What is the point of (the) brisket?

Times may change but the restaurant business has always been given to elements that are fickle and finnicky.  Our brother-in-law Enrico had to give up running a restaurant in Rome in November of a year ago and took over one in Marino called “Cantina Colonna” which had been very popular towards the end of the 1990s and early 2000s.  One year later and the efforts he has put into the place, together with partner and artist Alberto, are beginning to bear fruit.  The menu is Roman, down-to-earth, tasty and seasonal and if excitement is not on the menu, honesty is.  I had dinner there my niece and her partner visiting from Sweden just last week; I picked them up on a cold, wet and shivery evening at Fiumicino airport.  We didn’t get to the restaurant until 10 o’clock and weren’t too surprised to be the only customers that evening (mid week can be very slow).  They were  both pooped, coming as they did from long back-to-back meetings for work and the trip itself and I encouraged them to eat.  Which they did, and with great relish.  The next morning, Ulrika remarked on how surprising it was that she had slept so well given how much she had eaten and at such a late hour.  “It must mean that the food is good.”  Exactly.

When my husband and I had dinner at Enrico’s a few weeks ago, he suggested we try his veal brisket.  Please take a look at the following two photos.  They may not be great shots but do admit: doesn’t that look like a fab joint of roast?

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Look at the serving plate awash with delicious “sughetto”, gravy.

So of course I had to have the recipe, and here is my attempt.

The recipe is called “punta di petto di vitella alla fornara”, which translates something like this: the point of the brisket cooked the baker’s way.  The ‘point’ refers to a part of this cut of meat … and that’s the whole ‘point’ of this blog post, haha.  This cut of meat is relatively inexpensive (Eu 12.90/kg) because it contains quite a bit of cartilage.  Enrico said that all he did was slather it with olive oil, rosemary and sage, seasalt and use some white wine to help cook it and produce the gravy.

You will need fresh rosemary and sage leaves.  Chop them up together. Transfer to a glass bowl and drown the herbs with oodles of olive oil.  Have some coarse seasalt at the ready.

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Here is the veal  brisket.  Pat it dry.

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Here it is rolled out.  I took one clove of garlic (only one!) and sliced it into three pieces.  I inserted the pieces inside the meat.

I proceeded to anoint the meat on this side first, adding the salt crystals last.

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I then turned the ‘anointed’ part of the meat over and tucked in both ends of the meat, so that it is now shaped almost like a scroll.  More slathering of herb infused olive oil, more sprinkling of beautiful salt.

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Enrico said to roast the meat for about 40 minutes at 180°C.

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While it was roasting, I poured out about 250ml of Frascati wine into the wine caraffe that is typical of around here and Rome.  The one litre is called “tubbo”, the half litre size is called “fojetta”, the 250ml size is called “un quartino” , 1/5th of a litre is called “chierichetto” and the smallest size, 1/10th of a litre, is called “sospiro”. I’ll write another blog about the story behind these caraffes another time, it’s quite droll really and has to do with popes and levying taxes.

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Forty minutes later and I removed the roast from the oven and poured all the  wine into the roasting pan (not over the meat).  Back it went for another 20 minutes, as per Enrico’s instructions.

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And that is what came out of the oven.  The scent, by the way, was nostril-twitching stuff.

However … when I sliced the meat to take a peek … I saw that it was still a little undercooked.  And by undercooked, I don’t mean ‘pink’, I mean undercooked.

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So I added more Frascati wine and popped it back into the oven for another 15-20 minutes.  This is the thing about ovens, they are all different and they are all very unreliable.  Everyone has to know their own oven.

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I let the meat rest for the briefest of minutes because we had guests for dinner and it was just the right time now for our ‘secondo’, our main course.  I was too lazy to remove the cartilage.

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So much lovely gravy!

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Surrounded by friendly roast potatoes.

21Tender as can be and sitting over a puddle of gravy.

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And much appreciated by our neighbours that evening.  It was a potluck affair, which I love, and what you see on my plate here is an Insalata Russa with beetroot in it, yum.

The next day.  Leftovers, yay!

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I heated the gravy.

The meat had spent something like 15 minutes in a warm oven that I turned off as soon as I put the meat in.   I didn’t want the meat to cook further, I just wanted it to be warm.23

25Yes, the plate needs a swipe.  But I was concentrating on the meat, not the plate.

