Squash Soup and Veggie Frenzie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Next it was time for parsely and sage leaves.

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

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

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

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

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

Silver spoon optional.

Pearl Barley instead of Risotto – Orzotto alla Mantovana

I hope people who celebrate Judeo-Christian festivities are holding up?   Hannukah and Christmas have a way of grinding us down as well as buoying as up.  So much preparation and craziness before the celebrations themselves, followed by …. so much eating and drinking (AND cleaning up afterwards, let’s not forget).  Anyway, it just dawned on me that a lot of squash and pumpkin is available this time of year and that one could put it to good use not just for a risotto but also for a …. for something similar, using barley instead of rice.  It’s called “orzotto” and is jolly good.  I made one a few years ago and am reposting the recipe because only three people read that post back then; who knows, maybe some of you might be interested in making one now?  Anyway, you know the drill by now.  I start off a post with a fair amount of bla bla.  So if you want to skip that by all means do.  Go straight to where it reads “ingredients”.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/pumpkin-barley-orzotto-not-risotto-orzotto-alla-mantovana/

Pumpkin Barley Orzotto (not Risotto) – Orzotto alla Mantovana

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Invited to an inauguration for future cooking classes in a fine kitchen-ware shop called “Ottagoni” in  Rome’s Trastevere area last week …..

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I espied a lone-looking chef deep within the bowels of this snazzy showroom selling Cesar kitchens.  I would have made a beeline in his direction but the throng was such that I had to dart in and out of oncoming human traffic …

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And so it took me some time …

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His name is Andrea Trenta and he told me that he used to run a restaurant near Sacrofano. Bent as he was on preparing what he was preparing, I did not want to pester him by posing too many questions … but I could not stop myself from ooohing and aaahing over his inventive dish!

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IMG_1821What I was oohing and aahing over was … an Orzotto (made with pearl barley) that he was preparing using squash/pumpkin and mostarda essence, with amaretti bisuits and pecorino romano.  Clever thing!, I thought to myself … he has drawn on the tradition of Mantova by using squash and amaretto biscuits, he has made it seasonal (pumpkin) and he has made it ‘local’ by using products and produce that were sourced directly from the organic farm Ecofattorie Sabine (http://www.ecofattorie.it/).

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He explained the amounts he was playing with : 4kg of pearl barley, 6kg of pumpkin/squash, 1.5 kg of pecorino.  Not the sort of amounts I normally deal with in my own kitchen!

IMG_1834And here was my little stash … together with a very nice glass of beautifully cold Stajnbech Chardonnay.  And it was delicious.

INGREDIENTS

Pumpkin soup, onion, pear barley, amaretti biscuits, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, butter, pecrino romano cheese, fresh sage leaves

I made some carrot and pumpkin soup the other day and I had some left over … and so I thought I would follow Andrea Trenta’s suit … and here is my version then.

2Leftover soup … made with onion and garlic, carrots, pumpkin, lemonjuice and salt and pepper …

1The packet of pearl barley … (bought at a supermarket, note, not something I do often … and that’s because I didn’t do the shopping.  Helpful helper was asked to kindly do the food shopping and when I asked for pearl barley, said helper trotted off to the supermarket, tsk tsk).

3I didn’t have any ‘mostarda’ nor mostarda essence … so I opted for some good quality balsamic vinegar (in the background) instead … and in the front are the amaretti biscuits.

4I grated some pecorino romano cheese …

5I began to sauté a red onion in some olive oil on a fairly moderate heat.

6I turned on the heat to bring the soup to a simmer and also added some water — I could see it wasn’t going to be enough liquid otherwise.

7Once the onion had softened, I added the orzo … the pearl barley.

8I stirred it well so that it would get coated with the olive oil.

9And immediately added some of the soup.  Orzo is not rice … and even rice does not need constant stirring … so I just stirred when I fancied it.  I kept adding ladles of the soup by and by.

