Squid-Ring Cous Cous and Sunday Lunch

So a week ago last Sunday, we … well I … cooked lunch for us (my husband and me) and his parents.  Lunch is a big thing still in Italy, especially among their generation and especially on a Sunday.  Il pranzo della domenica … Sunday lunch.  It’s tradition, it’s heritage, it’s culture, it’s what’s important as far as meals go.  Food fads come and go but this one has not lost its popularity in terms of family meals.

I too think that a luncheon can be a delightful event but only if it is special in some way, otherwise I much prefer dinner.  Lunch for me is the time of day I feel a bit hungry and need to feed myself.  A very basic biological need that needs to be met, nothing cultural about it.   I tend to eat something left over from the day before or else cobble together whatever I find in the store cupboard or fridge.  I ‘feed myself’ as opposed to ‘dine’, if you catch my drift.  I am one of those who can easily be reading a book while munching on lunch.  Dinner, supper, whatever you want to call it, is something else. To me it marks the time of day that has to be celebrated whatever else happened during the day, good or not so good.  And that’s when I’ll have a glass of wine, or two, or three.  I can’t drink at lunch, instead, not even one glass, it makes me very sleepy.  In the evenings I seem to tolerate it very well and sooner or later, it’s bed time anyway.  Another reason I tend to look askance at cooking a lunch is that: well, one has to get up early.  Who wants to get up early on a Sunday?  And the last reason is that I like to sip some wine while cooking but I can’t sip wine in the mornings and it would seem that coffee just doesn’t have the same effect on the cook in me as wine does.   So, I have given you three good reasons why dinner is preferable in my world to lunch.  That said, there is magic to a Sunday lunch despite it all.  And that’s because it’s all about the people.  The why we sit at the same table to eat.  The meaning of sharing food and conversation.

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Last Sunday I decided to go for fish.

2I prefer to cook in my own kitchen but finish off the dishes at the Nonni’s flat.  What you see is what we brought over to theirs.   Let’s take a look at the menu.

For starters I opted for everyone’s favourite this time of year: courgette blossoms stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy fillets and fried in batter.

5Clams for the pasta course: spaghetti alle vongole.

6Vegetable side dish (contorno) number one: asparagus, served simply with olive oil and lemon juice.

7Contorno number two: plain boiled potatoes seasoned with olive oil and chives.  Salt and pepper too, of course.

8Main course, boiled fish.  No parsley sauce this time but home-made mayonnaise instead.  The fish on the plate is seabream (orata) and salmon.  The presentation looked prettier in real life when I brought it to the table with sprigs of parsley and the purple flowers of chives.

9And this is the recipe du jour, the recipe for today’s post.  Let me explain.  I was going to serve fried squid rings (calamari) together with the courgette blossoms as a starter.  But time was running out and I took a short cut.  I brought the cous cous to life using the fish stock I drew from simmering the fish.  And I simply cooked the calamari rings on the griddle, coated in olive oil.  I seem to remember a good squeeze of lemon juice to add some panache.  The friendly parsley and voilà: a dish is born ta da!  It just goes to show that being a teensy bit lazy can prove fruitful at times.  Had it been the evening, I would never have faltered before frying the calamari.

Dessert was a fruit salad of strawberries and bananas.  Easy peasy.

I felt thoroughly chuffed about this new recipe.  Takes hardly any time, is very tasty and I shall definitely be making it again.

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How to Hype Frozen Tripe – Fry It!

What got into me that day? Spoken aloud with much groaning and aaargh-ing and virtual hair pulling exasperation.   Why, why oh why did I decide to defrost the stand-alone freezer on my balcony?  

And no, it was not a rhetorical question. I really did ponder what prompted me to undertake such an ill advised course of action when, really – really, really, really – all I wanted to do was hunker down on the sofa, enveloped by a comforting plaid, whilst sipping a cup of pukka loose-leaf tea and watch a good old-fashioned film or series on TV.  That is: chill out, relax, not think, be mentally (and very lazily) transported to la la land. Anything but the consciousness of being in the present, the mantra of ‘be here now’. I didn’t like ‘now’.  I wanted to escape. This was a few weeks ago, when it was still nippy.

Did the Covid lockdown have anything to do with it?  A freezer full of food and leftovers is not to be scoffed at under any circumstances but especially so when thoughts on survival and Maslow’s pyramid start to stare at us in the eye. Clothes for one’s body. Shelter from the elements. A roof over one’s head. Enough food and water. Vital connexions to the outer world via telephone calls, the internet and zoom meetings (the so-called ‘veetings’, such an ugly word for a God-send of an invention).  One becomes perforce more ‘aware’.   Emotions see-saw between anxiety and gratefulness.  Between irritation and peacefulness.  Between boredom and inspiration.  Alternating between escapism and reality checks.

Food waste, something I always try to avoid in any case, became a real issue. And I can immodestly pat myself on on my back for being good at combining both thrifty/homey productions that were still pleasing, together with naughty-but-nice meals that indulged our more decadent yearnings at table.  Variety, after all as we all know, is the spice of life.

