On Matters of Batter and Fried Chicken

I think that brain matter, likewise, has to muscle into the preparation of this recipe.

I don’t know about you but my memory is starting to play up in certain spheres.  I used to be blessed with a very fine memory, one that came in most useful during the final weeks preceding examinations; I was an adept swotter with a quasi OCD approach to note-and-rote learning, with close to photographic results.  But there is another kind of memory that nearly always comes to my aid.  To this day, friends and family will remark on how extraordinary it is that I can still remember a series of events, or even the day of the week something happened.  Well that, instead, I attribute to a very ordinary practice of logical sequencing, linking or deduction: putting two and two together, as it were.  “How on earth do you remember that it was a Tuesday?” for instance, someone will ask.  And I will answer, “Well, because I used to go to gymn classes on Tuedays, that’s how.”  Nothing Sherlock Holmes about this, just plain ol’ Watson.

I did write a diary for a while, starting in my teens at boarding school.  And one can’t deny that a diary involves some kind of  memory function.  Goodness knows what I wanted to record, to save for remembrance.  I suppose it was a way of keeping time, of making sense of the uneventful progressing of the days.  People sometimes wonder whether I had a hard time at boarding school and I answer no: in an age when it is all too easy to fingerpoint at horrid priests and nuns for the maltreatment of their pupils, I must attest to our nuns being actually very nice on the whole.  But life at boarding school was hardly exciting, let’s face it, so my diary was mostly the jotting down of desultory homework requirements, disappointing match results of games played, or an unhoped for change in lunch menu; commenting on a spat between best friends or, yes!, the break-up even of best friends; the changes in mood due to an imminent menstrual period (we used to call it the ‘curse’) and the excitement of someone buying a new l.p. record.  To this day I cannot bear certain songs (John Lennon’s Imagine for one) because we used to play such records to death, over and over again in the space of a few hours.

And I was always ‘pining’.  Oh what a piner I was!  Longing, awaiting, yearning for, moping, hankering after, languishing for, craving … you get the picture.  I suppose it’s what many young girls feel while growing up?  I can recognise much of myself in Anne Frank’s diary – being able to talk to yourself is a way of trying to make sense of things, of giving words to a troubling feeling, it can soothe restlessness, it can stimulate consciousness.  There is a confessional side to writing a diary, an intimacy of ‘sharing’ that one only usually does with loved and trusted confidantes.  What is life all about?  Who can I consult?  I did French for ‘A’ level and was totally taken by the whole existentialist outlook – with the underlying agnosticism or indeed Godlessness somehow not interfering whatsoever with my catholic religion.  I asked hard questions at times, and I fell in love with Camus (never liked Sartre, horrid toad of a man, was not surprised later in life to discover that he used to require his girlfriend to pimp underage girls for him).  One of the set books was Camus’s The Plague and ouff, how ironic that it should come to mind in this Spring of 2020.  In the mid-seventies, his book could be read as a metaphor for the plague of recurring war (the Vietnam war was still going on), and as a generation we were indeed worried about the possibility of a nuclear war. And here we are – at the very start of the third decade of the 21st century, witnessing a very real virus-driven outbreak, who would have thought … who could have thought?  Camus, like all good things, never goes out of fashion.

One thing I did know for sure: I wanted to ‘live’ and not merely ‘exist’.  And yes, laugh if you will, but that desire is with me still.  My idea of ‘living’ might not be yours, of course – travelling and travel of the mind, and friends and family are its four pillars.  To each their own, as they say, and bringing life into this world, having children, has been my most memorable ‘achievement’, that which made me feel ‘alive’ as no other experience had ever previously done.  Can it be altogether coincidental, I am asking myself as I write, that I began a blog round about the time I was dealing with the empty nest syndrome? (One child had already left home, and the other was about to.)  I am not sure I would have started keeping a diary if I hadn’t gone to boarding school.  Then, despite beloved friends with whom I am still close more than forty years later, it was my family I missed the most, my parents, my sisters, even our dog.  The diary helped me cope with what was missing.  And I can only surmise that the blog has served a similar purpose, this time the people missed being my children.  And I am still asking hard questions.  If you think about it, a blog is a bit like a diary, no? It’s about food all right but, also, food for thought.

Now that I’ve gone off at a tangent let me try to get back to the recipe and why I want to have it carved in blog-stone.

The main reason is that, fried chicken never goes out of fashion.  And it requires a good batter.  The second reason has to do with the slings and arrows of a failing memory.  I want to get this recipe down pat, once and for all.

I have made chicken fried in batter at least a dozen times, and each time it’s been a bit different.   The first attempt was based on a Nigella episode where I learned the crafty art of a) pre cooking the chicken in milk and b) shaking the chicken bits in a plastic bag filled with flour (or was it breadcrumbs, mmm?) to coat them – very clever trick indeed.  Successive attempts always included egg somewhere in the recipe but it wasn’t until two years ago that I made a batter to coat the chicken, as opposed to just flour and breadcrumbs.  And that was because my mother was harping on and on about how wonderful (“out of this world” according to her) our cook in Bangladesh’s fried chicken was.  And could I try and replicate it?  Which I dutifully and gastronomically did to general acclaim.  Jolly good.  Except, now, I can’t remember what I did!

I read quite a few food blogs and found myself being intrigued about fried chicken recipes.  Some amount of marinading is always called for.  A magical ingredient known as buttermilk (which we can’t get here in Italy) is presented as to a cut above  yogurt.  Seasoning ranges from family secrets to the ubiquitous salt, pepper and paprika.  Some opt for chopped onion, others for dried garlic.  Fresh herbs? Dry herbs?  So much to consider, so many choices.  The following are my conclusions, which I am most happy to reconsider based on any new information coming my way.

RECIPE and TIPS

Marinading – I don’t know what all the fuss is about.  Chicken is tender, to me it doesn’t need marinading or tenderising.  The tastiness comes from the spices you are going to add to the batter, not the marinade.  So I give this step a miss.  Shoot me.

