Summer Chicken Salad

A chicken salad is one whose prime ingredient is the chicken – duh – but the other elements that compose it are not the same all year round.  This being a very very hot August, I decided that buying a rotisserie chicken made a lot more sense – better than poaching a chicken myself and waiting for it to cool down, etc.

The real ‘nuisance’ about this salad, and one which you are free to avoid, is making the mayonnaise.  (Personally, I can’t stand bought mayonnaise because to my mind it really isn’t mayonnaise, just some kind of industrially produced salad cream.)  There are loads of youtube tutorials on how to make mayonnaise and the easiest, I think, is the one using an immersion blender.   Real mayo makes all the difference I promise you.

INGREDIENTS

Eggs for the home-made mayo, extravirgin olive oil, lemon, patisserie chicken, bacon, various kinds of salads, rocket/arugula, celery (sliced), red pepper corns, grapes (sliced)

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I started out by cooking the bacon until very crisp and waiting for it to cool before adding it to the mayonnaise.  Don’t tell anyone but … I actually used some of the  bacon fat to MAKE the mayo, aha! On top of olive oil of course, and lemon juice.

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Chopping the chicken did take longer than I thought it would but there you are – this was a recipe made with love.  Once done, I added the chicken to the mayo and left the bowl (covered) in the fridge until it was time for dinner.  In the meantime, I also sliced the celery and washed the salad leaves and, again, left them in the fridge.  Then off we went to the beach for the day.

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Silvia, favourite son’s girfriend, went to the trouble of slicing the grapes in half.  Good girl …

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I placed the salad on the bottom of the serving plate and added the chicken in its mayonnaise coating on top.  And then added the celery and the peppercorns.  The grapes went in last.

5A close-up ….6On the table, taking pride of place amongst the other dishes.7Bit of a weird photo, but we were starving by then and there was much rejoicing and wolfing down of food to be done.

RECAP

Cook bacon, make mayo, add chicken to mayo and store in fridge.   Slice celery, wash salads and grapes and store in fridge.  Slice grapes just before eating.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Another Summer Tomato Spaghetti Sauce – Almost “Crudaiola”

A “crudaiola” sauce (pronounced croo-dah-yo-lah in English) is essentially a sauce that is made up of raw ingredients.  This pasta recipe is almost raw.  It’s cooked very little.  It is a take on a classic Italian tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes when in season.

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The word for uncooked in Italian is “crudo”.  So, I’m thinking that the word “crude” in English must somehow be embroiled etymologically with this … who knows how or why.  Of course, the Ancient Greeks called everyone who was not Greek a “Barbarian” and barbarians were known NOT to cook their food.  Can we hence assume that the Italian “crudo” (uncooked) had something to do with the English “crude” (i.e. unsophisticated) ?

Understated in the extreme as this recipe may be, there is nothing unsophisticated about it whatsover.  And as with the luxury of understated and refined goods, the secret lies in the quality of the ingredients.  I wouldn’t dream of making this recipe during the colder times of the year.  It requires the best of Summer tomatoes.

INGREDIENTS

San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, parsely stalks, extra virgin olive oil, basil, spaghetti

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I like kitchen toys – they make life a lot more interesting when cooking.  That little black thing you see on the right?  It’s a tomato peeler.  Yes, not a potato peeler – a tomato peeler.  And it does a wonderful job of peeling tomato skins.  If you don’t own one of these (and why would you?), then … then plunge your tomatoes in boiling water and let them sit there for a couple of minutes – after which, remove them and plunge them into very cold water, so that you don’t scorch your fingers when removing the skins.

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Now that the tomatoes have been skinned, they need to be quartered.  And then the quarters need to be halved.

IMG_3753And then … and then you want to get rid of the ‘inside’ of the tomatoes so that all you are left with is the pulp.  The stuff on the left, in the bowl on the left, is the ‘inside’ of the tomato.  And will be thrown away.  The stuff on the right is the good stuff, the pulp.

IMG_3754Job done.

IMG_3755Job almost done because it’s a good idea to slice the tomato pulp now, into thinner slices.

IMG_3756And to finish off the job, sprinkle salt over the slithers of tomato pulp.

IMG_3758People sometimes ask me to recommend pasta brands.  This is a brand I like. It’s called Pasta Cocco  and comes from the region of Abbruzzo.  If you want to read a little bit more about it, here is a link: https://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/making-pasta-pope-abruzzos-mastri-pastai  Here is their website but there is no translation in English it would seem? https://www.pastacocco.com/ .

TIME TO GET COOKING

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Bring the water to the boil, add salt (10g of salt per liter of water) and when the water returns to a rolling boil, lower the spaghetti into it.   Avail yourselves of a nice big saucepan and generously pour extra virgin olive oil into it.  Add as much or as little garlic as you like.  A handful of parsely stalks.  And some fresh chilli – or dry chilli flakes if you don’t have fresh.

