Tuna Balls to the Rescue: Polpette di Tonno

I wrote this post ages ago, ages!!!  But I still make these tuna balls.  They are great finger food and not at all hard to make.  I wrote the post when I was in a bit of a funk over the change in season;  September does that to me, never my favourite month because it heralds the end of Summer.  This recipe can be made all year round, however, please take note!  Ignore the moaning and groaning and just read the recipe.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/polpette-di-tonno-and-mulling-over-seasonal-melancholy/

Polpette di tonno and Mulling over seasonal melancholy

An Indian summer … although we’re half way through September … it’s so easy to enjoy the heat but too late to pretend not to notice that the days are getting shorter … and busier … and that any day now it will get brrrr-cross-your-arms-and-slap-your-shoulders-nippy and we’ll start having to wear sweaters and what have you and don slippers indoors instead of traipsing about bare foot.  It is as if a whisper of seasonal melancholy were subtly knocking at my front door. For someone who loves summer as much as I do, September is a very challenging month and can see me veering towards a moany-groany, want-to-run-away frame of mind.  This year I decided I would be grown up about it and do my best to stretch the summer’s feel of freedom as much as I could.  I tried to organise myself so that I could work in ‘chunks’ … and thus it was that a few days ago, I was able to scamper off to the beach at Sabaudia for most of the day.  It took us one and a half hours to get there but, as always, it was worth it. There were very few people about, now that people are back at work and children back at school.  The breeze was caressing as only a zephyr can be, the sea was still warm enough for me to swim in (I am such a wimp about cold water!) and it was all I could do to tear myself away and head for home as the sun began to set.  Aaaah.  Sigh …. isn’t the sun setting over the sea one of the most compelling sights to behold? Ultra-organised, smug lady had prepared some vegetables the day before (a potato and celery purée and roast capsicup/bell peppers), had bought gorgeous fruit on the way to the beach, knew that wine was cooling in the fridge, so it was only a question of buying some chicken or meat on the way home and dinner was going to be a snap.  But, repeat, I had a very hard time of wrenching my body and soul from the siren call of the sea with the result that all the shops were naturally closed by the time we finally did drive past them. I didn’t feel quite so smug then, as I took on the slim prospect for our main course that evening, knowing that just like Mother Hubbard, I was going to find the cupboard woefully ‘bare’ when I got there —  the ‘cupboard’, these days, naturally being the fridge and the freezer.  But thank goodness for Nursery Rhymes because I realised that there was indeed one food in my cubbyhole cupboard that was going to save the day: tuna fish packed in oil! Polpette di tonno … i.e. meatballs made out of tuna fish (technically the tuna doesn’t qualify them as ‘meat’-balls … but what else can one call them in English? croquettes? ugh).

The ingrdients: salted capers (which need to be rinsed and drained a few times to be rid of the excess saltiness), lemon zest (the zest you see came out of the freezer), parsley, two tins of tunny fish packed in oil (and please note that it wasn’t the top quality kind), and last, and in the case of any kind of polpette, never least … the moistened bread (again, as I wrote in the other post on meatballs, ‘plastic’ white bread serves very well). You will also need an egg to bind the polpette mixture, bread crumbs to coat them and, optional, some grated parmesan cheese.

The tuna is drained of its oil and gets plopped into the blender …

Add the other ingredients.  Ordinarily, I would have chopped up the lemon zest before adding it for a ‘finer’ and more understated taste.  But that evening I was in too much of a hurry … and too hungry!

Freshly milled white pepper …  (Don’t ask what the coffee is doing in the photo … I expect it was lurking about near the stove when we got home and nobody bothered to put it where it belongs).

Process the mix being careful not to ‘overwork’ it … it must not go all liquid-y.   Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and …

Add the grated parmesan cheese if you think you are going to like it.  We do and we did.

I put in about 4 heaped soup spoons.

One egg.  Mix everything up very well and if the consistency is not thick enough, add some bread crumbs to ‘toughen’ it up.

