Asparagus and Courgette Risotto for Belinda

 

Today’s post is about every cloud having a silver lining when dinner needs to be made.

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The ‘cloud’ in question was the lack of an ingredient – proper, nice locally grown romanesque courgettes/zucchine such as the ones shown in the photo above.  The ‘silver’ turned out to be my having to add asparagus to the recipe, in order to bolster the overall taste, and the result is the recipe I am writing about today.

It is very easy to find the romanesque cougettes where I live, the markets and veggie shops sell them all the time (sometimes even when they are theoretically out of season).  It just so happened that for various reasons of busyness and business, I had to perforce opt for my least favourite place for sourcing vegetables – the supermarket.  You should have seen my face, I was hardly able to contain a surly stance as I looked around.  Most of the veggies looked sad or came in plastic packaging.  The artihcokes were floppy instead of firm.  Onions hailing from Argentina and Egypt???? What, we can’t grow onions in Italy?  Garlic from Morocco.  Don’t get me started.  And, just as I had surmised, there wasn’t a local romanesque courgette to be seen, only those dark green tasteless kind, very fleshy, very watery and seriously unappetising unless you choose to jolly them up with all kinds of gastronomic bells and whistles.  Yes, I do boycott supermarkets because I think their policies towards producers are thoroughly reprehensible but that is not the only reason:  you simply cannot compare their produce with the good stuff sold at markets and greengrocers.  No contest.  Harumphm, sniff and snort, thus spake Frascati Cooking That’s Amore.  I had to grudgingly admit that the asparagus weren’t bad looking, so I bought two bunches.

Once home, I got on with the risotto.  Since the end result was actually very good indeed, I have to do an about-turn and say to myself that it was thanks to the forced option of dark green courgettes that I came up with the recipe in the first place.  There you go, always a bit of Pollyanna lurking about in me.

This risotto was in honour of visitors from New Zealand, Belinda and her husband Peter, together with friends Alison and Gary.  That’s why I am calling this the “Belinda Risotto”.

Okay on with the recipe now.

INGREDIENTS:

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Courgettes/zucchine, asparagus, 1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 celery stalk, carnaroli or vialone nano rice (arborio will do it that’s all you can find), olive oil, half a lemon, mascarpone, one apple, parmesan, fresh mint, a teensy amount of fresh rosemary.

COURGETTES: I started by slicing HALF the courgettes into rounds which I set aside, and slicing the other HALF into rounds which I then roasted in the oven until they were cooked.

ASPARAGUS: I trimmed the asparagus of its points, then cut the rest of the asparagus spear also into thick rounds.  I used what was left of the asparagus spears to boil into an aparagus ‘stock’  of sorts.

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On the left … I chopped up the carrot, onion and celery and sweated them down in extra virgin olive oil before adding the courgettes.  On the right, are the tough part of the asparagus spears that I was simmering for about 15 minutes.

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I threw them away and kept the cooked water to use as stock for the risotto.

img_2836.jpgI transferred the cooked courgettes into a saucepan and added the asparagus stock – and proceeded to blend all the ingredients into a thick creamy stock.  I added a little squeeze of lemon juice.

While all this was going on, in the meantime, this is what I was doing with the OTHER HALF of the courgettes:

IMG_2837I coated them with olive oil.

IMG_2839And roasted them in the oven until they went a nice golden colour.

 

IMG_2840I added more water to the asparagus and courgette stock and got it simmering.  I dropped a large tablespoon of butter into it for good measure.

IMG_2841And now I could get cracking the the risotto.  As you can see from this photo, the stock is simmering away in the background and the risotto is being toasted in the foreground.  Please notice: no olive oil, no butter, no nuffink.  Once the rice turns pearly white, add a ladle of the hot stock, let it get absorbed, and add more.

IMG_2842A risotto will take about 18-20 minutes to cook.  Once you are getting close to the end, add the asparagus that you chopped up, as well as the spears.  Keeping stirring and keep adding the stock.  Taste and add salt and pepper.

IMG_2843Add the roasted courgette rounds, the mint and the rosemary.  Nearly there.

IMG_2844And here is the touch of cheat’s genius: a good dollop of mascarpone. Add some of the grated parmesan too, at this point, and taste.  You might need more salt, a twist of white pepper would not go astray.  A little bit of butter will also help.

img_2845.jpgThis was a serving of the risotto the next day, i.e. the leftovers.  I didn’t get a chance to take photos as I was serving the risotto, there was too much chatting going on and people’s appetites were more than ready for quick relief.  Those pretty flowers are flowers that I picked from my chives on the balcony.  Look closely and you’ll see a couple of little cubes: those are bits of apple. The apple complemented the dish really well.

img_2846.jpgThank you for inspiring me Belinda!

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.

 

Amatriciana or 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 !