On Matters of Batter and Fried Chicken

I think that brain matter, likewise, has to muscle into the preparation of this recipe.

I don’t know about you but my memory is starting to play up in certain spheres.  I used to be blessed with a very fine memory, one that came in most useful during the final weeks preceding examinations; I was an adept swotter with a quasi OCD approach to note-and-rote learning, with close to photographic results.  But there is another kind of memory that nearly always comes to my aid.  To this day, friends and family will remark on how extraordinary it is that I can still remember a series of events, or even the day of the week something happened.  Well that, instead, I attribute to a very ordinary practice of logical sequencing, linking or deduction: putting two and two together, as it were.  “How on earth do you remember that it was a Tuesday?” for instance, someone will ask.  And I will answer, “Well, because I used to go to gymn classes on Tuedays, that’s how.”  Nothing Sherlock Holmes about this, just plain ol’ Watson.

I did write a diary for a while, starting in my teens at boarding school.  And one can’t deny that a diary involves some kind of  memory function.  Goodness knows what I wanted to record, to save for remembrance.  I suppose it was a way of keeping time, of making sense of the uneventful progressing of the days.  People sometimes wonder whether I had a hard time at boarding school and I answer no: in an age when it is all too easy to fingerpoint at horrid priests and nuns for the maltreatment of their pupils, I must attest to our nuns being actually very nice on the whole.  But life at boarding school was hardly exciting, let’s face it, so my diary was mostly the jotting down of desultory homework requirements, disappointing match results of games played, or an unhoped for change in lunch menu; commenting on a spat between best friends or, yes!, the break-up even of best friends; the changes in mood due to an imminent menstrual period (we used to call it the ‘curse’) and the excitement of someone buying a new l.p. record.  To this day I cannot bear certain songs (John Lennon’s Imagine for one) because we used to play such records to death, over and over again in the space of a few hours.

And I was always ‘pining’.  Oh what a piner I was!  Longing, awaiting, yearning for, moping, hankering after, languishing for, craving … you get the picture.  I suppose it’s what many young girls feel while growing up?  I can recognise much of myself in Anne Frank’s diary – being able to talk to yourself is a way of trying to make sense of things, of giving words to a troubling feeling, it can soothe restlessness, it can stimulate consciousness.  There is a confessional side to writing a diary, an intimacy of ‘sharing’ that one only usually does with loved and trusted confidantes.  What is life all about?  Who can I consult?  I did French for ‘A’ level and was totally taken by the whole existentialist outlook – with the underlying agnosticism or indeed Godlessness somehow not interfering whatsoever with my catholic religion.  I asked hard questions at times, and I fell in love with Camus (never liked Sartre, horrid toad of a man, was not surprised later in life to discover that he used to require his girlfriend to pimp underage girls for him).  One of the set books was Camus’s The Plague and ouff, how ironic that it should come to mind in this Spring of 2020.  In the mid-seventies, his book could be read as a metaphor for the plague of recurring war (the Vietnam war was still going on), and as a generation we were indeed worried about the possibility of a nuclear war. And here we are – at the very start of the third decade of the 21st century, witnessing a very real virus-driven outbreak, who would have thought … who could have thought?  Camus, like all good things, never goes out of fashion.

One thing I did know for sure: I wanted to ‘live’ and not merely ‘exist’.  And yes, laugh if you will, but that desire is with me still.  My idea of ‘living’ might not be yours, of course – travelling and travel of the mind, and friends and family are its four pillars.  To each their own, as they say, and bringing life into this world, having children, has been my most memorable ‘achievement’, that which made me feel ‘alive’ as no other experience had ever previously done.  Can it be altogether coincidental, I am asking myself as I write, that I began a blog round about the time I was dealing with the empty nest syndrome? (One child had already left home, and the other was about to.)  I am not sure I would have started keeping a diary if I hadn’t gone to boarding school.  Then, despite beloved friends with whom I am still close more than forty years later, it was my family I missed the most, my parents, my sisters, even our dog.  The diary helped me cope with what was missing.  And I can only surmise that the blog has served a similar purpose, this time the people missed being my children.  And I am still asking hard questions.  If you think about it, a blog is a bit like a diary, no? It’s about food all right but, also, food for thought.

Now that I’ve gone off at a tangent let me try to get back to the recipe and why I want to have it carved in blog-stone.

The main reason is that, fried chicken never goes out of fashion.  And it requires a good batter.  The second reason has to do with the slings and arrows of a failing memory.  I want to get this recipe down pat, once and for all.

I have made chicken fried in batter at least a dozen times, and each time it’s been a bit different.   The first attempt was based on a Nigella episode where I learned the crafty art of a) pre cooking the chicken in milk and b) shaking the chicken bits in a plastic bag filled with flour (or was it breadcrumbs, mmm?) to coat them – very clever trick indeed.  Successive attempts always included egg somewhere in the recipe but it wasn’t until two years ago that I made a batter to coat the chicken, as opposed to just flour and breadcrumbs.  And that was because my mother was harping on and on about how wonderful (“out of this world” according to her) our cook in Bangladesh’s fried chicken was.  And could I try and replicate it?  Which I dutifully and gastronomically did to general acclaim.  Jolly good.  Except, now, I can’t remember what I did!

I read quite a few food blogs and found myself being intrigued about fried chicken recipes.  Some amount of marinading is always called for.  A magical ingredient known as buttermilk (which we can’t get here in Italy) is presented as to a cut above  yogurt.  Seasoning ranges from family secrets to the ubiquitous salt, pepper and paprika.  Some opt for chopped onion, others for dried garlic.  Fresh herbs? Dry herbs?  So much to consider, so many choices.  The following are my conclusions, which I am most happy to reconsider based on any new information coming my way.

RECIPE and TIPS

Marinading – I don’t know what all the fuss is about.  Chicken is tender, to me it doesn’t need marinading or tenderising.  The tastiness comes from the spices you are going to add to the batter, not the marinade.  So I give this step a miss.  Shoot me.

Pre-Cooking the chicken: well done Nigella, as I already said.  In this version, however, instead of simmering the chicken pieces in milk, I steamed them.  It took about half an hour. Easy enough to do and one less ingredient to add to the list.  The reason for pre-cooking is kind of obvious: when it comes to frying the chicken, it will take less time and you don’t have to worry about eating semi-raw chicken.  All you have to be worried about is getting the batter to turn crisp.  Note to self for next time: rub a little olive oil over the chicken parts and add some salt.  I am sure this will enhance the overall taste.

Batter Ingredients:

(1)Eggs – egg whites only.  There is a scientific (chemistry) reason why we should eschew the egg yolk.  I think it has something to do with the crisp factor.  I confess, I read about it but have forgotten why.

