Artichoke Soufflé (Sformato di Carciofo)

This is how the late and much missed freelance writer Kyle Phillips, a Tuscany-based food and wine lover and expert, described a sformato.  “A sformato is similar to a soufflé, but not as airy, and therefore doesn’t require the care in preparation its French cousin does — there’s no danger that it will deflate.”

The reason my last previous blog was all about soufflé is that I was making a soufflé with cooked artichokes in it.

When I looked at the sheer amount of artichokes, I realized that I did not have a large enough soufflé dish to accommodate it. Not to worry – I went for an oven dish that was indeed large enough.  The only ‘problem’ I realized, however, was that the soufflé would now not ‘rise’ as such because the mixture would be spread out too thinly.  No problem!  Instead of a soufflé, I would make a sformato. Call if a flan if you prefer.

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This is the saucepan containing a mash of three cooked artichokes, which I had blended together with some grated pecorino, cream, salt and pepper and lots of fresh mint.  At this stage, the mash was a little warmer than room temperature.

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I then proceeded to make the roux for the soufflé (6 egg yolks etc – see previous blog).

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I then combined the soufflé roux with the artichoke mash, and transferred it to a mixing bowl.4I buttered the large oven dish.

5I then whisked the 6 egg whites with an eletric whisk until nice and firm.

6I added some of the egg whites to the artichoke mash – to loosen it up a little.  It was pretty thick.  Be gentle.

7And then of course I added the rest of the egg whites, being careful not to combine too vigorously for fear of ruining the ‘airiness’ of it all.

8It all got transferred to the oval oven dish.

9I popped it into the hot oven, at 190°C.  It cooked for about 35 minutes.

10And here it is out of the oven and ready to be eaten.

And very nice it was too.  Pecorino cheese and artichoke are best friends.

This is good to eat even at room temperature.  Perfect for a picnic, why not?

Below is a link to another website that quotes Kyle Phillips and sformato making, just in case you might be interested.

https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-make-a-spinach-sformato-2019091

Soufflé Olé

Below you can read a post I wrote about soufflé making on my previous blog (My Home Food That’s Amore). I wrote the post almost seven years ago but nothing has changed in the way I make it.  I continue to like its relative simplicity and everyone seems to like it.

The Suave Soufflé: Food that gets Blown into Deliciousness

The poor soufflé is saddled with a bad reputation for being difficult to make.  I would say that a superb soufflé might be arduous to produce but that an ordinary, jolly good one is easy peasy and should definitely be included in the midweek supper menu, especially when the weather starts sending out signals of nippiness.  Alan Davidson in the Oxford Compantion to Food [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 735), gives us the following historical vital statistics on the soufflé:

Souffle – A French word which literally means “puffed up,” is a culinary term in both French and English (and used in many other languages) for a light, frothy dish, just stiff enough to hold its shape, and which may be savory or sweet, hot or cold.The basic hot souffle has as its starting point a roux–a cooked mixture of flour and butter…This type of souffle was a French invention of the late 18th century. Beauvilliers was making souffles possibly as early as 1782 (though he did not publish his L’Art du cusinier until 1814).

Recipes for various kinds appear in Louis Ude’s The French Cook of 1813, a work which promises a “new method of giving good and extremely cheap fashionable suppers at routs and soirees. Later, in 1841, Careme’s Patissier Royal Parisien goes into great detail on the technique of making souffles, from which it is clear that cooks had been having much trouble with souffles that collapsed. The dish acquired a reputation for difficulty and proneness to accidents which it does not really deserve…There are some Ukranian and Russian dishes of the hot souffle type, independently evolved and slightly different in composition.”

I owe my basic soufflé recipe to Delia Smith and have always found it to be very reliable (thank you Delia!).  The BEST thing about a soufflé is that you can prepare most of it, if need be, the day before — which is an excellent idea for when you are having people over to dinner.  The mixture can be doled out into individual ramekins instead of a single oven dish and that makes it quicker to serve too, as well as making the presentation an engaging one.   You can add all sorts of puréed vegetables or other ingredients to the basic soufflé mix and chime in with whatever is in season: squash, courgettes, artichokes and mushrooms for instance.