10I started off by wanting to add 5 amaretti biscuits.  I ended up using 8 altogether.  I poured the balsamico into the wooden spoon – that’s the amount I used altogether since it was quite potent.

11I crushed the amaretti first … and added them towards the end of the cooking time.  I added the balsamico immediately afterwards.  After stirring them in and tasting, I added a little salt and white pepper.

12When the orzotto was almost ready, I added the grated pecorino cheese.

13And then I added some butter too:

14I am positive that Andrea Trenta didn’t add butter … but I love butter so there you are.  It melted almost straight away.

And that was it!

15I grated a little more pecorino directly over the orzotto … added two sage leaves … and one amaretto biscuit as garnish.

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It was actually very very nice and I am going to make it again.  The only thing I hadn’t realised … is that barley takes between 30 and 40 minutes to cook, much longer than a risotto.

Thank you Andrea Trenta!

P.S.  For those who did not know, barley is one of those super foods:

http://www.oprah.com/health/Barley-Dr-Perricones-No-3-Superfood

PPS Here is another pearl barley orzotto recipe — there must be a “Great-Minds-Think-Alike as Regards Pearl Barley Syndrome” wending through our autumnal kitchens! –posted by peripatetic food lover and chef-on-the-move Kay Gale recently: http://thesinglegourmetandtraveller.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/mushroom-rocket-orzotto/

Frascati-style Sartù

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

I would not blame purists from the Campania region if they wanted to throttle me for daring to refer to the rice concoction I am writing about as a ‘sartù’.  A sartù is an iconic conglomeration of a recipe, a precious pearl in the crown of posh recipes that were served to the noble families in the Campania region.  If you want to read more about it, check out my previous post.

Here in the Alban hills south east of Rome, an area known as the “Castelli Romani”, we too have posh antecedents.  We are famous for our baroque estates, sometimes built over the remains of ancient Roman villas (the popes’ summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, for instance, was built over Emperor Domitian’s villa).  Popes, cardinals and Rome’s noble families liked to spend part of their Summer here and enjoy all that it had to offer. If Rome were to be thought of as New York City, then our Castelli Romani could easily be regarded as its Hamptons.  And this all the way from pre-Roman times to just after the Second World War.  A lot changed after then.  And not just in Frascati, naturally, but all over the world.

These days, as far as current Romans are concerned, we people in the Castelli Romani are to be thought of as ‘rednecks’ or ‘hill-billies’ or something akin to a peasant whichever way you look at it.  Their word for us is “burino”.  We are country bumpkin ‘burini’ whereas they are city dwellers, with Rome being the centre of the world.  A lot of this is in jest of course but even so when I hear talk levelled at us burini, I put my hands on my hips and fight back.  I like to counter the view by letting THEM know that one cannot consider himself/herself a true Roman unless he or she has Roman relatives going back at least five generations (even seven).  So mneah, take that!  So many so-called Romans have parents who relocated from other counties just after the Second World War.  Including my husband, for instance. He was born of parents hailing from the Marche Region.  And though he was born and raised in Rome, in theory he couldn’t be considered a ‘true’ Roman.  At least we Castelli people are authentic burini, ha ha.  (Actually, even that wouldn’t be totally correct: so many labourers and workers, during the mid-century 1800s onwards all the way up to the 1950s, came to find a living in these parts.  They hailed mainly from Abbruzzo and the Marche regions, as well as southern Lazio but sssssh, don’t tell.)

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

Favourite son asked that I make polenta for him when he came to visit us last month.  Obliging Mamma of course makes some, double quick,  Favourite daughter loathes polenta and favourite husband isn’t overly keen either, so this request gave me the opportunity to finally make some and know it would be thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed.

