Another Meatloaf, “Little Women” and Tailgating it in Rome

For once I shall do things the other way around, providing an intro to the recipe and ingredients first and writing my little ‘story’, the context, after.

If you want to spruce up an ordinary meatloaf, present it encased in pastry.

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Instead of Beef Wellington, you can dub it Meatloaf Wellington.  I chanced upon this recipe on the internet and am providing a link below.  It’s in Italian but no worries – even if you don’t speak the language, everything is so straightforward, you’ll get enough of an understanding to get started right away.

Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNlvwwC0e88

One of the reasons I did want to get started is that the last time I had made a meatloaf it had been a complete disaster, a ‘beautiful catastrophe’ as Zorba the Greek would have remarked (see my previous post harking back to it).  So I’m a bit sensitive that way, you see.  I am glad to report that my recent attempt turned out pretty well and that I was able to enjoy the leftovers as a kind of picnic in Rome the following day.

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INGREDIENTS

500g of minced meat, 2 eggs, parsely, salt and pepper, 2-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese, slices of cheese that will melt easily, slices of ordinary ham, slices of parma ham (optional), salt and pepper, sheets of ready-bought pastry.  An extra egg for coating the pastry.

I added plenty of freshly grated nutmeg and a scattering of lemon zest.  Also, I made my own pastry because the kind sold around here contains palm oil or hydrogenated fats and other nasties.  For that I needed 600g of flour, 300g of butter, salt and enough cold water to bring it all together. I did what one’s not supposed to do and that is use a blender.  I put the ball of very sticky dough in the freezer for one hour before using it.

Below is my neighbour and bestest friend Rossella … helping me roll out the home-made pastry.

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The video says to cook it for about 40 minutes at 200°C, let it rest and allow any liquid to drain away.  Once cooled, the meatloaf is encased in the pastry and cooked again for half an hour.  I would say that that is too much cooking and the meat dries out somewhat.  Next time, I shall limit the cooking to 25 minutes the first time.

My dinner guests enjoyed the meatloaf but we were so caught up in our conversations that we could have had cheese on toast and it wouldn’t have mattered.  Wine always helps of course (that is if you like drinking wine).  The essence of a dinner with friends is the banter and laughter and interruption and changing of subjects and not wanting to go away even when it’s very late.  But good food always helps.  Good food to put you in the mood.

The following ‘story’ is dedicated to all my lovely girlfriends, wherever you might be in the world, but boys are very welcome to read it too !

LITTLE WOMEN AND ME

Well, for starters my name is Josephine (I was named after my Italian grandmother Giuseppina) but everyone calls me Jo.

I grew up with two sisters, not three.  And I was a bit of a tomboy, as they used to say in those days.  I didn’t like it when I had to wear a frilly dress to go to a birthday party, I was always told not to ruin it which of course meant I couldn’t run around too much or climb a tree.  I much preferred wearing shorts.  I’ve always been a barefoot baby and liked nothing better than to take my shoes off as soon as I could.  Like any other woman, I adore shoes but my love for going barefooted has never abated.  I used to love running and playing with the boys, and was very ‘physical’ even, and would get into a fight if provoked.  Dolls weren’t really my ‘thing’.   Building huts was more fun.

The years I speak of, from about the age of five to twelve, I grew up in Karachi, which was then West Pakistan, followed by Teheran, and then Dhaka, which was then East Pakistan before it became Bangladesh.  My Scottish stepfather worked for a pharmaceutical company and that’s how we moved around a lot.  With the job came cushy houses, beautiful ones at that, with large verandahs and even a swimming pool sometimes.  Plush lawns and scented flowers.  And a team of people to help run the house – servants they were called then, or ‘the help’ I believe in the States?  The lap of luxury sort of thing.  Except there were many amenities that were not available in those countries, during those years.  One of which was TV.  I remember when a television set first appaered in our house in Dhaka, I would have been close to eleven.  There was only one channnel and  featured two English speaking programmes a day – the Man from UNCLE, the Lucy Show, come to mind.  And no TV on a Monday for some reason.  Perhaps a film once a week?  And there were power cuts on a regular basis, very often interrupting a TV show.

All this to say that we children had to entertain ourselves.  My two sisters were much younger than I, so the interaction was perforce one-sided, with me being the bossy older sister.  There was no question that I loved them, and we are incredibly close to this day, and we all slept in the same bedroom.  But I was bored, bored, bored so much of the time.  And lonely.  I craved company of my own age.  I did have friends, I did, but it wasn’t as if I could walk over to their house, I had to be driven their either by my mother or by the driver.  It had to be arranged, it couldn’t be spontaneous.  Also, friends would leave, their parents moving to another country, and that was always very sad.  I’ve never got over parting from friends.

I remember complaining about my boredom to my mother and her unruffled response was to tell me that she? She never got bored when she was a child.  Not helpful.  And so I’d invent games like the time I was a farmer … Robin Hood … an air hostess in an aeroplane.  After seeing the film The Sound of Music, I became Maria of course, bursting into song and prancing about.  I’d put classical records on and pretend I was a ballerina. I really enjoyed games at school and was good at all of them and just loved to beat the boys.  I loved going to school because there, finally, was some company for me.  It was called Farm View and there is a facebook page now.  It was a small international English speaking school and I was in my element, loving all subjects from arithmetic to history to painting to English Literature.  And French, of course.  When eventually I went to boarding school in England, I was astonished to discover that I was at least two years ahead of my French class.   But that’s another story, culture shock, stock and barrel.

