Spinach “Brick” Soufflé with Tuscan Bean Sauce (Fagioli all’Uccelletto)

I am making this for dinner this evening.  The blog post dates back to 2011 !!! And the original recipe is by Tuscany-based Judy Witts Francini of https://divinacucina.com/ who smiles in every photo I see of her.  The photos are pretty awful, I know, but the dish is really smashing.  I am sure you will love it.  Not vegan but yes, vegetarian.  A good thing about this recipe is that it can be made in advance.  And don’t forget to make this for Popeye next time you invite him to dinner.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/12/17/cooking-in-advance-a-spinach-brick/

Cooking in advance – A spinach ‘brick’

If you are planning for a large family gathering or a dinner with friends, and time is of the issue, it is sometimes a very good idea to cook a few dishes in advance of the date and store them in the freezer.

This is a recipe for a spinach ‘sformato’, similar in many ways to a soufflé, which I happen to bake in a bread loaf pan and which therefore looks a little like a brick – hence the name ‘spinach brick’.  It is  served accompanied by a bean and tomato sauce.  I used fresh spinach to make this recipe but frozen spinach will do too.

Ingredients: 1kg cooked spinach, 500ml of béchamel sauce,  4 eggs divided into gently beaten yolks and stiffly beaten egg whites, 100gr grated parmigiano (or more if preferred), a good knob of butter for cooking the spinach.

Ingredients for the béchamel sauce: 500ml milk, 50 g butter, 50g flour, freshly grated nutmeg, pinch of salt.

Start by making the béchamel sauce and set aside.

Melt some butter in a saucepan …

Cook the spinach in the butter for a few minutes, add salt and pepper, switch off heat.

Then separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and beat the latter until they are nice and snowy and fluffy.  Set aside.

And now it’s time to put the dish together.

Add the béchamel first to the spinach …

Then the beaten egg yolks.

Now add the grated parmesan cheese.

Use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix up all the ingredients.  And then add the final ingredient:

Add the cloud of beaten egg whites.

Give it a good mix … and that’s it for now.

Pour the mixture into the bread loaf pan.  Bang the pan gently on a surface … this will make it spread more evenly.

Cover with clingfilm …

And pop the bread loaf pan in the freezer for future use.

COOKING THE SPINACH BRICK

When it’s time to cook the spinach brick … defrost it until it reaches room temperature and then bake in an oven preheated at 190°C for about 40 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow it cool a little before turning it over onto a serving dish.

The “brick” is then sliced into individual portions and is served with a mashed-up bean sauce derived from the famous Tuscan/Florentine recipe known as “fagioli all’uccelletto” (see recipe below).

MAKING FAGIOLI ALL’UCCELLETTO TO BE USED AS A SAUCE

Ingredients: 4 cloves garlic, 4 sage leaves, fresh or canned plum tomatoes, chilli, 1 jar or tin of cooked beans (either borlotti beans or cannellini beans), extra virgin olive oil.

Pour the olive oil into a small frying pan and turn on the heat.  Slice the garlic into thin rounds and add to the saucepan together with the sage leaves and as much or as little peperoncino (chilli) as desired.  When the garlic turns a dark golden colour, add the beans and tomatoes, turn the heat up and cook for about 10 minutes.

Please note that it is nowadays frowned upon in Italian cooking to let the garlic turn so dark, it is thought to overwhelm and spoil a dish with its bitterness.  But in this particular culinary instance, please DO let the garlic cook until it becomes slightly brown (not burnt) before adding the sage leaves, beans and the tomatoes!

Repeat: cook for about 1o minutes, adding salt at the end.  And this is what the faggioli all’uccelletto recipe consists of.   And one would serve it in a nice bowl to accompany meat dishes or sausages or even on its own, as a side dish.

I, on the other hand, wished to purée the beans and so plopped everything into a saucepan, so that I could use the hand held processor without splattering the food all over the kitchen wall (happens all the time!).

Now a purist would have used a food mill to process the beans … but I can safely say that an electric processor is absolutely fine for this recipe.  At this point, I got hold of another jar of cooked beans, drained them of their cooking water, and poured them into the saucepan.  I liked the idea of the sauce showing off some beans.

Time to eat our spinach brick …

Slice the spinach brick into whatever sized portions you fancy …

I cut a long line down the middle and then across …

And now heat up the sauce and pour it all over …

See how the beans play peekaboo through the sauce …

Buon appetito … and if you are properly hungry this is a most satisfying plate to set before one’s eyes!

P.S.  The photos of the finished dish are pretty awful, I have to admit!  But it was a case of taking better photos or … getting on with the dinner that reunited friends of ours who live close by and friends who had come all the way from Hungary.  Enough said …

BUT this spinach recipe can also be served on individual dishes and the sauce can be served separately — you don’t have to drown the spinach in the sauce the way I did!

P.P.S.  I was taught this recipe by my lovely Canadian friend who had enjoyed a cooking class with Judy Witts Francini at her then Florence location of Cucina Divina many years ago.  I happen to think it quite delicious and it is truly a life saver when it comes to buffet parties as well as large sit-down dinners.