(2)Alcohol – I used grappa, you could use vodka or some other strong alcoholic drink (not wine and nothing sweet of course).  Apparently, at high heat (and frying does require high heat), the alcohol evaporates and makes the batter extra crisp.  We are talking about tablespoons of alcohol, not great big mugfulls!

(3a)Flours for the batter:  both ordinary flour and corn flour/starch

(3b) Plain flour for coating the chicken pieces before immersing them in the batter; for flavouring, read below.

(4)Breadcrumbs: optional

(5a)Dry spices and/or herbs: you choose what you like … paprika, allpice, parsley, thyme, rosemary – not mint or marjoram I shouldn’t think.  Indeed, you don’t have to add any spices if you don’t want to.  But salt and pepper, yes. Especially salt.  No salt, no taste.

(5b) Fresh herbs: parsley, chives, dill, fresh coriander (even teensy amount of sage) finely chopped – but if so, add them to the batter only at the end, just before you fry the chicken.

(6)Fresh stuff: by ‘stuff’ I mean onion and garlic.  Dry garlic is heaven sent and is what I used. I did use chopped onions on one occasion and it was a tad overwhelming – but that is a matter of personal taste.  I suppose spring onions might be a good alternative?  Whatever stuff you choose to include ‘fresh’, make sure you add it to the batter ONLY at the last minute.  Otherwise it will dilute it.

(7a)Tomato paste – to add colour and a hint of acidity.

OR

(7b)Grated lemon zest – to add freshness, but just a touch. If  you are after a lemony fried chicken drumstick, then by all means add to your heart’s content.

(8)Slurry: there used to be an ad on British television about Murray Mints and the line was, “Never hurry a Murray, it’s far too good to hurry”.  So, mutatis mutandis, it’s a good idea to take your time to make a proper slurry.  Sounds awful, somehow, doesn’t it, conjuring up something slimy.  The slurry basically IS the batter, just not a nice name for it.  It will include beaten egg whites (I used three) diluted with cold water (you could use beer I suppose?) to which you will then add all the other ingredients mentioned above.  The ratio of flours is 30 percent corn starch, 70 plain white flour, but you could even do 50/50 why not.  The final consistency has to be fairly thick.  Go ahead – taste it.  You might want to add a je ne sais quoi to make it just right. Last: it’s not a bad idea to cool the batter in the fridge.  A cold batter will ‘react’ with the hot oil for a crispier result.

(9)Frying oil: groundnut/peanut oil has a good smoke point.

PROCEDURE/METHOD – WHAT TO DO, IN OTHER WORDS, STEP BY STEP

(1)Coat the chicken pieces with olive oil, season and then steam for about half an hour or until ready.  Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely.

(2)While the chicken is cooking, you can prepare the slurry/batter and put it in the fridge.  .

(3)Dredge the cooled-down chicken pieces in a bowl full of seasoned flour (3b above).  Alternatively, place this flour in a large plastic bag, slip the chicken pieces into the bag and shake it until they are evenly coated.

(4a) Place the floured chicken pieces on a rack or large plate, awaiting to be dunked in the batter before being fried.
(4b)Alternatively, place the chicken pieces in a bowl large enough to hold them, pour the batter over them so that it covers them completely, seal with clingfilm and put in the fridge until the next day.  It’s okay for the batter to be cold but …but fridge-cold chicken will take longer to cook.  Hence, it’s a good idea to remove the chicken from the fridge-cold batter at least one hour before frying.

(5)Heat the oil.  It’s a good idea to use a deep frying pan.  If you have one, even a Dutch oven works very well.  When the oil is ready to receive the chicken (at around 180°C), first dunk each piece of chicken in the batter and proceed with frying in sensible batches (don’t fry them all at once).

SERVE.

 

Fried chicken makes everyone happy, it is festive.  People of all ages like it, it is democratic, it can be eaten with one’s fingers.  Fried chicken is a treat.

And, as we all know, fried chicken tastes fab eaten cold the next day.  Great for a picnic!  Remember Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in the picnic scene in To Catch a Thief ?  Who says fried chicken can’t be sultry and sexy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EN_tYpSpqc&list=PL9AFxNdm-mwMpBs3FlKwBKPC51QGT2Vu8&index=2

Here are some photos from my latest batch, cooked last Saturday and shared with my parents-in-law.  There is something naughty about fried foods, isn’t there, and I wanted my in-laws to live a little – heartburn be damned.

UQXP5354Here are the cooked, cooled chicken pieces coated with spiced-up flour.

WLRP7294Here is one chicken piece about to be coated in the batter.  Notice how slightly ‘pink’ it is in colour.  That’s because of the tomato paste in the batter.

EYHC4361Frying away …

QZFY4900Just out of the frying pan and onto a white carpet of kitchen paper.

IMG_7604And this is one piece that got gobbled up by me before dinner.  After I had sprinkled a little bit of salt over it.   We had fried chips for dinner too.  And home-made mayonnaise but not home-made ketchup.

IMG_7609

We also had the above stuffed courgette blossoms fried in a different batter.  Saturday night was definitely fried-food night!  (Although in all fairness I did steam the asparagus.)

POST SCRIPTUM

There were leftovers next day and we enjoyed those cold.  I brought some over to my mother a day after that.  And that’s when she told me she had notes for the fried chicken recipe of our cook in Bangladesh!  The one she always raved about.  Odd that she hadn’t mentioned she had the recipe before.  It didn’t take her long to find the recipe notes, written on a sheet of paper bearing the letterhead of the company my stepfather used to work for.  IMG_7621I must say looking at that letterhead really threw me back … decades ! Talk about bittersweet memories.  Anyway, our cook was called Toka.   Toka’s Fried Chicken might well  be the title of another post from me in the not too distant future.

 

 

Soup during Covid – Parsing Parsley Parsimoniously

Title a bit of a tongue twister, eh?  A cheeky little foray into click-baiting, I admit.
What, you might be wondering, am I alliterating about?
Parsley, that’s what.  And how to make soup with it.

So, let’s talk parsely.  The humble herb that some came to disdain on account of its ubiqitous appearance on a ‘finished’ plate, aka the dreaded GARNISH.  So twee.  So 1980s.  Other people who might otherwise appreciate its contribution to the overall flavour of a dish find themselves distancing themselves from said herb on account of its notorious clingyness – to one’s teeth.   Not just unsightly, it gives one’s gum-receding age away.  But that’s in a restaurant or at a formal dinner party.  Spinach got a bad rap too, for the same reason, in restaurant eating.  I can attest to my own fear of green bits adhering to my teeth in public and my husband and I have a code ‘look’ – one such glance from him and I know I’m in trouble and have to be excused from the table.  At home, however, what is there to stop us?

Where I live and shop for vegetables, i.e. greengrocers or markets here in Frascati or in or around Rome, a bunch of parsley, albeit  a small one, will always be given away by the vendors as a parting gift for the buyer.  It is tradition.  It’s what Italians call ‘odori’ – literally ‘odours’.

