What is the point of (the) brisket?

Times may change but the restaurant business has always been given to elements that are fickle and finnicky.  Our brother-in-law Enrico had to give up running a restaurant in Rome in November of a year ago and took over one in Marino called “Cantina Colonna” which had been very popular towards the end of the 1990s and early 2000s.  One year later and the efforts he has put into the place, together with partner and artist Alberto, are beginning to bear fruit.  The menu is Roman, down-to-earth, tasty and seasonal and if excitement is not on the menu, honesty is.  I had dinner there my niece and her partner visiting from Sweden just last week; I picked them up on a cold, wet and shivery evening at Fiumicino airport.  We didn’t get to the restaurant until 10 o’clock and weren’t too surprised to be the only customers that evening (mid week can be very slow).  They were  both pooped, coming as they did from long back-to-back meetings for work and the trip itself and I encouraged them to eat.  Which they did, and with great relish.  The next morning, Ulrika remarked on how surprising it was that she had slept so well given how much she had eaten and at such a late hour.  “It must mean that the food is good.”  Exactly.

When my husband and I had dinner at Enrico’s a few weeks ago, he suggested we try his veal brisket.  Please take a look at the following two photos.  They may not be great shots but do admit: doesn’t that look like a fab joint of roast?

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Look at the serving plate awash with delicious “sughetto”, gravy.

So of course I had to have the recipe, and here is my attempt.

The recipe is called “punta di petto di vitella alla fornara”, which translates something like this: the point of the brisket cooked the baker’s way.  The ‘point’ refers to a part of this cut of meat … and that’s the whole ‘point’ of this blog post, haha.  This cut of meat is relatively inexpensive (Eu 12.90/kg) because it contains quite a bit of cartilage.  Enrico said that all he did was slather it with olive oil, rosemary and sage, seasalt and use some white wine to help cook it and produce the gravy.

You will need fresh rosemary and sage leaves.  Chop them up together. Transfer to a glass bowl and drown the herbs with oodles of olive oil.  Have some coarse seasalt at the ready.

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Here is the veal  brisket.  Pat it dry.

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Here it is rolled out.  I took one clove of garlic (only one!) and sliced it into three pieces.  I inserted the pieces inside the meat.

I proceeded to anoint the meat on this side first, adding the salt crystals last.

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I then turned the ‘anointed’ part of the meat over and tucked in both ends of the meat, so that it is now shaped almost like a scroll.  More slathering of herb infused olive oil, more sprinkling of beautiful salt.

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Enrico said to roast the meat for about 40 minutes at 180°C.

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While it was roasting, I poured out about 250ml of Frascati wine into the wine caraffe that is typical of around here and Rome.  The one litre is called “tubbo”, the half litre size is called “fojetta”, the 250ml size is called “un quartino” , 1/5th of a litre is called “chierichetto” and the smallest size, 1/10th of a litre, is called “sospiro”. I’ll write another blog about the story behind these caraffes another time, it’s quite droll really and has to do with popes and levying taxes.

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Forty minutes later and I removed the roast from the oven and poured all the  wine into the roasting pan (not over the meat).  Back it went for another 20 minutes, as per Enrico’s instructions.

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And that is what came out of the oven.  The scent, by the way, was nostril-twitching stuff.

However … when I sliced the meat to take a peek … I saw that it was still a little undercooked.  And by undercooked, I don’t mean ‘pink’, I mean undercooked.

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So I added more Frascati wine and popped it back into the oven for another 15-20 minutes.  This is the thing about ovens, they are all different and they are all very unreliable.  Everyone has to know their own oven.

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I let the meat rest for the briefest of minutes because we had guests for dinner and it was just the right time now for our ‘secondo’, our main course.  I was too lazy to remove the cartilage.

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So much lovely gravy!

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Surrounded by friendly roast potatoes.

21Tender as can be and sitting over a puddle of gravy.

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And much appreciated by our neighbours that evening.  It was a potluck affair, which I love, and what you see on my plate here is an Insalata Russa with beetroot in it, yum.

The next day.  Leftovers, yay!

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I heated the gravy.

