Pencil Sharpening the Courgettes

My friend Emanuela has a knack for choosing little gifts that she knows I will really appreciate, she manages to find me the best kind of present in my view: anything that is not strictly necessary.  I am always reminded of Voltaire’s motto “le superflu, chose si nécessaire” – i.e. the superfluous is such a necessary thing.  Shakespeare would have agreed with Voltaire entirely with his:

“O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as beast’s.”

Well, let me tell you, my ‘nature’ is very high maintenance and I am the opposite of ‘minimalist’.  One has to be very rich or very poor to be a true minimalist so, being neither, it has been my lot to weigh in where surroundings and ‘things’ have to convey an element of beauty over and above utility.

Emanuela bought me a huge pencil sharpener which of course isn’t a pencil sharpener at all.  It’s a cheep and cheerful gadget, bought at a Tiger store in Rome, that can peel any vegetable small enough to fit into it.  I was delighted with it!  And today’s post is about my first foray with it.

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I used the pencil, whether rightly or wrongly, it didn’t come with instructions, to ‘sharpen’ some courgettes (zucchine).  That was easy enough to do.  The shaved courgettes looked very pretty.  But what was I to do with them?  Now what?  I picked up my glass of wine.

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I walked out onto our balcony.  It was that time of day.  Perhaps, my favourite time of day.  As I watched the sun go down, I decided that there was one recipe with which I simply could not go wrong.  The Fried-Food-Fanatic in me was gleefully clapping her hands at the prospect of a ‘new’ frying jaunt.  Back to the kitchen, firm of intent this time, a spring in my step.

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Flour, dried oregano, sweet paprika, and an egg.  I added water and a serving spoon of grappa.  A wee dribble of olive oil.  And hey presto! the batter was made.

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I placed the courgettes with the batter in the fridge.

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I had some saltwort to sort out too.  Saltwort goes by the name of  “agretti” or “barba di frate” in Italian.  I blanched it briefly, then drained it.9

I decided to toss it in a pan with plenty of guanciale.

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This photo is of the finished dish which I repeated a few days later (I didn’t manage to take one of the agretti /barba di frate that evening), it was that worth it.  But back to the courgettes, which I now took out of the fridge.

 

Once fried, I put them over some kitchen paper.

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And it was then that I had the inspiration to draw on some grated pecorino cheese for a bit of ‘ooomph’.

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I like sprinkling grated cheese over foods … I wonder why.

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15I went to the  balcony, to say arrivederci to the sun and finish my glass of wine.

And then it was time to eat.

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You see? Without that ‘superfluous’ pencil sharpener, I would never have come up with this recipe !

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A Flash in the Pan but not a Flashy Fish Recipe

Sometimes it is easy to forget how a handful of readily available ingredients are all that it takes to make a simple fish taste so good.

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This couple of ‘orata’ (sea bream) were caught from near Civitavecchia, or so the fishmonger told me as he gutted them and removed their scales.  One orata for me, one for hubby, they weighed about 700 g each.  When I got home, I rinsed them again in running water, and patted them dry.

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I put some flour aside for coating them later on.

3In the saucepan to start with: olive oil, butter and some sweet paprika.

4Once the heat was turned on, I added some garlic, minced parsely and about a teaspoonful of coriander.

5After flouring the fish on both sides, I lay them gently into the bubbling olive oil and butter.

6I did my best to turn them over without removing any of the skin, but as you can see, I wasn’t entirely successful.

8I had some white wine on standby.

7Once I deemed the fish to be cooked, I placed them over a bed of plain peas seasoned with a little bit of butter and salt.

9I poured some wine into the saucepan, turned the heat up in order to let the alcohol evaporate, and then poured whatever lovely juices remained through a sieve all over the fish.

10On the table and ready to be served.  Doesn’t look like much, and yet is was so satisfying (all that butter folks! and the nuance of paprika and coriander) and very pleasant to eat.

11Also on the menu was saltwort which had been blanched first and then cooked through in another saucepan which was waiting for it with crispy guanciale (pork jowl) and all that that entailed.  It’s the first time I served ‘barba di frate’ or ‘agretti’ as saltwort is called in Italian this way.  I know it won’t be the last.

I think it took me less than 20 minutes to make this dinner.

Neve makes Paella for Us

Our friend Neve is an artist who can’t help but infuse her creative bent into her cooking.  Or her kitchen, I love the entrance to her kitchen.

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She hails from Spain (Madrid) and adores Dalì but she would never dream of Dali-fying the dish she makes so well and that we all adore: paella.   The paella she made for us last week looked like this:

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And was preceded by a delicious gazpacho.