The usual  mix of odours consists of one carrot, a celery stalk, maybe a small onion and some sprigs of parsely.  A few wisps of basil will be included during basil growing season.  And it’s a case of first-come-first-served.  You won’t get any odori towards the end of the day, all gone.  Of course supermarkets never give them for free! Oh no, you have to fork out about 1 eu for a bunch of parsley  Are you telling me they can’t afford to? Are we supposed to feel sorry for them?  Just don’t get me started on supermarkets again,  you know how it’ll end.

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Here are some ‘odori’ from last week.

On the other hand, imagine my surprise when I first shopped in the Marche, in the historic, beautiful and small hill-top town of Monterubbiano, where my mother-in-law hails from and where my husband and I spent many a summer holiday with our kids … There I was like a lemon waiting for the shopkeeper to hand me out my odori … and all I got was one measely little strand of parsley, handed over to me as if I were being presented with a precious metal.   When I asked for some basil, the look on the greengrocer’s face morphed along the lines of “you have the temerity to ASK for free basil?”  Oliver Twist.  I hastily said I wanted to purchase a big bunch of basil (I’m into alliteration today, sorry) and how much did it cost.  “Ah, that’s more like it,” his softened facial expression seemed to say.  I realised that the Marche can’t be big on parsley  – not like we are here in Lazio where even the fishmonger will give you some to go along with your catch-of-the-day purchase.  You know how in the UK it is Scotland that gets a bad reputation for people being stingy?  Well, in Italy it’s the citizens of Genoa and the people of the Marche who are guilty as charged.  Isn’t it awful when clichés turn out to be true as far as parsley is concerned?  Which is a tremendous shame, actually, because the people I’ve encountered in all my time in the Marche were always very friendly, kind AND generous.  Just not with their odours.

Another suprise for my readers might be the discovery that in Italy parsley has long held a reputation for helping terminate an unwanted pregnancy.  I thought it was just an old wives’ tale.  When I was pregnant with my first child, more than one person warned me against eating too much parsley and I thought they were frankly bonkers.  We didn’t have the internet in those days.  But look it up and lo and behold – there is some truth to this (here is a link if you don’t believe me, scroll down to where it says “parsley oil”  –  https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/abortifacients).   All of this beggars the question: what about tabbouleh?  I wonder if Middle Eastern women are told to eat less tabbouleh when they are pregnant?

I have to confess that I do occasionally fall into the habit of of wanting to garnish a plate with parsley (or mint), it’s been instilled in me bones – but at least I try to keep it understated.  And à propos of bones: parsley is excellent for our bone health and has lots of vitamin K and other beneficiary components.  Here is a link which makes it quite evident:  https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/parsley-benefits#section8.

And one final ‘fun fact’ about parsely in Italy is an old adage, hardly ever used now.  Whereas  people “turn up like a bad coin” in English, in Italian they turn up like parsley – always in the middle of something.  Meaning, of course, that parsley is lavishly added to hundreds of dishes.

And now onto the recipe itself.  I was convinced, but con-vinced (please note the emphasis) that my trusty ‘The Prawn Cocktail Years’ book, first published in 1997, contained a recipe for parsley soup.  It turned out the recipe was, instead, for parsley sauce.  Sigh.  Onto internet investigating for ideas but all my research forays always came up with other ingredients to tartify the soup – mostly potatoes. So … nothing.  Head scratching.  More head scratching.  I knew, just knew, that I had eaten parsley soup at some point in my life, I was not making this up!  Until … ta da da daaaaa.  I remembered the vaguely-coloured watery ‘stuff’ that passed for soup and was regularly served to us for dinner when my family was living in what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Soup with parsley in it.   Not parsley soup.

The Neapolitan/Campania people have a sense of humour that is hard to beat in Italy.  (Please pardon this apparent non sequitur – it will make sense when you reach the end of this paragraph.)  And Neapolitans adore their pasta, just like all Italians.  But forget about rice: they are not rice-eating people at all.  One of the very first schools of medicine in the world was located in Salerno (this is before universities came about, so  I am talking a long long time ago) and once the Spaniard occupation starting cultivating rice around those parts, it was considered very precious.  Very expensive too, presumably.  The doctors from the Medical School of Salerno deemed rice to have curative powers and regularly prescribed it when people were poorly or recovering from some malady.  Just plain, boiled, no frills.  So, let’s face it, thoroughly uninteresting.  Very white too.  Which is why, to this day, when an Italian has a dicky stomach he will insist on ‘mangiare in bianco’, on eating ‘white’ – i.e. simple, plain food with no sauce or any other redeeming flavour enhancer.  As a result of all this plainness and whiteness and blandness, the Neapolitans tend to refer to rice as “sciacqua panza” – a stomach rinser.  Food that will ‘rinse’ out your stomach but won’t satisfy your appetite or your taste  buds.   At the risk of extending the metaphor inappropriately, let us just say that ‘sciacqua panza’ can be applied to any dish that rhymes with ‘meh’, dull.

I apologise for going off at a tangent like this but … but when the Proustian moment dawned, when I was carried back to the plain vegetable soup we were saddled with in Dhaka as I was growing up, ‘sciacqua panza’ was all I could think of.  Thus it was, that I became inspired to come up with a parsley laden soup that would have no truck with stomach rinsing whatsoever – quite the opposite.

What also contributed to this tall order was the vision of a prodigious amount of parsley accumulating in the  bottom drawer of my fridge staring balefully at me, as if to say: you are wasting food, how long do you think we (i.e. the parsley) can stay fresh enough to be eaten?  I don’t know about you but food ‘talks’ to  me. I was being told off.  I was being reminded that wasting food is not okay.  So, naturally, a little self-complacency muscled its way as a ‘secret’ ingredient into the composition of this recipe.  I was being frugal.  So there ….

INGREDIENTS

Lots and lots of parsley leaves, carrot, celery, onion, peppercorns, olive oil, 1 tiny tomato or else a squeeze of tomato paste, salt, some lemon zest.  Parmigiano/parmsan.  Optional: zuppa imperiale

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First I revived the limp looking parsley in some water.4Then I set about removing the larger stems.

5Golly, look at that knife!  Stealing my photographic thunder because it makes it hard for you to espy the slice of lemonzest at the top and a small tomato all chopped up on the right.  On the left is the chopped/minced parsley.

IMG_7315What you see here are, all chopped up, the carrot, the celery stalk and one spring onion. If you peek hard enough you can also see the peppercorns.  A good drizzle of olive oil and you turn the heat on.

6Once the soffritto has cooked for a bit, you add the parsley, the lemon zest and the tomato and plenty of water.  Add some salt but not too much …. you can always add more later.