The meat had spent something like 15 minutes in a warm oven that I turned off as soon as I put the meat in.   I didn’t want the meat to cook further, I just wanted it to be warm.23

25Yes, the plate needs a swipe.  But I was concentrating on the meat, not the plate.

26See how it glistened?

My husband said it tasted even better the next day.

I can’t sing its praises highly enough.  Thank you Enrico!

 

Fast Food Anyone? The Quickest Way to Make Pasta e Ceci

Cooking should not be a race – but then neither should life and at times we have to cook meals in a hurry.  “Ceci” are chickpeas/garbanzo.  When combined with some pasta in a thick soup, flavoured with garlic, a hint of tomato and an infusion of rosemary, it makes for a very inviting repast.

Made some today for lunch for my daughter and she recalled how often she made this recipe when she was at university.   So I have decided to dedicate this blog post to my lovely niece Emily, who just started at Uni in September.

Another plus is that the ingredients are easy to find and cheap too.  So, what more could one want?

The only relative ‘downside’ is that there is one utensil that is required and that is a hand-held blender, and not every student might have one.

INGREDIENTS:

1 glass jar of precooked chickpeas, 1 clove of garlic, salt, tomato paste, fresh rosemary, a short-shaped pasta.

PROCEDURE:

Put the kettle on the boil or boil some water in a saucepan.

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Drain the jar.

IMG_1423Divide the chickpeas into two bowls (or mugs or glasses).  Let’s name the bowl on the left A and the bowl on the right, with the fork in it, B.  Well, bowl B has slightly more chickpeas than A, say 60 percent versus 40 percent.

IMG_1424.JPGYou’ll be needing a squeeze of tomato paste.  One clove of garlic and about 50g of pasta (per person).  I didn’t have any short-shaped pasta – only spaghetti.  But that’s okay, spaghetti can be snapped into bit size morsels.

IMG_1425.JPGSlice the garlic clove into three pieces.  Squeeze a teaspoonful amount of tomato paste.  And slather the bottom of a small saucepan with enough olive oil to muster the required amount of fat in this dish.  Remember, no fat no taste.

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Turn the heat on, and begin the cooking process.  The garlic has to cook until it goes golden.

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Now add the 40% amount of chickepeas (the smaller bowl, bowl A). Use a wooden spoon to mix the tomato paste into it.

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Don’t forget to add some salt too.

IMG_1430Now add one to two ladles of the simmering water to the mix. Enough, anyhow, to cover the chickpeas.

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Remove the saucepan from the heat and use a hand-held blender to process its contents.

IMG_1432Now, using another, slightly larger saucepan … we can proceed with the recipe.  Place the 60 percent, bowl B, amount of chickpeas to this pan.

IMG_1433Transfer the other processed ingredients into this saucepan.  So now we have whole chickpeas as well as processed chickpeas swimming together.  Turn the heat on.

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Snap your spaghetti into matchstick sized pieces.  And add them to the soup.

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Mix with a wooden spoon.

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Add as much simmering water as is required.  Basically, you are cooking this pasta e ceci the way you would a risotto.

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Don’t overdo it, for now, add just enough water to cover the ingredients.

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I love rosemary and rosemary pairs super well with the chickpeas in this recipe.  Carry on cooking until the pasta is cooked al dente.  Keep an eye on the process, you might want to add a little more simmering water, you might need to give the soup a swirl with a wooden soup to avoid it sticking from the bottom of the pan.  The rosemary will lose some of its colour.

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Once you have tasted the pasta for its ‘doneness’ … remove the rosemary, or as much of it as you can, and then swirl some more extra virgin olive oil over the surface and sprinkle with freshly milled pepper.

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Looking good eh? Inviting?

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Not finished.  Not, that is, if you enjoy some grated pecorino cheese over it.  Which my daughter does.

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Time to eat.

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Considering that the pasta takes about 10-12 minutes to cook … this whole recipe took less than 20 minutes to cook from start to finish.  Now that’s what I call fast food.