This is going to be quite a long post, be warned.  But once mastered, the steps prove to be very intuitive and easily remembered.

Here are the ingredients: 6 eggs, 200g cheese, 300ml milk, 50g butter, 50g flour, a pinch of cayenne pepper, a pinch of mustard powder, a twist of freshly grated nutmeg (not shown in the photo) and salt and pepper.  This will be enough to feed 6-8 people.  If, instead, there are going to be 3-4 to dinner, and there is plenty of other food on the menu, then use half of these recommended doses.  Regarding what cheese to use: use a mixture of cheeses if you like, why not, and bear in mind cheddar, emmenthal, gruyère, fontina and parmesan.

The first thing to do is turn the oven on, at 190°C and then grease your ramekins or soufflé dish with butter.  Set aside. (PS – the oven setting should NOT be convection – the air blowing around the oven would not be hepful for soufflés.)

Then, start the recipe by cracking the eggs and separating the yolks from the whites in different bowls.  Place the bowl containing the egg whites in the fridge — this will make it easier to whisk them later on.

Place the flour, butter, cayenne pepper and mustard powder in a saucepan.  Arm yourself with a whisk and a wooden spoon, you are going to need them.

Switch on the heat and very soon it will start looking like this … use the whisk to mix all the ingredients and cook for about 1 minute (or less).

Now add the milk.  A little at a time, using one hand, and whisking away with the other hand.  It might look ‘lumpy’ at first, but don’t worry.  Keep whisking and it will all meld beautifully.

See?  Now is the time to switch to the wooden spoon.

Stir away to cook the mixture (roux) for about 2 minutes.  Add salt and pepper.

Now add the cheese.  Ahem … what you see in the photo is not quite ‘proper’.  The proper thing to do is to grate the cheese first — but I was in a hurry that evening.  No matter.  The cheese did melt eventually, it just took longer that’s all.

Here is the proof that the cubes of cheese did melt!  Now switch off the heat.

Beat the egg yolks well with a fork or whisk and add them a little at a time to the roux. In order for the egg yolks to combine perfectly with the roux, it is a good idea to add them one at a time.  That is the ‘proper’ thing to do.  Ahem … I wasn’t in a ‘proper’ mood that evening, evidently, and added the beaten egg yolks all together.

But I did stir away with great vigour and zest with my trusty wooden spoon!

All combined and golden and gleaming.  I call this the end of “Phase I”.

Phase II:

Take the bowl containing the egg whites out of the fridge and get hold of your electric beater.  You could try whisking them by hand … you could … but I wouldn’t advise it, too much elbow work unless you are an expert at it.

Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and then whisk away until you get the cloudy, foamy, frothy peaks that are going to put the souffle into your soufflé!

And here we are, ready to combine the two.

Start by putting a large spoonful of the beaten egg whites into the golden roux and mixing well.  This will loosen it up a little.

Then mix the whole lot together — but very gently! you don’t want the bubbles of air that make the egg whites stiff to lose their fluffiness.  When combining, remember to stir the spatula or wooden spoon (whatever you prefer) in a downward-to-upward movement as opposed to a round-and-round movement.  This protects those precious bubbles of air.

Then pour the mixture into the butter-greased soufflé bowl – in this case it was an oval pyrex dish, very 1970s!

Give it one final gentle stir.

The ‘proper’ temperature for cooking the soufflé is, apparently, 180°C — but experience has taught me that on my oven at least, the closer the temperature is to 200°C the better.  Every oven is quirky in its own way, so the best advice I can give you is to try it at 190°C (I’m very good at compromise).

Cook until ready.  How often have I read that in a recipe and been very irritated with the recipe writer for not being more specific!  All I can say is that, again, depending on the temperamental quirkiness of your own oven, this soufflé can take any time between 25 and  35 minutes.  Since it is considered the height of tabu to open the oven door while the soufflé is cooking — I would advise that you opt for a sensible 30 minute cooking time.

Here is the soufflé served with spinach.

Here is another soufflé I made in another pyrex dish.