Pre-Cooking the chicken: well done Nigella, as I already said.  In this version, however, instead of simmering the chicken pieces in milk, I steamed them.  It took about half an hour. Easy enough to do and one less ingredient to add to the list.  The reason for pre-cooking is kind of obvious: when it comes to frying the chicken, it will take less time and you don’t have to worry about eating semi-raw chicken.  All you have to be worried about is getting the batter to turn crisp.  Note to self for next time: rub a little olive oil over the chicken parts and add some salt.  I am sure this will enhance the overall taste.

Batter Ingredients:

(1)Eggs – egg whites only.  There is a scientific (chemistry) reason why we should eschew the egg yolk.  I think it has something to do with the crisp factor.  I confess, I read about it but have forgotten why.

(2)Alcohol – I used grappa, you could use vodka or some other strong alcoholic drink (not wine and nothing sweet of course).  Apparently, at high heat (and frying does require high heat), the alcohol evaporates and makes the batter extra crisp.  We are talking about tablespoons of alcohol, not great big mugfulls!

(3a)Flours for the batter:  both ordinary flour and corn flour/starch

(3b) Plain flour for coating the chicken pieces before immersing them in the batter; for flavouring, read below.

(4)Breadcrumbs: optional

(5a)Dry spices and/or herbs: you choose what you like … paprika, allpice, parsley, thyme, rosemary – not mint or marjoram I shouldn’t think.  Indeed, you don’t have to add any spices if you don’t want to.  But salt and pepper, yes. Especially salt.  No salt, no taste.

(5b) Fresh herbs: parsley, chives, dill, fresh coriander (even teensy amount of sage) finely chopped – but if so, add them to the batter only at the end, just before you fry the chicken.

(6)Fresh stuff: by ‘stuff’ I mean onion and garlic.  Dry garlic is heaven sent and is what I used. I did use chopped onions on one occasion and it was a tad overwhelming – but that is a matter of personal taste.  I suppose spring onions might be a good alternative?  Whatever stuff you choose to include ‘fresh’, make sure you add it to the batter ONLY at the last minute.  Otherwise it will dilute it.

(7a)Tomato paste – to add colour and a hint of acidity.

OR

(7b)Grated lemon zest – to add freshness, but just a touch. If  you are after a lemony fried chicken drumstick, then by all means add to your heart’s content.

(8)Slurry: there used to be an ad on British television about Murray Mints and the line was, “Never hurry a Murray, it’s far too good to hurry”.  So, mutatis mutandis, it’s a good idea to take your time to make a proper slurry.  Sounds awful, somehow, doesn’t it, conjuring up something slimy.  The slurry basically IS the batter, just not a nice name for it.  It will include beaten egg whites (I used three) diluted with cold water (you could use beer I suppose?) to which you will then add all the other ingredients mentioned above.  The ratio of flours is 30 percent corn starch, 70 plain white flour, but you could even do 50/50 why not.  The final consistency has to be fairly thick.  Go ahead – taste it.  You might want to add a je ne sais quoi to make it just right. Last: it’s not a bad idea to cool the batter in the fridge.  A cold batter will ‘react’ with the hot oil for a crispier result.

(9)Frying oil: groundnut/peanut oil has a good smoke point.

PROCEDURE/METHOD – WHAT TO DO, IN OTHER WORDS, STEP BY STEP

(1)Coat the chicken pieces with olive oil, season and then steam for about half an hour or until ready.  Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely.

(2)While the chicken is cooking, you can prepare the slurry/batter and put it in the fridge.  .

(3)Dredge the cooled-down chicken pieces in a bowl full of seasoned flour (3b above).  Alternatively, place this flour in a large plastic bag, slip the chicken pieces into the bag and shake it until they are evenly coated.

(4a) Place the floured chicken pieces on a rack or large plate, awaiting to be dunked in the batter before being fried.
(4b)Alternatively, place the chicken pieces in a bowl large enough to hold them, pour the batter over them so that it covers them completely, seal with clingfilm and put in the fridge until the next day.  It’s okay for the batter to be cold but …but fridge-cold chicken will take longer to cook.  Hence, it’s a good idea to remove the chicken from the fridge-cold batter at least one hour before frying.

(5)Heat the oil.  It’s a good idea to use a deep frying pan.  If you have one, even a Dutch oven works very well.  When the oil is ready to receive the chicken (at around 180°C), first dunk each piece of chicken in the batter and proceed with frying in sensible batches (don’t fry them all at once).

SERVE.

 

Fried chicken makes everyone happy, it is festive.  People of all ages like it, it is democratic, it can be eaten with one’s fingers.  Fried chicken is a treat.

And, as we all know, fried chicken tastes fab eaten cold the next day.  Great for a picnic!  Remember Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in the picnic scene in To Catch a Thief ?  Who says fried chicken can’t be sultry and sexy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EN_tYpSpqc&list=PL9AFxNdm-mwMpBs3FlKwBKPC51QGT2Vu8&index=2

Here are some photos from my latest batch, cooked last Saturday and shared with my parents-in-law.  There is something naughty about fried foods, isn’t there, and I wanted my in-laws to live a little – heartburn be damned.

UQXP5354Here are the cooked, cooled chicken pieces coated with spiced-up flour.

WLRP7294Here is one chicken piece about to be coated in the batter.  Notice how slightly ‘pink’ it is in colour.  That’s because of the tomato paste in the batter.

EYHC4361Frying away …

QZFY4900Just out of the frying pan and onto a white carpet of kitchen paper.

IMG_7604And this is one piece that got gobbled up by me before dinner.  After I had sprinkled a little bit of salt over it.   We had fried chips for dinner too.  And home-made mayonnaise but not home-made ketchup.

IMG_7609

We also had the above stuffed courgette blossoms fried in a different batter.  Saturday night was definitely fried-food night!  (Although in all fairness I did steam the asparagus.)

POST SCRIPTUM

There were leftovers next day and we enjoyed those cold.  I brought some over to my mother a day after that.  And that’s when she told me she had notes for the fried chicken recipe of our cook in Bangladesh!  The one she always raved about.  Odd that she hadn’t mentioned she had the recipe before.  It didn’t take her long to find the recipe notes, written on a sheet of paper bearing the letterhead of the company my stepfather used to work for.  IMG_7621I must say looking at that letterhead really threw me back … decades ! Talk about bittersweet memories.  Anyway, our cook was called Toka.   Toka’s Fried Chicken might well  be the title of another post from me in the not too distant future.

