Squash Soup and Veggie Frenzie

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If you’ve read my previous post, this (the above photo) is what I ended up making with the squash/pumpkin I had bought at the market.  I made soup.  The soup is utterly vegetarian and, if you eschew the grated parmigiano at the end, it is most definitely vegan too.  If you are interested in the recipe and want to skip my meanderings, please scroll straight down to where it says “Ingredients”.

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I defy anyone to have not reacted even in some minimal way to Megan and Harry’s bolt from the blue statement a few days ago.  I don’t usually watch the news much but even I found myself glued to various TV programmes prying into the story and trying to navigate what ‘really’ is going  with the couple and the British monarchy.   I did find it terribly rude of them to make the announcement without forewarning granny Elisabeth beforehand.  Then it turns out they actually did but only minutes before they went media public? What is at the bottom of wanting to dash off and do their own thing, with their own website ?(Sussexroyal.com doesn’t sound very royal at all to me, but it is catchy I suppose.)

Anyway, discussing the events with friends and family, what stood out for me in the end is that … the world is changing.  Has changed.  Will change.

If the only constant is indeed change, as hindu/buddhist traditions have been banging on about for centuries, with modern physics following in hot pursuit, how are we to accommodate constance and continuity, instead, without turning into paper cut-out doll versions of ourselves, stiff pinocchio-like wooden puppets, as opposed to heart-and-guts living, thinking, loving bodies and people/souls?  Let’s face it, not many people embrace change lock, stock and barrel and most of us rather fear it when it’s thrown in our face, even more so when it’s not our choice number one.  Very often because it means we have to reinvent ourselves, and that can be somewhat tedious when there are so many other important matters to be dealt with on a daily basis.  Like waking up in the morning, brushing our teeth,  looking after people, remembering to throw the rubbish/recycling out, dealing with a boring job, dealing with having to find a job,  dealing with a difficult partner, dealing with living solo after a broken relationship, dealing with people who have not had the benefit of good manners incorporated in their upbringing.  All that and more.

One of the reasons I love cooking and eating so much, I believe, is not just animal appetite and greediness or sensual satisfaction.   I think it is a quasi therapeutic exercise for me – my byline for this blog is “good food to put you in the mood”, remember?  In the mood for what? Well, that depends.  Sometimes we are upbeat, sometimes melancholy, sometimes melodramatic, sometimes quiet, sometimes musical, sometimes sexy, sometimes gossipy, on occasion silly  billy full of love – it’s easy to run the whole gamut and range of human moods via food and eating.  For food is indeed life.  There are no two ways about it.  No-food equals starvation equals diseased  bodies equals death.

And food can also equal fads.  Is it just me who sees the irony in how we all seem to be so preoccupied with our health in an era when the human lifespan is getting longer and longer thanks to better living conditions, access to food and improved medical health care.  It is sometimes nose-scrunchingly puzzling to understand just why, why?, these food fads continue to burst forth.  Fashion I suppose, maybe.  Refreshment?  Seasons are the refreshments of the world we live in, of our days, a reminder of change being unrelenting but reassuring too.  So it may well be that the same old food recipes can strike people as stagnant and very boring, same ol’, same ol’, same ol’.

My sister and I were talking along these lines a few days ago, nice glasses of Frascati wine to keep us going, as we took some of our reveries to task.  And since we both love cooking, and easy recipes in particular, the subject touched upon vegan recipes.  Neither of us is a vegan.  And I would be the world’s biggest fibber if I said that vegans hadn’t irritated me in the beginning.  Whilst the ethos of not hurting animals is obviously laudable, there was a lot of holier-than-thou preaching and even religious-like intensity in conversion that I found distasteful.  Dietary rectitude.  One of the more tiresome (for me) offshoots of veganism was the rebranding of recipes and dishes that had been around for ever as being ‘vegan’.  “Vegan lentils”, for instance. Since when had lentils not been vegan?  Don’t get me started on gluten- free commercial homogenising, either, with labels that are utter nonsense, such as “gluten free rice”.  Seriously?  “Vegan burgers” was another one. A burger is supposed to be made with meat otherwise it is a patty.  Why desire to keep the name of a food that you vociferously want to eschew from your diet on the grounds of ethics?