I am so used to cooking for a fair amount of people that I ended up making too much sauce (the classic pork and sausage sauce) and thus put the remainder in the freezer.  Except I didn’t – put it in the freezer, I mean.  I thought I had but I hadn’t.  So days after my darling boy had left I discovered a large glass jar of the sauce at the back of the fridge. I tasted it and it was fine thank goodness.  What to do? what do do?  What to do?  I used the sauce to make a risotto.  And then I had one of those beautiful Aha moments and realised I could invent a Roman rendition of the Neapolitan sartù.  Another name for this could be “Timballo di Riso”, I suppose, but it isn’t half as catchy as Frascati-Style Sartù, do admit?

If there is one staple that is iconic to the Castelli Romani (over and above wine that is), then that would be the roast hog known as “porchetta”.  Instead of adding  meatballs and salami to my rice dish, I would substitute with porchetta.  Genius.

RECIPE

(1) The Sauce:

The sauce I made is the following one: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/sausage-and-spare-rib-stew-for-polenta-polenta-con-le-spuntature/

You don’t have to go all the trouble of making an identical one.  However, do include pork sausage in it whichever way you want to make it.  Pork sausage, garlic, tomato sauce and pecorino are a must.  The rest you can improvise or tweak.

(2) Bechamel

You will also need to make a bechamel: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/the-queen-of-sauces/

(3) Porchetta

https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2018/06/05/my-home-made-porchetta-roast-hog/

(3a) Cotechino – explanation follows

(4) Other ingredients

Both parmesan and pecorino cheese, peas (frozen will do), red pepper kernels (optinonal), butter.

PRELUDE TO ACTION

Well, more of in-action to be honest.  Long story short,  I was unable to buy porchetta and had to do with cotechino.  Cotechino is another iconic item on the Italian table, and specifically towards the end of year, in order to celebrate the new year.  It is served traditionally with lentils.  Read all about it by fellow and much-loved blogger Frank Fariello (https://memoriediangelina.com/2010/01/01/cotechino-lentils/).  Cotechino and brother Zampone (another end-of-year sausage) are to be found in stores already towards the end of November.  I picked one up, just because.  And just as well I did.

ACTION

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When the going gets tough, call upon a softie.  In this case, Rossella my sweet next-door neighbour.  We needed to catch up on some gossip and so I inveigled her into coming over for a much needed catch-up, and while we were at it, would she give me a hand in the kitchen?  “Ma certo!” was her gracious resopnse, but of course.  I got her started on the cotechino.  It needed to be cut into cube-like shapes, see above.

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I had alread made the risotto with the leftover sauce and had placed it inside a biggish pyrex dish.  Rossella  spread a layer of cubed cotechino on the surface of the risotto, and then sprinkled another layer of previously cooked peas.

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I call that quite pretty, huh.

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And now, lots of fresh mint and parsely to add a bit of green.  And then much freshly grated parmigiano AND pecorino cheeses (equal parts of).

5aA snowstorm of parmigiano and pecorino with the herbs playing peekaboo.

8And now it’s time for the bechamel.

9Here is Rossella lovingly spreading the bechamel.  She has the patience of a saint.

9aLast-minute addition: red peppercorns. Not too many of course, but enough to get noticed.  I love red peppercorns – they make me feel happy.

10Butter, dollops of butter.

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Ready to be placed in a previously heated oven, at 180°C.

Except that I didn’t bake it straight away.  I froze it.  So …. hip hip hurrah, this is the sort of dish that can be prepared in advance, frozen, and used when necessary.  Especially when a party is necessary.  You do all the hard work days or weeks before and little else on the actual night.

12And this is the only measely photo I have of the completed dish.  I know, I know.  What one does manage to discern doesn’t look very enticing, more like a dog’s dinner.  But I promise you it was very very good and all my guests complimented me.  You’ll just have to trust me.  (You’d think at least one of the guests, or my husband, would have taken a nice photo, no?  Too busy eating?)

Sartu – A Savoury Rice ‘Pudding’

A sartù is a labour of love.  And well worth the effort.  I wrote about it once, a few years ago.  I am reposting the sartu recipe (one that was inspired by a leftover sauce) because recently I made something very similar, only with different ingredients.  Let’s call it a Roman version of a very posh Campania Region dish.