I had written about a very similar recipe a few years ago:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/pasta-e-ceci/

And about another one including mushrooms:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/chickpea-and-pasta-soup-with-a-mushroom-finish/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Potato Cake when Diets and Blood Thinners Challenge the Menu one can Enjoy

During the past few years I have occasionally given private, mostly individual English lessons that are all about the person in question, wholly tailor made to fit in with their level of comprehension of the language and, almost as important, their character, their personality, and age.  Anyone grappling with the challenge of learning a new language nearly always suffers from the excruciating pain of looking foolish, I find, and the result is that even outgoing people end up being on the shy side.  It is important that I succeed in getting them to overcome this hurdle, how else otherwise will they be able to make any inroads?  I often take recourse to songs and nursery rhymes, the sillier the better.  People feel okay about ‘repeating’ the words of a song or a ditty because it somehow shields them from exposing their tender language-impaired ‘self’.   And if there is a little laughter or a chuckle to be gained thereby, all the better.  Nothing like a little sense of humour to shake things up a bit, it can do so much to encourage a little courage.

A good song is “O dear, what can the matter be? Three old ladies locked in the lavatory”, etc.  The first verse is fine but things get very complicated, vocabulary wise, after that.  I will introduce it only when we have reached a certain level of understanding.  Much easier to begin with the famous, or infamous if you will, baked beans song.  You know the one, don’t you?

Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart
The more you eat, the more you fart
The more you fart, the better you feel
So eat baked beans with every meal.

I heard the song for the first time when I went to boarding school in England where I learned that flatulence enjoyed pride of place in giggledom.  Farts, and bathroom jokes, I soon discovered were the origin of much hilarity.  So noblesse oblige, I joined in and even participated in a farting competition in my dormitory one night.  I hasten to add that I soon outgrew any fascination for the subject or its physical expression anywhere near my presence.  In one dictionary I looked up the word ‘fart’ in at the time the explanation was quite mind boggling: “a slight explosion between the legs”.  I have a lot of respect for the workings of a healthy body, and any unwanted air must of course be allowed to escape, bar the risk of it rumbling uncomfortably inside the body. That is what I informed my children when they were young.  That said, the bathroom was the best place for its evacuation unless extreme conditions obtained, in which case it would be a good idea to excuse oneself.  I realised that it was a fine line between presenting the act of farting as a ‘normal’ bodily function and casting a socially shameful light on it.

Why preface a post with all this talk of flatulence, you might well ask?  Well, the reason is actually quite a bittersweet one. My mother had to undergo surgery on her brain last summer to get rid of a haematoma.  Considering her age, almost 90 at the time, she came through it all with flying colours.  The doctors suggested she stay off blood thinners for a while, and all was well until a few months ago, when she began to suffer from very strong atrial fibrillation.  After much to-ing and fro-ing with the cardiologist and blood tests etc, it was decided that she should be put on blood thinnners,  the Coumadin anticoagulant also known as Warfarin, to avoid the risk of a stroke.

Aged 90 plus now, she passed her yearly driving test on the Monday, and was told by the cardiologist not to drive on the Tuesday.  That didn’t go down well with her and she started driving again as soon as her fibrillations abated.  Not that she drives any long distance, bless her, basically only within a 3-5 km radius, but being able to drive is what keeps her ticking.

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Here is my mother, Agnese, a couple of Sundays ago.  At a garden party lunch.

Another thing that keeps her ticking is cooking.  My love of food and cooking has most certainly come from her, and a lot of our conversations over the phone are all about recipes or ideas for a recipe or talk of what she found at the market.  So imagine telling someone like her that they have to restrict their “healthy” food intake.  Crestfallen by the appalling implications of this bloody Coumadin stuff, I told the second cardiologist that to me it sounded like a death knell for her.  Thankfully, he was very sympathetic.  And, indeed, hopefully within the next ten days she will be put on another kind of anticoagulant medication that does not interfere with the diet and does not require periodic blood tests.  Phew.

Please take a look at what she must avoid until then.

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Let me translate for you.

TO BE AVOIDED

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, radicchio, turnips, artichokes, any dark green leafy vegetable

Parsely

Liver, pork, bacon, eggs, butter

Green tea

ALLOWED  ONLY IN VERY SMALL QUANTITIES – LESS THAN 100G PER DAY (that’s just about a piddly 3 ounces !)

Chicory, asparagus, endive, bell peppers, aubergines, mushrooms, courgettes, collards, fennel, tomatoes, carrots

Tuna/tunny fish

Fresh beans, fresh peas

Strawberries

Seriously?