 

 

Friday and It’s Boiled Fish, Boiled Cabbage and Parsely Sauce

Since I made such a fuss about the frugality of parsely soup in my previous post, I thought I’d make up for it by indulging in ingredients that are about ‘richness’ for this post.  Which might suprise  you since the title is all about ‘boiling’.

Boiling.  I don’t think people are in the habit of boiling anything these days except potatoes (and pasta and rice, yes, naturally).  Boiling has gone out of fashion.  We sauté, we steam, we bake, we roast, we grill, we stir-fry, some of us even deep-fry but God forbid we boil foods any more.  And to think that boiling used to be a ‘normal’ method of cooking food for centuries.  We equate boiling with boring, I suppose, and indeed boiled cabbage sounds as interesting as flat, luke-warm beer taunting your thirst on a hot and sweaty day.

Soups continue to be boiled of course.  And in Northern Italy we have a supreme array of boiled meats that are considered a delicacy and a treat: il bollito  misto.  Only for the well to do or on special occasions.  In Britain, instead, boiled beef appears to have been a staple for the working classes (see the end of this post) and was the grist of a popular Cockney song entitled “Boiled Beef and Carrots” (again, I have provided links to the song and its lyrics for those who might be interested).  The French have their Pot-au-feu, the Austrians have their Tafelspitz.  And I am sure these recipes continue to be enjoyed to this day.  So let’s not get too snooty about boiling beef, okay?

And what about fish?  As I googled “boiling fish” two recipes popped up on the screen: Bahamian boiled fish and Sichuan boiled fish.  I’ve not had the pleasure of eating either dish.  But I have enjoyed boiled lobster – and even prawns, shrimps or crayfisih are boiled too, no? The Swedes not only celebrate their summers with crayfish boiled with plenty of dill to add to their deliciousness, they even have crayfish parties! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZ7a4Y3uL_E).

When I say ‘boil’, I really mean ‘poach’ or ‘simmer’ – meaning that the procedure is a gentle one.   Here is a link that will give you loads of good tips: http://www.professionalsecrets.com/en/ps/ps-university/chef-de-partie-fish/cook-fish/boil-fish/?newsletter_source=Popup&newsletter_confirmed=1

Here is how I went about it – no thermometer, no worries, just making fish for supper.

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I got the fishmonger to gut and remove the scales from the sea bream.  I plonked it in a pan large enough to welcome it.  Covered it with water and added some parsley and turned the heat on.  Not a high heat, remember, I was going to poach/simmer.

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And I turned the heat off when it was cooked.  Can’t remember how long – probably 15 minutes?  Something like that.

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I transferred it to a wooden board and used a fork and a spoon to remove the skin and bones.

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And here is the ‘boiled’ sea bream on the serving dish.

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While it was cooking, I had prepared the parsley sauce.  Easy peasy.  Blanch the parsley leaves in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then drain and drench in very cold water until all the heat is gone.  Pat dry and then finely mince.  Melt butter in a saucepan, add cream, and then add the parsely.  Add some salt and white pepper.

5

Spoon the sauce over the fish and serve.  It’s a good idea to heat the serving plate first.  Luke-warm fish, hot serving dish and hot parsley sauce.

7

I served the fish with a side dish of … yes, yet again, BOILED cabbage.  I did not boil it too long, not the way they used to  back in the 1970s when it would get cooked to a deathly pale grey; so my veggie managed to keep its nice vibrant green colour.  Thank goodness for olive oil and lemon juice.

6

Served like this, poached fish is not frumpy at all.  It’s really delicious – in an old fashioned way, perhaps, but still delicious.

Of course, you can put the urge to boil in the girl, but you can’t take the crunch frying factor out of the girl – you know me, a fried food fanatic (FFF) ?  Well, I couldn’t resist frying some stuffed courgette blossoms to accompany the meal (ahem).

8

 

 

 

Boiled beef

Boiled beef is a traditional English dish[1] which used to be eaten by working-class people in London; however, its popularity has decreased in recent years. Traditionally, cheaper cuts of meat were used, because boiling makes the meat more tender than roasting.[2] It was usually cooked with onions and served with carrots and boiled potatoes. It was not uncommon for the beef to be salted in a brine for a few days, then soaked overnight to remove excess salt before it was boiled. In other parts of England cabbage replaced carrots.

This dish gave rise to the old cockney song Boiled Beef and Carrots which used to be sung in some East London pubs when they had a pianist and singsong night.

Boiled beef is also a traditional Jewish dish served in many homes and Jewish delis alike. It is usually flank steak boiled and served with vegetables, broth, and sometimes matzo balls.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Spencer, Colin (2002). British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History. New York: Columbia University PressISBN 9780231131100.
  2. ^ Thring, Oliver (21 June 2010). “Consider boiled meat”The GuardianLondon, United Kingdom. Retrieved 2 December 2014.

Boiled Beef and Carrots

As originally recorded by HARRY CHAMPION:

As originally recorded by HARRY CHAMPION:

When I was a nipper only six months old
My Mother and my Father, too
hey didn’t know what to wean me on
hey were in a dreadful stew
hey thought of tripe, they thought of steak
Or a little bit of old cod row I said,
“Pop round to the old cook-shop
And I tell ya what’ll make me grow”

Boiled beef and carrots Boiled beef and carrots
That’s the stuff for your ‘darby-kell’
Makes you fat and it keeps you well
Don’t live like vegetarians
Or food they give to parrots
Blow out your kite from morn’ till night
On boiled beef and carrots

The rest of the lyrics on the link  below if you’re interested:

https://lyricsplayground.com/alpha/songs/b/boiledbeefandcarrots.html

Here is the link to the youtube video of the song sung by Max Bygraves:

 

 

Soup during Covid – Parsing Parsley Parsimoniously

Title a bit of a tongue twister, eh?  A cheeky little foray into click-baiting, I admit.
What, you might be wondering, am I alliterating about?
Parsley, that’s what.  And how to make soup with it.