Frascati Food Shopping, Aperitivo with Michelle, and a Genius Courgette / Zucchini Recipe

Mrs Masi and her family run a vegetable shop in Frascati and are open on Sunday mornings too.  They are the suppliers of very many restaurants in town.  I tend to be a democratic greengrocer and buy from more than one place but theirs is the venue I end up frequenting the most, as it were,  because … because half the time, I don’t know about you,  but I’m in a hurry, there is always so much to do.  This is how it goes: it’s getting to be evening, ideas for dinner need to be considered and scaled down, and off I trot to up the hill into town to get my meat and two veg.  The veg fromt the Masi family and the meat from the Chioccia family in Via dell’Olmo.

I believe that shopping should entail more than just a modicum of pleasure and what better way to celebrate the exercise than an aperitivo after all that strenuous activity?  Hence, on a regular basis now for some years,  I will meet up with my friend Michelle Smith at our favourite watering hole, the “Stanza del Duca” in the town’s oldest square. It’s just behind the historic Palazzo Vescovile, the bishop’s residence.  This is the heart of centuries-old Frascati and, in terms of neighbourhoods,  we consider it the way Romans would Trastevere.  Sleepy time during the day, bustling and alive in the evenings (not so much in January and February admittedly – but then that’s when we all go into hibernation).  Piazza San Rocco wakes up in the evenings, with its many wine bars and restaurants, and the people it draws, the mainstay demographic, are mostly young.  The daily “The Guardian” wrote a lovely article about the buzz in Frascati last September and I am borrowing a photo from it … hope I don’t get into trouble for doing so? 

guardian frascatiAnyway, here is a link to the article: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/sep/10/rome-frascati-wine-food-italy.

Michelle and I put the world to rights over a glass of wine or a spritz and our host, the inimitable Giancarlo delle Chiaie, is very generous with his pour as he is with his trove of stories aka gossip.  Mild gossip, I hasten to add, we are not malicious people.  We bang on about standards, and what the town administration fails to do, how short-sighted they are, versus our way of how things ought to be done.  Sigh.  And on the bright and light side, music plays an important role.  Giancarlo is a choir master and an accomplished organ player and his friend Romeo Ciuffa, who is also a regular at the Stanza del Duca,  is a professional musician and organizes many a chamber music concert in our neck of the woods.  And all that talk makes for thirsty work so Michelle and I will very often ask for a wee top-up to our glass as we carry on delving into topics that require our  undivided attention.

I often think that breakfast, while one is on holiday and without a care in the world, in a hotel say, is the nicest meal of the day.  One has the whole day lying expectantly before us and to look forward to, as we dig into our orange juice and coffee and toast and what have you.  Similarly, but more often for me, I think that aperitivo-time is the best time of day.  The cares of obligatory work are over for the day, in theory, and one can relax and be light hearted and broaden the horizon of mental attention.  Michelle and I can be very philosophical at aperitivo time.

Who is Michelle, you might ask.  Well, she’s not easy to describe in a nutshell … she is one of those people who is a dab hand at anything she does.  A jack of all trades who gets to be very masterly time after time.   Though living in the same area, we didn’t get to meet until relatively recently and we hit it off straight away.  For the purposes of this post let us say she is a sommelier, translator, and painter.  She set up a website (all on her own, every single bit of it !!!!) called easyfrascati.com.  And  I will come out and say it outight: one would think that Frascati’s town council would have gone to the intelligent trouble of setting up an informative website? But no, it took an English rose to do so. Tut tut.  Last, though she and I can wag our fingers disapprovingly, it’s not about self importance, Michelle is one of the most modest people I’ve ever met.  It’s because we care.  We see so much potential going unattended.   Dear, dear … shall we have another glass of wine before going home?

Michelle is also a good cook by the way and so we often discuss recipes.  “So, what are you cooking tonight?” will often start the conversation.  Which brings me to today’s recipe.  I got all excited because it is so much more than the sum of its very simple parts.  When one is a little strapped for time, one should still find the energy to make the main meal of the day a ‘special’ one.  What’s the point of living otherwise?

I got this recipe from Mrs Masi, and I thank her for it.  The only ‘long’ thing about it is its cooking time in the oven.  It can even be eaten at room temperature although I tend to think that it gives its best when served just out of the oven.

INGREDIENTS:  slices of courgette/zucchini, olive oil, mozzarella, thinly sliced onion, some parsley if you like it, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper

IMG_6715What you see are the sliced courgettes coated with olive oil, over which I sprinkled salt and pepper,  I then added little lumps of mozzarella.  I squeezed the mozzarella to remove some of the liquid.

IMG_6717I also added half an onion, very very thinkly sliced.  And an avalanche of roughly minced parsley.

IMG_6718Finish it all off with a layer of bread crumbs.  I suspect I drizzled some olive oil over the surface for good measure, before popping it into the oven.

IMG_6719And this is what it looks like when it comes out of the oven.  To be honest I can’t remember how long it cooked (just over half an hour) and I expect the temperature was 200°C.

