Squid-Ring Cous Cous and Sunday Lunch

So a week ago last Sunday, we … well I … cooked lunch for us (my husband and me) and his parents.  Lunch is a big thing still in Italy, especially among their generation and especially on a Sunday.  Il pranzo della domenica … Sunday lunch.  It’s tradition, it’s heritage, it’s culture, it’s what’s important as far as meals go.  Food fads come and go but this one has not lost its popularity in terms of family meals.

I too think that a luncheon can be a delightful event but only if it is special in some way, otherwise I much prefer dinner.  Lunch for me is the time of day I feel a bit hungry and need to feed myself.  A very basic biological need that needs to be met, nothing cultural about it.   I tend to eat something left over from the day before or else cobble together whatever I find in the store cupboard or fridge.  I ‘feed myself’ as opposed to ‘dine’, if you catch my drift.  I am one of those who can easily be reading a book while munching on lunch.  Dinner, supper, whatever you want to call it, is something else. To me it marks the time of day that has to be celebrated whatever else happened during the day, good or not so good.  And that’s when I’ll have a glass of wine, or two, or three.  I can’t drink at lunch, instead, not even one glass, it makes me very sleepy.  In the evenings I seem to tolerate it very well and sooner or later, it’s bed time anyway.  Another reason I tend to look askance at cooking a lunch is that: well, one has to get up early.  Who wants to get up early on a Sunday?  And the last reason is that I like to sip some wine while cooking but I can’t sip wine in the mornings and it would seem that coffee just doesn’t have the same effect on the cook in me as wine does.   So, I have given you three good reasons why dinner is preferable in my world to lunch.  That said, there is magic to a Sunday lunch despite it all.  And that’s because it’s all about the people.  The why we sit at the same table to eat.  The meaning of sharing food and conversation.

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Last Sunday I decided to go for fish.

2I prefer to cook in my own kitchen but finish off the dishes at the Nonni’s flat.  What you see is what we brought over to theirs.   Let’s take a look at the menu.

For starters I opted for everyone’s favourite this time of year: courgette blossoms stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy fillets and fried in batter.

5Clams for the pasta course: spaghetti alle vongole.

6Vegetable side dish (contorno) number one: asparagus, served simply with olive oil and lemon juice.

7Contorno number two: plain boiled potatoes seasoned with olive oil and chives.  Salt and pepper too, of course.

8Main course, boiled fish.  No parsley sauce this time but home-made mayonnaise instead.  The fish on the plate is seabream (orata) and salmon.  The presentation looked prettier in real life when I brought it to the table with sprigs of parsley and the purple flowers of chives.

9And this is the recipe du jour, the recipe for today’s post.  Let me explain.  I was going to serve fried squid rings (calamari) together with the courgette blossoms as a starter.  But time was running out and I took a short cut.  I brought the cous cous to life using the fish stock I drew from simmering the fish.  And I simply cooked the calamari rings on the griddle, coated in olive oil.  I seem to remember a good squeeze of lemon juice to add some panache.  The friendly parsley and voilà: a dish is born ta da!  It just goes to show that being a teensy bit lazy can prove fruitful at times.  Had it been the evening, I would never have faltered before frying the calamari.

Dessert was a fruit salad of strawberries and bananas.  Easy peasy.

I felt thoroughly chuffed about this new recipe.  Takes hardly any time, is very tasty and I shall definitely be making it again.

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Fish Glue and Clam Risotto

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That.  That time of day.  One of my favourite times of day.  Time for a glass of wine.  Time to look forward to making supper.

 

Some time last week we had a fish-themed dinner.  It included boiled fish.  Boiled fish. Now, does that sound tantalising?  Ahem.  I expect “no/no way” to readers outside of Italy.  The fish in question is called ‘orata’ and translates as seabream or gilthead seabream.  Gilt stands for gold leaf, because the fish’s scales can indeed be very shiny and on the golden side.  It’s a great fish to smother with salt and bake in the oven and that’s how I would usully cook it.  On this occasion, however, I decided to just boil it.  I placed the gutted fish (there were two of them, they were not very big) in a large saucepan and poured boiling water over them.  I added some parsely and black pepper corns and covered them with a lid.  It took about twenty minutes for them to cook through until the flesh turned pearly white.  I filleted the fish as best I could and served it at room temperature with home-made mayonnaise.  Very understated and yet most delicious.  So, try it some time, it’s very much a no-fuss/can’t go wrong way to cook fish.

