Merry May Fettuccine with Spring Greens

One can only imagine with what a hurrah! welcome! the arrival of Spring would have been greeted generations ago – not only because it heralded warmer temperatures but also because there would be an increase in the variety of food one could eat.  A bit of novelty for the poor ol’ palate.

We all take fridges and freezers for granted, don’t we, as well as the transportation of food across countries and continents.  Can you imagine having to do with just salted or brined fare for months on end? Doesn’t bear thinking about.  So I expect that the sense of gastronomic expectation previous generations had with the break of Winter lingers on still, even though we live in an age where formerly summer-only crops are available all year round now (think tomatoes, salads, aubergines, courgettes etc).

Where I live in Italy, within spitting distance of Rome, it is only artichokes, peas and broad beans (fava beans in American English) that are not available all year round, properly ‘seasonal’ I mean.  They are ingredients that are all about Spring, and rebirth and regeneration.  For the rest, one can find nearly all the other vegetables in stalls and supermarkets, and these veggies are either grown in greenhouses or imported (green beans from Morocco for instance).  One of the reasons I began boycotting supermarkets was when I read the label on the provenance of lemons one day.  Italy is bursting with lemons and yet these were imported from Argentina! Nearly all the garlic to be found in Italy hails from Spain, again a conundrum for me since I am sure that garlic can grow extremely well on this peninsula.  And one final moan: tomatoes (tasteless ones at that) from Holland.  Seriously … I am not against the export/import of foods as such, so that’s not it.  But surely it doesn’t make sense to import food(s) that one can grow perfectly well in one’s own country?

Enough of this rambling, and on with the recipe.  The point I wish to underscore is that fresh, seasonal vegetables are an absolute delight and inspire one to treasure their transient presence at our table.  They are there to remind us to be grateful for variety.

I was also inspired by having favourite son visiting us for the weekend.  As it happened, my husband could not join us for the Sunday lunch but I thought I would make a ‘special’ pasta anyway for our two kids (we also have a favourite daughter).  I decided that ‘fresh’ had to be the theme, and that included my making my own fettuccine.  Home-made pasta is a treat and not difficult to make (basically 100g of flour per egg per person).

INGREDIENTS FOR THE PASTA SAUCE

Courgettes, asparagus, broad beans, tomatoes, guanciale/pork jowl (pancetta or Italian sausage or even a little bit of bacon will do if you can’t get the pork jowl), peas (I used frozen because that’s all I had) fresh rosemary, basil, marjoram and mint, lemon zest, parmigiano (parmesan cheese) and pecorino cheese.

The tip I would like to point out today is to create a sort of ‘broth’ in which to cook the pasta.  If you season the cooking water this way, the final pasta will take on an especially tasty flavour.

I did not, as is my wont, take a photo of every single step as I cooked but I am sure it won’t be a problem for you.  The procedure for this pasta sauce is far from problematic.  True, there are a number of steps and ingredients involved, yes there are, but any care or difficulty is to be gleefully thrown to the wind!  Winter is over, let’s hear it for Spring!

Ready?

Cut the asparagus about an inch or slightly more below the tip.  Then slice the tips into two or three or even four parts and set aside.  Use what is left of the usable asparagus to make up the broth.  I cut up these stems into smaller pieces because that will make it easier to process the broth at a later stage.

1Place the asparagus inside the pasta pan.  Cover with water but don’t put the whole amount of water you would normally use to cook the pasta – only about half the amount.  This will make it easier for you to process the asparagus once they are cooked.  And do add a little salt too.

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When the asparagus are cooked, use a hand held immersion blender and process them into a broth.  Now add extra water.

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Also add a sprig of rosemary – this will also impart a nice flavour to the asparagus ‘broth’ in which to cook the pasta.4I got favourite son to shell the broad beans for me.  I had simmered them for less than 10 minutes.

5And here they are stripped of their outer skin.  Set aside.

