Pasta Camilla: Courgette Advice and All Things Nice

We have “Pasta Alfredo”, I said to myself, so why can’t we have a “Pasta Camilla” (named after my favourite daughter …. and yes, I do have a favourite son too.  I’m so lucky that way) ?

When life deals you lemons they say you should make lemonade, hmmm.  Well, as it happened,  the other day,  I had a market shop and cooking class in Rome which saw me take the 7:30 train from Frascati to Rome and return at after 4 p.m.  My obliging husband came to pick me up the the last metro station closest to Frascati and reminded me that we had guests for dinner that evening, to celebrate our daughter Camilla’s birthday (one of several celebrations this past week).  I had completely forgotten and my initial reaction was one of dismay.  I was tired, and when I say ‘tired’ I mean really really tired.  The idea of having to cook for guests that evening presented me with a huge hospitality hiccough – and let’s not forget that I had to go and do some shopping for it too!  You get the picture.

Anyway … there is always some alchemical magic when it comes to cooking for people you love.  I wanted to cook something easy and special at the same time.  We ended up having the nicest of evenings.  And this was the pasta result.  We all loved it and, if you omit the sausage, it can also be vegetarian.  Omit the cheese and it’s vegan.

This is one of those recipes that are almost easier to make than to describe.  Try it, you won’t be disappointed.

Ingredients

Courgettes (think at least 1 per person), garlic, extra virgin olive oil, Italian sausages, skinned (I used 2), freshly grated parmigiano, fresh  mint and basil

PART 1 – Cooking One Half the Courgettes

PART 2 – Preparing the Courgette Sauce

PART 3 –  Cooking the other Half of the Courgettes

PART 4 – Bringing it all together

Here we go:

PART 1 – Cooking One Half the Courgettes

1

The courgettes/zucchini on the left, two skinned Italian sausages on the right which I proceeded to roughly chop.2While the chopping of the sausage and the slicing of the courgettes was going on, I cooked a couple of garlic cloves in a puddle of olive oil.  I tilted the pan at one point, so that the cloves and the oil coverged into a ‘corner’ of the saucepan – that way the garlic cooked faster and better and I was able to control the cookingiand make sure the garlic did not go brown, only golden.

3

It was then that I added the sliced courgettes.  Sprinkled salt over them. (Notice that the courgettes are sliced rather thickly.  There’s a reason for that.  Read on.)

4

Once they were cooked, I transferred them to a bowl and set them aside.

PART 2 – Preparing the Courgette Sauce

5

I cooked the sausage meat in the same saucepan.  I have a big wooden ‘fork’ – this is excellent for breaking up sausage meat, which is a bit ‘sticky’ at first and wants to clump together.

IMG_3141

If you don’t own a wooden fork, you can use the tip of a whisk to break up the sausage meat – works wonders, you’d be surprised.  I learnt this tip just recently from my friend Chef Luigi Brunamonti.  He does this to break up the meat when making a ragù.

Remember the courgettes I had cooked previously?

6

I added a little water (about half a glass I suppose) to the bowl.

7

And then I processed them with an immersion blender.8

I added the processed courgettes to the cooked sausages.  Switch the heat off and set aside for now.  Lovely bright green colour, don’t you think.

PART 3 –  Cooking the other Half of the Courgettes

9

Please notice that I sliced these courgettes a lot thinner than the previous batch.  These are not going to be blended once cooked, that’s the reason why.

10

Another saucepan.  Extra virgin olive oil, again, in the saucepan.

12

Cook them for a little bit over quite a high heat.  Sprinkle salt over them.

11

Then lower the heat and finish cooking them with a lid on.  Just for a few minutes, and do take the lid off now and then to keep an eye on them.

12a

I had a few courgette blossoms and shredded them a little and added them to the cooked slices of courgette.  Add salt and set aside.

While all this was going on, I had put the pasta water onto the boil and was cooking the pasta:

13

All I had to hand is a type of pasta known as “paccheri” (pronounced pack-kerr-ee in English) which are actually not the easiest of pasta shapes to cook.

PART 4 – Bringing it all together

14I transferred the cooked pasta (well, it was slightly undercooked at this point) directly into the saucepan with the courgette and sausage sauce.

15The heat was on, and I kept adding a ladle of the pasta water to the mix, and tossing and/or stirring the pasta with the wooden spoon, until it was indeed cooked to a texture we call “al dente” in Italian.