Shaping the polpette di tonno …

Coating them in bread crumbs …

All those polpette from just two tins of tunny fish!

Fry the polpette in plenty of oil and in small batches.  Remove with a slotted spoon and let them rest on some kitchen paper before serving.

I served the polpette over a purée of celery and potatoes (which I had made the day before), together with the peperoni al forno (which I had also made the day before):

Please note the size of the garlic … it is cut very ‘big’.  The garlic imparts an inimitably pleasing flavour to the overall taste of the dish and is thus very necessary.  However, not everyone, including myself, actually likes to eat the raw garlic itself.  The bits of garlic are large enough to be espied by even the most near-sighted diner and hence he or she can safely shove it out of danger’s way, to the far end of the plate.

The impromptu meal brought on by my stubborn desire to tarry a while by the sea reserved another surprise.  I remembered that we had some Canadian wild salmon in the fridge, which we ate accompanied by toasted bread and butter.  So … what was going to be a very ordinary though perfectly good supper turned out to be a bit of a feast. It was half past nine by the time we sat down to eat.  Very late.  Very very late. The sort of naughty ‘late’ that seems fitting only during Summer, when time flows more slowly, ‘a misura d’uomo’, as they say in Italian, meaning ‘suitable or appropriate for man’.  And for yet another evening, I was able to ignore the whisper of seasonal melancholy subtly knocking at my front door.  It will bang loudly soon enough …

Home-Made Sausages and Aubergine Rolls

Playfulness, childhood, forgetting oneself in fun and games – remember those days? I do.  And I do my best to re-enact them in a more adult way.  Life will always bring up ‘situations’ which in the best of cases will enhance our learning and experience, make us wiser in the long run and more capable of embracing all that Life has to offer, the good and the ‘bad’.  But in other cases it will or might do the exact opposite and crush us.  I refuse to be crushed.  After decades of practice, I have anti-crush antennae that are well honed.  The minute I am aching to buy something that I (a) really don’t need, (b) don’t know where to put and (c) can’t really afford (meaning that the money could be spent on something much more ‘useful’) I know exactly what’s going on: my anti-crush antennae are giving me sound advice … “Go! Go! Go! Be playful.  Have fun.  Giggle a little!”

Some people might call it retail therapy, I don’t know.  Others invoke Oscar Wilde’s saying: I can resist everything except temptation.  And these are the optimists.  Those who are apt to judge with pursed lips might, instead, hold forth on the futility of consumerism or go all saintly on us and mention the worthy example of Marie Kondo, the world famous tidying/decluttering guru.  On a video I just watched about her, she is said to move houses once a year.   Seriously? I call that a tad restless – and whilst I like travelling I think that moving, unless absolutely necessary or advisable, is a lot of work.  I don’t like clutter and a messy house either, but a minimalist I am not.  Our home is just full of ‘stuff’, including lots of books.   But even Marie Kondo might be wowed by how I always find space for ‘things’ in our relatively small flat and yes, these ‘things’ do indeed spark joy, which is what her regime is all about.  Going for things that spark joy: I’m all for that.

So there I was, one Monday morning a few weeks ago, taking my mother for a weekly shop at a supermarket.  I hate supermarkets and what they represent and I have been boycotting them for about 10 years now.  Yes, yes, I know that they are very useful and we do indeed ‘need’ them in our modern world.  I just wish the financiers, the owners, would care more about the people who produce the food to be eaten rather than the stake-holders who just care about how much money they are making with their stocks.  My mother will turn 93 next month and she stopped driving last year.  Ever since then it is I who take her shopping once or twice a week and she, of all people!, insists on going to the supermarket (although recently she has started agreeing with me that vegetables are much much much better at the covered food markets).    So I have spent more  time in supermarkets during the last year and a half than I have for all the eight or so years previously!  Not a happy puppy.