On most days I’m as happy as a puppy when it comes to thinking about food and cooking the meal. It’s the rest of the overall food-eat equation that can be tiresome (the shopping, the schlepping, the queues, the storing, the cleaning, the prepping, the washing up etc).  I knew trouble was encroaching when the freezer showed signs, owing to all the untidily placed stuff inside, of not shutting properly. I solved the problem by placing a couple of plant pots on it to keep the lid down (it worked).  Fyi, the photo below was taken a few days ago.  The balcony and the freezer were a different story back then.

freezer

“It’s just temporary, I’ll deal with it tomorrow,” I said to myself, almost believing that I would.  But ‘temporary’ turned into tomorrow never comes.  Please tell me I’m not the only one who is gripped by procrastination?  After a while, the niggling feeling that had weaseled its way in the hinterland of my recall began to migrate upwards into the nakedness of conscious thinking, until I had to face up to facts.  I just DID NOT WANT TO defrost the freezer. So much work, sigh.

What was it that finally managed to split the straitjacket of my indolence? Looking back, I think it might have been a wan desire on my part, counter-intuitively enough, to elude reality, to pretend that Covid had not forced us into lockdown or was causing unnecessary deaths, strife and stress.  Sometimes, ‘realistic’ does not inspire, it just blocks.  Sometimes, the game of ‘let’s pretend’ can, instead, act as a stimulant.  After all, it’s what children do all the time.  So I made up a cock-and-bull story that I was about to prepare a feast for loved ones based on what the freezer held.  A culinary challenge, ha ha, so to speak.  Well.  That feast in particular will have to wait BUT, as a reward for yours truly, a new recipe did come out of all that hard work.  I am not sure I am going to make this recipe often but whenever I do, I shall feel almost saintly remembering how creatively I managed to waste-not on that fateful freezer-defrosting day during lockdown.

What I found in the bottomless depths of the freezer was a container full of tripe cooked the Roman way, that is served up with freshly grated pecorino cheese and mint.  Delicious.  That’s if you like tripe which I didn’t until about ten years ago.  My mother used to make it for my husband and he always raved about it.   I asked her for the recipe, good little wife that I am.  If you want the recipe, please refer the the post preceeding this one.

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My father-in-law is also very partial to tripe and so he got a share of this bounty; he and my mother-in-law live in the same block of flats as us and as we are their caretakers, we see them on a daily basis.  My mother lives in Grottaferrata, about three kilometers from Frascati.  She is going to turn 94, he 91 and my mother-in-law 85 this year.  You can imagine their anguish upon keeping up with the daily news, and the death toll of the elderly in care homes.  Looking after old people is not all fun and games but we do try to inject some irreverent humour into our interactions with them, which might strike some as callous. “What? you’re still alive?” my husband will say to my mother (in a very loud voice too because she has become increasingly hard of hearing) when he answers her call.  And please don’t worry, she gives back as good as she gets; if anything it’s this kind of humour that keeps her going.  She likes to say that she ‘killed off’ two husbands and that had she married a third time, she was sure she would have killed that unsuspecting husband too.  Another of her favourites is, “amarsi sempre, sposarsi mai” – which translates into “it’s always a good thing to love but never to get married”.  My father-in-law, instead, is what you’d call ‘quiet’.  Very quiet.  Monosyllabic even.  When things go wrong, he is never surprised, he is that kind of a ‘realist’.  And yet, even he had to give in to ‘surprise’ when his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimers.  It’s just cruel, cruel, cruel, is all I can comment. 

All this to say that it can’t be easy for our old folk, no, not at all.   And, likewise, not easy for us their children.  There are good days, of course, and not so good, mostly the latter.  So … yet again, food to the rescue!   Eating food they like seems to be one very good way of making life tolerable.  My mother has become a little ‘picky’ in her food choices but as for my father-in-law: food is of utmost comfort and he sits down to his two square meals every day, with wine to accompany both.  Covid has in no way affected his appetite, bless him.  So I knew he would appreciate a helping of trippa alla romana.  But what about the rest?

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See this?  It’s a bowl containing a flour-and-egg batter.  Batter and roughly chopped mint and parsley.  So my invention of the day was: use some of the previously cooked tripe to make: fried tripe!

3Here I am frying it in batches.

4It looks a bit like fried squid.

0Sprinkle of salt and pecorino and Bob’s your uncle.

I realise that tripe is not for everyone, fair enough.  But if you should have any left over, why not fry some in batter as an amuse-bouche?  You know me, the fried food fanatic (FFF)

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.

 

 

Beetroot, Leftovers and Concocting a Salad of Fried Foods

Okay, so this isn’t a recipe, not as such.  The only thing I want to ‘tempt’ you with is to make your own beetroot ‘crisps’ or ‘chips’ as they say in the States.

I had some leftover meat that was breaded and had been shallow fried – we call this “fettina panata” here in Rome and Frascati and it’s the poor cousin of Milan’s posh “cotoletta alla milanese”.  The former uses an inexpensive cut of  beef, the latter an expensive one of veal.  And so on and so forth.

I fried up some ordinary button mushrooms with a portion of leek and seasoned with salt and pepper and wild mint.  If you take a closer look, you can see the teensy flowers of the mint (apparently it is known as ‘calamint’ in English).

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I sliced the beetroots very thinly with a mandoline and then fried them in plenty of peanut oil.