16Now was the time to add the courgette slices.

17I switched the heat off.  And added basil and mint – just roughly torn with my fingers.

18A good grating of parmigiano (parmesan cheese).

19A twist of pepper, if you fancy it.

20And … job done! Ready to be served and gobbled up.

No one took a photo of the pasta served on the plate.  Sorry about that.  But I reckon you can get an idea of how delicious it was?  Courgettes aren’t the tastiest of vegetables, let’s face it, but they can be tarted up beautifully like this and deliver a deep gustatory satisfaction.

Let’s hear it for Pasta Camilla !!!

Asparagus and Courgette Risotto for Belinda

 

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

101

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

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

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

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

Okay on with the recipe now.

INGREDIENTS:

IMG_2832

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

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

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

IMG_2833

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

IMG_2834

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

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

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

IMG_2837I coated them with olive oil.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

img_2846.jpgThank you for inspiring me Belinda!

Pasta on the Beach: Courgette Concert

IMG_9184

My husband and I decided to spend a day on the beach at Porto Ercole. It’s on Tuscany’s Monte Argentario coast.  That’s what I like about living near Rome, we’re never too far away from a really nice beach.

IMG_9183

 

 

Lovely clear, clean water and – for a wimpy wuss like me who can’t bathe in normal ‘cool’ water – there was the added advantage of the temperature being warm enough for me.

IMG_9178

 

This was late August, and the beach still quite busy.  But not overcrowded as beaches tend to be in many parts of Italy during the June-September holiday season.

A few days before, at work in the kitchen at the Casale Minardi wine estate, I watched as chef Luigi went about making a very simple pasta dish.  Hmmm.  Simple but delicious, so I just had to try it out for myself.

INGREDIENTS: courgettes/zucchine, olive oil, an onion, some pork jowl (guanciale) – I suppose pancetta or bacon would do, lemon zest, grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, almonds.  P.S.  Remove the guanciale and this is easily a vegetarian recipe.

 

3

 

I snapped the courgette blossoms off and placed them in a bowl of fairly warm but not hot water.  By the way, if you can’t find courgette blossoms, this pasta will still taste good.  And, as a piece of perhaps not very vital information, I can also tell you that these were female flowers.  The male flowers have a little stem to them.

4I removed the flowers after about 15 minutes and left them to dry out for a bit.  Notice how they have plumped out by a good soak in the water. Set aside.

Chop up some almonds.  You could toast them first if you liked.  I couldn’t be bothered. Set aside.

7Grate some pecorino cheese.  If you can’t find pecorino, parmesan will do very nicely.  Set aside.

Get a packet of pasta ready.  Set aside.

Slice some guanciale very thinly, set aside.

Enough with all this setting aside!  Time to get cooking.

Put the water onto boil.

8

Roughly chop an onion and cook it with some olive oil.  It must not brown, okay?  Low and steady heat.  Go for a blond colour.

9Now add the slices of guanciale.

10Give the guanciale enough time to render its fat and then add the courgettes.

11Cook the courgettes until you are happy with their texture and now add some lemon zest – in slices, not cut up finely.  Because you will remove the lemon zest before serving the pasta.  If you are a lemon zest fiend, as Luigi the chef most definitely is, you could chop it very very finely and leave it in.

12Time to add the almonds.  Combine the ingredients.

13Tear the courgette blossoms and add them too.

14Mix them in and turn the heat off until you are ready to drain the pasta directly into the saucepan.  Next time, I would add the blossoms last.

15Here we go.

Turn the heat on and add some of the cooking water.  Finish cooking the pasta. Then take the saucepan away from the source of heat.

16Add some of the pecorino and mix it in.

17Taste.

18Add some more.  Taste.

19Add a little bit more cooking water if necessary.  And yes, it was necessary.  It helped to make everything come together.

Remove the lemon zest and serve.  Keep some for leftovers.

20Enjoy some the next day on the beach – an essential secret ingredient for this recipe.

 

Stuffed Courgettes/Zucchine Ripiene Baked in the Oven

“Zucchine ripiene”, Italian for “stuffed courgettes”, is such a commonplace Summery dish around these parts that butchers sell them already prepared for you – all you have to do is cook them.  I wrote a post about them a while ago (six years ago! – here’s the link: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/stuffed-courgettes-zucchine-ripiene/ ).  In that post, I showed how I did the stuffing myself.  This time, I had bought the ready-to-go courgettes from the butcher’s.  That time, I cooked them in a saucepan … THIS time, I decided to bake them in the oven.