26See how it glistened?

My husband said it tasted even better the next day.

I can’t sing its praises highly enough.  Thank you Enrico!

 

Veal and Pea Patties (Polpette di Vitella e Piselli)

This is a “loving the leftovers” recipe.  I had a couple of slices of veal that I hadn’t cooked when preparing saltimbocca alla romana the day before.  I didn’t want to freeze them but they were not enough veal to satisfy our dinner requirements that evening.  So … Patties – “polpette” – to the rescue.  Why not?

The freezer dredged up some peas; the fridge some grated parmesan and good butter.  Plenty of breadcrumbs in the store cupboard. Garlic and olive oil never missing in my kitchen.  A solitary egg.  A glass of white wine.  Some tomato sauce et voilà! Bob’s your uncle.  Take a look.

IMG_0050Place the veal, parmesan, peas and breadcrumbs in the processor.

Add one egg, salt and pepper and blend.  Add more breadcrumbs if necessary.  Shape the  mixture into polpette, little balls.

Pour a puddle of olive oil into a saucepan.  Add a peppercorn (two if you prefer) and a couple of cloves of garlic.  Remove from the pan when browned, but keep side for now together with some parsely, and start cooking the polpette.

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Add the parsley after a while.

10Put garlic back in (don’t if you don’t want to – some people like their garlic ‘light’, others more pronounced.  I am mid-way and this way is mid-way).

11White wine comes next: pour some in and turn the heat up for a bit to make the alcohol evaporate.

12And now butter and tomato sauce.  Salt too.  Maybe a hint of sugar if the tomato is too tart.  Cook for only a few minutes, over a fairly low heat.

13While the tomato sauce is simmering away, cook some more peas with a little butter. Then put everything on a serving plate and bring to the table.

14I suppose some fresh mint would have gone very well this this.

Easy peasy no pun intended ha ha!

FREEZER CLEAN-OUT DELICIOUS PASTA RECIPE

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade they say.  What would be a good proverb for when one has to clear out a freezer?

This was the ‘picture’ of my freezer on Saturday afternoon, November 11th 2017.  The invasion of ice.  Too much scruffy looking plastic.  Stuffed to the icy gills.

 

IMG_1764Time to give in to the urge and get on with the purge.

IMG_1767It was then that I decided that our dinner that evening would be scraps of the freezer clean-out.  I won’t bore you with the entire menu but there is one recipe that I would love to share with you and is the reason for this blog post.

Visiting Canadian friends invited us to spend a weekend with them in Tuscany at the end of September.  The house they had rented was near Castello di Ama and within easy driving distance of Greve, where we went to have lunch the day after we arrived. On the Sunday, our last day, the charming owners of the house put on a cooking class for us.  The lesson began with the dessert, a tiramisu.

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This was followed  by grilled vegetables and tomatoes seasoned with herbs growing in their gorgeous garden.  And then the very Tuscan “pappa al pomodoro” (best pappa al pomodoro of my life!).  On the grill the equally Tuscanissimo Fiorentina steak, together with sausages and fresh bacon strips.  And not last, because it figured just after the pappa al pomodoro,  and most definitely not least, was an un-Tuscan pasta dish consisting of … wait for it … sausages and mascarpone.  Served with plenty of grated parmesan.  Three ingredients only, full of meat fat and dairy fat, and incredibly delicious!  Being dealt a double whammy of mascarpone in the course of one meal had us almost in hysterics … it was just so good and, amazingly, we managed to digest it all!

The photos speak for themselves.

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IMG_0819It was a wee bit cold but there was no way we were going to forgo eating al fresco. What a great lunch!

11And this is what I rustled up after purging my freezer last Saturday … only as it happened, I didn’t have enough marscarpone and so had to add some defrosted gorgonzola to the mix to make do.  Call this the gorgonzola version.

Well worth making, I promise you. Give it a try!

