Ravioli di Zucca – Pasta With Pumpkin Filling (and More) …

As I looked around today, there was a lot of orange about … it is Halloween after all, even here in Italy where the occasion was never celebrated by children in weird costume and get-ups until relatively recently (20 years ago, something like that?).  And yes it has become a consumerist bonanza here as elsewhere but how can one resist the whole idea of “trick or treat” ?

It’s a bit like Christmas presents … as long as Father Christmas/Santa is about, then presents are not a ‘reward’ for which one must say “thank you” and be fake-grateful for.  Santa Claus is ‘magic’ and he and and his elves like to give children presents ‘just because’ … Don’t get me wrong, I love good manners and I think that keeping a grateful outlook on life is good for one’s health (seriously, there has been a lot of research in this field).  But ‘having to be grateful’ for a present that is a reward for good behaviou is very very different from receiving a super present for no reason whatsoever !  Think about it.

I used to absolutely loooove Yuletide and all that that entailed, when our kids were little and still believed in Father Christmas.  My husband and I went to great lengths to dissimulate participation in the parcels that arrived after dinner on Christmas Eve as we all sat and mooched around the table after a special dinner.   At length, the door bell would ring (finally!); one of the dinner party who had to leave the room unnoticed, and never my husband or I, would do this as stealthily as possible after having arranged all the boxes and parcels on the stairs to our front door … and our kids would rush to open the door in eager not to mention frantic anticipation and take in the bounty.  Oh the excitement !  As they grew older, their spoil-sport contemporaries did all they could to disavow them of the magic; didn’t they know, they would proclaim and insist, that Father Christmas did not exist?, that it was the parents who bought all the presents? No way, our kids would answer … “Our parents couldn’t possibly afford all these presents”.  Sweet.  More about our family’s Christmas stories another time.

And so … there was I last Sunday, at home, on my own, after having worked non-stop from 10:20 a.m. to about 3 p.m . with a group of tourists.  I had showed them around town, recounting some of its history (quite a lot of history to Frascati, you’d be surprised), and then we went to the winery (Minardi Winery) where we walked around the vineyard; and then I sat them down to a nice lunch.  We wine and dine ’em, and tell stories, that’s what we do chez Minardi.  And nearly everyone who comes along is in a good frame of mind, either on holday and visiting Italy, or living in Rome and wanting to escape for the day to somewhere more bucolic, to Rome’s nearby countryside.  So the atomosphere is always a jolly one.  But it is still ‘work’ for me, and requires that I keep a sharp look-out on things, making sure that everyone is okay and well fed and that glasses are replenished.  Am I grateful for this job? Of course I am.  Do I like it? Of course I do.  Is it also tiring? … Next question.  You have to give it your all to make it work, and that’s all I’m saying.

Last Sunday, I don’t know what got into me once I got home …  I became all wistful.  Christmas came to mind. The fact that our son lives in Milan came to mind.  That my husband had been away down in Puglia for nearly a week.  Came to mind. That both my sisters live in England (i.e. far away) came to mind.  That our daughter was very busy and I hadn’t seen her in a good while.  Came to mind.  I was sliding down the slippery slope of self pity, wallowing in feelings that never lead to anywhere positive.

What to do, what to do?  My recourse? Cooking.

I decided to make home made pasta.  Not just that.  A pasta recipe that no one in my family likes, because no one in my family likes pumpkin.  Everything from scratch. I patted myself on my back metaphorically speaking when I got around to eating it. There IS compensation in food and eating.  Usually, my joy in cooking derives from cooking for others.  Last Sunday … it was about me.  It was for me.

If you, unlike the rest of my family, like pumpkin/squash and fresh pasta … do please take a look at this recipe.  There are lots of ‘steps’ … but none of them difficult or overly fussy. I don’t ‘do’ fussy.

……………………………..

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE PASTA: 2 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk plus 200g of flour.  I used 100g of Italy’s famed 00 wheat flour, and 100g of durum wheat, also known as semolina flour.  Extra flour to dust on the work surface/countertop.

FOR THE FILLING: Some pumpkin that needs to be cooked. You could steam it too I suppose but I baked it in the oven.

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Wait for it to cool.  It’s not a bad idea to cook it the day before.  Which is exactly what I did.

Also required are:

Mostarda di Cremona – maybe orange marmalade might do instead of this? If you can’t get hold of mostarda that is.  Parmesan cheese.  Freshly grated nutmeg.  Fresh sage leaves.  Crushed amaretto biscuits.  Grated parmesan.

For the sauce to cook the ravioli in: cream, sausage, fresh sage

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Mostarda is basically all about candied fruit.  Sometimes this mostarda comes in spicy mode – something akin to wasabi or horseradish.4

Pear mostarda is the best choice for this recipe but I just used what I found in the store-cupboard.5

Chop it up.2

Process the cooked pumpkin.7Add salt and pepper and plenty of freshly grated nutmeg.

9

These are amaretto biscuits – made with bitter almonds.  Very crisp and just the business and TOTALLY called for in this recipe.

10Bash the biscuits to pulverise them.11

Add them to the mix.

12

Add some fresh sage – sliced up.

Put it in the fridge.  The firmer the mixture the better and the easier to stuff the ravioli later on.  You could, indeed, make this stuffing the day before.

