Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style

The thing about Pasta Alfredo is that it is basically well known only outside of Rome and especially in North America.  There are two restaurants in central Rome that that can lay claim to the origin of this recipe and it became famous because famous foreigners got to enjoy it, including early Hollywood film stars.  If you have a little gander around google you will encounter scores of articles to enlighten and amuse you.  If you haven’t got the time or patience, I would advise you to click on the link below for an excellent article and video on the history and the recipe written by Elizabeth Minchilli.

For my part, I can say that most Romans – if they are going to make a simple butter and parmesan pasta at all – will not use fresh pasta (fettuccine) but dry pasta instead.  The recipe is sometimes dubbed as the dish that is made for the man whose wife cheats on him (“la pasta del cornuto”); having squandered her time away from the kitchen in pursuit of forbidden pleasure and frippery, she will not have the requisite time to prepare a ‘proper’ pasta sauce.  What else can a poor unfaithful wife do but resort to a quick and easy “pasta burro e parmigiano” that she can prepare in no time at all?  As if.  Anyway, I got a craving for this dish when I was pregnant the first time – so it was very amusing for me to discover that the original chef Alfredo who ‘invented’ this concoction did so in order to improve the appetite of his pregnant wife!  There you go.  Nothing to do with being unfaithful whatsoever.  Also, it is the pasta to make after one has been ill for whatever reason.  “La pasta in bianco” it is called (white pasta) and sometimes olive oil will be substituted for the butter.  In Umbria they call it the Englishman’s pasta. I wrote a post about this some years ago: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/english-pasta-spaghetti-burro-e-parmigiano/.

But back to today and the new pasta Alfredo I want to tell you about.

The Alfredo in question is Alfredo Minardi Baldoni who runs his family’s nine-generation vineyard and olive farm near Frascati.  The vineyard and farm house/cellar couldn’t be prettier and more picturesque, with breathtaking views of the rolling hills of the Castelli Romani area, the peak of the ancient town of Tusculum,  the town of Monteporzio, as well as the hills north of Rome and the seashore to the left.

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I have been collaborating with Alfredo and his tours and wine tasting since last September, and our conversations are always about the history (and a bit of gossip) of where we live, wine (naturally!), olive oil and food.  It didn’t take me long to discover that he likes his nosh, has a fine palate and is a dab hand in the kitchen.

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I was telling him about that incredible pasta sauce I had enjoyed in Tuscany back in October, consisting of only three ingredients: sausages, mascarpone, and parmesan cheese (salt and pepper too). When we were discussing what two pasta dishes to offer our guests one Sunday, we decided go for a traditional Roman dish (Amatriciana) and to do a take on the famous (or infamous considering the ‘heavy’ ingredients) of the sausage-mascarpone-parmigiano recipe.  And this is the result.

“What are we going to call this dish?” I asked him, minutes before serving the guests? He started prattling on about the ingredients and I shook my head.  “No, we shall call this dish Pasta Minardi, after the vineyard!”  I can take no credit for the tweak on the trio of ingredients, the ideas were all Alfredo’s (except maybe for the addition of mint).  And hence, some time later, I reckoned it was a good idea to name this dish “Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style”.

INGREDIENTS

Italian sausagues, mascarpone, freshly grated parmesan cheese.

A handful of almonds, a glass of white wine (Frascati naturally!), some olive oil and as much or as little garlic as you prefer.

METHOD

Use a knife to finely chop the sausages after having skinned them.  Then brown the garlic in the olive oil, taking care not to actually ‘brown’ them.  They ought to be a golden colour. Remove the garlic afterwards (or keep it in the sauce, if you like it).

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Add the chopped sausage to the pan and use a wooden spoon or spatula to break it up as much as possible. Careful not to overcook the meat otherwise it will tend to go all hard and chewy.

You can slice the almonds with a knife or you can do what I did.  I covered them with parchment paper and used a meat pounder to crush them.

When the meat has just stopped turning pink, pour a glass of white wine into the pan (not directly on the meat) and turn the heat up to let the alcohol evaporate.

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Now add the almonds.  Stir.