 

The Chicken and The Pedicure

I finally went for a much overdue pedicure last week.  It’s a good job that my pedicure lady is a friend and used to my erratic ways (appointments at the last minute, for instance) and all too frequently being in a rush.  That morning, however, I seemed to have all the time in the world and we were able to exchange news and catch up in a very ladylike fashion.  Some of the news was unfortunately a little sad … business is what it is and she has to give up her beautiful salon and relocate to somewhere less expensive, not an easy decision for her but one that she could now no longer avoid.  I in turn told her about my parents in law and my mother who are all old now and requiring extra care and attention, even though they are doing pretty okay health wise, considering their age (my mother will be 91 in December).  The conversation was beginning to take a turn for the melancholy and so I had to think quickly to rustle up a diversion.  I apologized for the state of my feet and toenails and chuckled and told her that she could always refresh her career by giving chicken’s feet a pedicure. She stopped and raised her face to me with the “whaaaaat?” expression.

Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, back in October, I spent a day touring and shopping for food and, naturally, eating also with my friend Mayde from Florida in and around Frascati and the hilly area south east of Rome known as the “Castelli Romani”.  I put up her commentary with some photos on my Frascati Cooking That’s Amore facebook page.  I am quoting it here because it was sweet of Mayde to take time to write this endorsement and because it reminds me of what like-minded people can wing together, simply because they have a mind to, simply because life sometimes calls out to us with a veritable insistence that we ‘live a little’, or simply put:  ‘just because’.  We prepped some of the food between 3 and 4:30 p.m. and then we didn’t start actually cooking until it was almost 8 p.m. The menu was a hotch potch of good stuff as opposed to a classic four-course Italian meal, because I was trying to teach Mayde what she wanted to learn.  Whatever.  My husband and friends George and Claire didn’t complain, even though we ate very late indeed.  George, who had been up since 5 that morning, and who had been busy dealing with olive picking with his sister all day and driving all over the place, was pretty exhausted.  My husband encouraged him to take a little nap on the sofa in between the courses. Not what you call a ‘normal’ dinner.

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“My final day in Frascati was spent with Jo. She took me to the outdoor Friday morning market in Tor Vergata where vendors sold homemade cheeses, sausages, vegetables and olive oil. 
We made a pit stop to Casale Marchese, a local winery that is 7th generation. The winery has a room near their cellar dedicated to Roman ruins and artifacts found on their property. Check out the symbols found on the ground and see if you can guess what it means. I loved this winery and I saw that they give private tours and lunch. A very short trip outside Rome.
Then we went into her town of Frascati to visit her local butcher and baker. The butchers thought it was funny that I grew up in Howard Beach where the “Don” Gotti is from. The baker opened in 1920 and their oven looked liked it was still from that era.
She then took me to the town of Grottaferrata and we visited the grounds of a monastery that has existed since 1000 AD. We then drove on to a cheese farm to get fresh sheep’s milk ricotta cheese. Then we went back to her cooking school apartment and started our prep and cooking.

We made homemade gnocchi from scratch, amatriciana sauce, veal saltimbocca, rigatoni with sausage and broccoli, pasta e Fagioli, stuffed zucchini blossoms with ricotta cheese and mozzarella cheese… I nearly ate all the ricotta cheese we had bought.. You get to shop like a local, talk with the locals and cook with a local! 
It was a great experience for me!”

It was a great experience for me too, Mayde is engrossing and witty company, and we both like to laugh and have fun.  Mayde is a fast and good cook and asked many interesting questions as we went along.  One comment that struck me when I thought about it later on regarded the state of chickens in the butchers’ shops.  She was surprised to see the head of the chicken left on the body.  Apparently that’s not seen in the United States.  Is that so? If it comes to that, chickens are presented even with their feet intact here! Skinned hares hanging upside down, the head of lambs … food in all its gory glory, nose to tail and no disguising of what befalls the animals we eat.

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The thought came back to me weeks later as I was at my regular butchers’, the Ciocchi family.  I told Alessandra who was serving me that I wanted to buy some meat to make a ragù and asked her whether she had a special recipe of her own, you know, as one does when at a butcher’s.  It’s nice to exchange recipes etc.