I continue to think that it is not a healthy way to eat (Vitamin B12, for instance, is hard enough for vegetarians to assimilate let alone vegans).  Veganism is so often presented as a dietary nostrum.   Not convinced.  I also believe that one cannot disregard biology and evolutionary history (https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/food/debunking-a-few-myths-about-meat-eating-and-vegetarianism).

I do think that we should all be more mindful of how animals are treated from start to finish, from how they are raised to when and how they are slaughtered.  And if there are countless articles on how modern cattle rearing is cause for much of the world’s travails, it is also true that farm animals raised ‘properly’ really do contibute to the health of the soil which will then be able to produce lots of nice veggies and cereals for us.  Read the following The Guardian article:  “Intensively farmed meat and dairy are a blight, but so are fields of soya and maize. ”  Also: unless you’re sourcing your vegan products specifically from organic, “no-dig” systems, you are actively participating in the destruction of soil biota, promoting a system that deprives other species, including small mammals, birds and reptiles, of the conditions for life, and significantly contributing to climate change.” (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/25/veganism-intensively-farmed-meat-dairy-soya-maize)

This is, as we all know, a contentious subject and one that I don’t have time for within the context of this blog post, not in the detail it deserves.   Why?  Because it’s bloody complicated, that’s why.  There are too many considerations to take into account.  The bottom line, however, as far as I am concerned is the following one.  Would I be able to slaughter a cow, say, or a pig or a lamb?  And the answer is no.  So there you go … I have to admit that there is some kind of double-standard to my reasoning on food choices.  I have gone fishing and done that.  I come from a family that went hunting/shooting for little birds and remember my grandmother plucking their feathers, and their little dangling heads.  Still, even if I knew how to shoot, I don’t think I would enjoy killing lots of birds.   I am able to eat snails, and have bought them live.  I saw my grandmother kill a chicken when I was little.  It didn’t seem to bother me then.  But I don’t think I would be able to.  And yet I continue to eat chicken, and duck, and lamb, and pork, and beef.  All of which leads me to think that who knows? in the future? Change, as I wrote at the beginning of this post, is inexorably on its way.  I might indeed end up being vegetarian.  But not vegan.  I have no qualms over good quality milk, cheese, eggs and honey.

All this to say that … despite not being vegetarian or vegan … I am absolutely obsessed with vegetables.  It is the reason why I define myself as a vegetarian who eats a lot of meat.  I can easily skip meat or fish at a meal but I definitely cannot …. will not … skip vegetables.  “And by the way, I do think veganism is here to stay, ” my sister said the other night as we delved into some vegan recipes she was looking into.

Bring it on say I.  I live in a country where so many people, in the not so distant past, had to be vegans pretty much because there was little else for them to eat.  Meat was out of the question, only for the very rich.  Some fish maybe.  A little cheese too.  But for the rest, only vegetables and cereals.  The cuisines of the Middle East, Persia, the Indian Subcontinent and the Far East are chock-a-block full of vegan recipes.  I think that veganism, or at least a version of veganism,  has been around for a long time only perhaps we weren’t aware of this.

So … Happy New Year everyone.  Enjoy your vegetables and cereals!  And, say I, also your milk, cream, butter, cheeses and eggs.  Try and help the cause for the better treatment of animals.

Last, please remember that some animals are human animals.  There is a lot of human trafficking where vegetables are concerned.   Immigrant workers in Sicily,  is just an example, bringing us the joy of delicious tomato varieties at a terrible cost to them. K

Kindness for all.  The little we can do, let us do.

INGREDIENTS: squash, onion, garlic, olive oil, salt, peppercorns, nutmeg, parsely, freseh sage leaves, parmigiano/parmesan

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Squash or pumpkin.  Cut it up and remove the skin.

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Drizzle plenty of olive oil into the pot and brown a roughly chopped onion for a few minutes.  This happens to be a small pressure-cooker.  I think they are brilliant when it comes to soups.  I also included a few peppercorns and plenty of salt when I later added the cut up squash.

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Next it was time for parsely and sage leaves.

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A little bit of garlic, too, why not and a good twist of nutmeg.

16Pour in the amount of water that’s required.

17Pressure cook the soup for … oh gosh, sorry, I can’t remember.  I was busy with other stuff.  Ahem, er … let’s say twenty minutes?

18Once it’s safe for you to open the lid of the pressure cooker, do so and then blend all the ingredients.  It was a bit too thick at this stage, so I added a little more water.  I tasted it, and had to add a bit more salt too.