The meat looks really ‘brown’ in the above photo but that’s not what it looked like in real life.  Anyway, I added 4 tablespoons of mascarpone and mixed it in.  I then added a fifth tablespoon to loosen up the sauce somewhat.  I tasted it (delicious already!) and added a little bit of salt.  Pepper (freshly milled) I always add at the end.

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The pasta was boiling away (doesn’t look like it in this photo, I know). I used roughly 700g of pasta.

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I transferred the sauce to a larger pan.  A pan that I would use to finish off the pasta.  At this point I added a few teensy mint leaves that I found on my balcony.  Dried  mint can work too, I suppose.

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The pasta was almost ready, so I turned the heat on.

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I had added some pasta water to the previous pan, to soak up whatever got left behind. I poured this into the new pan and then drained the pasta directly into the pan.

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Here I am finishing off the pasta in the pan, adding more pasta water (as needed) and tossing and or stirring the pasta.

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Pepper and parmesan last.  Give it a good stir and serve.

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A lovely wintry recipe,  my appreciative guests commented as they enjoyed Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style a few evenings ago.

I should think so so too.  This might not grow hair on your chest, but you will find yourself breathing better as you savour the richness of the texture, the crunch of the almonds, the saving grace of a faint hint of mint and the rounding off of a parmesan-mascarpone finish.

http://www.elizabethminchilli.com/2017/02/how-to-make-fettuccine-alfredo-video/

Fast Food Anyone? The Quickest Way to Make Pasta e Ceci

Cooking should not be a race – but then neither should life and at times we have to cook meals in a hurry.  “Ceci” are chickpeas/garbanzo.  When combined with some pasta in a thick soup, flavoured with garlic, a hint of tomato and an infusion of rosemary, it makes for a very inviting repast.

Made some today for lunch for my daughter and she recalled how often she made this recipe when she was at university.   So I have decided to dedicate this blog post to my lovely niece Emily, who just started at Uni in September.

Another plus is that the ingredients are easy to find and cheap too.  So, what more could one want?

The only relative ‘downside’ is that there is one utensil that is required and that is a hand-held blender, and not every student might have one.

INGREDIENTS:

1 glass jar of precooked chickpeas, 1 clove of garlic, salt, tomato paste, fresh rosemary, a short-shaped pasta.

PROCEDURE:

Put the kettle on the boil or boil some water in a saucepan.

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Drain the jar.

IMG_1423Divide the chickpeas into two bowls (or mugs or glasses).  Let’s name the bowl on the left A and the bowl on the right, with the fork in it, B.  Well, bowl B has slightly more chickpeas than A, say 60 percent versus 40 percent.

IMG_1424.JPGYou’ll be needing a squeeze of tomato paste.  One clove of garlic and about 50g of pasta (per person).  I didn’t have any short-shaped pasta – only spaghetti.  But that’s okay, spaghetti can be snapped into bit size morsels.

IMG_1425.JPGSlice the garlic clove into three pieces.  Squeeze a teaspoonful amount of tomato paste.  And slather the bottom of a small saucepan with enough olive oil to muster the required amount of fat in this dish.  Remember, no fat no taste.

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Turn the heat on, and begin the cooking process.  The garlic has to cook until it goes golden.

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Now add the 40% amount of chickepeas (the smaller bowl, bowl A). Use a wooden spoon to mix the tomato paste into it.

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Don’t forget to add some salt too.

IMG_1430Now add one to two ladles of the simmering water to the mix. Enough, anyhow, to cover the chickpeas.

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Remove the saucepan from the heat and use a hand-held blender to process its contents.

IMG_1432Now, using another, slightly larger saucepan … we can proceed with the recipe.  Place the 60 percent, bowl B, amount of chickpeas to this pan.

IMG_1433Transfer the other processed ingredients into this saucepan.  So now we have whole chickpeas as well as processed chickpeas swimming together.  Turn the heat on.

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Snap your spaghetti into matchstick sized pieces.  And add them to the soup.

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Mix with a wooden spoon.

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Add as much simmering water as is required.  Basically, you are cooking this pasta e ceci the way you would a risotto.

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Don’t overdo it, for now, add just enough water to cover the ingredients.