Anyway, that day she asked would I mind if we drove to a mega supermarket which is just below the town of Albano.  Sure! No problem I said.  And that’s because I was being kind.  It was a bit of a drive from where we live and at the end of the day it was still ‘only’ a supermarket, big deal.  We went for a cup of coffee before our shop and I was already bored and wanting to go home.  And that’s when my anti-crush antennae started kicking in.  I scolded myself for my desultory attitude and did my best to cheer up (inwardly).   Which is when I espied an electric slicer and a sausage making machine.  Cheap and cheerful variety, you understand, supermarket standard and nothing state-of-the-art.

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I decided I simply had to, just had to, have the sausage making machine (which doubles up as a tomato crusher for making passata).  And told my mother so.  “Ma, I am going to make you home-made sausages.  You are always complaining how the sausages we buy these days are either tasteless or too salty.  What do you say you I start making some, at home?”.  So that was a done-deal.  And in it went in the supermarket trolley (cart in American English).  My mother did indeed make her own sausages when we lived in what was then East Pakistan, and now Bangladesh.  Her own bread too.

And then I found I couldn’t take my eyes off the electric slicer … Hmmm.  Just think how many things I could slice, ever so thinly, so expertly, so refinedly.  As I stared in admiration my mother, bless her, said she’d buy it for me … it could be my Christmas present, no?  Double whammy!

And that is how I came home later that day with two boxes.  My husband gave me the raised-eyebrow look but refrained from daring to comment, as he would have done in the past, on (a) the buying of yet more ‘things’ we didn’t need and (b) the dearth of space in our home.  He actually commented favourably on both new-entries in the magic world of my kitchen even though he tried to back-track when I mentioned I would be relying on his help in setting up the sausage machine (I am absolutely helpless when it comes to manuals and instructions, never understand a thing).  Indeed, some magic really did happen – he was there from start to finish and it was he who ‘made’ the sausages! (I had bought the meat and the casing as well as the machine, naturally.)

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IMG_5325Our very own sausages – something to be proud of wouldn’t you agree?

When my mother eventually got to eat one, she judged it very good.  So, phew.

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I even brought one to work the next day for my fellow chefs to taste (above photo).  The sausages were a tad ‘bland’ the night we made and ate them, tastier the following day.  Apparently that’s ‘normal’, they told me;  over time, as they dry out a little at a time, the savoury part will come to the fore.

And we had so much fun making them !  Which proves my point, and MY favourite motto, by Voltaire: “le superflu, chose si nécessaire”.  The superfluous is so very necessary.

End of Story.

RECIPE

I happened to have some sausage left over and decided to use it to make a sauce.  I had an aubergine/eggplant, some cheese called ‘primosale’ (a kind of bland fetta cheese) and, most important of all, I had an electric slicer, aha!

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And so I made aubergine rolls.  I sliced the aubergines as thinly as I could.   Ditto the mortadella (that didn’t work out too well, I must say).  I added some cubes of primosale. Some tomato sauce using up the home-made sausage and whatever herbs I found on my balcony (marjoram I think).

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Slice an onion and let it bathe in a bowl with some water for about 10 minutes.  This will draw out its excess ‘oniony-ness’.  Trust me, this is a good tip.  When you go to fry it, it won’t burn and if anything it will cook or turn golden faster.

Turn the oven on.

3Put the thin (ha ha) slices of onion in the oven, even if it’s just started.  It will heat up along the way.

4Reserve some of the aubergine and chop it up into little cubes.

5Start by cooking the onion in plenty of olive oil, and then add the cubed aubergine. A sprinkle of salt is always a good idea.

67Cook the sausage meat.  I added a bit of chilli.

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Then bring all the ingredients together and add tomato sauce – plum tomatoes or passata.

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In my excitement and haste to savour the recipe, I removed the aubergine slices too early from the oven.  They really could have done with at least another 10 minutes.

11Here are the slices of mortadella on the left and the chunk of primosale on the right. Please note that this primosale was made from ewe’s milk.  I bought it from the Depau cheese  makers in Frascati. https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/the-united-nations-of-ricotta-azienda-agricola-depau-grottaferrata/

Time to assemble.1213Lay a slice of mortadella and a few cubes of primosale and then roll the slices and secure with a toothpick.