Served with salad that time …

And that is the end of Soufflé Story for today except for one super time-saving and mood-enhancing tip, and that is that most of the soufflé can be prepared the day before!  Yes! And that is very good news if you are having people over to dinner and want to spend more time talking with them than you do preparing food in the kitchen (that’s what I meant by mood enhancing).  On Day 1, follow the instructions all the way to Phase I.  Then put everything in the fridge, covering both the egg-white bowl and the roux with clingfilm/saran wrap/plastic food wrapping.  On Day 2, take the roux out of the fridge at least one hour before cooking time (it has to be at room temperature, in other words).  Proceed with Phase II.  Don’t I deserve a medal for telling you that? I think I do!

POST SCRIPTUM – SOUFFLE WITH SQUASH

The idea was to add pumpkin to my cheese soufflé.  I poached the pumpkin in milk, adding garlic and sage leaves too.

I also added some olive oil and a strange salt I picked up, made with maple syrup.  Use ordinary salt by all means!  Those little beads scattered on the pumpkin are coriander — about one teaspoon.Once the squash was cooked, I mashed it up with a wooden spoon first …And then passed it through a food mill to get the texture I was after — a very smooth one.  I tasted it again and then added a bit more salt and pepper.  I was cooking 10 ramekins and so added 10 spoons of this pumpkin puré to the soufflé roux at the end of Phase I.

Previously I had placed fairly thin slices of the pumpkin in the oven, and cooked them for 15 minutes.  I also cut up some pancetta and cooked that until crispy.  When the ramekins of soufflé came out of the oven, I placed the slices of pumpkin and the pancetta on top of each one.  I was going to garnish the ramekins with fresh sage leaves but my friend Diane had the brilliant idea of  coating them with flour and cooking them quickly in olive oil for an added dash of both taste and texture, as well as presentation.

This photo gives you an idea.  If you look closely, you can see the pancetta, the slices of oven-cooked slices of squash and the sage leaves.  All in all, a very nice autumnal soufflé!

Version 4 Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino tweaked by a Crunch Factor

This being the fourth in succession of the Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino let’s just call the recipe AOP at this stage.   As stated previously, AOP has to be the second simplest pasta dish to make (the first is pasta seasoned with just butter and parmesan).  Even so, it requires a little bit of attention.

OLIVE OIL – The best olive oil you can muster.

GARLIC  – The thinly sliced garlic must ‘stew’, turn golden, and not burn, in plenty of olive oil.  That’s why it is a good idea to heat it over a low heat.  It can be cooked until it is almost brown if you prefer a stronger taste (this is very old school).

PARSELY – The parsely delivers best if it is a) finely chopped and b) also cooked in the olive oil.  I have been known to do neither thing, and just strew a bit of roughly chopped parsely over the cooked and seasoned pasta just before devouring it.  It is still good but, as I said, finely chopping it and letting it sauté in the olive oil takes the recipe to another level.

CHILLI – Dried chilli flakes … as much or as little as you like.  This ingredient also benefits from being included in the recipe from the word go.

PASTA – The ideal spouse for this pasta seasoning, it’s crowning glory, is Spaghetti.

Today’s variation features toasted bread crumbs, just for the fun of it, just for the added frisson of crunch in our mouth-feel.  Except that I didn’t have any bread crumbs to toast. Oh woe is me! Or rather woe would have been me had I not been able to resort to a little trick that is becoming very popular in Italy at the moment.  I don’t know whether you’ve heard of Taralli that hail from Puglia and other parts of Souther Italy?  The closest description I can come up with is  “teensy bagels”.   They are served as snacks at all times of the day and it’s always handy to have some around.  Warning: despite being somewhat bland in taste they are nevertheless very more-ish.

 

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So, if you’ve been reading the other posts on AOP you know the drill by now.

IMG_2130Chilli and garlic in plenty of olive oil and don’t let it burn.

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While that’s happening, finely chop some parsely and ‘pulverize’ one or two of the taralli (the little mound you see on the right).  I used a meat pounder to obtain the desired texture.

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I then added the chopped parsely and let it cook for very little time, let’s say one minute?

IMG_2133I took the pan off the heat and removed as much of the garlic as I could find.  You don’t have to do this.  And I personally wouldn’t bother normally but it was just one of those things you do, on a whim, for a very late Sunday lunch when making AOP for my daughter who’d had a late night the night before.