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Two years ago, I photographed Neve as she went about making her delectably more-ish paella. What follows is a blow-by-blow account of how she prepares it … and believe me, it’s worth all the effort.  But first a word of cautionary apology: I read just recently via Tracey Macleod that “true Valencians never eat paella at night – that’s really the mark of a rube, like drinking a cappuccino after lunch in Rome.”  Sigh.   However, hers being a Valencian paella, Neve did almost stick to tradition, it contains only local seafood; strictly no meat.  (It is not supposed to contain vegetables either but Nieves decided otherwise – I told you, she’s an artist.)

Another ‘artist’ friend of  mine, the food writer Gareth Jones, who tragically left us two years ago, wrote a very engaging blog about paella and arroz, and I would encourage you to read it, here is the link: http://www.garethjonesfood.com/?p=2362

But now  … on with Neve and HER paella.

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It all starts with a dog.  You have to have some kind of pet or loved one to keep you company as you cook.  Meet Walter.   The family dog.

Neve says that one has to be thoroughly organised and have all the ingredients and equipment at the ready so as to avoid dither.  Hence … large clean glass or mug (to use as a measuring cup), a water jug, the rice.  Peeled and sliced onions and garlic, olive oil (lots of olive oil!), red capsicum and peas or green beans in one bowl. Sweet paprika (“pimenton”). Cleaned fish in another bowl.  Manila clams somewhere else and, last, whole prawns. Also needed are a few pinches of saffron, salt and 6 lemons. Cut 4 lemons into wedges and squeeze the other two for their juice.

One glass of rice per person.  Two glasses of water per glass of rice.  Pour all the water inside a water jug to make things easier (that way, you don’t have to keep running to the tap to refill the glass).

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It is also mandatory, I would say, to use a proper paella pan. Indeed, the pan itself is called a ‘paella’.  The Spanish colonization of southern Italy must surely have something to do with the fact that the Italian word for a pan is “padella” ….?

It all begins with a good amount of olive oil spread out over the paella pan.  Enough to cover the entire surface of the paella. That means a lot of oil, don’t be afraid !

Switch the heat on, cook the onions and garlic over a low heat, and then scatter some peas (frozen at that) and slithers of de-seeded red capsicum (red peppers).   Very low heat, we don’t want to scorch the ingredients, just make them ‘mellow’.

A prodigious amount of “pimenton” is then added, i.e. the sweet paprika.

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As you can see, Nieves quickly made sure the paprika combined with the other ingredients. She says it must not ‘cook’ for more than a minute or so at this stage, otherwise it will become bitter.  We are still cooking over a low heat.  Hence …


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In went the rice, all in one energetic go.

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And, by the looks of it, Neve proceeded to spread the rice and let it ‘toast’ for a bit – not unlike the procedure for making risotto.  One big difference is that the rice has to be spread very thinly in this case.  Sprinkle salt over the rice before spreading it around. Rice, after all, requires plenty of salt if it is to acquire flavour.

Oh and about the rice in question, if it can’t be the Spanish bomba, it should at least be a short-grained one (i.e. the oryza sativa): no basmati or jasmine or other Oriental rice.  I expect Neve used a plain Italian Arborio rice.

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Time to add the water to completely cover the dish. Now also add the pinches of saffron. The saffron should not overpower the taste of the delicate fish. A vast (and very expensive!) amount is certainly not required.

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Fishy flavour can be called into play now, in order to enhance the broth, with the congregation of mussels and calamari that are introduced at this point into the bubble, bubble, toil-but-no-trouble paella.

At no time did Neve stir the rice.  If anything, the rice must be left well alone until all the liquid has been absorbed, and left to cook longer than one would think.  That is because it is supposed to develop some crust underneath, as well as around the edges.

Neve added  prawns too, but later on, after about 15 minutes (they take less time to cook).  Her advice is to sink and lightly crush their heads into the rice (using a spoon or toothpick) so that any liquor can also go into making the paella tastier.

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When she deemed the dish ready, she infused the paella with plenty of lemon juice.  She then decorated it with wedges of cut lemons.

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Now is the the last-minute tweak moment: turn up the heat so as to allow the bottom part of the rice to develop a crunchy crustiness.  Then, obviously, switch the heat off. And remove from the burner.

18Looking good, eh? Final touch? Spread a clean tea towel over the paella so that the steam can imbue its magic, helping the overall texture of the dish.

A paella should be served just warm … never hot. Squeeze more lemonjuice if you so desire.  By the way, you will be surprised to discover that all that oil ‘miraculously’ disappears into deliciousness. Skimp on the oil and  your texture will be brittle and horrid.


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Walter heartily approved !  Gracias, grazie, thank you Neve!

P.S. If you are interested in what makes a true paella, you need to read about Guillermo Navarro.  It is he who has been behind the wikipaella.org pages.