Anyway … what was left of the filleted fishes was their heads and bones and tails and skins, i.e. the full monty of leftovers that should never be thrown away.  I just gathered it all and transferred it to another saucepan and cooked it for about half an hour (again with a lid on).  And hey presto, what do we have?  Fish broth – ta daaa.

Once cooled, I strained the fish stock and put it in the fridge.  And forgot about it until last night.  I had had other plans for the fish stock but in the end sloth took over.  Blame that beautiful sunset for that.

“You know what?”, said my sensible if at times overbearing inner voice, “why don’t you use it to make a risotto!”  LIke you, I would never dream of disagreeing with my inner voice (oh it can get so holier than thou, can’t it, anything to keep it in a good mood).  I had bought some clams and was going to make spaghetti with them.  Instead, and with the addition of a lonesome courgette/zucchina that popped out of nowhere in the bottom drawer of the fridge, I underwet a risotto conversion.  And this is what I did.

I chopped up a small onion and braised it with some olive oil.  Then I added the courgette that I had sliced and diced into small lego-looking chunks.  While that was cooking away, I went to get the fish stock in order to heat it and bring it to the boil.  And what did I find? It had turned into a thick unyielding jelly!!!  That’s right – fish stock will solidy into a jelly of sorts.

And that’s when the penny dropped.  The name for gelatine leaf in Italian is “fish glue” (colla di pesce) and now I can see why.  I get really excited over etymology, you’ll have to pardon me.

Anyway, back to the recipe.  I couldn’t get all of the jelly fish stock out of the bottle in which I had placed it, so I poured boiling water into it and that did the trick.  I then transferred the fish stock to another pan and brought it to the boil, ready to be used.

By now the onion and courgette were ready to welcome the rice.  I like to use either the vialone nano or carnaroli rice variety.   I used the latter because it’s the first one I found in my store cupboard.  In it went and it got toasted for the appropriate of time and then I poured in all the hot fish stock.   None of that one-ladle-at-a-time risotto stuff.  Not tonight.  My name happens to be Josephine and it was very much the case of “not tonight, Josephine”.

While the risotto was getting cooked in a bubble, bubble, toil and thankfully no-trouble way, I steamed open the clams.  You just plonk them in a pan and cover with a lid until the shells open.  When the rice was finally cooked, I added the clams, their liquor, shells and all, to the risotto.  It looked very pretty, I have to say.  (Oh, I had also added a small tomato, all chopped up … I don’t know why I did that.  I just did.  Oh yes, and I had also added a slice of lemon zest.  And oh, of course, some parsely.  Clams just love parsely.)

Fun fact number one:  Clams are full of iron. Good for haemoglobin in our red blood cells.

Fun fact number two: gelatine is good for us (for our bones, hair and nails I believe).

My inner voice was on cloud nine, it was holier than all the thou’s in the world! Not only had I been thrifty (by actually making a fish stock), not only was I inventing a new risotto recipe (creative juices all fired up), I was indeed also taking care of my body’s overall health.  And then I tasted the risotto.  One must always taste before serving.   Actually, even during cooking.  Well.  How disappointing!  The risotto was bland.  I added a bit of salt but that didn’t help.  Still bland.  I was crest-fallen.

And then … rebellious genius idea came to the rescue.

Grated pecorino cheese.

Pecorino, mind, not parmigiano.

Why?

Let me explain.  In Italy the very thought of adding cheese to any fish dish will make people’s eyes pop out.  Heresy.  Very recently, a young crop of Italian chefs has indeed toyed with the idea but the only cheese I have seen added is either buffalo mozzarella or burrata … i.e. very creamy fresh cheeses that are a little on the bland side, let’s face it.