6Do you know what this is? I hadn’t known.  It’s fresh garlic.  My first time.  If you can’t find fresh garlic I expect that an onion would be a good substitute for this recipe (rather than ordinary garlic).

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Chop up the fresh garlic – not all of it mayble, just enough to smarten the dish up with.

8And now it’s time to get serious.  Put the pasta broth on the boil and add extra salt when it starts simmering.  Also, pour some olive oil into a large saucepan and add some thinly sliced guanciale (again – pancetta or bacon or Italian sausage will do if you can’t find guanciale/pork jowl). Gently cook the guanciale.

9Start by adding the garlic  and cook for about two minutes …

10Now courgettes sliced into happy discs …

11Next come the slices of asparagus tips.

12And now a smattering of peas (frozen is all I had), two small quartered tomatoes and the broad beans.  Time to sprinkle some salt.

13Marjoram and basil go into the pan too.

14Toss the vegetables about gently as they cook and become acquainted with one another. At this point add a ladleful of the asparagus  broth.

15Also add a teaspoon or a wee bit more of butter.

16Add the smallest amount of lemon zest (put more in if you like – I don’t like too much of the stuff in my cooking, just enough to give the dish a little lift without overwhelming with its citrusy clout).

17When you think the veggies are nicely cooked and ready to receive their royal highnesses the fettuccine … lower the latter into the simmering and salted asparagus broth.  It won’t take long for fresh pasta to cook.

18Drain the pasta directly into the saucepan with the veggies.  Add a bit more asparagus broth.

19Now is the time to sprinkle a little grated parmigiano (parmesan cheese) into the mix and combine till the cheese is totally blended with the sauce.

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When plating up, add a few  mint leaves on top of the pasta.

21Final touch: sprinkle grated pecorino cheese and serve.

And, naturally, enjoy!!!

P.S. Frank Fariello has recently written a post on a very similar dish.  Great minds think alike ! http://memoriediangelina.com/2018/05/11/fusilli-primavera/

Putting the Posh in Peas (and Chicken)

I don’t buy a lot of frozen food generally speaking, that is except for peas.  Most of the year I buy frozen peas.  When fresh peas are in season, however, it is such a joy to have them to cook with (not so much a joy having to shell them but that’s another story).  Anyway, I got hold of some fresh peas a few weeks ago, still in their pod, and enticed my mother who was staying with us into shelling them.  She did after all say she wanted to be of help … I was just doing the kind thing.

Today’s recipe is one I was inspired to try out from a rather posh recipe book with beautiful photos, truly artistic (once I find the book I can tell you the title).  The recipe in question seemed straightforward enough so off I trotted to get all the ingredients. By the time I got around to cooking, however, it was getting very late and I had to hurry things up a bit because people were getting hungry for their dinner – so in the end presentation was the least of my worries.  As you will see, the final plate looks a bit of a mess but I promise you it tasted fine, just fine.

When I teach people how to make fresh pasta, I tell them that it is a very forgiving recipe – it’s very hard to get it wrong.  “And,” I reassure them, “if things really do go downhill, at the end of the day we are talking about wasting some flour and eggs – we are not talking caviar!”  Pasta is not supposed to be ‘posh’, just ‘simple’ and delicious.  Delicious in its simplicity.  With today’s recipe, I am taking the opposite stance.  I am turning some basic, ‘simple’ ingredients, and wanting to present them as grander than they are.  And that’s because we all deserve a bit of grand now and then, don’t you agree?

INGREDIENTS: chicken breast, olive oil, paprika, fresh peas, onions, lemon, fresh mint leaves, butter, phyllo pastry

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In this ambitious photo (I’m standing on a stool in an attempt to get an overhead clean vista of the ingredients) you can see some chicken breast that I cut into similar-sized pieces, fresh peas, and a bowl containing olive oil, its peculiar colour having been brought about by the addition of liberal pinches of paprika.

2Sprinkle salt over the chicken.