IMG_2134When the pasta was almost cooked and ready to be drained, I put the pan back on the heat and toasted the crushed taralli.  This is a terrible photo, I apologise, but trust me: the ‘stuff’ in the middle is the crushed taralli.

IMG_2135Then in went the cooked spaghetti.

IMG_2136I had to add some of the cooking water to finish the dish off, to get the right texture (and taste).  A bit of tossing went on too but I was unable to photograph that.

IMG_2137And just before serving I added a further sprinling of taralli (that I had toasted in a separate pan).

There you go.  Very nice too.

I would definitely recommend cooking the parsely in the olive oil from the start, whichever of the four AOP recipes you might like to try out some time.

For the rest … Passover and Easter are coming up soon.

Auguri!  Greetings to you all and carry on cooking !

Below is a link to another post concerning the use of toasted breadcrumbs on pasta:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/the-crunch-factor-in-pasta-the-game-of-love/

 

 

Version 3 of Spaghetti Aglio e Olio in which ‘Raw’ Rules

The original title of this post was “Doctor’s Orders” because apart from the pasta that needs cooking, the rest of the ingredients are used raw.  And, as we are beginning to realise more and more, raw foods are good for us.

Doctors Orders – Pasta Aglio e Olio with a Twist

Italian food is easy, so many recipes can be readily executed even by a beginner.  It is simple – the list of ingredients rarely surpasses more than five or six and that’s not including salt.  It is not supposed to be difficult – if it were, only chefs would be cooking Italian dishes as opposed to single people and home makers all over the country and of every generation.  Preparations are rarely laborious and a proper meal can be concocted in one hour or even under.  The taste and textures it offers are wide ranging and refreshed by the passing of seasons, like milestones in one’s life.  The ingredients are rarely expensive.  Presentation can be tweaked to appear brashly peasant-like or chic, come hither-ish or aloof, tradtional or modern.  It is child friendly on the one hand but easily appeals to a sophisticated palate on the other.

Italian food is popular for all these reasons.

It is ‘meant to be’ because it can be handed down generation after generation and still remain current for most people’s palate.  It’s not supposed to be exciting or faddish although of course it can be surprising and delightful.  Variety is the spice of life, indeed … but if it’s variety we are after all the time, the canon tends to come asunder.  And this, say I with a bit of preoccupation which I hope people won’t attribute to self importance, is what happens when foodies from abroad pounce on Italian cuisine in seach of what’s new?, what’s the latest ingredient?, what’s the novelty regional secret?  It undermines the canon.   Think about what happened to pesto, for instance.  It became furiously popular in the UK and northern America about 30 years ago.  And  now? Now … it tends to be not so much taken for granted but ‘overlooked’ or culinary-backs-against it like a scorned wife.  And all because it’s just so … so been-there, done-that, ‘bo-ring’, what’s-next.  And when one takes into consideration that most of these people haven’t even tasted real pesto, they simply haven’t had the chance bless ’em, the petulance-and-jaded-palate-syndrome of food designers in chase of new food collections takes on an even deeper gastronomic melancholy for me.  If you have the time, do read this article, it’s very good and I was even sympathetic to its author.  Even so … he just couldn’t resist ‘tweaking’ the pesto recipe.  Creativity is a wonderful thing – but can we just stop calling a recipe ‘pesto’ when it is not!  Stop piggy-backing on something that is beautiful for what it is, and if you want to make changes – go ahead but call it something else.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/in-italy-i-learned-how-to-make-true-pesto-in-america-i-buck-tradition/2016/03/07/69617e96-dfc7-11e5-8d98-4b3d9215ade1_story.html

And it’s not just foreigners who are at it.  It’s also many many Italians, especially young Italians, especially Italians who have trained professionally and who have worked abroad themselves.  Haute cuisine, Italian haute cuisine included, has a place in swanky and posh restaurants, in serious and elegant establishments where the meal is elaborated to impress and seduce.  That’s a given.  That’s why we spend lots of money going there (myself included on occasion, lest you should wonder!) in order to give ourselves a treat.  But when I spot a recipe on the menu or elsewhere that is bog standard and ‘homey’ even, ‘reinterpreted’ by chef so and so … well, what can I say?  On the one hand I am curious and impressed.  On the other I feel like rapping their knuckles with a wooden stick.  ‘Leave well alone!’, I feel like shouting.  ‘If you carry on like this, very soon, a couple of generations down the road, Italian food will have become so inflatedly ‘complex’ and fussy that it will lose its innate beauty – ‘simplicity.’  An Italian rose is an Italian rose is a rose is a rose …

End of mini-rant.  Until the next one.