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I love rosemary and rosemary pairs super well with the chickpeas in this recipe.  Carry on cooking until the pasta is cooked al dente.  Keep an eye on the process, you might want to add a little more simmering water, you might need to give the soup a swirl with a wooden soup to avoid it sticking from the bottom of the pan.  The rosemary will lose some of its colour.

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Once you have tasted the pasta for its ‘doneness’ … remove the rosemary, or as much of it as you can, and then swirl some more extra virgin olive oil over the surface and sprinkle with freshly milled pepper.

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Looking good eh? Inviting?

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Not finished.  Not, that is, if you enjoy some grated pecorino cheese over it.  Which my daughter does.

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Time to eat.

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Considering that the pasta takes about 10-12 minutes to cook … this whole recipe took less than 20 minutes to cook from start to finish.  Now that’s what I call fast food.

I had written about a very similar recipe a few years ago:

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

And about another one including mushrooms:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/chickpea-and-pasta-soup-with-a-mushroom-finish/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Tart Up Tomato Soup

Personally, I don’t think tomato soup needs tarting up, I really like it.  Who nowadays, however, does make tomato soup from scratch or even dreams of ordering it in the unlikely situation of a restaurant listing it on its menu? It would strike one as being so passé, correct?, so gastronomically over and done with.

Tomato soup is the sort of fare one might associate with an Agatha Christie tale of mystery and murder on the Orient Express, in a TV period-drama series (right up Downton Abbey’s gastronomic alley I’d say), Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books maybe, or even in short stories set in drab hotel restaurants of the 1950s.  Cream of Tomato Soup would probably have been included in Derek Cooper’s 1967 “The Bad Food Guide” from which I quote the following extract under “A Certain Lack of Dignity”:

“He always starts with soup whatever it is … He has half a bottle of Blue Nun Liebfraumilch whatever he’s eating and she has a Port to start with and then half a bottle of some kind of Sauternes.  He has boiled potatoes with every lunch and either peas or carrots or, when it’s in season, asparagus which he’s very partial to.  She picks her way about among the expensive dishes but usually has steak Diane because she likes the drama at the table.”

Makes for depressing reading all of this.  So much in contrast to the soup’s cheery bright red colour.  I don’t suppose the hue of  this soup played any prompting role in Andy Warhol’s painting of Campbell soup tins/cans in 1962?  Head scratching doubt, probably not.  “While visiting the Pittsburgh-born provocateur in the midst of Campbell’s Soup Cans’ production, art dealer Irving Blum was so impressed that he offered Warhol a show at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles. … Not only was the Ferus Gallery show Warhol’s first solo exhibition of pop paintings, it was also the first time Pop art had been displayed on the West Coast. No matter what the response was, this was a history-making event” (http://mentalfloss.com/article/71814/16-things-you-might-not-know-about-andy-warhols-campbells-soup-cans).

History in the making and tins of soup, hey.  Whatever else can be discarded from the descriptives of tomato soup, artistic primacy and fame now cannot.  We can definitely say that, thanks to Warhol, tomato soup is ‘historic’ in some way.  So why is it that it has become a rarity and most likely not even heard of by people under fifty years of age?

I do remember tomato soup at the dinner table when growing up abroad but not at home in Italy – home being chez my Nonna, my Italian grandmother after whom I was named.  As your average Italian home cook still abiding by the only cuisine she knew, i.e. regional food, my Nonna who was from Frascati never made the Tuscan Pappa al Pomodoro (which is a thick tomato soup mopping up a lot of dry bread).  I had heard of “pappa al pomodoro” by the time I was eight only because the singer and actress Rita Pavone sang a song about it in a children’s TV series based on a book called The “Diary of Gian Burrasca” (translation: Johnny Tempest), featuring the scrapes and adventures of the exuberant/naughty boy Giannino Stoppani as he fought against the rules of the grown ups and the dickensian system of a boarding school.  Well, this Johnny Tempest’s song said that a pappa al pomodoro was worth fighting a revolution over but it didn’t sound very enticing to me, I have to say.

Click on the photo to activate the video.

The first time I did get to eat a pappa al pomodoro, I smiled inwardly remembering how much I had loved that TV programme. For the record, much as I liked the taste of my first pappa al pomodoro, I can’t say I was blown away by it.  It was nice but nothing to write home about.  I did instead have an Aha! moment with the version I got to eat last month, in the countryside in Tuscany, and indeed I think I shall write a post about it, it was that good.

