Asparagus and Courgette Risotto for Belinda

 

Today’s post is about every cloud having a silver lining when dinner needs to be made.

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The ‘cloud’ in question was the lack of an ingredient – proper, nice locally grown romanesque courgettes/zucchine such as the ones shown in the photo above.  The ‘silver’ turned out to be my having to add asparagus to the recipe, in order to bolster the overall taste, and the result is the recipe I am writing about today.

It is very easy to find the romanesque cougettes where I live, the markets and veggie shops sell them all the time (sometimes even when they are theoretically out of season).  It just so happened that for various reasons of busyness and business, I had to perforce opt for my least favourite place for sourcing vegetables – the supermarket.  You should have seen my face, I was hardly able to contain a surly stance as I looked around.  Most of the veggies looked sad or came in plastic packaging.  The artihcokes were floppy instead of firm.  Onions hailing from Argentina and Egypt???? What, we can’t grow onions in Italy?  Garlic from Morocco.  Don’t get me started.  And, just as I had surmised, there wasn’t a local romanesque courgette to be seen, only those dark green tasteless kind, very fleshy, very watery and seriously unappetising unless you choose to jolly them up with all kinds of gastronomic bells and whistles.  Yes, I do boycott supermarkets because I think their policies towards producers are thoroughly reprehensible but that is not the only reason:  you simply cannot compare their produce with the good stuff sold at markets and greengrocers.  No contest.  Harumphm, sniff and snort, thus spake Frascati Cooking That’s Amore.  I had to grudgingly admit that the asparagus weren’t bad looking, so I bought two bunches.

Once home, I got on with the risotto.  Since the end result was actually very good indeed, I have to do an about-turn and say to myself that it was thanks to the forced option of dark green courgettes that I came up with the recipe in the first place.  There you go, always a bit of Pollyanna lurking about in me.

This risotto was in honour of visitors from New Zealand, Belinda and her husband Peter, together with friends Alison and Gary.  That’s why I am calling this the “Belinda Risotto”.

Okay on with the recipe now.

INGREDIENTS:

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Courgettes/zucchine, asparagus, 1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 celery stalk, carnaroli or vialone nano rice (arborio will do it that’s all you can find), olive oil, half a lemon, mascarpone, one apple, parmesan, fresh mint, a teensy amount of fresh rosemary.

COURGETTES: I started by slicing HALF the courgettes into rounds which I set aside, and slicing the other HALF into rounds which I then roasted in the oven until they were cooked.

ASPARAGUS: I trimmed the asparagus of its points, then cut the rest of the asparagus spear also into thick rounds.  I used what was left of the asparagus spears to boil into an aparagus ‘stock’  of sorts.

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On the left … I chopped up the carrot, onion and celery and sweated them down in extra virgin olive oil before adding the courgettes.  On the right, are the tough part of the asparagus spears that I was simmering for about 15 minutes.

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I threw them away and kept the cooked water to use as stock for the risotto.

img_2836.jpgI transferred the cooked courgettes into a saucepan and added the asparagus stock – and proceeded to blend all the ingredients into a thick creamy stock.  I added a little squeeze of lemon juice.

While all this was going on, in the meantime, this is what I was doing with the OTHER HALF of the courgettes:

IMG_2837I coated them with olive oil.

IMG_2839And roasted them in the oven until they went a nice golden colour.

 

IMG_2840I added more water to the asparagus and courgette stock and got it simmering.  I dropped a large tablespoon of butter into it for good measure.

IMG_2841And now I could get cracking the the risotto.  As you can see from this photo, the stock is simmering away in the background and the risotto is being toasted in the foreground.  Please notice: no olive oil, no butter, no nuffink.  Once the rice turns pearly white, add a ladle of the hot stock, let it get absorbed, and add more.

IMG_2842A risotto will take about 18-20 minutes to cook.  Once you are getting close to the end, add the asparagus that you chopped up, as well as the spears.  Keeping stirring and keep adding the stock.  Taste and add salt and pepper.

IMG_2843Add the roasted courgette rounds, the mint and the rosemary.  Nearly there.