This recipe looks like a lot of trouble went into it and yet it couldn’t be simpler to make!  Unless your name is Phylis Knudsen, you could even add a few ancovies to the mix.  (Bless her, Phylis can’t stand anchovies.)

So, what are you thinking about making for dinner tonight?  Please don’t tell me you are ordering in ….! 🙂

P.S.  If any of you should be in Rome and would like to do something a bit more bucolic and pastoral outside of the capital, please feel free to get in touch with either Michelle or me.   And there will always be a glass of wine and good food to put you in the mood …. 🙂

P.P.S.  I wrote about La Stanza del Duca in this post from last year.  Here is a link in case you missed it: https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2019/01/01/a-duke-some-ladies-lots-of-hats-and-an-afternoon-tea-in-frascati/

Another Meatloaf, “Little Women” and Tailgating it in Rome

For once I shall do things the other way around, providing an intro to the recipe and ingredients first and writing my little ‘story’, the context, after.

If you want to spruce up an ordinary meatloaf, present it encased in pastry.

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Instead of Beef Wellington, you can dub it Meatloaf Wellington.  I chanced upon this recipe on the internet and am providing a link below.  It’s in Italian but no worries – even if you don’t speak the language, everything is so straightforward, you’ll get enough of an understanding to get started right away.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNlvwwC0e88

One of the reasons I did want to get started is that the last time I had made a meatloaf it had been a complete disaster, a ‘beautiful catastrophe’ as Zorba the Greek would have remarked (see my previous post harking back to it).  So I’m a bit sensitive that way, you see.  I am glad to report that my recent attempt turned out pretty well and that I was able to enjoy the leftovers as a kind of picnic in Rome the following day.

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INGREDIENTS

500g of minced meat, 2 eggs, parsely, salt and pepper, 2-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, slices of cheese that will melt easily, slices of ordinary ham, slices of parma ham (optional), salt and pepper, sheets of ready-bought pastry.  An extra egg for coating the pastry.

I added plenty of freshly grated nutmeg and a scattering of lemon zest.  Also, I made my own pastry because the kind sold around here contains palm oil or hydrogenated fats and other nasties.  For that I needed 600g of flour, 300g of butter, salt and enough cold water to bring it all together. I did what one’s not supposed to do and that is use a blender.  I put the ball of very sticky dough in the freezer for one hour before using it.

Below is my neighbour and bestest friend Rossella … helping me roll out the home-made pastry.

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The video says to cook it for about 40 minutes at 200°C, let it rest and allow any liquid to drain away.  Once cooled, the meatloaf is encased in the pastry and cooked again for half an hour.  I would say that that is too much cooking and the meat dries out somewhat.  Next time, I shall limit the cooking to 25 minutes the first time.

My dinner guests enjoyed the meatloaf but we were so caught up in our conversations that we could have had cheese on toast and it wouldn’t have mattered.  Wine always helps of course (that is if you like drinking wine).  The essence of a dinner with friends is the banter and laughter and interruption and changing of subjects and not wanting to go away even when it’s very late.  But good food always helps.  Good food to put you in the mood.

The following ‘story’ is dedicated to all my lovely girlfriends, wherever you might be in the world, but boys are very welcome to read it too !

LITTLE WOMEN AND ME

Well, for starters my name is Josephine (I was named after my Italian grandmother Giuseppina) but everyone calls me Jo.

I grew up with two sisters, not three.  And I was a bit of a tomboy, as they used to say in those days.  I didn’t like it when I had to wear a frilly dress to go to a birthday party, I was always told not to ruin it which of course meant I couldn’t run around too much or climb a tree.  I much preferred wearing shorts.  I’ve always been a barefoot baby and liked nothing better than to take my shoes off as soon as I could.  Like any other woman, I adore shoes but my love for going barefooted has never abated.  I used to love running and playing with the boys, and was very ‘physical’ even, and would get into a fight if provoked.  Dolls weren’t really my ‘thing’.   Building huts was more fun.

The years I speak of, from about the age of five to twelve, I grew up in Karachi, which was then West Pakistan, followed by Teheran, and then Dhaka, which was then East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh.  My Scottish stepfather worked for a pharmaceutical company and that’s how we moved around a lot.  With the job came cushy houses, beautiful ones at that, with large verandahs and even a swimming pool sometimes.  Plush lawns and scented flowers.  And a team of people to help run the house – servants they were called then, or ‘the help’ I believe in the States?  The lap of luxury sort of thing.  Except there were many amenities that were not available in those countries, during those years.  One of which was TV.  I remember when a television set first appaered in our house in Dhaka, I would have been close to eleven.  There was only one channnel and  featured two English speaking programmes a day – the Man from UNCLE, the Lucy Show, come to mind.  And no TV on a Monday for some reason.  Perhaps a film once a week?  And there were power cuts on a regular basis, very often interrupting a TV show.