Anyway, here is the link:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/a-craving-for-sartu-using-leftovers-backwards/

sartu bello

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE COOKING OF THE BREAD AND WATER BEGINS!

Add the parmesan rinds to the soup pot …

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

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

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

Add the cannellini beans about ten minutes before serving.

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

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

SERVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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INGREDIENTS

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

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

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

Also required are:

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

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

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

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

Chop it up.2

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

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

10Bash the biscuits to pulverise them.11

Add them to the mix.

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Add some fresh sage – sliced up.

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

MAKING THE PASTA

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

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

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

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

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

MAKING THE SAUCE

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

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

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Taste and add some salt and pepper, as required.

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

COOKING THE RAVIOLI

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

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

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

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

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

29Deeply, deeply yummy.

Comfort food in the extreme.

Pumpkin Risotto with a Gorgonzola Finish

Dedicated to Ian Rosenzweig.

Yet another potluck, tee hee.  Oh, I do so love potluck evenings!

This time chez George and sister Claire from Casale Sonnino. I have already written about the Casale Sonnino farm near Frascati in another post: https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2016/10/29/sora-maria-e-arcangelo-and-casale-sonnino/ .

Claire lives in New York and visits as often as she can and especially when it’s time for the olive harvest.  Their olive oil has won a silver medal in the past.  Last year, just as with so many other olive farms in Italy, they basically did not have a harvest – the previous winter had been bitterly cruel and ruined the growth cycle of the trees.  George runs the Casale (the family’s olive and wine estate) which has been in the family since …. oh gosh, I really don’t know but centuries I believe.

Theirs was quite the posh bourgeoisie family back in the day,  living in a beautiful town house in Rome.  They were forced to flee the country after 1938 on account of Mussolini’s hideous “racial laws” which targeted the Jewish population in Italy and saw so many of them die a ghastly death in Nazi camps in Germany.  Their mother was a Sonnino from Rome.  Their father was a Treves (also from a prominent Jewish family) from Piedmont.  The parents met and married in Princeton and carried on with their lives – some of their other family members were not as fortunate.

Claire and George (and another brother whom I’ve not met) were all born in the States and grew up there, in New Jersey.  George thinks it’s a bit of a giggle that the family shared the same dentist as Einstein! Their mother never forgot the Casale, however, and longed and longed to return there, and came back often.   Very often.

The Casale Sonnino is a place I’ve come to fall in love with.  And I am not the only one. Look up the website and you’ll see why.  It’s like wafting into a time warp.  One just wants to slow down, read a book, paint, sing, think, sit and converse as opposed to ‘talk’, in a Jane-Austenish kind of way.  Cooking and entertaining are its middle name.

The Casale is there to be used as a holiday-let for small groups and families, and those who return do so because it has become a sort of home-from-home for them. George ends up adopting dogs because they too find a home there.  The views are stunning and New Year’s Eve from the terrace is hard to beat – with Rome below and all the fireworks on display till the early hours of the morning.

As I wax lyrical over my ‘interpretation’ of the place, I realise that it’s not quite the same matter for George (and Claire) who have to run it as a business.  Oh the amount of work! You wouldn’t believe it.  Never ending.  And if it’s not one thing, it’s another.   Farmers are farmers all over the world and have Nature to contend with as well as to give thanks for.

Friends of ours from Los Angeles who regularly visit Frascati for work reason have a son who has become entranced with the story of this house.  His name is Ian, he’s in his early twenties, and he is a writer.  From what I’ve heard, he intends to delve into the story of this family and write about them and their Casale – I am so glad, someone really ought to.