MAKING THE PASTA

13Once you’ve made the fresh pasta, let it rest in a bowl for about half an hour to one hour, covered with a tea towel.  Allowing it to ‘rest’ will make it a lot easier to stretch it with the rolling pin later on. The resting time makes it more elastic.

14I love how my pasta sheet got so big, I had to ‘dangle’ it over the edge of my countertop.

16Use a glass to cut out some circles.  Discs.  Whatever you want to call ’em.  You could use a cookie-cutter if you preferred.17Fun, hey?  And what a lovely color the pasta is.

1918Out comes the filling, out of the fridge.  Use two spoons .. and spoon the mixture into the middle of the discs.  Then fold them in half.  The shape will now be a half-moon.  Join the corners of the half moon together and fold the edge over.20

And this is what you end up with.  YOU might end up with somethine prettier than this. I was happy enough with what I managed that evening.

MAKING THE SAUCE

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Olive oil in the saucepan, a sausage taken out of its casing … some fresh sage … half a glass of wine.

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Hubble bubble … toil and … add some tomato sauce.  Even out of a tube.  Mine was home-made.

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Taste and add some salt and pepper, as required.

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A splash of fresh cream and a good dollop of butter.  Butter always helps.  It brings everything together.  The Italians use the word ‘legare’ for this, and ‘legare’ means to tie together.  Butter helps to ‘tie together’ the sauce.

COOKING THE RAVIOLI

Cook the ravioli in boiling salted water – only a few minutes, since this is fresh pasta we are talking about.

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Then drain the ravioli straight into the saucepan with the simmering sauce.

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We are talking about a minute or two to reach perfection.

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Plate up.  Spray with freshly milled pepper.  Some parmesan.

28-scaled-2560.jpgI can’t tell you just how good these ravioli are … they are redolent of a medieval cuisine when sweet and savoury were part and parcel of the same food course.  There was no distinction as such in those days.  Yet there IS a distinction in this mix – and that’s what makes this a choice for  a sophisticated palate.

29Deeply, deeply yummy.

Comfort food in the extreme.

Autumn Vignarola – Genius Idea

BACKGROUND

A vignarola, for those who may not know, is a vegetable stew that is all about Spring, late spring.  The word ‘vigna’ means vineyard and signals the bounty that the countryside can bring to the table during that time of year.   I wrote an in-depth post about it some time ago, when it was seasonally appropriate.  It is mostaly about ripe artichokes, fresh broad beans and peas etc. (https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/vignarola-the-pilgrimage-of-posh/).

LAST NIGHT

Last night, as I composed a dish with some ingredients that happened to be sitting in the fridge, I became ‘high’ on my own steam … the delight of ending up with a recipe that was too good not to repeat!  The creativity of it all was an incredible boon.  And so I felt just like Little Jack Horner and said “What a good girl am I” for having come up with the idea.  The idea of an Autumn Vignarola.  Genius! Ha! Clap of hands and a good old-fashioned whirl, never mind the ubiquitous thumbs up.   It’s good to be self congratulatory now and then, why not.  It’s good to play in the kitchen, the way we used to play as children.

INGREDIENTS

Please bear in mind that I already had these ingredients, and it was only as they came out of the fridge that I cobbled the recipe together.

Artichokes, pork jowl (guanciale), spring onion, somewhat limp courgette blossoms, fresh mint, parsely, previously cooked ricotta, dessert wine.  Considering it is Autumn and the vineyards are still producing ripe grapes, maybe I will add a few grapes next time.

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See this? this is some ricotta that I had baked in the oven a few days previously.  Just ricotta, no other ingredient.

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That’s what you can do with leftover fresh ricotta: bake it in the oven for use another time.  IMG_5186

Here you see the spring onion, diced ricotta and courgette blossoms that are well past their first bloom but still edible.

LET’S START COOKING

IMG_5185

I trimmed and sliced the artichokes and started cooking them with just olive oil and slices of pork jowl.  Normally, ripe artichokes don’t take that long to cook this way.  After a while, however, I could see that these artichokes (they are not quite in season and are a little hard) were taking their time.  So I added some water to speed up the stewing.

IMG_5187I also added a splash of dessert wine – it works very well with artichokes as it turns out!

IMG_5189When the artichokes were finally cooked, I added the diced ricotta, the raw spring onion, the courgette blossoms and the fresh mint and parsely.  I turned the heat off but left the ingredients in to ‘warm up’ before plating.

IMG_5190Added a spray of pepper.

Doesn’t look like much, does it.  What a shame.  It was deeeelicious, even if I say so myself.

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Autumn vignarola.  Another seasonal dish to look forward to.

 

Vegetable Bake and Lessons Learned

My husband Pino Donghi who is an academic of sorts has co-authored a book entitled “Errore” (which translates as “Mistake” in Italian) that has only just recently come out – and that I’ve yet to read.  Its underlying tenet is that we live in an age where people (and that means people like you and me too) tend to presume that fields of science are simply not allowed to err in any way.  Something like that.  Hence a reminder, if ever it were needed, that it’s a good idea to avoid making mistakes but it’s also useful to learn from mistakes made.  Old story.