In my last post, I confessed to my not being the best of gardeners, not even when it comes to herbs and the balcony.  Except for basil and marjoram, and this year rosemary too thank Goodness, I find that some of the herbs can be a bit on the ‘precious’ side (not tarragon, bless it).  There is, however, ONE very Roman exception-herb that is wholeheartedly generous, so generous indeed that it just ‘sprouts’ and grows on its own, without the slightest bit of help from anyone: and that is the “mentuccia romana” or “pennyroyal” as it is called in English.  Hands up anyone who’s even heard of pennyroyal, let alone used it.  Right?  Right …

3

Here it is, playing peekaboo from the bottom of a flower pot.

11

And here is another one … just like Topsy, the character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, who claimed that she did not know where she came from, she “just grewed”.

Mentuccia is very often the preferred herb in Rome for stuffing artichokes.  Some prefer parsely – some a mix of the two.  I have added a bit of mentuccia to a tomato sauce for a pasta dish.  A little goes a long way, it is quite potent.  That day, I was feeling very daring, and decided to depart on two accounts from the traditional way of cooking stuffed courgettes.  A) I would add mentuccia and B) I would bake them in the oven, instead of braising them on the cooker/stove top.  I am such a rebel … a pennyroyal iconoclast.

4

Just a splash of olive oil and then a few sprigs of mentuccia.

5

In go the stuffed courgettes and a layer of cut up tomatoes. Salt too.

61.jpgAnd now … bake in a preheated oven at around 200°C for 50 minutes or until done.

8Forgot to mention that I baked them with the lid ‘on’.  If you haven’t got a lid you could always use aluminium foil.

10Very easy to make.  And the mentuccia did indeed add a little bit of ooomph.

Warning: this dish needs to be served with plenty of  bread to soak up all the lovely sauce.  A glass of wine … or two … to keep the conviviality going.

Merry May Fettuccine with Spring Greens

One can only imagine with what a hurrah! welcome! the arrival of Spring would have been greeted generations ago – not only because it heralded warmer temperatures but also because there would be an increase in the variety of food one could eat.  A bit of novelty for the poor ol’ palate.

We all take fridges and freezers for granted, don’t we, as well as the transportation of food across countries and continents.  Can you imagine having to do with just salted or brined fare for months on end? Doesn’t bear thinking about.  So I expect that the sense of gastronomic expectation previous generations had with the break of Winter lingers on still, even though we live in an age where formerly summer-only crops are available all year round now (think tomatoes, salads, aubergines, courgettes etc).

Where I live in Italy, within spitting distance of Rome, it is only artichokes, peas and broad beans (fava beans in American English) that are not available all year round, properly ‘seasonal’ I mean.  They are ingredients that are all about Spring, and rebirth and regeneration.  For the rest, one can find nearly all the other vegetables in stalls and supermarkets, and these veggies are either grown in greenhouses or imported (green beans from Morocco for instance).  One of the reasons I began boycotting supermarkets was when I read the label on the provenance of lemons one day.  Italy is bursting with lemons and yet these were imported from Argentina! Nearly all the garlic to be found in Italy hails from Spain, again a conundrum for me since I am sure that garlic can grow extremely well on this peninsula.  And one final moan: tomatoes (tasteless ones at that) from Holland.  Seriously … I am not against the export/import of foods as such, so that’s not it.  But surely it doesn’t make sense to import food(s) that one can grow perfectly well in one’s own country?

Enough of this rambling, and on with the recipe.  The point I wish to underscore is that fresh, seasonal vegetables are an absolute delight and inspire one to treasure their transient presence at our table.  They are there to remind us to be grateful for variety.

I was also inspired by having favourite son visiting us for the weekend.  As it happened, my husband could not join us for the Sunday lunch but I thought I would make a ‘special’ pasta anyway for our two kids (we also have a favourite daughter).  I decided that ‘fresh’ had to be the theme, and that included my making my own fettuccine.  Home-made pasta is a treat and not difficult to make (basically 100g of flour per egg per person).

INGREDIENTS FOR THE PASTA SAUCE

Courgettes, asparagus, broad beans, tomatoes, guanciale/pork jowl (pancetta or Italian sausage or even a little bit of bacon will do if you can’t get the pork jowl), peas (I used frozen because that’s all I had) fresh rosemary, basil, marjoram and mint, lemon zest, parmigiano (parmesan cheese) and pecorino cheese.