“Drinking grapefruit juice, cranberry juice, and alcohol during treatment with warfarin / coumadin can increase your risk of bleeding.”  “Steer clear of green apples and prunes.” In one of the websites I researched on the subject, even extra virgin olive oil was supposed to be eschewed save for a dribble.  In other words, with Coumadin we are basically being told NOT to eat a Mediterranean diet, the one that is now proven to be so good for us!  How do you think my mother got to celebrate her 90th birthday?

I felt very badly for my mother and when she came over for supper day before yesterday, I wanted to cook something that would seem ‘normal’ and not smack of that dreaded word ‘obligatory’.   ‘Choice’ is such a pleasing sounding word, isn’t it.  At first I thought I might do something with beans, not the proscribed fresh ones but the ordinary cooked kind.  My mother doesn’t like chicken much, the only meat she really enjoys now is pork for some reason but of course she isn’t allowed that, it wasn’t a fish day, she wasn’t allowed eggs … ouff! … so beans sounded like a good kind of protein.  Except that I then thought of the beans’ ‘explosive’ consequences … and that’s how I came up with the idea of the recipe for a potato cake drowned in a cream and pecorino sauce.  I take no credit for the recipe, I saw it on a television programme recently.

INGREDIENTS

Boiled and mashed potato, onion, olive oil (EVOO), tomato sauce (passata), cream (as in full fat whipping cream), grated pecorino cheese, basil (the original recipe called for fresh mint leaves but my mother is not overly fond of mint)

PROCEDURE

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Boil the potatoes (in my case it was only 1 large potato), mash, allow to cool and set aside.

Slice or chop the onion and sweat it with some olive oil in a saucepan.  Then add the tomato sauce, some salt and a teensy pinch of sugar.  Cook for about 10-15 minutes, adding fresh basil leaves a few minutes before the end of the cooking time. Taste and season again if needed.

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Now, add the mashed potatoes and gently combine with the tomato sauce.

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It doesn’t take long to combine all the ingredients nicely, over a low heat.

5Use two spoons or a wooden spoon to shape the potato mix in to a round ‘cake’ shape. Continue cooking until you think one side has been nicely ‘done’.  Then, using a plate, flip the potato cake and slide it back into the pan.

6The potato cake can now cook on the other side.

7Grated pecorino.

8Pour some cream into a small saucepan and add some nutmeg (my idea) and the cheese. Cook until the cheese has melted.  At this point, I switched everything off and decided to make my mother a good old-fashioned tomato bruschetta.

9It was that beautiful time of day, when one can enjoy a glass of wine and contemplate the cinematic performance of a Summer sunset.   Nature can be such a ham at times.

10I got my husband to lay the table.

11He kept my mother company as she enjoyed her sundown bruschetta on the balcony.

14.jpgI stayed in the kitchen getting on with our meal.  My mother had brought some tripe she had made earlier.  Trippa alla romana, which my husband loves.  So, heating that up and covering it with pecorino was easy enough.

15There had been no mention of green beans being dangerous in any way.  So, I had prepared some with a clean conscience.

16I pan fried some breaded beef slices.  Who doesn’t love a “fettina panata” now and then?

12I heated up the potato cake and then slid it onto a plate.  I apologise for the photo, not a good one.

13I heated the pecorino cream sauce and poured it over the potato cake.

17Rustic tablecloth, colourful combination of various hues  – thorougly unsubtle at that.  Sometimes, it’s  a good idea to go for ‘cheery’ even though it’s a mite over-the-top.  Dinner was ready to be enjoyed.

18And enjoy it she did, phew.  My mother said it was really nice.  She did not eat all of it and took the rest of it home later.

19Grapes were fortunately also not on the Verboten list.

And all in all we had a lovely evening, followed by watching the film “Florence”, with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant.

The moral of this story?  The enjoment of food, especially at a certain age, is an essential part of a life worth living.  Do not let dour medicine get in the way of it.  Get thee hence Coumadin.  Roll on the new medication.  But in the meantime, even a ‘restricted’ meal must appear to be inviting.