IMG_2844And here is the touch of cheat’s genius: a good dollop of mascarpone. Add some of the grated parmesan too, at this point, and taste.  You might need more salt, a twist of white pepper would not go astray.  A little bit of butter will also help.

img_2845.jpgThis was a serving of the risotto the next day, i.e. the leftovers.  I didn’t get a chance to take photos as I was serving the risotto, there was too much chatting going on and people’s appetites were more than ready for quick relief.  Those pretty flowers are flowers that I picked from my chives on the balcony.  Look closely and you’ll see a couple of little cubes: those are bits of apple. The apple complemented the dish really well.

img_2846.jpgThank you for inspiring me Belinda!

A Non-Recipe Recipe with Ricotta

Some recipes don’t call for much work.  This is one of them.

Avail yourselves of the best quality ricotta you can find – preferably ewe’s milk ricotta as opposed to cow’s  milk – and press it firmly into a baking dish.

Bake in a hot oven (200 degrees Celsius, shall we say?) until it ‘sets’, until it forms a golden crust.  This can take anything between 20 and 40 minutes depending on the amount of ricotta and the temperamental variations of any home oven.

Once it is out of the oven, drizzle some olive oil all over the surface and add generous amounts of black pepper.

Serve.

Next time you are asked to contribute something for a potluck dinner, send grateful thoughts my way as other guests dig into this ricotta and utter exclamations of pleasure.  Ah the delights of simplicity !

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Mutton Stew and Frascati Wine

I think I might make this over the weekend, a mutton stew with white wine from Frascati and fresh peas.  Might skip the mashed potatoes.  We’ll see.

It’s from a post I wrote on my previous blog “My Home Food That’s Amore”, and goodness me!!!, dating back to four years ago now.

Frascati Mutton Stew – Spezzatino di Castrato e Piselli al Frascati DOCG

castrato del mercatoI bought some mutton at the Mercato Contadino of Ariccia some time ago on a Sunday morning.  The Azienda Agricola Fratelli Frasca farm is not far from Anzio and is called ‘Il Vecchio Ovile’, which translates as ‘The Old Sheep Farm’. Mr Frasca gave me ample instruction on how to make a great pasta sauce with the mutton and I will one day make one as per his instructions but I ended up making a stew instead.

You never know with mutton or ‘castrato’ as it is called in Italy … it can be a tough, chewy meat, however rich in flavour.  It is traditional in Italy to soak cuts of castrato in a marinade of wine or vinegar plus herbs, because it is supposed to be quite a ‘strong’ tasting meat and in need of taming. Mr Frasca assured me that his castrato needed no such tenderising and that its delicious taste was quite capable of speaking for itself.

As you might know, I live in the Frascati wine-growing hills called the ‘Castelli romani’ south-east of Rome, and it came to me that, just as a Piemontese will proudly strut over a ‘brasato al barolo’ (braised beef in Barolo wine), we Castellani should likewise put our wine where our mouth is.  And so I decided to enjoy creating a recipe where local ingredients would play the lead role and whose only ‘secret’ ingredient might be a playful element of Betty Hutton’s inimitable singing of ‘Anything you can do, I can do better’ in the 1946 musical ‘Annie, Get your Gun’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WO23WBji_Z0?).  Not everyone might share my love of old musicals but this duet is guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone’s lips.

It is a Spring dish on account of the fresh peas.  For those who follow a Lenten non-meat diet, this will be a lip-smacking treat to look forward to on Easter and after Easter.  It is not a difficult recipe but does require good ingredients and, say I, Frascati white DOCG wine.

PART I

1Here are the castrato chunks …  I decided to trust Mr Frasca and eschewed the idea of a marinade.   I did, however, think it would be wise to briefly boil the meat in boiling water for a few minutes, as one does when making Blanquette de Veau, to remove any ‘scummy’ elements.   It is easily done …2Bring a pot of water to a strong boil …3Plunge the meat inside and very shortly … this is the ‘froth’ that will rise to the surface.  Remove the froth by and by, with a slotted spoon.4After about 4-5 minutes, drain the meat and place it in a good casserole … an earthenware one or a heavy bottomed pan, that comes with a lid.5Open a bottle of Frascati DOCG … I chose Fontana Candida’s Santa Teresa.6Pour the entire bottle into the pan.7Drizzle a little evoo … not too much, just a little to coat it.8Add 4 cloves of garlic, whole.9Cover with a lid and start simmering, over a low heat.

