisk or other utensil to shake things up a bit, to unloosen the minced beef.

7Turn the heat on and give it a good stir.  And I mean stir! Stir energetically for a few seconds.

Then, let it be, let it simmer over a very low heat for about 40 minutes.

8And this is what it looks like.  See how ‘clear’ the stock is?

9Drain the soup-making elements.  I would love to say one could make something of the meat that is left behind … but basically all the taste has been boiled out of it.  So … be kind and give it your dog.

10And now you are ready to serve.  Taste it first, in case it needs more salt.

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12Who says old-fashioned can’t be exquisite?  Please note: consommé is to be drunk straight out of its cup, no spoon soup to be used.

Try drinking a glass of sherry with this, and proceed with wine for the rest of the meal.

P.S.  I actually did not serve the consommé straight away.  I let the consommé cool down and refrigerated to use the next day.  When it came out of the fridge it was a bit like jelly.  Nor was the liquid clear any longer  – and I was mortified.

No worries:  Once the consommé got heated up again, it regained its former glory in look and feel and tasted delicious.

Swordfish with a Pecorino Imbued Sauce

Anyone who has lived in Italy for any length of time, or even visited it for a brief spell with a gastronomic field trip in mind, will come to know that fish and cheese are not bed mates in this country.  Horror of horrors to any law abiding Italian is – perish the thought – the addition of parmesan or other cheese to any pasta dish featuring a creature of the deep or even surface seawater.  The only exception I am aware of is pasta using mussels and pecorino.

And then, out of the blue, my English friend Michelle Smith who has lived here for over 35 years tells me that one of her favourite seafood pasta dishes involves swordfish and pecorino.  Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather.  “Doesn’t the pecorino overwhelm the swordfish?”, I enquire with eyebrow raised and lips pursed to one side of my mouth in disbelief.  She assures me that it does not though of course one mustn’t overdo it with the grated pecorino.  Hmmm.

The thing is … my family are not great lovers of swordfish.  The last time I even ate swordfish was in Sicilly, during a memorable holiday in July of 2014.  We had lunch at the family restaurant on the water which is featured in so many Inspector Montalbano TV series, called “Enzo a Mare” (https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/montalbano-land-and-enzo-a-mare/).

And then Friday afternoon (Tuesdays and Fridays are the traditional days for eating fish in Italy) I decided we simply had to have some fresh fish for dinner.  So off I trotted to Monteporzio Catone, a little town up the hill from Frascati, where I know I can find a very good fishmonger open in the afternoon.

The first thing I espy are oysters, French ones at that, and so I make my mind up on the spot that I shall need a few of those just to get me going on the supper.

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I look around and decide that, though I may not marry pasta with it, it’s about high time I had a go at swordfish and pecorino.  And while we’re at it, why not get some juicy anchovies to fry, dusted with flour?

And this is my bounty once I got home (aside from the oysters above):

5A big fat thick slice of swordfish, some gutted anchovies and a lovely bunch of saltwort – barba di frati or agretti, as they are called in Italian.

5aThe agretti are blanched in salted water, draind and set aside.

7The anchovies are thoroughly dusted with flour.

6They are then deep fried in groundnut (peanut) oil at the appointed time.

 

I also found some lovely asparagus, which I trimmed and washed and then sliced into two or three constituent parts.  I proceeded to simmer them in salted water for a minimum time, drain them and quickly plunge them into cold water to stop the cooking process.

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I know that I shall have need of both lemon, oranges and parsely.  The lemon was from the Costiera amalfitana and the orange from Sicily.  What a lucky girl I am indeed.

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Once the asparagus had cooled down, I placed them around the edge of a large platter.  And added some orange slices in the middle.

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And now it was time for a bit of cheesy alchemy.  Olive oil, lemon juice, chopped parsely, grated pecorino romano cheese … and a squeeze of orange juice. And a squeeze of lemon juice.

9Process all the ingredients.  Taste … and add a bit of water, a bit of salt.

10The final flourish is the glug of olive oil (evoo naturally).  Stir and stir, taste and taste, add a bit of this, add a bit of that … and Bob’s your uncle.  This is definitely not the typical Sicilian salmoriglio sauce but … even so … most adequate.  The pecorino is hardly detectable as an individual ‘cheese’ component, and yet imparts some sense of oily gluttony that is just the business for this sauce.