19A snowstorm of freshly grated parmesan/parmigiano and Bob’s your uncle.  No cheese and you are veganic.

Silver spoon optional.

Vegetables Va Va Voom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7Spuds.  We got these for our mother.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2This broccolo romano is still in the fridge.

3Ditto this cabbage.

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

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

Tuna Balls to the Rescue: Polpette di Tonno

I wrote this post ages ago, ages!!!  But I still make these tuna balls.  They are great finger food and not at all hard to make.  I wrote the post when I was in a bit of a funk over the change in season;  September does that to me, never my favourite month because it heralds the end of Summer.  This recipe can be made all year round, however, please take note!  Ignore the moaning and groaning and just read the recipe.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/polpette-di-tonno-and-mulling-over-seasonal-melancholy/

Polpette di tonno and Mulling over seasonal melancholy

An Indian summer … although we’re half way through September … it’s so easy to enjoy the heat but too late to pretend not to notice that the days are getting shorter … and busier … and that any day now it will get brrrr-cross-your-arms-and-slap-your-shoulders-nippy and we’ll start having to wear sweaters and what have you and don slippers indoors instead of traipsing about bare foot.  It is as if a whisper of seasonal melancholy were subtly knocking at my front door. For someone who loves summer as much as I do, September is a very challenging month and can see me veering towards a moany-groany, want-to-run-away frame of mind.  This year I decided I would be grown up about it and do my best to stretch the summer’s feel of freedom as much as I could.  I tried to organise myself so that I could work in ‘chunks’ … and thus it was that a few days ago, I was able to scamper off to the beach at Sabaudia for most of the day.  It took us one and a half hours to get there but, as always, it was worth it. There were very few people about, now that people are back at work and children back at school.  The breeze was caressing as only a zephyr can be, the sea was still warm enough for me to swim in (I am such a wimp about cold water!) and it was all I could do to tear myself away and head for home as the sun began to set.  Aaaah.  Sigh …. isn’t the sun setting over the sea one of the most compelling sights to behold? Ultra-organised, smug lady had prepared some vegetables the day before (a potato and celery purée and roast capsicup/bell peppers), had bought gorgeous fruit on the way to the beach, knew that wine was cooling in the fridge, so it was only a question of buying some chicken or meat on the way home and dinner was going to be a snap.  But, repeat, I had a very hard time of wrenching my body and soul from the siren call of the sea with the result that all the shops were naturally closed by the time we finally did drive past them. I didn’t feel quite so smug then, as I took on the slim prospect for our main course that evening, knowing that just like Mother Hubbard, I was going to find the cupboard woefully ‘bare’ when I got there —  the ‘cupboard’, these days, naturally being the fridge and the freezer.  But thank goodness for Nursery Rhymes because I realised that there was indeed one food in my cubbyhole cupboard that was going to save the day: tuna fish packed in oil! Polpette di tonno … i.e. meatballs made out of tuna fish (technically the tuna doesn’t qualify them as ‘meat’-balls … but what else can one call them in English? croquettes? ugh).

The ingrdients: salted capers (which need to be rinsed and drained a few times to be rid of the excess saltiness), lemon zest (the zest you see came out of the freezer), parsley, two tins of tunny fish packed in oil (and please note that it wasn’t the top quality kind), and last, and in the case of any kind of polpette, never least … the moistened bread (again, as I wrote in the other post on meatballs, ‘plastic’ white bread serves very well). You will also need an egg to bind the polpette mixture, bread crumbs to coat them and, optional, some grated parmesan cheese.

The tuna is drained of its oil and gets plopped into the blender …

Add the other ingredients.  Ordinarily, I would have chopped up the lemon zest before adding it for a ‘finer’ and more understated taste.  But that evening I was in too much of a hurry … and too hungry!

Freshly milled white pepper …  (Don’t ask what the coffee is doing in the photo … I expect it was lurking about near the stove when we got home and nobody bothered to put it where it belongs).

Process the mix being careful not to ‘overwork’ it … it must not go all liquid-y.   Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and …

Add the grated parmesan cheese if you think you are going to like it.  We do and we did.

I put in about 4 heaped soup spoons.

One egg.  Mix everything up very well and if the consistency is not thick enough, add some bread crumbs to ‘toughen’ it up.

Shaping the polpette di tonno …

Coating them in bread crumbs …

All those polpette from just two tins of tunny fish!

Fry the polpette in plenty of oil and in small batches.  Remove with a slotted spoon and let them rest on some kitchen paper before serving.