Also, I enrolled in the Indian dancing lessons, with the lovely anklets that had bells on them.  The headmistress, Mrs Coventry, apparently nearly had a hairy fit when she learned that I was going to be performing an Indian dance as part of the school pantomime that year and was duly impressed to discover that I turned out to be a very graceful dancer.   My mother, bless her, thought I’d find solace in piano lessons and she drove me once a week to the teacher’s house.  We didn’t have a piano at home, so I would practise for half an hour before the actual lesson, which always included a cup of tea and a biscuit.  I enjoyed my lessons, very much.  When I was growing up, tea (the drinking of together with biscuits or a slice a cake or whatever) was an everyday ‘thing’, a precious pause during the day.

What I really enjoyed was reading.  The school had a library and took us to see films (old black-and-white films at that) at the British Council, which also had a library.  Oh the joy of reading!  It was the one thing that salvaged me from the loneliness, the boredom of an otherwise privileged upbringing.  I became a book worm.  I remember repairing to the bathroom to finish reading a book until well into the wee hours, shutting the door so I wouldn’t wake my sisters up with the light. I’d wake up bleary eyed the next morning but oh so satisfied.  My choice of reading was not exactly intellectual.  There was Noddy and fairy tales, the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew but Enid Blyton most of all.  Golly!, how I loved the Famous Five and other adventure stories. One of my teachers, Mrs Chowdury, had gone to university with Enid Blyton’s daughter apparently and I was sooooo impressed.  Daddy used to take me with him to the equivalent of a mall in our neighbourhood, called the D.I.T. Market.  Well, when I say ‘mall’, think small bazaar, really, and a dozen or so shops.  Any excuse to get out of the house and, also, a chance to buy some comics.  At the time there used to be a wonderful American series of comics under the heading “Classics Illustrated”.  They featured adaptations of literary classics such as Les MiserablesMoby DickHamlet, and The Iliad.  Wikipedia says “Recognizing the appeal of early comic books, Russian-born publisher Albert Lewis Kanter (1897–1973) believed he could use the new medium to introduce young and reluctant readers to “great literature”. I well remember The Last of the Mohican, Lorna Doone, many Shakespeare plays, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Last Days of Pompei, Moby Dick, The Three Muskateers.  AbeBooks.com says “We will never know how many youngsters who read Classic Comics and Classics Illustrated are now confirmed bibliophiles with homes full of literature, but we suspect the figure is high.”  Well, they caught me all right.  I can think of nothing sadder than a house without books.

And those books I did read, as well as the comics, were fodder for my imagination and I would often re-enact scenes from them in my make-believe world of play, not unlike the four sisters in Little Women.  Despite the tropical heat and the monsoons, you wouldn’t believe how ‘cold’ it could get in my rendition of Heidi’s mountain idyll.  My mother couldn’t understand why I insisted on amping up the air-conditioning to freezing levels behind her back in our bedroom.  Little did she know.  We only drank powdered milk in Dhaka but to me it was goats milk, of course.  Pollyanna played a pretty important part too.  To this day, I love the film with Hayley Mills, I still have the DVD.  The last time I watched it was probably ten years ago but to me it will never grow old or become outdated.  The punch line: if you go looking for evil in this world, you are sure to find it.

Of all these books and their heroes and heroines, however, it was Jo from Little Women that has accompanied me always.  Something about her spirit, her resolve, her human frailty coupled with her sensitivity and can-do enthusiasm made an indelible mark upon me.  I grew up with two sisters, went to an all-girls boarding school, and at one time had mainly women colleagues when I was working at the UN in Rome … I dearly love women and am a born feminist.  Yet, for all of Jo’s yang personality that I can identify with, it is with Beth that I have one huge trait in common.  I am a home body.  I don’t really crave ‘adventure’ as it were.  I wish all my friends and family could live close by.  And I always did want to marry and have children.  The follow-up book, Jo’s Boys, really touched a chord.  And for years and years I dreamed of opening a small school, where children would be treated with tender, loving, creative care.  And, such are the coincidences in life, I did marry a professor of sorts, just like Jo!  I’m still waiting to launch my inspirational cooking school … we’ll see.

In the end, it was cooking that became a way of life for me.  Cooking became my ‘adventure’.  And that’s how I came across the video recipe for this blog post.

PREPARING THE MEAT LOAF WITH ROSSELLA

It is Sunday and I am having guests to dinner, my favourite cousins and a favourite friend. I went to work the day before, a pasta class at the Minardi Winery, which ended just after 3 p.m.  After which I go to do the shopping and get home just before 5 p.m.   I eat something, whatever I can find in the fridge.  And I start preparing some stuff for the next day.  At 8 p.m. I shower and get dressed and go to a dear friend’s 70th birthday party, quite the bash, at least 60 guests.  By midnight I’m falling off my perch and regretfully leave at around quarter past.  Unheard of for me, I am one of those who ‘could have danced all night’ but not last Saturday.