All this to say that we children had to entertain ourselves.  My two sisters were much younger than I, so the interaction was perforce one-sided, with me being the bossy older sister.  There was no question that I loved them, and we are incredibly close to this day, and we all slept in the same bedroom.  But I was bored, bored, bored so much of the time.  And lonely.  I craved company of my own age.  I did have friends, I did, but it wasn’t as if I could walk over to their house, I had to be driven their either by my mother or by the driver.  It had to be arranged, it couldn’t be spontaneous.  Also, friends would leave, their parents moving to another country, and that was always very sad.  I’ve never got over parting from friends.

I remember complaining about my boredom to my mother and her unruffled response was to tell me that she? She never got bored when she was a child.  Not helpful.  And so I’d invent games like the time I was a farmer … Robin Hood … an air hostess in an aeroplane.  After seeing the film The Sound of Music, I became Maria of course, bursting into song and prancing about.  I’d put classical records on and pretend I was a ballerina. I really enjoyed games at school and was good at all of them and just loved to beat the boys.  I loved going to school because there, finally, was some company for me.  It was called Farm View and there is a facebook page now.  It was a small international English speaking school and I was in my element, loving all subjects from arithmetic to history to painting to English Literature.  And French, of course.  When eventually I went to boarding school in England, I was astonished to discover that I was at least two years ahead of my French class.   But that’s another story, culture shock, stock and barrel.

Also, I enrolled in the Indian dancing lessons, with the lovely anklets that had bells on them.  The headmistress, Mrs Coventry, apparently nearly had a hairy fit when she learned that I was going to be performing an Indian dance as part of the school pantomime that year and was duly impressed to discover that I turned out to be a very graceful dancer.   My mother, bless her, thought I’d find solace in piano lessons and she drove me once a week to the teacher’s house.  We didn’t have a piano at home, so I would practise for half an hour before the actual lesson, which always included a cup of tea and a biscuit.  I enjoyed my lessons, very much.  When I was growing up, tea (the drinking of together with biscuits or a slice a cake or whatever) was an everyday ‘thing’, a precious pause during the day.

What I really enjoyed was reading.  The school had a library and took us to see films (old black-and-white films at that) at the British Council, which also had a library.  Oh the joy of reading!  It was the one thing that salvaged me from the loneliness, the boredom of an otherwise privileged upbringing.  I became a book worm.  I remember repairing to the bathroom to finish reading a book until well into the wee hours, shutting the door so I wouldn’t wake my sisters up with the light. I’d wake up bleary eyed the next morning but oh so satisfied.  My choice of reading was not exactly intellectual.  There was Noddy and fairy tales, the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew but Enid Blyton most of all.  Golly!, how I loved the Famous Five and other adventure stories. One of my teachers, Mrs Chowdury, had gone to university with Enid Blyton’s daughter apparently and I was sooooo impressed.  Daddy used to take me with him to the equivalent of a mall in our neighbourhood, called the D.I.T. Market.  Well, when I say ‘mall’, think small bazaar, really, and a dozen or so shops.  Any excuse to get out of the house and, also, a chance to buy some comics.  At the time there used to be a wonderful American series of comics under the heading “Classics Illustrated”.  They featured adaptations of literary classics such as Les MiserablesMoby DickHamlet, and The Iliad.  Wikipedia says “Recognizing the appeal of early comic books, Russian-born publisher Albert Lewis Kanter (1897–1973) believed he could use the new medium to introduce young and reluctant readers to “great literature”. I well remember The Last of the Mohican, Lorna Doone, many Shakespeare plays, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Last Days of Pompei, Moby Dick, The Three Muskateers.  AbeBooks.com says “We will never know how many youngsters who read Classic Comics and Classics Illustrated are now confirmed bibliophiles with homes full of literature, but we suspect the figure is high.”  Well, they caught me all right.  I can think of nothing sadder than a house without books.

And those books I did read, as well as the comics, were fodder for my imagination and I would often re-enact scenes from them in my make-believe world of play, not unlike the four sisters in Little Women.  Despite the tropical heat and the monsoons, you wouldn’t believe how ‘cold’ it could get in my rendition of Heidi’s mountain idyll.  My mother couldn’t understand why I insisted on amping up the air-conditioning to freezing levels behind her back in our bedroom.  Little did she know.  We only drank powdered milk in Dhaka but to me it was goats milk, of course.  Pollyanna played a pretty important part too.  To this day, I love the film with Hayley Mills, I still have the DVD.  The last time I watched it was probably ten years ago but to me it will never grow old or become outdated.  The punch line: if you go looking for evil in this world, you are sure to find it.

Of all these books and their heroes and heroines, however, it was Jo from Little Women that has accompanied me always.  Something about her spirit, her resolve, her human frailty coupled with her sensitivity and can-do enthusiasm made an indelible mark upon me.  I grew up with two sisters, went to an all-girls boarding school, and at one time had mainly women colleagues when I was working at the UN in Rome … I dearly love women and am a born feminist.  Yet, for all of Jo’s yang personality that I can identify with, it is with Beth that I have one huge trait in common.  I am a home body.  I don’t really crave ‘adventure’ as it were.  I wish all my friends and family could live close by.  And I always did want to marry and have children.  The follow-up book, Jo’s Boys, really touched a chord.  And for years and years I dreamed of opening a small school, where children would be treated with tender, loving, creative care.  And, such are the coincidences in life, I did marry a professor of sorts, just like Jo!  I’m still waiting to launch my inspirational cooking school … we’ll see.