I served the polpette over a purée of celery and potatoes (which I had made the day before), together with the peperoni al forno (which I had also made the day before):

Please note the size of the garlic … it is cut very ‘big’.  The garlic imparts an inimitably pleasing flavour to the overall taste of the dish and is thus very necessary.  However, not everyone, including myself, actually likes to eat the raw garlic itself.  The bits of garlic are large enough to be espied by even the most near-sighted diner and hence he or she can safely shove it out of danger’s way, to the far end of the plate.

The impromptu meal brought on by my stubborn desire to tarry a while by the sea reserved another surprise.  I remembered that we had some Canadian wild salmon in the fridge, which we ate accompanied by toasted bread and butter.  So … what was going to be a very ordinary though perfectly good supper turned out to be a bit of a feast. It was half past nine by the time we sat down to eat.  Very late.  Very very late. The sort of naughty ‘late’ that seems fitting only during Summer, when time flows more slowly, ‘a misura d’uomo’, as they say in Italian, meaning ‘suitable or appropriate for man’.  And for yet another evening, I was able to ignore the whisper of seasonal melancholy subtly knocking at my front door.  It will bang loudly soon enough …

Stale Bread, Kale and Bean Soup (Pancotto con fagioli e cavolo nero)

I am reposting a recipe from 2012  because you know what? It still makes sense.  Especially for this time of year.  It is thoroughly vegetarian and if you are vegan all you have to do is leave the cheese bit out.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/dont-dread-stale-bread-make-soup-instead-soup-series/

Don’t dread stale bread – make soup instead (Soup Series)

There is a very traditional soup, with variations throughout Italy, whose body consists of stale bread, added to which, besides broth, are other herbs or vegetables and usually some kind of grated cheese and olive oil.    They all taste pretty delicious in a comforting way and a very dear American friend of mine thought it was a pity, really, that the only name Tradition managed to come up for them was “pancotto”:  which literally means “cooked bread”.  The Tuscan version  has an even less attractive nomenclature: “acquacotta” — which translates as “cooked water”.  It doesn’t sound very enticiting, now, does it?  I thoroughly concur with my friend even though I had never thought about it until she mentioned it.

These were soups that came from whatever scraps a housewife could put together.  Bread holds a sacred place in Italian food generally, it is revered and no meal is ever complete without it.  Even today, Italians will feel very bad about throwing away stale bread, thinking it the height of waste.  There are always uses for it … and soup would have been just one of them.  So …. let’s see what kind of cooked-bread I ended up making!

Please believe me when I say this bread was very dry and stale indeed.  You would have had a very hard time trying to cut it with any knife …

Here is an ugly but very useful large pot …. lots of water within which I heated before adding the stale bread:In it goes …

And when it’s gone all soft and mushy again, out it comes, and gets put into another large pot.

I roughly chopped and then washed some cavolo nero (kale).

That got cooked too, for a few minutes, in the same water that had softened the bread. Drain and set aside.

This is what is left and gets thrown away.  It is too bitter and would ruin the soup.

Drizzle some olive oil into the pan and add chopped garlic and chopped onion and a few peppercorns.

Some carrot and celery will also add to the final taste.  Sauté for a few minutes but do not brown.

These are two rinds of parmesan cheese … another food item that would never have been thrown away (I keep mine in the freezer).  The rind can be grilled but most usually it makes a great addition to any hearty soup.

Beans would very often accompany these soups … and so who am I to disagree with tradition!  Keep some cooked beans to hand.  They get added to the soup after it has cooked for a while.  If you add them too soon, they become too mushy.

THE COOKING OF THE BREAD AND WATER BEGINS!

Add the parmesan rinds to the soup pot …

The “cavolacci” (translation: “bad” or “ugly” cabbage) as they are called here in Lazio go in next ….

Next, the soffritto … the sautéed carrot, onion, celery and garlic ….

Pour in water, enough water to cover everything.  Turn on the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Add salt and pepper somewhere along the timeline.

Add the cannellini beans about ten minutes before serving.

I love my herbs, so I always add some chopped mixed herbs too, towards the end.  This is a mixture of parsely, marjoram and rosemary.

The parmesan rinds will have given off their final taste to the soup and can be removed. Taste the soup and make sure all is well in the salt-and-pepper department.

