Pasta on the Beach: Courgette Concert

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My husband and I decided to spend a day on the beach at Porto Ercole. It’s on Tuscany’s Monte Argentario coast.  That’s what I like about living near Rome, we’re never too far away from a really nice beach.

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Lovely clear, clean water and – for a wimpy wuss like me who can’t bathe in normal ‘cool’ water – there was the added advantage of the temperature being warm enough for me.

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This was late August, and the beach still quite busy.  But not overcrowded as beaches tend to be in many parts of Italy during the June-September holiday season.

A few days before, at work in the kitchen at the Casale Minardi wine estate, I watched as chef Luigi went about making a very simple pasta dish.  Hmmm.  Simple but delicious, so I just had to try it out for myself.

INGREDIENTS: courgettes/zucchine, olive oil, an onion, some pork jowl (guanciale) – I suppose pancetta or bacon would do, lemon zest, grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, almonds.  P.S.  Remove the guanciale and this is easily a vegetarian recipe.

 

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I snapped the courgette blossoms off and placed them in a bowl of fairly warm but not hot water.  By the way, if you can’t find courgette blossoms, this pasta will still taste good.  And, as a piece of perhaps not very vital information, I can also tell you that these were female flowers.  The male flowers have a little stem to them.

4I removed the flowers after about 15 minutes and left them to dry out for a bit.  Notice how they have plumped out by a good soak in the water. Set aside.

Chop up some almonds.  You could toast them first if you liked.  I couldn’t be bothered. Set aside.

7Grate some pecorino cheese.  If you can’t find pecorino, parmesan will do very nicely.  Set aside.

Get a packet of pasta ready.  Set aside.

Slice some guanciale very thinly, set aside.

Enough with all this setting aside!  Time to get cooking.

Put the water onto boil.

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Roughly chop an onion and cook it with some olive oil.  It must not brown, okay?  Low and steady heat.  Go for a blond colour.

9Now add the slices of guanciale.

10Give the guanciale enough time to render its fat and then add the courgettes.

11Cook the courgettes until you are happy with their texture and now add some lemon zest – in slices, not cut up finely.  Because you will remove the lemon zest before serving the pasta.  If you are a lemon zest fiend, as Luigi the chef most definitely is, you could chop it very very finely and leave it in.

12Time to add the almonds.  Combine the ingredients.

13Tear the courgette blossoms and add them too.

14Mix them in and turn the heat off until you are ready to drain the pasta directly into the saucepan.  Next time, I would add the blossoms last.

15Here we go.

Turn the heat on and add some of the cooking water.  Finish cooking the pasta. Then take the saucepan away from the source of heat.

16Add some of the pecorino and mix it in.

17Taste.

18Add some more.  Taste.

19Add a little bit more cooking water if necessary.  And yes, it was necessary.  It helped to make everything come together.

Remove the lemon zest and serve.  Keep some for leftovers.

20Enjoy some the next day on the beach – an essential secret ingredient for this recipe.

 

Matriciana Tweak and Tip(s)

Whether you want to call it Amatriciana or, as the Romans usually do, simply and laconically “Matriciana”, one rule obtains: it is all about the ingredients.  For reasons of blogosphere self-preservation, I will refrain from getting into the ‘origins’ of the ‘real’ A/Matriciana  because I haven’t the time just now, it being a hornet’s nest of  a topic and best left for another occasion.   The subject of a true A/Matriciana ignites fiery Pasta Policing and wars.  However, I can pacifically attest to the following: a Roman Matriciana concedes the inclusion of onions (which I don’t usually bother with) and a splash of wine – again, something I don’t bother with, although I did this time with the recipe I am outlining below.

When making this particular Matriciana, it was Charles Scicolone who came to mind.  We were having a jolly nice lunch together with his wife Michele and our friend Michelle Smith earlier this year at the now Michelin-starred restaurant called “Da Sora Maria e Arcangelo” (Michele, Michelle and Michelin … all these Miches !) in Olevano Romano.  Charles ordered a Matriciana, one of his favourite pastas.  He said he liked it well enough … and the pasta itself was fresh and home-made … but there was an unsaid ‘but’ hovering in the conversation and eventually he spilled the beans.

