For once I shall do things the other way around, providing an intro to the recipe and ingredients first and writing my little ‘story’, the context, after.
If you want to spruce up an ordinary meatloaf, present it encased in pastry.
Instead of Beef Wellington, you can dub it Meatloaf Wellington. I chanced upon this recipe on the internet and am providing a link below. It’s in Italian but no worries – even if you don’t speak the language, everything is so straightforward, you’ll get enough of an understanding to get started right away.
One of the reasons I did want to get started is that the last time I had made a meatloaf it had been a complete disaster, a ‘beautiful catastrophe’ as Zorba the Greek would have remarked (see my previous post harking back to it). So I’m a bit sensitive that way, you see. I am glad to report that my recent attempt turned out pretty well and that I was able to enjoy the leftovers as a kind of picnic in Rome the following day.
500g of minced meat, 2 eggs, parsely, salt and pepper, 2-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, slices of cheese that will melt easily, slices of ordinary ham, slices of parma ham (optional), salt and pepper, sheets of ready-bought pastry. An extra egg for coating the pastry.
I added plenty of freshly grated nutmeg and a scattering of lemon zest. Also, I made my own pastry because the kind sold around here contains palm oil or hydrogenated fats and other nasties. For that I needed 600g of flour, 300g of butter, salt and enough cold water to bring it all together. I did what one’s not supposed to do and that is use a blender. I put the ball of very sticky dough in the freezer for one hour before using it.
Below is my neighbour and bestest friend Rossella … helping me roll out the home-made pastry.
The video says to cook it for about 40 minutes at 200°C, let it rest and allow any liquid to drain away. Once cooled, the meatloaf is encased in the pastry and cooked again for half an hour. I would say that that is too much cooking and the meat dries out somewhat. Next time, I shall limit the cooking to 25 minutes the first time.
My dinner guests enjoyed the meatloaf but we were so caught up in our conversations that we could have had cheese on toast and it wouldn’t have mattered. Wine always helps of course (that is if you like drinking wine). The essence of a dinner with friends is the banter and laughter and interruption and changing of subjects and not wanting to go away even when it’s very late. But good food always helps. Good food to put you in the mood.
The following ‘story’ is dedicated to all my lovely girlfriends, wherever you might be in the world, but boys are very welcome to read it too !
LITTLE WOMEN AND ME
Well, for starters my name is Josephine (I was named after my Italian grandmother Giuseppina) but everyone calls me Jo.
I grew up with two sisters, not three. And I was a bit of a tomboy, as they used to say in those days. I didn’t like it when I had to wear a frilly dress to go to a birthday party, I was always told not to ruin it which of course meant I couldn’t run around too much or climb a tree. I much preferred wearing shorts. I’ve always been a barefoot baby and liked nothing better than to take my shoes off as soon as I could. Like any other woman, I adore shoes but my love for going barefooted has never abated. I used to love running and playing with the boys, and was very ‘physical’ even, and would get into a fight if provoked. Dolls weren’t really my ‘thing’. Building huts was more fun.
The years I speak of, from about the age of five to twelve, I grew up in Karachi, which was then West Pakistan, followed by Teheran, and then Dhaka, which was then East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh. My Scottish stepfather worked for a pharmaceutical company and that’s how we moved around a lot. With the job came cushy houses, beautiful ones at that, with large verandahs and even a swimming pool sometimes. Plush lawns and scented flowers. And a team of people to help run the house – servants they were called then, or ‘the help’ I believe in the States? The lap of luxury sort of thing. Except there were many amenities that were not available in those countries, during those years. One of which was TV. I remember when a television set first appaered in our house in Dhaka, I would have been close to eleven. There was only one channnel and featured two English speaking programmes a day – the Man from UNCLE, the Lucy Show, come to mind. And no TV on a Monday for some reason. Perhaps a film once a week? And there were power cuts on a regular basis, very often interrupting a TV show.
All this to say that we children had to entertain ourselves. My two sisters were much younger than I, so the interaction was perforce one-sided, with me being the bossy older sister. There was no question that I loved them, and we are incredibly close to this day, and we all slept in the same bedroom. But I was bored, bored, bored so much of the time. And lonely. I craved company of my own age. I did have friends, I did, but it wasn’t as if I could walk over to their house, I had to be driven their either by my mother or by the driver. It had to be arranged, it couldn’t be spontaneous. Also, friends would leave, their parents moving to another country, and that was always very sad. I’ve never got over parting from friends.
I remember complaining about my boredom to my mother and her unruffled response was to tell me that she? She never got bored when she was a child. Not helpful. And so I’d invent games like the time I was a farmer … Robin Hood … an air hostess in an aeroplane. After seeing the film The Sound of Music, I became Maria of course, bursting into song and prancing about. I’d put classical records on and pretend I was a ballerina. I really enjoyed games at school and was good at all of them and just loved to beat the boys. I loved going to school because there, finally, was some company for me. It was called Farm View and there is a facebook page now. It was a small international English speaking school and I was in my element, loving all subjects from arithmetic to history to painting to English Literature. And French, of course. When eventually I went to boarding school in England, I was astonished to discover that I was at least two years ahead of my French class. But that’s another story, culture shock, stock and barrel.