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Back to tomato soup.  While I continue to this day to love Heinz baked beans on toast, I don’t remember ever buying a tin of any soup, it just didn’t seem ‘right’ to me, even back in the day.  We didn’t ‘do’ tins in our Italian home, the only ones I spotted were those containing plain plum tomatoes.

Commercially produced tomato soup used to be available in a dry version too, in packets.  All one had to do was pour boiling hot water over the mixture and wait for it to rehydrate, even in a large mug.  This was quite a staple of mine during my last year at boarding school.  I’d add some cubes of cheddar to it and hey presto! my hunger pangs were curbed.

I suppose I grew up thinking that tomato soup was somehow French or English in origin.  Witness my surprise then when I found out that the Italian chef, gastronome and food writer Ada Boni included Cream of Tomato soup in her now legendary cookery book “The Talisman of Happiness” published in 1928.  I found out via my next door neighbour Rossella, who also loves to cook, only a few years ago, who pronounced it delectable.  More eyebrow raising when I discovered that some béchamel was included in her (i.e. Ada Boni’s) recipe.  I had never had it served like that before.  I ventured to make it and it was fine, very nice indeed.

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As the authors Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham comment in their book “The Prawn Cocktail Years”, “It is a curious thing that when you go to the bother of making a proper home-made tomato soup with very ripe tomatoes (essential), fresh herbs, decent home-made stock and cream, you end up with a soup that looks identical to and has an almost interchangeable consistency with what is very probably the world’s most popular canned soup: Heinz Cream of Tomato.  The taste, however, is quite different.”  Their version  is similar to Ada Boni’s, except for the addition of garlic and whipping cream.  Ada Boni eschewed any kind of stock, too, and added a bayleaf in the process, as well as parmesan at the very end.

All this to say that it is high time we resuscitated the popularity of tomato soup. It can be served with buttery croutons, or cubes of mozzarella, or grated parmesan.  Or, it can be served as a main course when paired with cod.  Talk about tarting it up!

My friend Liz made this recipe for us a week ago and I found it so delicious that I nearly lost sleep over it (not really, but I did send her a congratulatory whatsapp just before crashing at almost 1 a.m. and that’s after having imbibed a gals-night quota of fermented grape juice, if you catch my drift).  The long and the short of it is that I just had to have a go at replicating last night.  And here is what I did.

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There is a secret ingredient: a vanilla pod.  So what you see in the above photo is a biggish saucepan containing lots of olive oil (extra virgin), 1 vanilla pod and 1 clove of garlic, slightly smashed.IMG_1329IMG_1330These were the freshest tomatoes I could find.  I cut them in half and showered plenty of salt over them.  The salt tames their acidic content as well as bringing out the best in terms of taste.  I then placed them in the saucepan and turned the heat on.IMG_1332I let them cook with the lid on for 45 minutes, checking up on them now and then.IMG_1335This is what they looked like 45 minutes later.  I removed the lid and let them cook for another 15 minutes, again over a fairly low heat.  So, cooking time all in all about 1 hour.

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Set aside for now.IMG_1348This is the cod I had bought from my fishmonger’s that morning.  Enough for two to three servings.  I removed the skin myself.

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I placed the pieces of cod in an earthenware/terracotta pot and poured enough olive oil inside to cover them.  I also added a few pepper corns.

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Yes, an awful lot of olive oil – enough for them to be able to swim in it.  The olive oil, by the way, is Quattrociocchi’s extra virgin.  Definitely one of my favourites.  It’s from near the town of Alatri, in Lazio and has won countless prizes in competitions all over the world.IMG_1351I had turned the fan oven on at 180°C and placed the pot in it to cook … until it was ready, which took around 20 minutes.  Now, this is where I differed from Liz.  She told me she had baked her cod at about 90°C, half the heat I was dealing with.  The reason I took this short cut was that … it was getting really late and I had two hungry people looking forward to their dinner.  Liz’s cod took about an hour to cook if I remember correctly.IMG_1352While my cod was baking, I got out my trusty Italian style food mill.