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But, he told us, the amatriciana he had just eaten was not as good as the one he had enjoyed some time previously at the Casale del Giglio wine estate.  The reason?  He preferred his guanciale to be crisp.

Now, as a rule, there is no mention of the A/matriciana’s guanciale having to be crisp (the same goes for a carbonara) but I ‘got’ what he meant, I like it that way too (my daughter, instead, doesn’t … she prefers it to be softer on the palate).  So the “tweak” in the title refers to the guanciale being crisp.

The “tip” instead is something of my own making, which I think makes a lot of sense.  I hope to persuade you of its usefulness, in a waste-not-want-not sort of way.

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Are you ready?

It all begins with putting the water onto the boil, and then trimming the guanciale (the cured pork jowl).

3aInstead of throwing away these trimmings, also known as “cotiche” in Italian, once boiled, they can be used to flavour many another good dish (such as pasta e fagioli for instance).  I also had the notion that these trimmings might impart another edge of ‘flavour’ to the cooking water of the pasta.  There is no need to wait for the water to come to the boil: you can add the trimmings of the guanciale (i.e. the exterior lining/edge that is not normally eaten and all too often thrown away) straight away.

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My guanciale slices, now without trimmings, had been sliced a little too thickly so I decided to give them a pounding to flatten them a bit.

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Ah, that’s more like it.  The guanciale now needed to be sliced into a matchstick shape.

3If you can, try and cut the guanciale matchstick so that there is a piece of the meat encased by fat at both ends (i.e. meat in the middle, fat on the outside).

4So, while the water is doing what it’s supposed to do and not requiring any attention just yet, we can carry on with cooking the guanciale matchsticks.  The guanciale is full of good fat, so let it cook over a low heat in order let its fat ‘render’ – i.e. let the fat ooze out into the pan.  As in the photo above. The photo above contains about 2/3 of the total guanciale.

5The remaining 1/3 of guanciale is left to render in another saucepan, a teensy weensy one.

61.jpgHere are the two saucepans.

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I poured some white wine into the large saucepan and turned up the heat.  As you can see, below, the guanciale is cooked but not ‘crisp’ as such.  This guanciale is what is going to make the matriciana sauce taste good!

Once the wine had evaporated, I added a little bit of olive oil and a small amount of chilli, for a bit of spice.

1112And once the smaller saucepan’s guanciale cooks to a crispy consistency, remove and set aside.  Transfer the fat that has rendered in that teensy pan into the larger pan.

It’s actually easier to do all this than it is to give instructions !

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Add fresh or tinned plum tomatoes to the saucepan and let it cook down.  Add salt and even a bit of sugar if necessary.13Okay, so now we can remove the cooked guanciale trimmings from the boiling water and allow them to cool.

13bOnce cooled, they can be placed in the freezer to be enjoyed at some point in the future. But back to our Matriciana.

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Okay so the water has come to the proverbial rolling boil and is looking pretty oily, in a good way!, all that fat.  All that is called for now is the required amount of coarse sea salt (roughly 10g per litre of water is the rule of thumb).  Add your pasta and we’re nearly there.

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Grate plenty of pecorino romano.

16When cooked all dente, drain the pasta (spaghetti in this case,  bucatini are also very common in Rome) directly into the saucepan … turn the heat up and add a little bit of the cooking water.  You know the drill.  And no bits of green, please! No guilding this lily with basil or parsley or mint.  Just unadulterated matriciana sauce.  This is not supposed to be a ‘light’ sauce.  It’s supposed to keep you company all afternoon as  you let your body lingeringly digest it.

18A snowfall of pecorino over the pasta and last but not least … the crispy guanciale on the very top.

17And if anyone should object to the guanciale being crisp, he or she can just put the offending pieces to one side of the plate.

19It’s making me hungry just looking at it.

Risotto with Leftover Coda alla Vaccinara Sauce

I don’t normally have any leftover sauce when I make Coda alla Vaccinara … it all gets mopped up with hefty doses of good bread.

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This time, however, I had decided to use the extra sauce to make a different kind of supplì, the rice croquet that is breaded and deep fried, and is usually eaten as an antipasto or as street food.