The tip I would like to point out today is to create a sort of ‘broth’ in which to cook the pasta.  If you season the cooking water this way, the final pasta will take on an especially tasty flavour.

I did not, as is my wont, take a photo of every single step as I cooked but I am sure it won’t be a problem for you.  The procedure for this pasta sauce is far from problematic.  True, there are a number of steps and ingredients involved, yes there are, but any care or difficulty is to be gleefully thrown to the wind!  Winter is over, let’s hear it for Spring!

Ready?

Cut the asparagus about an inch or slightly more below the tip.  Then slice the tips into two or three or even four parts and set aside.  Use what is left of the usable asparagus to make up the broth.  I cut up these stems into smaller pieces because that will make it easier to process the broth at a later stage.

1Place the asparagus inside the pasta pan.  Cover with water but don’t put the whole amount of water you would normally use to cook the pasta – only about half the amount.  This will make it easier for you to process the asparagus once they are cooked.  And do add a little salt too.

2

When the asparagus are cooked, use a hand held immersion blender and process them into a broth.  Now add extra water.

3

Also add a sprig of rosemary – this will also impart a nice flavour to the asparagus ‘broth’ in which to cook the pasta.4I got favourite son to shell the broad beans for me.  I had simmered them for less than 10 minutes.

5And here they are stripped of their outer skin.  Set aside.

6Do you know what this is? I hadn’t known.  It’s fresh garlic.  My first time.  If you can’t find fresh garlic I expect that an onion would be a good substitute for this recipe (rather than ordinary garlic).

7

Chop up the fresh garlic – not all of it mayble, just enough to smarten the dish up with.

8And now it’s time to get serious.  Put the pasta broth on the boil and add extra salt when it starts simmering.  Also, pour some olive oil into a large saucepan and add some thinly sliced guanciale (again – pancetta or bacon or Italian sausage will do if you can’t find guanciale/pork jowl). Gently cook the guanciale.

9Start by adding the garlic  and cook for about two minutes …

10Now courgettes sliced into happy discs …

11Next come the slices of asparagus tips.

12And now a smattering of peas (frozen is all I had), two small quartered tomatoes and the broad beans.  Time to sprinkle some salt.

13Marjoram and basil go into the pan too.

14Toss the vegetables about gently as they cook and become acquainted with one another. At this point add a ladleful of the asparagus  broth.

15Also add a teaspoon or a wee bit more of butter.

16Add the smallest amount of lemon zest (put more in if you like – I don’t like too much of the stuff in my cooking, just enough to give the dish a little lift without overwhelming with its citrusy clout).

17When you think the veggies are nicely cooked and ready to receive their royal highnesses the fettuccine … lower the latter into the simmering and salted asparagus broth.  It won’t take long for fresh pasta to cook.

18Drain the pasta directly into the saucepan with the veggies.  Add a bit more asparagus broth.

19Now is the time to sprinkle a little grated parmigiano (parmesan cheese) into the mix and combine till the cheese is totally blended with the sauce.

20

When plating up, add a few  mint leaves on top of the pasta.

21Final touch: sprinkle grated pecorino cheese and serve.

And, naturally, enjoy!!!

P.S. Frank Fariello has recently written a post on a very similar dish.  Great minds think alike ! http://memoriediangelina.com/2018/05/11/fusilli-primavera/

A Searing Saga – Part 1

This is a Part 1 of a Part 2 Story Searing Meat story.  The technique mentioned in this part relies on searning the meat first and foremost.

Cousin Arthur on my husband’s side of the family (not a first cousin but that’s all I am able to explain since I can never figure out how many steps are removed, meaning that the ‘removing’ mechanism of kinship completely baffles me) runs an Italian restaurant in the Highlands in North Carolina called Paoletti’s (http://paolettis.com/).  It serves a regional Italian-food menu and boasts one of the ‘deepest wine cellars in the Southeast’. It has been in business for 32 years so that must surely say something about its quality.