7Ah yes, put the lid on.  You don’t want the soup to evaporate as it cooks.

And that’s it!  When the soup is ready, you serve it with some parmigiano sprinkled all over it.

BUT, aha! … I had espied something very naughty-but-nice in my freezer.

8A bag containing something called “zuppa imperiale”.

Zuppa imperiale is a soup from Bologna.

What tranforms an ordinary albeit perfectly good meat stock/broth soup into something worthy of the sobriquet  ‘imperial’ is the addition of what you see above.  Those little golden cubes.  They are made up of whole eggs, semolina flour, and parmigiano.  The batter is baked in the oven and left to cool.  Then it is cut up into very small cubes. Which can be frozen but are usually sold fresh.  I had bought these from that historic, iconic and beautiful store in Bologna called Atti where they are famous for their fresh pasta and tortellini and all sorts of inviting typical foods (see link to the shop at the bottom of this post).  Naughty but nice because you end up putting on a lot of weight when you eat in Bologna!!!

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My imperial parsley soup!

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This photo shows the soup to better advantage because the soup plate is white.  Well.  Nothing sciacqua panza about this soup, I am very glad to report.  Plenty of taste – the imperial cubes and the parmigiano saw to that.

And for once the word ‘frugal’ didn’t  make me sad.  This is indeed a frugal soup, ingredients-wise, if you omit the imperial cubes.  Anyone can make it.  And if you haven’t got parmigiano, then add some cheddar, why not?  Some croutons too, why not?

Who said parsley was only for garnish, eh?

Foodie Must-See: Inside the Historic Atti Bakery

 

Frozen Fish Supper during Lockdown

The menu for supper was a mixture of fresh and frozen – the  veggies fresh and the fish frozen.  The fresh ingredients fell into two categories:

(1)Bog-Standard ingredients that are always so helpful when cooking all kinds of recipes: extra virgin olive oil, garlic, parsely, chilli, lemon and lime

(2)Standard ingredients: Potatoes, Lettuce, fennel, Red pepper, chestnut mushrooms, home-made mayonnaise (if you don’t want to make your own mayo, you could always buy some)

Something slightly different? Fresh horse radish.  Not always easy to find here in Frascati, indeed the one I used came from England when my sister came to visit last January and I froze some.

The frozen ingredients were: salmon fillets and octopus (polpo in Italian).

1So what you see here are some chestnut buttons on the left, boiled potatoes left to cool in a colander, a jar containing home-made  mayonnaise, the defrosted salmon fillets with a solitary half lime on the plate, and the cooked octopus on the right.

OCTOPUS: I used a pressure cooker to cook the squid, adding one inch of water and half a lemon.  FYI re octopus: even if you buy it fresh, always a good idea to freeze it for about an hour before cooking.  The flesh always ends up being tender that way.  For this reason, I hardly ever buy fresh octopus any more.

POTATO AND OCTOPUS SALAD: Boil the potatoes, allow to cool.  Then season them with plenty of good quality olive oil and chopped parsely.  Salt too, of course. Cook the octopus.  Allow to cool.  Season with olive oil and salt.

23 Place the potatoes and octopus, all nicely cut up, in a serving dish or salad bowl.  I added a twist of pepper to this salad on my dish when I served myself.  I love the scent of freshly milled pepper.  FYI: pepper is very good for you, combats all kinds of germs and nasties.

06Season the char-griddled pepper with olive oil, salt and a few drops of lemon juice. Parsely too, if you like it.  Or even mint.

5I cooked the button mushrooms in this pan with: garlic, fresh chilli and some horse radish.

7The salad was a no brainer:

4Lettuce, fennel and some rocket leaves (arugula).  We dressed it olive oil and lemon juice just before serving.

And then I got on with the salmon last.  Salmon shouldn’t be cooked for too long at the best of times – even less so when defrosted.

8I used the same pan in which I’d cooked the mushrooms, couldnt’ be bothered to get another one.  I just added some more horse radish.

9I also added lemon zest and half a lime.  It’s a bit difficult to spot the lemon slices but they were there, I assure you (look to the left of the lime).

10I cooked the fillets over a strong heat and flipped them over only once and turned the heat off.  By the then the salmon had virtually cooked through.  Salt and pepper, yes.

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12On the plate … served with mayonnaise.

Except for the octopus which I realise might sound ‘exotic’ to some outside of Italy and Greece, all these ingredients are not difficult to source.  The recipes are easy and require no cheffy skills.  If there is one take-away from today’s post it’s the inclusion of lemon and lime wedges in the cooking pan.  They jazz things up.  And you end up with a mid-week dinner that seems more special than the sum of its parts.  This to me is the essence of home cooking.  I hope I’ve inspired you?

Being Silly, Salad Days the Musical and Roma Football Club Salad

My ever creative sister is using scrabble to send uplifting messages to friends and family via whatsapp.  Her message today was the following:

ZedSilly

Oops … the spelling a bit iffy, but never mind, we get the message.  Silliness, of course, being another way of saying good cheer.

Okay, so let’s get silly !

I expect very few of  you have heard of an English musical called “Salad Days” ? It opened in London in 1954, and it’s the height of silliness.  Here is a link that tells you more about the musical: https://recording-history.org/salad-days-the-musical/.

One of my favorites is the song “Cleopatra” which I am known to enjoy singing now and then (the quality of this link is atrocious but it’ll give you an idea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdrXM3kprrA –  whereas this one is better: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aapqCQPA90M).

Silliness and food … Hmm.  How about a salad featuring the colours of the Roma football club?

It was so sunny and lovely and warm last week and we craved salad for lunch.  I am so lucky that I can still walk to shops and the covered market in Frascati and avoid those very long queues at the supermarkets.  The Roma football club’s colours are red and yellow.  Yellow for the sun and red for the colour of one’s heart.  The singer Antonello Venditti wrote a song for the club called, unsurprisingly “Roma, Roma, Roma”, back in the seventies if I remember correctly.  If you feel like belting it out here is a link to the song with the lyrics, it’s most ‘arousing’:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45if6jkpMPI .

Antonello Venditto wrote another son for his beloved football club, called “Grazie Roma” – another great song to belt out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVxs-ngkCUU.  These are great songs to sing in the car when you’re on your own.  They’ll make you feel very ‘silly’.

Shhh don’t tell but I am not actually into football much, not unless it’s the world cup, but I like to play along and since everyone in the family is a Roma fan, I may as well be.  Not that it’s ‘easy’, the Rome football club are a bit on the bipolar side with their playing.  They are either brilliant and score a winning goal at the very last second or lose to lesser teams at very bottom of the league … Not like the Juventus who win nearly all the time.  It can be very stressful being a Roma fan.

Anyway … here is how we tend to do salad in this family.  Tinned tuna, boiled eggs and any salad leaves you care to mix up.  I like radish but no one else does.  But  I added them cos they’re red.