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Well, my intentions were good but sometimes the body baulks at too much effort on a Sunday …and the end result was, instead, a risotto.  Nothing to be ashamed, of by all means … Take a look.

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Start by heating up the sauce …

IMG_3265.JPGWhile it is heating up, toast the rice.  This is carnaroli rice but you could use arborio if you prefer, or even vialone nano.  Vialone nano would not work for a supplì …but I wasn’t making supplì, now, was I?  Also … ssssh … big secret … big new tip … well, at least new to me: apparently the rice can be toasted in the pan without any oil or butter whatsoever ! Here is a link to more risotto-making tips: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/hands-on-hips-over-risotto-making-and-seeing-the-light-with-a-leftovers-risotto/

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I added the first ladle of the sauce, and it sizzled fiercely and I had to step away – so watch out if you intend to repeat this recipe.  I stirred the rice for a few seconds and then quickly added another couple of ladles and carried on as I would with any other risotto.  I had to remove some of the celery leaves, however, because they just kept ‘getting in the way’ of the stirring.  No matter.

IMG_3267.JPGOnce the rise was cooked, I added a knob of butter and plenty of grated pecorino romano cheese. As you can see, hardly any celery leaves left in the risotto.  Less worry over them sticking to our teeth in a most unsightly way.IMG_3268.JPGI then put the risotto inside a pyrex dish.

IMG_3269We were going to a friend’s house for a celebratory aperitivo dinner … and this dish came in very handy and was duly appreciated, served just warm from the oven.

Sometimes it pays to be ‘lazy’ ! And it’s good to know that one can continue Loving the Leftovers !

Catastrophic Artichoke Patties

In which a disgruntled hero tackles a disappointing result hands on hips.

Well, the hero (or heroine rather) would be me, and the adventure a culinary one from which even Aesops might draw a moral.  It all began with my being attracted to a recipe for cooking artichokes in a way completely different from my usual Roman trope (alla romana, alla giudia or even fried in batter).  Indeed, the recipe hails from Lombardy and the hint of mint made my nostrils flare with anticipation: parmesan, breadcrumbs and mint – what’s not to like? To be baked in the oven as opposed to the stove top – curioser and curioser.  So, nothing loath, off I trotted to buy the carciofi, the artichokes.

Ingredients for the disaster Baked Artichokes

The original recipe called for six artichokes but because there were going to be only two of us for dinner I halved the amounts.  Thus: 3 artichokes, 40g grated parmesan, 25g breadcrumbs, fresh mint leaves, 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Usually I comment the photos I take, one by one.  This time I won’t reference throughout because the procedure is quite obvious.

The artichokes need to be trimmed and their tough outer layers of leaves be unsparingly removed (show no mercy).  Simmer the artichokes whole in boiling salted water for 15 minutes, drain and place in cold water until they cool down.

Put the stuffing together (breadcrumbs, grated parmesan, minced mint leaves, and olive oil).

 

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Stuff the artichokes, sprinkle salt, dribble olive oil and place head down in a pyrex dish, with each head of artichoke covering a whole mint leaf.

Put the dish in a preheated oven (150°) for around 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven … and this is when I am supposed to say, “And Enjoy”.

Oh woe is me.  I cannot. This was the first time ever my favourite husband disappoved of something I had cooked; he nodded his head disapprovingly from side to side and confessed that, “No … they just aren’t good.  I can’t eat them.  Sorry.”

They were … haaard.  Woody.  Woody and weird.  Unappealing in the extreme.  I tried two bites and then gave in myself too.

And I was angry.  I hate it when a recipe fails to satisfy.  In this I am very much like Richmal Crompton’s character William Brown, from her  Just William book series.  I expect readers much younger than I will have never heard of them and you don’t know what you you are missing  – I think people suffering from depression should be made to read them as part of their recovery programme (here is a link to an episode from the TV series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TycXDEZdqgo – and here is another one, from a previous series:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEVm4MuB9_c  ) but the original books are bound to be better).   Anyway, in one of the stories, I’m afraid I can’t remember the title, William is spurred to break apart a grandfather clock, following the instructions from a Do-it-yourself book on how to recreate something or other.  When he attempts to put the clock back together again, and is unable to, he blames the book.  “You’d think the book would know what it’s talking about!” he complains bitterly, feeling quite betrayed, and amazed that his parents should get cross with him for his misdemeanour.  And that’s a little how I felt about that artichoke recipe.  And so, just before falling asleep that night, I vowed that I’d teach those artichokes a lesson or two, huh.  Scroll down and you will find out how I salvaged the situation.