Despite my being unabashedly on the conservative side (!) when it comes to enjoying classic Italian food, not to mention somewhat averse to change for change’s sake, or downright dismissive of prettifications and updating of uber-traditional dishes, I do get won over occasionally when it comes to techniques that make life easier or that make sense gastronomically.  I only shudder and shriek within, and on occasion without, when said techniques end up with a complete make-over that’s only a virtual echo of the original.

So picture my face earlier this morning, slitty eyed, expression all screwed, nose scrunched up, my pursed lips relenting eventually to let out a long sigh, the mother of all sighs, I’ll have you know, when I read of a chic Italian chef in an ultra posh Milanese hotel holding forth about the spaghetti recipe known as ‘aglio, olio e peperoncino’.

Well. For a start … this recipe isn’t even Milanese.  So … why would a Milanese come to a Roman and tell them how to make an aglio e olio?  Stick to your risotto. And there is the culinary fact that … it’s hardly even a recipe. Not a high end one, at any rate. (By the way, it must be acknowledged that the recipe originated in Naples but that was a long time ago and we think of it as Roman here.  Nothing new about appropriation, eh?)

It is the equivalent of making toast when you are hungry.  It’s the classic dish to make when you are in a hurry … or when you come home from a late night out and discover suddenly that you are hungry and need to eat something before hitting the mattress.  All it requires is a bit of olive oil, garlic and some chilli (cayenne pepper) and parsely of course, even though a lot of people will eschew the parsely (and it’s not just the older folk who are long in the tooth and short in the gums where said parsely just looooves to stick and stand out embarrassingly).

Now why would a top chef even want to offer such a ‘plain’ dish on their menu?  Would you offer beans on toast at Claridges? or croque Monsieur at whatever Parisian restaurant is the bees’ knees?  Burgers are different.  They are made with meat.  Good meat is expensive.  So if a high end American restaurant serves a burger, that’s not culinarily seditious.

But … aglio, olio e peperoncino? Why? why, why, why, why, why?  Give me caviar.  Or lobster.  Or truffles.  I’ll make me own ajo, ojo e peperoncino at home thank you very much! (By the way, that’s the Roman spelling for aglio, olio e peperoncino.  The Roman use the letter ‘j’ to replace the letter ‘i’ – so think of it as an ‘i’ and pronounce it like this: ayo, oyo ey pe-pe-ron-cheenoh).

I do like to experiment, however hidebound my love for tradition might be, and I do like to ‘make sure’, to seek out the proof in the eating of the pudding.   So … guess what I did today?  I made an ajo e ojo e peporoncino that requires very little cooking of the garlic which is then complemented by room temperature olive oil and raw parsely.  Raw.  Good for you.  Olive oil.  Good for you.  Parsely.  Good for you.  Cayenne pepper – very good for you.  Pasta – the good quality kind? Very good for you too.  We should call this the ‘Good for you’ pasta!  Doctor’s orders!

Away we go.

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I used three large cloves of garlic for just over 200g of spaghetti.  Start by peeling the cloves and placing them in a small saucepan with plenty of cold water in it, or at least enough to cover them completely.  Bring the water to the boil.

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When the water comes to a boil, drain the garlic.  Repeat this thrice.  In other words, do this cold-water-come-to-a-boil for four times altogether.  In the meantime, put the pot with the pasta water on to boil too.

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Measure out 30ml of olive oil (extra virgin olive oil, naturally) per clove of garlic.  In this case – about 90ml of evoo.  Pour the evoo inside a processing beaker or whatever these contraptions are called.

