What is the point of (the) brisket?

Times may change but the restaurant business has always been given to elements that are fickle and finnicky.  Our brother-in-law Enrico had to give up running a restaurant in Rome in November of a year ago and took over one in Marino called “Cantina Colonna” which had been very popular towards the end of the 1990s and early 2000s.  One year later and the efforts he has put into the place, together with partner and artist Alberto, are beginning to bear fruit.  The menu is Roman, down-to-earth, tasty and seasonal and if excitement is not on the menu, honesty is.  I had dinner there my niece and her partner visiting from Sweden just last week; I picked them up on a cold, wet and shivery evening at Fiumicino airport.  We didn’t get to the restaurant until 10 o’clock and weren’t too surprised to be the only customers that evening (mid week can be very slow).  They were  both pooped, coming as they did from long back-to-back meetings for work and the trip itself and I encouraged them to eat.  Which they did, and with great relish.  The next morning, Ulrika remarked on how surprising it was that she had slept so well given how much she had eaten and at such a late hour.  “It must mean that the food is good.”  Exactly.

When my husband and I had dinner at Enrico’s a few weeks ago, he suggested we try his veal brisket.  Please take a look at the following two photos.  They may not be great shots but do admit: doesn’t that look like a fab joint of roast?



Look at the serving plate awash with delicious “sughetto”, gravy.

So of course I had to have the recipe, and here is my attempt.

The recipe is called “punta di petto di vitella alla fornara”, which translates something like this: the point of the brisket cooked the baker’s way.  The ‘point’ refers to a part of this cut of meat … and that’s the whole ‘point’ of this blog post, haha.  This cut of meat is relatively inexpensive (Eu 12.90/kg) because it contains quite a bit of cartilage.  Enrico said that all he did was slather it with olive oil, rosemary and sage, seasalt and use some white wine to help cook it and produce the gravy.

You will need fresh rosemary and sage leaves.  Chop them up together. Transfer to a glass bowl and drown the herbs with oodles of olive oil.  Have some coarse seasalt at the ready.


Here is the veal  brisket.  Pat it dry.


Here it is rolled out.  I took one clove of garlic (only one!) and sliced it into three pieces.  I inserted the pieces inside the meat.

I proceeded to anoint the meat on this side first, adding the salt crystals last.


I then turned the ‘anointed’ part of the meat over and tucked in both ends of the meat, so that it is now shaped almost like a scroll.  More slathering of herb infused olive oil, more sprinkling of beautiful salt.


Enrico said to roast the meat for about 40 minutes at 180°C.


While it was roasting, I poured out about 250ml of Frascati wine into the wine caraffe that is typical of around here and Rome.  The one litre is called “tubbo”, the half litre size is called “fojetta”, the 250ml size is called “un quartino” , 1/5th of a litre is called “chierichetto” and the smallest size, 1/10th of a litre, is called “sospiro”. I’ll write another blog about the story behind these caraffes another time, it’s quite droll really and has to do with popes and levying taxes.


Forty minutes later and I removed the roast from the oven and poured all the  wine into the roasting pan (not over the meat).  Back it went for another 20 minutes, as per Enrico’s instructions.




And that is what came out of the oven.  The scent, by the way, was nostril-twitching stuff.

However … when I sliced the meat to take a peek … I saw that it was still a little undercooked.  And by undercooked, I don’t mean ‘pink’, I mean undercooked.


So I added more Frascati wine and popped it back into the oven for another 15-20 minutes.  This is the thing about ovens, they are all different and they are all very unreliable.  Everyone has to know their own oven.


I let the meat rest for the briefest of minutes because we had guests for dinner and it was just the right time now for our ‘secondo’, our main course.  I was too lazy to remove the cartilage.


So much lovely gravy!


Surrounded by friendly roast potatoes.

21Tender as can be and sitting over a puddle of gravy.


And much appreciated by our neighbours that evening.  It was a potluck affair, which I love, and what you see on my plate here is an Insalata Russa with beetroot in it, yum.