So, within the context of Italian traditional cuisine, my wanting to add a hard cheese to a fish dish makes me a rebel, see?  Quite the iconoclast.

Mindi you, there is an exception to this caseous culinary rule.  Here in Lazio, there is a pasta dish that is indeed served with cheese and that is spaghetti with mussels and pecorino.  For some cheesy reason, this dish is thoroughly approved of.

Hence my choosing pecorino over parmigiano.

I can’t remember how much I added.  I do remember adding a little at a time.  I didn’t want the cheese to overwhelm the delicate taste of the risotto.  The risotto was still hot and steaming, so the pecorino melted in no time at all.

And, in the end, finally, was it good?

Yest it was.  Hip hip hurrah!  Feeling very pleased with myself (and my inner voice over the moon).

Below are two links to older posts I wrote about pasta with mussels and pecorino cheese.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/pasta-with-mussels-and-pecorino-cheese/

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/fishing-for-compliments-part-3-pasta-with-mussels-and-pecorino-cheese/

These are photos I took this morning, of the leftovers.  Please bear that in mind because the risotto looked a lot more come-hither when I was serving it piping hot!

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Here you catch a glimpse of the lemon zest (in the centre).

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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/

Vegetable Bake and Lessons Learned

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

ERRORE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson Learned and Useful Tip:

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

LET THE COOKING BEGIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

11Time to slather the bechamel onto the precious ones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Rehana’s Lemon Condiment and A New Recipe for Cod

  1. I do not know whether I shall make this recipe any time soon but I do now that I shall definitely be using Rehana’s lemon condiment again – what a shame that a blog post can’t impart an aroma, let alone a taste !

This is Rehana:

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She and I work at the same Wine Estate where clients can choose to do a pasta or a pizza class or just sit down to a nice lunch.  It gets super busy at times as we serve the food and wine, and talk with and tend to the clients, with much to-ing and fro-ing between the kitchen and the dining  halls.  And we invariably talk about food and recipes in between, together with the chef, Luigi.  Luigi lived in France for nine years and speaks brilliant French.  Rehana is from Mauritius and speaks English as well as French.  She lived in Lebanon for a while, before coming to Italy with her husband and family.   My own family lived there too in the seventies, up until the ghastly civil war that started in 1975.  Our clients hail from all over the world.

Despite the Winery’s being an uber-Italian establishment, and with good reason, the food talk very often skirts around non-Italian traditions and recipes.  I don’t know where Rehanna picked up some Chinese recipes for instance but she has promised that we are going to cook some together one day.  I want to find out more about her Mauritius cuisine, it sounds very intriguing.

Out of the blue, just the other day, she delights us all with a present of a small jar of condiment she had made.

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Here is how she made it.  She gets unwaxed lemons, cuts them in half and squeezes the juice out of them (the juice can be used for other preparations).  She then stores the lemon halves in a jar filled with salted water, for about a month.  At this point, she removes the pith, the inner white fibrous membrane directly below the zest.  She then mashes what’s left – i.e. basically just the lemon rind – with fresh green chillis, garlic and a little bit of onion.  And that’s it.  The taste is explosive and tangy and incredibly more-ish.

Once home, I knew I was going to make some ‘baccalà’ – cod – for dinner in a tomato sauce I had made the day before, using fresh tomatoes, removing their skins and cooking them down.   I also had some yellow courgettes/zucchine to play with.

INGREDIENTS

Summer tomato sauce: i.e. a sauce made with fresh tomatoes, in the absence of which I suppose you could use some good quality plum tomatoes or a passata

Extra virgin olive oil, garlic, fillet of cod, courgettes/zucchine, basil, some toasted bread and Rehanna’s condiment of course.

4I’d never had yellow courgettes before.  Spoiler alert: they taste just the same as their green cousins.  It was their cheery colour that attracted me.

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I cut them so as to leave out  as much of their pulp as possible.5I sliced the cod into thick ‘chunks’.