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I removed the garlic and the vanilla pod from the cooked tomatoes.  The vanilla had swelled up.IMG_1354I processed the tomatoes and what you see above is what got thrown away: the seeds and the skins.IMG_1355And this is what came through: a luscious, silky cream of tomato.  Tasting pretty good already.  It is amazing what the vanilla can do!  You can’t actually taste a vanilla flavour as such and yet it confers a je ne sais quoi to the tomatoes that brings on a happy mood.IMG_1356Liz had used the olives from Liguria known as Taggiasca that cost an arm and a leg and are worth it because they are so wonderful. I didn’t have any so made do with a more humble black olive. I peeled the olives off their pip or stone or whatever you call that thing that can crack a tooth.

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Liz had fried her olives in some olive oil.  I went crazy and using a small saucepan, sautéed some extra garlic, a teensy amount of red chilli, roughly torn basil leaves and the bits of olive.  Only for the  briefest of sautéing time.  I poured the oil through a sieve and set aside.

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I put the cream of tomato back onto a source of heat, tasted, and then added a tiny amount of salt that it definitely needed (but no sugar hey, the vanilla saw to that – plus the tomatoes were pretty good stuff).

The cod came out of the oven sizzling as you could see in the video.

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I got so excited at this point.

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I removed the cod from the oil.  I poured the oil I had filtered into the soup, as well as the olive bits,  I added fresh basil.

I plated up and served.

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It as not as fine as Liz’s insuperable and for me Proustiaan first taste of this recipe but it was jolly good, even if I say so myself.   Mmmmm … I’m wanting some more even now, looking at the photos.

IMG_1365Fortunately for me and my risk-taking decision to use a much higher heat, the cod turned out to cook to a beautiful consistency.

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One final comment … these photos are of the recipe seconds before the soup got eaten so my concession to aesthetic presentation took a bit of a back seat.  I revel at the photos I see on instagram and other food blogs and I really do admire the fine photography of the bloggers in question.  I can’t keep up I’m afraid.  What you see in my photos is what real food looks like in a real home with plenty of hungry people silently, or not as the case may be, telling you to stop the faffing about with the iphone camera now, and can we please sit down and eat.

P.S.  In case you are wondering about what happend to the olive oil the cod got cooked in.  I filtered it and am going to be frying some veggies in batter with it tonight.  Waste not, want not.

Loosey Goosey Mozzarella Topping for Fried Aubergine Slices

The queen of summer dishes is the Parmigiana di Melanzane, of course.  Slices of aubergine fried in olive oil and then baked in the oven with mozzarella, basil, parmesan and a tomato sauce.  It is, however, a dish that requires an attitude of reverence and plenty of time for its production.  One evening a few weeks ago, I decided I would settle for an aubergine recipe that would use the same ingredients basically but at the same time offer the bonus of taking less than an hour to prepare.

I also decided to go for this recipe because … the aubergines and tomatoes I had to hand weren’t exactly the best quality.  I am a bit of a bore when it comes to where to do one’s food shopping and I have been avoiding/boycotting supermarkets for many years now, ever since I read the book by Felicity Lawrence “Not on the Label”, circa 2005/6/7 … can’t remember exactly which year.  I realise I am at risk of coming across as a terrible snob, with supercilious standards, especially with regard to people who go to supermarkets for reasons of economy.  So I hasten to add that Frascati, which is where I live, is a very short distance to many markets: our own Frascati covered market open Monday to Saturday and a Slow Food Market every Saturday morning, both of which I can reach on foot; then there are farmers markets in the area (Ariccia), and weekly markets (Grottaferrata on Mondays, Cocciano on Wednesdays), as well as a couple of farms (Capodaraco in Grottaferrata and Iacchelli not far from Nemi). And not only do the prices of their wares compete very favourably with supermarket prices but … their produce is infinitely better on the whole, it really is, no contest! I am nearly always disappointed when I buy veg from a supermarket.  Which fortunately does not happen very often.

Anyway, it just so happened that I had some dodgy looking aubergines and tomatoes sourced from, you guessed it, the supermarket.  Their look wasn’t exactly a come-hither one and the only answer for me to such a strait (that perhaps only I deem to be dire) was to go down the tasty camouflage route, i.e. to take recourse to frying.  As they say in Italian, even the sole of a shoe would taste good if it were fried.