SERVE

You can serve this soup with either grated parmesan or pecorino.  A drizzle of olive oil.  And for those who like chilli, add that too.

A soup based on leftovers doesn’t sound like much, does it?  And yet … and yet … and yet … it tastes dashed good, yes, you bet!

P.S. And yes, I do know what Lord Curzon supposedly said … “No gentleman takes soup at luncheoon”.  Well, in Italy they did and they do … and it wasn’t just the ‘gentlemen’!

Ravioli di Zucca – Pasta With Pumpkin Filling (and More) …

As I looked around today, there was a lot of orange about … it is Halloween after all, even here in Italy where the occasion was never celebrated by children in weird costume and get-ups until relatively recently (20 years ago, something like that?).  And yes it has become a consumerist bonanza here as elsewhere but how can one resist the whole idea of “trick or treat” ?

It’s a bit like Christmas presents … as long as Father Christmas/Santa is about, then presents are not a ‘reward’ for which one must say “thank you” and be fake-grateful for.  Santa Claus is ‘magic’ and he and and his elves like to give children presents ‘just because’ … Don’t get me wrong, I love good manners and I think that keeping a grateful outlook on life is good for one’s health (seriously, there has been a lot of research in this field).  But ‘having to be grateful’ for a present that is a reward for good behaviou is very very different from receiving a super present for no reason whatsoever !  Think about it.

I used to absolutely loooove Yuletide and all that that entailed, when our kids were little and still believed in Father Christmas.  My husband and I went to great lengths to dissimulate participation in the parcels that arrived after dinner on Christmas Eve as we all sat and mooched around the table after a special dinner.   At length, the door bell would ring (finally!); one of the dinner party who had to leave the room unnoticed, and never my husband or I, would do this as stealthily as possible after having arranged all the boxes and parcels on the stairs to our front door … and our kids would rush to open the door in eager not to mention frantic anticipation and take in the bounty.  Oh the excitement !  As they grew older, their spoil-sport contemporaries did all they could to disavow them of the magic; didn’t they know, they would proclaim and insist, that Father Christmas did not exist?, that it was the parents who bought all the presents? No way, our kids would answer … “Our parents couldn’t possibly afford all these presents”.  Sweet.  More about our family’s Christmas stories another time.

And so … there was I last Sunday, at home, on my own, after having worked non-stop from 10:20 a.m. to about 3 p.m . with a group of tourists.  I had showed them around town, recounting some of its history (quite a lot of history to Frascati, you’d be surprised), and then we went to the winery (Minardi Winery) where we walked around the vineyard; and then I sat them down to a nice lunch.  We wine and dine ’em, and tell stories, that’s what we do chez Minardi.  And nearly everyone who comes along is in a good frame of mind, either on holday and visiting Italy, or living in Rome and wanting to escape for the day to somewhere more bucolic, to Rome’s nearby countryside.  So the atomosphere is always a jolly one.  But it is still ‘work’ for me, and requires that I keep a sharp look-out on things, making sure that everyone is okay and well fed and that glasses are replenished.  Am I grateful for this job? Of course I am.  Do I like it? Of course I do.  Is it also tiring? … Next question.  You have to give it your all to make it work, and that’s all I’m saying.

Last Sunday, I don’t know what got into me once I got home …  I became all wistful.  Christmas came to mind. The fact that our son lives in Milan came to mind.  That my husband had been away down in Puglia for nearly a week.  Came to mind. That both my sisters live in England (i.e. far away) came to mind.  That our daughter was very busy and I hadn’t seen her in a good while.  Came to mind.  I was sliding down the slippery slope of self pity, wallowing in feelings that never lead to anywhere positive.

What to do, what to do?  My recourse? Cooking.

I decided to make home made pasta.  Not just that.  A pasta recipe that no one in my family likes, because no one in my family likes pumpkin.  Everything from scratch. I patted myself on my back metaphorically speaking when I got around to eating it. There IS compensation in food and eating.  Usually, my joy in cooking derives from cooking for others.  Last Sunday … it was about me.  It was for me.

If you, unlike the rest of my family, like pumpkin/squash and fresh pasta … do please take a look at this recipe.  There are lots of ‘steps’ … but none of them difficult or overly fussy. I don’t ‘do’ fussy.

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INGREDIENTS

FOR THE PASTA: 2 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk plus 200g of flour.  I used 100g of Italy’s famed 00 wheat flour, and 100g of durum wheat, also known as semolina flour.  Extra flour to dust on the work surface/countertop.