IMG_3760Unlike other occasions when the garlic needs to be cooked to a golden colour before adding other ingredients, this time everything gets thrown in together – à la crudaiola. Boom.

IMG_3761And only now do we turn the heat on.

IMG_3762Cook for a few minutes.

IMG_3763Then add basil and cook some more.

IMG_3764Then add the cooked spaghetti and some more fresh basil and any other fresh herb you fancy and finish off cooking the pasta.

IMG_3765Toss and toss to finish cooking the pasta and then switch off the heat.

IMG_3767Can’t say this presentation looks like much.

IMG_3768Nor this.  But can I say?

It tasted just mmmmmm.

PS I was inspired to do this recipe by a similar one outlined in the book called “Faccia da Chef” written by comedian and cook Andy Luotto.

 

Making Mushrooms Sexy

Well, not really.  But you know what I mean, don’t you?  Mushrooms, ordinary button mushrooms, that are called “champignons” in Italian (which is of course a French word actually), aren’t exactly thriling now are they.  I can’t imagine people getting all excited about eating a plate of these mushrooms.  They seem to have gone out of fashion – I don’t even see them on Italian menus in family-run restaurants any more.  Sometimes as part of a pizza topping but that’s about it.  I wonder why, poor things.  They are quite tasty after all and surely, unless you hate mushrooms or are allergic to them, you don’t mind having them as a side dish, sautéed in olive oil and garlic and finely minced parsely.  But again, the operative word is “don’t mind” (which of course are two words but let’s not quibble here) as opposed to “hanker after” or “crave”.  Mmmmm.

As my children were growing up, I had to account for differing tastes when it came to vegetables and since I love vegetables myself – all of them I hasten to add – I did not mind putting at least two and usually three vegetable side dishes on the dinner table every evening. (potatoes often being the common denominator).  Favourite daughter can’t bear mushrooms, and might even be slightly allergic to them.  Whereas favourite son likes them, even the lowly button-mushroom kind.  Favourite husband is usually easy to please but he has never waxed lyrical over them.  So the bottom line, now that both kids have left home, is that I rarely cook mushrooms (except for the porcini kind, when they are in season).

I have been boycotting supermarkets for over ten years, a decision I came to after reading the book “Not on the Label – What Really Goes into the Food in your Plate” by British journalist Felicity  Lawrence.  I have been guiding tours around Frascati for almost two years and this piece of information pops into the tour when I show our clients my shopping street and the town’s market.  And I tell them, the way I write to you now, that I cannot get on my moral high horse about this – because food shopping is incredibly easy to do in Frascati and I have access within walking distance to everything I could possibly want (except for fresh coriander – for that I have to go into Rome.  Coriander/cilantro still not big in these parts).  As life would ironically have it,  however, it turns out that I have had to  frequent supermarkets on a regular basis (weekly!) ever since my mother stopped driving last year and I have to take her shopping (she turns 93 in December bless her).  I kid you not, I have been more often to the supermarket this past year than I have all together in the previous ten or more.  Oh – and by the way it’s not the idea of a supermarket that I am against.  It’s the fact that they don’t pay the producers well.  That and lots more but let’s drop the subject now and get back to the recipe for today’s post.

So there I was looking at the fresh foods at the supermarket with her the other day and turning my nose up disdainfully.  The aubergines/eggplants looked okay, I suppose.  The salads all came in plastic bags.  I’ll admit the cucumber looked good.  But for the rest I was really underwhelmed.  I went for the button mushrooms in a desultory bid to avoid coming home empty-handed.  I had to make dinner after all.

By the time I did get home, my husband told me he’d be late that night … so it was a case of my being on my own.  And that’s when I decided I would make a pasta dish with these champignons and let’s see if I could raise the bar here, and make them a bit special?

In the fridge I had some fresh tomatoes that I had cooked down in order to make a tomato sauce, and which I had put through a food mill.  A home-made tomato sauce is always good for adding ooomph to a recipe.  For the rest it was a case of the usual suspects: olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs.

On the other hand, since I WAS trying to make this a bit special, I knew I had to bring out some big guns.  Follow me.

 

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The pasta brand. This pasta brand.  Verrigni.  One of the best in Italy, full stop.  From Abbruzzo.

3A secret ingredient – dried porcini mushrooms.  Please ignore that lovely onion from Tropea in the foreground.  I used that to cook something else.

4I poured boiling water over the funghi porcini and let them soak until they were tender.