IMG_7088Tomatoes too, because they’re red.  I then found yellow and red capsicum/peppers.

IMG_7089Notice the boiled eggs are left whole.  That’s because there were three of us … I usually slice them up but I realised that often these slithers get lost in the salad itself … so I left each person to slice their own, on their plate.  And of course the egg yolks are yellow.

IMG_7090Notice also that the salad is not dressed.  And that’s because I like lemon and olive oil whereas others prefer olive oil and balsamic vinegar.   To each their own.

IMG_7091As I was preparing the salad, my husband was shelling walnuts.  Once everyone had put the salad on the their plates, cut up their egg and dressed the salad, they added the walnuts.

Bloody hell … even a salad gets to be complicated at times !!!

But very much worth the effort.

I am going to end this silly billy post quoting some lines from Salad Days, from the song We Said We Wouldn’t Look Back” ….

“We mustn’t say these were our happiest days, but our happiest days so far”.  I am not being in denial about what’s going on all over the world.  I AM saying we all need a little bit of silliness in our lives, my sister is so right! Just click on the image to watch.

PS … and if you want to be even sillier, you could dance too, a great way to exercise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKsMr48r9hI

Spinach “Brick” Soufflé with Tuscan Bean Sauce (Fagioli all’Uccelletto)

I am making this for dinner this evening.  The blog post dates back to 2011 !!! And the original recipe is by Tuscany-based Judy Witts Francini of https://divinacucina.com/ who smiles in every photo I see of her.  The photos are pretty awful, I know, but the dish is really smashing.  I am sure you will love it.  Not vegan but yes, vegetarian.  A good thing about this recipe is that it can be made in advance.  And don’t forget to make this for Popeye next time you invite him to dinner.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/12/17/cooking-in-advance-a-spinach-brick/

Cooking in advance – A spinach ‘brick’

If you are planning for a large family gathering or a dinner with friends, and time is of the issue, it is sometimes a very good idea to cook a few dishes in advance of the date and store them in the freezer.

This is a recipe for a spinach ‘sformato’, similar in many ways to a soufflé, which I happen to bake in a bread loaf pan and which therefore looks a little like a brick – hence the name ‘spinach brick’.  It is  served accompanied by a bean and tomato sauce.  I used fresh spinach to make this recipe but frozen spinach will do too.

Ingredients: 1kg cooked spinach, 500ml of béchamel sauce,  4 eggs divided into gently beaten yolks and stiffly beaten egg whites, 100gr grated parmigiano (or more if preferred), a good knob of butter for cooking the spinach.

Ingredients for the béchamel sauce: 500ml milk, 50 g butter, 50g flour, freshly grated nutmeg, pinch of salt.

Start by making the béchamel sauce and set aside.

Melt some butter in a saucepan …

Cook the spinach in the butter for a few minutes, add salt and pepper, switch off heat.

Then separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and beat the latter until they are nice and snowy and fluffy.  Set aside.

And now it’s time to put the dish together.

Add the béchamel first to the spinach …

Then the beaten egg yolks.

Now add the grated parmesan cheese.

Use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix up all the ingredients.  And then add the final ingredient:

Add the cloud of beaten egg whites.

Give it a good mix … and that’s it for now.

Pour the mixture into the bread loaf pan.  Bang the pan gently on a surface … this will make it spread more evenly.

Cover with clingfilm …

And pop the bread loaf pan in the freezer for future use.

COOKING THE SPINACH BRICK

When it’s time to cook the spinach brick … defrost it until it reaches room temperature and then bake in an oven preheated at 190°C for about 40 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow it cool a little before turning it over onto a serving dish.

The “brick” is then sliced into individual portions and is served with a mashed-up bean sauce derived from the famous Tuscan/Florentine recipe known as “fagioli all’uccelletto” (see recipe below).

MAKING FAGIOLI ALL’UCCELLETTO TO BE USED AS A SAUCE

Ingredients: 4 cloves garlic, 4 sage leaves, fresh or canned plum tomatoes, chilli, 1 jar or tin of cooked beans (either borlotti beans or cannellini beans), extra virgin olive oil.

Pour the olive oil into a small frying pan and turn on the heat.  Slice the garlic into thin rounds and add to the saucepan together with the sage leaves and as much or as little peperoncino (chilli) as desired.  When the garlic turns a dark golden colour, add the beans and tomatoes, turn the heat up and cook for about 10 minutes.

Please note that it is nowadays frowned upon in Italian cooking to let the garlic turn so dark, it is thought to overwhelm and spoil a dish with its bitterness.  But in this particular culinary instance, please DO let the garlic cook until it becomes slightly brown (not burnt) before adding the sage leaves, beans and the tomatoes!

Repeat: cook for about 1o minutes, adding salt at the end.  And this is what the faggioli all’uccelletto recipe consists of.   And one would serve it in a nice bowl to accompany meat dishes or sausages or even on its own, as a side dish.

I, on the other hand, wished to purée the beans and so plopped everything into a saucepan, so that I could use the hand held processor without splattering the food all over the kitchen wall (happens all the time!).

Now a purist would have used a food mill to process the beans … but I can safely say that an electric processor is absolutely fine for this recipe.  At this point, I got hold of another jar of cooked beans, drained them of their cooking water, and poured them into the saucepan.  I liked the idea of the sauce showing off some beans.

Time to eat our spinach brick …

Slice the spinach brick into whatever sized portions you fancy …

I cut a long line down the middle and then across …

And now heat up the sauce and pour it all over …

See how the beans play peekaboo through the sauce …

Buon appetito … and if you are properly hungry this is a most satisfying plate to set before one’s eyes!

P.S.  The photos of the finished dish are pretty awful, I have to admit!  But it was a case of taking better photos or … getting on with the dinner that reunited friends of ours who live close by and friends who had come all the way from Hungary.  Enough said …

BUT this spinach recipe can also be served on individual dishes and the sauce can be served separately — you don’t have to drown the spinach in the sauce the way I did!

P.P.S.  I was taught this recipe by my lovely Canadian friend who had enjoyed a cooking class with Judy Witts Francini at her then Florence location of Cucina Divina many years ago.  I happen to think it quite delicious and it is truly a life saver when it comes to buffet parties as well as large sit-down dinners.

Frascati Food Shopping, Aperitivo with Michelle, and a Genius Courgette / Zucchini Recipe

Mrs Masi and her family run a vegetable shop in Frascati and are open on Sunday mornings too.  They are the suppliers of very many restaurants in town.  I tend to be a democratic greengrocer and buy from more than one place but theirs is the venue I end up frequenting the most, as it were,  because … because half the time, I don’t know about you,  but I’m in a hurry, there is always so much to do.  This is how it goes: it’s getting to be evening, ideas for dinner need to be considered and scaled down, and off I trot to up the hill into town to get my meat and two veg.  The veg fromt the Masi family and the meat from the Chioccia family in Via dell’Olmo.

