Sausage Ragù and Polenta for a Potluck Supper

My mother is from Frascati so half of me is a local yokel, as I like to say.  But Frascati has an English-speaking international school which our children attended and through which I met so many lovely people from all corners of the earth.  The sad thing is that most of them, unless they were married to an Italian like me, had to leave Frascati after a while, and the good thing is that many of them return regularly to visit.  It was mainly via these expats that I got to know all about potlucks and have come to love them so much.   Potlucks are a staple when we ‘do’ a girls-only get together.

I don’t know about you but I think potluck suppers are super – everyone gets to contribute something and the total menu ends up being so more than the sum of its parts.  Potlucks often end up being veritable feasts and leftovers to take home are the proverbial icing on the cake.   True, those who don’t like,  or are are shy, about cooking are probably those who don’t relish the idea of having to ‘compete’ with the more accomplished home cooks – but in my experience of over twenty years, these same people soon get over it and look forward to really enjoying what their peers can produce.   Look: if you can’t cook you can always bring a rotisserie chicken (that’s my go-to contribution when I’m too busy to cook), or some good quality cured meats (think breasaola seasoned with olive oil and balsamic vinegar topped with a scattering of rocket/arugula leaves and thin wafers of parmesan), or various kinds of pizza, or a great salad, or a shop bought dessert.  No excuse, in other words.

For last night’s potluck, I decided I’d forgo the chicken routine (done that too often recently) and actually cook something, however strapped I knew I’d be for time.  Hence the idea of making polenta (easy peasy, just follow the intructions on the box) and topping it with a meat sauce that would not take hours and hours to cook.  As it so happened, I had half a jar of truffle butter in my fridge – a precious ‘leftover’ from a potluck that took place last May, that friend Sandy from Vancouver had bought. I decided it was high time that ingredient got used up, and what better way than to add it to the polenta.  If you like truffle, yum yum and more yum.

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The other night was a very ‘Antipodean’ gathering of girlfriends.  Leanne, our hostess who lives in the nearby town of Marino, is from South Africa.  Liz (who like me lives in Frascati) and her daughter Simona are from Sydney, newbie Donna is also from Australia, and recently retired Alison is from New Zealand.  Michelle who sadly couldn’t join us for work reasons is a Brit but she was born in Australia too.  So Susy (also a Brit) and I were the only two gals from the northern Hemisphere.  Another friend who couldn’t make it was Debra, American, who was catching an early plane for Hong Kong the next morning (her Italian husband works there).  So you see how lucky I am.  Other great and regular potluck girlfriends include Irish Margaret, American Victoria, Danish Charlotte, the above -mentioned Canadian Sandy and last and certainly never least American Libby.  Who knows, maybe one day I’ll get around to writing a potluck-meal cookery book, based on our experience?

Anyway back to the recipe(s).

INGREDIENTS: Italian sausages (skinned), fresh tomatoes and tomato sauce (passata), some wine, an onion, some black pepper, some coriander, a couple of cloves, salt and pepper, a bayleaf, parsely.  For the vegetable stock: a carrot, a stick of celery and any other veggie of  your choice.

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Start by making the vegetable stock – any veg you have in the fridge and simmer for at least 20 minutes in plenty of water.

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I used six sausages – and skinned them before cooking them.

4An onion, the coriander, the pepper and the cloves.

5I had some red wine.  You could use white if you preferred.

6-e1570951256597.jpg7I had three tomatoes and I processed them.

8I also got to use some passata.

9A nice big heavy bottomed saucepan and enough olive oil to cover the entire surface.

LET’S GET COOKING

10Turn the heat on and use a potato masher to mash up the skinned sausages.

11The sausage meat tends to get caught up in the potato masher – so help untangle the meat with a sharp knife.

12Keep mashing the meat and swish it around too with the wooden spoon.  Cook it over a high heat for about 10 minutes.