I go to bed at around 1 a.m. but instead of falling into a deep slumber, end up tossing and turning all night.  I wake up all sleepy and slow and realise that I am going to need help to get through the day.

So I call upon my next door neighbour, Rossella.  Our flats are on the same landing.  We try and have coffee together regularly, the way we used to, but sometimes we don’t see each other for three weeks in a row now.  That’s how life has become for us, for us all, always busy, always in a hurry, strapped for time.

Though not obsessed with cooking the way I am, Rossella is no slouch in the kitchen and is also a tidy cook.  One thing at a time versus my 101 things going on at the same time.  Steady.  She was more than happy to oblige.  I do not mean this in any condescending way whatsoever but … Rossella, like many women whose children have left home and are without a partner or husband, is lonely.  Heck I get lonely and I do have a husband!  Our flat seems so quiet without the children.  Rossella is very capable and has run family clothes shops; her parents’ shop in Rome was the first to bring La Perla lingerie to the capital, it was quite posh.  She and her sister had to close it down a couple of years ago, after a full 80 years of operation.  She was always a working woman.  She keeps herself busy in many ways but … but if you are a home lover (like Beth!) and there is just you in the house … well, it can get veeery quiet.  Very.  Cooking together is soothing.  We spent a good three hours together in the morning, and another nearly two in the late afternoon. Indeed the meatloaf, except for the pastry, is all her doing. Grazie Rossella!

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Upon parting, we decided that we’ll meet once a month, with a few other girlfriends, to cook something new together.

The dinner went very well and, as I said, there were leftovers …

TAILGATING IN ROME ALONG THE TIBER

 

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I can’t remember exactly when we watched the 1994  “Little Women” film, featuring Wynona Ryder and Susan Sarandon etc. on television.  By ‘we’ I mean my daughter, my son and my husband.  Well, my daughter and I fell for it hook, line and sinker and I bought the DVD of course, or perhaps video tape, can’t remember.  And it became a sort of Christmas film-watching staple for us.  “Oh not Little Women again!”, my son her brother would wail.  And she and I would have to watch some appalling action film in revenge. The scene where Beth dies never fails to bring me to tears.  Just like the book, this film is moving without descending into the sludge of soppy.

So … did I fancy going to see the new Little Women film? my daughter asked me.  Sure.  Any excuse to see more of my daughter.  Not so sure I really want to see the film, but so what.  In Nancy Mitford’s “Love in a Cold Climate”, the character of Farve, the heroine’s uncle, is notoriously eccentric in his ways. And not one for conversation either.  Having to endure polite conversation at the dinner table, his hostess kindly enquires of him, in an attempt to break the ice, whether he has read any good book lately.  His retort is no.  He did read a book once.  White Fang.  It was so dashed good he never bothered to read another.

Well … that’s a little how I feel about the 1994 Little Women film.  It was so so very good, why go for a remake?

Anyway.  My daughter works in the centre of Rome (lucky gal) and parking comes at a premium. She finishes at 7 p.m. and the film started at 8 p.m.  There was going to be a bit of walking wherever I ended up parking which meant, which meant, that there wasn’t going to be much time to repair somewhere and get a bite to eat and a glass of wine.  Hmmm.  Head scratching and nose twitching, what to do, what to do?

Picnic.  In the car.  Like they tend to do in Great Britain on account of the weather.

It’s the only thing that would make sense.  I’d bring something for us to eat before the film so we wouldn’t starve.  Favourite daughter agreed.  What she did not know was that I had leftovers from the night before, by way of pastry-encased meatloaf.  She was expecting sandwiches and that sort of stuff.

I packed everything in the boot of the car, getting all eager beaver and into the spirit of things.  After faffing about for a good 15 minutes, my parking angel guided us to a perfect spot on the winding Lungotevere road, along the Tiber.  I just had to laugh.  We both had a good giggle.  We were almost directly opposite the imposing Palazzo Giustizia, St Peter’s lit-up dome just behind us, the Bulgari House with its garish lit-up roof-top palm tree about 100 yards down the road from us, and Piazza Navona also within spitting distance.  Glittering, beautiful, romantic, historic Rome lay all around us.  Just a few hundred yards away, also, was the princely Palazzo Borghese, which hosts the Spanish Embassy residence, where I had once had occasion to dine for a fundraiser.

And here I was tailgating it with my daughter, picnicking in the car.

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That said we had a jolly good dinner.   Please note, we ate inside the car and not in the middle of the road.  We ate off ceramic plates, with proper knives and forks.  We had the meatloaf en croute with a side dish of “broccoletti”.  I brought some ketchup along in case the meat turned out to be too dry (it wasn’t fortunately).  A couple of apples to finish off and, of course!!!, a glass of prosecco.

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Louisa May Alcott would have approved, she would have understood.

 

 

 

 

Winter Tureen of Blue Cheese and Mascarpone

I’m not saying this can’t be eaten the rest of the year.  I AM saying that it is especially eatable when it’s cold outside, and cheese does not melt on the table.  It is pretty to look at, jolly good to eat, and a nice thing to bring to a potluck supper or to place on a this-time-of-year buffet table.  Serve with crackers or toast or whatever you like to accompany your cheese.