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Here are the fettine panate from the night before.1

I cut them up with scissors and added them to the muishrooms:

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Last, I added the fried beetroot.  And voilà, dinner was served.

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I think it’s a good idea not to waste food.  I love mushrooms and apparently they are extremely good for our health.  And I adore fried foods.  This concoction ticked so many boxes.

IMG_4980

 

 

Polpette di Tonno – Tuna Fish-balls

I wrote this post on 18 September 2011 – Golly ! that is eight years ago.  And my feelings for September continue to be roughly the same.  Not my favourite month.  End of Summer.  Sigh.  The recipe, too, continues to be the same.  Reassuring.  Easy to make, and that’s a good thing.  And good for parties.

Sabaudia

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An Indian summer … although we’re half way through September … it’s so easy to enjoy the heat but too late to pretend not to notice that the days are getting shorter … and busier … and that any day now it will get brrrr-cross-your-arms-and-slap-your-shoulders-nippy and we’ll start having to wear sweaters and what have you and don slippers indoors instead of traipsing about bare foot.  It is as if a whisper of seasonal melancholy were subtly knocking at my front door. For someone who loves summer as much as I do, September is a very challenging month and can see me veering towards a moany-groany, want-to-run-away frame of mind.

This year I decided I would be grown up about it and do my best to stretch the summer’s feel of freedom as much as I could.  I tried to organise myself so that I could work in ‘chunks’ … and thus it was that a few days ago, I was able to scamper off to the beach at Sabaudia for most of the day.  It took us one and a half hours to get there but, as always, it was worth it. There were very few people about, now that people are back at work and children back at school.  The breeze was caressing as only a zephyr can be, the sea was still warm enough for me to swim in (I am such a wimp about cold water!) and it was all I could do to tear myself away and head for home as the sun began to set.  Aaaah.  Sigh …. isn’t the sun setting over the sea one of the most compelling sights to behold?

Ultra-organised, smug lady had prepared some vegetables the day before (a potato and celery purée and roasted bell peppers), had bought gorgeous fruit on the way to the beach, knew that wine was cooling in the fridge, so it was only a question of buying some chicken or meat on the way home and dinner was going to be a snap.  But, repeat, I had a very hard time of wrenching my body and soul from the siren call of the sea with the result that all the shops were naturally closed by the time we finally did drive past them.

I didn’t feel quite so smug then, as I took on the slim prospect for our main course that evening, knowing that just like Mother Hubbard, I was going to find the cupboard woefully ‘bare’ when I got there —  the ‘cupboard’, these days, naturally being the fridge and the freezer.  But thank goodness for Nursery Rhymes because I realised that there was indeed one food in my cubbyhole cupboard that was going to save the day: tuna fish packed in oil! Polpette di tonno … i.e. meatballs made out of tuna fish (technically the tuna doesn’t qualify them as ‘meat’-balls … but what else can one call them in English? croquettes? ugh).  How about … fish-balls?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I put in about 4 heaped soup spoons.

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

Shaping the polpette di tonno …

Coating them in bread crumbs …

All those polpette from just two tins of tunny fish!

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

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

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

The impromptu meal brought on by my stubborn desire to tarry a while by the sea reserved another surprise.  I remembered that we had some Canadian wild salmon in the fridge, which we ate accompanied by toasted bread and butter.  So … what was going to be a very ordinary though perfectly good supper turned out to be a bit of a feast.

It was half past nine by the time we sat down to eat.  Very late.  Very very late. The sort of naughty ‘late’ that seems fitting only during Summer, when time flows more slowly, ‘a misura d’uomo’, as they say in Italian, meaning ‘suitable or appropriate for man’.  And for yet another evening, I was able to ignore the whisper of seasonal melancholy subtly knocking at my front door.  It will bang loudly soon enough …

My Own ‘Cheat’ Parmigiana di Melanzane Recipe

Sometimes I post a blog after a distance of three weeks: today I am posting three recipes all on the same day.   And they are all about aubergines/eggplant.  It must be that I am fired up by aubergines today?

If there is something that makes me almost weep with gastronomic pleasure, it’s a properly make parmigiana di melanzane, a layered aubergine and mozzarella bake in a tomato sauce with parmesan thrown in for good measure and a key ingredient that gives the recipe its name.  I wrote a blog about it last year:

https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2018/08/31/patience-permitting-a-parmigiana-di-melanzane-most-fitting/

“Patience Permitting, A Parmigiana di Melanzane most Fitting” – the title says a lot, doesn’t it.  Yes, yes indeed.  This is a recipe that takes a LOT of time and patience and one that I most likely make only once or twice a year.

So … I thought that I might work out a ‘cheat’ version – never as good, obviously, but all in all nothing to sneer at.

Take a look.

INGREDIENTS

Aubergine, flour, oil for frying (this time I used olive oil but you can also use groundnut oil which has a good smoke point), mozzarella, tomato sauce, grated parmesan cheese, basil

1Start by slicing the aubergine into ‘chips’ and then flouring them.  The reason they need to be floured before frying is that they will otherwise absorb an awful lot of oil.  The flour acts like a sheath.  Shake the excess flour off the chips before frying them.

2Fry them until they go crisp.   Lay them on kitchen paper that will absorb any excess oiliness.