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Once the garlic has been blanched for the fourth time … cut the cloves in half and remove the green inside bit – the ‘germ’, what the Italians call the ‘soul’ of a clove of garlic.  This germ is actually probably the healthiest part of this allium but there you are.  It isn’t too healthy when you are sharing the room with another person (they’ll hate you for your overpowering breath) and most lovers would shy away from even a kiss on the cheek … continental you say? Hm.  But stinky too.  Better not.
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Here is the  soulless garlic, deprived of its stinky germ.

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Cut up the garlic a bit more and place inside the beaker.
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When the spaghetti have been cooking for about 5 minutes …

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Remove a ladle or so  of the cooking water and set aside.  Allow it to cool.

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Pour the cooking water into the beaker.

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And now … process. Blitz away.  Until you get a lovely emulsion.

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I’d forgotten to add salt.  So I added a good pinch of salt and processed a little bit more.

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I then chopped up some parsely.

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I poured the garlic and evoo emulsion into a frying pan close to the pasta pot.

IMG_4563I dug out my cayenne pepper.

I drained the pasta directly into the frying pan – NO heat.  No need for any heat.  Mix well so that the pasta slurps up all the sauce.

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Plate out the paste and sprinkle with cayenne pepper.

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My lunch guest does not like eating parsely so I added a little sprig just for a bit of adornment.

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I instead added the chopped parsely.

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And lots of it.

And was it any good, you might very well ask?

Yes, yes it was actually.  And I shall make it again – so there.

Interesting that the taste of the garlic was very apparent, but it did not overwhelm.  Nor did it make occasional appearances via a burp during the later phase of digestion.

See ? Never say never.  You live and you learn.

Version 2 of Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino, with reference to Dracula

Strictly speaking this is not the classic Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino recipe.  However, and an important ‘however’ at that, the basis for this pasta recipe is unequivocally the said spaghetti recipe.  This version adds small amounts of cherry tomato, fresh mint, and freshly grated Roman pecorino cheese.  It has become my husband’s favourite way of enjoying it.

Dracula-Style Spaghetti with Garlic, Mint and Pecorino

 

The reference to Dracula in the title is all about the garlic.  As we all know, Dracula was a vampire, and vampires are fearful of garlic.  This post is very garlic-centric … so if you are not interested in the background stuff, please scroll down and go straight to the recipe with the photos.  Guaranteed to keep vampires at bay …

Many visitors to Italy have confided to me that they are baffled by the Italians’ hesitant,  wary and sometimes even snooty attitude towards this most necessary of recipe enhancers; they can’t fail to notice how niggardly most Italians are with the amount of cloves included in any dish,  or even how the garlic is removed altogether once it has been sautéed in olive oil towards the start of the recipe in question.

I personally hail from a family of garlic-galore inclination but this was eventually ironed out of me, gastronomically speaking, when first I began to cook regularly and enjoyed inviting people to dinner.  The most diplomatic among them would say something like, “Wow Jo! just how much garlic did you put in this dish!” and reach for litres of water or wine to tame the lusty lingering flavour on their palate.  I was rather mortified, naturally, but, nothing loath, forged ahead with my experiments in the kitchen, toning down the amount of garlic until I got it to  be ‘Italian-friendly’.   I had a colleague at work at the time who was very fond of me and would too often come within unwelcome exhaling distance,  her affection imbued with an overpowering halitosic souvenir of the garlic she had eaten the night  before – so it wasn’t as if I were not sensitive to the whole ‘garlic breath’ scenario.  She happened to be French.  Another German colleague was even more liberal with his daily garlic intake and literally ‘infested’ the lift.  One always knew when he had used the lift, his body left a garlicky smell-imprint leaving us in no doubt.  These days,  it would be the Romanians recently living in Italy who are likely to cause nostril-attack for the the whiff of garlic surrounding their person.  So yes, the Italians are finicky about garlic.

I have an inkling, moreover, that the Italians have always been pernickety about their garlic intake – the middle class, bourgeois or aristocratic Italians that is and in this respect they would have been no different from other toffs in other countries.  The poorer people couldn’t get enough of garlic and onions in their diet and their body odour was olfactive proof of this.  So the smell of garlic was most likely associated with peasant fare, with poverty.