In the end, it was cooking that became a way of life for me.  Cooking became my ‘adventure’.  And that’s how I came across the video recipe for this blog post.

PREPARING THE MEAT LOAF WITH ROSSELLA

It is Sunday and I am having guests to dinner, my favourite cousins and a favourite friend. I went to work the day before, a pasta class at the Minardi Winery, which ended just after 3 p.m.  After which I go to do the shopping and get home just before 5 p.m.   I eat something, whatever I can find in the fridge.  And I start preparing some stuff for the next day.  At 8 p.m. I shower and get dressed and go to a dear friend’s 70th birthday party, quite the bash, at least 60 guests.  By midnight I’m falling off my perch and regretfully leave at around quarter past.  Unheard of for me, I am one of those who ‘could have danced all night’ but not last Saturday.

I go to bed at around 1 a.m. but instead of falling into a deep slumber, end up tossing and turning all night.  I wake up all sleepy and slow and realise that I am going to need help to get through the day.

So I call upon my next door neighbour, Rossella.  Our flats are on the same landing.  We try and have coffee together regularly, the way we used to, but sometimes we don’t see each other for three weeks in a row now.  That’s how life has become for us, for us all, always busy, always in a hurry, strapped for time.

Though not obsessed with cooking the way I am, Rossella is no slouch in the kitchen and is also a tidy cook.  One thing at a time versus my 101 things going on at the same time.  Steady.  She was more than happy to oblige.  I do not mean this in any condescending way whatsoever but … Rossella, like many women whose children have left home and are without a partner or husband, is lonely.  Heck I get lonely and I do have a husband!  Our flat seems so quiet without the children.  Rossella is very capable and has run family clothes shops; her parents’ shop in Rome was the first to bring La Perla lingerie to the capital, it was quite posh.  She and her sister had to close it down a couple of years ago, after a full 80 years of operation.  She was always a working woman.  She keeps herself busy in many ways but … but if you are a home lover (like Beth!) and there is just you in the house … well, it can get veeery quiet.  Very.  Cooking together is soothing.  We spent a good three hours together in the morning, and another nearly two in the late afternoon. Indeed the meatloaf, except for the pastry, is all her doing. Grazie Rossella!

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Upon parting, we decided that we’ll meet once a month, with a few other girlfriends, to cook something new together.

The dinner went very well and, as I said, there were leftovers …

TAILGATING IN ROME ALONG THE TIBER

 

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I can’t remember exactly when we watched the 1994  “Little Women” film, featuring Wynona Ryder and Susan Sarandon etc. on television.  By ‘we’ I mean my daughter, my son and my husband.  Well, my daughter and I fell for it hook, line and sinker and I bought the DVD of course, or perhaps video tape, can’t remember.  And it became a sort of Christmas film-watching staple for us.  “Oh not Little Women again!”, my son her brother would wail.  And she and I would have to watch some appalling action film in revenge. The scene where Beth dies never fails to bring me to tears.  Just like the book, this film is moving without descending into the sludge of soppy.

So … did I fancy going to see the new Little Women film? my daughter asked me.  Sure.  Any excuse to see more of my daughter.  Not so sure I really want to see the film, but so what.  In Nancy Mitford’s “Love in a Cold Climate”, the character of Farve, the heroine’s uncle, is notoriously eccentric in his ways. And not one for conversation either.  Having to endure polite conversation at the dinner table, his hostess kindly enquires of him, in an attempt to break the ice, whether he has read any good book lately.  His retort is no.  He did read a book once.  White Fang.  It was so dashed good he never bothered to read another.

Well … that’s a little how I feel about the 1994 Little Women film.  It was so so very good, why go for a remake?

Anyway.  My daughter works in the centre of Rome (lucky gal) and parking comes at a premium. She finishes at 7 p.m. and the film started at 8 p.m.  There was going to be a bit of walking wherever I ended up parking which meant, which meant, that there wasn’t going to be much time to repair somewhere and get a bite to eat and a glass of wine.  Hmmm.  Head scratching and nose twitching, what to do, what to do?

Picnic.  In the car.  Like they tend to do in Great Britain on account of the weather.

It’s the only thing that would make sense.  I’d bring something for us to eat before the film so we wouldn’t starve.  Favourite daughter agreed.  What she did not know was that I had leftovers from the night before, by way of pastry-encased meatloaf.  She was expecting sandwiches and that sort of stuff.

I packed everything in the boot of the car, getting all eager beaver and into the spirit of things.  After faffing about for a good 15 minutes, my parking angel guided us to a perfect spot on the winding Lungotevere road, along the Tiber.  I just had to laugh.  We both had a good giggle.  We were almost directly opposite the imposing Palazzo Giustizia, St Peter’s lit-up dome just behind us, the Bulgari House with its garish lit-up roof-top palm tree about 100 yards down the road from us, and Piazza Navona also within spitting distance.  Glittering, beautiful, romantic, historic Rome lay all around us.  Just a few hundred yards away, also, was the princely Palazzo Borghese, which hosts the Spanish Embassy residence, where I had once had occasion to dine for a fundraiser.