I made it just minutes ago and I’m in a bit of a hurry.  It’s my mother’s 93rd  birthday today and we are popping round for drinks and canapés and other bits and bobs to celebrate in about an hour’s time.  She loves gorgonzola so I am hoping she will love this dish.

The photos are what they are but hopefully they’ll make sense.

INGREDIENTS: 250g blue cheese/gorgonzola, 250g mascarpone, 40g chopped dried apricots, 40g toasted hazelnuts, 2 teaspoons of honey, freshly  milled pepper, pistachio to garnish

IMG_5859I decided to use only the strong gorgonzola, instead of a mixture of the two.

IMG_5860Chop the apricots and toast the hazelnuts.

IMG_5861Place the mascarpone in a mixing bowl and whip it up with a fork.  Then add: apricots, hazelnuts, honey and black pepper.

IMG_5862Done.

IMG_5863Slice the gorgonzola and line the ceramic tureen with one layer.

IMG_5864Then add one layer of the mascarpone mix.

IMG_5865A second layer of gorgonzola. And then a second layer of mascarpone on top of that.

IMG_5866Final touch: a good scattering of pistachio.  Cover and place in the fridge for about an hour or so before serving.

IMG_5867You can make this dish a few days in advance, why not?

IMG_5868Okay, gotta go now …. oh I forgot, great for parties, thumbs up.

Frascati-style Sartù

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

I would not blame purists from the Campania region if they wanted to throttle me for daring to refer to the rice concoction I am writing about as a ‘sartù’.  A sartù is an iconic conglomeration of a recipe, a precious pearl in the crown of posh recipes that were served to the noble families in the Campania region.  If you want to read more about it, check out my previous post.

Here in the Alban hills south east of Rome, an area known as the “Castelli Romani”, we too have posh antecedents.  We are famous for our baroque estates, sometimes built over the remains of ancient Roman villas (the popes’ summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, for instance, was built over Emperor Domitian’s villa).  Popes, cardinals and Rome’s noble families liked to spend part of their Summer here and enjoy all that it had to offer. If Rome were to be thought of as New York City, then our Castelli Romani could easily be regarded as its Hamptons.  And this all the way from pre-Roman times to just after the Second World War.  A lot changed after then.  And not just in Frascati, naturally, but all over the world.

These days, as far as current Romans are concerned, we people in the Castelli Romani are to be thought of as ‘rednecks’ or ‘hill-billies’ or something akin to a peasant whichever way you look at it.  Their word for us is “burino”.  We are country bumpkin ‘burini’ whereas they are city dwellers, with Rome being the centre of the world.  A lot of this is in jest of course but even so when I hear talk levelled at us burini, I put my hands on my hips and fight back.  I like to counter the view by letting THEM know that one cannot consider himself/herself a true Roman unless he or she has Roman relatives going back at least five generations (even seven).  So mneah, take that!  So many so-called Romans have parents who relocated from other counties just after the Second World War.  Including my husband, for instance. He was born of parents hailing from the Marche Region.  And though he was born and raised in Rome, in theory he couldn’t be considered a ‘true’ Roman.  At least we Castelli people are authentic burini, ha ha.  (Actually, even that wouldn’t be totally correct: so many labourers and workers, during the mid-century 1800s onwards all the way up to the 1950s, came to find a living in these parts.  They hailed mainly from Abbruzzo and the Marche regions, as well as southern Lazio but sssssh, don’t tell.)

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

Favourite son asked that I make polenta for him when he came to visit us last month.  Obliging Mamma of course makes some, double quick,  Favourite daughter loathes polenta and favourite husband isn’t overly keen either, so this request gave me the opportunity to finally make some and know it would be thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed.

I am so used to cooking for a fair amount of people that I ended up making too much sauce (the classic pork and sausage sauce) and thus put the remainder in the freezer.  Except I didn’t – put it in the freezer, I mean.  I thought I had but I hadn’t.  So days after my darling boy had left I discovered a large glass jar of the sauce at the back of the fridge. I tasted it and it was fine thank goodness.  What to do? what do do?  What to do?  I used the sauce to make a risotto.  And then I had one of those beautiful Aha moments and realised I could invent a Roman rendition of the Neapolitan sartù.  Another name for this could be “Timballo di Riso”, I suppose, but it isn’t half as catchy as Frascati-Style Sartù, do admit?

If there is one staple that is iconic to the Castelli Romani (over and above wine that is), then that would be the roast hog known as “porchetta”.  Instead of adding  meatballs and salami to my rice dish, I would substitute with porchetta.  Genius.

RECIPE

(1) The Sauce:

The sauce I made is the following one: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/sausage-and-spare-rib-stew-for-polenta-polenta-con-le-spuntature/

You don’t have to go all the trouble of making an identical one.  However, do include pork sausage in it whichever way you want to make it.  Pork sausage, garlic, tomato sauce and pecorino are a must.  The rest you can improvise or tweak.

(2) Bechamel

You will also need to make a bechamel: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/the-queen-of-sauces/

(3) Porchetta

https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2018/06/05/my-home-made-porchetta-roast-hog/

(3a) Cotechino – explanation follows

(4) Other ingredients

Both parmesan and pecorino cheese, peas (frozen will do), red pepper kernels (optinonal), butter.