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She told me that her nonna who hailed from Umbria used to make a fab ragù and did I want to try it? Sure, of course!  “It includes chicken feet,” she casually informed me as she went about mincing the various meats for me.  “Seriously?”, I asked.  “Oh, yes, definitely.  And besides, in the old days, chicken feet were eaten a lot and included in all kinds of recipes.  In soups, for instance.”  I felt daredevil-experimental that day and threw hesitation to the wind and got into that By-Jove frame of mind.  By Jove, I SHALL make this ragù, chicken feet and all!  I asked for instructions etc and it didn’t sound too difficult.  And then came the moment when she presented the chicken feet right across the counter from me, and … yes, well.  All I can say is that I had to close my eyes for a second to regain my composure.  “Alessandra … bella … there is no way I am going to be able to deal with the nails, talons, or whatever it is we call them.  Can you kindly give them a pedicure?” .  Alessandra obliged and I went home with my unusual gastronomic booty.

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Was the ragù good? Yes, apparently.  I didn’t get to eat it.  But my husband and son did, twice.  Once served with home made gnocchi and the second time with store-bought egg pasta.

Will I make this ragù again? Who knows.

For those of you who are still keeping  up with me … here are some photos of how I proceeded.

IMG_1426I was told to bring some water to a roiling boil.

IMG_1472Then add the feet let them simmer over a low heat for a couple of minutes.  This is not only to ‘wash’ the feet but also because it will loosen the skin.

IMG_1473I drained the feet and put them in a bowl with some warm water.  But try as I might I just couldn’t get on with the next step of peeling as much skin off as possible. My husband obliged, thankfully.  Also, I was cooking a family dinner at the same time – all the family, kids and the Nonni (my mother and Pino’s parents).

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Interestingly, Alessandra had added some chunks of meat as well as the minced meat. I proceeded to get the ‘battuto’ going.  Chopped onion, carrot, stick of celery as well as a slice of lardo.  A little garlic added later on.  Normally I would cook a battuto (the veggies in question) over a low heat but this time because I added the chunks of meat at this stage, I used quite a high heat.

IMG_1477I then added the mixture of minced meats that Alessandra had prepared.

IMG_1478And finally the chicken feet.

IMG_1479There was a lot going on in that tiny kitchen of mine.  On the left is some cheap and cheerful white wine which I am sure I used at some point over this ragù. (It’s hard to pour wine and take a photo at the same time).

IMG_1480Yep, that liquid is the wine I added.

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I then added plenty of plum tomatoes and cooked the ragù until it was done, seasoning with salt and pepper along the way.

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I then thoughtfully removed the chicken feet.  They just had to go, sorry.  I did think of  our dear friend Gareth Jones, bless him (www.garethjonesfood.com).  I miss him so much. He wrote of Chicken feet in black bean sauce and probably knew how to cook them himself.  He seemed to know about everything and it’s such a shame he never got around to writing his  book (http://www.garethjonesfood.com/?p=6615), wouldn’t you agree Phyllis Knudsen, Elatia Harris, Rachel Roddy, Penny Averill and Jonell Galloway?

16The end result.  Which got put in the fridge for the next day.

I wasn’t around the next day, but my husband and son enjoyed the ragù with the gnocchi I had made.  The photos are pretty underwhelming and there isn’t a shot of the final dish with parmesan all over it.  But still, it does give an idea.  Favourite son said he really enjoyed it.

1718.JPGBut the next day it was I who got to cook the ragù with fettuccine.

I added a knob of butter to the ragù. An old trick  my nonna taught me.

22I also added a wee bit of the cooking water.

23There you go, buon appetito!

Fast Food Anyone? The Quickest Way to Make Pasta e Ceci

Cooking should not be a race – but then neither should life and at times we have to cook meals in a hurry.  “Ceci” are chickpeas/garbanzo.  When combined with some pasta in a thick soup, flavoured with garlic, a hint of tomato and an infusion of rosemary, it makes for a very inviting repast.

Made some today for lunch for my daughter and she recalled how often she made this recipe when she was at university.   So I have decided to dedicate this blog post to my lovely niece Emily, who just started at Uni in September.

Another plus is that the ingredients are easy to find and cheap too.  So, what more could one want?

The only relative ‘downside’ is that there is one utensil that is required and that is a hand-held blender, and not every student might have one.

INGREDIENTS:

1 glass jar of precooked chickpeas, 1 clove of garlic, salt, tomato paste, fresh rosemary, a short-shaped pasta.