I believe that shopping should entail more than just a modicum of pleasure and what better way to celebrate the exercise than an aperitivo after all that strenuous activity?  Hence, on a regular basis now for some years,  I will meet up with my friend Michelle Smith at our favourite watering hole, the “Stanza del Duca” in the town’s oldest square. It’s just behind the historic Palazzo Vescovile, the bishop’s residence.  This is the heart of centuries-old Frascati and, in terms of neighbourhoods,  we consider it the way Romans would Trastevere.  Sleepy time during the day, bustling and alive in the evenings (not so much in January and February admittedly – but then that’s when we all go into hibernation).  Piazza San Rocco wakes up in the evenings, with its many wine bars and restaurants, and the people it draws, the mainstay demographic, are mostly young.  The daily “The Guardian” wrote a lovely article about the buzz in Frascati last September and I am borrowing a photo from it … hope I don’t get into trouble for doing so? 

guardian frascatiAnyway, here is a link to the article: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/sep/10/rome-frascati-wine-food-italy.

Michelle and I put the world to rights over a glass of wine or a spritz and our host, the inimitable Giancarlo delle Chiaie, is very generous with his pour as he is with his trove of stories aka gossip.  Mild gossip, I hasten to add, we are not malicious people.  We bang on about standards, and what the town administration fails to do, how short-sighted they are, versus our way of how things ought to be done.  Sigh.  And on the bright and light side, music plays an important role.  Giancarlo is a choir master and an accomplished organ player and his friend Romeo Ciuffa, who is also a regular at the Stanza del Duca,  is a professional musician and organizes many a chamber music concert in our neck of the woods.  And all that talk makes for thirsty work so Michelle and I will very often ask for a wee top-up to our glass as we carry on delving into topics that require our  undivided attention.

I often think that breakfast, while one is on holiday and without a care in the world, in a hotel say, is the nicest meal of the day.  One has the whole day lying expectantly before us and to look forward to, as we dig into our orange juice and coffee and toast and what have you.  Similarly, but more often for me, I think that aperitivo-time is the best time of day.  The cares of obligatory work are over for the day, in theory, and one can relax and be light hearted and broaden the horizon of mental attention.  Michelle and I can be very philosophical at aperitivo time.

Who is Michelle, you might ask.  Well, she’s not easy to describe in a nutshell … she is one of those people who is a dab hand at anything she does.  A jack of all trades who gets to be very masterly time after time.   Though living in the same area, we didn’t get to meet until relatively recently and we hit it off straight away.  For the purposes of this post let us say she is a sommelier, translator, and painter.  She set up a website (all on her own, every single bit of it !!!!) called easyfrascati.com.  And  I will come out and say it outight: one would think that Frascati’s town council would have gone to the intelligent trouble of setting up an informative website? But no, it took an English rose to do so. Tut tut.  Last, though she and I can wag our fingers disapprovingly, it’s not about self importance, Michelle is one of the most modest people I’ve ever met.  It’s because we care.  We see so much potential going unattended.   Dear, dear … shall we have another glass of wine before going home?

Michelle is also a good cook by the way and so we often discuss recipes.  “So, what are you cooking tonight?” will often start the conversation.  Which brings me to today’s recipe.  I got all excited because it is so much more than the sum of its very simple parts.  When one is a little strapped for time, one should still find the energy to make the main meal of the day a ‘special’ one.  What’s the point of living otherwise?

I got this recipe from Mrs Masi, and I thank her for it.  The only ‘long’ thing about it is its cooking time in the oven.  It can even be eaten at room temperature although I tend to think that it gives its best when served just out of the oven.

INGREDIENTS:  slices of courgette/zucchini, olive oil, mozzarella, thinly sliced onion, some parsley if you like it, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper

IMG_6715What you see are the sliced courgettes coated with olive oil, over which I sprinkled salt and pepper,  I then added little lumps of mozzarella.  I squeezed the mozzarella to remove some of the liquid.

IMG_6717I also added half an onion, very very thinkly sliced.  And an avalanche of roughly minced parsley.

IMG_6718Finish it all off with a layer of bread crumbs.  I suspect I drizzled some olive oil over the surface for good measure, before popping it into the oven.

IMG_6719And this is what it looks like when it comes out of the oven.  To be honest I can’t remember how long it cooked (just over half an hour) and I expect the temperature was 200°C.

This recipe looks like a lot of trouble went into it and yet it couldn’t be simpler to make!  Unless your name is Phylis Knudsen, you could even add a few ancovies to the mix.  (Bless her, Phylis can’t stand anchovies.)

So, what are you thinking about making for dinner tonight?  Please don’t tell me you are ordering in ….! 🙂

P.S.  If any of you should be in Rome and would like to do something a bit more bucolic and pastoral outside of the capital, please feel free to get in touch with either Michelle or me.   And there will always be a glass of wine and good food to put you in the mood …. 🙂

P.P.S.  I wrote about La Stanza del Duca in this post from last year.  Here is a link in case you missed it: https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2019/01/01/a-duke-some-ladies-lots-of-hats-and-an-afternoon-tea-in-frascati/

Another Meatloaf, “Little Women” and Tailgating it in Rome

For once I shall do things the other way around, providing an intro to the recipe and ingredients first and writing my little ‘story’, the context, after.

If you want to spruce up an ordinary meatloaf, present it encased in pastry.

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Instead of Beef Wellington, you can dub it Meatloaf Wellington.  I chanced upon this recipe on the internet and am providing a link below.  It’s in Italian but no worries – even if you don’t speak the language, everything is so straightforward, you’ll get enough of an understanding to get started right away.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNlvwwC0e88

One of the reasons I did want to get started is that the last time I had made a meatloaf it had been a complete disaster, a ‘beautiful catastrophe’ as Zorba the Greek would have remarked (see my previous post harking back to it).  So I’m a bit sensitive that way, you see.  I am glad to report that my recent attempt turned out pretty well and that I was able to enjoy the leftovers as a kind of picnic in Rome the following day.

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INGREDIENTS

500g of minced meat, 2 eggs, parsely, salt and pepper, 2-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, slices of cheese that will melt easily, slices of ordinary ham, slices of parma ham (optional), salt and pepper, sheets of ready-bought pastry.  An extra egg for coating the pastry.

I added plenty of freshly grated nutmeg and a scattering of lemon zest.  Also, I made my own pastry because the kind sold around here contains palm oil or hydrogenated fats and other nasties.  For that I needed 600g of flour, 300g of butter, salt and enough cold water to bring it all together. I did what one’s not supposed to do and that is use a blender.  I put the ball of very sticky dough in the freezer for one hour before using it.