PRELUDE TO ACTION

Well, more of in-action to be honest.  Long story short,  I was unable to buy porchetta and had to do with cotechino.  Cotechino is another iconic item on the Italian table, and specifically towards the end of year, in order to celebrate the new year.  It is served traditionally with lentils.  Read all about it by fellow and much-loved blogger Frank Fariello (https://memoriediangelina.com/2010/01/01/cotechino-lentils/).  Cotechino and brother Zampone (another end-of-year sausage) are to be found in stores already towards the end of November.  I picked one up, just because.  And just as well I did.

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When the going gets tough, call upon a softie.  In this case, Rossella my sweet next-door neighbour.  We needed to catch up on some gossip and so I inveigled her into coming over for a much needed catch-up, and while we were at it, would she give me a hand in the kitchen?  “Ma certo!” was her gracious resopnse, but of course.  I got her started on the cotechino.  It needed to be cut into cube-like shapes, see above.

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I had alread made the risotto with the leftover sauce and had placed it inside a biggish pyrex dish.  Rossella  spread a layer of cubed cotechino on the surface of the risotto, and then sprinkled another layer of previously cooked peas.

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I call that quite pretty, huh.

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And now, lots of fresh mint and parsely to add a bit of green.  And then much freshly grated parmigiano AND pecorino cheeses (equal parts of).

5aA snowstorm of parmigiano and pecorino with the herbs playing peekaboo.

8And now it’s time for the bechamel.

9Here is Rossella lovingly spreading the bechamel.  She has the patience of a saint.

9aLast-minute addition: red peppercorns. Not too many of course, but enough to get noticed.  I love red peppercorns – they make me feel happy.

10Butter, dollops of butter.

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Ready to be placed in a previously heated oven, at 180°C.

Except that I didn’t bake it straight away.  I froze it.  So …. hip hip hurrah, this is the sort of dish that can be prepared in advance, frozen, and used when necessary.  Especially when a party is necessary.  You do all the hard work days or weeks before and little else on the actual night.

12And this is the only measely photo I have of the completed dish.  I know, I know.  What one does manage to discern doesn’t look very enticing, more like a dog’s dinner.  But I promise you it was very very good and all my guests complimented me.  You’ll just have to trust me.  (You’d think at least one of the guests, or my husband, would have taken a nice photo, no?  Too busy eating?)

Home-Made Sausages and Aubergine Rolls

Playfulness, childhood, forgetting oneself in fun and games – remember those days? I do.  And I do my best to re-enact them in a more adult way.  Life will always bring up ‘situations’ which in the best of cases will enhance our learning and experience, make us wiser in the long run and more capable of embracing all that Life has to offer, the good and the ‘bad’.  But in other cases it will or might do the exact opposite and crush us.  I refuse to be crushed.  After decades of practice, I have anti-crush antennae that are well honed.  The minute I am aching to buy something that I (a) really don’t need, (b) don’t know where to put and (c) can’t really afford (meaning that the money could be spent on something much more ‘useful’) I know exactly what’s going on: my anti-crush antennae are giving me sound advice … “Go! Go! Go! Be playful.  Have fun.  Giggle a little!”

Some people might call it retail therapy, I don’t know.  Others invoke Oscar Wilde’s saying: I can resist everything except temptation.  And these are the optimists.  Those who are apt to judge with pursed lips might, instead, hold forth on the futility of consumerism or go all saintly on us and mention the worthy example of Marie Kondo, the world famous tidying/decluttering guru.  On a video I just watched about her, she is said to move houses once a year.   Seriously? I call that a tad restless – and whilst I like travelling I think that moving, unless absolutely necessary or advisable, is a lot of work.  I don’t like clutter and a messy house either, but a minimalist I am not.  Our home is just full of ‘stuff’, including lots of books.   But even Marie Kondo might be wowed by how I always find space for ‘things’ in our relatively small flat and yes, these ‘things’ do indeed spark joy, which is what her regime is all about.  Going for things that spark joy: I’m all for that.

So there I was, one Monday morning a few weeks ago, taking my mother for a weekly shop at a supermarket.  I hate supermarkets and what they represent and I have been boycotting them for about 10 years now.  Yes, yes, I know that they are very useful and we do indeed ‘need’ them in our modern world.  I just wish the financiers, the owners, would care more about the people who produce the food to be eaten rather than the stake-holders who just care about how much money they are making with their stocks.  My mother will turn 93 next month and she stopped driving last year.  Ever since then it is I who take her shopping once or twice a week and she, of all people!, insists on going to the supermarket (although recently she has started agreeing with me that vegetables are much much much better at the covered food markets).    So I have spent more  time in supermarkets during the last year and a half than I have for all the eight or so years previously!  Not a happy puppy.

Anyway, that day she asked would I mind if we drove to a mega supermarket which is just below the town of Albano.  Sure! No problem I said.  And that’s because I was being kind.  It was a bit of a drive from where we live and at the end of the day it was still ‘only’ a supermarket, big deal.  We went for a cup of coffee before our shop and I was already bored and wanting to go home.  And that’s when my anti-crush antennae started kicking in.  I scolded myself for my desultory attitude and did my best to cheer up (inwardly).   Which is when I espied an electric slicer and a sausage making machine.  Cheap and cheerful variety, you understand, supermarket standard and nothing state-of-the-art.