14Line the bottom of an oven dish with the sausage tomato sauce and place the rolls on top.

15Pour the rest of the sauce over the rolls and dot the dish with yet more cubes of primosale.  Bake the rolls until done.

16I scattered something green over them as they came out of the oven.  Marjoram, I think?

17Parsely and basil too by the looks of it.  It really doesn’t matter – just use whatever you have handy or prefer.

And yes, the slices should have cooked a bit longer as written – but it was still a very tasty dish.  One that can be made in advance too, which is always a boon.

Here are some links to what primosale is all about, just in case you might be interested:

https://www.lalatteria.co.uk/primo-sale-mozzarella

Primosale

http://www.201cheeses.com/primo-sale

https://www.tasteatlas.com/primo-sale

Crazy Pastry – Not the Rough Puff Kind

When life hands you lemons, what do you make?  Lemonade (but if you’re  in Italy it’s Limoncello ha ha).  I was supposed to be working Sunday morning but the constant onslaught of downpour caused some problems with the trains from Rome to Frascati and the tour got cancelled.  It being a Sunday and I all by myself, at first I was a little miffed.  I could have had a nice lie-in, ouff.  The weather was as inclement as it can get and I wasn’t at all tempted to go and brave it.  Better to snuggle up at home until it was time to go and pick up my husband at the metro station later in the afternoon.  And that’s when I decided I’d make puff pastry.   Crazy, right?  Who in their right mind …????

It was something I had been wanting to do ever since last March.  Let me tell you why.   It was around then that I discovered that the store-bought puff pastry in this country contains some ingredients that are really NOT good for your health, including palm oil and the like.  I searched and searched for flour-and-butter-only puff pastry but no, none to be found.  Grrrrr. Makes me so cross.  And that’s when I decided I’d better make my own, a big batch, every now and then, so that I could freeze it and have it handy.

I had only made puff pastry once, many years ago, after a cooking class in Rome.  And I’d no idea where I’d put the written instructions.  So I did what we all do, searched around on the internet.  I came across quite a few approaches and had jotted down some notes.  It takes more time to read about the stuff than actually make it, in the end.  I am not sure I chose the best approach.  I found some better ones later.  Typical.  Anyway, here they are should you too take it into your head to make puff pastry.

(1)A video by Michel Roux: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c18ET36ViR8

(2)Another video version with Martha Stewart: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dgOhHeQxrQ

(3)Richard Bertinet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OdO_ef0dyuM

In the course of all that searching, I also chanced upon an Italian recipe for a pastry literally called crazy pastry, “pasta matta”.   This one uses olive oil instead of butter and is a cinch compared with puff pastry.

This blog post is turning up to be all about name dropping.  The next name is an Italian blogger who lives in the UK and wrote an in-depth post about pasta matta.  I wish I’d read it before trying the version I ended up making, sigh.

(4)Stefano Arturi: https://italianhomecooking.co.uk/2017/04/12/pasta-matta-crazy-dough-savoury-tarts/

And now to what I made (i.e. not Stefano’s recipe).

INGREDIENTS

500g flour, 160g olive oil, 2 teaspoons wine vinegar, 200ml water, pinch of salt.

I confess I have become a little wary about recipe directions and I’m not always sure the people writing them are totally honest or precise enough.  I turned my nose up at the amount of olive oil required for instance.  I reduced the olive oil to 150ml and even then I think it was still far too much.  But yes, it is very easy to make, very quick too.

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I used apple cider vinegar.

IMG_5438IMG_5439Use a fork to bring the dough together.

IMG_5440I let the dough rest for half an hour in the fridge.  I wanted to make some cocktail ‘puffs’.

IMG_5442It was very sticky.

IMG_5455These little cocktail bites turned out okay … just tomato and oregano.  Next time I will add more salt to the dough.

1The following day I attempted another recipe that’s great finger food.