PROCEDURE:

Put the kettle on the boil or boil some water in a saucepan.

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Drain the jar.

IMG_1423Divide the chickpeas into two bowls (or mugs or glasses).  Let’s name the bowl on the left A and the bowl on the right, with the fork in it, B.  Well, bowl B has slightly more chickpeas than A, say 60 percent versus 40 percent.

IMG_1424.JPGYou’ll be needing a squeeze of tomato paste.  One clove of garlic and about 50g of pasta (per person).  I didn’t have any short-shaped pasta – only spaghetti.  But that’s okay, spaghetti can be snapped into bit size morsels.

IMG_1425.JPGSlice the garlic clove into three pieces.  Squeeze a teaspoonful amount of tomato paste.  And slather the bottom of a small saucepan with enough olive oil to muster the required amount of fat in this dish.  Remember, no fat no taste.

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Turn the heat on, and begin the cooking process.  The garlic has to cook until it goes golden.

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Now add the 40% amount of chickepeas (the smaller bowl, bowl A). Use a wooden spoon to mix the tomato paste into it.

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Don’t forget to add some salt too.

IMG_1430Now add one to two ladles of the simmering water to the mix. Enough, anyhow, to cover the chickpeas.

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Remove the saucepan from the heat and use a hand-held blender to process its contents.

IMG_1432Now, using another, slightly larger saucepan … we can proceed with the recipe.  Place the 60 percent, bowl B, amount of chickpeas to this pan.

IMG_1433Transfer the other processed ingredients into this saucepan.  So now we have whole chickpeas as well as processed chickpeas swimming together.  Turn the heat on.

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Snap your spaghetti into matchstick sized pieces.  And add them to the soup.

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Mix with a wooden spoon.

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Add as much simmering water as is required.  Basically, you are cooking this pasta e ceci the way you would a risotto.

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Don’t overdo it, for now, add just enough water to cover the ingredients.

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I love rosemary and rosemary pairs super well with the chickpeas in this recipe.  Carry on cooking until the pasta is cooked al dente.  Keep an eye on the process, you might want to add a little more simmering water, you might need to give the soup a swirl with a wooden soup to avoid it sticking from the bottom of the pan.  The rosemary will lose some of its colour.

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Once you have tasted the pasta for its ‘doneness’ … remove the rosemary, or as much of it as you can, and then swirl some more extra virgin olive oil over the surface and sprinkle with freshly milled pepper.

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Looking good eh? Inviting?

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Not finished.  Not, that is, if you enjoy some grated pecorino cheese over it.  Which my daughter does.

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Time to eat.

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Considering that the pasta takes about 10-12 minutes to cook … this whole recipe took less than 20 minutes to cook from start to finish.  Now that’s what I call fast food.

I had written about a very similar recipe a few years ago:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/pasta-e-ceci/

And about another one including mushrooms:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/chickpea-and-pasta-soup-with-a-mushroom-finish/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Tart Up Tomato Soup

Personally, I don’t think tomato soup needs tarting up, I really like it.  Who nowadays, however, does make tomato soup from scratch or even dreams of ordering it in the unlikely situation of a restaurant listing it on its menu? It would strike one as being so passé, correct?, so gastronomically over and done with.

Tomato soup is the sort of fare one might associate with an Agatha Christie tale of mystery and murder on the Orient Express, in a TV period-drama series (right up Downton Abbey’s gastronomic alley I’d say), Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books maybe, or even in short stories set in drab hotel restaurants of the 1950s.  Cream of Tomato Soup would probably have been included in Derek Cooper’s 1967 “The Bad Food Guide” from which I quote the following extract under “A Certain Lack of Dignity”:

“He always starts with soup whatever it is … He has half a bottle of Blue Nun Liebfraumilch whatever he’s eating and she has a Port to start with and then half a bottle of some kind of Sauternes.  He has boiled potatoes with every lunch and either peas or carrots or, when it’s in season, asparagus which he’s very partial to.  She picks her way about among the expensive dishes but usually has steak Diane because she likes the drama at the table.”