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I decided I simply had to, just had to, have the sausage making machine (which doubles up as a tomato crusher for making passata).  And told my mother so.  “Ma, I am going to make you home-made sausages.  You are always complaining how the sausages we buy these days are either tasteless or too salty.  What do you say you I start making some, at home?”.  So that was a done-deal.  And in it went in the supermarket trolley (cart in American English).  My mother did indeed make her own sausages when we lived in what was then East Pakistan, and now Bangladesh.  Her own bread too.

And then I found I couldn’t take my eyes off the electric slicer … Hmmm.  Just think how many things I could slice, ever so thinly, so expertly, so refinedly.  As I stared in admiration my mother, bless her, said she’d buy it for me … it could be my Christmas present, no?  Double whammy!

And that is how I came home later that day with two boxes.  My husband gave me the raised-eyebrow look but refrained from daring to comment, as he would have done in the past, on (a) the buying of yet more ‘things’ we didn’t need and (b) the dearth of space in our home.  He actually commented favourably on both new-entries in the magic world of my kitchen even though he tried to back-track when I mentioned I would be relying on his help in setting up the sausage machine (I am absolutely helpless when it comes to manuals and instructions, never understand a thing).  Indeed, some magic really did happen – he was there from start to finish and it was he who ‘made’ the sausages! (I had bought the meat and the casing as well as the machine, naturally.)

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IMG_5325Our very own sausages – something to be proud of wouldn’t you agree?

When my mother eventually got to eat one, she judged it very good.  So, phew.

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I even brought one to work the next day for my fellow chefs to taste (above photo).  The sausages were a tad ‘bland’ the night we made and ate them, tastier the following day.  Apparently that’s ‘normal’, they told me;  over time, as they dry out a little at a time, the savoury part will come to the fore.

And we had so much fun making them !  Which proves my point, and MY favourite motto, by Voltaire: “le superflu, chose si nécessaire”.  The superfluous is so very necessary.

End of Story.

RECIPE

I happened to have some sausage left over and decided to use it to make a sauce.  I had an aubergine/eggplant, some cheese called ‘primosale’ (a kind of bland fetta cheese) and, most important of all, I had an electric slicer, aha!

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And so I made aubergine rolls.  I sliced the aubergines as thinly as I could.   Ditto the mortadella (that didn’t work out too well, I must say).  I added some cubes of primosale. Some tomato sauce using up the home-made sausage and whatever herbs I found on my balcony (marjoram I think).

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Slice an onion and let it bathe in a bowl with some water for about 10 minutes.  This will draw out its excess ‘oniony-ness’.  Trust me, this is a good tip.  When you go to fry it, it won’t burn and if anything it will cook or turn golden faster.

Turn the oven on.

3Put the thin (ha ha) slices of onion in the oven, even if it’s just started.  It will heat up along the way.

4Reserve some of the aubergine and chop it up into little cubes.

5Start by cooking the onion in plenty of olive oil, and then add the cubed aubergine. A sprinkle of salt is always a good idea.

67Cook the sausage meat.  I added a bit of chilli.

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Then bring all the ingredients together and add tomato sauce – plum tomatoes or passata.

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In my excitement and haste to savour the recipe, I removed the aubergine slices too early from the oven.  They really could have done with at least another 10 minutes.

11Here are the slices of mortadella on the left and the chunk of primosale on the right. Please note that this primosale was made from ewe’s milk.  I bought it from the Depau cheese  makers in Frascati. https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/the-united-nations-of-ricotta-azienda-agricola-depau-grottaferrata/

Time to assemble.1213Lay a slice of mortadella and a few cubes of primosale and then roll the slices and secure with a toothpick.

14Line the bottom of an oven dish with the sausage tomato sauce and place the rolls on top.

15Pour the rest of the sauce over the rolls and dot the dish with yet more cubes of primosale.  Bake the rolls until done.

16I scattered something green over them as they came out of the oven.  Marjoram, I think?

17Parsely and basil too by the looks of it.  It really doesn’t matter – just use whatever you have handy or prefer.

And yes, the slices should have cooked a bit longer as written – but it was still a very tasty dish.  One that can be made in advance too, which is always a boon.

Here are some links to what primosale is all about, just in case you might be interested:

https://www.lalatteria.co.uk/primo-sale-mozzarella

Primosale

http://www.201cheeses.com/primo-sale

https://www.tasteatlas.com/primo-sale

Polpette di Tonno – Tuna Fish-balls

I wrote this post on 18 September 2011 – Golly ! that is eight years ago.  And my feelings for September continue to be roughly the same.  Not my favourite month.  End of Summer.  Sigh.  The recipe, too, continues to be the same.  Reassuring.  Easy to make, and that’s a good thing.  And good for parties.

Sabaudia

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An Indian summer … although we’re half way through September … it’s so easy to enjoy the heat but too late to pretend not to notice that the days are getting shorter … and busier … and that any day now it will get brrrr-cross-your-arms-and-slap-your-shoulders-nippy and we’ll start having to wear sweaters and what have you and don slippers indoors instead of traipsing about bare foot.  It is as if a whisper of seasonal melancholy were subtly knocking at my front door. For someone who loves summer as much as I do, September is a very challenging month and can see me veering towards a moany-groany, want-to-run-away frame of mind.