11Pat the swordfish steak until it is dry on both sides, using kitchen paper.

Time to get dinner on the table!

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Plenty of olive oil and plenty of dried oregano (I don’t have fresh at this time of year, sorry).

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Once the heat has got going, add the steak and cook on one side over a fairly high heat.  For .. sorry, I can’t remember how long.  But not too long … maybe three minutes? Enjoy the sizzling sound.

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And then turn it over.  And let it cook on the other side until the pink in the middle of the steak goes a pale white.  Another three minutes?  Whatever.  I don’t like raw fish unless I am eating sushi or ‘crudo’ or ceviche but I do know that swordfish must not be overcooked either. Sprinkle a little salt at this stage.

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Once I think it is done … I cut the steak in half.  Half for me and half for my favourite husband.

16Plonk the halved steak on the seving dish, over the slices of orange and surrounded by blanched asparagus.

17Serve on the individual plate.

18Pour the green sauce.

Enjoy.

It was lovely.  Not overpowering, and the tang of the orange and lemon making it very fresh.  And the ‘secret’, very discreet, ingredient, the grated pecorino, contributing that sense of fatty satisfaction that can only delight a palate.  I was lucky, I had intuited how much pecorino to mix into the sauce.  Any more and it would have been too much.

 

Basic Cooking Class Italian Style – A Bit of Boot Camp Never Hurt

Kindness is timeless.

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You know the cooking experience is going to go well when you are offered a beautiful orchid plant even before starting the lesson!  The story may be apocryphal but I had read that in China it was customary for an audience to clap before the show took place, maybe to clear the air of any unwanted negative energy or, on the contrary, to imbue the air with positive vibrations emanating from the clapping itself.  I was just so touched by the attitude of gratitude that my two fellow kitchen ‘combatants’ showed me with their floral offering and their smiles.

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The venue was the home of Victoria Bonadonna and her very generous and thoroughly organized kitchen space.

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I don’t like the kitchen spaces used for formal cookery lessons; highly technical, ergonomic and hygienic in the extreme, and thus practical for understandably obvious reasons, they lack any ‘real home’ element to them – it’s like being in a gymn as opposed to walking in a park or swimming in the sea. Victoria’s is no huge kitchen and is proof that size does not matter immeasurably when it comes to putting good food on the table.  Victoria does, however, boast many and necessary accoutrements for making the cooking process a smooth one, the helpful kitchen gadgets or ‘toys’ as I call them:  precision electronic scales, knives, immersion blender, electric whisk/beater and plenty of pots and pans of all sizes.  Victoria has plenty more kitchen trinkets but these are the ones that really matter. Oh, and scissors ! Scissors can save the day.

And Victoria is, and very much so, organised.  I think that that is one of the ‘ingredients’ that doesn’t get enuogh mention when it comes to realistic, do-able, enjoyable cooking. Mental clarity and organization are everything.  So it is better to start learning a few simple techniques and tips first and play around with those until they are under your belt, and then brave recipes that require a lot more skill.  And this is precisely why I love Italian cookery: the techniques are so easy, anyone can learn them.  Good meals can be prepared in very little time.  Since time management, as we know, is something of a challenge for so many of us, this is an immense boon.

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Victoria is the mother of two and an accomplished home cook.  Moreover, she can bake whereas I do so with hesitant trepidation.  And she can barbecue too – which I cannot because we live in an apartment and don’t have a garden.  Victoria is privy to an award-winning barbecue recipe that her cousin in Missouri shared with her; she gave me some tips for spare ribs that I then made for my nephew who loves them and, though roasted in an oven as opposed to a proper barbecue, boy!  Boy were they good!.

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Victoria’s lifestyle is typical of many women raising kids: an early wake-up, breakfast for the kids, drive them to two different schools, pick them up at lunch time (in Italy school kids finish their day at around 1 o’clock after a certain age), make them lunch, make sure they get started on their homework, take them to various sports or activities in the afternoon, and then – of course- make them dinner.  In other words, she is busy.  Busy all day.  In and out of the car at regular daily intervals.  Oh and did I mention that she runs the Culture Club of the Castelli as well as the Castelli Welcome Neighbour Association?