We know, on the other hand, that garlic was not a ‘normal’ ingredient in the British kitchen until Elisabeth David’s popular books introduced Mediterranean flavours and recipes in the 1950s to a country that had previously been highly diffident of this Allium sativum, perhaps even deeming it exotic, not to mention suspiciously ‘foreign’.  Once the trend for garlic had set it, however, there was no stopping the garlic frenzy and the more-the-merrier became the mantra.

Not so with the prescriptive Italians, with their long history of local cuisine, which they are now appreciating more and more and looking to as a treasured heirloom: they are fully aware that garlic has its place in the kitchen, but it is one that has to be included with sedulous calibration.  You can’t just breezily throw in cloves of garlic any old how à la Jamie Oliver! no! you have to know just how many cloves, and you have to cook the garlic properly, making sure it doesn’t change colour beyond golden! Watching Italian cooking programmes on TV, reading Italian cookery books or magazines, and listening to pronouncements made by chefs at cooking classes, I was unanimously informed that garlic is ‘sweet’ if cooked over a low heat, and for a short time, and that once it has imparted its fabulous flavour, it should be deftly and cold-bloodedly removed upon pain of it then wreaking revenge upon the recipe, by turning it bitter and ruining everything.   Also, most chefs actually remove the sprout/germ from the garlic altogether.  It is ironic that this germ is sometimes referred to as the ‘anima’, the soul, in Italian.

I am always on the look-out for good quality when it comes to food, and that of course includes garlic.  For years now, I have been boycotting supermarkets as much as I can in any case for general reasons of business ethics but, when it comes to garlic, because of the supermarkets’ partiality to plugging garlic imported from China, India, Egypt and Spain.  Nothing against these countries but I can’t for the life of me understand why Italy needs to import garlic in the first place.  Second, Italian garlic tastes so much better – sorry, I do not want to offend anyone’s sensibilities,  but it does!  You need only one Italian clove for the equivalent of at least two or more as regards varieties from other countries.  (And ssssh, don’t tell the customs officers, but I have been known to smuggle in Italian garlic to other countries when I visit and my friends and family are glad that I did.)  The Italian garlic I use most of all (in that I have access to it) is the garlic from Sulmona in the Abbruzzo in Central Italy.  Other famous garlics in Italy hail from Vessalico (Liguria), Voghiera (near Ferrara), Polesano (from Polesine in the Veneto), Aglio bianco di Molino dei Torti (near Alessandria in Piedmont). These are all regions in the north of Italy.  The only famous garlic from the South would seem to be the Aglio rosso di Nubia di Paceco (close to Trapani in Sicily) but I have a feeling that more varieties exist in the South and just aren’t talked about.

Some people claim they find garlic undigestible – and who am I to disbelieve them?  Everyone knows the workings of their own body.  So … if you fall into the category of people who do indeed like their garlic but have to be careful not to be overpowered by it in their meals, you might like to discover the following tip.

Place the peeled garlic in a small pan with cold water.  Bring the water to the boil, or just before rather.  When the water bubbles about to simmer appear, drain the cloves.  Put them back in the pan, add more cold water and repeat the procedure.  Do it a third time.  This can even be done using milk.  What these three immersions in water do is make the garlic ‘milder’ without actually removing any of its taste.

I tried it.  It worked.  And here is a recipe for spaghetti.

1

Actually, first of all put the water on to boil.  Then grate the pecorino romano cheese.  I say ‘first of all’ because grating cheese is something I do not like doing, and so I either get somebody else to do it for me … or get it over and done with first myself so that I can breathe better.

2

Chop a mixture of parsely and mint.  Or parsely only.  Or mint only.  Whatever you prefer.  I don’t think basil would work in this recipe, however.

3

If you like heat, chop up some chilli or use chilli flakes.

4

Chop up a couple of tomatoes and remove as much of the pulp and seeds as you are in the mood to do.

5

Place the cloves of garlic in cold water.  One clove per 100g of spaghetti and one more for the pot, the way one puts in 1 spoonful of tea leaves per cup and one more for the teapot.

6

Turn on the heat.  When tiny bubbles of simmer rise to the surface, immediately drain the garlic.

7

Put the garlic back in the pan, add water and repeat the procedure.  Repeat the whole procedure once more.  Then slice the garlic into fairly thin slithers.  Thin slithers are required for this recipe.

8

Pour the best quality olive oil you have into a saucepan.