13Add 1 ladle of the vegetable stock.  Cook it down – i.e. keep cooking until the stock evaporates. The whole idea of the stock is to keep the meat soft.

14Now add a splosh of red wine – and again, keep cooking so that the alcohol evaporates.

15We can turn the heat down now.  Add the minced onion , the spices and the bayleaf.  I sprinkled lots of salt over the onion before I mixed it in with the meat.

16I quickly added the fresh tomatoes and the passata.

17I combined all the ingredients and then added a couple of ladles of the vegetable stock. I placed the lid on the saucepan and let the sausage ragù stew/simmer over a low heat for about an hour.  I checked on it now and then and added a little bit more of the stock when necessary.

18I let the stew reduce to a very thick consistency, as you can see in this photo.  When the ragù reached room temperature, I added some minced parsely.  Just because.  Don’t ask me why.

It was now time to make the polenta.

19I followed the instructions on the packet. Basically, polenta requires five times the volume of water per polenta.  For instance: 100g polenta will require 500 ml of cooking water.  I added the truffle butter to the cooking polenta towards the very end.  Those specks you see are bits of truffle.

HELPFUL TIP WITH POLENTA:  Bring the water to the boil and then add the salt (10 g per liter of water).  When the salt has dissolved, take the pan away from the heat.  Use a wooden spoon or spatula to creat whirls in the water, i.e. go round and round with the spoon, quite fast so that a kind of ‘well’ is created in the middle.  Pour the polenta into this ‘well’, all at once, and get mixing as fast as you can.  Get rid of lumps if they should form. And then place the pot back on the heat again to finish cooking it.   I chose the quick-cooking polenta that requires less than 10 minutes.  Also, I added a teensy bit more water than technically required to make a more looser, ‘runnier’ texture.  And that was because I knew we would be reheating the polenta later on, just before serving, and I didn’t want to create a monster thickness.

20I used a ladle to put the ragù over the polenta at the beginning and then poured the last amount straight from the pot, scraping every little bit out with a rubber spatula.

21When everything had cooled down enough, I enveloped the pyrex dish with loads of clingfilm and placed it on a tray to help  me carry it to the car and up the steep flight of steps to Leanne’s house.  You need strong thighs to get to her home !

We placed it in a hot oven for a few minutes before serving it.  Freshly grated pecorino was served as a topping for those who wanted it.

I was having such a good time I didn’t take any photos, which is quite rare for me.  What a shame.   We started off with Alison’s delicious bresaola.  I had also made an emmer wheat/spelt salad seasoned with olive oil and lemonjuice and studded with cherry tomatoes and rocket/arugula.  Leanne made a delicious Indonesian soup, called Laksa. Liz and Simona brought a fab beef slow-cooked curry served with steamed rice.  We did not go hungry that’s for sure !

I asked Alison to kindly forward me a photo of some leftovers she took home.

KNRX9733I know it sounds as if I spent a lot of time cooking this polenta concoction but in reality it was a lot less.  Let me break it down for you.  It took me less than 5 minutes to get the vegetable stock going.  While that was simmering, I had to peel the onion and mince it (I used an electric blender for that).  Ditto for the tomatoes.  I had to gather the rest of the ingredients.  Pour the oil into the saucepan.  Skin the sausages.  By the time I actually got to cook the sausage meat, less than 15 minutes had gone by.  The initial cooking that required stirring and supervision did take about another 15 minutes.  So, in terms of ‘real’ time, it took me only half an hour to get the ragù going.  For the rest of its cooking time, about one hour, I was able to get on with other activities.  I checked on it about three times in all.

The polenta took me a total of about 20 minutes from start to finish.  I could have speeded things up by using an electric kettle I suppose.

The great thing about this polenta recipe is that you could freeze it in advance?

Mutton Stew and Frascati Wine

I think I might make this over the weekend, a mutton stew with white wine from Frascati and fresh peas.  Might skip the mashed potatoes.  We’ll see.