2These are slices of a smoked ham called Speck (from northern Italy).  Lay the slices on the rolled out dough and sprinkle a good amount of rosemary needles.

3Roll the dough.

4Slice the dough and then flatten the rounds with your fingers.

5Bake at 180°C until done, about 20 to 30 minutes.

6They were nice enough.  Could be better.  Will be better, definitely, once I get the pasta matta/crazy dough recipe down right.

Stale Bread, Kale and Bean Soup (Pancotto con fagioli e cavolo nero)

I am reposting a recipe from 2012  because you know what? It still makes sense.  Especially for this time of year.  It is thoroughly vegetarian and if you are vegan all you have to do is leave the cheese bit out.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/dont-dread-stale-bread-make-soup-instead-soup-series/

Don’t dread stale bread – make soup instead (Soup Series)

There is a very traditional soup, with variations throughout Italy, whose body consists of stale bread, added to which, besides broth, are other herbs or vegetables and usually some kind of grated cheese and olive oil.    They all taste pretty delicious in a comforting way and a very dear American friend of mine thought it was a pity, really, that the only name Tradition managed to come up for them was “pancotto”:  which literally means “cooked bread”.  The Tuscan version  has an even less attractive nomenclature: “acquacotta” — which translates as “cooked water”.  It doesn’t sound very enticiting, now, does it?  I thoroughly concur with my friend even though I had never thought about it until she mentioned it.

These were soups that came from whatever scraps a housewife could put together.  Bread holds a sacred place in Italian food generally, it is revered and no meal is ever complete without it.  Even today, Italians will feel very bad about throwing away stale bread, thinking it the height of waste.  There are always uses for it … and soup would have been just one of them.  So …. let’s see what kind of cooked-bread I ended up making!

Please believe me when I say this bread was very dry and stale indeed.  You would have had a very hard time trying to cut it with any knife …

Here is an ugly but very useful large pot …. lots of water within which I heated before adding the stale bread:In it goes …

And when it’s gone all soft and mushy again, out it comes, and gets put into another large pot.

I roughly chopped and then washed some cavolo nero (kale).

That got cooked too, for a few minutes, in the same water that had softened the bread. Drain and set aside.

This is what is left and gets thrown away.  It is too bitter and would ruin the soup.

Drizzle some olive oil into the pan and add chopped garlic and chopped onion and a few peppercorns.

Some carrot and celery will also add to the final taste.  Sauté for a few minutes but do not brown.

These are two rinds of parmesan cheese … another food item that would never have been thrown away (I keep mine in the freezer).  The rind can be grilled but most usually it makes a great addition to any hearty soup.

Beans would very often accompany these soups … and so who am I to disagree with tradition!  Keep some cooked beans to hand.  They get added to the soup after it has cooked for a while.  If you add them too soon, they become too mushy.

THE COOKING OF THE BREAD AND WATER BEGINS!

Add the parmesan rinds to the soup pot …

The “cavolacci” (translation: “bad” or “ugly” cabbage) as they are called here in Lazio go in next ….

Next, the soffritto … the sautéed carrot, onion, celery and garlic ….

Pour in water, enough water to cover everything.  Turn on the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Add salt and pepper somewhere along the timeline.

Add the cannellini beans about ten minutes before serving.

I love my herbs, so I always add some chopped mixed herbs too, towards the end.  This is a mixture of parsely, marjoram and rosemary.

The parmesan rinds will have given off their final taste to the soup and can be removed. Taste the soup and make sure all is well in the salt-and-pepper department.

SERVE

You can serve this soup with either grated parmesan or pecorino.  A drizzle of olive oil.  And for those who like chilli, add that too.

A soup based on leftovers doesn’t sound like much, does it?  And yet … and yet … and yet … it tastes dashed good, yes, you bet!

P.S. And yes, I do know what Lord Curzon supposedly said … “No gentleman takes soup at luncheoon”.  Well, in Italy they did and they do … and it wasn’t just the ‘gentlemen’!