Makes for depressing reading all of this.  So much in contrast to the soup’s cheery bright red colour.  I don’t suppose the hue of  this soup played any prompting role in Andy Warhol’s painting of Campbell soup tins/cans in 1962?  Head scratching doubt, probably not.  “While visiting the Pittsburgh-born provocateur in the midst of Campbell’s Soup Cans’ production, art dealer Irving Blum was so impressed that he offered Warhol a show at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. … Not only was the Ferus Gallery show Warhol’s first solo exhibition of pop paintings, it was also the first time Pop art had been displayed on the West Coast. No matter what the response was, this was a history-making event” (http://mentalfloss.com/article/71814/16-things-you-might-not-know-about-andy-warhols-campbells-soup-cans).

History in the making and tins of soup, hey.  Whatever else can be discarded from the descriptives of tomato soup, artistic primacy and fame now cannot.  We can definitely say that, thanks to Warhol, tomato soup is ‘historic’ in some way.  So why is it that it has become a rarity and most likely not even heard of by people under fifty years of age?

I do remember tomato soup at the dinner table when growing up abroad but not at home in Italy – home being chez my Nonna, my Italian grandmother after whom I was named.  As your average Italian home cook still abiding by the only cuisine she knew, i.e. regional food, my Nonna who was from Frascati never made the Tuscan Pappa al Pomodoro (which is a thick tomato soup mopping up a lot of dry bread).  I had heard of “pappa al pomodoro” by the time I was eight only because the singer and actress Rita Pavone sang a song about it in a children’s TV series based on a book called The “Diary of Gian Burrasca” (translation: Johnny Tempest), featuring the scrapes and adventures of the exuberant/naughty boy Giannino Stoppani as he fought against the rules of the grown ups and the dickensian system of a boarding school.  Well, this Johnny Tempest’s song said that a pappa al pomodoro was worth fighting a revolution over but it didn’t sound very enticing to me, I have to say.

Click on the photo to activate the video.

The first time I did get to eat a pappa al pomodoro, I smiled inwardly remembering how much I had loved that TV programme. For the record, much as I liked the taste of my first pappa al pomodoro, I can’t say I was blown away by it.  It was nice but nothing to write home about.  I did instead have an Aha! moment with the version I got to eat last month, in the countryside in Tuscany, and indeed I think I shall write a post about it, it was that good.

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Back to tomato soup.  While I continue to this day to love Heinz baked beans on toast, I don’t remember ever buying a tin of any soup, it just didn’t seem ‘right’ to me, even back in the day.  We didn’t ‘do’ tins in our Italian home, the only ones I spotted were those containing plain plum tomatoes.

Commercially produced tomato soup used to be available in a dry version too, in packets.  All one had to do was pour boiling hot water over the mixture and wait for it to rehydrate, even in a large mug.  This was quite a staple of mine during my last year at boarding school.  I’d add some cubes of cheddar to it and hey presto! my hunger pangs were curbed.

I suppose I grew up thinking that tomato soup was somehow French or English in origin.  Witness my surprise then when I found out that the Italian chef, gastronome and food writer Ada Boni included Cream of Tomato soup in her now legendary cookery book “The Talisman of Happiness” published in 1928.  I found out via my next door neighbour Rossella, who also loves to cook, only a few years ago, who pronounced it delectable.  More eyebrow raising when I discovered that some béchamel was included in her (i.e. Ada Boni’s) recipe.  I had never had it served like that before.  I ventured to make it and it was fine, very nice indeed.

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As the authors Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham comment in their book “The Prawn Cocktail Years”, “It is a curious thing that when you go to the bother of making a proper home-made tomato soup with very ripe tomatoes (essential), fresh herbs, decent home-made stock and cream, you end up with a soup that looks identical to and has an almost interchangeable consistency with what is very probably the world’s most popular canned soup: Heinz Cream of Tomato.  The taste, however, is quite different.”  Their version  is similar to Ada Boni’s, except for the addition of garlic and whipping cream.  Ada Boni eschewed any kind of stock, too, and added a bayleaf in the process, as well as parmesan at the very end.

All this to say that it is high time we resuscitated the popularity of tomato soup. It can be served with buttery croutons, or cubes of mozzarella, or grated parmesan.  Or, it can be served as a main course when paired with cod.  Talk about tarting it up!