It’s from a post I wrote on my previous blog “My Home Food That’s Amore”, and goodness me!!!, dating back to four years ago now.

Frascati Mutton Stew – Spezzatino di Castrato e Piselli al Frascati DOCG

castrato del mercatoI bought some mutton at the Mercato Contadino of Ariccia some time ago on a Sunday morning.  The Azienda Agricola Fratelli Frasca farm is not far from Anzio and is called ‘Il Vecchio Ovile’, which translates as ‘The Old Sheep Farm’. Mr Frasca gave me ample instruction on how to make a great pasta sauce with the mutton and I will one day make one as per his instructions but I ended up making a stew instead.

You never know with mutton or ‘castrato’ as it is called in Italy … it can be a tough, chewy meat, however rich in flavour.  It is traditional in Italy to soak cuts of castrato in a marinade of wine or vinegar plus herbs, because it is supposed to be quite a ‘strong’ tasting meat and in need of taming. Mr Frasca assured me that his castrato needed no such tenderising and that its delicious taste was quite capable of speaking for itself.

As you might know, I live in the Frascati wine-growing hills called the ‘Castelli romani’ south-east of Rome, and it came to me that, just as a Piemontese will proudly strut over a ‘brasato al barolo’ (braised beef in Barolo wine), we Castellani should likewise put our wine where our mouth is.  And so I decided to enjoy creating a recipe where local ingredients would play the lead role and whose only ‘secret’ ingredient might be a playful element of Betty Hutton’s inimitable singing of ‘Anything you can do, I can do better’ in the 1946 musical ‘Annie, Get your Gun’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WO23WBji_Z0?).  Not everyone might share my love of old musicals but this duet is guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone’s lips.

It is a Spring dish on account of the fresh peas.  For those who follow a Lenten non-meat diet, this will be a lip-smacking treat to look forward to on Easter and after Easter.  It is not a difficult recipe but does require good ingredients and, say I, Frascati white DOCG wine.

PART I

1Here are the castrato chunks …  I decided to trust Mr Frasca and eschewed the idea of a marinade.   I did, however, think it would be wise to briefly boil the meat in boiling water for a few minutes, as one does when making Blanquette de Veau, to remove any ‘scummy’ elements.   It is easily done …2Bring a pot of water to a strong boil …3Plunge the meat inside and very shortly … this is the ‘froth’ that will rise to the surface.  Remove the froth by and by, with a slotted spoon.4After about 4-5 minutes, drain the meat and place it in a good casserole … an earthenware one or a heavy bottomed pan, that comes with a lid.5Open a bottle of Frascati DOCG … I chose Fontana Candida’s Santa Teresa.6Pour the entire bottle into the pan.7Drizzle a little evoo … not too much, just a little to coat it.8Add 4 cloves of garlic, whole.9Cover with a lid and start simmering, over a low heat.

 

PART II – Adding Basic Vegetables for Taste

10Fennel seeds …11Cut up some celery, carrot and onion … the classic Italian soffritto vegetables … and gently stew them in some evoo with a teaspoon of fennel seeds and a few cloves of black pepper.12After about 12 to 15 minutes and after having sprinkled some salt over the soffritto …13Add it to the meat and cover again.  Carry on stewing.

 

PART III – Cooking the Peas14It was my saintly son who went to the trouble of shelling the peas.  It is something that can be done the day before, while watching something engrossing on television.15Roughly chop up one onion and cook it gently in some evoo with the addition of dry mint.

Repeat : dry mint.  This will add a depth to the stew that I can’t describe but one that works beautifully, trust me.  Granted the mint I obtained was the kind the Romans call ‘mentuccia’ (and a search on the internet identifies is botanically as Mentha pulegium), it’s the one that makes trippa alla romana or carciofi alla romana so delicious.  I got my dry mentuccia from Maria Regina Bortolato’s line of organically grown herbs ‘Erba Regina’ (I can’t wait for the inaguration of her Castelli farm hotel in early May — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcTTMf82zzY).  As you can see, I tried to make my ingredients as much Lazio and Castelli-sourced as possible.  And yes, the evoo too … it is Quattrociocchi’s and hails from the area near Alatri, in Lazio’s Ciociaria land.