This year I decided I would be grown up about it and do my best to stretch the summer’s feel of freedom as much as I could.  I tried to organise myself so that I could work in ‘chunks’ … and thus it was that a few days ago, I was able to scamper off to the beach at Sabaudia for most of the day.  It took us one and a half hours to get there but, as always, it was worth it. There were very few people about, now that people are back at work and children back at school.  The breeze was caressing as only a zephyr can be, the sea was still warm enough for me to swim in (I am such a wimp about cold water!) and it was all I could do to tear myself away and head for home as the sun began to set.  Aaaah.  Sigh …. isn’t the sun setting over the sea one of the most compelling sights to behold?

Ultra-organised, smug lady had prepared some vegetables the day before (a potato and celery purée and roasted bell peppers), had bought gorgeous fruit on the way to the beach, knew that wine was cooling in the fridge, so it was only a question of buying some chicken or meat on the way home and dinner was going to be a snap.  But, repeat, I had a very hard time of wrenching my body and soul from the siren call of the sea with the result that all the shops were naturally closed by the time we finally did drive past them.

I didn’t feel quite so smug then, as I took on the slim prospect for our main course that evening, knowing that just like Mother Hubbard, I was going to find the cupboard woefully ‘bare’ when I got there —  the ‘cupboard’, these days, naturally being the fridge and the freezer.  But thank goodness for Nursery Rhymes because I realised that there was indeed one food in my cubbyhole cupboard that was going to save the day: tuna fish packed in oil! Polpette di tonno … i.e. meatballs made out of tuna fish (technically the tuna doesn’t qualify them as ‘meat’-balls … but what else can one call them in English? croquettes? ugh).  How about … fish-balls?

The ingrdients: salted capers (which need to be rinsed and drained a few times to be rid of the excess saltiness), lemon zest (the zest you see came out of the freezer), parsley, two tins of tunny fish packed in oil (and please note that it wasn’t the top quality kind but still, a good kind), and last, and in the case of any kind of polpette, never least … the moistened bread (again, as I wrote in the other post on meatballs, ‘plastic’ white bread serves very well). You will also need an egg to bind the polpette mixture, bread crumbs to coat them and, optional, some grated parmesan cheese.

The tuna is drained of its oil and gets plopped into the blender …

Add the other ingredients.  Ordinarily, I would have chopped up the lemon zest before adding it for a ‘finer’ and more understated taste.  But that evening I was in too much of a hurry … and too hungry!

Freshly milled white pepper …  (Don’t ask what the coffee is doing in the photo … I expect it was lurking about near the stove when we got home and nobody bothered to put it back where it belongs).

Process the mix being careful not to ‘overwork’ it … it must not go all liquid-y.   Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and …

Add the grated parmesan cheese if you think you are going to like it.  We do and we did.

I put in about 4 heaped soup spoons.

One egg.  Mix everything up very well and if the consistency is not thick enough, add some bread crumbs to ‘toughen’ it up.

Shaping the polpette di tonno …

Coating them in bread crumbs …

All those polpette from just two tins of tunny fish!

Fry the polpette in plenty of oil and in small batches.  Remove with a slotted spoon and let them rest on some kitchen paper before serving.

I served the polpette over a purée of celery and potatoes (which I had made the day before), together with the peperoni al forno (which I had also made the day before):

Please note the size of the garlic … it is cut very ‘big’.  The garlic imparts an inimitably pleasing flavour to the overall taste of the dish and is thus very necessary.  However, not everyone, including myself, actually likes to eat the raw garlic itself.  The bits of garlic are large enough to be espied by even the most near-sighted diner and hence he or she can safely shove it out of danger’s way, to the far end of the plate.

The impromptu meal brought on by my stubborn desire to tarry a while by the sea reserved another surprise.  I remembered that we had some Canadian wild salmon in the fridge, which we ate accompanied by toasted bread and butter.  So … what was going to be a very ordinary though perfectly good supper turned out to be a bit of a feast.

It was half past nine by the time we sat down to eat.  Very late.  Very very late. The sort of naughty ‘late’ that seems fitting only during Summer, when time flows more slowly, ‘a misura d’uomo’, as they say in Italian, meaning ‘suitable or appropriate for man’.  And for yet another evening, I was able to ignore the whisper of seasonal melancholy subtly knocking at my front door.  It will bang loudly soon enough …

Salame di Tonno / Twice-cooked Tuna Rounds

INGREDIENTS

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Did you know there is a semantic relationship between cod and salami in the Italian language?  I only just found out myself.

In Italian, calling someone a dried cod, i.e. “baccalà” is not a compliment.  The same can be said for name-calling someone a salami, in Italian “salame”.  Basically, you’re telling a person they are not very bright, that they are ‘thick as a plank’, rigid or just plain stupid in their thinking or acting.

I discovered that in the 1400s both pork meats and fish were sold by butchers (?) called “lardaroli”, meaning that both cured meats and salt cod were sold at the same store.  Both were salted.  And the word “salame” derives from “salamen” which itself deries from the Latin word for salt.  It turns out that these fish were salted, historically speaking, before meats were.  And if you look at a salame, well … it’s going to be pretty ‘stiff’, just like an entire salt cod.