Below is my neighbour and bestest friend Rossella … helping me roll out the home-made pastry.

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The video says to cook it for about 40 minutes at 200°C, let it rest and allow any liquid to drain away.  Once cooled, the meatloaf is encased in the pastry and cooked again for half an hour.  I would say that that is too much cooking and the meat dries out somewhat.  Next time, I shall limit the cooking to 25 minutes the first time.

My dinner guests enjoyed the meatloaf but we were so caught up in our conversations that we could have had cheese on toast and it wouldn’t have mattered.  Wine always helps of course (that is if you like drinking wine).  The essence of a dinner with friends is the banter and laughter and interruption and changing of subjects and not wanting to go away even when it’s very late.  But good food always helps.  Good food to put you in the mood.

The following ‘story’ is dedicated to all my lovely girlfriends, wherever you might be in the world, but boys are very welcome to read it too !

LITTLE WOMEN AND ME

Well, for starters my name is Josephine (I was named after my Italian grandmother Giuseppina) but everyone calls me Jo.

I grew up with two sisters, not three.  And I was a bit of a tomboy, as they used to say in those days.  I didn’t like it when I had to wear a frilly dress to go to a birthday party, I was always told not to ruin it which of course meant I couldn’t run around too much or climb a tree.  I much preferred wearing shorts.  I’ve always been a barefoot baby and liked nothing better than to take my shoes off as soon as I could.  Like any other woman, I adore shoes but my love for going barefooted has never abated.  I used to love running and playing with the boys, and was very ‘physical’ even, and would get into a fight if provoked.  Dolls weren’t really my ‘thing’.   Building huts was more fun.

The years I speak of, from about the age of five to twelve, I grew up in Karachi, which was then West Pakistan, followed by Teheran, and then Dhaka, which was then East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh.  My Scottish stepfather worked for a pharmaceutical company and that’s how we moved around a lot.  With the job came cushy houses, beautiful ones at that, with large verandahs and even a swimming pool sometimes.  Plush lawns and scented flowers.  And a team of people to help run the house – servants they were called then, or ‘the help’ I believe in the States?  The lap of luxury sort of thing.  Except there were many amenities that were not available in those countries, during those years.  One of which was TV.  I remember when a television set first appaered in our house in Dhaka, I would have been close to eleven.  There was only one channnel and  featured two English speaking programmes a day – the Man from UNCLE, the Lucy Show, come to mind.  And no TV on a Monday for some reason.  Perhaps a film once a week?  And there were power cuts on a regular basis, very often interrupting a TV show.

All this to say that we children had to entertain ourselves.  My two sisters were much younger than I, so the interaction was perforce one-sided, with me being the bossy older sister.  There was no question that I loved them, and we are incredibly close to this day, and we all slept in the same bedroom.  But I was bored, bored, bored so much of the time.  And lonely.  I craved company of my own age.  I did have friends, I did, but it wasn’t as if I could walk over to their house, I had to be driven their either by my mother or by the driver.  It had to be arranged, it couldn’t be spontaneous.  Also, friends would leave, their parents moving to another country, and that was always very sad.  I’ve never got over parting from friends.

I remember complaining about my boredom to my mother and her unruffled response was to tell me that she? She never got bored when she was a child.  Not helpful.  And so I’d invent games like the time I was a farmer … Robin Hood … an air hostess in an aeroplane.  After seeing the film The Sound of Music, I became Maria of course, bursting into song and prancing about.  I’d put classical records on and pretend I was a ballerina. I really enjoyed games at school and was good at all of them and just loved to beat the boys.  I loved going to school because there, finally, was some company for me.  It was called Farm View and there is a facebook page now.  It was a small international English speaking school and I was in my element, loving all subjects from arithmetic to history to painting to English Literature.  And French, of course.  When eventually I went to boarding school in England, I was astonished to discover that I was at least two years ahead of my French class.   But that’s another story, culture shock, stock and barrel.

Also, I enrolled in the Indian dancing lessons, with the lovely anklets that had bells on them.  The headmistress, Mrs Coventry, apparently nearly had a hairy fit when she learned that I was going to be performing an Indian dance as part of the school pantomime that year and was duly impressed to discover that I turned out to be a very graceful dancer.   My mother, bless her, thought I’d find solace in piano lessons and she drove me once a week to the teacher’s house.  We didn’t have a piano at home, so I would practise for half an hour before the actual lesson, which always included a cup of tea and a biscuit.  I enjoyed my lessons, very much.  When I was growing up, tea (the drinking of together with biscuits or a slice a cake or whatever) was an everyday ‘thing’, a precious pause during the day.

What I really enjoyed was reading.  The school had a library and took us to see films (old black-and-white films at that) at the British Council, which also had a library.  Oh the joy of reading!  It was the one thing that salvaged me from the loneliness, the boredom of an otherwise privileged upbringing.  I became a book worm.  I remember repairing to the bathroom to finish reading a book until well into the wee hours, shutting the door so I wouldn’t wake my sisters up with the light. I’d wake up bleary eyed the next morning but oh so satisfied.  My choice of reading was not exactly intellectual.  There was Noddy and fairy tales, the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew but Enid Blyton most of all.  Golly!, how I loved the Famous Five and other adventure stories. One of my teachers, Mrs Chowdury, had gone to university with Enid Blyton’s daughter apparently and I was sooooo impressed.  Daddy used to take me with him to the equivalent of a mall in our neighbourhood, called the D.I.T. Market.  Well, when I say ‘mall’, think small bazaar, really, and a dozen or so shops.  Any excuse to get out of the house and, also, a chance to buy some comics.  At the time there used to be a wonderful American series of comics under the heading “Classics Illustrated”.  They featured adaptations of literary classics such as Les MiserablesMoby DickHamlet, and The Iliad.  Wikipedia says “Recognizing the appeal of early comic books, Russian-born publisher Albert Lewis Kanter (1897–1973) believed he could use the new medium to introduce young and reluctant readers to “great literature”. I well remember The Last of the Mohican, Lorna Doone, many Shakespeare plays, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Last Days of Pompei, Moby Dick, The Three Muskateers.  AbeBooks.com says “We will never know how many youngsters who read Classic Comics and Classics Illustrated are now confirmed bibliophiles with homes full of literature, but we suspect the figure is high.”  Well, they caught me all right.  I can think of nothing sadder than a house without books.

And those books I did read, as well as the comics, were fodder for my imagination and I would often re-enact scenes from them in my make-believe world of play, not unlike the four sisters in Little Women.  Despite the tropical heat and the monsoons, you wouldn’t believe how ‘cold’ it could get in my rendition of Heidi’s mountain idyll.  My mother couldn’t understand why I insisted on amping up the air-conditioning to freezing levels behind her back in our bedroom.  Little did she know.  We only drank powdered milk in Dhaka but to me it was goats milk, of course.  Pollyanna played a pretty important part too.  To this day, I love the film with Hayley Mills, I still have the DVD.  The last time I watched it was probably ten years ago but to me it will never grow old or become outdated.  The punch line: if you go looking for evil in this world, you are sure to find it.