3Wait for them to cool down a little and then place them in a roasting pan – I happened to use this pyrex dish.  Add chunks of mozzarella. Sprinkle some salt.

4Add a layer of tomato sauce, scatter some basil leaves, and sprinkle some parmesan.

5Repeat the same procedure, with another layer.

6Bake until cooked.  Add more fresh mozzarella and basil leaves just before serving.

Not quite as lip-licking delicious compared with a ‘proper’ parmigiana di melanzane but it’ll do when time is of the essence.

My Mother’s Aubergine/Eggplant Sandwich

Since I wrote about my mother-in-law’s recipe with aubergines, I think it might be a good idea to also include one of my own mother’s aubergine recipes.  This is not about rivalry between mothers-in-law but, rather, about variety being the spice of life.

INGREDIENTS

Aubergine/eggplant, flour, egg, oil for frying (groundnut oil), mozzarella, anchovy

Start by turning the oven on.  Isn’t it weird how so many summer dishes actually entail having to deal with a hot oven? Sigh.

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Flour on the left, beaten eggs on the right.  You might even add a little water to the beaten egg.  I had to water down my egg wash once because I didn’t have enough eggs to hand and everything worked out just fine.

2Slice the aubergine into rounds.

3Flour them on both sides and then dip them in the egg wash.

4Fry them on both sides.

5Pat the top of the fried aubergine with some kitchen paper to absorb any excess oiliness. Then sprinkle a little bit of salt.  Only a little.

6The idea is to make a sandwich with the slices of fried aubergine.  Place some mozzarella and a fillet of anchovy (the kind that is packed in oil) on one slice, add some basil and then bring the two halves together.

7Bake in the oven (200°C I would say) until they are done – about half an hour?

They don’t look like much but don’t be fooled.  Not once, not once I repeat, have I ever had any leftovers when it comes to this recipe !

When Life Hands you Cod (Baccalà)

Making lemonade with lemons is easy enough but what does one do when one is handed cod, and FROZEN dried cod at that, aha?

Actually, frozen dried cod is sheer bliss — and sssshhh! don’t say I said so to the fresh-fish police of whom I am an honoured member.  Dried cod or salt cod that hails from Northern freezing cold seas is known as “baccalà” in Italian and became a staple fish dish all over the Peninsula, even in cities such as Naples and Venice that live upon the sea, and certainly would not need to import fish from the waters of Scandinavia.  Over centuries, each region of Italy has developed its own approach to this fish and so, ironically, it might even be the most ‘Italian’ fish of them all.  Again, don’t say I said so.  (We Italians are very proprietorial about our recipes and perish the thought that an Italian recipe might rely on a foreign influence, puah!)

But back to cold-chain basics and the ease of the freeze.

I knew I would not have time to shop one evening last week and rummaged around in my freezer until my aching blue-tinged hand chanced upon a large fillet of frozen baccalà.  I removed it and popped it into a large bowl, poured water over it and left home only to return eight hours later.  Sigh.  To be  honest I was not in one of my gleeful “let’s make a great dinner out of nothing” moods.  Quite the opposite.  And sometimes, that’s when magic happens in the kitchen.  Full of resolve, hands on hip, mentally defying the idiocy of wanting to attempt such an undertaking at 8:30 p.m., I set about cooking three separate recipes with said one fillet of now defrosted baccalà.

See for yourselves.

P.S.  It’s a good job my husband is a patient man.  Also, that he likes to watch current affairs on TV while I concoct dinner.  So I would like to dedicate this post to him and also to Mr Victor Hazan, whom I know appreciates fish over meat.

I sliced the fillet into three.

First recipe was “Mantecato di Baccalà”, known as brandade in French.  Basically, it’s just a puré of the fish, and nice to eat with toast for instance.

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I placed the cod in a small pan, adding enough milk to cover it, and slices of both lemon and orange zest.  Bring the milk to the boil and then drain the fish.

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You can see the lemon and orange in the photo, which are to be removed at this stage. Add one clove of very thinly sliced garlic, some chives, and a good dollop of olive oil.

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Blend the fish and keep adding the olive oil until you reach the right consistency.  Taste and see whether you need to add a little bit of salt? Definitely a twist of white pepper.  I ended up adding a wee wee dribble of milk too, for extra smoothness. Done!

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And that’s how I served the brandade, eventually, surrounded by other goodies.  More about them later.

RECIPE NUMBER TWO – Braised cod with vanilla

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I began by chopping an onion, quite roughly at that, and browning it in a saucepan over quite a high heat (I was in a hurry remember?) and adding some chopped up tomatoes after a while. A good sprinkling of salt, naturally.  I then added a vanilla pod and some olives to the sauce before deftly laying in the cod pieces, last.

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It does not take long to cook the cod.  You can see the vanilla pod in the photo above.  The vanilla makes all the difference to the tomato sauce, rendering it more ‘interesting’ in a subtle way.  Also, it would seem I added some fresh rosemary for freshness.