And here I was tailgating it with my daughter, picnicking in the car.

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That said we had a jolly good dinner.   Please note, we ate inside the car and not in the middle of the road.  We ate off ceramic plates, with proper knives and forks.  We had the meatloaf en croute with a side dish of “broccoletti”.  I brought some ketchup along in case the meat turned out to be too dry (it wasn’t fortunately).  A couple of apples to finish off and, of course!!!, a glass of prosecco.

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Louisa May Alcott would have approved, she would have understood.

 

 

 

 

Meatloaf Disaster

Sheepish in Meatloaf Battle or … Cottage Pie à l’Italienne

I am reposting this because … because disasaters do take place in the kitchen just as elsewhere.  And can sometimes be remedied.  Ha ha.

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This was sunset over Rome less than two weeks ago, the sky lighting up with crazy colours that just beggared to be oooh and aaahed over.  Quite quite stunning, it had me in transports of delight over the wonder that is the world we live in.  I had a glass of wine in my hand and took the time to snap a few photos and then went back to the kitchen to finish off supper, all excited about my novice entry into the world of meatloaf.

I don’t remember ever making meatloaf though I might have many many years ago.  I’ve tried my hands at very many recipes.  Some families are meatloaf loving families — mine obviously was not.  I remember eating meatballs (polpette) as a child, but not meatloaf.  And to be honest, I don’t really recall loving meatloaf much either, when I have eaten it at other people’s houses — the meat always a bit ‘dry’ in the mouth and its consistency trapped in a flurry of indecision (“do I want to be firm or do I want to fall apart?”).  Not until I was served meatloaf at friends of ours last summer, and the texture and taste of this meatloaf was remarkably zestful, tasty and more-ish.  Enquiry revealed that a hint of mortadella was what made it taste so good.

And so I resolved to make one such meatloaf.  How hard could it be? yes?

I don’t want to go into it, my pride just can’t take it.  All I will admit to is … that it was disaster.  It was one of those “what a beautiful catastrophe!” à la Zoraba the Greek.  Take a look for yourselves.

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I started out right …  browning the loaves in the heavy pan, over a soffritto.
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And then things went from bad to worse …

 

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Finally, I could take it no more … and so removed some of the erstwhile meatloaf meat …

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And finished cooking it in a non stick pan.  Basically, I had made a meatloaf frittata!!! oh woe is me!  O me misera!

Thankfully it tasted all right but I am still smarting from the ignominy of it all.  It will be a long time before I attempt another meatloaf!

But of course I still had quite a lot of aspiring meatloaf meat still to be dealt with the following day and I was damned if I was going to go down the meatloaf frittata route again.  So, aha!, a spell of genius came over me.  I would turn that grotty looking meat into something very very heart warming: a cottage pie!  (Shepherd’s Pie is put together from leftover lamb from the Sunday joint, traditionally, and served as a family meal in the week …. whereas Cottage Pie was made with minced beef rather than lamb).

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I put the minced beef  into an oven dish …

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Smothered it in mashed potatoes …

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I garlanded it with a row of tomatoes cut in half.  I dotted chunks of mozzarella all over the place and added some sprigs of rosemary.
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A good drizzle of olive oil (always olive oil) ….

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And in it went into an oven (I presume at 200°C … that’s usually a good temperature) … for about 35-40 minutes.

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What can I say … my culinary face was saved …

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And I have invented a new dish/recipe: Cottage Pie à l’Italienne!
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“What a beautiful catastrophe!”

 

Remember that one? It’s a quote from https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/02/17/what-to-seek-in-zorba-the-greek/

Cooked Cicoria Catalogna – Since When?

Vegetable familes are just like human ones, at times confusing in their variation.  Chicory, or cicoria as it is generally known in Italy can either be cooked or eaten raw.

The very dark green leafy kind has to be cooked, indeed simmered for longer than one would think advisable, and then drained.  Impossible to eat raw.  It’s absolutely one of my favourites, hands down, especially the wild kind.  Here is a link:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2010/11/25/cichorium-intybus/

zed cicoria

Instead, with the kind of chicory that is referred to as “catalogna” or “cicoria asparago” (what on earth has it got to do with asparagus I ask in consternation), tradition has it to eat it raw.  This is where we get the famous ‘puntarelle’ here in Rome.

zed puntarelle

Here is a link, in case you’re interested https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/little-points-big-salad-puntarelle/

I was discussing vegetables in general with Chef Luigi at the Minardi Winery where we work, and he was telling me about a fantastic recipe from Puglia which involved cooking the kind of cicoria that we only eat raw around here, i.e. the puntarelle.  So of course I had a go.  In fact, I had TWO go’s.  Take a look.

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I got rid of the very white stalks on the right.