My friend Liz made this recipe for us a week ago and I found it so delicious that I nearly lost sleep over it (not really, but I did send her a congratulatory whatsapp just before crashing at almost 1 a.m. and that’s after having imbibed a gals-night quota of fermented grape juice, if you catch my drift).  The long and the short of it is that I just had to have a go at replicating last night.  And here is what I did.

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There is a secret ingredient: a vanilla pod.  So what you see in the above photo is a biggish saucepan containing lots of olive oil (extra virgin), 1 vanilla pod and 1 clove of garlic, slightly smashed.IMG_1329IMG_1330These were the freshest tomatoes I could find.  I cut them in half and showered plenty of salt over them.  The salt tames their acidic content as well as bringing out the best in terms of taste.  I then placed them in the saucepan and turned the heat on.IMG_1332I let them cook with the lid on for 45 minutes, checking up on them now and then.IMG_1335This is what they looked like 45 minutes later.  I removed the lid and let them cook for another 15 minutes, again over a fairly low heat.  So, cooking time all in all about 1 hour.

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Set aside for now.IMG_1348This is the cod I had bought from my fishmonger’s that morning.  Enough for two to three servings.  I removed the skin myself.

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I placed the pieces of cod in an earthenware/terracotta pot and poured enough olive oil inside to cover them.  I also added a few pepper corns.

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Yes, an awful lot of olive oil – enough for them to be able to swim in it.  The olive oil, by the way, is Quattrociocchi’s extra virgin.  Definitely one of my favourites.  It’s from near the town of Alatri, in Lazio and has won countless prizes in competitions all over the world.IMG_1351I had turned the fan oven on at 180°C and placed the pot in it to cook … until it was ready, which took around 20 minutes.  Now, this is where I differed from Liz.  She told me she had baked her cod at about 90°C, half the heat I was dealing with.  The reason I took this short cut was that … it was getting really late and I had two hungry people looking forward to their dinner.  Liz’s cod took about an hour to cook if I remember correctly.IMG_1352While my cod was baking, I got out my trusty Italian style food mill.

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I removed the garlic and the vanilla pod from the cooked tomatoes.  The vanilla had swelled up.IMG_1354I processed the tomatoes and what you see above is what got thrown away: the seeds and the skins.IMG_1355And this is what came through: a luscious, silky cream of tomato.  Tasting pretty good already.  It is amazing what the vanilla can do!  You can’t actually taste a vanilla flavour as such and yet it confers a je ne sais quoi to the tomatoes that brings on a happy mood.IMG_1356Liz had used the olives from Liguria known as Taggiasca that cost an arm and a leg and are worth it because they are so wonderful. I didn’t have any so made do with a more humble black olive. I peeled the olives off their pip or stone or whatever you call that thing that can crack a tooth.

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Liz had fried her olives in some olive oil.  I went crazy and using a small saucepan, sautéed some extra garlic, a teensy amount of red chilli, roughly torn basil leaves and the bits of olive.  Only for the  briefest of sautéing time.  I poured the oil through a sieve and set aside.

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I put the cream of tomato back onto a source of heat, tasted, and then added a tiny amount of salt that it definitely needed (but no sugar hey, the vanilla saw to that – plus the tomatoes were pretty good stuff).

The cod came out of the oven sizzling as you could see in the video.

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I got so excited at this point.

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I removed the cod from the oil.  I poured the oil I had filtered into the soup, as well as the olive bits,  I added fresh basil.

I plated up and served.

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It as not as fine as Liz’s insuperable and for me Proustiaan first taste of this recipe but it was jolly good, even if I say so myself.   Mmmmm … I’m wanting some more even now, looking at the photos.

IMG_1365Fortunately for me and my risk-taking decision to use a much higher heat, the cod turned out to cook to a beautiful consistency.

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One final comment … these photos are of the recipe seconds before the soup got eaten so my concession to aesthetic presentation took a bit of a back seat.  I revel at the photos I see on instagram and other food blogs and I really do admire the fine photography of the bloggers in question.  I can’t keep up I’m afraid.  What you see in my photos is what real food looks like in a real home with plenty of hungry people silently, or not as the case may be, telling you to stop the faffing about with the iphone camera now, and can we please sit down and eat.