ERRORE

How does this apply in the kitchen?  Well, I think that one of the reasons I have become an enthusiastic home cook is that I wasn’t afraid to try things out, to make mistakes in other words.  Well … maybe only when it comes to savoury foods.  I threw a hissy fit once trying to make a chocolate cake for my daughter: the intricacies of a complex cake were irritating in the extreme so far as I was concerned.  And that’s why, maybe, I continue to love to cook because I stay well away from fuss fuss fuss and OCD.

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Remember how in a previous post I wrote about my shopping frenzy over vegetables at the market – the above photo showing some of my ‘stash’ ?

Well, I came across a recipe for making a mixed vegetable bake which sounded quite spiffing, a bit different too.  And I was all eager beaver to try it out.  The result, however,  was just an underwhelming ‘okay’: it all got eaten up which is always a good sign.  Something was missing, nevertheless, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.  So next time I make this recipe, I reckon it will need some extra ‘oomph’ – a spice or more than one spice or herbs, to make it sing.  Or more cheese – more cheese is always a good problem solver.  Or even susage meat.

So, the moral of the story is that there is always a moral to the story.  If mistakes are made, a lesson is learned.  Gosh, I feel so holier than thou!

INGREDIENTS: AS SEEN IN THE PHOTOS BELOW -YOU COULD CHOOSE OTHER VEGETABLES

2Here are some cauliflower and roman broccoli florets.  Some of their leaves too.  A leaf or two is always pretty.

3

And then we have slices of courgette, carrot and leek.

Lesson Learned and Useful Tip:

The recipe called for simmering the vegetables before baking them.  And for cooking the carrots slightly longer than the other veggies.  This was always Marcella Hazan’s advice and a cooking method that people might find curious.  We are used to our veggies having a ‘crunch’ to them, aren’t we, and to briefly sautéing or steaming them.  All very well and good BUT this method does not draw out the best TASTE from the vegetables.  It works beautifully for stir-fry Asian dishes – less so for European dishes.  Marcella Hazan prompts us to resist the urge to undercook our vegetables.  They only REALLY taste as they ought to – i.e. of themselves – when they are cooked ‘enough’. This is how Adina Steiman puts it in an article entitled “16 Things Marcella Hazan Taughts Us to Cook Better”.

LET THE COOKING BEGIN

4So here are the carrots simmering for five minutes before I added the other veggies.

57After simmering the other veggies together with the carrots until they reach the prime position of ‘doneness’ – i.e. cooked but not crunchy and not mushy either – I used a slotted spoon the remove them.

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Previously, I had made some white sauce, or Bechamel sauce as it is usually called. (See link for the recipe below.)8

I used the water in which I had cooked the vegetables to loosen up the bechamel sauce, and make it ‘runnier’, smoother.  So – this is to let you know that you could make a bechamel sauce using vegetable stock instead of milk.

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The baking dish was ready and waiting, with plenty of butter and black pepper corns to welcome the cooked vegetables.

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Please notice how ‘green’ the greens are – see? I did not overcook them, they did not go that disgusting grey colour of overcooked greens.

11Time to slather the bechamel onto the precious ones.

12I like a dash of colour and so added quite a bit of sweet paprika before the flurry of freshly grated parmesan.

13A litle drizzle of olive oil never hurts – never !

14And yes, as a final ‘topping’, I had also added roughly sliced parts of the leek – the green part – totally RAW!  So daring of me …

I popped the dish into a previously heated oven – probably 200°C – and cooked it until it was ready.  I’m afraid I can’t remember how long it cooked and I don’t even have a photo of the final dish.  We had people over to dinner that evening and evidently I forgot to take any.

Thinking about it, I suppose this is a bit of a rétro dish … every individual ingredient so polite, so twee, not wanting to stand out.  There was a certain ‘sweetness’ that was inviting.  There was still a bite to the vegetables.  But there was no wow factor, uh uh.  And sometimes, that’s a good thing, I suppose?  Life can’t always be about bright colours and fireworks.

P.S. Of course Marcella Hazan taught us a lot more about cooking – here is an article by Adina Steiman, from 2016 and still worth reading: https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/best-marcella-hazan-cooking-tips-article

P.P.S. : https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/the-queen-of-sauces/

 

 

Punterelle Salad

I am reposting a lot of stuff I wrote about long ago …  but it’s all seasonal and if you like to eat Roman food, I am sure you will appreciate this very ‘Roman’ salad !

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/little-points-big-salad-puntarelle/

Little points, big salad – Puntarelle

When my two children were little, I would sometimes utter my love for them with the following exclamations.  “You are my favourite daughter!” and “You are my favourite son!”  I think it’s important to be a favourite with someone … and there was no rivalry, obviously, between them because of course there was a difference in gender.  It wasn’t until they were a little older, say seven or eight years old, that they questioned me about this with raised eyebrow and a look of “aha! gotcha!”.

“It’s easy enough to say C. is your favourite daughter and that N. is your favourite son.  But what would have happened if we’d had a brother or a sister?  What then, hey? Who would have been your favourite then?”

And that’s when I replied (whichever angel inspired me, thank you yet again!) “Oh that’s easy!  C. would have been my favourite first-born, N. would have been my favourite second-born, and the third child would have been my favourite third child.  You see, all children are favourite children.  That’s why we parents love them so.”

Phew.