 

PART II – Adding Basic Vegetables for Taste

10Fennel seeds …11Cut up some celery, carrot and onion … the classic Italian soffritto vegetables … and gently stew them in some evoo with a teaspoon of fennel seeds and a few cloves of black pepper.12After about 12 to 15 minutes and after having sprinkled some salt over the soffritto …13Add it to the meat and cover again.  Carry on stewing.

 

PART III – Cooking the Peas14It was my saintly son who went to the trouble of shelling the peas.  It is something that can be done the day before, while watching something engrossing on television.15Roughly chop up one onion and cook it gently in some evoo with the addition of dry mint.

Repeat : dry mint.  This will add a depth to the stew that I can’t describe but one that works beautifully, trust me.  Granted the mint I obtained was the kind the Romans call ‘mentuccia’ (and a search on the internet identifies is botanically as Mentha pulegium), it’s the one that makes trippa alla romana or carciofi alla romana so delicious.  I got my dry mentuccia from Maria Regina Bortolato’s line of organically grown herbs ‘Erba Regina’ (I can’t wait for the inaguration of her Castelli farm hotel in early May — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcTTMf82zzY).  As you can see, I tried to make my ingredients as much Lazio and Castelli-sourced as possible.  And yes, the evoo too … it is Quattrociocchi’s and hails from the area near Alatri, in Lazio’s Ciociaria land.

Anyway, on with the recipe.16Add one teaspoon of sugar to the peas, as well as a good pinch of salt.17Then add a few strands of either guanciale or pancetta.  I prefer the guanciale, myself, but either will do.  Add two ladles of water and cover the peas and cook until they are tender (this took a lot longer than I thought, half an hour).  Set aside.

PART IV – Make Mash Potato Italian Style

18Mash potatoe Italian style includes a few spoons of freshly grated parmesan and a twist of nutmeg.  Set aside.

PART V – Combining the Foods

19When the stew is almost cooked (and this can take up to 1 and 1/2 hours, it will depend on the meat), add the peas, gently stir, taste and see whether the stew requires a little more salt, and cook for another 10 minutes over a very low heat, without the lid.  I say without the lid because you can keep an eye on what’s going on better this way … it would be a disaster if the meat got too dry at this stage, Saint Lawrence forbid ! (Saint Lawrence is the patron saint of cooks).

And now for a bit of ‘fiddly’.  The meat has cooked in white wine and the sauce that ensued could do with a little thickening.  So … Remove the stew to another pan for the moment …

20I transferred the stew to the pan where I had cooked the peas.21And this was the gravy and juices left behind in the casserole dish.22I used a sieve to add some flour … it looks like an awful lot in this photo, but I seem to remember using about 1 large serving-spoon’s worth of flour only.23Turn the heat on and use a wooden spoon to mix the flour in and make the gravy thicken smoothly.  Cook the flour for at least five minutes (otherwise the flour will ruin the taste).24This is an abominable photo … but it was a question of getting the dish right or the photo right, you do understand don’t you.  And it was at this point that I added a shot of Brandy, to impart another layer of taste to the stew.  The recipe I have for coq-au-vin adds Cognac towards the end, so I thought I would do something similar and added some Italian Brandy (Vecchia Romagna – Etichetta Nera).25And now the stew went back into the casserole dish and all the ingredients reunited at last.26Use a wooden spoon to gently jostle the ingredients into a harmonious whole.27A final taste … a twist of pepper, another pinch of salt maybe ?  Cover with the lid and get ready to plate.

PART VI – GRAND FINALE

I know it is trendy and aesthetically pleasing, not to mention gastronomically inviting, to plate individual dishes, and I would expect no less at any restaurant.  At home, however, nothing speaks more loudly of home cooking and love of friends and family as does a generous serving dish, however 1970s and ‘naff’ that might seem to people who scrutinise such practice disdainfully.  Home isn’t about being trendy, though home can indeed be elegant.