P.S.  In case you are wondering about what happend to the olive oil the cod got cooked in.  I filtered it and am going to be frying some veggies in batter with it tonight.  Waste not, want not.

Loosey Goosey Mozzarella Topping for Fried Aubergine Slices

The queen of summer dishes is the Parmigiana di Melanzane, of course.  Slices of aubergine fried in olive oil and then baked in the oven with mozzarella, basil, parmesan and a tomato sauce.  It is, however, a dish that requires an attitude of reverence and plenty of time for its production.  One evening a few weeks ago, I decided I would settle for an aubergine recipe that would use the same ingredients basically but at the same time offer the bonus of taking less than an hour to prepare.

I also decided to go for this recipe because … the aubergines and tomatoes I had to hand weren’t exactly the best quality.  I am a bit of a bore when it comes to where to do one’s food shopping and I have been avoiding/boycotting supermarkets for many years now, ever since I read the book by Felicity Lawrence “Not on the Label”, circa 2005/6/7 … can’t remember exactly which year.  I realise I am at risk of coming across as a terrible snob, with supercilious standards, especially with regard to people who go to supermarkets for reasons of economy.  So I hasten to add that Frascati, which is where I live, is a very short distance to many markets: our own Frascati covered market open Monday to Saturday and a Slow Food Market every Saturday morning, both of which I can reach on foot; then there are farmers markets in the area (Ariccia), and weekly markets (Grottaferrata on Mondays, Cocciano on Wednesdays), as well as a couple of farms (Capodaraco in Grottaferrata and Iacchelli not far from Nemi). And not only do the prices of their wares compete very favourably with supermarket prices but … their produce is infinitely better on the whole, it really is, no contest! I am nearly always disappointed when I buy veg from a supermarket.  Which fortunately does not happen very often.

Anyway, it just so happened that I had some dodgy looking aubergines and tomatoes sourced from, you guessed it, the supermarket.  Their look wasn’t exactly a come-hither one and the only answer for me to such a strait (that perhaps only I deem to be dire) was to go down the tasty camouflage route, i.e. to take recourse to frying.  As they say in Italian, even the sole of a shoe would taste good if it were fried.

INGREDIENTS

Aubergines, tomatoes, basil leaves, breadcrumbs, eggs, mozzarella, good quality extra virgin olive oil, oil for frying (either olive oil or groundnut/peanut oil).  Salt.

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The first thing to do is rip the mozzarella and put it in a sieve or colander so as to dry it up a little, remove the excess of its liquid.

1These tomatoes looked pretty enough but … their taste left a lot to be desired. I had a little bit of tweaking to do in order to amp up their flavour.  Cut the tomatoes in half, and then half again, place in another colander and allow them to drip away.

2And here is the prepping station.  Some beaten eggs in one plate.  Some breadcrumbs in another.  The unprepossessing aubergines.  I peeled them, cut them into fairly thick round slices.  I then coated them with the egg wash before breading them on both sides.

3Be sure to press quite hard.  Fingers get to be incredibly sticky and require frequent rinsing (especially if the phone rings – now why is it that the phone tends to always ring or the neighbour call in when I am in the process of frying food?  Maybe the anti-frying police is after me.).

4Off I went and shallow fried the aubergine slices.  Turning them over only once.  I removed them with a slotted spoon and set them over a plate with kitchen paper to welcome any unwanted oiliness.

6And now back to the mozzarella rags.  I put them in the food processor with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.  I used the pulse feature to process them. I seem to remember adding 1 tablespoon of very cold water, to ‘loosen’ the mozzarella as it were.

7I stopped the blitzing and tasted the mozzarella.

8I decided it required a little more olive oil.  A good sprinkle of salt and white pepper and some fresh basil leaves.  A little more blitzing and it was done.

9And here, dear reader, is my loosey goosey mozzarella topping: easy peasy!

It was time to put the ingredients together and serve the dish.

1011I added a little dribble of olive oil to the tomatoes as well as a tiny sprinkle of salt (sea salt, always sea salt).

On the platter.

1314And for all my lamenting and decrying over the quality of the aubergines and tomatoes, this recipe turned out to be very good indeed.  All of the aubergine slices got wolfed down and a sense of summer satiety obtained at the dinner table.  Frying can work miracles, I tell you.