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I went old school with the garlic,  It’s the done thing nowadays to keep the garlic whole or semi-whole, bashing the bulb around a bit and then removing it after a while.  If you don’t remove the skin, you say that it is left ‘inside its shirt’, i.e. “l’aglio in camicia” in Italian.  Old school means you are not afeared of garlic, of ending up with a ‘rustic’ taste, that was erstwhile fit for peasants sort-of-thing.  Posh people, like Queen Elisabeth, have a problem with garlic.  Vampires from all over the world flock to Italy because of the decrease in use of garlic … ha ha ha, of course not.  Anyway back to the recipe.  As much garlic as you like, some chilli flakes and a big puddle of good quality olive oil.  Make sure the garlic does not burn, it must only turn golden.  And it’s also a good idea to keep the heat low, so that all the yummy stuff in the garlic itself will infuse the olive oil in a gentle way.  Should things get out of hand heat-wise, simply remove the frying pan from the source of heat and carry on cooking without it.

IMG_6255I’ve no idea what this photo is all about.  Maybe to show that the garlic had turned the proper hue?

IMG_6256In go some anchovy fillets, the kind that are either salted or come bottle in jars.  If you hate anchovies, for goodness sakes leave them out.

IMG_6257In goes the cicoria catalogna … over a strong heat I say.  Don’t be shy.

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Quite a lot of liquid will be released.  Normal.  It’s okay.  Let it cook down.IMG_6260It does cook down after a while.

IMG_6261When it is ‘done’, add plenty of freshly grated pecorino cheese.

IMG_6264Simple, hearty and delicious.  Yay kind of delicious.  Who knew?

RECIPE NUMBER TWO

I thought  I would cook sausages that evening.

IMG_6442I cooked the Italian sausages in a frying pan, adding a little bit of red wine and some herbs.  Once cooked, this is what was left behind.  The cicoria catalogna I cooked in a separate saucepan, as shown above.

IMG_6443Ooops and did I forget the pecorino?

IMG_6445IMG_6446No, no … I had not forgotten the pecorino.  But I also added the juices from the sausages.

Anyway … with or without sausage, this was a most welcome new entry into my world of Winter Vegetables.

P.S.  If you’re watching your carbs (you know what I’m getting at … avoiding bread and all that), well … be warned then, don’t say I  didn’t tell you!, this is a most dangerous dish.  It just clamours good crusty bread, begs for it.

Vegetables Va Va Voom

Hello there, how are you all getting over the recent festivities and what usually accompanies them?  You know what I mean – that extra pound or two as we weigh up the situation on the scales, the liver sensibly asking for some respite from tipple-mania, and the body aching to be involved in a modicum of movement and fitness.   Yes, it is very good to overindulge every now and then, to allow our hair to cascade down, to increment the variety of spices in our life and to let two of the Seven Cardinal Sins, gluttony and sloth, out of the moral no-no box in which we justly allocate them the rest of the year.  My mother-in-law Maria’s mental health is  fast degenerating on account of dementia/Alzheimers with all the sadness that that entails for all concerned, not least of which are the ‘missing’ wit and quips in her conversation.  If there were to be just one sentence I would love to hear her utter again then that would be, “Lord save us from the virtuous !”.

That said, one does have to be sensible.  I can’t stand the term ‘detox’ but I’m presuming a large swathe of post-holidays revellers are embracing it full on.

Last Saturday I went to Frascati’s weekly Slow Food (local) farmers’ market as well as to the town’s covered market which is open six days a week, and it was as if I couldn’t get enough of the vegetables on offer.  I went quite beserk, and came home laden like a mule with bags hanging from both shoulders and being carried in both hands.  It’s not a long walk from these markets to where I live but it was quite the haul, I assure you and not very comfortable.  As I took out the vegetables out of the bags, I could see that I had perhaps … ahem … erred on the side of vegetable excess (can’t think of the Cardinal Sins’ name for that one) ?  I made myself some squash soup for lunch and as I went about my way, I fell into a reverie of sorts.

We all know vegetables are healthy and good for us.  But really, I do love love love me veggies – there wasn’t a hint of ‘detox’ notion clouding my purchase – it was sheer lust (another Cardinal sin) that drove me.  Vegetables make me happy, you see.  As does wine.  And so my thoughts flitted about being  vegetarian and vegan in our contemporary times.  Again, I came to the conclusion I’ve had for a while, which is that I am an omnivore with a twist: I am a vegetarian who eats lots of meat, fish and dairy foods.  But I can easily eschew meat or fish at a meal whereas I simply cannot contemplate one without vegetables.  I started writing a post along these lines yesterday but it ‘degenerated’ and got to be so long that I am going to post it separately.

Here, in the meantime, just take a look at all my lovely vegetables from last Saturday’s morning shop.  The exercise included walking and weights so well done I.

6Radishes … mmm.  My sister made a herring based paté to serve with them (it included yogurt, thick Italian spreadable cheese, freshly grated horse radish, lemon juice and zest, parsely and olive oil.  We tweaked the recipe from one of Jamie Oliver’s TV ones that was made using smoked mackerel instead.