5Once they were totally rehydrated, I used a pair of scissors to cut them up.  And don’t even think about throwing away that porcini-infused water!  That’s what was to give the dish a bit of ooomph.

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Not too shabby either was this home-made tomato salsa I had prepared the day before. I skinned the tomatoes, chopped them up very roughly, and just cooked them down for about 15 minutes.  Afterwards I put them through a food mill and added salt and olive oil (extra virgin olive oil, naturally).

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The mushrooms soaking in a bowl of water.  They needed a good soak, it was very hot that day.

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The same mushrooms, a little later, roughly cut up and ready to be cooked.

TIME TO COOK

I put the water onto the boil for the pasta.

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I am recently very much ‘into’ this big frying pan – don’t ask me why.  I certainly didn’t need anything this big for my recipe but for some reason this was the only pan that ‘spoke’ to me that evening.   Made me feel a little cheffy, I suppose.  As you can see there is plenty of garlic, and plenty of olive oil.  There are, also, a few pepper corns (no, they are not mouse droppings).  And the green herb that you see is what we call “mentuccia” and which, I think is what is known as “calamint” in English (the official name in Latin is Clinopodium nepeta).  It is very strong, very.  Think mint on steroids.  And it goes wonderfully well with mushrooms. You could always substitute with marjoram, or tarragon, or thyme, or mint or even plain parsely.  Mentuccia is very easy to grow (I grow don’t have green fingers, trust me).

8I had the garlic cooking on a stronger heat that I would normally use.

9The minute the garlic started to turn golden, I added the mushrooms.

10And shortly after I added the porcini mushrooms and the water in which they had been soaking.

11Here you see everything bubbling away over a high heat.

12Time to cook the pasta too.

13I now added my tomato salsa.

14A thick slice of a beautiful lemon from the Amalfi Coast (they are famous for their lemons there).

15I tasted the sauce, added some salt, a bit more mentuccia and … yes … even some freshly squeezed lemon juice.  A little at a time.  A little goes a long way.

16I added a little bit of freshly grated pecorino cheese and switched the heat off.   The cheese melted easily even with the heat switched off.

17When the pasta was ready, I drained it directly  into my beefy saucepan and turned on the heat to a fierce temperature as I mixed in the sauce with the pasta.  I even did a bit of showing-off tossing – but couldn’t photograph that of course.

18I served it with some freshly grated parmigiano (parmesan).

19I added some chilli flakes just after I took this photo because I like a bit of heat.

I thought it was rather nice, thank you very much.  See?  There WAS  a way to make button mushrooms sexy after all.  Or so I thought.

The next day, while I was away, my husband had some leftovers for lunch.  When I got back, I enquired as to his liking of the dish.  He scrunched up his nose, took in a deep breath and pronounced it “unconvincing”.  I mean, he ate a whole plate of the stuff but it wasn’t exactly ‘good’ according to him.  He wasn’t being mean, by the way, just offering an honest opinion.

Yet.  You can imagine how crestfallen I felt.

“Did you add freshly grated parmigiano to it?” I asked.  He answered that no, he had not.

That must have been it then, I said to myself, trying to cheer myself up.  Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

PS – if you leave the cheese out, this recipe is fit for vegans.

PPS – It’s always a good idea to add some lemon juice to mushroom soup too.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/mushroom-soup-for-parties/

PPPS – Here is a little background on Mint (https://www.summerdownmint.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Food-Wine-Sept-2011.pdf)

More Mint Mythology
In Roman mythology Minthe was a
lovely young nymph who caught
the eye of Pluto, the ruler of the
underworld. When his wife Persephone found out about his love
for the beautiful nymph, she was
enraged and changed Minthe into
a lowly plant, to be trodden underfoot. Pluto couldn’t reverse Persephone’s curse, but he did soften
the spell somewhat by making the
smell that Minthe gave off all the
sweeter when she was trodden
upon. The name Minthe has
changed to Mentha and become
the name of the herb, mint.
In ancient Greece, mint was used
in funerary rites, together with
rosemary and myrtle, not simply
to offset the smell of decay but
mint was an element in the fermented barley drink called the
kykeon that was an essential brew
for participants in the Eleusinian
mysteries, which offered hope in
the afterlife for initiates.

 

 

Pasta alla Checca

Following the worst May in Italy since 1957, with plummeting temperatures and buckets of rain, the weather is finally beginning to make seasonal sense.

And I can’t wait for it to be hot enough to  make pasta alla checca.

Here is a link, containing yet another link – a little bit like those Russian Matryoshka dolls – from long ago.  I read both posts and am glad to report that no editing or tweaking was necessary.  That’s the beauty of the pasta alla checca recipe.  Its utter simplicity.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/liar-liar-pants-on-fire-pasta-alla-checca-demographic/

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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!