INGREDIENTS

Aubergines, tomatoes, basil leaves, breadcrumbs, eggs, mozzarella, good quality extra virgin olive oil, oil for frying (either olive oil or groundnut/peanut oil).  Salt.

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The first thing to do is rip the mozzarella and put it in a sieve or colander so as to dry it up a little, remove the excess of its liquid.

1These tomatoes looked pretty enough but … their taste left a lot to be desired. I had a little bit of tweaking to do in order to amp up their flavour.  Cut the tomatoes in half, and then half again, place in another colander and allow them to drip away.

2And here is the prepping station.  Some beaten eggs in one plate.  Some breadcrumbs in another.  The unprepossessing aubergines.  I peeled them, cut them into fairly thick round slices.  I then coated them with the egg wash before breading them on both sides.

3Be sure to press quite hard.  Fingers get to be incredibly sticky and require frequent rinsing (especially if the phone rings – now why is it that the phone tends to always ring or the neighbour call in when I am in the process of frying food?  Maybe the anti-frying police is after me.).

4Off I went and shallow fried the aubergine slices.  Turning them over only once.  I removed them with a slotted spoon and set them over a plate with kitchen paper to welcome any unwanted oiliness.

6And now back to the mozzarella rags.  I put them in the food processor with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.  I used the pulse feature to process them. I seem to remember adding 1 tablespoon of very cold water, to ‘loosen’ the mozzarella as it were.

7I stopped the blitzing and tasted the mozzarella.

8I decided it required a little more olive oil.  A good sprinkle of salt and white pepper and some fresh basil leaves.  A little more blitzing and it was done.

9And here, dear reader, is my loosey goosey mozzarella topping: easy peasy!

It was time to put the ingredients together and serve the dish.

1011I added a little dribble of olive oil to the tomatoes as well as a tiny sprinkle of salt (sea salt, always sea salt).

On the platter.

1314And for all my lamenting and decrying over the quality of the aubergines and tomatoes, this recipe turned out to be very good indeed.  All of the aubergine slices got wolfed down and a sense of summer satiety obtained at the dinner table.  Frying can work miracles, I tell you.

A Flash in the Pan but not a Flashy Fish Recipe

Sometimes it is easy to forget how a handful of readily available ingredients are all that it takes to make a simple fish taste so good.

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This couple of ‘orata’ (sea bream) were caught from near Civitavecchia, or so the fishmonger told me as he gutted them and removed their scales.  One orata for me, one for hubby, they weighed about 700 g each.  When I got home, I rinsed them again in running water, and patted them dry.

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I put some flour aside for coating them later on.

3In the saucepan to start with: olive oil, butter and some sweet paprika.

4Once the heat was turned on, I added some garlic, minced parsely and about a teaspoonful of coriander.

5After flouring the fish on both sides, I lay them gently into the bubbling olive oil and butter.

6I did my best to turn them over without removing any of the skin, but as you can see, I wasn’t entirely successful.

8I had some white wine on standby.

7Once I deemed the fish to be cooked, I placed them over a bed of plain peas seasoned with a little bit of butter and salt.

9I poured some wine into the saucepan, turned the heat up in order to let the alcohol evaporate, and then poured whatever lovely juices remained through a sieve all over the fish.

10On the table and ready to be served.  Doesn’t look like much, and yet is was so satisfying (all that butter folks! and the nuance of paprika and coriander) and very pleasant to eat.

11Also on the menu was saltwort which had been blanched first and then cooked through in another saucepan which was waiting for it with crispy guanciale (pork jowl) and all that that entailed.  It’s the first time I served ‘barba di frate’ or ‘agretti’ as saltwort is called in Italian this way.  I know it won’t be the last.

I think it took me less than 20 minutes to make this dinner.

Nieves makes Paella for Us

Our friend Nieves Alberruche is an artist who can’t help but infuse her creative bent into her cooking.  Or her kitchen, I love the entrance to her kitchen.

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She hails from Spain (Madrid) and adores Dalì but she would never dream of Dali-fying the dish she makes so well and that we all adore: paella.   The paella she made for us last week looked like this:

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And was preceded by a delicious gazpacho.