Of all these books and their heroes and heroines, however, it was Jo from Little Women that has accompanied me always.  Something about her spirit, her resolve, her human frailty coupled with her sensitivity and can-do enthusiasm made an indelible mark upon me.  I grew up with two sisters, went to an all-girls boarding school, and at one time had mainly women colleagues when I was working at the UN in Rome … I dearly love women and am a born feminist.  Yet, for all of Jo’s yang personality that I can identify with, it is with Beth that I have one huge trait in common.  I am a home body.  I don’t really crave ‘adventure’ as it were.  I wish all my friends and family could live close by.  And I always did want to marry and have children.  The follow-up book, Jo’s Boys, really touched a chord.  And for years and years I dreamed of opening a small school, where children would be treated with tender, loving, creative care.  And, such are the coincidences in life, I did marry a professor of sorts, just like Jo!  I’m still waiting to launch my inspirational cooking school … we’ll see.

In the end, it was cooking that became a way of life for me.  Cooking became my ‘adventure’.  And that’s how I came across the video recipe for this blog post.

PREPARING THE MEAT LOAF WITH ROSSELLA

It is Sunday and I am having guests to dinner, my favourite cousins and a favourite friend. I went to work the day before, a pasta class at the Minardi Winery, which ended just after 3 p.m.  After which I go to do the shopping and get home just before 5 p.m.   I eat something, whatever I can find in the fridge.  And I start preparing some stuff for the next day.  At 8 p.m. I shower and get dressed and go to a dear friend’s 70th birthday party, quite the bash, at least 60 guests.  By midnight I’m falling off my perch and regretfully leave at around quarter past.  Unheard of for me, I am one of those who ‘could have danced all night’ but not last Saturday.

I go to bed at around 1 a.m. but instead of falling into a deep slumber, end up tossing and turning all night.  I wake up all sleepy and slow and realise that I am going to need help to get through the day.

So I call upon my next door neighbour, Rossella.  Our flats are on the same landing.  We try and have coffee together regularly, the way we used to, but sometimes we don’t see each other for three weeks in a row now.  That’s how life has become for us, for us all, always busy, always in a hurry, strapped for time.

Though not obsessed with cooking the way I am, Rossella is no slouch in the kitchen and is also a tidy cook.  One thing at a time versus my 101 things going on at the same time.  Steady.  She was more than happy to oblige.  I do not mean this in any condescending way whatsoever but … Rossella, like many women whose children have left home and are without a partner or husband, is lonely.  Heck I get lonely and I do have a husband!  Our flat seems so quiet without the children.  Rossella is very capable and has run family clothes shops; her parents’ shop in Rome was the first to bring La Perla lingerie to the capital, it was quite posh.  She and her sister had to close it down a couple of years ago, after a full 80 years of operation.  She was always a working woman.  She keeps herself busy in many ways but … but if you are a home lover (like Beth!) and there is just you in the house … well, it can get veeery quiet.  Very.  Cooking together is soothing.  We spent a good three hours together in the morning, and another nearly two in the late afternoon. Indeed the meatloaf, except for the pastry, is all her doing. Grazie Rossella!

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Upon parting, we decided that we’ll meet once a month, with a few other girlfriends, to cook something new together.

The dinner went very well and, as I said, there were leftovers …

TAILGATING IN ROME ALONG THE TIBER

 

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I can’t remember exactly when we watched the 1994  “Little Women” film, featuring Wynona Ryder and Susan Sarandon etc. on television.  By ‘we’ I mean my daughter, my son and my husband.  Well, my daughter and I fell for it hook, line and sinker and I bought the DVD of course, or perhaps video tape, can’t remember.  And it became a sort of Christmas film-watching staple for us.  “Oh not Little Women again!”, my son her brother would wail.  And she and I would have to watch some appalling action film in revenge. The scene where Beth dies never fails to bring me to tears.  Just like the book, this film is moving without descending into the sludge of soppy.

So … did I fancy going to see the new Little Women film? my daughter asked me.  Sure.  Any excuse to see more of my daughter.  Not so sure I really want to see the film, but so what.  In Nancy Mitford’s “Love in a Cold Climate”, the character of Farve, the heroine’s uncle, is notoriously eccentric in his ways. And not one for conversation either.  Having to endure polite conversation at the dinner table, his hostess kindly enquires of him, in an attempt to break the ice, whether he has read any good book lately.  His retort is no.  He did read a book once.  White Fang.  It was so dashed good he never bothered to read another.

Well … that’s a little how I feel about the 1994 Little Women film.  It was so so very good, why go for a remake?

Anyway.  My daughter works in the centre of Rome (lucky gal) and parking comes at a premium. She finishes at 7 p.m. and the film started at 8 p.m.  There was going to be a bit of walking wherever I ended up parking which meant, which meant, that there wasn’t going to be much time to repair somewhere and get a bite to eat and a glass of wine.  Hmmm.  Head scratching and nose twitching, what to do, what to do?

Picnic.  In the car.  Like they tend to do in Great Britain on account of the weather.

It’s the only thing that would make sense.  I’d bring something for us to eat before the film so we wouldn’t starve.  Favourite daughter agreed.  What she did not know was that I had leftovers from the night before, by way of pastry-encased meatloaf.  She was expecting sandwiches and that sort of stuff.

I packed everything in the boot of the car, getting all eager beaver and into the spirit of things.  After faffing about for a good 15 minutes, my parking angel guided us to a perfect spot on the winding Lungotevere road, along the Tiber.  I just had to laugh.  We both had a good giggle.  We were almost directly opposite the imposing Palazzo Giustizia, St Peter’s lit-up dome just behind us, the Bulgari House with its garish lit-up roof-top palm tree about 100 yards down the road from us, and Piazza Navona also within spitting distance.  Glittering, beautiful, romantic, historic Rome lay all around us.  Just a few hundred yards away, also, was the princely Palazzo Borghese, which hosts the Spanish Embassy residence, where I had once had occasion to dine for a fundraiser.

And here I was tailgating it with my daughter, picnicking in the car.

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That said we had a jolly good dinner.   Please note, we ate inside the car and not in the middle of the road.  We ate off ceramic plates, with proper knives and forks.  We had the meatloaf en croute with a side dish of “broccoletti”.  I brought some ketchup along in case the meat turned out to be too dry (it wasn’t fortunately).  A couple of apples to finish off and, of course!!!, a glass of prosecco.

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Louisa May Alcott would have approved, she would have understood.