The next day.  Leftovers, yay!


I heated the gravy.

The meat had spent something like 15 minutes in a warm oven that I turned off as soon as I put the meat in.   I didn’t want the meat to cook further, I just wanted it to be warm.23

25Yes, the plate needs a swipe.  But I was concentrating on the meat, not the plate.

26See how it glistened?

My husband said it tasted even better the next day.

I can’t sing its praises highly enough.  Thank you Enrico!


Veal and Pea Patties (Polpette di Vitella e Piselli)

This is a “loving the leftovers” recipe.  I had a couple of slices of veal that I hadn’t cooked when preparing saltimbocca alla romana the day before.  I didn’t want to freeze them but they were not enough veal to satisfy our dinner requirements that evening.  So … Patties – “polpette” – to the rescue.  Why not?

The freezer dredged up some peas; the fridge some grated parmesan and good butter.  Plenty of breadcrumbs in the store cupboard. Garlic and olive oil never missing in my kitchen.  A solitary egg.  A glass of white wine.  Some tomato sauce et voilà! Bob’s your uncle.  Take a look.

IMG_0050Place the veal, parmesan, peas and breadcrumbs in the processor.

Add one egg, salt and pepper and blend.  Add more breadcrumbs if necessary.  Shape the  mixture into polpette, little balls.

Pour a puddle of olive oil into a saucepan.  Add a peppercorn (two if you prefer) and a couple of cloves of garlic.  Remove from the pan when browned, but keep side for now together with some parsely, and start cooking the polpette.


Add the parsley after a while.

10Put garlic back in (don’t if you don’t want to – some people like their garlic ‘light’, others more pronounced.  I am mid-way and this way is mid-way).

11White wine comes next: pour some in and turn the heat up for a bit to make the alcohol evaporate.

12And now butter and tomato sauce.  Salt too.  Maybe a hint of sugar if the tomato is too tart.  Cook for only a few minutes, over a fairly low heat.

13While the tomato sauce is simmering away, cook some more peas with a little butter. Then put everything on a serving plate and bring to the table.

14I suppose some fresh mint would have gone very well this this.

Easy peasy no pun intended ha ha!


When life gives you lemons, make lemonade they say.  What would be a good proverb for when one has to clear out a freezer?

This was the ‘picture’ of my freezer on Saturday afternoon, November 11th 2017.  The invasion of ice.  Too much scruffy looking plastic.  Stuffed to the icy gills.


IMG_1764Time to give in to the urge and get on with the purge.

IMG_1767It was then that I decided that our dinner that evening would be scraps of the freezer clean-out.  I won’t bore you with the entire menu but there is one recipe that I would love to share with you and is the reason for this blog post.

Visiting Canadian friends invited us to spend a weekend with them in Tuscany at the end of September.  The house they had rented was near Castello di Ama and within easy driving distance of Greve, where we went to have lunch the day after we arrived. On the Sunday, our last day, the charming owners of the house put on a cooking class for us.  The lesson began with the dessert, a tiramisu.


This was followed  by grilled vegetables and tomatoes seasoned with herbs growing in their gorgeous garden.  And then the very Tuscan “pappa al pomodoro” (best pappa al pomodoro of my life!).  On the grill the equally Tuscanissimo Fiorentina steak, together with sausages and fresh bacon strips.  And not last, because it figured just after the pappa al pomodoro,  and most definitely not least, was an un-Tuscan pasta dish consisting of … wait for it … sausages and mascarpone.  Served with plenty of grated parmesan.  Three ingredients only, full of meat fat and dairy fat, and incredibly delicious!  Being dealt a double whammy of mascarpone in the course of one meal had us almost in hysterics … it was just so good and, amazingly, we managed to digest it all!

The photos speak for themselves.




IMG_0819It was a wee bit cold but there was no way we were going to forgo eating al fresco. What a great lunch!

