Beloved Blini – Home Made!

It’s that time of year, festivities, end of calendar year.  And one way to celebrate is to make Blini.  By the time you read this it will probably be too late for you to make any in time for dinner tonight (and that’s if you’re staying in) but who knows? Maybe next year?

Next year is not only a new year, it is also a new decade.  May this decade bring peace, prosperity, emotional healing as well as good health, comfort and cheer, warm relationships and lots and lots of fun for everyone.

INGREDIENTS

100g – Buckwheat flour

200g – 00 Flour (with pinch of salt BUT add the salt later, when it has rested for 1 hour)

300ml milk with pinch of sugar in it

200 yogurt or sourcream

4 eggs – separate egg yolks from egg whites

Yeast: half a cube of fresh brewer’s yeast, about 12.5g

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GETTING STARTED

Warm the milk until it just about reaches boiling point, take it off the heat and then add the yeast. Whisk so that it dissolves in the milk.

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Below you will see the yogurt in one bowl, on the left, with the milk with the dissolved yeast in a pan on the right.  Top left, the bowl with the two flours and four egg yolks in it. Top right are the four egg whites.

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Start by adding the yogurt to the milk pan.

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And now you can pour this mixture into the bowl and use a whisk or a wooden spoon to combine all the ingredients.  You could, if you preferred, beat the egg yolks separately and include them in the wet ingredients.  You choose.

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Cover with a tea towel for about an hour.

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This is what it looks like after about one hour.

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Whisk the four egg whites.

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Add the beaten egg whites to the blini batter.

IMG_6008Add the salt only NOW.  If you add the salt too soon, it will hinder the raising agent work of the yeast.  Again, cover with a tea towel and let it rest for one hour, better two.

IMG_6009And here it is now … all light and fluffy and waiting to be cooked.

IMG_6010Melt a small amount of butter in a frying pan, maybe a non-stick one would be a good idea.  When the blini start to ‘bubble’ on the surface, turn them over.  It doesn’t take long to gook the blini.  They’re just lke pancakes after all.

IMG_6011IMG_6014They are very nice served with sour cream and smoked salmon.

IMG_6015Shame I can’t get fresh dill around here.  Aw well, never mind.  I used a bit of dried dill instead.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE !!!

Winter Tureen of Blue Cheese and Mascarpone

I’m not saying this can’t be eaten the rest of the year.  I AM saying that it is especially eatable when it’s cold outside, and cheese does not melt on the table.  It is pretty to look at, jolly good to eat, and a nice thing to bring to a potluck supper or to place on a this-time-of-year buffet table.  Serve with crackers or toast or whatever you like to accompany your cheese.

I made it just minutes ago and I’m in a bit of a hurry.  It’s my mother’s 93rd  birthday today and we are popping round for drinks and canapés and other bits and bobs to celebrate in about an hour’s time.  She loves gorgonzola so I am hoping she will love this dish.

The photos are what they are but hopefully they’ll make sense.

INGREDIENTS: 250g blue cheese/gorgonzola, 250g mascarpone, 40g chopped dried apricots, 40g toasted hazelnuts, 2 teaspoons of honey, freshly  milled pepper, pistachio to garnish

IMG_5859I decided to use only the strong gorgonzola, instead of a mixture of the two.

IMG_5860Chop the apricots and toast the hazelnuts.

IMG_5861Place the mascarpone in a mixing bowl and whip it up with a fork.  Then add: apricots, hazelnuts, honey and black pepper.

IMG_5862Done.

IMG_5863Slice the gorgonzola and line the ceramic tureen with one layer.

IMG_5864Then add one layer of the mascarpone mix.

IMG_5865A second layer of gorgonzola. And then a second layer of mascarpone on top of that.

IMG_5866Final touch: a good scattering of pistachio.  Cover and place in the fridge for about an hour or so before serving.

IMG_5867You can make this dish a few days in advance, why not?

IMG_5868Okay, gotta go now …. oh I forgot, great for parties, thumbs up.

Frascati-style Sartù

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

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

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

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

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

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

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

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

RECIPE

(1) The Sauce:

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

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

(2) Bechamel

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

(3) Porchetta

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

(3a) Cotechino – explanation follows

(4) Other ingredients

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

PRELUDE TO ACTION

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

ACTION

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

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

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I call that quite pretty, huh.

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

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

8And now it’s time for the bechamel.

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

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

10Butter, dollops of butter.

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

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

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

Sartu – A Savoury Rice ‘Pudding’

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

Anyway, here is the link:

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

sartu bello

Autumn Vignarola – Genius Idea

BACKGROUND

A vignarola, for those who may not know, is a vegetable stew that is all about Spring, late spring.  The word ‘vigna’ means vineyard and signals the bounty that the countryside can bring to the table during that time of year.   I wrote an in-depth post about it some time ago, when it was seasonally appropriate.  It is mostaly about ripe artichokes, fresh broad beans and peas etc. (https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/vignarola-the-pilgrimage-of-posh/).