FOR THE FILLING: Some pumpkin that needs to be cooked. You could steam it too I suppose but I baked it in the oven.

1

Wait for it to cool.  It’s not a bad idea to cook it the day before.  Which is exactly what I did.

Also required are:

Mostarda di Cremona – maybe orange marmalade might do instead of this? If you can’t get hold of mostarda that is.  Parmesan cheese.  Freshly grated nutmeg.  Fresh sage leaves.  Crushed amaretto biscuits.  Grated parmesan.

For the sauce to cook the ravioli in: cream, sausage, fresh sage

3

Mostarda is basically all about candied fruit.  Sometimes this mostarda comes in spicy mode – something akin to wasabi or horseradish.4

Pear mostarda is the best choice for this recipe but I just used what I found in the store-cupboard.5

Chop it up.2

Process the cooked pumpkin.7Add salt and pepper and plenty of freshly grated nutmeg.

9

These are amaretto biscuits – made with bitter almonds.  Very crisp and just the business and TOTALLY called for in this recipe.

10Bash the biscuits to pulverise them.11

Add them to the mix.

12

Add some fresh sage – sliced up.

Put it in the fridge.  The firmer the mixture the better and the easier to stuff the ravioli later on.  You could, indeed, make this stuffing the day before.

MAKING THE PASTA

13Once you’ve made the fresh pasta, let it rest in a bowl for about half an hour to one hour, covered with a tea towel.  Allowing it to ‘rest’ will make it a lot easier to stretch it with the rolling pin later on. The resting time makes it more elastic.

14I love how my pasta sheet got so big, I had to ‘dangle’ it over the edge of my countertop.

16Use a glass to cut out some circles.  Discs.  Whatever you want to call ’em.  You could use a cookie-cutter if you preferred.17Fun, hey?  And what a lovely color the pasta is.

1918Out comes the filling, out of the fridge.  Use two spoons .. and spoon the mixture into the middle of the discs.  Then fold them in half.  The shape will now be a half-moon.  Join the corners of the half moon together and fold the edge over.20

And this is what you end up with.  YOU might end up with somethine prettier than this. I was happy enough with what I managed that evening.

MAKING THE SAUCE

21

Olive oil in the saucepan, a sausage taken out of its casing … some fresh sage … half a glass of wine.

22

Hubble bubble … toil and … add some tomato sauce.  Even out of a tube.  Mine was home-made.

23

Taste and add some salt and pepper, as required.

24

A splash of fresh cream and a good dollop of butter.  Butter always helps.  It brings everything together.  The Italians use the word ‘legare’ for this, and ‘legare’ means to tie together.  Butter helps to ‘tie together’ the sauce.

COOKING THE RAVIOLI

Cook the ravioli in boiling salted water – only a few minutes, since this is fresh pasta we are talking about.

25

Then drain the ravioli straight into the saucepan with the simmering sauce.

26

We are talking about a minute or two to reach perfection.

27

Plate up.  Spray with freshly milled pepper.  Some parmesan.

28-scaled-2560.jpgI can’t tell you just how good these ravioli are … they are redolent of a medieval cuisine when sweet and savoury were part and parcel of the same food course.  There was no distinction as such in those days.  Yet there IS a distinction in this mix – and that’s what makes this a choice for  a sophisticated palate.

29Deeply, deeply yummy.

Comfort food in the extreme.

Autumn Vignarola – Genius Idea

BACKGROUND

A vignarola, for those who may not know, is a vegetable stew that is all about Spring, late spring.  The word ‘vigna’ means vineyard and signals the bounty that the countryside can bring to the table during that time of year.   I wrote an in-depth post about it some time ago, when it was seasonally appropriate.  It is mostaly about ripe artichokes, fresh broad beans and peas etc. (https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/vignarola-the-pilgrimage-of-posh/).

LAST NIGHT

Last night, as I composed a dish with some ingredients that happened to be sitting in the fridge, I became ‘high’ on my own steam … the delight of ending up with a recipe that was too good not to repeat!  The creativity of it all was an incredible boon.  And so I felt just like Little Jack Horner and said “What a good girl am I” for having come up with the idea.  The idea of an Autumn Vignarola.  Genius! Ha! Clap of hands and a good old-fashioned whirl, never mind the ubiquitous thumbs up.   It’s good to be self congratulatory now and then, why not.  It’s good to play in the kitchen, the way we used to play as children.