So, let’s talk parsely.  The humble herb that some came to disdain on account of its ubiqitous appearance on a ‘finished’ plate, aka the dreaded GARNISH.  So twee.  So 1980s.  Other people who might otherwise appreciate its contribution to the overall flavour of a dish find themselves distancing themselves from said herb on account of its notorious clingyness – to one’s teeth.   Not just unsightly, it gives one’s gum-receding age away.  But that’s in a restaurant or at a formal dinner party.  Spinach got a bad rap too, for the same reason, in restaurant eating.  I can attest to my own fear of green bits adhering to my teeth in public and my husband and I have a code ‘look’ – one such glance from him and I know I’m in trouble and have to be excused from the table.  At home, however, what is there to stop us?

Where I live and shop for vegetables, i.e. greengrocers or markets here in Frascati or in or around Rome, a bunch of parsley, albeit  a small one, will always be given away by the vendors as a parting gift for the buyer.  It is tradition.  It’s what Italians call ‘odori’ – literally ‘odours’.

The usual  mix of odours consists of one carrot, a celery stalk, maybe a small onion and some sprigs of parsely.  A few wisps of basil will be included during basil growing season.  And it’s a case of first-come-first-served.  You won’t get any odori towards the end of the day, all gone.  Of course supermarkets never give them for free! Oh no, you have to fork out about 1 eu for a bunch of parsley  Are you telling me they can’t afford to? Are we supposed to feel sorry for them?  Just don’t get me started on supermarkets again,  you know how it’ll end.

1

Here are some ‘odori’ from last week.

On the other hand, imagine my surprise when I first shopped in the Marche, in the historic, beautiful and small hill-top town of Monterubbiano, where my mother-in-law hails from and where my husband and I spent many a summer holiday with our kids … There I was like a lemon waiting for the shopkeeper to hand me out my odori … and all I got was one measely little strand of parsley, handed over to me as if I were being presented with a precious metal.   When I asked for some basil, the look on the greengrocer’s face morphed along the lines of “you have the temerity to ASK for free basil?”  Oliver Twist.  I hastily said I wanted to purchase a big bunch of basil (I’m into alliteration today, sorry) and how much did it cost.  “Ah, that’s more like it,” his softened facial expression seemed to say.  I realised that the Marche can’t be big on parsley  – not like we are here in Lazio where even the fishmonger will give you some to go along with your catch-of-the-day purchase.  You know how in the UK it is Scotland that gets a bad reputation for people being stingy?  Well, in Italy it’s the citizens of Genoa and the people of the Marche who are guilty as charged.  Isn’t it awful when clichés turn out to be true as far as parsley is concerned?  Which is a tremendous shame, actually, because the people I’ve encountered in all my time in the Marche were always very friendly, kind AND generous.  Just not with their odours.

Another suprise for my readers might be the discovery that in Italy parsley has long held a reputation for helping terminate an unwanted pregnancy.  I thought it was just an old wives’ tale.  When I was pregnant with my first child, more than one person warned me against eating too much parsley and I thought they were frankly bonkers.  We didn’t have the internet in those days.  But look it up and lo and behold – there is some truth to this (here is a link if you don’t believe me, scroll down to where it says “parsley oil”  –  https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/abortifacients).   All of this beggars the question: what about tabbouleh?  I wonder if Middle Eastern women are told to eat less tabbouleh when they are pregnant?

I have to confess that I do occasionally fall into the habit of of wanting to garnish a plate with parsley (or mint), it’s been instilled in me bones – but at least I try to keep it understated.  And à propos of bones: parsley is excellent for our bone health and has lots of vitamin K and other beneficiary components.  Here is a link which makes it quite evident:  https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/parsley-benefits#section8.

And one final ‘fun fact’ about parsely in Italy is an old adage, hardly ever used now.  Whereas  people “turn up like a bad coin” in English, in Italian they turn up like parsley – always in the middle of something.  Meaning, of course, that parsley is lavishly added to hundreds of dishes.

And now onto the recipe itself.  I was convinced, but con-vinced (please note the emphasis) that my trusty ‘The Prawn Cocktail Years’ book, first published in 1997, contained a recipe for parsley soup.  It turned out the recipe was, instead, for parsley sauce.  Sigh.  Onto internet investigating for ideas but all my research forays always came up with other ingredients to tartify the soup – mostly potatoes. So … nothing.  Head scratching.  More head scratching.  I knew, just knew, that I had eaten parsley soup at some point in my life, I was not making this up!  Until … ta da da daaaaa.  I remembered the vaguely-coloured watery ‘stuff’ that passed for soup and was regularly served to us for dinner when my family was living in what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Soup with parsley in it.   Not parsley soup.

The Neapolitan/Campania people have a sense of humour that is hard to beat in Italy.  (Please pardon this apparent non sequitur – it will make sense when you reach the end of this paragraph.)  And Neapolitans adore their pasta, just like all Italians.  But forget about rice: they are not rice-eating people at all.  One of the very first schools of medicine in the world was located in Salerno (this is before universities came about, so  I am talking a long long time ago) and once the Spaniard occupation starting cultivating rice around those parts, it was considered very precious.  Very expensive too, presumably.  The doctors from the Medical School of Salerno deemed rice to have curative powers and regularly prescribed it when people were poorly or recovering from some malady.  Just plain, boiled, no frills.  So, let’s face it, thoroughly uninteresting.  Very white too.  Which is why, to this day, when an Italian has a dicky stomach he will insist on ‘mangiare in bianco’, on eating ‘white’ – i.e. simple, plain food with no sauce or any other redeeming flavour enhancer.  As a result of all this plainness and whiteness and blandness, the Neapolitans tend to refer to rice as “sciacqua panza” – a stomach rinser.  Food that will ‘rinse’ out your stomach but won’t satisfy your appetite or your taste  buds.   At the risk of extending the metaphor inappropriately, let us just say that ‘sciacqua panza’ can be applied to any dish that rhymes with ‘meh’, dull.