So, for the intents of this blog, when I write ‘favourite son’ … I use the adjective with flippant nonchalance because I also have a favourite daughter.  And there has always been hardly any competition between the two.  Even as concerns food preferences.  Daughter likes pasta with tomato sauce, son preferred white sauce.  Daughter likes spinach hates mushrooms, son likes mushrooms, hates spinach.  Son adores polenta, daughter hates the consistency.  Both love rice.  Neither of them is very keen on fish fish (whole fish), much preferring shellfish, crustaceans and squid.   Both adore chocolate.   Neither can stomach brussel sprouts.  Our home is a brussel-sprout-free zone.

It has at times been a bit of a challenge for me to cook a dinner that everyone would enjoy and I got around that by making more than one main dish on occasion, and always at least two side dishes (contorni).  I am very against forcing children to eat food they do not enjoy … although I periodically invited both my children to at least taste a new food (“you can spit it out if you don’t like it!” I would exhort).

Anyway, all this to say that favourite son was coming home for Easter vacation not so long ago … and as I went about shopping for food at the market, I came across some “puntarelle” … the ends of a chicory plant (‘puntarelle’ meaning ‘small points’) that are used to make a salad.  I was a little surprised because puntarelle salad is typical of just before Christmas time — and the lady at the stall told me that indeed these were the last puntarelle for this season.

Puntarelle salad is one of my favourite son’s favourite salads – so what was I to do?  Of course I bought some.  And I also bought a puntarelle cutter (Eu 10)and cut the puntarelle myself!  Normally, one buys the puntarelle already cut and prepared by the vegetable seller.

The title of this blog is very true: these little ‘points’ make for a big-tasting, robust salad.  It includes garlic, salted anchovies, red vinegar, over and above olive oil.  What distinguishes it from other salads that are made with salad leaves is that it must be dressed at least half an hour before eating.  The vinegary dressing ‘cooks’ the puntarelle, so to speak, into sublime submission.  If you don’t like garlic or vinegar … this is not the salad for you.

This little square tool … it is a little metal grid that turns a sheaf of chicory … into puntarelle!

And here are the puntarelle … the tips of the chicories.  In this dish are also some greener parts of the chicory that are not normally included in the all-white puntarelle salad … but I was having fun and added them anyway.

I have yet to taste the wonderful anchovies that hail from the West Coast of Spain, called ‘Cantabrico’.  I know they are considered to be the best in the world.  I make do with some of the best in Italy, from Sicily … called Alici di Cetara.  This jar comes at Eu 9.50.  It may sound like a lot of money … but the anchovies are so tasty that a little goes a long way.

I extracted two fillets of ancovy and washed the salt away and patted them dry.  And I introduced them to two cloves of garlic.

I then sliced the garlic and shredded the anchovies in a glass jar.

I mashed them up with this wooden instrument … an upside-down wooden instrument … an upside-down wooden instrument that is normally used to make mojitos.

I then added a good amount of red wine vinegar.  Puntarelle craves ONLY normal wine vinegar, preferably red.  Balsamic vinegar is not an option.

I then gloated whilst I poured in some lovely, consistently finger-licking olive oil from Tenuta di Colle Maria (the extra-virgin olive oil my friend Liz produces, entirely organic, milled at a proper milling site which is modern in technology and traditional in outlook).

Mix the dressing and pour over the puntarelle …

Wash your hands and mix the salad the proper way … with the sensitivity of  your bare hands.  The English speakers ‘toss’ their salads, the French ‘tire’ it out (‘fatiguer la salade’), the Italians ‘condiment’ their salad (‘condire’) which sounds less strenuous.

A close-up …

A puntarelle salad requires a lot of good bread to mop up the dressing.

It’s a good job that our son’s favourite salad is liked by the rest of the family too …!

P.S.  The following video on youtube is excellent for showing how the puntarelle are trimmed and cut into shape by the grid.  The interesting thing for me, that I hadn’t known until today when I watched the video, is that it is only the upper part of the puntarelle leaf that is truly ‘edible’ … the rest is basically a bit tough, like a root.

Bagna Cauda – A Piedmontese Dip/Sauce That We Can All Love

All of us who like anchovie, that is.

I wrote this post in November 2013.  It hasn’t dated I am glad to say – I mean the sauce hasn’t dated.  It is umami in the best of ways and will uplift any bland morsel that needs livening up.

Foraging inside the Fridge and a Hot Dip – Bagna Caoda

“When it comes to stocking the refrigerator,” I should like to say suavely with knowledge born of long experience, “my general goal is to stick to three staples:  the sort of ingredients that are required on a daily or regular basis, those that last for a good long while, and those that can always be counted upon in times of emergency.  Hence: coffee, milk, cream, eggs, butter, lemons, anchovies packed in oil, parmesan cheese, pecorino cheese, pancetta or guanciale, a tube of tomato paste, carrots and celery.”

Ha!  In my dreams …

In real life, there are times when opening the fridge door could serve as living proof of a law of physics (whose name escapes me because my own knowledge of physics is lamentably scratchy) whereby if someone utters a sound, and the waves of that sound ‘hit’ a barrier, the barrier will transmit a variation of that sound back if left unimpeded by empty space.  It’s what we call an ‘echo’.  Meaning, there are times when my refrigerator is so cavernously empty that if I belt out a mock rendition of a yodelling song, it will echo a riff of it back to me … as if to say, “Oi! What do you expect hee hoo?”

