Dedicated to Ian Rosenzweig.
Yet another potluck, tee hee. Oh, I do so love potluck evenings!
This time chez George and sister Claire from Casale Sonnino. I have already written about the Casale Sonnino farm near Frascati in another post: https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2016/10/29/sora-maria-e-arcangelo-and-casale-sonnino/ .
Claire lives in New York and visits as often as she can and especially when it’s time for the olive harvest. Their olive oil has won a silver medal in the past. Last year, just as with so many other olive farms in Italy, they basically did not have a harvest – the previous winter had been bitterly cruel and ruined the growth cycle of the trees. George runs the Casale (the family’s olive and wine estate) which has been in the family since …. oh gosh, I really don’t know but centuries I believe.
Theirs was quite the posh bourgeoisie family back in the day, living in a beautiful town house in Rome. They were forced to flee the country after 1938 on account of Mussolini’s hideous “racial laws” which targeted the Jewish population in Italy and saw so many of them die a ghastly death in Nazi camps in Germany. Their mother was a Sonnino from Rome. Their father was a Treves (also from a prominent Jewish family) from Piedmont. The parents met and married in Princeton and carried on with their lives – some of their other family members were not as fortunate.
Claire and George (and another brother whom I’ve not met) were all born in the States and grew up there, in New Jersey. George thinks it’s a bit of a giggle that the family shared the same dentist as Einstein! Their mother never forgot the Casale, however, and longed and longed to return there, and came back often. Very often.
The Casale Sonnino is a place I’ve come to fall in love with. And I am not the only one. Look up the website and you’ll see why. It’s like wafting into a time warp. One just wants to slow down, read a book, paint, sing, think, sit and converse as opposed to ‘talk’, in a Jane-Austenish kind of way. Cooking and entertaining are its middle name.
The Casale is there to be used as a holiday-let for small groups and families, and those who return do so because it has become a sort of home-from-home for them. George ends up adopting dogs because they too find a home there. The views are stunning and New Year’s Eve from the terrace is hard to beat – with Rome below and all the fireworks on display till the early hours of the morning.
As I wax lyrical over my ‘interpretation’ of the place, I realise that it’s not quite the same matter for George (and Claire) who have to run it as a business. Oh the amount of work! You wouldn’t believe it. Never ending. And if it’s not one thing, it’s another. Farmers are farmers all over the world and have Nature to contend with as well as to give thanks for.
Friends of ours from Los Angeles who regularly visit Frascati for work reason have a son who has become entranced with the story of this house. His name is Ian, he’s in his early twenties, and he is a writer. From what I’ve heard, he intends to delve into the story of this family and write about them and their Casale – I am so glad, someone really ought to.
Without going into all the boring details that resulted in the coming together of this potluck dinner a couple of weeks ago, suffice it for you to know that: I’d been hard at work that day, so had George and Claire at the olive mill, so had friend Michelle at the winery where she works, and so had another friend Michelle with her lovely young daughter, and, last, Ian – young Ian, who had literally just rolled in from Florence that late afternoon. Result? Despite the hurry and fatigue, a great dinner ensued as always. (Not a late night for a change, we all had an early morning the following day.)
One Michelle and sweet daugther cobbled together a super salad with mixed leaves, walnuts, burrata and peaches. The other Michelle brought a couple of rotisserie chickens that were literally finger-lickin’ good. Ian came along with cured meats and cheeses (parma ham … you know what I’m talking about). And then there was loads of other stuff and a traditional tomato bruschetta … and we told George we really did NOT need the meat he had brought along to barbecue. My offering was a pumpkin risotto. I started it at home … so that I could finish it off at the Casale with minimum fuss.
Such is the magic of potlucks – and there are leftovers too, for the next day!
Anyway … about the risotto.
INGREDIENTS: Leek, sausage, pumpkin, olive oil, pink pepper corns, a glass of wine. Part II: cream, grated parmigiano, gorgonzola, butter, lemon juice, more red pepper corns, fresh chilli, wild mint.
So what you see here are … red peper corns, a mashed up sausage and the white part of a sliced leek. (The green part of the leek I reserved for making the stock with which to cook the risotto). I started cooking it with some olive oil and then added a splash of wine.
Chop up some pumpkin.
Once the sausage meat was pretty much cooked, I added the chopped pumpkin. Sprinkle plenty of salt and a good pinch of pepper. Cook for about 10 minutes? Something like that.
Bit of gorgonzola hiding in the fridge. I got some kitchen/parchment paper and wet it under running water. Maybe too much water. Anyway, the idea was to wrap the gorgonzola in something ‘damp’ so that it would not dry out. I waited for everything to cool down and then … It was time to get into the car and drive to the Casale.
AT THE CASALE
Once there, I got some water onto the boil and added the ‘other’ half of the big leek, the very green part, in order to create a vegetable stock.
I toasted the rice – without any oil !!! please note — and then added one ladle of the hot leek water. The white ‘splash’ you see among the pumpkin is a bit of fresh cream.
Here is the hot leek water on the left – kept hot. When you add the water/broth/stock/whatever, it must always be HOT.
The risotto is bubbling away now – that ‘fat’ weird green thing in the saucepan, that’s the leek that was used to make the stock/broth. Iadded it to the risotto – to flavour the risotto even more. I removed it towards the end, naturally.
Keep adding the broth and stirring away – and do avail yourselves of a glass of wine to keep your spirits up, for goodness sakes! At one point I added some more pink pepper corns and a bit of chilli. You know, to spice things up a bit.
Aha. Some butter. Some French butter no less, the very nicest there is! And a half of a lemon. Yes. Funnily enough, a risotto will always benefit from a bit of either lemon juice or vinegar. I prefer lemon juice and that’s what I did: squeezed about one half of a lemon into the risotto.
When the risotto was almost done, I added a profusion of grated parmesan cheese.And once that had been properly assimilated, I added the little bits of the gorgonzola – which took no time at all to melt into the risotto.Things were coming to a head now – the risotto was cooked and I switched the heat off. I added plenty of butter (and I mean plenty) and stirred like crazy. Actually, this is Ian stirring like crazy. Good lad!
Here I am – half way through cooking, in one of my favourite kitchens.
Here he is, young Ian. Giving it a final stir. The green stuff? It’s wild mint from my balcony (called ‘calamint’ in English apparently). You could use rosemary or sage or any other kind of mint instead.
The last-minute potluck people: readying ourselves and happy, and looking forward to tucking in.
Yes … but … where ARE George and Claire?
Ah of course – Claire is taking the photo and George is in the dining room laying the table.