INGREDIENTS

Please bear in mind that I already had these ingredients, and it was only as they came out of the fridge that I cobbled the recipe together.

Artichokes, pork jowl (guanciale), spring onion, somewhat limp courgette blossoms, fresh mint, parsely, previously cooked ricotta, dessert wine.  Considering it is Autumn and the vineyards are still producing ripe grapes, maybe I will add a few grapes next time.

IMG_5183

See this? this is some ricotta that I had baked in the oven a few days previously.  Just ricotta, no other ingredient.

IMG_5184

That’s what you can do with leftover fresh ricotta: bake it in the oven for use another time.  IMG_5186

Here you see the spring onion, diced ricotta and courgette blossoms that are well past their first bloom but still edible.

LET’S START COOKING

IMG_5185

I trimmed and sliced the artichokes and started cooking them with just olive oil and slices of pork jowl.  Normally, ripe artichokes don’t take that long to cook this way.  After a while, however, I could see that these artichokes (they are not quite in season and are a little hard) were taking their time.  So I added some water to speed up the stewing.

IMG_5187I also added a splash of dessert wine – it works very well with artichokes as it turns out!

IMG_5189When the artichokes were finally cooked, I added the diced ricotta, the raw spring onion, the courgette blossoms and the fresh mint and parsely.  I turned the heat off but left the ingredients in to ‘warm up’ before plating.

IMG_5190Added a spray of pepper.

Doesn’t look like much, does it.  What a shame.  It was deeeelicious, even if I say so myself.

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Autumn vignarola.  Another seasonal dish to look forward to.

 

Bagna Cauda – A Piedmontese Dip/Sauce That We Can All Love

All of us who like anchovie, that is.

I wrote this post in November 2013.  It hasn’t dated I am glad to say – I mean the sauce hasn’t dated.  It is umami in the best of ways and will uplift any bland morsel that needs livening up.

Foraging inside the Fridge and a Hot Dip – Bagna Caoda

“When it comes to stocking the refrigerator,” I should like to say suavely with knowledge born of long experience, “my general goal is to stick to three staples:  the sort of ingredients that are required on a daily or regular basis, those that last for a good long while, and those that can always be counted upon in times of emergency.  Hence: coffee, milk, cream, eggs, butter, lemons, anchovies packed in oil, parmesan cheese, pecorino cheese, pancetta or guanciale, a tube of tomato paste, carrots and celery.”

Ha!  In my dreams …

In real life, there are times when opening the fridge door could serve as living proof of a law of physics (whose name escapes me because my own knowledge of physics is lamentably scratchy) whereby if someone utters a sound, and the waves of that sound ‘hit’ a barrier, the barrier will transmit a variation of that sound back if left unimpeded by empty space.  It’s what we call an ‘echo’.  Meaning, there are times when my refrigerator is so cavernously empty that if I belt out a mock rendition of a yodelling song, it will echo a riff of it back to me … as if to say, “Oi! What do you expect hee hoo?”

It is not often, however, that the fridge in our home is minimalist and yodel-like.  It’s usually quite ‘stocked’ … maybe not ‘well’ stocked, but stocked nevertheless.  And that’s because a fridge is as easy to clutter as a home.  It requires tremendous discipline to keep it in spanking shape.  Discipline and people who are tidy and methodical as opposed to nearly always being in a tearing hurry or trying to do too many things at the same time …

Try as I might to stick to three basic staples, there are times when the fridge door ajar reveals a congeries of plastic, glass, ceramic containers and/or parcels wrapped in paper and aluminium foil, storing all kinds of leftovers and ‘bits’.  It’s a state of affairs that will intransigently forbid echoing of any sort and, if anything, seems to glare at me defiantly as if to say, “Don’t give us that look of chagrin, it’s all your doing that we are here, cooped up in this fridge of yours.”  And then there are other times, mercifully, when all that bounty in the fridge is truly a pleasure to behold.  Variety is the spice of life and all that.

But variety is at variance with discipline, as I mentioned above … and recently I had not been a good girl and my fridge had been left to fend for itself — it if could speak it would have lodged a complaint with the RSPR (Royal Society for the Protection of Refrigerators).