3Transfer the chicken pieces to an oven dish, and dab the olive oil and paprika over both sides of the meat.

5Cover with clingfilm/saran wrap/gladwrap or whatever it is you call this marvellous invention that I love to hate.  I can never get it right, it always sticks to my fingers somehow.  So, yes, it looks a bit crumpled but I did manage to get it to be air-tight.  I then placed the chicken in the fridge for about one hour.

Prepare an ice bath – basically, just a bowl with cold water and ice cubes in it.  And then proceed to cook the fresh peas until they are done.  To be honest, I can’t remember how long that took – but longer than one would think.  Fresh peas take their time to reach the the point of perfection.

8Drain and quickly transfer the peas in the ice bath to cool down.  Drain again and separate the peas into two containers.

Okay?

And now on with cooking the chicken.

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12Cook the chicken on both sides until browned but not entirely cooked through.  Then place in the oven dish and continue cooking in a low-temperature oven for about 15-20 minutes (150°C let us say) until you think they are cooked (no raw chicken).

And now let us deal with the peas.

Add fresh mint leaves and a squirt of lemon juice to the peas in the glass bowl.

14Process, add a little bit of olive oil, a pinch of salt – and taste, taste, taste until you can pronounce what you taste finger-licking-good.  Set aside.

16Remember the other bowl of cooked peas?  Well, soften/cook some onions with butter in a saucepan, and then add the peas and some salt and pepper.  (Sorry, no photo to show you at this point).  Set aside.

A lot of setting aside, isn’t there.

17And then I had a brainwave.  I happened to have some phyllo pastry in the freezer that always gave me baleful looks when I opened the freezer door, as if to say: WHEN are you going to use me up?  The fateful moment had finally arrived … how about …?

18Slicing the phyllo pastry into ribbons and …

19Crisping it up (it only takes seconds) with some olive oil?

20Genius, right?  It was very oily because I was in a hurry, and I had to pat it down quite a bit with kitchen paper (and next time I might do this in the oven instead).  But it did indeed add a bit of crunch factor to the final presentation.

Time to plate up.

21Step one.  The pea mash.

22Step two: the unmashed peas.

23Step there: a shower of crispy phyllo pastry.

Presentation, repeat, not brilliant … but it tasted nice enough and that’s what counts.

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Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style

The thing about Pasta Alfredo is that it is basically well known only outside of Rome and especially in North America.  There are two restaurants in central Rome that that can lay claim to the origin of this recipe and it became famous because famous foreigners got to enjoy it, including early Hollywood film stars.  If you have a little gander around google you will encounter scores of articles to enlighten and amuse you.  If you haven’t got the time or patience, I would advise you to click on the links below for two excellent articles and video on the history and the recipe written by Elizabeth Minchilli and by Frank Fariello.

For my part, I can say that most Romans – if they are going to make a simple butter and parmesan pasta at all – will not use fresh pasta (fettuccine) but dry pasta instead.  The recipe is sometimes dubbed as the dish that is made for the man whose wife cheats on him (“la pasta del cornuto”); having squandered her time away from the kitchen in pursuit of forbidden pleasure and frippery, she will not have the requisite time to prepare a ‘proper’ pasta sauce.  What else can a poor unfaithful wife do but resort to a quick and easy “pasta burro e parmigiano” that she can prepare in no time at all?  As if.  Anyway, I got a craving for this dish when I was pregnant the first time – so it was very amusing for me to discover that the original chef Alfredo who ‘invented’ this concoction did so in order to improve the appetite of his pregnant wife!  There you go.  Nothing to do with being unfaithful whatsoever.  Also, it is the pasta to make after one has been ill for whatever reason.  “La pasta in bianco” it is called (white pasta) and sometimes olive oil will be substituted for the butter.  In Umbria they call it the Englishman’s pasta. I wrote a post about this some years ago: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/english-pasta-spaghetti-burro-e-parmigiano/.

But back to today and the new pasta Alfredo I want to tell you about.