Anyway, on with the recipe.16Add one teaspoon of sugar to the peas, as well as a good pinch of salt.17Then add a few strands of either guanciale or pancetta.  I prefer the guanciale, myself, but either will do.  Add two ladles of water and cover the peas and cook until they are tender (this took a lot longer than I thought, half an hour).  Set aside.

PART IV – Make Mash Potato Italian Style

18Mash potatoe Italian style includes a few spoons of freshly grated parmesan and a twist of nutmeg.  Set aside.

PART V – Combining the Foods

19When the stew is almost cooked (and this can take up to 1 and 1/2 hours, it will depend on the meat), add the peas, gently stir, taste and see whether the stew requires a little more salt, and cook for another 10 minutes over a very low heat, without the lid.  I say without the lid because you can keep an eye on what’s going on better this way … it would be a disaster if the meat got too dry at this stage, Saint Lawrence forbid ! (Saint Lawrence is the patron saint of cooks).

And now for a bit of ‘fiddly’.  The meat has cooked in white wine and the sauce that ensued could do with a little thickening.  So … Remove the stew to another pan for the moment …

20I transferred the stew to the pan where I had cooked the peas.21And this was the gravy and juices left behind in the casserole dish.22I used a sieve to add some flour … it looks like an awful lot in this photo, but I seem to remember using about 1 large serving-spoon’s worth of flour only.23Turn the heat on and use a wooden spoon to mix the flour in and make the gravy thicken smoothly.  Cook the flour for at least five minutes (otherwise the flour will ruin the taste).24This is an abominable photo … but it was a question of getting the dish right or the photo right, you do understand don’t you.  And it was at this point that I added a shot of Brandy, to impart another layer of taste to the stew.  The recipe I have for coq-au-vin adds Cognac towards the end, so I thought I would do something similar and added some Italian Brandy (Vecchia Romagna – Etichetta Nera).25And now the stew went back into the casserole dish and all the ingredients reunited at last.26Use a wooden spoon to gently jostle the ingredients into a harmonious whole.27A final taste … a twist of pepper, another pinch of salt maybe ?  Cover with the lid and get ready to plate.

PART VI – GRAND FINALE

I know it is trendy and aesthetically pleasing, not to mention gastronomically inviting, to plate individual dishes, and I would expect no less at any restaurant.  At home, however, nothing speaks more loudly of home cooking and love of friends and family as does a generous serving dish, however 1970s and ‘naff’ that might seem to people who scrutinise such practice disdainfully.  Home isn’t about being trendy, though home can indeed be elegant.

28So here is the beautiful serving dish, designed by artist Cassandra Wainhouse who has made Italy, and San Gimignano and Florence in particular, her home for decades now. Her serving platters are not just gorgeous to look at, their shape makes for versatility with a capital V.  Even a sad ol’ salad can look inviting on one of her platters … they glint with gold (literally … there is gold leaf on them).29I being no artist, on the other hand, was having a bit of a struggle trying to  make a ring mould with the mashed potatoes.  The mash was very hot otherwise I would have used by fingers … I had to make do with the wooden spoon instead.30I then spooned the mutton stew into the centre of the potato ‘ring’.31And did a bit of silly-billy strewing of fresh mint leaves on the potatoes.  32It may not look much …33

Stews aren’t famous for their looks.  How did it taste?  Well, with little care for modesty on this occasion, can I say? … it was bloody good.  Blushingly happy.  It was everything one would expect of a stew … the words ‘filling’ and ‘satisfying’ come to mind.  But it was also light and ‘playful’ on the palate, and the taste wanted to linger on.  Which was just as well because we polished the lot in record time …