9

Add the garlic and only now turn on the heat.  Low.  Low heat.  We want the oil to be infused with the flavour of the garlic. The longer the garlic takes to cook the better.  Keep a beady eye on the saucepan at this point ! blink and you’ll have missed the second the garlic went from golden to burnt! And then it will be too late … and it will be a case of Oh Woe is Me! Garlic disaster.

10

When the garlic has reached its golden colour stage, add the chopped tomatoes.  And the chilli too, if you like it.

11

And now and only now can you turn the heat up a little, and get the tomatoes to cook.  A couple of minutes will do it.  The sauce is ready. Switch off the heat. Taste and add some salt if necessary.

12

Drain the spaghetti directly into the sauce and the saucepan.  Mix well so that the pasta is coated all over.    Add the herbs last.

13

Add the pecorino and eat to your heart’s content.  I like mine quite fiery so added more chilli flakes.

My husband and I ate these spaghetti very late in the evening, after we had come back from a day at the beach in Sabaudia.  To put it mildly, we were starving.  It took me literally 20 minutes from start to finish.  We ended up eating amounts that would be frowned upon in the course of a normal Italian meal, but thoroughly approved of when pasta is the only food for dinner.  In other words, we also ingested a lot of garlic.  And yes … lo and behold … no ‘heaviness’, no indigestion, no garlicky breath the following day.

Thumbs up !

Version 1 of Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino

I realised the other day, as I was writing a fourth post on the classic and famed spaghetti dish, that it might be a good idea to post all four in successive order.  The post  you see below was written back in 2012, and the spaghetti eaten on arriving home at around midnight after a trip to London.  My blog at the time was called My Home Food That’s Amore.  And indeed, what could be MORE home-food than this!

Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino

This is perhaps the hardest easiest pasta sauce to prepare.

The easiest because it requires few ingredients.  Hard because it can so easily go ‘wrong’ if not supervised with tender love and attention and without the benefit of a huge appetite.

This is the classic pasta dish to make at 2 o’clock in the morning when you’ve come home after a night out and though it’s bedtime, you can’t for the life of you understand why you’re so damn hungry!  It is also the classic pasta dish to make when you come home and realise with despair that there is nothing in the larder (or rather nothing that appeals to you in the larder) and you’ve got to leave in a little while and have to eat something to keep your pecker up!  In other words, never make this dish unless you are properly hungry.

We had just got home after a short trip to London last January, and it was almost midnight.  We were tired and hungry and in a bit of a post-holiday bad mood and I wasn’t about to bend over backwards to redeem the situation without support from other family members.  Thus, knowing that this support was unlikely to be proffered, I suggested I make spaghetti aijo, oijo e peperoncino (that’s the Roman spelling of this dish and the ‘j’ is pronounced as if it were a ‘y’) … everyone was happy and relieved.  I honestly couldn’t remember when I last had made this pasta, so long was it since I had been starving hungry!  It just shows what wanting-to-be-healthy can do to you sometimes to ruin your food options.

Plan on measuring about 25 ml of olive oil per person (that’s just under 1 fluid ounce).

Pour the oil into a pan and add a little bit more just for good measure.  Then use 1 clove of garlic per person … thinly sliced.  If you like more garlic, do  by all means add more.  The garlic must cook in the oil at a very very very VERY low heat, and that can take quite some time (about 10 minutes even).

This recipe calls for spaghetti.  No other kind of pasta will do.

And, contrary to every other recipe for garlic cooking in olive oil (at least so far as Italian cuisine is concerned), the garlic must cook until it turns slightly (but only slightly) brown.  At that point switch the heat off, and remove the pan away from the source of heat too.  I added a very small amount of chilli flakes … I would have added more had it not been for my daughter who has yet to master the delights of eating hot food.

When the pasta is cooked ‘al dente’, put it into the large saucepan with the oil and cooked garlic and add some parsley.  Mix well.

On the plate.  At which point I added some more chilli flakes on my plate.

What can I say?  This is just so satisfying in an atavistic way almost.  Me hungry … me want to eat … yes … Me happy because pasta gooooood.  Mmmm.  Yes indeed.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/spaghetti-aglio-olio-e-peperoncino/