Guillermo Navarro: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/how-to-make-the-perfect-paella-guillermo-navarro-says-youre-doing-wrong-heres-why-9549422.html

Link to Wikipaella.org: http://en.wikipaella.org/receta/public/resultados

Tracey MacLeod on paella: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/how-to-make-the-perfect-paella-guillermo-navarro-says-youre-doing-wrong-heres-why-9549422.html

 

 

Flowery Meatballs

I was eleven years old when the song came out: “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”.

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It was “written by John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas, and sung by Scott McKenzie. It was released in June 1967 to promote the Monterey Pop Festival.  McKenzie’s song became an instant hit. The lyrics tell the listeners, “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”.  “San Francisco” reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, and was number one in the United Kingdom and most of Europe. The single is purported to have sold over 5 million copies worldwide. The song is credited with bringing thousands of young people to San Francisco during the late 1960s.  In Central Europe, young people adopted “San Francisco” as an anthem for freedom, and it was widely played during Czechoslovakia’s 1968 Prague Spring uprising against Soviet rule.”

Here is a link to the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7I0vkKy504U

I was out of an evening last week, scurrying to get to the greengrocers before its closing time,  and came upon a packet of edible flowers, not a usual ‘find’ in this shop!

1And I was just so attracted to their beauty and vibrant colours that I bought them without even thinking about it, or how I would be able to weave them into our dinner that evening.

Dinner was a homey humble polpette (meatballs), asparagus and spinach affair. Humdrum mid-week meal: meat and two veg, you know, hardly anything to write home about.   Home-made mayo for the asparugs and lemon juice and olive oil for the spinach. Yet those flowers somehow brought music to my soul and I couldn’t help but sing snatches of the song as I went about my preparation.  I think that a hippy is the last thing I could ever aspire to being, hippy drippy I never could be, but I confess that I am indeed attracted to wearing flowers in my hair.  To cooking with a spring in my step.  To seeking joy in the little things.  To kicking my heels occasionally in the kitchen.  Fry and flirt …

A few days later and there would be another terrorist attack, in London.  Among some of the articles I read about it, one was entitled “This is a war on joy – Don’t let the terrists rob us of who we are”.  (www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/04/war-joy-terrorists-london-bridge-attack-manchester-westminster?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+main+NEW+H+categories&utm_term=229148&subid=16390029&CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2)

I agree.  Showing sympathy and empathy is what makes us human, and reasonable people.  But we also have to keep our spirits up at the same time.  We need to fight back on a daily basis and not let these ghastly events depress us.  It’s what these mad people want.  And I don’t want to give them that satisfaction. Make love, not War!  Pur flowers in your food.

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I soaked some breadcrumbs in water and then added olive oil.

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I grated some parmesan, to which I added some freshly grated nutmeg, a little bit of paprika, and a squeeze of tomato paste.

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And then, with the addition of two eggs and the minced meat (beef), as well as salt and pepper, and some minced parsely or mint (not in the photo) … use your hands to combine all the ingredients.

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Shape them into meatballs.  Et voilà there they are!

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Fry them in olive oil or groundnut/peanut oil.

 

Turn them over only once.

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And, finally, serve them on a plate with plenty of flowers.   And rejoice.

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12So pretty, do admit!

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The Summer of Love in San Francisco was 50 years ago.  High time we rekindled some more summery love all over the globe.

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2007/may/27/escape

Braised Lettuce as a Side Dish

About five years ago, I wrote a post about a salad soup (https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/soup-series-salad-soup/) which is just the sort of thing one craves when the temperatures are cold or gloomy.   At the time, I was very surprised to come across the inclusion of salad(s) in a soup but now of course I think it’s ‘normal’.  It’s also very easy to make which never hurts.

A few months ago, I found out that salad can also be cooked and served as a side dish.  I’ll say straight away that though this might not be something I shall be clamouring for any time in the near future (especially now that Summer is about to explode), it did taste perfectly nice.  I think it would make an excellent go-to recipe for when we are tormented by the sight of unused, somewhat sad-looking salad languoring in our fridges. Bonus: we enjoy a nice side dish AND get to feel virtuous because we ‘dispose’ of the salad in a fitting manner, avoiding food waste.

The lettuce needs to be simmered in salted water for about three to four minutes, then drained and rinsed under running cold water.  Squeeze gently so as to remove as much water as possible.  Use some olive oil, butter and anchovy fillets as a sauce with which to coat and sauté the salad for a few minutes and then season with salt and pepper.  The anchovy melts in the  butter and olive oil and so leaves no strong aftertaste.

1Arguably, mine was not at all a sad looking salad.  It was lovely and fresh.

5678Do sprinkle some salt over the salad … and white pepper might be nice too.

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Maybe add a few olives? capers even? Grated cheese? Raisins? Pine nuts?