28So here is the beautiful serving dish, designed by artist Cassandra Wainhouse who has made Italy, and San Gimignano and Florence in particular, her home for decades now. Her serving platters are not just gorgeous to look at, their shape makes for versatility with a capital V.  Even a sad ol’ salad can look inviting on one of her platters … they glint with gold (literally … there is gold leaf on them).29I being no artist, on the other hand, was having a bit of a struggle trying to  make a ring mould with the mashed potatoes.  The mash was very hot otherwise I would have used by fingers … I had to make do with the wooden spoon instead.30I then spooned the mutton stew into the centre of the potato ‘ring’.31And did a bit of silly-billy strewing of fresh mint leaves on the potatoes.  32It may not look much …33

Stews aren’t famous for their looks.  How did it taste?  Well, with little care for modesty on this occasion, can I say? … it was bloody good.  Blushingly happy.  It was everything one would expect of a stew … the words ‘filling’ and ‘satisfying’ come to mind.  But it was also light and ‘playful’ on the palate, and the taste wanted to linger on.  Which was just as well because we polished the lot in record time …

 

Pasta Alfredo Frascati Spring Veggies Style: Peas, Asparagus and Broadbeans

Well, the original title was going to be “Paschal Pasta” because I served it on Easter Sunday a few weeks ago.

The idea of adding fresh peas, broadbeans (fava beans) and asparagus to my version of Pasta Alfredo (see link below) came to me as I sweated over the menu.  There were going to be ten of us for lunch including my in-laws who always expect some kind of pasta course at lunch, especially a festive version for a festive occasion.  There were absolutely loads of nibbles and appetizers and starters which were a meal in itself but I knew the drill – no meal would have been complete without the ‘primo’, the pasta course.  As I pondered how intricately busy our lives have become, a situation I now describe as the “Gulliver Syndrome” (we are all tied down by a barrage of minutiae on a daily basis), I realized that I had to come up with something super simple.  And Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style came to the rescue.

INGREDIENTS – Outlined in Bold below, after the photos

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10I got my greengrocer to shell the peas and broadbeans for me – phew.  Asparagus are easy enough to deal with.  I snipped the end bits of the asparagus spears, and sliced the rest of them into rounds.  I cooked the vegetables in separate batches, because they all have different cooking times.  I thought I was being practical using the same cooking water, and that it would impart a je ne sais quoi to it to when the pasta was going to be added.  And so it was.  The only suprise was the colour of the cooking water once I did add the broadbeans – it went a weird dark pinky-red colour.  Fortunately it did not ruin the end result.  But next time I will cook the broadbeans separately altogether.

I knew that leftovers were going to be hotly fought over the following day so I decided to cook more pasta than was effectively necessary for lunch.  So that came to 1 kg of pasta (600g would have been sensible).  Also, I opted for egg noodles because they take much less time to cook.  I bought two tubs of mascarpone, 500g each.  I ended up using about 750g in the end.  Italian sausages: 6 altogether, skinned.  Some olive oil.  Lots of freshly grated and equal parts of grated parmesan and pecorino, fresh mint, and salt and pepper of course.

DIRECTIONS

Add plenty of water to the pasta pot, add salt (10g of salt per 1 liter of water), and cook the three vegetables in separate batches.

Skin the sausages and start cooking them, mashing them all the while so that it looks liked minced meat.  Add very little olive oil to the saucepan to cook the meat which will release its own fat naturally.

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If you don’t own a wooden fork like that in the photo, use the tip of a whisk to break up the sausage meat.  I discovered this trick via my colleage, chef Luigi Brunamonti (we both collaborate at the Antico Casale Minardi).

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You are looking at a large saucepan and the equivalent of six sausages.  It does not take very long for them to cook.  Do NOT overcook, otherwise the texture will be ruined.

4Now add the mascarpone which will be very thick at first.  It needs to be loosened up.  The heat will help.

6Now add all the previously cooked veggies.

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I am not sure, but I think I detect some rosemary? Who knows.  I can’t remember.  But it wouldn’t hurt is all I can say.

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Meanwhile the fettuccine (egg noodles) have cooked – see what I mean about the weird colour that the broadbeans added to the cooking water?  Drain the fettuccine straight into the saucepan.  Add the parmesan to the sauce as well as some cooking water – so that you end up with a very creamy consistency.

11It doesn’t look very creamy here and that’s because I had to get on with the business of finishing it off and there was no obliging soul in the kitchen to take a photo for me.  All you need to know is that I kept adding cooking water a little at a time until I reached what I wanted.