I apologise for going off at a tangent like this but … but when the Proustian moment dawned, when I was carried back to the plain vegetable soup we were saddled with in Dhaka as I was growing up, ‘sciacqua panza’ was all I could think of.  Thus it was, that I became inspired to come up with a parsley laden soup that would have no truck with stomach rinsing whatsoever – quite the opposite.

What also contributed to this tall order was the vision of a prodigious amount of parsley accumulating in the  bottom drawer of my fridge staring balefully at me, as if to say: you are wasting food, how long do you think we (i.e. the parsley) can stay fresh enough to be eaten?  I don’t know about you but food ‘talks’ to  me. I was being told off.  I was being reminded that wasting food is not okay.  So, naturally, a little self-complacency muscled its way as a ‘secret’ ingredient into the composition of this recipe.  I was being frugal.  So there ….

INGREDIENTS

Lots and lots of parsley leaves, carrot, celery, onion, peppercorns, olive oil, 1 tiny tomato or else a squeeze of tomato paste, salt, some lemon zest.  Parmigiano/parmsan.  Optional: zuppa imperiale

3

First I revived the limp looking parsley in some water.4Then I set about removing the larger stems.

5Golly, look at that knife!  Stealing my photographic thunder because it makes it hard for you to espy the slice of lemonzest at the top and a small tomato all chopped up on the right.  On the left is the chopped/minced parsley.

IMG_7315What you see here are, all chopped up, the carrot, the celery stalk and one spring onion. If you peek hard enough you can also see the peppercorns.  A good drizzle of olive oil and you turn the heat on.

6Once the soffritto has cooked for a bit, you add the parsley, the lemon zest and the tomato and plenty of water.  Add some salt but not too much …. you can always add more later.

7Ah yes, put the lid on.  You don’t want the soup to evaporate as it cooks.

And that’s it!  When the soup is ready, you serve it with some parmigiano sprinkled all over it.

BUT, aha! … I had espied something very naughty-but-nice in my freezer.

8A bag containing something called “zuppa imperiale”.

Zuppa imperiale is a soup from Bologna.

What tranforms an ordinary albeit perfectly good meat stock/broth soup into something worthy of the sobriquet  ‘imperial’ is the addition of what you see above.  Those little golden cubes.  They are made up of whole eggs, semolina flour, and parmigiano.  The batter is baked in the oven and left to cool.  Then it is cut up into very small cubes. Which can be frozen but are usually sold fresh.  I had bought these from that historic, iconic and beautiful store in Bologna called Atti where they are famous for their fresh pasta and tortellini and all sorts of inviting typical foods (see link to the shop at the bottom of this post).  Naughty but nice because you end up putting on a lot of weight when you eat in Bologna!!!

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My imperial parsley soup!

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This photo shows the soup to better advantage because the soup plate is white.  Well.  Nothing sciacqua panza about this soup, I am very glad to report.  Plenty of taste – the imperial cubes and the parmigiano saw to that.

And for once the word ‘frugal’ didn’t  make me sad.  This is indeed a frugal soup, ingredients-wise, if you omit the imperial cubes.  Anyone can make it.  And if you haven’t got parmigiano, then add some cheddar, why not?  Some croutons too, why not?

Who said parsley was only for garnish, eh?

Foodie Must-See: Inside the Historic Atti Bakery

 

Montalbano, Sicily and Food Inspiration

I am not much of a TV viewer on the whole but I can become obsessed with the odd TV series.  One such obsession turns out to be the Sicilian sleuth “Commissario Montalbano” series, set in Sicily.  My husband and I even bought DVDs of the programme.  Recently, the Italian state television was showing a few re-runs and we concurred that the older episodes were a lot better than the recent ones.  Every Montalbano story features some kind of Sicilian food to drool over and I was inspired to try out a few dishes – beginnig with the Pasta Ncasciata that takes forever-and-a-day to make.  But then, with the lockdown, there is very little excuse as regards availability of time on our hands. (https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2018/08/18/pasta-ncasciata-a-sicilian-medley-of-marvellous-mixture/)

In July of 2014, our mother treated the whole family (three daughters, their husbands and grandchildren) to a memorable holiday in South-East Sicily, renting a va va voom property with a swimming pool very close to the town of Scicli.

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The above photo is a view of Scicli from the rental villa.  It was holiday we still rave about … I fell in love with Sicily and would love to go back.  In the  meantime, I have memories.  Here, I’d like to share a post from my older blog about a day spent in Punta Secca, where a lot of the Montalbano filming took place.

Montalbano Land and “Enzo a Mare”

 

During the Autumn of 2002, I signed up for a course of cooking classes that were held on a Tuesday evening and happened to coincide with the TV showing of the popular Inspector Montalbano series.  I took a look just now and apparently it was already in its Fourth Edition by then –  but that was the first I had ever heard of the TV series and of course missed it all.  Shame on me for never having read Camilleri’s books on which the series was based.  I was grateful it was showing, however, because my husband and two children seemed to enjoy it a lot and didn’t mind my absence (I hasten to add that I always cooked dinner for them before going).  Years later, I got to view and enjoy some of these episodes myself on DVD … and now, somehow, they hold a special symbolic meaning for me, reminding me of a very happy, energetic and lighthearted phase in our nuclear family’s life.

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More recently, just last month in fact, an extended-family holiday in Sicily saw us residing within driving distance of Punta Secca, in the province of Ragusa.  Our daughter who is a great fan of the Montalbano series said that there was no way she was going to give  ‘Marinella’ a miss.  Punta Secca is the real name for the fictional Marinella, the small town with Montalbano’s house and large terrace overlooking the sea.  The town with the big white lighthouse.  Our daughter got quite excited at the prospect of seeing them ‘in real life’.  I am apt to turn up my nose at touristy tours that rely on indulging the voyeur in us but this time I was game. And besides, I just love the sea.

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And I also love me a long hot summer … it makes swimming all the more enjoyable.  This year the Italian summer has been more like monsoon downpour territory and unseasonably cold to boot.  What is the point of a wet, cold Italian summer?  We were fortunately spared the worst down in Sicily but it wasn’t exactly hot … the temperature on average being in the region of 28°C.  Picture my joy then as the day we chose to visit Punta Secca was gloriously sunny and even, almost, ‘hot’ (i.e. over 30°C) ! Clear blue skies! Bliss.