It is not often, however, that the fridge in our home is minimalist and yodel-like.  It’s usually quite ‘stocked’ … maybe not ‘well’ stocked, but stocked nevertheless.  And that’s because a fridge is as easy to clutter as a home.  It requires tremendous discipline to keep it in spanking shape.  Discipline and people who are tidy and methodical as opposed to nearly always being in a tearing hurry or trying to do too many things at the same time …

Try as I might to stick to three basic staples, there are times when the fridge door ajar reveals a congeries of plastic, glass, ceramic containers and/or parcels wrapped in paper and aluminium foil, storing all kinds of leftovers and ‘bits’.  It’s a state of affairs that will intransigently forbid echoing of any sort and, if anything, seems to glare at me defiantly as if to say, “Don’t give us that look of chagrin, it’s all your doing that we are here, cooped up in this fridge of yours.”  And then there are other times, mercifully, when all that bounty in the fridge is truly a pleasure to behold.  Variety is the spice of life and all that.

But variety is at variance with discipline, as I mentioned above … and recently I had not been a good girl and my fridge had been left to fend for itself — it if could speak it would have lodged a complaint with the RSPR (Royal Society for the Protection of Refrigerators).

Thus it was that I recently resolved to undertake a thorough Feng Shui Decluttering and re-organization of the fridge, upon pain of succumbing to some grubby-fridge-related malaise.  It took me the better part of six hours, let me tell you … I washed and rinsed EVERYTHING, and whacked some sorely needed law and order into this most important of household containers and my zeal knew no end.  And yes, I did throw quite a lot of stuff away … which I always hate to do because it seems so wasteful.  But clinging onto ‘bits’ when you know you are not going to get around to utilising them is just sad and creates clutter in the fridge.  I found an inordinate amount of half empty jam jars which fuelled a sudden passion for making jam tarts (crostata).  “Very nice this crostata, good jam eh?” commented a family member and I didn’t have the heart to tell them it was actually a mixture of various jams.

Another treasure I came across as I foraged inside the fridge, that I was again happy to ‘transform’ instead of throw away, were these salt-dried anchovies.

IMG_3010They look pretty awful don’t they.  I don’t know how long they had resided chez nous but it was definitely a case of months as opposed to days.  They were very dried out.IMG_3011I put them in a bath … lots of baths actually … I kept throwing the water away and repleneshing it … and the final rinse saw a splash of wine in the water.

I had decided to make a Piedmontese dish called “bagna caoda” which translates as “hot sauce” — a ‘bagna’ being a sauce in that part of Italy and ‘caoda’ the dialect for the word “calda” meaning hot or warm.  I was almost 30 the first time I tasted this and fell in love straight away.  This is the recipe that my Torinese friend Piera Sacco taught me and I hadn’t made it in a long, long time!  It may not be exactly how she she would have made it but it’s very close.

IMG_3012Steel yourself.  The first thing Piera told me that we were talking about one whole head of garlic per person per (can’t-remember-how-many) anchovies per person.  In other words lots and lots of garlic.  I’d say that we are talking about 40 cloves of garlic in this photo?IMG_3013Here is the garlic, peeled and in a saucepan.  You could slice the garlic thinly … but who has the time?IMG_3014Cover the garlic with milk and simmer until the garlic softens.  This might take about 30 minutes and keep an eye on it, in case you need to add another splash of milk.  The reason we simmer the garlic in the milk is that we want to remove some of their pungency … otherwise the garlic would be raping your taste buds senseless instead of courting them.  That and no one will want to sit next to you for at least three weeks, you’ll reek so much.IMG_3015While the garlic was simmering … I got on with the anchovies that had fortunately recovered a bit of their freshness by now.IMG_3016I proceeded to groom the anchovies: top and tail them, and removed all the bony and scaly parts.IMG_3017When the garlic had gone nice and mushy ….IMG_3018I introduced the garlic to the anchovies, trying to leave as much of the milk behind as possible.IMG_3019I then broke up the anchovies and mushed them up with the mushy garlic …IMG_3020I added about half a glass of olive oil … enough olive oil to cover the anchovies and the garlic by about half an inch, say …IMG_3021And I simmered what had by now become a paste for about another 20 minutes, over a very low heat.  The paste must not burn … and, again, do keep any eye on it and add a little more olive oil if necessary.IMG_3022I then poured the paste into a glass jar (and yes, that’s a bit of chocolate I recovered in the fridge — even though, as we all know, chocolate should never be inside the fridge in the first place … and the other two glass jars contain various stocks that I did use up in a soup).IMG_3023Once the paste had cooled down, I added more olive oil to seal it in, and covered the jar with its lid.IMG_3024When it was cool enough, I placed the jar containing the bagna caoda in the freshly cleaned fridge, standing next to a jar of dried roses.  Talk about a contrast!IMG_3047Segue a week later and we are having friends over for dinner and I thought we’d have bagna caoda as an appetizer.  I plopped a tablespoon of butter into a saucepan …IMG_3048I added some bagna caoda and turned the heat on.  I left the butter to melt over a low heat, and simmered the sauce (it IS a sauce now and no longer a paste) for a few minutes, until everything melded together beautifully.