We first met Arthur and his wife Meg about eight years ago and were very much looking forward to seeing them again last month.  They were on a road trip that began in northern Italy, visiting various wine estates in Piedmont and Tuscany on their way to Rome. And with them were three members of the kitchen staff.   I met with the boys in Rome and gave them a whirlwind unlikely tour of the city which went something like this.  We ‘did’ the church of Santa Sabina, the Orange Garden (Parco Savelli), the peeking through the key-hole, driving around the Aventine a little (well, we were able to see the Circus Maximus, the back end of the Roman Forum, the fleetest of glimpses of the Arch of Constantine, blink-and-you-miss-it Colosseum, the Baths of Caracalla, the Church of S. Saba and Rome’s only pyramid).  It was now time to visit the market at Testaccio and take a look at some food. And eat some food too, naturally.

And as we planned our menu for the next evening, Arthur developed a yen for Chianina. We went to the Sartor butcher’s who told us that unfortunately they were out of Chianina that day but that there was a lovely cut of fassona meat from Piedmont that would  make a marvellous substitute.

00

I think it’s that big cut of meat on the left of this photo, in the background.

Anyway, we bought a good sized steak and all kinds of vegetables and even some fresh anchovies to round off tomorrow’s meal.  And got on with the rest of the tour.

0.JPGHere are the boys, in order from the left: Julio, Vijay, Arthur and Danny.  We went to see the Via Appia Antica, we walked through the Ghetto, and onto Campo de’ Fiori, and stopped for coffee and ice cream and shopping and, at my insistence, a sampling of the supplì in Via del Pellegrino.  Aperitivo hour was upon us and we chose to enjoy one sitting outside in Piazza Farnese.  Ciao ciao! see you tomorrow.

I managed to find some Chianina here in Frascati the next morning and all was well in our world.  Now began the fun. Ha!  1Danny got the job of shelling the broadbeans/fava beans.  I had pre-prepared (does that word exist? – the concept makes sense to me) a duck ragu that required further chopping. Only there wasn’t any room in the kitchen and so the boys had to make do with the balcony.  Vijay was somewhat bemused that I should hand him some scissors in order to chop it up the duck ragu, instead of a knife, but it was just like water off a duck’s back to him.

3aArthur, meanwhile, supervised the pouring of wine (they brought along some marvellous Felsina bottles, oh lucky us!, including their bubbly metodo classico) and here he is making the dressing for the puntarelle salad as he contemplates the meat.  I made sure that the meat was at room temperature.

2The evening was getting very jolly by now, our other guests had arrived, and here we are at the point where the batter is ready and Vijay is stuffing the courgette/zucchine blossoms.

aliceEnrico, my brother-in-law, butterflied the anchovies and fried them ‘alla romana’, with just beaten egg and flour.

3And here, dear Reader, you may get an idea of just how ‘big’ my kitchen is! As you can see, it will accommodate no more than two people comfortably.  But sometimes comfort has to be forfeited when it comes to cooking.  That’s why any poor home cook requires copious refills of their wine glass and seeks comfort in philosophy.  How else can one micro-manage or cope? This is Enrico at the stove.

4

Enrico is an expert griller and we discussed how we were going to deal with grilling the meat without a grill !  I don’t have one.  And here is how we did it.  We seared the two steaks as much as we could on a cast-iron thingummy jig (what IS the name of that cooking utensil in the photo?) and realised that we would have to finish them off for a few minutes in the oven.  At 150°C I seem to remember.

IMG_4106

5The only distracting irritation was the smoke … the steaks released a lot of fat and so we used some of that as condiment over slices of bread.  It used to be called ‘panuntella’ here in Frascati, except the meat in question was pork and not beef.6All things considered, the meat turned out remarkably well … and all I can say is that there wasn’t any left over.

IMG_4115

wines

And here are the empty bottles of wine the following day.  I want to take this opportunity to once more thank Arthur, his trio of chefs and Enrico for making it such fun for all of us that evening.  We were quite the motley crew and there was much jest and rejoicing. I think I should get kudos too for not being too flustered about cooking with five chefs (Enrico just recently re-opened the Cantina Colonna restaurant in Marino).

And so all is well that ends well … we managed to sear and then cook the steaks on the stove top and then in the oven (i.e. without a grill), end of story.

Until, a few days later, I come across an article about a technique called “reverse sear”.

I will tell you all about it in the Part 2 of this searing saga.

Basic Cooking Class Italian Style – A Bit of Boot Camp Never Hurt

Kindness is timeless.

0

You know the cooking experience is going to go well when you are offered a beautiful orchid plant even before starting the lesson!  The story may be apocryphal but I had read that in China it was customary for an audience to clap before the show took place, maybe to clear the air of any unwanted negative energy or, on the contrary, to imbue the air with positive vibrations emanating from the clapping itself.  I was just so touched by the attitude of gratitude that my two fellow kitchen ‘combatants’ showed me with their floral offering and their smiles.

