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/

 

Carrot Sunshine and Meatballs (polpette) with a Georgian Sauce

At risk of repeating myself for those who are faithful readers of my blog, this is to say that I am a vegetarian who eats a lot of meat. I cannot think of a meal without vegetables, it just does not make sense to me.  In terms of ratio, our household spends one third more on veggies compared with meat (fish is another kettle of , ehm errr, fish … never cheap).

I’ve not done as much cooking as I would have liked this past year or so for reasons that I don’t relish.   Even though I basically do cook nearly every evening, it’s the ‘routine’ cooking that I end up mostly doing, for lack of time.  Now, routine cooking is a vital element in anyone’s busy life and must never be underestimated.  It’s what keeps us going, literally nourishes us, and lends credence, however gossamer, to our desire for some control over our daily existence. I am biased, I know, but that’s where I think Italian cuisine does a brilliant job of providing simple dishes that do not require tedious or lengthy preparations.  I am a meat eater and eat it often.  But these days the meat(s) in question run along an – let’s face it – uninspiring rota of: meatballs (polpette) – that I can often find ready made at my trusty butcher’s, breaded slices of beef (fettina panata), straccetti (very thin slices of beef), chicken breast, chicken alla cacciatora and hamburgers.  To distract from the banal sameness of this selection, I always make an extra effort with the vegetables, the side dish, the contorno.

So today’s post is how I thought griddle-cooked slices of carrot could add a ray of sunshine to what were very ordinary if honest polpette.  I happened to have the tail end of a leek too, in the fridge, and added that to the mix.

1)Slice the carrots and cook them on both sides on a hot griddle.

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2) Cook the polpette in hot olive oil, in batches.

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3) Trim the tail end of a leek, wash well to make sure there isn’t any soil lurking around and then pat dry.  Slice very thinly, dredge in flour, get rid of excess flour, and then fry them too.   Drain and set aside.

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4) Arrange the carrots around the rim of the plate.  Plop the fried leek in the middle.

455) Now add the polpette and any fresh herbs of your choice

76Yes, I know … it’s a bit ‘twee’ … but the orange in the carrots is a very cheery appetising colour.  And the leek added crunch factor.

As one final touch of weekday kitchen panache, I served the dish with a Georgian-inspired red pepper and walnut sauce known as ‘adjika’.  I had made it a few days previously and leftovers were lounging in the fridge, ready to be finished off.  It was this sauce that made everything come together (the polpette might have been a tad dry otherwise).

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It may not look like much but can I tell you – it is just fabulous.

The photos that follow are self evident in their instructions.  All you have to do is cook the red peppers (I do that in the oven), and then peel them and wait for them to cool down.  Also required: tomato sauce (passata), walnuts, salt, garlic, cumin, parsley, chilli flakes or fresh chilli, and a little bit of olive oil.  Process and hey presto: adjika to the rescue!

I am thinking that next time, I might toast the walnuts before starting.

I can’t tell you how much cumin to add – sorry, you’ll just have to decide for yourself.  Looks like I added 2 cloves of garlic.

And on top of the parsley, I think there is a sage leaf there in the background?

IMG_6162Be careful not to Jackson-Pollock-overdo it with the processor, we don’t want the sauce to be too ‘thin’.

IMG_6154And a very important ingredient, always, is a glass of wine or a cocktail or a cool refreshing drink.  All that cooking is thirsty work.