Christine (below) is a mother to be and about to return to her native Napa after spending nearly two years in Italy on account of her husband’s work.  She likes to cook too and was keen to learn more about a few simple, easy to make Italian recipes, for weekday meals.  So Victoria and I conspired to organize an Italian Bootcamp Cooking Basics for her day before yesterday.  The appointed time was 10 a.m. and it had to be over by 4 p.m.  I did most of the shopping the day before but bought some fresh vegetables first thing in that morning.

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Here we are, the car unloaded and we are about to begin.

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Below is the list of what we prepared together. At the end of this post, I put up some links to most of the recipes we cooked that I have blogged about.

LIST OF RECIPES

(1) Chicken stock – which we used to make (2 ) Chicken Corn soup (admittedly not an Italian recipe) and (3) Egg Drop Soup (stracciatella).  We also made (4) Salad soup.

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(5) We prepared the easiest of tomato sauces – Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce using just a can of plum tomatoes, an onion and plenty of butter.  We used this sauce to make (6) riso al pomodoro (rice in tomato sauce) and to cook (7) meatballs in what was left of it.  It would make a delicious sauce for pasta too (8), all one would need is add some freshly grated parmesan.  So just think about this: one tomato sauce and three recipes as a result!

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We prepared previously cooked, shop bought (9) borlotti beans with the rind of pancetta and some tomato paste squeezed out of a tube (we had used the pancetta for the salad soup).  We made (10) pasta e ceci (pasta and chickpea/garbanzo thick soup).  Using my special quick-and-easy technique, one could also make pasta e fagioli, pasta with beans soup, it would be the same procedure.

Pasta dishes:  (11) pasta with broccoli and sausage and (12) spaghetti with garlic, oil and chilli flakes.

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The broccoli and sausage pasta (11) is on the upper left of this photo, next to the carrots.

We  made (13) polpette – meatballs – from scratch and cooked them in the tomato sauce with the addition of peas.  We used thinly sliced chicken breasts to make (14) chicken with ginger (my own recipe) and (15) chicken with oranges.

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We blanched spinach to make (16) spinaci alla romana.  We cooked (17) broccoletti in the oven with olive oil, lemon zest and a dusting of parmiggiano  (parmesan).  We made (18) mashed potatoes the Italian way (with the addition of parmesan and nutmeg).  We also made (19) a pepper stew – peperonata – even though this is not the best seasons for capsicum.  We also sliced some carrots (20) and cooked them down with butter and water.

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We made a very unscientific batter (21) and fried (22) artichokes and (23) courgette/zucchini flowers.

And this marked the end of the savoury dishes.

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Last we made a (24) jam tart (crostata) with wild cherry jam.  When I say ‘we’, I actually made Victoria make it – I know she likes getting her fingers stuck in the job when it comes to baking.   Thank goodness for a stand mixer … I was giving her instructions all backwards, and told her to put the flour in first, instead of the butter.  Ah well, kitchen catastrophes do take place and we have to understand that that is ‘normal’ too, and that we have to find remedies for them.  A good sense of humour and a glass of wine can be very helpful.

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The sour cherry crostata, just out of the oven.

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Victoria, on the left, is holding the crema pasticcera (baker’s custard).

So … all in all …. 25 recipes.  Not bad.  And every single one very easy to make and execute (except for the frying maybe). The whole experience was coloured by banter, joking, exchanging stories and all those conversations that are so good for bonding.  When I got home, a little on the exhausted side physically, but ‘high’ emotionally, I came across an article which just spoke out to me, as if  to pat me on the back as it were – me and all the wonderful ‘ordinary’ people people, not celebrity chefs or ‘slebs’ as Gareth Jones used to call them, ordinary people both male and female, young and old, who understand that cooking is NOT, or at least need not be, a chore.  It  was an interview with  Jules Blaine Davis in which she mentions how her mother admonished her  for relying on take-away/take-out foods so heavily.  Her mother told her in no uncertain terms:

“We need to make the kitchen a place where you can BE, not a place where there are things you have to DO.”

Well … thank you Christine and Victoria.  We certainly did a lot of both ‘doing’ and ‘being’.

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If you are interested in trying some of the recipes above, for which I have written a blog post, you will find the links below.