The bagna caoda is served hot, usually in a ceramic pot called a “fujot”, and a large variety of crudités are used to dip into it.  IMG_3049Silly me … I didn’t frame the photo so that you can see the aperture where a candle is burning and keeping the bagna caoda hot … but if you look closely, you can see that it’s there … there is a glow on the right.IMG_3051And it’s not just veggies and boiled potatoes and spring onions that you can use as a dipping tool … if you have any leftover bagna, you could probably use some over boiled meat? a little spooned over a poached egg? an omelette? green beans?  The mind boggles … this is a hot dip indeed.

Pumpkin Risotto with a Gorgonzola Finish

Dedicated to Ian Rosenzweig.

Yet another potluck, tee hee.  Oh, I do so love potluck evenings!

This time chez George and sister Claire from Casale Sonnino. I have already written about the Casale Sonnino farm near Frascati in another post: https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2016/10/29/sora-maria-e-arcangelo-and-casale-sonnino/ .

Claire lives in New York and visits as often as she can and especially when it’s time for the olive harvest.  Their olive oil has won a silver medal in the past.  Last year, just as with so many other olive farms in Italy, they basically did not have a harvest – the previous winter had been bitterly cruel and ruined the growth cycle of the trees.  George runs the Casale (the family’s olive and wine estate) which has been in the family since …. oh gosh, I really don’t know but centuries I believe.

Theirs was quite the posh bourgeoisie family back in the day,  living in a beautiful town house in Rome.  They were forced to flee the country after 1938 on account of Mussolini’s hideous “racial laws” which targeted the Jewish population in Italy and saw so many of them die a ghastly death in Nazi camps in Germany.  Their mother was a Sonnino from Rome.  Their father was a Treves (also from a prominent Jewish family) from Piedmont.  The parents met and married in Princeton and carried on with their lives – some of their other family members were not as fortunate.

Claire and George (and another brother whom I’ve not met) were all born in the States and grew up there, in New Jersey.  George thinks it’s a bit of a giggle that the family shared the same dentist as Einstein! Their mother never forgot the Casale, however, and longed and longed to return there, and came back often.   Very often.

The Casale Sonnino is a place I’ve come to fall in love with.  And I am not the only one. Look up the website and you’ll see why.  It’s like wafting into a time warp.  One just wants to slow down, read a book, paint, sing, think, sit and converse as opposed to ‘talk’, in a Jane-Austenish kind of way.  Cooking and entertaining are its middle name.

The Casale is there to be used as a holiday-let for small groups and families, and those who return do so because it has become a sort of home-from-home for them. George ends up adopting dogs because they too find a home there.  The views are stunning and New Year’s Eve from the terrace is hard to beat – with Rome below and all the fireworks on display till the early hours of the morning.

As I wax lyrical over my ‘interpretation’ of the place, I realise that it’s not quite the same matter for George (and Claire) who have to run it as a business.  Oh the amount of work! You wouldn’t believe it.  Never ending.  And if it’s not one thing, it’s another.   Farmers are farmers all over the world and have Nature to contend with as well as to give thanks for.

Friends of ours from Los Angeles who regularly visit Frascati for work reason have a son who has become entranced with the story of this house.  His name is Ian, he’s in his early twenties, and he is a writer.  From what I’ve heard, he intends to delve into the story of this family and write about them and their Casale – I am so glad, someone really ought to.

Without going into all the boring details that resulted in the coming together of this potluck dinner a couple of weeks ago, suffice it for you to know that: I’d been hard at work that day, so had George and Claire at the olive mill, so had friend Michelle at the winery where she works, and so had another friend Michelle with her lovely young daughter, and, last, Ian – young Ian, who had literally just rolled in from Florence that late afternoon.  Result?  Despite the hurry and fatigue, a great dinner ensued as always.  (Not a late night for a change, we all had an early morning the following day.)

salad

One Michelle and sweet daugther cobbled together a super salad with mixed leaves, walnuts, burrata and peaches.  The other Michelle brought a couple of rotisserie chickens that were literally finger-lickin’ good.  Ian came along with cured meats and cheeses (parma ham … you know what I’m talking about).  And then there was loads of other stuff and a traditional tomato bruschetta … and we told George we really did NOT need the meat he had brought along to barbecue.  My offering was a pumpkin risotto.  I started it at home … so that I could finish it off at the Casale with minimum fuss.

Such is the magic of potlucks – and there are leftovers too, for the next day!

Anyway … about the risotto.

INGREDIENTS: Leek, sausage, pumpkin,  olive oil, pink pepper corns, a glass of wine.  Part II: cream, grated parmigiano, gorgonzola, butter, lemon juice, more red pepper corns, fresh chilli, wild mint.

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So what you see here are … red peper corns, a mashed up sausage and the white part of a sliced leek.  (The green part of the leek I reserved for making the stock with which to cook the risotto).  I started cooking it with some olive oil and then added a splash of wine.

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Chop up some pumpkin.

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Once the sausage meat was pretty much cooked, I added the chopped pumpkin.  Sprinkle plenty of salt and a good pinch of pepper.  Cook for about 10 minutes?  Something like that.

IMG_5023Bit of gorgonzola hiding in the fridge. I got some kitchen/parchment paper and wet it under running water.   Maybe too much water.  Anyway, the idea was to wrap the gorgonzola in something ‘damp’ so that it would not dry out.  I waited for everything to cool down and then …  It was time to get into the car and drive to the Casale.