The Alfredo in question is Alfredo Minardi Baldoni who runs his family’s nine-generation vineyard and olive farm near Frascati.  The vineyard and farm house/cellar couldn’t be prettier and more picturesque, with breathtaking views of the rolling hills of the Castelli Romani area, the peak of the ancient town of Tusculum,  the town of Monteporzio, as well as the hills north of Rome and the seashore to the left.

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I have been collaborating with Alfredo and his tours and wine tasting since last September, and our conversations are always about the history (and a bit of gossip) of where we live, wine (naturally!), olive oil and food.  It didn’t take me long to discover that he likes his nosh, has a fine palate and is a dab hand in the kitchen.

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I was telling him about that incredible pasta sauce I had enjoyed in Tuscany back in October, consisting of only three ingredients: sausages, mascarpone, and parmesan cheese (salt and pepper too). When we were discussing what two pasta dishes to offer our guests one Sunday, we decided go for a traditional Roman dish (Amatriciana) and to do a take on the famous (or infamous considering the ‘heavy’ ingredients) of the sausage-mascarpone-parmigiano recipe.  And this is the result.

“What are we going to call this dish?” I asked him, minutes before serving the guests? He started prattling on about the ingredients and I shook my head.  “No, we shall call this dish Pasta Minardi, after the vineyard!”  I can take no credit for the tweak on the trio of ingredients, the ideas were all Alfredo’s (except maybe for the addition of mint).  And hence, some time later, I reckoned it was a good idea to name this dish “Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style”.

INGREDIENTS

Italian sausagues, mascarpone, freshly grated parmesan cheese.

A handful of almonds, a glass of white wine (Frascati naturally!), some olive oil and as much or as little garlic as you prefer.

METHOD

Use a knife to finely chop the sausages after having skinned them.  Then brown the garlic in the olive oil, taking care not to actually ‘brown’ them.  They ought to be a golden colour. Remove the garlic afterwards (or keep it in the sauce, if you like it).

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Add the chopped sausage to the pan and use a wooden spoon or spatula to break it up as much as possible. Careful not to overcook the meat otherwise it will tend to go all hard and chewy.

You can slice the almonds with a knife or you can do what I did.  I covered them with parchment paper and used a meat pounder to crush them.

When the meat has just stopped turning pink, pour a glass of white wine into the pan (not directly on the meat) and turn the heat up to let the alcohol evaporate.

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Now add the almonds.  Stir.

The meat looks really ‘brown’ in the above photo but that’s not what it looked like in real life.  Anyway, I added 4 tablespoons of mascarpone and mixed it in.  I then added a fifth tablespoon to loosen up the sauce somewhat.  I tasted it (delicious already!) and added a little bit of salt.  Pepper (freshly milled) I always add at the end.

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The pasta was boiling away (doesn’t look like it in this photo, I know). I used roughly 700g of pasta.

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I transferred the sauce to a larger pan.  A pan that I would use to finish off the pasta.  At this point I added a few teensy mint leaves that I found on my balcony.  Dried  mint can work too, I suppose.

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The pasta was almost ready, so I turned the heat on.

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I had added some pasta water to the previous pan, to soak up whatever got left behind. I poured this into the new pan and then drained the pasta directly into the pan.

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Here I am finishing off the pasta in the pan, adding more pasta water (as needed) and tossing and or stirring the pasta.

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Pepper and parmesan last.  Give it a good stir and serve.

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A lovely wintry recipe,  my appreciative guests commented as they enjoyed Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style a few evenings ago.

I should think so so too.  This might not grow hair on your chest, but you will find yourself breathing better as you savour the richness of the texture, the crunch of the almonds, the saving grace of a faint hint of mint and the rounding off of a parmesan-mascarpone finish.

http://memoriediangelina.com/2013/05/19/fettuccine-alfredo/

http://www.elizabethminchilli.com/2017/02/how-to-make-fettuccine-alfredo-video/

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

1

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.