10Remember this?  This is grated pecorino and fresh mint leaves.  I plated up the pasta and finished each plate off with some pecorino and the mint.

Again – no obliging soul to take any photo once we sat down to eat this pasta.  So I took some photos myself, the next day.

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14I had run out of fresh mint so you are just going to have to use your imagination.

I expect that vegetarians could enjoy a similar version just by cutting out the sausage meat.  In that case, I would add some garlic to the procedure early on.

My mother pronounced this the best pasta she had eaten in her life, bless her.  And indeed it was most Eastery and satisfactory … and … as you have seen … relatively easy peasy to make !  I hope I have convinced you?

https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2018/01/29/pasta-alfredo-frascati-style/

 

 

Please Don’t Call This Hummus: Paté di Ceci

I think that, just as with Neapolitan Pizza , Hummus (and yes I have spelled it with a capital H) ought to be placed on UNESCO’s “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.  That is how much I love it and respect it.  So when I come across various patés or mashes dubbed ‘hummus’ just because the ingredients of the dish are puréed – I get really cross.  What I am going to describe below is a paté, okay?  A chickpea paté and NOT Hummus even though the ingredients are very similar.  The word for chickpeas in Italian is “ceci”, pronounced “chay-chee”.

I first tasted this paté in a restaurant in Northern Lazio over ten years ago.  It was served over toasted bread underneath a layer of dark green vegetables and topped with shavings of pecorino.  Another time it was served, again placed upon toasted bread, over a layer of melted lard.  Delicious combinations can be sought.

INGREDIENTS: 1 jar of previously cooked chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, fresh rosemary, lemon juice, salt and pepper

Begin by draining the chickpeas.  I prefer chickpeas that come out of a glass jar rather than a tin can.

1Rinse the chickpeas well.  It dawned on me that this is a vegan friendly recipe.  And then I remembered that many vegans use the cooking water of the chickpeas as a substitute for egg whites.  They have called it “aquafaba”.  Even I, an ominovore, tried making it once, just for the fun of it, and it worked.  The cooking water when whisked looked just like beaten egg whites.  Then I came across an article that explained how aquafaba is actually not at all good for us, quite the opposite.  So if you are vegan and are reading this, or have friends and family who are, please stay well away from aquafaba.  See the link below explaining the whys and wherefores and providing an alternative.

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In a small saucepan, cook some garlic in olive oil and add a sprig of rosemary.  Make sure the garlic does not brown.

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Rotten photo, my apologies.  It was supposed to show that the garlic had turned golden over a low heat.  Switch the heat off at this point.  And transfer the saucepan to a work surface (i.e. away from heat).
Time to add the chickpeas.   Toss them around so that they become coated with the rosemary and garlic scented oil.

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Remove the rosemary.

If you are scared of garlic, and many people are (including Queen Elizabeth of England), remove the garlic at this point too.  But I promise you that cooked garlic is not so pungent and imparts a subtle je ne sais quoi to the final taste.  It’s always a question of balance.  It all depends on how strong the garlic is in the first place, and how much you actually add.

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Now you can switch the heat off.  Add a little water.  Not too much.  About half a glass? You can always add more water later.

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Add salt and pepper.  Blend the chickpeas until you get a texture/consistency that you like.  Taste.  Maybe add more salt or pepper?  Add some lemon juice.  Again, not too much, maybe 1 tablespoon.  Blend again.  Taste again.  Almost there.

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More rosemary. Slice it very very thinly and add it to the paté.

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Cover and store it in the fridge until you need it.  Remove from the fridge at least one hour before you do.

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That evening, we served the chickpea paté over squares of white pizza (pizza that had been baked in a wood-fired oven here in Frascati, a famous bakery by the name of Ceralli).  We added a teensy slice of celery on some of the squares.  (Don’t ask about what else is on the plate if you are on a diet: fried pizza buns containing porchetta and more white pizza containing sliced mortadella). They are just great as an antipasto – nibble – starter, whatever you want to call it.

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Here I am enjoying a Spritz with my friend Carla just as we were about to serve them.

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And here is a close-up of what leftovers looked like the next day – not very appetising, let’s face it.  So … the moral of this story is, serve and eat straight away.

And don’t forget the ‘other’ morality tale concerning aquafaba:

What Is Aquafaba and Why I Won’t Use It