Ingredients for the Salvation Artichoke Patties: diced chunks of mozzarella, 1 egg, breadcrumbs, groundnut oil or olive oil for frying

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This is what I started off with.  Basically, two cooked artichokes.

19I placed them in the processor and turned them to a pulp.

I cut up a mozzeralla into small chunks.  And I rolled the pulp into ball shapes.

22I flattened the balls and placed some mozzarella over each one.

23I rolled them back into a ball again.  So, in other words, each ball was stuffed with some mozzarella.

24I beat one egg and coated the artichoke balls with it.

2526I then coated the balls with breadcrumbs.

27And I fried them in batches in very hot oil for a very short time (they were already cooked after all) – just until they turned golden.

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Here is one of them, cut in half … the molten mozzarella looking like the telephine line of a supplì !

And this time, they WERE good, phew.  Not sure I’d make them again but at least I managed to salvage the situation and make something good of a kitchen catastrophe.

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Three left over the next morning.  Good even at room temperature.

So: three cheers and hurrah for luscious leftovers and delicious fried artichoke patties. The fried food fanatic (FFF) did it again, yeay!

PS St Lawrence is the patron saint of cooks.  Does anyone know if there is a patron saint for fried foods?

Meat Meatballs made from Brodo Bonanza – Loving these Leftovers!

In the days of yore leftovers were, we all assume, a necessity.  Necessity turned out to be the mother of culinary invention when it came to making the most of any meat left over from making Brodo (see my previous post).  Since the meat in question simmers for at least two hours, more like three, let’s face it: a lot of the juice has simply been leached out of this boiled meat.  Which doesn’t mean it can’t be taken to task, and that’s the good news.  The meat is magically transformed into tasty meatballs, fried ones at that.  And you know  me, the Fried Food Fanatic !

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INGREDIENTS

Boiled beef, parsely, garlic, lemon zest, breadcrumbs, 1 egg, grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, good quality frying oil (I used Quattroicocchi’s olive oil, a prize winning evoo, because I think these polpette di lesso deserved it).  A good oil to deep fry with is groundnut oil.  Salt and pepper.

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PROCEDURE

Chop the parsely and garlic.  Chop the boiled meat.  Dip some bread in the brodo. Add this soggy bread to the bowl containing the meat, parmigiano, parsely and garlic, grated lemonzest, and then add a whole egg.  Sprinkle a little salt and white pepper, also some freshly grated nutmeg if you like it (I do).  Shape into balls.  Coat the balls with breadcrumbs.  Deep fry in good quality frying oil.  Serve hot.  They can be accompanied by Mostarda di Cremona, by ketchup even!, a drop of tabasco, salsa verde, mustard … or just enjoyed on their own!

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5467891011121313a141516This is what Mostarda di Cremona looks like … spicey candied fruit in syrup.

1718These polpette di lesso should not be thought of as merely ‘frugal’ … if anything, they are faux frugal and restaurants in Rome pride themselves on having them on their menu.

Spare Ribs and Sausage Sauce for Home Made Pasta

Here are photos of another of my home-made pasta endeavours recently … the photos speak for themselves.  The sauce was what was left over from the night before’s dinner, spare ribs and sausage to accompany polenta.  The grated cheese in question was pecorino romano.  What a shame we can’t convey tastes over the blog !1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9Here are photos of another of my home-made pasta endeavours recently … the photos speak for themselves.  The sauce was what was left over from the night before’s dinner, spare ribs and sausage to accompany polenta.  The grated cheese in question was pecorino romano.  What a shame we can’t covey tastes over the blog !