Recipe for a mixed meat stock/broth: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/taking-stock-over-making-stock-olivers-brodo/

Lettuce soup: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/soup-series-salad-soup/

Pasta e ceci soup: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/pasta-e-ceci/

Pasta e fagioli soup: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/good-golly-pasta-e-fagioli/

Spaghetti with garlic, oil, chilli, pecorino and mint: https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2015/08/29/dracula-style-spaghetti-with-garlic-mint-and-pecorino/

Pasta with broccoli and anchovy and pecorino sauce: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/green-technique-and-sicilian-broccoli-pasta/

Pasta with broccoli and sausage: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/pasta-with-broccoli-and-sausage-pasta-broccoli-e-salsiccia/

Chicken with orange: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/the-doleful-door-stop/

Meatballs with peas in a tomato sauce: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/meatballs-with-peas-polpette-con-piselli/

Mashed potatoes the Italian way: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/the-comfort-of-a-spud-il-pure-di-patate-mashed-potatoes-italian-style/

Spinaci alla romana (they are mentioned towards the end of the post): https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/going-tuscan-for-st-valentines-peposo-cannellini-and-spinach/

Batter for frying: the ‘unscientific’ recipe we used in our cooking class was the following: 2 serving spoons of ordinary flour plus one of corn starch; repeat until you think you have the desired amount (we did it 4 times).  Add one egg.  Add one spoon of vodka or grappa.  Add one tablespoon of olive oil.  Allow to rest for at least 20 minutes in the fridge. The following link is another way to make batter: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/my-favourite-batter-for-courgette-blossoms/

Recipe for crostata pastry (pie crust): 300g sifted flour, pinch of salt, 3 egg yolks, 1 whole egg, 150g sugar, 150g butter at room temperature, finely grated lemon zest.

Baker’s custard (crema pasticcera) https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/05/15/bakers-custard-crema-pasticcera/

And the flowers are just so beautiful.  Again, thank you.

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Catastrophic Artichoke Patties

In which a disgruntled hero tackles a disappointing result hands on hips.

Well, the hero (or heroine rather) would be me, and the adventure a culinary one from which even Aesops might draw a moral.  It all began with my being attracted to a recipe for cooking artichokes in a way completely different from my usual Roman trope (alla romana, alla giudia or even fried in batter).  Indeed, the recipe hails from Lombardy and the hint of mint made my nostrils flare with anticipation: parmesan, breadcrumbs and mint – what’s not to like? To be baked in the oven as opposed to the stove top – curioser and curioser.  So, nothing loath, off I trotted to buy the carciofi, the artichokes.

Ingredients for the disaster Baked Artichokes

The original recipe called for six artichokes but because there were going to be only two of us for dinner I halved the amounts.  Thus: 3 artichokes, 40g grated parmesan, 25g breadcrumbs, fresh mint leaves, 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Usually I comment the photos I take, one by one.  This time I won’t reference throughout because the procedure is quite obvious.

The artichokes need to be trimmed and their tough outer layers of leaves be unsparingly removed (show no mercy).  Simmer the artichokes whole in boiling salted water for 15 minutes, drain and place in cold water until they cool down.

Put the stuffing together (breadcrumbs, grated parmesan, minced mint leaves, and olive oil).

 

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Stuff the artichokes, sprinkle salt, dribble olive oil and place head down in a pyrex dish, with each head of artichoke covering a whole mint leaf.

Put the dish in a preheated oven (150°) for around 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven … and this is when I am supposed to say, “And Enjoy”.

Oh woe is me.  I cannot. This was the first time ever my favourite husband disappoved of something I had cooked; he nodded his head disapprovingly from side to side and confessed that, “No … they just aren’t good.  I can’t eat them.  Sorry.”

They were … haaard.  Woody.  Woody and weird.  Unappealing in the extreme.  I tried two bites and then gave in myself too.

And I was angry.  I hate it when a recipe fails to satisfy.  In this I am very much like Richmal Crompton’s character William Brown, from her  Just William book series.  I expect readers much younger than I will have never heard of them and you don’t know what you you are missing  – I think people suffering from depression should be made to read them as part of their recovery programme (here is a link to an episode from the TV series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TycXDEZdqgo – and here is another one, from a previous series:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEVm4MuB9_c  ) but the original books are bound to be better).   Anyway, in one of the stories, I’m afraid I can’t remember the title, William is spurred to break apart a grandfather clock, following the instructions from a Do-it-yourself book on how to recreate something or other.  When he attempts to put the clock back together again, and is unable to, he blames the book.  “You’d think the book would know what it’s talking about!” he complains bitterly, feeling quite betrayed, and amazed that his parents should get cross with him for his misdemeanour.  And that’s a little how I felt about that artichoke recipe.  And so, just before falling asleep that night, I vowed that I’d teach those artichokes a lesson or two, huh.  Scroll down and you will find out how I salvaged the situation.