11And this is what I rustled up after purging my freezer last Saturday … only as it happened, I didn’t have enough marscarpone and so had to add some defrosted gorgonzola to the mix to make do.  Call this the gorgonzola version.

Well worth making, I promise you. Give it a try!


The Chicken and The Pedicure

I finally went for a much overdue pedicure last week.  It’s a good job that my pedicure lady is a friend and used to my erratic ways (appointments at the last minute, for instance) and all too frequently being in a rush.  That morning, however, I seemed to have all the time in the world and we were able to exchange news and catch up in a very ladylike fashion.  Some of the news was unfortunately a little sad … business is what it is and she has to give up her beautiful salon and relocate to somewhere less expensive, not an easy decision for her but one that she could now no longer avoid.  I in turn told her about my parents in law and my mother who are all old now and requiring extra care and attention, even though they are doing pretty okay health wise, considering their age (my mother will be 91 in December).  The conversation was beginning to take a turn for the melancholy and so I had to think quickly to rustle up a diversion.  I apologized for the state of my feet and toenails and chuckled and told her that she could always refresh her career by giving chicken’s feet a pedicure. She stopped and raised her face to me with the “whaaaaat?” expression.

Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, back in October, I spent a day touring and shopping for food and, naturally, eating also with my friend Mayde from Florida in and around Frascati and the hilly area south east of Rome known as the “Castelli Romani”.  I put up her commentary with some photos on my Frascati Cooking That’s Amore facebook page.  I am quoting it here because it was sweet of Mayde to take time to write this endorsement and because it reminds me of what like-minded people can wing together, simply because they have a mind to, simply because life sometimes calls out to us with a veritable insistence that we ‘live a little’, or simply put:  ‘just because’.  We prepped some of the food between 3 and 4:30 p.m. and then we didn’t start actually cooking until it was almost 8 p.m. The menu was a hotch potch of good stuff as opposed to a classic four-course Italian meal, because I was trying to teach Mayde what she wanted to learn.  Whatever.  My husband and friends George and Claire didn’t complain, even though we ate very late indeed.  George, who had been up since 5 that morning, and who had been busy dealing with olive picking with his sister all day and driving all over the place, was pretty exhausted.  My husband encouraged him to take a little nap on the sofa in between the courses. Not what you call a ‘normal’ dinner.


“My final day in Frascati was spent with Jo. She took me to the outdoor Friday morning market in Tor Vergata where vendors sold homemade cheeses, sausages, vegetables and olive oil. 
We made a pit stop to Casale Marchese, a local winery that is 7th generation. The winery has a room near their cellar dedicated to Roman ruins and artifacts found on their property. Check out the symbols found on the ground and see if you can guess what it means. I loved this winery and I saw that they give private tours and lunch. A very short trip outside Rome.
Then we went into her town of Frascati to visit her local butcher and baker. The butchers thought it was funny that I grew up in Howard Beach where the “Don” Gotti is from. The baker opened in 1920 and their oven looked liked it was still from that era.
She then took me to the town of Grottaferrata and we visited the grounds of a monastery that has existed since 1000 AD. We then drove on to a cheese farm to get fresh sheep’s milk ricotta cheese. Then we went back to her cooking school apartment and started our prep and cooking.

We made homemade gnocchi from scratch, amatriciana sauce, veal saltimbocca, rigatoni with sausage and broccoli, pasta e Fagioli, stuffed zucchini blossoms with ricotta cheese and mozzarella cheese… I nearly ate all the ricotta cheese we had bought.. You get to shop like a local, talk with the locals and cook with a local! 
It was a great experience for me!”

It was a great experience for me too, Mayde is engrossing and witty company, and we both like to laugh and have fun.  Mayde is a fast and good cook and asked many interesting questions as we went along.  One comment that struck me when I thought about it later on regarded the state of chickens in the butchers’ shops.  She was surprised to see the head of the chicken left on the body.  Apparently that’s not seen in the United States.  Is that so? If it comes to that, chickens are presented even with their feet intact here! Skinned hares hanging upside down, the head of lambs … food in all its gory glory, nose to tail and no disguising of what befalls the animals we eat.