 

Fusion Flour Pasta and an Asparagus and Tomato Sauce

My mother is a dab hand at making home-made pasta – her fingers dance all over the wooden board, known as ‘spianatoia’ in Italian, and the precision with which she slices the final rolled-out dough is incredibly neat, almost geometrically perfect.  She only recently confided to me that she had learned the art of pasta making from the signora Pierina who hailed from Bologna (my mother grew up in Frascati, near Rome), which of course is home to the art of egg-dough pasta.  It is called ‘sfoglia’ and is made using tender wheat flour (00 flour as it is known in Italy).  In central and especially in Southern Italy, eggs were eschewed from the pasta picture and the dough was and continues to be made with flour and water only, the flour in question being the same as that used for commercially dried pasta (as well as bread), the ‘hard’ durum wheat called ‘semola di  grano duro’.  The typical sfoglia is rolled out very thinly, and is soft and velvety to chew.  The pasta made using durum wheat, instead, is a little more resistant to the tooth, it has a little more bite.  In neither case, however, does one worry about  having to cook it ‘al dente’ – and besides, fresh pasta takes far less time to cook, ranging from 2-3 minutes max from the minute the water starts boiling again after the pasta has been added.

I confess that I do not often make my own pasta – I buy it either freshly made on the day at a local ‘pastificio’ (pasta shop) or else use commercially dried egg pasta.  My favourites seem to hail from the Marche, where my in laws come from.  The pasta from Campofilone and from Camerino are really really good, try them one day.  The egg pastas of Marco Giacosa typical of Piedmont (tajarin or tagliolini) are top notch.   Having been asked to conduct a cooking class around pasta making, I thought it would be a good idea to get some practice in and so I  became a bit of a pasta fanatic recently – making it at least twice a week.  It had me experimenting too … using a mix of both 00 flour and durum wheat flour, hence the ‘fusion’ in  title of today’s post.

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Always use the best flour you can get your hands on and these days I won’t touch flour that is not organic.  The brand I used today is Molino Conti which is in Lazio, and not very far from Tivoli.  The table you see is our dining room table.2My three fingers are there to show that I weighed out 300g of the durum wheat flour.

3And there it is … 300g of sifted flour resting on the wooden ‘spianatoia’ (it might help if I spelled it as it is pronounced: sp-yah-nah-toe-yah). The spianatoia in question was placed over a towel on the dining room table.
4And now I decided to add 200g of whole wheat, tender wheat flour this time (as opposed to Durum wheat). The brand of this flour is Molino Fratelli D’Emilio, from Artena … which is even closer to Frascati than Tivoli.  Artena is famous for its good bread.5And I mixed the two flours up.  I did not sieve the whole wheat flour.6I then set aside 5 whole eggs (1 egg for each 100g of flour) … and my son was having fun with me while I was taking this photo … adding his own hands to the photo just to confuse the reader even more !

I mixed the eggs in with the flour and started making a dough …the dough was very hard, however, too hard indeed for me to knead and so  I just had to add some water to soften it — and to avoid a sprain in my fingers!

7I ended up adding 150ml of water to the dough in order to be able to knead it properly.  The dough required 10 minutes of kneading with my hands for it to become soft enough.  I then covered it in clingfilm and set it aside to ‘rest’. Any pasta dough has to ‘rest’ at least 30 minutes.  This will make rolling it out afterwards much easier.8I rolled out the dough into strips … quite thick ones, called “fettuccine” … and here they are !
9It’s a good idea to shower the freshly sliced fettuccine with plenty of flour, so that they won’t stick together.

And the sauce?  I had some asparagus left over from the day before …1011I cut up some cherry tomatoes and cooked them in a saucepan with olive oil, a clove of garlic and slices of pork jowl (guanciale).12I cooked the sauce for about 15  minutes and add the asparagus only towards the very end.13It does not take long for the fettuccine to cook: about 3 minutes.  Never throw away the cooking water ! fresh pasta is very very thirsty and will soak up anything in sight !14Indeed, I had to add about one cup of the cooking water to the fettuccine as I mixed them up with the sauce directly in the saucepan.  I grated some parmigiano …16And there we are ! Home-made fettuccine with asparagus and tomato sauce. Buonissime.  Buon appetito !  And yes, my boys were very happy with their lunch that day.