LAST NIGHT

Last night, as I composed a dish with some ingredients that happened to be sitting in the fridge, I became ‘high’ on my own steam … the delight of ending up with a recipe that was too good not to repeat!  The creativity of it all was an incredible boon.  And so I felt just like Little Jack Horner and said “What a good girl am I” for having come up with the idea.  The idea of an Autumn Vignarola.  Genius! Ha! Clap of hands and a good old-fashioned whirl, never mind the ubiquitous thumbs up.   It’s good to be self congratulatory now and then, why not.  It’s good to play in the kitchen, the way we used to play as children.

INGREDIENTS

Please bear in mind that I already had these ingredients, and it was only as they came out of the fridge that I cobbled the recipe together.

Artichokes, pork jowl (guanciale), spring onion, somewhat limp courgette blossoms, fresh mint, parsely, previously cooked ricotta, dessert wine.  Considering it is Autumn and the vineyards are still producing ripe grapes, maybe I will add a few grapes next time.

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See this? this is some ricotta that I had baked in the oven a few days previously.  Just ricotta, no other ingredient.

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That’s what you can do with leftover fresh ricotta: bake it in the oven for use another time.  IMG_5186

Here you see the spring onion, diced ricotta and courgette blossoms that are well past their first bloom but still edible.

LET’S START COOKING

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I trimmed and sliced the artichokes and started cooking them with just olive oil and slices of pork jowl.  Normally, ripe artichokes don’t take that long to cook this way.  After a while, however, I could see that these artichokes (they are not quite in season and are a little hard) were taking their time.  So I added some water to speed up the stewing.

IMG_5187I also added a splash of dessert wine – it works very well with artichokes as it turns out!

IMG_5189When the artichokes were finally cooked, I added the diced ricotta, the raw spring onion, the courgette blossoms and the fresh mint and parsely.  I turned the heat off but left the ingredients in to ‘warm up’ before plating.

IMG_5190Added a spray of pepper.

Doesn’t look like much, does it.  What a shame.  It was deeeelicious, even if I say so myself.

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Autumn vignarola.  Another seasonal dish to look forward to.

 

Bagna Cauda – A Piedmontese Dip/Sauce That We Can All Love

All of us who like anchovie, that is.

I wrote this post in November 2013.  It hasn’t dated I am glad to say – I mean the sauce hasn’t dated.  It is umami in the best of ways and will uplift any bland morsel that needs livening up.

Foraging inside the Fridge and a Hot Dip – Bagna Caoda

“When it comes to stocking the refrigerator,” I should like to say suavely with knowledge born of long experience, “my general goal is to stick to three staples:  the sort of ingredients that are required on a daily or regular basis, those that last for a good long while, and those that can always be counted upon in times of emergency.  Hence: coffee, milk, cream, eggs, butter, lemons, anchovies packed in oil, parmesan cheese, pecorino cheese, pancetta or guanciale, a tube of tomato paste, carrots and celery.”

Ha!  In my dreams …

In real life, there are times when opening the fridge door could serve as living proof of a law of physics (whose name escapes me because my own knowledge of physics is lamentably scratchy) whereby if someone utters a sound, and the waves of that sound ‘hit’ a barrier, the barrier will transmit a variation of that sound back if left unimpeded by empty space.  It’s what we call an ‘echo’.  Meaning, there are times when my refrigerator is so cavernously empty that if I belt out a mock rendition of a yodelling song, it will echo a riff of it back to me … as if to say, “Oi! What do you expect hee hoo?”

It is not often, however, that the fridge in our home is minimalist and yodel-like.  It’s usually quite ‘stocked’ … maybe not ‘well’ stocked, but stocked nevertheless.  And that’s because a fridge is as easy to clutter as a home.  It requires tremendous discipline to keep it in spanking shape.  Discipline and people who are tidy and methodical as opposed to nearly always being in a tearing hurry or trying to do too many things at the same time …

Try as I might to stick to three basic staples, there are times when the fridge door ajar reveals a congeries of plastic, glass, ceramic containers and/or parcels wrapped in paper and aluminium foil, storing all kinds of leftovers and ‘bits’.  It’s a state of affairs that will intransigently forbid echoing of any sort and, if anything, seems to glare at me defiantly as if to say, “Don’t give us that look of chagrin, it’s all your doing that we are here, cooped up in this fridge of yours.”  And then there are other times, mercifully, when all that bounty in the fridge is truly a pleasure to behold.  Variety is the spice of life and all that.

But variety is at variance with discipline, as I mentioned above … and recently I had not been a good girl and my fridge had been left to fend for itself — it if could speak it would have lodged a complaint with the RSPR (Royal Society for the Protection of Refrigerators).

Thus it was that I recently resolved to undertake a thorough Feng Shui Decluttering and re-organization of the fridge, upon pain of succumbing to some grubby-fridge-related malaise.  It took me the better part of six hours, let me tell you … I washed and rinsed EVERYTHING, and whacked some sorely needed law and order into this most important of household containers and my zeal knew no end.  And yes, I did throw quite a lot of stuff away … which I always hate to do because it seems so wasteful.  But clinging onto ‘bits’ when you know you are not going to get around to utilising them is just sad and creates clutter in the fridge.  I found an inordinate amount of half empty jam jars which fuelled a sudden passion for making jam tarts (crostata).  “Very nice this crostata, good jam eh?” commented a family member and I didn’t have the heart to tell them it was actually a mixture of various jams.