1Artichokes are coming into their own season-wise just now.  We had these three beauties for dinner last night, cooked the classic Roman way.  See link below.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/edible-roses-the-seasonally-correct-artichoke-1/

7Spuds.  We got these for our mother.

IMG_6186Thinly cut, lots of olive oil, dried chilli flakes, and salt and pepper.  This is how we cooked them that evening.

4The garlic bulbs  (Italian, from the Abbruzzo region) were for my sister to take back to Blighty.  It’s hard to find good garlic in the UK.  The fennel is still in the fridge, as is the  bunch of spring onions.  That yellow thing is a bergamot.  I’d never seen one before. Smells heavenly.  Tasted the zest and it was overpowering, fwah.  The apple I ate after lunch.  The red pepper: we griddled it and had it for dinner with olive oil, parsely and thin slices of garlic.  Up top in the photo and hard to make out, is some lamb’s lettuce and a small bunch of rocket/arugula.

8These are what we call ‘broccoletti’ in and around Rome.  Broccoli Rabe or Rapini elsewhere.   I’d trimmed them of the bits that are not nice to eat and left them to soak in this cheerful yellow tub.  Later I boiled them in salted water until tender.  Once drained and cooled, they need to be pressed to remove the excess moisture.  They can be served either plain, with just a squirt of lemon juice and olive oil (which is how we enjoyed them).  Or else, they can be cooked a second time in a frying pan, tossed about and coated in olive oil, garlic and chilli flakes.  Here’s a link to a quick pasta recipe using broccoletti:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/hurry-up-pasta/

10This is what we call cicoria – pronounced chee-corr-eee-ah in English.

11It’s a bit of a labour of love trimming cicoria.  It too needs soaking in plenty of water before cooking.  There is always some soil attached to it that needs removing.

The link below will show you what I did with this cicoria, after boiling it first.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2010/11/25/cichorium-intybus/

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The above vegetable is “Cicoria catalogna”, another variety of cicoria.  During this time of year, this veggie gets trimmed and turned into a beautiful salad.  We call this “puntarelle”  here.  The dressing includes the ubiquitous olive oil, plus garlic, vinegar and anchovy fillets.  Quote from wikipedia: Puntarelle or cicoria di catalogna or cicoria asparago is a variant of chicory. The heads are characterized by an elongated shape (about 40–50 cm), light green stems and dandelion shaped leaves. ‘Puntarelle’ shoots have a pleasantly bitter taste.

Our Christmas Eve wouldn’t be the same without them.  Anyway, see a link on how to prepare them:

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

2This broccolo romano is still in the fridge.

3Ditto this cabbage.

12And last and definitely not least, here is some of othe squash I used to make myself some soup as already mentioned.

Here is wishing you all a happy vegetable-filled year.

Beloved Blini – Home Made!

It’s that time of year, festivities, end of calendar year.  And one way to celebrate is to make Blini.  By the time you read this it will probably be too late for you to make any in time for dinner tonight (and that’s if you’re staying in) but who knows? Maybe next year?

Next year is not only a new year, it is also a new decade.  May this decade bring peace, prosperity, emotional healing as well as good health, comfort and cheer, warm relationships and lots and lots of fun for everyone.

INGREDIENTS

100g – Buckwheat flour

200g – 00 Flour (with pinch of salt BUT add the salt later, when it has rested for 1 hour)

300ml milk with pinch of sugar in it

200 yogurt or sourcream

4 eggs – separate egg yolks from egg whites

Yeast: half a cube of fresh brewer’s yeast, about 12.5g

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GETTING STARTED

Warm the milk until it just about reaches boiling point, take it off the heat and then add the yeast. Whisk so that it dissolves in the milk.

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Below you will see the yogurt in one bowl, on the left, with the milk with the dissolved yeast in a pan on the right.  Top left, the bowl with the two flours and four egg yolks in it. Top right are the four egg whites.

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Start by adding the yogurt to the milk pan.

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And now you can pour this mixture into the bowl and use a whisk or a wooden spoon to combine all the ingredients.  You could, if you preferred, beat the egg yolks separately and include them in the wet ingredients.  You choose.

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Cover with a tea towel for about an hour.

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This is what it looks like after about one hour.

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Whisk the four egg whites.

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Add the beaten egg whites to the blini batter.

IMG_6008Add the salt only NOW.  If you add the salt too soon, it will hinder the raising agent work of the yeast.  Again, cover with a tea towel and let it rest for one hour, better two.

IMG_6009And here it is now … all light and fluffy and waiting to be cooked.

IMG_6010Melt a small amount of butter in a frying pan, maybe a non-stick one would be a good idea.  When the blini start to ‘bubble’ on the surface, turn them over.  It doesn’t take long to gook the blini.  They’re just lke pancakes after all.

IMG_6011IMG_6014They are very nice served with sour cream and smoked salmon.

IMG_6015Shame I can’t get fresh dill around here.  Aw well, never mind.  I used a bit of dried dill instead.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE !!!