AT THE CASALE

Once there, I got some water onto the boil and added the ‘other’ half of the big leek, the very green part, in order to create a vegetable stock.

img_5024.jpgI toasted the rice – without any oil !!! please note — and then added one ladle of the hot leek water.  The white ‘splash’ you see among the pumpkin is a bit of fresh cream.

IMG_5025Here is the hot leek water on the left – kept hot.  When you add the water/broth/stock/whatever, it must always be HOT.

img_5026.jpgThe risotto is  bubbling away now – that ‘fat’ weird green thing in the saucepan, that’s the leek that was used to make the stock/broth.  Iadded it to the risotto – to flavour the risotto even more.  I removed it towards the end, naturally.

img_5027.jpgKeep adding the broth and stirring away – and do avail yourselves of a glass of wine to keep your spirits up, for goodness sakes!  At one point I added some more pink pepper corns and a bit of chilli.  You know, to spice things up a bit.

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Aha.  Some butter.  Some French butter no less, the very nicest there is!  And a half of a lemon.  Yes.  Funnily enough, a risotto will always benefit from a bit of either lemon juice or vinegar.  I prefer lemon juice and that’s what I did: squeezed about one half of a lemon into the risotto.img_5029.jpg

When the risotto was almost done, I added a profusion of grated parmesan cheese.IMG_5030And once that had been properly assimilated, I added the little bits of the gorgonzola – which took no time at all to melt into the risotto.IMG_5031Things were coming to a head now – the risotto was cooked and I switched the heat off. I added plenty of butter (and I mean plenty) and stirred like crazy.  Actually, this is Ian stirring like crazy.  Good lad!

73395280_10220946760724699_24852866913009664_oHere I am – half way through  cooking, in one of my favourite kitchens.

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Here he is, young Ian.  Giving it a final stir.  The green stuff? It’s wild mint from my balcony (called ‘calamint’ in English apparently).   You could use rosemary or sage or any other kind of mint instead.

72689793_10220946758484643_8665815076298555392_oThe last-minute potluck people: readying ourselves and happy, and looking forward to tucking in.

Yes … but … where ARE George and Claire?

Ah of course – Claire is taking the photo and George is in the dining room laying the table.

Beetroot, Leftovers and Concocting a Salad of Fried Foods

Okay, so this isn’t a recipe, not as such.  The only thing I want to ‘tempt’ you with is to make your own beetroot ‘crisps’ or ‘chips’ as they say in the States.

I had some leftover meat that was breaded and had been shallow fried – we call this “fettina panata” here in Rome and Frascati and it’s the poor cousin of Milan’s posh “cotoletta alla milanese”.  The former uses an inexpensive cut of  beef, the latter an expensive one of veal.  And so on and so forth.

I fried up some ordinary button mushrooms with a portion of leek and seasoned with salt and pepper and wild mint.  If you take a closer look, you can see the teensy flowers of the mint (apparently it is known as ‘calamint’ in English).

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I sliced the beetroots very thinly with a mandoline and then fried them in plenty of peanut oil.

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Here are the fettine panate from the night before.1

I cut them up with scissors and added them to the muishrooms:

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Last, I added the fried beetroot.  And voilà, dinner was served.

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I think it’s a good idea not to waste food.  I love mushrooms and apparently they are extremely good for our health.  And I adore fried foods.  This concoction ticked so many boxes.

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Classic Anchovy Sauce and the Cauliflower

This is for all my cauliflower-loving friends who by now know full well how hesitant I am about this vegetable.  I just can’t fathom why you like eating this, admittedly pretty looking,  member of the Brassicaceae family.  You rave about it whether it be raw or roasted or made into fake-rice (for those who cut down on their carbs).  Victor Hazan apparently has always enjoyed it cooked and served with just a little olive oil and wine vinegar.  Go anywhere near Ottolenghi and the addition of ingredients goes into double figures.  The point I am making is that cauliflower always needs dressing up and, for that matter, can cause bloatedness and its cousin flatulence (https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/1044703/stomach-pain-bloating-bloated-stomach-remedies-cauliflower ). Yet still I forge on … trying this recipe and that, always in the hope that I might one day be won over.

Last week I got into a frenzy as I visited Frascati’s vegetable market.  I went wild and bought loads of veggies including some not shown in the photo below.

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Maybe its because the days are getting shorter (and next weekend we are going to be switching the clocks back) and dark days are looming ahead (I mean in terms of light during day-time), it got so I wanted to buy nearly ALL the vegetables on show there, including Mr Cauliflower himself.

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Once home, I had all kinds of ideas for the rest of the vegetables and thought kindly even of Mr Cauli.  Forget about all those recipes I’d looked into during the past  few years.  I resorted to a classic accompaniment: an anchovy sauce.  My friend Phyllis Knudsen will be raising her eyes up to heaven as she reads this but I know her hubby would appreciate it.  My husband most certainly did – so phew.

INGREDIENTS: Cauliflower (duh), a tube of anchovy paste or otherwise some anchovy fillets, garlic cloves, some milk.  The polar opposite of an Ottolenghi recipe list ha ha ha.

DIRECTIONS – couldn’t be easier.