Without going into all the boring details that resulted in the coming together of this potluck dinner a couple of weeks ago, suffice it for you to know that: I’d been hard at work that day, so had George and Claire at the olive mill, so had friend Michelle at the winery where she works, and so had another friend Michelle with her lovely young daughter, and, last, Ian – young Ian, who had literally just rolled in from Florence that late afternoon.  Result?  Despite the hurry and fatigue, a great dinner ensued as always.  (Not a late night for a change, we all had an early morning the following day.)

salad

One Michelle and sweet daugther cobbled together a super salad with mixed leaves, walnuts, burrata and peaches.  The other Michelle brought a couple of rotisserie chickens that were literally finger-lickin’ good.  Ian came along with cured meats and cheeses (parma ham … you know what I’m talking about).  And then there was loads of other stuff and a traditional tomato bruschetta … and we told George we really did NOT need the meat he had brought along to barbecue.  My offering was a pumpkin risotto.  I started it at home … so that I could finish it off at the Casale with minimum fuss.

Such is the magic of potlucks – and there are leftovers too, for the next day!

Anyway … about the risotto.

INGREDIENTS: Leek, sausage, pumpkin,  olive oil, pink pepper corns, a glass of wine.  Part II: cream, grated parmigiano, gorgonzola, butter, lemon juice, more red pepper corns, fresh chilli, wild mint.

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So what you see here are … red peper corns, a mashed up sausage and the white part of a sliced leek.  (The green part of the leek I reserved for making the stock with which to cook the risotto).  I started cooking it with some olive oil and then added a splash of wine.

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Chop up some pumpkin.

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Once the sausage meat was pretty much cooked, I added the chopped pumpkin.  Sprinkle plenty of salt and a good pinch of pepper.  Cook for about 10 minutes?  Something like that.

IMG_5023Bit of gorgonzola hiding in the fridge. I got some kitchen/parchment paper and wet it under running water.   Maybe too much water.  Anyway, the idea was to wrap the gorgonzola in something ‘damp’ so that it would not dry out.  I waited for everything to cool down and then …  It was time to get into the car and drive to the Casale.

AT THE CASALE

Once there, I got some water onto the boil and added the ‘other’ half of the big leek, the very green part, in order to create a vegetable stock.

img_5024.jpgI toasted the rice – without any oil !!! please note — and then added one ladle of the hot leek water.  The white ‘splash’ you see among the pumpkin is a bit of fresh cream.

IMG_5025Here is the hot leek water on the left – kept hot.  When you add the water/broth/stock/whatever, it must always be HOT.

img_5026.jpgThe risotto is  bubbling away now – that ‘fat’ weird green thing in the saucepan, that’s the leek that was used to make the stock/broth.  Iadded it to the risotto – to flavour the risotto even more.  I removed it towards the end, naturally.

img_5027.jpgKeep adding the broth and stirring away – and do avail yourselves of a glass of wine to keep your spirits up, for goodness sakes!  At one point I added some more pink pepper corns and a bit of chilli.  You know, to spice things up a bit.

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Aha.  Some butter.  Some French butter no less, the very nicest there is!  And a half of a lemon.  Yes.  Funnily enough, a risotto will always benefit from a bit of either lemon juice or vinegar.  I prefer lemon juice and that’s what I did: squeezed about one half of a lemon into the risotto.img_5029.jpg

When the risotto was almost done, I added a profusion of grated parmesan cheese.IMG_5030And once that had been properly assimilated, I added the little bits of the gorgonzola – which took no time at all to melt into the risotto.IMG_5031Things were coming to a head now – the risotto was cooked and I switched the heat off. I added plenty of butter (and I mean plenty) and stirred like crazy.  Actually, this is Ian stirring like crazy.  Good lad!

73395280_10220946760724699_24852866913009664_oHere I am – half way through  cooking, in one of my favourite kitchens.

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Here he is, young Ian.  Giving it a final stir.  The green stuff? It’s wild mint from my balcony (called ‘calamint’ in English apparently).   You could use rosemary or sage or any other kind of mint instead.

72689793_10220946758484643_8665815076298555392_oThe last-minute potluck people: readying ourselves and happy, and looking forward to tucking in.

Yes … but … where ARE George and Claire?

Ah of course – Claire is taking the photo and George is in the dining room laying the table.