A Flash in the Pan but not a Flashy Fish Recipe

Sometimes it is easy to forget how a handful of readily available ingredients are all that it takes to make a simple fish taste so good.

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This couple of ‘orata’ (sea bream) were caught from near Civitavecchia, or so the fishmonger told me as he gutted them and removed their scales.  One orata for me, one for hubby, they weighed about 700 g each.  When I got home, I rinsed them again in running water, and patted them dry.

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I put some flour aside for coating them later on.

3In the saucepan to start with: olive oil, butter and some sweet paprika.

4Once the heat was turned on, I added some garlic, minced parsely and about a teaspoonful of coriander.

5After flouring the fish on both sides, I lay them gently into the bubbling olive oil and butter.

6I did my best to turn them over without removing any of the skin, but as you can see, I wasn’t entirely successful.

8I had some white wine on standby.

7Once I deemed the fish to be cooked, I placed them over a bed of plain peas seasoned with a little bit of butter and salt.

9I poured some wine into the saucepan, turned the heat up in order to let the alcohol evaporate, and then poured whatever lovely juices remained through a sieve all over the fish.

10On the table and ready to be served.  Doesn’t look like much, and yet is was so satisfying (all that butter folks! and the nuance of paprika and coriander) and very pleasant to eat.

11Also on the menu was saltwort which had been blanched first and then cooked through in another saucepan which was waiting for it with crispy guanciale (pork jowl) and all that that entailed.  It’s the first time I served ‘barba di frate’ or ‘agretti’ as saltwort is called in Italian this way.  I know it won’t be the last.

I think it took me less than 20 minutes to make this dinner.

Nutty about Nuts! Curry Nut Roast

I have copied this directly, word for word, from my former food blog, http://www.myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com, because for some unfathomable technical reason that blog post won’t show any of the photos I had uploaded at the time.  Which is a shame since this is a relatively stress-free, plan-ahead, vegetarian/vegan friendly (if one cuts out the egg) and delicious concoction of foods that anyone can enjoy (unless one is allergic to nuts naturally).

I had written the post back in November 2011.  As we all know, fashions come and go, and that includes food choices and preferences, as well as trending, innovations and fads.  Well, I think this is a recipe that can stand the test of time, although there is always room for tweaking.

I was drawn to the mysterious disappearance of the photos by my daughter, who wanted to make this dish two days ago.

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In the event, this is how she presented the dish.  Surrounded by strips of sunny yellow capsicum/pepper, a sprinkling of rocket leaves and a handful of almonds.  It looks most inviting, even if I say so in a proud mamma way! 🙂

If you think you might enjoy making this, read below.  And again, bear in mind that I wrote it almost six years ago.

Nuts are a wonderful invention of Nature and it’s a pity, really, that we tend to eat nuts mainly, or only, as ‘nibbles’, to accompany a drink at happy hour, or to add crunch to a cake.

They are full of all kinds of nutritional goodies (1 Brazil nut a day will give you enough selenium for optimum daily intake) and keep many nasty health conditions at bay (walnuts for instance repel diabetes) and yes, the are fattening, but so what!  Instead of ‘fattening’, think ‘filling’ and healthy and unless you allergic to them, nuts can become a best friend on the dinner table.

The following is a recipe that my vegetarian friend Sarah taught me many years ago, called a Curry Nut Roast.  It may be vegetarian friendly but that doesn’t mean that omnivores can’t enjoy it too!  It can be served as a starter or as a main course, accompanied by rice or salad or even some lovely, thick Greek youghurt.  It is eaten at room temperature and is great for parties — and leftovers can be frozen too.  What more do you want!

The first thing to do is preheat the oven at 200°C.

THE INGREDIENTS

Hazelnuts 150g, walnuts 150g (or any other combination of nuts of your choice), 100g bread crumbs, 1 large onion, one red pepper, some olive oil, 250g plum tomatoes, curry powder, dried herbs of your choice (I used oregano), 1 egg to bind the mix, salt and pepper.

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On the far right is a special salt I happened to have, containing many herbs.

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Chop the onion and the red pepper and transfer to a frying pan with some olive oil in it.