Anyway.  About the recipe that I have dubbed “salame di tonno”, i.e. tuna salami.  Some Italians would call it a “polpettone” instead, the same word to describe a meat loaf.  I stick and abide by salame, because its shape is just like that of a salame – only it’s made with tuna, the kind of tuna that cames already cooked and preserved in oil in a glass jar or a in metal tin/can.  The kind that is stocked in every Italian larder to be eaten all year round, especially for those ‘just in case’ moments, when there doesn’t seem to be much other choice to which to resort.  And extremely often for the Christmas Eve fish-themed dinner.

Duing the warmer months of the year, this kind of tuna is often served with beans and for those brave enough, with slices of onion too.  This kind of tuna can also be added to salads.  It can be used to make little tuna meatballs.  It can be used to stuff tomatoes. And, for the rest of the year, this kind of tuna will be used to make a pasta.  You can see how indispensable this food item really is.  The next two posts are going to be about tuna pasta.

It was my sister-in-law Nadia who taught me how to make a tuna salame.  And the first thing that shocked me was the addition of a cheese – parmesan – and eggs to the recipe.  In Italy fish and cheese/dairy do not usually do a meal tango together.  The second ‘shock’ was that the recipe entailed cooking the already-cooked tuna … again.  How strange.  Once I tasted the end result, with a great deal of groaning over its goodness, all those ‘shocks’ melted away, never to return.

An added bonus to this recipe, is that it can be made in advance and even frozen.  I hope I am able to encourage you to make it.

DIRECTIONS

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Start by draining the tuna by placing it in a colander.  The oil that gets drained is usually of poor quality so just chuck it.

3Place the drained tuna in a bowl.

456Add some lemon peel/zest and some salt and pepper.

7Mash everthing up with a fork.  By the way, you could put everything in a food blender if you preferred.

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9Add 1 whole egg per jar of tuna and combine with the fork.

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11Add 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan per can of tuna.  You could add a little more – you’ll have to taste and decide for yourself.

1213The same idea with the breadcrumbs.  Basically, you are going to add as many breadcrumbs as it takes to make the texture a firm one.

14Here we are – done.  Repeat, you can do all of this with the help of a food processor.  In which case you will have a more ‘refined’ texture.  Both are admissable, both are good.

PREPARATION BEFORE COOKING

1516Place the tuna on some parchment paper and shape the ingredients into a salame.  By the way, I did not do it in this photo but I would now recommend that you wet the parchement paper first – it makes everything a lot easier.  Proceed as follows, it’s basically common sense.

171819Now place the wrapped salame on a sheet of aluminium foil.

20The place it on another sheet.

21Done – nice and snug and hopefully watertight.

COOKING

Place in a pot of boiling water and cook for 20 minutes.

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By the way, it used to be traditional to wrap and cook the salame di tonno in a clean tea towel.

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Remove fromt the pot and remove the aluminium sheets and parchment paper too – careful they are very hot.

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At this point, once the salame has cooled down enough, you can wrap it in some parchment paper and freeze it or put it in the fridge for later use.  Wait for it to be completely cool before attempting to slice it.

HOW TO SERVE

Home-made mayonnaise is the classic option.  Any salsa of your choice would be excellent too.

Below are some other ideas.

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Unlike my dear gastronomic friend Phyllis Knudsen, I just adore anchovies.  So I added some to the slices before slathering a home-made salsa verde concoction over them.  So rich, mmmm.  Yep, a little decadent.  This was last year.

The other day I made a mayonnaise with fresh tarragon.  I never know what to do with tarragon so this was a welcome ‘input’ for me. (FYI I have tarragon growing in a pot on my balcony.  The only reason there is plenty of it is that tarragan doesn’t need much tender loving care to grow, it just ‘grows’, phew.)

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IMG_4347.JPGIMG_4350This mayo complemented the tuna salame very well.

Last, here it is served with tomato and some rocket/arugula – plain and simple.

IMG_4356IMG_4358The sky is the limit for any sauce you might care to add – the tuna will hold its own in terms of flavour.  It is robut without being too ‘heavy’ if you know what I mean.

Since it can be made in advance, it’s a great idea for parties.

Bread Salad – Panzanella

I wrote about a ‘special’ panzanella on this blog four years ago – ‘special’ because it added an ingredient that is not normally associated with a panzanella, in this case squid.

https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2015/06/21/antipasto-squid-panzanella-inspired-by-ristorante-pepenero-in-capodimonte/

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More recently, I read such a beautiful post about panzanella by Judy Witts Francini (of Divina Cucina fame) that I thought to myself: what IS the point of writing another one, you’d only say more or less the same things.   The one panzanella she didn’t mention is the one we make near Rome (panzanella romana), the one my grandmother would prepare for me as an afternoon snack (merenda).  Basically, it was just a lot of chopped tomatoes placed over a slice of bread, and seasoned with salt and olive oil.  Delicious.

The good thing about panzanella is that it can be prepared ahead of time and is actually great for parties.  Here is a photo of a huge panzanella I made last summer on the occasion of my sister-in-law’s birthday.

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And now, without further ado, but with imagined roll of drums and blaring of trumpets, here is the link to Judy’s post:

Panzanella – Why Tuscan bread is Saltless