Also, I enrolled in the Indian dancing lessons, with the lovely anklets that had bells on them. The headmistress, Mrs Coventry, apparently nearly had a hairy fit when she learned that I was going to be performing an Indian dance as part of the school pantomime that year and was duly impressed to discover that I turned out to be a very graceful dancer. My mother, bless her, thought I’d find solace in piano lessons and she drove me once a week to the teacher’s house. We didn’t have a piano at home, so I would practise for half an hour before the actual lesson, which always included a cup of tea and a biscuit. I enjoyed my lessons, very much. When I was growing up, tea (the drinking of together with biscuits or a slice a cake or whatever) was an everyday ‘thing’, a precious pause during the day.
What I really enjoyed was reading. The school had a library and took us to see films (old black-and-white films at that) at the British Council, which also had a library. Oh the joy of reading! It was the one thing that salvaged me from the loneliness, the boredom of an otherwise privileged upbringing. I became a book worm. I remember repairing to the bathroom to finish reading a book until well into the wee hours, shutting the door so I wouldn’t wake my sisters up with the light. I’d wake up bleary eyed the next morning but oh so satisfied. My choice of reading was not exactly intellectual. There was Noddy and fairy tales, the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew but Enid Blyton most of all. Golly!, how I loved the Famous Five and other adventure stories. One of my teachers, Mrs Chowdury, had gone to university with Enid Blyton’s daughter apparently and I was sooooo impressed. Daddy used to take me with him to the equivalent of a mall in our neighbourhood, called the D.I.T. Market. Well, when I say ‘mall’, think small bazaar, really, and a dozen or so shops. Any excuse to get out of the house and, also, a chance to buy some comics. At the time there used to be a wonderful American series of comics under the heading “Classics Illustrated”. They featured adaptations of literary classics such as Les Miserables, Moby Dick, Hamlet, and The Iliad. Wikipedia says “Recognizing the appeal of early comic books, Russian-born publisher Albert Lewis Kanter (1897–1973) believed he could use the new medium to introduce young and reluctant readers to “great literature”. I well remember The Last of the Mohican, Lorna Doone, many Shakespeare plays, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Last Days of Pompei, Moby Dick, The Three Muskateers. AbeBooks.com says “We will never know how many youngsters who read Classic Comics and Classics Illustrated are now confirmed bibliophiles with homes full of literature, but we suspect the figure is high.” Well, they caught me all right. I can think of nothing sadder than a house without books.
And those books I did read, as well as the comics, were fodder for my imagination and I would often re-enact scenes from them in my make-believe world of play, not unlike the four sisters in Little Women. Despite the tropical heat and the monsoons, you wouldn’t believe how ‘cold’ it could get in my rendition of Heidi’s mountain idyll. My mother couldn’t understand why I insisted on amping up the air-conditioning to freezing levels behind her back in our bedroom. Little did she know. We only drank powdered milk in Dhaka but to me it was goats milk, of course. Pollyanna played a pretty important part too. To this day, I love the film with Hayley Mills, I still have the DVD. The last time I watched it was probably ten years ago but to me it will never grow old or become outdated. The punch line: if you go looking for evil in this world, you are sure to find it.
Of all these books and their heroes and heroines, however, it was Jo from Little Women that has accompanied me always. Something about her spirit, her resolve, her human frailty coupled with her sensitivity and can-do enthusiasm made an indelible mark upon me. I grew up with two sisters, went to an all-girls boarding school, and at one time had mainly women colleagues when I was working at the UN in Rome … I dearly love women and am a born feminist. Yet, for all of Jo’s yang personality that I can identify with, it is with Beth that I have one huge trait in common. I am a home body. I don’t really crave ‘adventure’ as it were. I wish all my friends and family could live close by. And I always did want to marry and have children. The follow-up book, Jo’s Boys, really touched a chord. And for years and years I dreamed of opening a small school, where children would be treated with tender, loving, creative care. And, such are the coincidences in life, I did marry a professor of sorts, just like Jo! I’m still waiting to launch my inspirational cooking school … we’ll see.
In the end, it was cooking that became a way of life for me. Cooking became my ‘adventure’. And that’s how I came across the video recipe for this blog post.
PREPARING THE MEAT LOAF WITH ROSSELLA
It is Sunday and I am having guests to dinner, my favourite cousins and a favourite friend. I went to work the day before, a pasta class at the Minardi Winery, which ended just after 3 p.m. After which I go to do the shopping and get home just before 5 p.m. I eat something, whatever I can find in the fridge. And I start preparing some stuff for the next day. At 8 p.m. I shower and get dressed and go to a dear friend’s 70th birthday party, quite the bash, at least 60 guests. By midnight I’m falling off my perch and regretfully leave at around quarter past. Unheard of for me, I am one of those who ‘could have danced all night’ but not last Saturday.