RECIPE NUMBER THREE – FRIED COD

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I wanted to fry the cod in batter, basically because I was going to fry some florets of previously cooked broccoli in batter too.  As all my friends and family know, I am an FFF: a fried food fanatic.  So … as to the batter … normally I make it another way.  On this last occasion I worked backwords.  I poured one cup of water into a bowl and added an egg, and whisked everything up.  I then added flour, by and by, until I reached the consistency of batter that I wanted.  A little dribble of olive oil and an ice cube to get it nice and cold and voilà – batter at the ready.

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I dredged the chunks of cod in some flour.

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I then dunked them in the batter.

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And finally fried the cod and the broccoli florets.

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Fried foods are eaten best hot, which is why I cooked them last.

So just for a recap, here are some more photos:

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Brandade surrounded  by fried cod, fried broccoli and red pepper (yes, I cooked some red pepper too, it was in the fridge looking very lonely).

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Vanilla enhanced braised cod.  By the way don’t you just love this ceramic dish? It’s a creation of Cassandra Wainhouse, who used to have a gorgeous shop in San Gimignano.

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For crunch factor, I quickly fried some phyllo pastry just before we sat down.  It looks like mess, yes, but it worked a treat (I love this ceramic dish too – this one is from Ceramicarte in Certaldo, where Judy Witts Francini lives).

So there … cod is a wonderful fish to play around with, even when it’s frozen.  Take a look at other recipes I toyed around with in the past, perhaps some will grab your fancy:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/mantecato-di-baccala-and-brandade-and-quenelles/

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/a-spinach-appetizer-with-salt-cod-quenelles-and-fried-polenta-cubes/

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/11/30/salt-cod-anonymous/

Supplì (Fried Rice Balls) with a Little and Much Appreciated Tip from Chef Arcangelo Dandini

Roman Supplì, like their Sicilian cousins the Arancini, are very much a street food staple, enjoyed by young and old because they taste delicious and are brilliant when it comes to stopping hunger pangs in their tracks.  Without ruining the appetite, either.

There was a time when a supplì and a cappuccino, standing up at the bar  “Il Delfino” in Rome’s central Largo Argentina, were often what I had for lunch, followed by a cigarette.  I may look back in horror at this gastronomic mash up now but neither am I totally surprised: a cappuccino and a supplì furnished just what I needed for a ‘light’ lunch that would keep me going for the rest of the day until supper.  Sometimes, if colleagues and I fancied a ‘proper’ meal we’d go to Armando al Pantheon, it was just an ordinary trattoria back in the early 1980s and no one had to book the way you do now.  And the “Il Delfino” bar is where my love affair with my husband really took off.   So you see, I have an especial fondness for them.

I did write a post about supplì back in 2011, following the classic recipe and its ingredients.  See the following link: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/the-surprise-in-suppli/

The recipe I am proposing today is a riff that is inspired by one I read about, done by Roman chef Arcangelo Dandini, who owns the famous L’Argangelo restaurant and who is busy in the hospitality industry and behind many openings in Rome.   He is actually from the Castelli Romani, and we are even related – his grandmother and mine were cousins.  What a small world.  It was he who opened a place called “Supplizio”, a play on the word in Italian, in the centre of Rome, that sells only supplì basically, and very good and posh ones at that.  He is famous for his supplì’s crispiness.  And won’t reveal the secret, I don’t suppose.  What he did reveal is that there is no  need to toast the rice in olive oil – one can just toast the rice all on its own! Who knew!

I am thinking that not many of you are going to want to make supplì, and I can’t say that I blame you.  It’s a long and laborious business and I end up making them only about once a year.  But do trust me when I say that they are definitely worth it.  And the good thing is that they can be frozen.  So you can make them in advance.  The recipe I am giving you yielded around 30-35 supplì; you can make one huge batch and freeze them, and enjoy them a few at a time.

INGREDIENTS

Carnaroli or Arborio rice 500g, 3 Italian sausages, 2 medium-sized onions, 2 carrots, 4 celery stalks total, 500g plum tomatoes, 160g grated parmesan, 100g butter, 2 + 1 egg (3 eggs in total), mozzarella, flour, milk, Italian-style breadcrumbs or panko, and groundnut or olive oil for frying

(1) Ingredients for the vegetable stock: 2 celery stalks and 2 carrots

(2 )Ingredients for the risotto:  the rice, 2 onions, 2 celery stalks, the sausages, the plum tomatoes, parmesan and butter, 2 eggs

(3) Ingredients for the exterior of the supplì: 1 egg, flour and milk, breadcrumbs (panko)

Part I – The Vegetable Stock

Make the vegetable stock – just carrots and celery and plenty of water (no salt).  It should simmer for at least 20 minutes.

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Part II – The Sauce for the Risotto

3Chop the onions as finely as you can, and the celery too, and sauté them in some olive oil over a low heat. This can take any time between 10 and 15 minutes.  Add some vegetable stock after a while, to soften the texture.

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Take the skin off the sausages.

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Chop them up as finely as you can.

5When the onions and celery are ready and no longer crunchy, add the sausage meat and cook it down.

6After a while, add some of the vegetable stock – so that it doesn’t dry out.

7Blend the plum tomatoes and add them to the mix.  Simmer for about 30 minutes at least, and add salt and maybe even a teaspoon of sugar if the tomatoes are too acid.  Stir occasionally.

The ragù can be made in advance.  If you liked, you could wait for it to cool down and then put it in the fridge until the next day.

