Carrot Sunshine and Meatballs (polpette) with a Georgian Sauce

At risk of repeating myself for those who are faithful readers of my blog, this is to say that I am a vegetarian who eats a lot of meat. I cannot think of a meal without vegetables, it just does not make sense to me.  In terms of ratio, our household spends one third more on veggies compared with meat (fish is another kettle of , ehm errr, fish … never cheap).

I’ve not done as much cooking as I would have liked this past year or so for reasons that I don’t relish.   Even though I basically do cook nearly every evening, it’s the ‘routine’ cooking that I end up mostly doing, for lack of time.  Now, routine cooking is a vital element in anyone’s busy life and must never be underestimated.  It’s what keeps us going, literally nourishes us, and lends credence, however gossamer, to our desire for some control over our daily existence. I am biased, I know, but that’s where I think Italian cuisine does a brilliant job of providing simple dishes that do not require tedious or lengthy preparations.  I am a meat eater and eat it often.  But these days the meat(s) in question run along an – let’s face it – uninspiring rota of: meatballs (polpette) – that I can often find ready made at my trusty butcher’s, breaded slices of beef (fettina panata), straccetti (very thin slices of beef), chicken breast, chicken alla cacciatora and hamburgers.  To distract from the banal sameness of this selection, I always make an extra effort with the vegetables, the side dish, the contorno.

So today’s post is how I thought griddle-cooked slices of carrot could add a ray of sunshine to what were very ordinary if honest polpette.  I happened to have the tail end of a leek too, in the fridge, and added that to the mix.

1)Slice the carrots and cook them on both sides on a hot griddle.


2) Cook the polpette in hot olive oil, in batches.


3) Trim the tail end of a leek, wash well to make sure there isn’t any soil lurking around and then pat dry.  Slice very thinly, dredge in flour, get rid of excess flour, and then fry them too.   Drain and set aside.


4) Arrange the carrots around the rim of the plate.  Plop the fried leek in the middle.

455) Now add the polpette and any fresh herbs of your choice

76Yes, I know … it’s a bit ‘twee’ … but the orange in the carrots is a very cheery appetising colour.  And the leek added crunch factor.

As one final touch of weekday kitchen panache, I served the dish with a Georgian-inspired red pepper and walnut sauce known as ‘adjika’.  I had made it a few days previously and leftovers were lounging in the fridge, ready to be finished off.  It was this sauce that made everything come together (the polpette might have been a tad dry otherwise).


It may not look like much but can I tell you – it is just fabulous.

The photos that follow are self evident in their instructions.  All you have to do is cook the red peppers (I do that in the oven), and then peel them and wait for them to cool down.  Also required: tomato sauce (passata), walnuts, salt, garlic, cumin, parsley, chilli flakes or fresh chilli, and a little bit of olive oil.  Process and hey presto: adjika to the rescue!

I am thinking that next time, I might toast the walnuts before starting.

I can’t tell you how much cumin to add – sorry, you’ll just have to decide for yourself.  Looks like I added 2 cloves of garlic.

And on top of the parsley, I think there is a sage leaf there in the background?

IMG_6162Be careful not to Jackson-Pollock-overdo it with the processor, we don’t want the sauce to be too ‘thin’.

IMG_6154And a very important ingredient, always, is a glass of wine or a cocktail or a cool refreshing drink.  All that cooking is thirsty work.

Insalata di Riso con Polpo e Gamberi

There was quite the international ‘feel’ at our flat for the football World Cup final match.  My Swedish niece and her partner were staying with us, our new Portuguese upstairs neighbours came along, as did new friends Kate from England and partner Gary from New York, ‘old’ friend Susy also from England, ‘old’ friend Alison from New Zealand and very very ‘old’ neighbour, Carla, a childhood friend.  Oldies and Newies all got on very well, as beers and glasses of wine and port flowed.


The only 100% Italians were my husband, Alison’s partner and Carla.  That’s Frascati for you: it’s sort of ‘expat-y’ without being expat cliquey.  Or at least, this is how I experience it since I am both a local yokel (my mother is from Frascati) and a ‘foreigner’ (my father was Swedish and my stepfather was Scottish).


I was working that Sunday morning till about 3 p.m. so asked everyone to kindly contribute something to a potluck buffet. The whole idea came about in dribs and last minute drabs so there was no time to plan as such.  The theme was “easy”, anything to make life simple.  The atmosphere: casual.


Once France won and we grudgingly conceded that it was indeed the best team and deserved to win, we carried on celebrating – what would have been the point otherwise?


It ended up with us listening to all kinds of music and even indulging in dancing … the kind of dancing our children would find most embarrassing to witness but which, I am sure, they grudgingly concede makes us super-cool parents too … yes? no?  Whatever.


Carla’s mother made this super jam tart for us, how sweet (I am never very good in the dessert department).

IMG_8078And it was a beautiful balmy July evening with a sky that sported a crescent moon making some kind of astral contact with a star or planet (Venus?).

I decided that since it was hot and we were going to eat buffet-style, a nice summery “insalata di riso” would be a good idea.  A room-temperature ‘insalata di riso’ (a rice salad that is no relation whatsoever to a risotto) is an Italian staple that is often rendered inedible by lazy people who buy ready-made sauces for the rice that might even include pseudo-German cocktail sausage and worse.  For that reason, I never did like them.  It was my mother in law, Maria, who introduced me to the pea, cuttle fish and lemon combination many summers ago, and that’s the one I stick to.   This time I used squid and prawns.  Here’s how I made it.