3This is the bay where Montalbano likes to take a swim.4Nothing trendy about it.  Here I am, taking a shot veering to the right of the bay.5And here am I, looking to the left of the bay.  And there in the distance … is ‘the’ terrace that so entrances Inspector Montalbano and his viewers, sporting a white beach umbrella. If you enjoy a spot of visual play, you will notice that the beach umbrella looks a bit like a ‘moustache’, set against the grey building whose windows look like ‘eyes’ !6A closer shot of the terrace – or is it a balcony? never mind.  A man sitting there under the beach umbrella.  Wonder who he is …7Beyond the balcony and in the distance is the … white lighthouse.  ‘The’ lighthouse that appears at the programme’s signature trailer at the beginning of each episode:

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9M0re views of Montalbano’s house.10I can’t explain it but the atmosphere was just so energising and restful at the same time.   There was direct synergy at work between the physical and the emotional.  The intensity of the blue of the sky and two-tones of the sea were mesmerising.  The air too tasted of ‘salt’ … iodine. On days such as these, you feel you want to live forever. 11It was coming up to lunch time and I was already looking forward to having a swim afterwards …1213And then … just beyond the lighthouse ….14What should we espy in the distance but ‘the’ beach-hut restaurant where Montalbano likes to eat!15Enzo a Mare!1617Is that a sight for sore eyes or what?1819We were just all so relaxed and happy and looking forward to our lunch … Normally I snap photos left, right and centre of the food being served but this time, somehow, I was so ‘in the now’ that I didn’t !

Which is a shame because it was all delicious.  I ordered a plate of linguine with a swordfish ragout sauce.  I am not a great lover of swordfish but I thought I would be adventurous and try something new.  I am so glad I did … it was possibly the best dish I ate throughout our whole week’s stay in Sicily.

Everthing about Enzo a Mare is great … even the lamps made out of baskets!

2122And here is Nuniza, the chef.  I asked her for the recipe and if memory serves me well it goes something like this.

LINGUINIE WITH SWORDFISH

Pan fry a little garlic in some olive oil, to which you must also add: a small amount of lemon zest, salt-dried capers, olives and fresh mint leaves.  Add the swordfish, diced.  Cook for the briefest of time (1 minute say) and then splash a little balsamic vinegar in the mix. Turn up the heat and toss the pan.  Add tomato sauce and cook for about 10 minutes.  When serving the linguine sprinkle some Sicilian oregano around the rim of the dish.  Truly more-ish!

20We said arrivederci to this corner of paradise and went to lie down on the sand … Some time later I ventured back to Montalbano’s bay and waded in as far as my thighs.  The water was freezing and I was too much of a wuss to manage to dive in, as I would have liked, and enjoy a swim à la Montalbano.  Ah well … next time.


24On our way back to the car, later in the evening, I espied this lady reading decorously on her terrace within spitting distance of Montalbano’s house.  I was very much intrigued by her … and by her flowers on the terrace and the greenery climbing all over the facade of her house.25Another lady of ‘a certain age’ and beautifully dressed walked up to the front door and rang the bell.  The lady who was reading heard it and got up and peeped over the rails of the terrace.  Her face broke into a lovely smile as she recognised her friend.  “Ciao cara,” she said.  She beckoned for her to come up, to join her.  “Passa di qua,” she told her.  And her friend made her way into the house not by the front door, no, but by a large open French window (or whatever these things are called) on the ground floor.  I felt as if I were trespassing so I didn’t take any photos.  It was an amazing vignette of Sicilian life to ‘catch’ … so pleasant, so unhurried, so civilised.  I wonder who these lovely ladies are …

Punta Secca (Santa Croce Camerina) and Enzo a Mare.  Good company, glorious food, the sea … what more could I have asked for?

Frozen Fish Supper during Lockdown

The menu for supper was a mixture of fresh and frozen – the  veggies fresh and the fish frozen.  The fresh ingredients fell into two categories:

(1)Bog-Standard ingredients that are always so helpful when cooking all kinds of recipes: extra virgin olive oil, garlic, parsely, chilli, lemon and lime

(2)Standard ingredients: Potatoes, Lettuce, fennel, Red pepper, chestnut mushrooms, home-made mayonnaise (if you don’t want to make your own mayo, you could always buy some)

Something slightly different? Fresh horse radish.  Not always easy to find here in Frascati, indeed the one I used came from England when my sister came to visit last January and I froze some.

The frozen ingredients were: salmon fillets and octopus (polpo in Italian).

1So what you see here are some chestnut buttons on the left, boiled potatoes left to cool in a colander, a jar containing home-made  mayonnaise, the defrosted salmon fillets with a solitary half lime on the plate, and the cooked octopus on the right.

OCTOPUS: I used a pressure cooker to cook the squid, adding one inch of water and half a lemon.  FYI re octopus: even if you buy it fresh, always a good idea to freeze it for about an hour before cooking.  The flesh always ends up being tender that way.  For this reason, I hardly ever buy fresh octopus any more.

POTATO AND OCTOPUS SALAD: Boil the potatoes, allow to cool.  Then season them with plenty of good quality olive oil and chopped parsely.  Salt too, of course. Cook the octopus.  Allow to cool.  Season with olive oil and salt.

23 Place the potatoes and octopus, all nicely cut up, in a serving dish or salad bowl.  I added a twist of pepper to this salad on my dish when I served myself.  I love the scent of freshly milled pepper.  FYI: pepper is very good for you, combats all kinds of germs and nasties.

06Season the char-griddled pepper with olive oil, salt and a few drops of lemon juice. Parsely too, if you like it.  Or even mint.

5I cooked the button mushrooms in this pan with: garlic, fresh chilli and some horse radish.

7The salad was a no brainer:

4Lettuce, fennel and some rocket leaves (arugula).  We dressed it olive oil and lemon juice just before serving.

And then I got on with the salmon last.  Salmon shouldn’t be cooked for too long at the best of times – even less so when defrosted.