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Two years ago, I photographed Nieves as she went about making her delectably more-ish paella. What follows is a blow-by-blow account of how she prepares it … and believe me, it’s worth all the effort.  But first a word of cautionary apology: I read just recently via Tracey Macleod that “true Valencians never eat paella at night – that’s really the mark of a rube, like drinking a cappuccino after lunch in Rome.”  Sigh.   However, hers being a Valencian paella, Nieves did almost stick to tradition, it contains only local seafood; strictly no meat.  (It is not supposed to contain vegetables either but Nieves decided otherwise – I told you, she’s an artist.)

Another ‘artist’ friend of  mine, the food writer Gareth Jones, who tragically left us two years ago, wrote a very engaging blog about paella and arroz, and I would encourage you to read it, here is the link: http://www.garethjonesfood.com/?p=2362

But now  … on with Nieves and HER paella.

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It all starts with a dog.  You have to have some kind of pet or loved one to keep you company as you cook.  Meet Walter.   The family dog.

Nieves says that one has to be thoroughly organised and have all the ingredients and equipment at the ready so as to avoid dither.  Hence … large clean glass or mug (to use as a measuring cup), a water jug, the rice.  Peeled and sliced onions and garlic, olive oil (lots of olive oil!), red capsicum and peas or green beans in one bowl. Sweet paprika (“pimenton”). Cleaned fish in another bowl.  Manila clams somewhere else and, last, whole prawns. Also needed are a few pinches of saffron, salt and 6 lemons. Cut 4 lemons into wedges and squeeze the other two for their juice.

One glass of rice per person.  Two glasses of water per glass of rice.  Pour all the water inside a water jug to make things easier (that way, you don’t have to keep running to the tap to refill the glass).

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It is also mandatory, I would say, to use a proper paella pan. Indeed, the pan itself is called a ‘paella’.  The Spanish colonization of southern Italy must surely have something to do with the fact that the Italian word for a pan is “padella” ….?

It all begins with a good amount of olive oil spread out over the paella pan.  Enough to cover the entire surface of the paella. That means a lot of oil, don’t be afraid !

Switch the heat on, cook the onions and garlic over a low heat, and then scatter some peas (frozen at that) and slithers of de-seeded red capsicum (red peppers).   Very low heat, we don’t want to scorch the ingredients, just make them ‘mellow’.

A prodigious amount of “pimenton” is then added, i.e. the sweet paprika.

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As you can see, Nieves quickly made sure the paprika combined with the other ingredients. She says it must not ‘cook’ for more than a minute or so at this stage, otherwise it will become bitter.  We are still cooking over a low heat.  Hence …


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In went the rice, all in one energetic go.

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And, by the looks of it, Nieves proceeded to spread the rice and let it ‘toast’ for a bit – not unlike the procedure for making risotto.  One big difference is that the rice has to be spread very thinly in this case.  Sprinkle salt over the rice before spreading it around. Rice, after all, requires plenty of salt if it is to acquire flavour.

Oh and about the rice in question, if it can’t be the Spanish bomba, it should at least be a short-grained one (i.e. the oryza sativa): no basmati or jasmine or other Oriental rice.  I expect Nieves used a plain Italian Arborio rice.

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Time to add the water to completely cover the dish. Now also add the pinches of saffron. The saffron should not overpower the taste of the delicate fish. A vast (and very expensive!) amount is certainly not required.

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Fishy flavour can be called into play now, in order to enhance the broth, with the congregation of mussels and calamari that are introduced at this point into the bubble, bubble, toil-but-no-trouble paella.

At no time did Nieves stir the rice.  If anything, the rice must be left well alone until all the liquid has been absorbed, and left to cook longer than one would think.  That is because it is supposed to develop some crust underneath, as well as around the edges.

Nieves added  prawns too, but later on, after about 15 minutes (they take less time to cook).  Her advice is to sink and lightly crush their heads into the rice (using a spoon or toothpick) so that any liquor can also go into making the paella tastier.

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When she deemed the dish ready, she infused the paella with plenty of lemon juice.  She then decorated it with wedges of cut lemons.