2a

The venue was the home of Victoria Bonadonna and her very generous and thoroughly organized kitchen space.

IMG_1062 - Copia.JPG

I don’t like the kitchen spaces used for formal cookery lessons; highly technical, ergonomic and hygienic in the extreme, and thus practical for understandably obvious reasons, they lack any ‘real home’ element to them – it’s like being in a gymn as opposed to walking in a park or swimming in the sea. Victoria’s is no huge kitchen and is proof that size does not matter immeasurably when it comes to putting good food on the table.  Victoria does, however, boast many and necessary accoutrements for making the cooking process a smooth one, the helpful kitchen gadgets or ‘toys’ as I call them:  precision electronic scales, knives, immersion blender, electric whisk/beater and plenty of pots and pans of all sizes.  Victoria has plenty more kitchen trinkets but these are the ones that really matter. Oh, and scissors ! Scissors can save the day.

And Victoria is, and very much so, organised.  I think that that is one of the ‘ingredients’ that doesn’t get enuogh mention when it comes to realistic, do-able, enjoyable cooking. Mental clarity and organization are everything.  So it is better to start learning a few simple techniques and tips first and play around with those until they are under your belt, and then brave recipes that require a lot more skill.  And this is precisely why I love Italian cookery: the techniques are so easy, anyone can learn them.  Good meals can be prepared in very little time.  Since time management, as we know, is something of a challenge for so many of us, this is an immense boon.

2

Victoria is the mother of two and an accomplished home cook.  Moreover, she can bake whereas I do so with hesitant trepidation.  And she can barbecue too – which I cannot because we live in an apartment and don’t have a garden.  Victoria is privy to an award-winning barbecue recipe that her cousin in Missouri shared with her; she gave me some tips for spare ribs that I then made for my nephew who loves them and, though roasted in an oven as opposed to a proper barbecue, boy!  Boy were they good!.

233.jpg

 

Victoria’s lifestyle is typical of many women raising kids: an early wake-up, breakfast for the kids, drive them to two different schools, pick them up at lunch time (in Italy school kids finish their day at around 1 o’clock after a certain age), make them lunch, make sure they get started on their homework, take them to various sports or activities in the afternoon, and then – of course- make them dinner.  In other words, she is busy.  Busy all day.  In and out of the car at regular daily intervals.  Oh and did I mention that she runs the Culture Club of the Castelli as well as the Castelli Welcome Neighbour Association?

Christine (below) is a mother to be and about to return to her native Napa after spending nearly two years in Italy on account of her husband’s work.  She likes to cook too and was keen to learn more about a few simple, easy to make Italian recipes, for weekday meals.  So Victoria and I conspired to organize an Italian Bootcamp Cooking Basics for her day before yesterday.  The appointed time was 10 a.m. and it had to be over by 4 p.m.  I did most of the shopping the day before but bought some fresh vegetables first thing in that morning.

4

Here we are, the car unloaded and we are about to begin.

5

Below is the list of what we prepared together. At the end of this post, I put up some links to most of the recipes we cooked that I have blogged about.

LIST OF RECIPES

(1) Chicken stock – which we used to make (2 ) Chicken Corn soup (admittedly not an Italian recipe) and (3) Egg Drop Soup (stracciatella).  We also made (4) Salad soup.

6

(5) We prepared the easiest of tomato sauces – Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce using just a can of plum tomatoes, an onion and plenty of butter.  We used this sauce to make (6) riso al pomodoro (rice in tomato sauce) and to cook (7) meatballs in what was left of it.  It would make a delicious sauce for pasta too (8), all one would need is add some freshly grated parmesan.  So just think about this: one tomato sauce and three recipes as a result!

11.JPG

We prepared previously cooked, shop bought (9) borlotti beans with the rind of pancetta and some tomato paste squeezed out of a tube (we had used the pancetta for the salad soup).  We made (10) pasta e ceci (pasta and chickpea/garbanzo thick soup).  Using my special quick-and-easy technique, one could also make pasta e fagioli, pasta with beans soup, it would be the same procedure.

Pasta dishes:  (11) pasta with broccoli and sausage and (12) spaghetti with garlic, oil and chilli flakes.