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Have your curry powder, herbs and salt ready for use …

 

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Turn the heat on and let the onion and red pepper sweat for a few minutes over a medium heat.  After about 10 minutes add the curry, herbs and salt …

 

 

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The aromas wafting about in the kitchen at this point are truly delectable, especially if you like curry! When the veggies have had their sweat and are suitably wilted … time to add:6

The tomatoes.  These are cherry tomatoes (organic at that) out of a jar but plum tomatoes will do just as well, as would fresh tomatoes.

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Combine and stir, mixing everything up and cook for a few minutes.

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Meanwhile, while all this is happening or even before if you prefer: Put the nuts and the bread crumbs into a food processor and …

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Pulse until the nuts are smashed up and mixed in with the bread crumbs.

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Add them to the frying pan, combine and stir well with a wooden spoon. And that’s it. Switch off the heat and let it cool a little.

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There is your egg.  Beat it and add it to the mix.

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Here is superbly old-fashioned pyrex dish (circa 1970 for sure! I inherited it from my mother’s kitchen).  I buttered it first and then added the curry nut mix and pressed down with a spoon.

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I popped it into the oven and baked it till it was done … 30 minutes.  It could even take 40 minutes … the timing depends on the oven a lot.  And that’s it … finito, ready.  All you have to do is remove it from the oven and serve it.

If you are anything like me, you might want to drizzle a tiny amount of olive oil on it.  It is a very rich dish and a little goes a long way.  Enjoy!

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The Chicken Kiev Conundrum

The name of this recipe, for starters.  A Saveur Magazine said: “Though it’s named for Ukraine’s capital city, chicken kiev is probably not a Ukrainian dish.  Some say it was conceived by the French inventor Nicolas Appert in the 18th century; others claim it was created at private club in Moscow in 1912.”  In a similar vein, a Russian cuisine website says: “Turns out that Chicken Kiev is originally from France. It was invented by French chef, Nicolas Francois Appert and was known as côtelettes de volaille.  Côtelettes de Volaille arrived to Russia during the times of Empress Elizaveta Petrovna. Russian Empress Elizaveta Petrovna was brought up by a French tutor, spoke French and was fascinated by French culture. By the late 18th century, French dishes and fashion were widely imitated in Russia.  However, it is generally believed that côtelettes de volaille have been renamed to Chicken Kiev by New York restaurants trying to please Russian clientele in the 20th century. The dish was also known as Chicken Supreme.” (https://www.funrussian.com/2011/07/10/russian-chicken-kiev-recipe/)

According to an article in The Telegraph dated 10th May, so yes, very au courant, this recipe has even been the subject of recent political controversy: “In February this year, a New York Times reporter noted on Twitter that a dish identical to chicken Kiev was being served  in the canteen of the Russian Foreign Ministry called Chicken Crimea – interpreted by some as a statement of Russia’s claim over the Ukrainian peninsula. The Russian Ministry were quick to point out that the dish was different because it was made with chicken thigh, not breast.” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/features/10-things-didnt-know-humble-chicken-kiev/

What we can all agree on is the fact that it was a cult dish of the 1970s.

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I am so very glad I bought a book called “The Prawn Cocktail Years” written by Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham.  It came out in 1997 and it was alread ‘old’ by the time I got to purchasing it, circa 2008.  The title said it all, how could I resist buying it!  It’s a book I’ve often leafed through with expressive smiles on my face and chortles and chuckles popping out.  It is entertaining.

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I found a  a website called “Not Delia” (http://www.notdelia.co.uk/the-prawn-cocktail-years/) that has this to say about it:

“The premise of the book is that, as food fashion has changed, some dishes have been “loved and lost”. In many cases this is a good thing – brown Windsor soup, anyone? But some dishes are inherently Good and, despite going out of fashion, remain popular to this day. “Everybody, but everybody, loves Prawn Cocktail”.  Dishes which were once exciting (Coq au Vin, Spaghetti Bolognese) “have been slung out like old lovers, while we carelessly flirt with the flavour of the month”.  The authors’ “mission” is to rehabilitate these classics – and they are classics because they’ve stood the test of time – in “a country now obsessed with culinary novelty”. All the dishes in the book “have the potential to be truly excellent”, and were good in the first place. As stated in the book’s introduction: “The purpose of this book is to redefine the Great British Meal and rescue other similarly maligned classic dishes from years of abuse…”  “There are eight chapters, taking us through the eras of Great British dining out. From the 1950s hotel dining room to the Gentleman’s Club, the Sixties Bistro, and more, culminating in Chez Gourmet. It’s an interesting culinary tour through modern social history.