8I used the same pan in which I’d cooked the mushrooms, couldnt’ be bothered to get another one.  I just added some more horse radish.

9I also added lemon zest and half a lime.  It’s a bit difficult to spot the lemon slices but they were there, I assure you (look to the left of the lime).

10I cooked the fillets over a strong heat and flipped them over only once and turned the heat off.  By the then the salmon had virtually cooked through.  Salt and pepper, yes.

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12On the plate … served with mayonnaise.

Except for the octopus which I realise might sound ‘exotic’ to some outside of Italy and Greece, all these ingredients are not difficult to source.  The recipes are easy and require no cheffy skills.  If there is one take-away from today’s post it’s the inclusion of lemon and lime wedges in the cooking pan.  They jazz things up.  And you end up with a mid-week dinner that seems more special than the sum of its parts.  This to me is the essence of home cooking.  I hope I’ve inspired you?

Fish Glue and Clam Risotto

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That.  That time of day.  One of my favourite times of day.  Time for a glass of wine.  Time to look forward to making supper.

 

Some time last week we had a fish-themed dinner.  It included boiled fish.  Boiled fish. Now, does that sound tantalising?  Ahem.  I expect “no/no way” to readers outside of Italy.  The fish in question is called ‘orata’ and translates as seabream or gilthead seabream.  Gilt stands for gold leaf, because the fish’s scales can indeed be very shiny and on the golden side.  It’s a great fish to smother with salt and bake in the oven and that’s how I would usully cook it.  On this occasion, however, I decided to just boil it.  I placed the gutted fish (there were two of them, they were not very big) in a large saucepan and poured boiling water over them.  I added some parsely and black pepper corns and covered them with a lid.  It took about twenty minutes for them to cook through until the flesh turned pearly white.  I filleted the fish as best I could and served it at room temperature with home-made mayonnaise.  Very understated and yet most delicious.  So, try it some time, it’s very much a no-fuss/can’t go wrong way to cook fish.

Anyway … what was left of the filleted fishes was their heads and bones and tails and skins, i.e. the full monty of leftovers that should never be thrown away.  I just gathered it all and transferred it to another saucepan and cooked it for about half an hour (again with a lid on).  And hey presto, what do we have?  Fish broth – ta daaa.

Once cooled, I strained the fish stock and put it in the fridge.  And forgot about it until last night.  I had had other plans for the fish stock but in the end sloth took over.  Blame that beautiful sunset for that.

“You know what?”, said my sensible if at times overbearing inner voice, “why don’t you use it to make a risotto!”  LIke you, I would never dream of disagreeing with my inner voice (oh it can get so holier than thou, can’t it, anything to keep it in a good mood).  I had bought some clams and was going to make spaghetti with them.  Instead, and with the addition of a lonesome courgette/zucchina that popped out of nowhere in the bottom drawer of the fridge, I underwet a risotto conversion.  And this is what I did.

I chopped up a small onion and braised it with some olive oil.  Then I added the courgette that I had sliced and diced into small lego-looking chunks.  While that was cooking away, I went to get the fish stock in order to heat it and bring it to the boil.  And what did I find? It had turned into a thick unyielding jelly!!!  That’s right – fish stock will solidy into a jelly of sorts.

And that’s when the penny dropped.  The name for gelatine leaf in Italian is “fish glue” (colla di pesce) and now I can see why.  I get really excited over etymology, you’ll have to pardon me.

Anyway, back to the recipe.  I couldn’t get all of the jelly fish stock out of the bottle in which I had placed it, so I poured boiling water into it and that did the trick.  I then transferred the fish stock to another pan and brought it to the boil, ready to be used.

By now the onion and courgette were ready to welcome the rice.  I like to use either the vialone nano or carnaroli rice variety.   I used the latter because it’s the first one I found in my store cupboard.  In it went and it got toasted for the appropriate of time and then I poured in all the hot fish stock.   None of that one-ladle-at-a-time risotto stuff.  Not tonight.  My name happens to be Josephine and it was very much the case of “not tonight, Josephine”.

While the risotto was getting cooked in a bubble, bubble, toil and thankfully no-trouble way, I steamed open the clams.  You just plonk them in a pan and cover with a lid until the shells open.  When the rice was finally cooked, I added the clams, their liquor, shells and all, to the risotto.  It looked very pretty, I have to say.  (Oh, I had also added a small tomato, all chopped up … I don’t know why I did that.  I just did.  Oh yes, and I had also added a slice of lemon zest.  And oh, of course, some parsely.  Clams just love parsely.)

Fun fact number one:  Clams are full of iron. Good for haemoglobin in our red blood cells.

Fun fact number two: gelatine is good for us (for our bones, hair and nails I believe).

My inner voice was on cloud nine, it was holier than all the thou’s in the world! Not only had I been thrifty (by actually making a fish stock), not only was I inventing a new risotto recipe (creative juices all fired up), I was indeed also taking care of my body’s overall health.  And then I tasted the risotto.  One must always taste before serving.   Actually, even during cooking.  Well.  How disappointing!  The risotto was bland.  I added a bit of salt but that didn’t help.  Still bland.  I was crest-fallen.

And then … rebellious genius idea came to the rescue.

Grated pecorino cheese.

Pecorino, mind, not parmigiano.

Why?

Let me explain.  In Italy the very thought of adding cheese to any fish dish will make people’s eyes pop out.  Heresy.  Very recently, a young crop of Italian chefs has indeed toyed with the idea but the only cheese I have seen added is either buffalo mozzarella or burrata … i.e. very creamy fresh cheeses that are a little on the bland side, let’s face it.

So, within the context of Italian traditional cuisine, my wanting to add a hard cheese to a fish dish makes me a rebel, see?  Quite the iconoclast.

Mindi you, there is an exception to this caseous culinary rule.  Here in Lazio, there is a pasta dish that is indeed served with cheese and that is spaghetti with mussels and pecorino.  For some cheesy reason, this dish is thoroughly approved of.

Hence my choosing pecorino over parmigiano.

I can’t remember how much I added.  I do remember adding a little at a time.  I didn’t want the cheese to overwhelm the delicate taste of the risotto.  The risotto was still hot and steaming, so the pecorino melted in no time at all.