 

Stuffed Courgettes/Zucchine Ripiene Baked in the Oven

“Zucchine ripiene”, Italian for “stuffed courgettes”, is such a commonplace Summery dish around these parts that butchers sell them already prepared for you – all you have to do is cook them.  I wrote a post about them a while ago (six years ago! – here’s the link: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/09/07/stuffed-courgettes-zucchine-ripiene/ ).  In that post, I showed how I did the stuffing myself.  This time, I had bought the ready-to-go courgettes from the butcher’s.  That time, I cooked them in a saucepan … THIS time, I decided to bake them in the oven.

In my last post, I confessed to my not being the best of gardeners, not even when it comes to herbs and the balcony.  Except for basil and marjoram, and this year rosemary too thank Goodness, I find that some of the herbs can be a bit on the ‘precious’ side (not tarragon, bless it).  There is, however, ONE very Roman exception-herb that is wholeheartedly generous, so generous indeed that it just ‘sprouts’ and grows on its own, without the slightest bit of help from anyone: and that is the “mentuccia romana” or “pennyroyal” as it is called in English.  Hands up anyone who’s even heard of pennyroyal, let alone used it.  Right?  Right …

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Here it is, playing peekaboo from the bottom of a flower pot.

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And here is another one … just like Topsy, the character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, who claimed that she did not know where she came from, she “just grewed”.

Mentuccia is very often the preferred herb in Rome for stuffing artichokes.  Some prefer parsely – some a mix of the two.  I have added a bit of mentuccia to a tomato sauce for a pasta dish.  A little goes a long way, it is quite potent.  That day, I was feeling very daring, and decided to depart on two accounts from the traditional way of cooking stuffed courgettes.  A) I would add mentuccia and B) I would bake them in the oven, instead of braising them on the cooker/stove top.  I am such a rebel … a pennyroyal iconoclast.

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Just a splash of olive oil and then a few sprigs of mentuccia.

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In go the stuffed courgettes and a layer of cut up tomatoes. Salt too.

61.jpgAnd now … bake in a preheated oven at around 200°C for 50 minutes or until done.

8Forgot to mention that I baked them with the lid ‘on’.  If you haven’t got a lid you could always use aluminium foil.

10Very easy to make.  And the mentuccia did indeed add a little bit of ooomph.

Warning: this dish needs to be served with plenty of  bread to soak up all the lovely sauce.  A glass of wine … or two … to keep the conviviality going.

An Apple a Day Makes Our Straccetti very Okay

Straccetti are basically slices of beef cut very very thinly, that take no time to cook and are thus a favourite go-to dinner option when it’s hot and one doesn’t want to be perspiring more than necessary, and certainly not over a cooker/stove top.  The butcher sell these already cut for the customer.

A “straccio” is a rag or tea towel of sorts and the diminutive “straccetti” (pronounced stratch-ett-ee) do indeed resemble little rags I suppose?  They are normally served with fresh rocket/arugula, sliced tomatoes and slithers of parmesan.  Some like to dribble a little balsamic vinegar (I don’t).  They can be served with fresh porcini mushrooms/ceps too, why not?

This time I decided to add an apple to the mix: aha! How very daring of me, hey!

But let’s begin at the beginning.

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Pour some olive oil into a frying pan and add some garlic (if you like, and I do like, as well as some chilli).

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Lay the streccetti flat in the saucepan, preferably in one layer.  Spinkle with salt.  Slice an apple and place that on top.

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Arrange a wreath of rocket/arugula and tomatoes cut in half inside a nice big serving dish or bowl.

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Now turn on the heat.

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The straccetti take no time to cook over a strong flame (3-4 minutes).  Use a wooden spoon or fork towards the end of the cooking time to make sure all the meat is cooked.

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Transfer the straccetti to the beautiful bowl.