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Now is the the last-minute tweak moment: turn up the heat so as to allow the bottom part of the rice to develop a crunchy crustiness.  Then, obviously, switch the heat off. And remove from the burner.

18Looking good, eh? Final touch? Spread a clean tea towel over the paella so that the steam can imbue its magic, helping the overall texture of the dish.

A paella should be served just warm … never hot. Squeeze more lemonjuice if you so desire.  By the way, you will be surprised to discover that all that oil ‘miraculously’ disappears into deliciousness. Skimp on the oil and  your texture will be brittle and horrid.


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Walter heartily approved !  Gracias, grazie, thank you Nieves!

P.S. If you are interested in what makes a true paella, you need to read about Guillermo Navarro.  It is he who has been behind the wikipaella.org pages.

Guillermo Navarro: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/how-to-make-the-perfect-paella-guillermo-navarro-says-youre-doing-wrong-heres-why-9549422.html

Link to Wikipaella.org: http://en.wikipaella.org/receta/public/resultados

Tracey MacLeod on paella: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/how-to-make-the-perfect-paella-guillermo-navarro-says-youre-doing-wrong-heres-why-9549422.html

 

 

Flowery Meatballs

I was eleven years old when the song came out: “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”.

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It was “written by John Phillips of The Mamas & the Papas, and sung by Scott McKenzie. It was released in June 1967 to promote the Monterey Pop Festival.  McKenzie’s song became an instant hit. The lyrics tell the listeners, “If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”.  “San Francisco” reached number four on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, and was number one in the United Kingdom and most of Europe. The single is purported to have sold over 5 million copies worldwide. The song is credited with bringing thousands of young people to San Francisco during the late 1960s.  In Central Europe, young people adopted “San Francisco” as an anthem for freedom, and it was widely played during Czechoslovakia’s 1968 Prague Spring uprising against Soviet rule.”

Here is a link to the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7I0vkKy504U

I was out of an evening last week, scurrying to get to the greengrocers before its closing time,  and came upon a packet of edible flowers, not a usual ‘find’ in this shop!

1And I was just so attracted to their beauty and vibrant colours that I bought them without even thinking about it, or how I would be able to weave them into our dinner that evening.

Dinner was a homey humble polpette (meatballs), asparagus and spinach affair. Humdrum mid-week meal: meat and two veg, you know, hardly anything to write home about.   Home-made mayo for the asparugs and lemon juice and olive oil for the spinach. Yet those flowers somehow brought music to my soul and I couldn’t help but sing snatches of the song as I went about my preparation.  I think that a hippy is the last thing I could ever aspire to being, hippy drippy I never could be, but I confess that I am indeed attracted to wearing flowers in my hair.  To cooking with a spring in my step.  To seeking joy in the little things.  To kicking my heels occasionally in the kitchen.  Fry and flirt …

A few days later and there would be another terrorist attack, in London.  Among some of the articles I read about it, one was entitled “This is a war on joy – Don’t let the terrists rob us of who we are”.  (www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/04/war-joy-terrorists-london-bridge-attack-manchester-westminster?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+main+NEW+H+categories&utm_term=229148&subid=16390029&CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2)

I agree.  Showing sympathy and empathy is what makes us human, and reasonable people.  But we also have to keep our spirits up at the same time.  We need to fight back on a daily basis and not let these ghastly events depress us.  It’s what these mad people want.  And I don’t want to give them that satisfaction. Make love, not War!  Pur flowers in your food.

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I soaked some breadcrumbs in water and then added olive oil.

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I grated some parmesan, to which I added some freshly grated nutmeg, a little bit of paprika, and a squeeze of tomato paste.

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And then, with the addition of two eggs and the minced meat (beef), as well as salt and pepper, and some minced parsely or mint (not in the photo) … use your hands to combine all the ingredients.

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Shape them into meatballs.  Et voilà there they are!

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Fry them in olive oil or groundnut/peanut oil.

 

Turn them over only once.

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And, finally, serve them on a plate with plenty of flowers.   And rejoice.

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12So pretty, do admit!

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The Summer of Love in San Francisco was 50 years ago.  High time we rekindled some more summery love all over the globe.

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2007/may/27/escape