“Most of the recipes come with a bit of nostalgia or other interesting observation wittily written. On Trout with Almonds (Sixties Bistro chapter) they have this to say: “Finding a wild river trout these days is about as easy as not coming across sun-dried tomatoes on the menu of yet another fashionable restaurant.” (Remember the book was published in 1997. Maybe a future book will be called The Sun-Dried Tomato Years.)”

End of quote.

My family used to eat a version of Chicken Kiev when I was growing up in East Pakistan (1969-1971), I am almost sure of that says my memory.  So … question.  Who taught our cook how to make Chicken Kiev? Aha!  Very mysterious.  And it was always considered a bit of a treat, to be served on special occasions.  Now, of course, many would think that Chicken Kiev is naff and slightly silly.  The authors say that it is ‘simple’ to prepare but I have to disagree with them.  It is what I term ‘fiddly’ and requires some dexterity and plenty of time.  I only made it once, three years ago, and that sort of says it all.    But it WAS “downright tasty” and “texturally brilliant”, yes.

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There has been a ginormous thunderstorm, complete with lightning and hail, which has all added to the mood-making chicken kiev mystery as I write this post.   Anyway, on display are most of the ingredients: chicken breasts, eggs, softened butter, garlic,  parsley and tarragon, flour and Italian style breadcrumbs.  You will also need 2 shakes of Tabasco sauce, the grated zest of one small lemon, as well as its juice.  Finally, to complete the recipe list, add good quality oil, and plenty of it, with which to fry the stuffed chicken breasts.

I cheated and got my butcher to cut a slit in the skinned chicken breasts, from the side, in order to create a cavity or pocket, or whatever you want to call it.

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Now that I look at the photo(s), I realise the cartilage should have been removed too.

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And, this was my personal addition, some grated parmesan.  Also, a pinch or two of sweet paprika (it never hurts).  Their recipe called for, as an option,  2 tsp of Pernod – but I didn’t have any and did not live to rue its absence.  It also required chives but, again, I didn’t have any.

To begin with, I set out to make the garlic and herb butter.  The recipe says: “Blend the first 10 (8 in my case: no chives or Pernod) ingredients together in a food processor and allow the mixture to firm up slightly in a cool place (not the fridge).” The last tip didn’t make any sense to me and I, overcome by a somewhat rebellious mien, deemed it advisable to go so far as even putting the mixture in the freezer, ha!  I am so anarchic …5

I added salt and pepper to the lemon juice containing the garlic, lemon zest, and Tabasco.

The butter and the herbs got whizzed up.  I dribbled in the lemon juice mixture a little at a time.

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I then placed the mixture on some parchment paper.

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I added the parmesan and combined all the ingredients.

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I used the paper to shape the butter mixture into a long, slightly flattened sausage.

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And in it went inside the freezer.  I can’t remember for how long, but probably 15-20 minutes.  Long enough for it to harden, but not freeze.

Meanwhile, I got on with the next step.  I added some paprika to the flour.  And put plenty of breadcrumbs in a bowl.  I beat the eggs in another bowl.

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And here is what my mise en place was looking like: (1) chicken, (2) paprika stained flour, (3) egg wash, (4) breadcrumbs, (5) groundnut oil.

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This is a photo of the butter mixture out of the freezer and sliced into a stick shape.

It’s a good idea to put a tiny amount of flour even into the cavity.

Because the butter has hardened, it makes it easy to insert the filling.

Once the butter mixture is snugly inserted in the cavity, press the flaps of the chicken firmly together.

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Dust the chicken breasts with flour, then coat with the egg wash and, finally, dredge in the breadcrumbs.  I seem to have spotted some green ‘bits’ in the breadcrumbs .. probably some leftover parsley.