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Don’t let the ‘greyish’ hue of the meat put you off.  Straccetti taste delicious !

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And I must say that the inclusion of the apple, although not traditional, did add a je ne sais quoi to it all.  Feel free to slather more olive oil on everyone’s plate.

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I wrote this post about how to make straccetti with artichokes seven years ago … the recipe still holds good, here is the link if you’d like to take a look:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/rags-to-riches/

Bugs Bunny Braised Carrots

Bugs Bunny comes to mind because this naughty little cartoon film protagonist loves his carrots, only he eats his raw and mine were braised.  I like carrots both raw and cooked – so old school, so old fashioned, so ‘ordinaire’, what’s to gush about – and yet we still eat carrots with gusto, even though we may not rave about them.

When we lived in Lebanon many decades ago now, we would often be served carrots sliced lengthwise, seasoned with lemon juice and salt.  My grandmother’s comment was that she had noticed how very few  Lebanse wore spectacles and she was sure that was due to all the carrots they ate.  The arbitrariness of her conclusion continues to made smile within every time I serve carrots as a ‘proper’ vegetable side dish at the table, as opposed to a mere component in a salad.  Have you ever tried cooking carrots with a little bit of butter and a hint of grated fresh ginger? Or, the French way, with plenty of butter and maybe some garlic and definitely plenty of finely chopped parsely?  Carrots and oranges (my invention) ?

Whatever.  The other evening, as mentioned in my last post, I had a big bunch of carrots in the fridge and decided to make them the star attraction of the evening.  Basically what I did was braise them.  Carrots take longer to cook than one would think, in order to extract the right amount of sweetness from them.  So this does not constitute a last-minute preparation.  That said, there is definitely nothing difficult about the recipe.

INGREDIENTS: Olive oil, butter, pepper corns, garlic, a sprig of rosemary, half a glass of fortified wine (port or sherry, I used marsala ), carrots, water, salt

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2I don’t know about you but I like my carrots peeled.

Start by cooking the garlic in some butter and olive oil, including the sprig of rosemary and some pepper corns.

5Then add the carrits, whole, and sprinkle plenty of salt.  (I had to cut one carrot in half because it wouldn’t fit in the pan).

6Toss or shove the pan around vigorously so that the carrots get coated all over in the melted butter and olive oil.

7Add half a glass of Marsala (or other sweet or fortified wine of your choice).

8Raise the heat and allow the alcohol to evaporate.

9Remove the sprig of rosemary.  Now add about half a glass of plain water.

10Cover with a lid and cook over a low heat for about 15 minutes.

11When I removed the lid, I pierced one carrot with a sharp knife to check on how ‘done’ it was.  I was surprised to find it still too ‘hard’.  So I plopped the lid back on and cooked the carrots for another 15 minutes.

12Or so I seem to remember.  Maybe a little longer?  In the event, do keep an eye on the carrots because, although we do want them to sort of caramelise, we don’t want them to burn.  I caught mine in the nick of time.

1314Mini hamburgers/meatballs, a hipster salad, and an old-fashioned bunch of carrots.  Crazy dinner.  But yes, the carrots were very nice.  I’ll be making these again.

Putting the Posh in Peas (and Chicken)

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

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

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

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

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

2Sprinkle salt over the chicken.

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

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

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

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

Okay?

And now on with cooking the chicken.

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

And now let us deal with the peas.

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

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

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

A lot of setting aside, isn’t there.

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

18Slicing the phyllo pastry into ribbons and …

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

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

Time to plate up.

21Step one.  The pea mash.

22Step two: the unmashed peas.

23Step there: a shower of crispy phyllo pastry.

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

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What is the point of (the) brisket?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Here is the veal  brisket.  Pat it dry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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So much lovely gravy!

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Surrounded by friendly roast potatoes.

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

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

The next day.  Leftovers, yay!

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I heated the gravy.

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

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

26See how it glistened?

My husband said it tasted even better the next day.

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