Part III – Cooking the Risotto

8Toast the rice in a nice big saucepan.  No olive oil! Just the rice.  Toast it for just a few minutes or the time it takes for the rice to go pearly white.  At this point switch the heat off.

9Add a couple or more of the simmering vegetable stock.  Watch out for the steam! Use a wooden spoon to make sure the rice absorbs this liquid and does not stick to the saucepan.

10Add the tomato sauce, all of it and switch the heat on again.  The rice needs to cook for about 20 minutes or however long it takes for it to be ‘done’.  Keep adding the vegetable stock by and by, as required, and make sure it is always piping hot.  Should you run out of stock, you can always add a little bit of boiling water.

11Turn the heat off.  Add the grated parmesan.  Use the wooden spoon to mix it in well as it melts into the risotto.  Remove the pan from the source of heat.

12Crack two eggs and beat them well.

13Wait for the rice to cool down a little and then add the beaten eggs.

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Mix well.  Taste.  Yum.  Job done.

And now the rice has to get really cold, not just cool.

Part IV – Resting the Supplì

I was catering a Christmas party for a friend of mine a few years ago and when I had reached the above stage in the supplì-making it was getting on for 1 a.m. and I was exhausted.  So I decided to leave everything to the next morning (well, technically, it already WAS morning but you know what I mean).  And so, necessity being the mother of invention, I came up with the following way of ‘dealing’ with the rice, that worked very very well indeed and that I am very happy to share with you.

15Get hold of a tray.  Measure out the amount of parchment paper that will cover it.  Wet the paper and squeeze out the excess water and lay it over the tray.

16Actually, you will need two trays for the amount that this recipe yields.

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Divide the risotto in half and lay it over the two trays equally.

18Spread the risotto flat, as it were.  Later, you can take a knife and cut the risotto into squares, one for each supplì you will make.

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Genius, no?

At this point, add another layer of wetted parchment paper over the rice, and a damp tea towel over that.  The rice needs to be kept damp, so that it doesn’t dry out.  I left my risotto kitted out like this, on two trays, out on the balcony all night long.  It was December and acted like a fridge for me.

Part V – Shaping the Supplì

Okay.  This is the bit where it takes a bit of patience – some bolstering and moral and physical support might be required.  On the other hand, depending on your temperament, this could be an agreable zen activity for you.  Hmm.  Me?  It depends.  It would depend on my mood.

25But the job has to be done.  We’ve come this far and there’s no turning back.  Avail yourself of a bowl of water.

28Dip your hands in the bowl of water.  That way, the rice won’t stick to them.

29Spread some risotto over the palm of one hand.

30Add a little chunk of mozzarella in the middle.  Make sure you have allowed the mozzarella to dry a little before use.  But if you’ve forgotten, it’s not the end of the world. Add it just as it is.  Life’s too short.

32Close your hand and then use both hands to shape the supplì into an almost oval shape.  By the way, these beautiful hands belong to my daughter, and these are photos I have taken from the previous post.

Part VI – Breading the Supplì

19In one bowl, the one on the left, I mixed the flour, the 1 egg and some milk together, to form a liquid mixture that will make the breadcrumbs cling to the supplì.  Silly me, I can’t remember the quantities.  Let’s say: 1 tablespoon of flour, 1 egg, 1 glass of milk.  That should work.  Alternatively, you could dust the supplì in plain flour first, and then dip it in an egg wash.  That’s what I did in the previous post I mentioned.

In the bowl on the right, are a couple of supplì being plunged into the breadcrumbs.  The procedure has to be done twice: i.e. first the egg mixture and then the breadcrumbs, twice.

Laborious? Are you kidding! Phaw.  A labour of love.

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21And here they are, these beauties, waiting to be fried.  Deep fried.

As it was, I decided to freeze them.

So when I do get around to frying them, I shall take a photo and add it to this post.

If any of you do decide to be foolhardy enough to want to attempt this recipe, I would love it if you wrote to me afterwards and told me how you got along.  Good luck!

P.S. Please note that these supplì in particular are somewhat on the big size.  When I have made smaller ones, I ended up making just under 50 supplì.

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Pasta Ncasciata: A Sicilian Medley of Marvellous Mixture

I do not know whether you’ve come across cookbook author Diane Darrow or her food blog “Another Year in Recipes”? Well, I think she is fab – I like her hands-on approach and expertise in the kitchen, her take on matters culinary and wry wit.  In the depths of darkest Winter when even here in Rome it got cold and snowed this year, I became entirely fascinated by her recipe for a Sicilian pasta bake called “pasta ncasciata”, which I subsequently found out hails from Messina.

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Diane has written not one but two blogs on this recipe which was inspired by her reading of Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series, the Sicilian sleuth who lives for his food (well, not just his food, but you know what I mean).  I am a great fan of Montalbano too, only I watched the TV series and haven’t got around to reading any of the books.  When we visited Sicily back in 2014, the house we rented was close to the town where his police headquarteres are filmed  (called ‘Vicata’ in the TV version but called “Scicli” in real life) and we spent one day on the beach where Montalbano’s house is, Punta Secca, even eating in ‘his’ restaurant, the famed “Enzo a Mare” (https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/montalbano-land-and-enzo-a-mare/).