One must take taking care to fill all the little crevices.  Preparation complete.  Now it’s time to fry these as best you can.  The first rule is that there should be plenty of oil, plenty.  The second is that the temperature should be around 160°C.  For those who do not own a thermometer, and I did not at the time, “this is when a scrap of bread turns golden after a couple of minutes”.  Rule number three: fry in small batches, in this case it was two at a time.

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Once one side of the chicken has browned, turn it over to the other side.  30

The recipe says to deep fry the chicken for 8 minutes.  I honestly can’t remember how long it took me.  Maybe a little more, who knows?

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I had turned the oven on low heat, and left the chicken pieces there to keep warm while I got on with whatever else I was doing at that point (laying the table? making mashed potatoes?).  The authors say Chicken Kiev should be served with chips (French fries) and lemon quarters and watercress.

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This is what I mean about the recipe not being ‘simple’.  I cut one to check that the meat was cooked properly (i.e. not pink), and it was lovely to see the sauce ooze out but I was not so mesmerised by the crunchy part sliding off the chicken with such slippery insousiance.  Sigh.

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I sprinkled some salt and pepper on them just before serving.

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The sauce really was most delicious, I have to admit.

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And, aesthetics be damned, the crunchy coating did taste “texturally brilliant”.

Next time, I think I would place the chicken, duly stuffed, in the freezer for a few minutes and THEN dip them in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs.

 

 

Glossy Baked-Tomato Sauce for a Summer Pasta

When Winter is finally over, and Spring is being enjoyed, all of a sudden I get a craving for Summer.  Weird, isn’t it? My musings based on nostalgia (looking back) somehow have the power to stimulate future-oriented cravings in me.  In this case, the yearning is for a pasta recipe that is eaten at room temperature during the season when tomatoes taste the best: i.e. Summer.  I wrote a post about it I for the “Giardini di Sole” blog but unfortunately it got ‘lost’ in a technical mishap.   All of us at “Giardini di Sole” (Sandy, Libby, Liz and I) love to cook , and we are not beyond the commission of excess in the kitchen department.  Husbands, family and friends don’t seem to mind so I can’t see us reining in any time soon.  This is Liz Macrì’s recipe.

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It was one of the dishes we prepared for our Open House day in the Showroom (SOWA) in Boston in May 2013.

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So, let’s take a look at the ingredients:

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Fresh basil, garlic, Italian or panko type breadcrumbs, olive oil, salt, black olives (pitted), capers and anchovies packed in oil.  Oh! and tomatoes, of course, the little cherry kind, cut in half, the cut half facing the ceiling.  You will also need parchment paper to line the baking trays.  A tip: it is not always that one has access to fabulous tasting tomatoes, so it’s not a bad idea to sprinkle a little sugar over them.

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So … after liberally strewing capers, sliced garlic, sliced olives and ribbons of basil over the tomatoes, douse the tomatoes with olive oil and, finally, sprinkle a dusting of breadcrumbs.

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Don’t forget to sprinkle salt.  I would do this first, actually, now that I come to think about it.  It’s probably best to sprinkle some salt over the tomatoes before you begin doing anything else.

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Pop the trays into a preheated oven, on a fairly low heat, 120°C, and cook until they are ready.  This can take any time between 40 minutes and 1 hour.  It all depends on the oven and the amount of tomatoes being cooked.

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And here they are, looking gorgeous, just out of the oven.  Allow to cool.

Meanwhile, you will have cooked some pasta and drained it when it was very much al dente.  Check the packet for suggested cooking time and drain the pasta 1 minute before. Choose any kind of pasta shape so long as it is short.

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After draining the pasta, spread it out evenly over a clean towel, so that it will cool down quicklier.  Once cooled, drizzle some olive oil (not too much) and mix well. This is to prevent the pasta from sticking together.

If you want to eat the pasta straight away, you can do without the above step.  If, however, you want to eat the pasta later in the day, or even the next day, you can store the pasta in the fridge, sealed with clingfilm.  It’s best not to eat the pasta cold, so remove from the fridge at least one hour before eating.

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This is the dish we brought to our Open House Day.  Good food tastes even better served in beautiful plates!

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IMG_8205And here we were, just minutes before people started coming in to our Open House, May  2013.  From the left: Liz, myself, Sandy and Libby.  Alanna, a close friend and staunch supporter, took this photo.