Thus it was that I recently resolved to undertake a thorough Feng Shui Decluttering and re-organization of the fridge, upon pain of succumbing to some grubby-fridge-related malaise.  It took me the better part of six hours, let me tell you … I washed and rinsed EVERYTHING, and whacked some sorely needed law and order into this most important of household containers and my zeal knew no end.  And yes, I did throw quite a lot of stuff away … which I always hate to do because it seems so wasteful.  But clinging onto ‘bits’ when you know you are not going to get around to utilising them is just sad and creates clutter in the fridge.  I found an inordinate amount of half empty jam jars which fuelled a sudden passion for making jam tarts (crostata).  “Very nice this crostata, good jam eh?” commented a family member and I didn’t have the heart to tell them it was actually a mixture of various jams.

Another treasure I came across as I foraged inside the fridge, that I was again happy to ‘transform’ instead of throw away, were these salt-dried anchovies.

IMG_3010They look pretty awful don’t they.  I don’t know how long they had resided chez nous but it was definitely a case of months as opposed to days.  They were very dried out.IMG_3011I put them in a bath … lots of baths actually … I kept throwing the water away and repleneshing it … and the final rinse saw a splash of wine in the water.

I had decided to make a Piedmontese dish called “bagna caoda” which translates as “hot sauce” — a ‘bagna’ being a sauce in that part of Italy and ‘caoda’ the dialect for the word “calda” meaning hot or warm.  I was almost 30 the first time I tasted this and fell in love straight away.  This is the recipe that my Torinese friend Piera Sacco taught me and I hadn’t made it in a long, long time!  It may not be exactly how she she would have made it but it’s very close.

IMG_3012Steel yourself.  The first thing Piera told me that we were talking about one whole head of garlic per person per (can’t-remember-how-many) anchovies per person.  In other words lots and lots of garlic.  I’d say that we are talking about 40 cloves of garlic in this photo?IMG_3013Here is the garlic, peeled and in a saucepan.  You could slice the garlic thinly … but who has the time?IMG_3014Cover the garlic with milk and simmer until the garlic softens.  This might take about 30 minutes and keep an eye on it, in case you need to add another splash of milk.  The reason we simmer the garlic in the milk is that we want to remove some of their pungency … otherwise the garlic would be raping your taste buds senseless instead of courting them.  That and no one will want to sit next to you for at least three weeks, you’ll reek so much.IMG_3015While the garlic was simmering … I got on with the anchovies that had fortunately recovered a bit of their freshness by now.IMG_3016I proceeded to groom the anchovies: top and tail them, and removed all the bony and scaly parts.IMG_3017When the garlic had gone nice and mushy ….IMG_3018I introduced the garlic to the anchovies, trying to leave as much of the milk behind as possible.IMG_3019I then broke up the anchovies and mushed them up with the mushy garlic …IMG_3020I added about half a glass of olive oil … enough olive oil to cover the anchovies and the garlic by about half an inch, say …IMG_3021And I simmered what had by now become a paste for about another 20 minutes, over a very low heat.  The paste must not burn … and, again, do keep any eye on it and add a little more olive oil if necessary.IMG_3022I then poured the paste into a glass jar (and yes, that’s a bit of chocolate I recovered in the fridge — even though, as we all know, chocolate should never be inside the fridge in the first place … and the other two glass jars contain various stocks that I did use up in a soup).IMG_3023Once the paste had cooled down, I added more olive oil to seal it in, and covered the jar with its lid.IMG_3024When it was cool enough, I placed the jar containing the bagna caoda in the freshly cleaned fridge, standing next to a jar of dried roses.  Talk about a contrast!IMG_3047Segue a week later and we are having friends over for dinner and I thought we’d have bagna caoda as an appetizer.  I plopped a tablespoon of butter into a saucepan …IMG_3048I added some bagna caoda and turned the heat on.  I left the butter to melt over a low heat, and simmered the sauce (it IS a sauce now and no longer a paste) for a few minutes, until everything melded together beautifully.

The bagna caoda is served hot, usually in a ceramic pot called a “fujot”, and a large variety of crudités are used to dip into it.  IMG_3049Silly me … I didn’t frame the photo so that you can see the aperture where a candle is burning and keeping the bagna caoda hot … but if you look closely, you can see that it’s there … there is a glow on the right.IMG_3051And it’s not just veggies and boiled potatoes and spring onions that you can use as a dipping tool … if you have any leftover bagna, you could probably use some over boiled meat? a little spooned over a poached egg? an omelette? green beans?  The mind boggles … this is a hot dip indeed.