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Maybe because we had such a nice Montalbano-inspired summer holiday in Sicily, maybe because Diane writes and explains so well, and maybe because all of a sudden I was coming across not a few interpretations of this recipe … I decided to make this dish last March when favourite son was coming down from Milan for the weekend.  He asked could he invite some of his friends for Sunday lunch.  Could he indeed! Is the pope catholic …

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Everybody loved it, is all I can say.

So, yesterday, with both our kids here and their cousins from England visiting, the undivided consensus was that I should make spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams).  The young ‘uns went down to Rome, and ended being caught up in a monsoon-like flash flood downpour that had them trapped in a shop for almost an hour, while muggins here went food shopping up the road in overcast Frascati.

Except that, this being THE annual holiday week in Italy (known as the week of “Ferragosto”), there were hardly any food shops open in town. And certainly not my go-to fishmonger’s.  Well, that put paid to the clam pasta option and I had to rummage around in my menu memory for an adequate substitute. Which is when the pasta ncasciata came gloriously to mind, to save the day.

Now, I’ll be honest with you: this is indeed a ‘fiddly’ dish and requires concentration and time.  Things need to be salted, rinsed, fried, chopped, rolled bla bla bla and, finally, baked.  So if you can get someone to help you out with it, good idea.  Also, considering the amount of toil and steps involved, this would be a silly time to think small.  I would suggest you make a large amount, as I did (i.e. 1 kg of pasta).  You can always eat leftovers the next day.

I bought all the ingredients, save for the pasta and eggs, and of course came home to find that I had run out of eggs  (!) and that the only two 500g packets of ‘short’ pasta I had were of a different kind.  Sigh.

1 kg pasta

If ever you decide to  make this recipe, dear reader, I am sure you will be wiser and less insouciant of ingredient requirements.  Which are:

1 kg of dry pasta (the short short shape), 1.6 kg of tinned plum or cherry tomatoes, 4 (or even more) large aubergines, 250g of minced meat (I used veal this time, I had used beef last time), panko-style breadcrumbs or dampened stale bread for the meatballs, 4 eggs total, 3 of which need to be hard boiled, finely chopped parsely,  2 medium-sized onions, 150g salami, 200g caciocavallo cheese (if you can’t find that, use a mild cheddar? or swiss or Dutch cheese … any cheese that will not overwhelm and that will melt when being baked), 150g pecorino cheese (if you can’t find this then substitute with parmesan), fresh basil leaves, olive oil for frying (yes – only olive oil, none other con be contemplated), salt and pepper.

I favoured the Cirio brand for my tomato sauce. Originally, I thought that a large tin (800g) plus a smaller one (400g) would do the trick, but half way through the cooking I realised I needed more and added another small tin (400g).  Thus: 1.6 kg of plum or cherry tomatoes in all.

That’s the cubed salami on the left (150g) and the sliced (prior to be cubed) caciocavallo on the right (200g).

pecorino qbI happened to have some already grated pecorino cheese in the fridge – see the jam jar in the background. I used all of that up, and had to grate some more to scatter over the pasta just before baking.

MAKING THE MEATBALLS

On the left, you can see the breadcrumbs, the minced veal, the chopped parsely and the grated pecorino.  I used 2 tablespoons of pecorino and ended up using 5 tablespoons of the breadcrumbs.  I sprinkled some salt and pepper over the meat, and also just a teensy amount of freshly grated nutmeg. The second photo shows the egg, needed to bind the mixture.

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Combine all the ingredients using a fork or spoon at first and then your hands.  Allow the huge meat ball to rest for a few minutes.  Then break it down and make lots and lots of small meatballs, the size of a walnut.

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5Lightly fry the mini meatballs in olive oil and set aside.  (Later, pour the oil into the tomato sauce – see below).

MAKING THE TOMATO SAUCE

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As you can see/appreciate, I chopped the onions any ol’ how.  Added plenty of olive oil and cooked them, slowly, over a low heat.  The onions must not brown, just go golden.

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And when they do, add the tomatoes and plenty of salt.  Maybe even a hint of sugar.  But perhaps later, not now.  Those dark green specks are chopped parsely.  I had some left over from making the meatballs so thought waste not, want not, sort of thing.

Now: (1) Cook the sauce for 15 minutes, repeat: over a low heat that allows for a simmer.

Then (2) :

Add the fried meatballs, and cook for a further 15 minutes.

Finally, (3) add a handful of basil and cook for a further 10 minutes.  Total simmering time, roughly 40 minutes.

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Remove the meatballs from the sauce.  Now taste the sauce, and find out whether more salt or sugar should be added.  Cover and set aside.

FRYING THE AUBERGINES

I did not take photos of the aubergines, sorry.  But what I did was: slice them, sprinkle lots of salt over them, put them on a large plate and add a weight to press hard on them. The salt draws out some strange dark component of the aubergine which gives it its characteristic ‘bitter’ taste.

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The dark liquid you see in the photo on the left? That’s the stuff I’m talking about. FYI this photo was taken some time ago, when I was making a pasta dish with fried aubergines called “pasta alla Norma”.