1.I cooked the rice as per the packet instructions in plenty of water with plenty of salt in it as well as half a lemon.  Once cooked I drained it and ran it under the tap.


2. I then transferred the slightly cooled rice to a tub full of cold water and left it there for a couple of minutes, to cool down completely and to prevent it from overcooking and going flabby on us.

3.jpg3. I then drained it again and just left it whilst I got on with the rest of the recipe.


4. There was the easy peasy (pun intended to the nth degree) job of cooking the frozen peas for a couple of minutes and then draining them.5.jpg

5.  And there was the task of cooking frozen prawns in plenty of salted simmering water for only a couple of minutes.


6. What did take relatively long was cooking the squid.  I apologise, I have no photos.  But basically all I did was place the defrosted squid in a pressure cooker, add salt and half a lemon, and let it cook for 20 minutes.  I left the squid to cool in this water before proceeding to slicing it up.

7.  Adding taste to the rice.  The taste is mostly made up of olive oil, lemon juice and lime juice.  And salt, of course.


8.  I thought that a little bit of both lemon and lime zest would jazz things up a bit too.


9.  And so the seasoning begins.  Add the olive oil, the juices and pinches of salt, and use your fingers to mix everything together.  I seem to remember seasoning the squid and the prawns prior to adding them – that’s definitely a good idea, give them a double whammy.


10.  Serve in a large platter and add lemon and lime wedges.

I must add that this is a somewhat ‘delicate’ insalata … people who like more definite tastes might be tempted to add  Tabasco or pepper or chilli flakes, which would sort of mar the whole point of this dish.  It’s supposed to be a little ‘bland’.  That’s what makes it refreshing on a hot summer’s day.  That’s what the lime and lemon juice are for.  But, each to his own taste naturally …


10Here is a link to a previous insalata di riso I made, goodness me!, six years ago:

Salmon and Mushroom Recipe for my Friend Sarah Terzeon


I just got off an hour-long catching-up chat (CUC) with my friend Sarah from England.  Sarah and her husband and kids spent two years living near Frascati about twenty years ago. Our children went to the same school and that’s how we met and became friends.  We have been trying to have a proper CUC for literally months now and today was indeed a bit of a miracle, for both of us, that we succeeded.  Life seems to have become unseasonably busy  for those of us that are over a half-century old, and it is such a shame that we cannot devote more time and attention to people who bring joy to our fast-paced days. In the middle of our commiserating, one of the things I mentioned that I found a tad sad is the fact that I cook so relatively rarely these days – and that despite being a food blogger and loving being in the kitchen!  I do cook nearly every day, yes, but it’s a case of the same ol’, same ol’, same ol’ and that can be gastronomically soul destroying after a while.  Sarah agreed.

They are having people over for dinner this weekend and she was a bit at a loss as to what to prepare.  I said I would be too, we haven’t had a party at our house for ages (I did organise an afternoon tea party for my mother when she was recuperating from pneumonia earlier this Spring – she stayed with us from Janury to mid April, and trying to feed her was quite an uphill battle, because she had lost her appetite and found so many foods distasteful, but that’s another food blog story).  Cooking, like nearly all human ventures and adventures, benefits from regular practice.



Anyway, I told Sarah, who does eat fish but not meat, maybe I could give her an idea? As it happened, I got to spend a lonesome evening all to myself last Saturday in that my husband was away in the Marche visiting his parents.


After spending a really nice hour-and-a-half with my partner-in-crime friend Michelle, drinking our wine as the sun was bidding its adieu to the day, outside in one of Frascati’s oldest piazzas and gossiping to our heart’s content, I got home feeling that I owed it to myself to cook something “nice for me”.  (These photos? They are of the Piazza San Rocco in Frascati, while Michelle and I were enjoying our aperitivo.  I do love this time of  year so much.  Sigh.)

Now, the recipe I am proposing may not sound exactly gob-smackingly enticing but, bear with me, it actually turned out to be “very nice for me”.   Sarah … do let me know what you think?


Plain mushrooms, garlic, butter, olive oil, 1 bayleaf, nutmeg, lemon zest, salmon, raspberries, chives

Slice the mushrooms and cook them with plenty of butter and olive oil and, if you like, a little bit of garlic.  Add a bayleaf, a slither of lemon zest and a little  bit of freshly grated nutmeg, as well as salt.


I can see some other green ‘bits’ in the photo on the left.  Reckon that that’s a bit of marjoram.

img_7965.jpgI had a little fillet of salmon.  Frozen salmon.

IMG_7966This was one portion – so, not a lot as you can imagine.

I did not take photos of the dish as I went my way cooking it.  But I do remember removing the cooked mushrooms from the pan and then cooking the salmon in the same pan.  Salmon takes hardly any time to cook so hey presto! I was plating up.

IMG_7892I lay the mushrooms on the plate like a mattress.  And placed the salmon on top.  I then added chives and a few raspberries.

IMG_7893A close-up.    See? the salmon not overcooked.

IMG_7894I left the lemon zest on the plate.  It paired well with the rest of the ingredients.

IMG_7895And the raspberries?  They were literally staring at me in the fridge … so I had to use them up.  There you go.

Somehow, it all made sense, it tasted nice, and I think I shall be tempted to make this dish again.  It takes hardly any time and what would have been a somewhat  sad, frozen fillet of salmon ended up being presented with some panache, dare I say.  (Be careful with the nutmeg, grate a teensy bit at a time.)