And, in the end, finally, was it good?

Yest it was.  Hip hip hurrah!  Feeling very pleased with myself (and my inner voice over the moon).

Below are two links to older posts I wrote about pasta with mussels and pecorino cheese.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/pasta-with-mussels-and-pecorino-cheese/

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/fishing-for-compliments-part-3-pasta-with-mussels-and-pecorino-cheese/

These are photos I took this morning, of the leftovers.  Please bear that in mind because the risotto looked a lot more come-hither when I was serving it piping hot!

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Here you catch a glimpse of the lemon zest (in the centre).

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Vegetables Va Va Voom

Hello there, how are you all getting over the recent festivities and what usually accompanies them?  You know what I mean – that extra pound or two as we weigh up the situation on the scales, the liver sensibly asking for some respite from tipple-mania, and the body aching to be involved in a modicum of movement and fitness.   Yes, it is very good to overindulge every now and then, to allow our hair to cascade down, to increment the variety of spices in our life and to let two of the Seven Cardinal Sins, gluttony and sloth, out of the moral no-no box in which we justly allocate them the rest of the year.  My mother-in-law Maria’s mental health is  fast degenerating on account of dementia/Alzheimers with all the sadness that that entails for all concerned, not least of which are the ‘missing’ wit and quips in her conversation.  If there were to be just one sentence I would love to hear her utter again then that would be, “Lord save us from the virtuous !”.

That said, one does have to be sensible.  I can’t stand the term ‘detox’ but I’m presuming a large swathe of post-holidays revellers are embracing it full on.

Last Saturday I went to Frascati’s weekly Slow Food (local) farmers’ market as well as to the town’s covered market which is open six days a week, and it was as if I couldn’t get enough of the vegetables on offer.  I went quite beserk, and came home laden like a mule with bags hanging from both shoulders and being carried in both hands.  It’s not a long walk from these markets to where I live but it was quite the haul, I assure you and not very comfortable.  As I took out the vegetables out of the bags, I could see that I had perhaps … ahem … erred on the side of vegetable excess (can’t think of the Cardinal Sins’ name for that one) ?  I made myself some squash soup for lunch and as I went about my way, I fell into a reverie of sorts.

We all know vegetables are healthy and good for us.  But really, I do love love love me veggies – there wasn’t a hint of ‘detox’ notion clouding my purchase – it was sheer lust (another Cardinal sin) that drove me.  Vegetables make me happy, you see.  As does wine.  And so my thoughts flitted about being  vegetarian and vegan in our contemporary times.  Again, I came to the conclusion I’ve had for a while, which is that I am an omnivore with a twist: I am a vegetarian who eats lots of meat, fish and dairy foods.  But I can easily eschew meat or fish at a meal whereas I simply cannot contemplate one without vegetables.  I started writing a post along these lines yesterday but it ‘degenerated’ and got to be so long that I am going to post it separately.

Here, in the meantime, just take a look at all my lovely vegetables from last Saturday’s morning shop.  The exercise included walking and weights so well done I.

6Radishes … mmm.  My sister made a herring based paté to serve with them (it included yogurt, thick Italian spreadable cheese, freshly grated horse radish, lemon juice and zest, parsely and olive oil.  We tweaked the recipe from one of Jamie Oliver’s TV ones that was made using smoked mackerel instead.

1Artichokes are coming into their own season-wise just now.  We had these three beauties for dinner last night, cooked the classic Roman way.  See link below.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/edible-roses-the-seasonally-correct-artichoke-1/

7Spuds.  We got these for our mother.

IMG_6186Thinly cut, lots of olive oil, dried chilli flakes, and salt and pepper.  This is how we cooked them that evening.

4The garlic bulbs  (Italian, from the Abbruzzo region) were for my sister to take back to Blighty.  It’s hard to find good garlic in the UK.  The fennel is still in the fridge, as is the  bunch of spring onions.  That yellow thing is a bergamot.  I’d never seen one before. Smells heavenly.  Tasted the zest and it was overpowering, fwah.  The apple I ate after lunch.  The red pepper: we griddled it and had it for dinner with olive oil, parsely and thin slices of garlic.  Up top in the photo and hard to make out, is some lamb’s lettuce and a small bunch of rocket/arugula.

8These are what we call ‘broccoletti’ in and around Rome.  Broccoli Rabe or Rapini elsewhere.   I’d trimmed them of the bits that are not nice to eat and left them to soak in this cheerful yellow tub.  Later I boiled them in salted water until tender.  Once drained and cooled, they need to be pressed to remove the excess moisture.  They can be served either plain, with just a squirt of lemon juice and olive oil (which is how we enjoyed them).  Or else, they can be cooked a second time in a frying pan, tossed about and coated in olive oil, garlic and chilli flakes.  Here’s a link to a quick pasta recipe using broccoletti:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/hurry-up-pasta/

10This is what we call cicoria – pronounced chee-corr-eee-ah in English.

11It’s a bit of a labour of love trimming cicoria.  It too needs soaking in plenty of water before cooking.  There is always some soil attached to it that needs removing.

The link below will show you what I did with this cicoria, after boiling it first.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2010/11/25/cichorium-intybus/

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The above vegetable is “Cicoria catalogna”, another variety of cicoria.  During this time of year, this veggie gets trimmed and turned into a beautiful salad.  We call this “puntarelle”  here.  The dressing includes the ubiquitous olive oil, plus garlic, vinegar and anchovy fillets.  Quote from wikipedia: Puntarelle or cicoria di catalogna or cicoria asparago is a variant of chicory. The heads are characterized by an elongated shape (about 40–50 cm), light green stems and dandelion shaped leaves. ‘Puntarelle’ shoots have a pleasantly bitter taste.

Our Christmas Eve wouldn’t be the same without them.  Anyway, see a link on how to prepare them:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/little-points-big-salad-puntarelle/

2This broccolo romano is still in the fridge.

3Ditto this cabbage.

12And last and definitely not least, here is some of othe squash I used to make myself some soup as already mentioned.

Here is wishing you all a happy vegetable-filled year.