After one hour, I rinsed the aubergine slices more than once in plenty of running water.  Then I squeezed them hard, ruining their shape in the process but never mind, and patted them dry as much as  I could with kitchen paper.

This procedure might sound peripheral to the final outcome but in actual fact guarantees that the aubergine will be fried to perfection!  With none of the greasy heaviness that is usually associated with this nightshade vegetable when it comes to frying.  They are notorious for their greed for oil !  If you really can’t be bothered, the other thing you could do is coat the slices with a fine dusting of flour.  The flour will act like a sheath and prevent the ingress of unwanted oil.

Unfortunately, but it can happen, some of my aubergines were full of seeds.  I had to remove some in the course of the frying because I was worried the seeds might burn and impart a nasty taste.  But I was lucky and this did not happen.  Also, I tasted the olive oil in which the slices were fried (once it had cooled down enough, naturally!), and it tasted really nice and, what’s more, quite ‘auberginey’.  So I decided to add some of this oil to the final sauce.

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I poured the oil through a strainer to get rid of the seeds.

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TIME TO CONCENTRATE AND COOK THE PASTA

 

Right – where were we?  I’ll confess that this is when I went to the fridge and poured myself a glass of crisp white wine.  What’s a gal to do, this is hard work. A lot of thinking required.

At this point: The sauce is done, tick, the meatballs too, tick.  The aubergines have been fried, tick.

pecorino qbThe other ingredients (except for the boiled eggs – which I didn’t make because I had only 1 egg in the fridge yesterday) are at the ready.

Time to get cracking.  This is when it gets exciting (amazing what a sip or two of wine can do).

IMG_8960Put the water onto the boil.  I did not have a baking dish large enough to hold 1 kg of pasta.  So I opted for two smaller ones, to hold 500g each.  Also, I had two different kinds of pasta to deal with, remember?  So, I decided it was best to cook the pasta in two separate pasta pots.  I read the cooking time, and removed the pasta 2 minutes BEFORE the recommended time.

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At first, I thought it would be a good idea to divide the sauce up equally between the two baking dishes.  Then I changed my mind, and had to pour the sauce back into the original saucepan. I realised, silly me, that the pasta would have to be mixed in properly with all the sauce BEFORE going into the baking dish.

So grab a big frying pan and pour all the sauce into it.

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The sauce was still warm, so I didn’t bother turning the heat on.

IMG_8967Sprinkle some grated pecorino into the sauce – about 50 g.  This looks very Jackson Pollock, does it not?

IMG_8968Add some of the oil that was used to fry the aubergines.  Mix well.  May I remind you that I was using extra virgin olive oil – I wouldn’t dream of doing this with any other oil.

Now that the pasta is cooked (but slightly undercooked, remember?), drain it directly into the large sauce-filled pan and use a wooden spoon to make sure all of it is coated.

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THE OVEN SHOULD BE TURNED ON AT 200°C.

TIME FOR THE FINAL COMBINING AND PLACING IN OVEN TO BAKE FOR ROUGHLY 40 MINUTES

Basically, there are three ‘layers’ to this dish.  Layer the pasta first, then add slices of aubergine, some meaballs, some salami and caciocavallo and a scattering of grated pecorinio.  Repeat until you run out of everything.

Take a look at the following 4 photos of the first baking dish, an ancient pyrex dish that goes back to the 1970s I think!

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Notice how I added more fresh basil leaves in the third photo, before adding the last layer.  If you leave the basil leaves on top, they will naturally burn during their stay in the hot oven.

Here are four other photos of the other baking dish, a lovely green ceramic one.

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67AI8I had set some of the drained pasta aside because I was worried that the sauce might not be ‘thick’ enough to cover the entire 1kg amount.  There was, instead, a little  bit of sauce left over, and so I now used up the dregs of the pasta and the sauce.

9This was a much ‘lighter’ pasta (i.e. less sauce).  I divided this up between the two to act like a ‘lid’ over the rest of the goodies below.  I also grated a little bit of pecorinio cheese over them.  Think of this as a final topping.

I apologise, I have no photos to show of the baking dishes just before I put them into the oven.  I did put a lid on both of them.  They baked for about 40 minutes, at 200°C in a fan oven.

OUT OF THE OVEN

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IMG_8983And then we have leftovers the next day !

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What can I say? Marvellous!

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P.S.  If you read Diane Darrow’s recipe (see link below), she does not include the meatballs.  I found the addition of the meatballs in many other recipes I researched on the internet and decided I liked the idea.  Like Diane, I had used mozzarella on my first attempt but have to confess to preferring the caciocavallo second time around.  I would not like the idea of mortadella, not because I don’t adore mortadella, but it does hail from Bologna and this is a Sicilian dish after all.   And ssssh, don’t tell a soul, we didn’t miss the boiled eggs in the least bit.  But to each their own, there is no arguing over personal likes and preferences as even the Romans used to say in their adage “De gustibus non disputandum est”.  I keep scratching my head for a vegetarian version – you know, no salami or meatballs.  I excpect it would taste pretty good too, why not.  Maybe ramp up the amount of pecorino used.

Thank you Diane Darrow for inspiring me!

https://dianescookbooks.wordpress.com/2018/02/21/montalbanos-pasta-ncasciata-again/