16

26.JPG

The broccoli and sausage pasta (11) is on the upper left of this photo, next to the carrots.

We  made (13) polpette – meatballs – from scratch and cooked them in the tomato sauce with the addition of peas.  We used thinly sliced chicken breasts to make (14) chicken with ginger (my own recipe) and (15) chicken with oranges.

17

We blanched spinach to make (16) spinaci alla romana.  We cooked (17) broccoletti in the oven with olive oil, lemon zest and a dusting of parmiggiano  (parmesan).  We made (18) mashed potatoes the Italian way (with the addition of parmesan and nutmeg).  We also made (19) a pepper stew – peperonata – even though this is not the best seasons for capsicum.  We also sliced some carrots (20) and cooked them down with butter and water.

IMG_3378.JPG

We made a very unscientific batter (21) and fried (22) artichokes and (23) courgette/zucchini flowers.

And this marked the end of the savoury dishes.

24a

Last we made a (24) jam tart (crostata) with wild cherry jam.  When I say ‘we’, I actually made Victoria make it – I know she likes getting her fingers stuck in the job when it comes to baking.   Thank goodness for a stand mixer … I was giving her instructions all backwards, and told her to put the flour in first, instead of the butter.  Ah well, kitchen catastrophes do take place and we have to understand that that is ‘normal’ too, and that we have to find remedies for them.  A good sense of humour and a glass of wine can be very helpful.

24

The sour cherry crostata, just out of the oven.

25

Victoria, on the left, is holding the crema pasticcera (baker’s custard).

So … all in all …. 25 recipes.  Not bad.  And every single one very easy to make and execute (except for the frying maybe). The whole experience was coloured by banter, joking, exchanging stories and all those conversations that are so good for bonding.  When I got home, a little on the exhausted side physically, but ‘high’ emotionally, I came across an article which just spoke out to me, as if  to pat me on the back as it were – me and all the wonderful ‘ordinary’ people people, not celebrity chefs or ‘slebs’ as Gareth Jones used to call them, ordinary people both male and female, young and old, who understand that cooking is NOT, or at least need not be, a chore.  It  was an interview with  Jules Blaine Davis in which she mentions how her mother admonished her  for relying on take-away/take-out foods so heavily.  Her mother told her in no uncertain terms:

“We need to make the kitchen a place where you can BE, not a place where there are things you have to DO.”

Well … thank you Christine and Victoria.  We certainly did a lot of both ‘doing’ and ‘being’.

30

If you are interested in trying some of the recipes above, for which I have written a blog post, you will find the links below.

Recipe for a mixed meat stock/broth: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/taking-stock-over-making-stock-olivers-brodo/

Lettuce soup: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/soup-series-salad-soup/

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

Pasta e fagioli soup: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/good-golly-pasta-e-fagioli/

Spaghetti with garlic, oil, chilli, pecorino and mint: https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2015/08/29/dracula-style-spaghetti-with-garlic-mint-and-pecorino/

Pasta with broccoli and anchovy and pecorino sauce: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/green-technique-and-sicilian-broccoli-pasta/

Pasta with broccoli and sausage: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/pasta-with-broccoli-and-sausage-pasta-broccoli-e-salsiccia/

Chicken with orange: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/the-doleful-door-stop/

Meatballs with peas in a tomato sauce: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/meatballs-with-peas-polpette-con-piselli/

Mashed potatoes the Italian way: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/the-comfort-of-a-spud-il-pure-di-patate-mashed-potatoes-italian-style/

Spinaci alla romana (they are mentioned towards the end of the post): https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/going-tuscan-for-st-valentines-peposo-cannellini-and-spinach/

Batter for frying: the ‘unscientific’ recipe we used in our cooking class was the following: 2 serving spoons of ordinary flour plus one of corn starch; repeat until you think you have the desired amount (we did it 4 times).  Add one egg.  Add one spoon of vodka or grappa.  Add one tablespoon of olive oil.  Allow to rest for at least 20 minutes in the fridge. The following link is another way to make batter: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/my-favourite-batter-for-courgette-blossoms/

Recipe for crostata pastry (pie crust): 300g sifted flour, pinch of salt, 3 egg yolks, 1 whole egg, 150g sugar, 150g butter at room temperature, finely grated lemon zest.

Baker’s custard (crema pasticcera) https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/05/15/bakers-custard-crema-pasticcera/

And the flowers are just so beautiful.  Again, thank you.

31-2