I go to bed at around 1 a.m. but instead of falling into a deep slumber, end up tossing and turning all night. I wake up all sleepy and slow and realise that I am going to need help to get through the day.
So I call upon my next door neighbour, Rossella. Our flats are on the same landing. We try and have coffee together regularly, the way we used to, but sometimes we don’t see each other for three weeks in a row now. That’s how life has become for us, for us all, always busy, always in a hurry, strapped for time.
Though not obsessed with cooking the way I am, Rossella is no slouch in the kitchen and is also a tidy cook. One thing at a time versus my 101 things going on at the same time. Steady. She was more than happy to oblige. I do not mean this in any condescending way whatsoever but … Rossella, like many women whose children have left home and are without a partner or husband, is lonely. Heck I get lonely and I do have a husband! Our flat seems so quiet without the children. Rossella is very capable and has run family clothes shops; her parents’ shop in Rome was the first to bring La Perla lingerie to the capital, it was quite posh. She and her sister had to close it down a couple of years ago, after a full 80 years of operation. She was always a working woman. She keeps herself busy in many ways but … but if you are a home lover (like Beth!) and there is just you in the house … well, it can get veeery quiet. Very. Cooking together is soothing. We spent a good three hours together in the morning, and another nearly two in the late afternoon. Indeed the meatloaf, except for the pastry, is all her doing. Grazie Rossella!
Upon parting, we decided that we’ll meet once a month, with a few other girlfriends, to cook something new together.
The dinner went very well and, as I said, there were leftovers …
TAILGATING IN ROME ALONG THE TIBER
I can’t remember exactly when we watched the 1994 “Little Women” film, featuring Wynona Ryder and Susan Sarandon etc. on television. By ‘we’ I mean my daughter, my son and my husband. Well, my daughter and I fell for it hook, line and sinker and I bought the DVD of course, or perhaps video tape, can’t remember. And it became a sort of Christmas film-watching staple for us. “Oh not Little Women again!”, my son her brother would wail. And she and I would have to watch some appalling action film in revenge. The scene where Beth dies never fails to bring me to tears. Just like the book, this film is moving without descending into the sludge of soppy.
So … did I fancy going to see the new Little Women film? my daughter asked me. Sure. Any excuse to see more of my daughter. Not so sure I really want to see the film, but so what. In Nancy Mitford’s “Love in a Cold Climate”, the character of Farve, the heroine’s uncle, is notoriously eccentric in his ways. And not one for conversation either. Having to endure polite conversation at the dinner table, his hostess kindly enquires of him, in an attempt to break the ice, whether he has read any good book lately. His retort is no. He did read a book once. White Fang. It was so dashed good he never bothered to read another.
Well … that’s a little how I feel about the 1994 Little Women film. It was so so very good, why go for a remake?
Anyway. My daughter works in the centre of Rome (lucky gal) and parking comes at a premium. She finishes at 7 p.m. and the film started at 8 p.m. There was going to be a bit of walking wherever I ended up parking which meant, which meant, that there wasn’t going to be much time to repair somewhere and get a bite to eat and a glass of wine. Hmmm. Head scratching and nose twitching, what to do, what to do?
Picnic. In the car. Like they tend to do in Great Britain on account of the weather.
It’s the only thing that would make sense. I’d bring something for us to eat before the film so we wouldn’t starve. Favourite daughter agreed. What she did not know was that I had leftovers from the night before, by way of pastry-encased meatloaf. She was expecting sandwiches and that sort of stuff.
I packed everything in the boot of the car, getting all eager beaver and into the spirit of things. After faffing about for a good 15 minutes, my parking angel guided us to a perfect spot on the winding Lungotevere road, along the Tiber. I just had to laugh. We both had a good giggle. We were almost directly opposite the imposing Palazzo Giustizia, St Peter’s lit-up dome just behind us, the Bulgari House with its garish lit-up roof-top palm tree about 100 yards down the road from us, and Piazza Navona also within spitting distance. Glittering, beautiful, romantic, historic Rome lay all around us. Just a few hundred yards away, also, was the princely Palazzo Borghese, which hosts the Spanish Embassy residence, where I had once had occasion to dine for a fundraiser.
And here I was tailgating it with my daughter, picnicking in the car.
That said we had a jolly good dinner. Please note, we ate inside the car and not in the middle of the road. We ate off ceramic plates, with proper knives and forks. We had the meatloaf en croute with a side dish of “broccoletti”. I brought some ketchup along in case the meat turned out to be too dry (it wasn’t fortunately). A couple of apples to finish off and, of course!!!, a glass of prosecco.
Louisa May Alcott would have approved, she would have understood.