Start by cutting up the cauliflower into florets and simmer it in slightly (repeat slightly) salted water.  Drain it ONLY when the sauce is ready.  It doesn’t take long to make the sauce so this is just common sense.

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Pour a good amount of olive oil into a small saucepan (this happens to be a milk pan) and add as many or as few cloves of garlic as you wish.  Cook until the garlic turns golden, over a very gentle heat.  No browning please !

4Get your anchovy paste out of the fridge.

5Add some milk to the pan containing the garlic and cook it until the garlic goes mushy – it doesn’t take long.  Meanwhile, squirt the equivalent of 4 tablespoons of anchovy into a little bowl.

6Add the paste to the milk pan and stir and stir until you get a nice consistency.  Drain the cauliflower florets.  Put them into a serving bowl.  Pour the sauce over them evenly, gently mix.

7And serve.

POST SCRIPTUM

I also bought broccelletti that morning:

IMG_4936Here they are in a water bath.  I simmered them in salted water, drained, squeezed well and – when they were cool enough – placed them in the freezer.  There is also a big leek in the photo and one solitary fennel, which we ate raw.

Clever cooking tip for roasted peppersOh and bell peppers – here’s a nice tip  I picked up and wish to pass on.  Slice the peppers and then let them bask in hot water (i.e. water brought to the boil which you then switch off) for 10 minutes.  Remove, let them cool down, and then pat dry.  When you’re ready, cook them on a griddle (cast iron preferably) over a high heat, slightly coated in olive oil.  I suppose you could grill them (we don’t have a grill).  Please believe me, the taste and ‘bite’ of these peppers was simply delicious!

And there was also a bunch of beetroot, aha!  But I’ll tell you about those in my next post.

 

What do do with Nduja, Calabria’s Spicy Sausge

People tell  me that this sausage has become the latest ‘thing’ for foodies in the States.  It is savoury, it is spreadable, it is very hot indeed and delicious if you like that sort of thing.  It can be used in pastas, it can give sauces a kick, it can even pair with a pesto spread on a pizza (!), it can be eaten plain, spread over toasted bread (bruschetta).

The origins are most likely French and the name is thought to be an assimilation of a French sausage known as “andouille”.  French forces backed by Napoleon had invaded southern Italy in the early 1800s and who knows?, a French-trained chef making andouilles would have inspired a local to create something similar, only adding a lot of local chilli to liven things up a bit.  The small town famous for making the top quality nduja (pronounced “nndoo-ya”) is Spilinga.

What makes me smile still is an article I read over 15 years ago claiming that, because chillis are good for blood circulation and are a powerful anti-oxidant and so on and so forth, eating nduja would naturally be good for the healthy functionality of men’s sexual performance.  Hence nduja was to be thought of as the viagra of the South !!!

Last month, I had some nduja lurking about in the fridge and giving me a bad look every time I caught sight of it, as if to say, ‘Oi! I am bored here – for goodness sakes DO something with me’.  And one evening I did.  I made teensy little meatballs out of it and added it to my vegetable side dish of cicoria.   Cooked cicoria is often accompanied by a good pinch of dried chilli in any case and therefore my approach was not outlandish as it might sound.  So not only was my palate satisfied but my conscience assuaged too (deep sigh, hands clasped together and eyes raised to heaven).

Anyway …. all this to say, play around with some nduja, have some fun with it in the kitchen.  Here is a link to guide you: https://funkyfoods.blog/2016/03/22/nduja/?subscribe=success#blog_subscription-3 .

1Boil the cicoria in plenty of water and then drain.

2Wait for it to cool down and then squeeze it very hard, to get rid of the cooking water. Next, chop it up a little.

3Here is the testy fridge-enclosed nduja I was talking about.  If you want to spread the nduja, it’s a good idea for it to come back to room temperature.  In my case, the opposite obtained – I wanted it firm and not too sticky.

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I’m not the best meatball shaper, this is the best I could do.  They are very small, about an inch in diameter.

5Don’t be startled by the look of this saucepan – I had used it to cook something else and the juices left behind were very handy and would add taste.  I dribbled some olive oil into the pan and added some garlic.

67I ended up adding a little more olive oil by the looks of it – oh, and salt of course.  The cicoria is cooked so it doesn’t take long to warm it up.

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I plopped the nduja balls around the plate just for this photo … they got mixed up with the cicoria.  And all was well, and all got gobbled up.  Yum, yum.

Valentino’s New Fragrance and Frascati

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The image of my facebook page, also called “Frascati Cooking That’s Amore”,  is that of “Villa Aldobrandini”, the town’s most stunning baroque estate, built by Pope Clement VIII Aldobrandini for his nephew Cardinal Peter in 1598.   Perched imposingly on the hill, it faces Rome and dominates the town.  The princely Aldobrandini-Borghese family still own it and sometimes live there.   My great grandmother Settimia was born on the estate because her father was a foreman for the prince at that time. When my mother was to marry a second time, she and my stepfather asked for permission to hold the ceremony in the private chapel, and I was five at the time and remember the wedding.  The villa and its grounds are regularly used for weddings (the prince’s wife runs a catering company) and film sets.  I am not surprised that Valentino should have used it for his latest fragrance.  I don’t agree with its title, however – it should be “born in Frascati” and not “born in Roma” ha ha.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYbOTO2Tlrc