6aSlices of toasted bread.

LET’S GET COOKING !

6Here I am cooking the garlic in a puddle of oilve oil together with some basil and a teensy bit of fresh red chilli.

8Not long later, I added the tomato sauce and sprinkled some salt.

7I cooked the sauce for only a few minutes and then puréed it with an immersion blender.

I put the saucepan back on the fire and added the courgettes (sorry no photo) and let them cook for just a minute or two in the sauce.

10I decided to be careful with Rehana’s condiment and added just one teaspoon at first.

11But then I added another two … the sauce was mouth wateringly good at this point.

12It takes hardly any time for the cod to cook.  Meanwhile I had toasted the bread.

13And here is how I served the cod – lots of delicious sauce to mop up, and some grapes for added sweetness and contrast.

Thank you Rehana !

 

Pasta Ulrika following on Pasta Camilla

Here we are.  I seem to be having a courgette/zucchine obsession.  Well, in my defence, they ARE everywhere this time of year and you know what they say, when life hands you lemons, make Limoncello … no no no.  When life presents courgettes, find a way of making them interesting.

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Some fresh chilli for instance.  As in the above photo.

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Since I am making pasta, I know I shall want some grated cheese – and I opt for a mixture of pecorino and parmesan.  There is no one about wanting to help me grate the cheeses so I choose to cheat.   This is not the best way to grate cheese because it can’t be fine enough.  But it was fine enough for me that evening.

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What you see are eight slices of thinly sliced (by my butcher) of guanciale, pork jowl.  If anything can make a pasta dish more ‘interesting’, it’s most definitely guanciale: think Amatriciana, think Carbonara, think Gricia.  I cut the guanciale up into smaller portions.

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I cooked the guanciale over a low heat so that its fat would render.  And I waited for it to become a little crispy.

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While the guanciale was cooking, I set about removing most of the pulp from the courgettes.   Talking about kitchen toys as I did in my previous post, that tool you see with a white handle is a courgette corer.  Very handy for when you want to make stuffed courgettes.  You can also use it as an apple corer.

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I slimmed down the courgettes and cut them down to bite size.

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And now it’s almost time to cook.  Pour a generous amount of olive oil into a big saucepan and add garlic, pepper corns and fresh mint.

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Once the courgettes have been slimmed down even more into large cubes, turn the heat on, cook the garlic until it becomes golden, and then add them.

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I added the fresh chilli too.  The veggies were cooking under quite a fiery heat.

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And now I did the porky ‘thing’ of adding the fat rendered from the guanciale to the  mix. Only the fat.  Save the guanciale meat for later.

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I swithched the heat off and blended the courgettes as much as I could.

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The blending became easier after the addition of plenty of cream.

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The last addition was the grated cheese.  Time to test.  Add salt and pepper as required.

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Drain the pasta directly into the large saucepan, add a little cooking water and toss and turn until the pasta is well coated and/or has absorbed some of the sauce.

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See what I mean?  I added yet more fresh mint leaves.  And last, the crispy guanciale.  You could, if you wished, add the guanciale directly onto the pasta served on a plate.  But people were getting hungry, all eight of us and there wasn’t time for such a nicety.  There was some extra grated cheese already on the table for those who wished to add a sprinkling on top of their plate.

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So eager was everyone to dive in, that no one took a photo – not a single photo of the delicious pasta on the plate !  So what you see above is the pasta (what was left of it) the day after.  Sigh.

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The good thing was that someone got to eat these leftovers.  Pasta can indeed by reheated and enjoyed – but only ONCE.  I wrote that in capital letters and will repeat: pasta can be reheated but only once.

Anyway.  The title of this pasta is Pasta Ulrika, in honour of my delightful niece from Sweden who was visiting.

Shame about the lack of photo to show how enticing this humble mix can be – but give it a try anyway, I think you’ll like it very much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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.

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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.)

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

PART 2 – Preparing the Courgette Sauce

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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.

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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?

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

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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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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 …

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

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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.

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

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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.