The thought came back to me weeks later as I was at my regular butchers’, the Ciocchi family.  I told Alessandra who was serving me that I wanted to buy some meat to make a ragù and asked her whether she had a special recipe of her own, you know, as one does when at a butcher’s.  It’s nice to exchange recipes etc.


She told me that her nonna who hailed from Umbria used to make a fab ragù and did I want to try it? Sure, of course!  “It includes chicken feet,” she casually informed me as she went about mincing the various meats for me.  “Seriously?”, I asked.  “Oh, yes, definitely.  And besides, in the old days, chicken feet were eaten a lot and included in all kinds of recipes.  In soups, for instance.”  I felt daredevil-experimental that day and threw hesitation to the wind and got into that By-Jove frame of mind.  By Jove, I SHALL make this ragù, chicken feet and all!  I asked for instructions etc and it didn’t sound too difficult.  And then came the moment when she presented the chicken feet right across the counter from me, and … yes, well.  All I can say is that I had to close my eyes for a second to regain my composure.  “Alessandra … bella … there is no way I am going to be able to deal with the nails, talons, or whatever it is we call them.  Can you kindly give them a pedicure?” .  Alessandra obliged and I went home with my unusual gastronomic booty.


Was the ragù good? Yes, apparently.  I didn’t get to eat it.  But my husband and son did, twice.  Once served with home made gnocchi and the second time with store-bought egg pasta.

Will I make this ragù again? Who knows.

For those of you who are still keeping  up with me … here are some photos of how I proceeded.

IMG_1426I was told to bring some water to a roiling boil.

IMG_1472Then add the feet let them simmer over a low heat for a couple of minutes.  This is not only to ‘wash’ the feet but also because it will loosen the skin.

IMG_1473I drained the feet and put them in a bowl with some warm water.  But try as I might I just couldn’t get on with the next step of peeling as much skin off as possible. My husband obliged, thankfully.  Also, I was cooking a family dinner at the same time – all the family, kids and the Nonni (my mother and Pino’s parents).


Interestingly, Alessandra had added some chunks of meat as well as the minced meat. I proceeded to get the ‘battuto’ going.  Chopped onion, carrot, stick of celery as well as a slice of lardo.  A little garlic added later on.  Normally I would cook a battuto (the veggies in question) over a low heat but this time because I added the chunks of meat at this stage, I used quite a high heat.

IMG_1477I then added the mixture of minced meats that Alessandra had prepared.

IMG_1478And finally the chicken feet.

IMG_1479There was a lot going on in that tiny kitchen of mine.  On the left is some cheap and cheerful white wine which I am sure I used at some point over this ragù. (It’s hard to pour wine and take a photo at the same time).

IMG_1480Yep, that liquid is the wine I added.


I then added plenty of plum tomatoes and cooked the ragù until it was done, seasoning with salt and pepper along the way.


I then thoughtfully removed the chicken feet.  They just had to go, sorry.  I did think of  our dear friend Gareth Jones, bless him (www.garethjonesfood.com).  I miss him so much. He wrote of Chicken feet in black bean sauce and probably knew how to cook them himself.  He seemed to know about everything and it’s such a shame he never got around to writing his  book (http://www.garethjonesfood.com/?p=6615), wouldn’t you agree Phyllis Knudsen, Elatia Harris, Rachel Roddy, Penny Averill and Jonell Galloway?

16The end result.  Which got put in the fridge for the next day.

I wasn’t around the next day, but my husband and son enjoyed the ragù with the gnocchi I had made.  The photos are pretty underwhelming and there isn’t a shot of the final dish with parmesan all over it.  But still, it does give an idea.  Favourite son said he really enjoyed it.

1718.JPGBut the next day it was I who got to cook the ragù with fettuccine.

I added a knob of butter to the ragù. An old trick  my nonna taught me.

22I also added a wee bit of the cooking water.

23There you go, buon appetito!