Another treasure I came across as I foraged inside the fridge, that I was again happy to ‘transform’ instead of throw away, were these salt-dried anchovies.

IMG_3010They look pretty awful don’t they.  I don’t know how long they had resided chez nous but it was definitely a case of months as opposed to days.  They were very dried out.IMG_3011I put them in a bath … lots of baths actually … I kept throwing the water away and repleneshing it … and the final rinse saw a splash of wine in the water.

I had decided to make a Piedmontese dish called “bagna caoda” which translates as “hot sauce” — a ‘bagna’ being a sauce in that part of Italy and ‘caoda’ the dialect for the word “calda” meaning hot or warm.  I was almost 30 the first time I tasted this and fell in love straight away.  This is the recipe that my Torinese friend Piera Sacco taught me and I hadn’t made it in a long, long time!  It may not be exactly how she she would have made it but it’s very close.

IMG_3012Steel yourself.  The first thing Piera told me that we were talking about one whole head of garlic per person per (can’t-remember-how-many) anchovies per person.  In other words lots and lots of garlic.  I’d say that we are talking about 40 cloves of garlic in this photo?IMG_3013Here is the garlic, peeled and in a saucepan.  You could slice the garlic thinly … but who has the time?IMG_3014Cover the garlic with milk and simmer until the garlic softens.  This might take about 30 minutes and keep an eye on it, in case you need to add another splash of milk.  The reason we simmer the garlic in the milk is that we want to remove some of their pungency … otherwise the garlic would be raping your taste buds senseless instead of courting them.  That and no one will want to sit next to you for at least three weeks, you’ll reek so much.IMG_3015While the garlic was simmering … I got on with the anchovies that had fortunately recovered a bit of their freshness by now.IMG_3016I proceeded to groom the anchovies: top and tail them, and removed all the bony and scaly parts.IMG_3017When the garlic had gone nice and mushy ….IMG_3018I introduced the garlic to the anchovies, trying to leave as much of the milk behind as possible.IMG_3019I then broke up the anchovies and mushed them up with the mushy garlic …IMG_3020I added about half a glass of olive oil … enough olive oil to cover the anchovies and the garlic by about half an inch, say …IMG_3021And I simmered what had by now become a paste for about another 20 minutes, over a very low heat.  The paste must not burn … and, again, do keep any eye on it and add a little more olive oil if necessary.IMG_3022I then poured the paste into a glass jar (and yes, that’s a bit of chocolate I recovered in the fridge — even though, as we all know, chocolate should never be inside the fridge in the first place … and the other two glass jars contain various stocks that I did use up in a soup).IMG_3023Once the paste had cooled down, I added more olive oil to seal it in, and covered the jar with its lid.IMG_3024When it was cool enough, I placed the jar containing the bagna caoda in the freshly cleaned fridge, standing next to a jar of dried roses.  Talk about a contrast!IMG_3047Segue a week later and we are having friends over for dinner and I thought we’d have bagna caoda as an appetizer.  I plopped a tablespoon of butter into a saucepan …IMG_3048I added some bagna caoda and turned the heat on.  I left the butter to melt over a low heat, and simmered the sauce (it IS a sauce now and no longer a paste) for a few minutes, until everything melded together beautifully.

The bagna caoda is served hot, usually in a ceramic pot called a “fujot”, and a large variety of crudités are used to dip into it.  IMG_3049Silly me … I didn’t frame the photo so that you can see the aperture where a candle is burning and keeping the bagna caoda hot … but if you look closely, you can see that it’s there … there is a glow on the right.IMG_3051And it’s not just veggies and boiled potatoes and spring onions that you can use as a dipping tool … if you have any leftover bagna, you could probably use some over boiled meat? a little spooned over a poached egg? an omelette? green beans?  The mind boggles … this is a hot dip indeed.

Valentino’s New Fragrance and Frascati

zzzquesta

The image of my facebook page, also called “Frascati Cooking That’s Amore”,  is that of “Villa Aldobrandini”, the town’s most stunning baroque estate, built by Pope Clement VIII Aldobrandini for his nephew Cardinal Peter in 1598.   Perched imposingly on the hill, it faces Rome and dominates the town.  The princely Aldobrandini-Borghese family still own it and sometimes live there.   My great grandmother Settimia was born on the estate because her father was a foreman for the prince at that time. When my mother was to marry a second time, she and my stepfather asked for permission to hold the ceremony in the private chapel, and I was five at the time and remember the wedding.  The villa and its grounds are regularly used for weddings (the prince’s wife runs a catering company) and film sets.  I am not surprised that Valentino should have used it for his latest fragrance.  I don’t agree with its title, however – it should be “born in Frascati” and not “born in Roma” ha ha.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYbOTO2Tlrc