Ingredients for the Salvation Artichoke Patties: diced chunks of mozzarella, 1 egg, breadcrumbs, groundnut oil or olive oil for frying

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This is what I started off with.  Basically, two cooked artichokes.

19I placed them in the processor and turned them to a pulp.

I cut up a mozzeralla into small chunks.  And I rolled the pulp into ball shapes.

22I flattened the balls and placed some mozzarella over each one.

23I rolled them back into a ball again.  So, in other words, each ball was stuffed with some mozzarella.

24I beat one egg and coated the artichoke balls with it.

2526I then coated the balls with breadcrumbs.

27And I fried them in batches in very hot oil for a very short time (they were already cooked after all) – just until they turned golden.

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Here is one of them, cut in half … the molten mozzarella looking like the telephine line of a supplì !

And this time, they WERE good, phew.  Not sure I’d make them again but at least I managed to salvage the situation and make something good of a kitchen catastrophe.

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Three left over the next morning.  Good even at room temperature.

So: three cheers and hurrah for luscious leftovers and delicious fried artichoke patties. The fried food fanatic (FFF) did it again, yeay!

PS St Lawrence is the patron saint of cooks.  Does anyone know if there is a patron saint for fried foods?

How to Boast about Pork Belly Roast

I was watching an old Nigella  TV programme a little while ago and one of her unfussy weekend recipes involved slow-roasting a huge joint of pork.  And Nigella said to add some vinegar to help make the crackling get super crisp.

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I’d never heard of that before (adding vinegar I mean) and so was prompted to experiment myself asap.  Only I would be cooking for just my husband and myself hence the pork volume in question would have to be appropriately curtailed.

A few days later, I went into the butchers to buys some sausages for dinner and espied a cut of pork belly that was simply preening itself, in my eyes, and crying out to be used experimentally.  And so of course I bought that too.  I never mind over-shopping – there are always leftovers to be gleaned from such surfeit.  I asked the butcher to score the fat for me into lozange shapes; easy peasy enough to do at home but I was feeling lazy that day and besides, butchers have much sharper knives than I ever will.

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One ingredient that Nigella did not use, which is Italian, and which is incredibly useful in the roasting department is a salt and herb concoction called Ariosto, found in every supermarket all over Italy.

2The ingredients are natural enough: sea salt, garlic, rosemary, sage, juniper, basil, marjoram, oregano, bayleaf, coriander, and parsely.  All good stuff and no ‘naughties’ !

3I poured some olive oil into a bowl and added generous pinches of the Ariosto, 1 tablespoon of vinegar and a twist of pepper.

6I turned the pork belly fat-side down and dusted the other side with some plain sea salt.

7Then I poured the mixture over the pork belly’s padding of fat, and tried to rub as much of it as I could into the cracks.  I then scattered the sausages randomly around the pork belly (they don’t need any primping, taste great on their own) and slid the baking tray into a very hot oven (250°C) for less than 10 minutes.  And then I turned the heat down to 190°C.

8I also added a tray of mixed vegetables to roast alongside.  Roast vegetables are lovely, we all know that.

9When the sausages looked cooked (i.e. had gone a nice brown colour), I removed them from the oven and scattered some bayleaves around them, torn in half, because a little bit of green does wonders for a sausage.

10And when I could see that the pork belly’s fat had gone beautifully crisp and golden .. well, then … time to eat!

11Doesn’t it look lovely?

12Oh so very yummy .. I kept breaking off little bits of crackling … I couldn’t help myself.

13So we had sausages and veggies …

13aPlenty of crackling !

14And of course there were plenty of leftovers for the next day. (By the way, I arranged the tomatoes like that to hide the fact that I had eaten the crackling.)

One thing, however, the crackling was only crispy when it was hot. The next day it was rubbery.  Remember that if you think you might be prompted to try this dish!

In my defence, I cooked this dish when the temperature was cruelly low outside … and when it is very cold indeed, we do need more calories and fat to keep us going.  Not sure I would relish this dish, for example, in the  middle of summer.