A Non-Recipe Recipe with Ricotta

Some recipes don’t call for much work.  This is one of them.

Avail yourselves of the best quality ricotta you can find – preferably ewe’s milk ricotta as opposed to cow’s  milk – and press it firmly into a baking dish.

Bake in a hot oven (200 degrees Celsius, shall we say?) until it ‘sets’, until it forms a golden crust.  This can take anything between 20 and 40 minutes depending on the amount of ricotta and the temperamental variations of any home oven.

Once it is out of the oven, drizzle some olive oil all over the surface and add generous amounts of black pepper.

Serve.

Next time you are asked to contribute something for a potluck dinner, send grateful thoughts my way as other guests dig into this ricotta and utter exclamations of pleasure.  Ah the delights of simplicity !

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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 …

 

Spring Veggies for Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style

Well, the original title was going to be “Paschal Pasta” because I served it on Easter Sunday a few weeks ago.

The idea of adding fresh peas, broadbeans (fava beans) and asparagus to my version of Pasta Alfredo (see link below) came to me as I sweated over the menu.  There were going to be ten of us for lunch including my in-laws who always expect some kind of pasta course at lunch, especially a festive version for a festive occasion.  There were absolutely loads of nibbles and appetizers and starters which were a meal in itself but I knew the drill – no meal would have been complete without the ‘primo’, the pasta course.  As I pondered how intricately busy our lives have become, a situation I now describe as the “Gulliver Syndrome” (we are all tied down by a barrage of minutiae on a daily basis), I realized that I had to come up with something super simple.  And Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style came to the rescue.

INGREDIENTS – Outlined in Bold below, after the photos

IMG_2376

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10I got my greengrocer to shell the peas and broadbeans for me – phew.  Asparagus are easy enough to deal with.  I snipped the end bits of the asparagus spears, and sliced the rest of them into rounds.  I cooked the vegetables in separate batches, because they all have different cooking times.  I thought I was being practical using the same cooking water, and that it would impart a je ne sais quoi to it to when the pasta was going to be added.  And so it was.  The only suprise was the colour of the cooking water once I did add the broadbeans – it went a weird dark pinky-red colour.  Fortunately it did not ruin the end result.  But next time I will cook the broadbeans separately altogether.

I knew that leftovers were going to be hotly fought over the following day so I decided to cook more pasta than was effectively necessary for lunch.  So that came to 1 kg of pasta (600g would have been sensible).  Also, I opted for egg noodles because they take much less time to cook.  I bought two tubs of mascarpone, 500g each.  I ended up using about 750g in the end.  Italian sausages: 6 altogether, skinned.  Some olive oil.  Lots of freshly grated and equal parts of grated parmesan and pecorino, fresh mint, and salt and pepper of course.

DIRECTIONS

Add plenty of water to the pasta pot, add salt (10g of salt per 1 liter of water), and cook the three vegetables in separate batches.

Skin the sausages and start cooking them, mashing them all the while so that it looks liked minced meat.  Add very little olive oil to the saucepan to cook the meat which will release its own fat naturally.

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If you don’t own a wooden fork like that in the photo, use the tip of a whisk to break up the sausage meat.  I discovered this trick via my colleage, chef Luigi Brunamonti (we both work at the Antico Casale Minardi).

2

You are looking at a large saucepan and the equivalent of six sausages.  It does not take very long for them to cook.  Do NOT overcook, otherwise the texture will be ruined.

4Now add the mascarpone which will be very thick at first.  It needs to be loosened up.  The heat will help.

6Now add all the previously cooked veggies.

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I am not sure, but I think I detect some rosemary? Who knows.  I can’t remember.  But it wouldn’t hurt is all I can say.

8

Meanwhile the fettuccine (egg noodles) have cooked – see what I mean about the weird colour that the broadbeans added to the cooking water?  Drain the fettuccine straight into the saucepan.  Add the parmesan to the sauce as well as some cooking water – so that you end up with a very creamy consistency.

11It doesn’t look very creamy here and that’s because I had to get on with the business of finishing it off and there was no obliging soul in the kitchen to take a photo for me.  All you need to know is that I kept adding cooking water a little at a time until I reached what I wanted.

10Remember this?  This is grated pecorino and fresh mint leaves.  I plated up the pasta and finished each plate off with some pecorino and the mint.

Again – no obliging soul to take any photo once we sat down to eat this pasta.  So I took some photos myself, the next day.

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14I had run out of fresh mint so you are just going to have to use your imagination.

I expect that vegetarians could enjoy a similar version just by cutting out the sausage meat.  In that case, I would add some garlic to the procedure early on.

My mother pronounced this the best pasta she had eaten in her life, bless her.  And indeed it was most Eastery and satisfactory … and … as you have seen … relatively easy peasy to make !  I hope I have convinced you?

https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2018/01/29/pasta-alfredo-frascati-style/

 

 

Please Don’t Call This Hummus: Paté di Ceci

I think that, just as with Neapolitan Pizza , Hummus (and yes I have spelled it with a capital H) ought to be placed on UNESCO’s “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”.  That is how much I love it and respect it.  So when I come across various patés or mashes dubbed ‘hummus’ just because the ingredients of the dish are puréed – I get really cross.  What I am going to describe below is a paté, okay?  A chickpea paté and NOT Hummus even though the ingredients are very similar.  The word for chickpeas in Italian is “ceci”, pronounced “chay-chee”.

I first tasted this paté in a restaurant in Northern Lazio over ten years ago.  It was served over toasted bread underneath a layer of dark green vegetables and topped with shavings of pecorino.  Another time it was served, again placed upon toasted bread, over a layer of melted lard.  Delicious combinations can be sought.

INGREDIENTS: 1 jar of previously cooked chickpeas, olive oil, garlic, fresh rosemary, lemon juice, salt and pepper

Begin by draining the chickpeas.  I prefer chickpeas that come out of a glass jar rather than a tin can.

1Rinse the chickpeas well.  It dawned on me that this is a vegan friendly recipe.  And then I remembered that many vegans use the cooking water of the chickpeas as a substitute for egg whites.  They have called it “aquafaba”.  Even I, an ominovore, tried making it once, just for the fun of it, and it worked.  The cooking water when whisked looked just like beaten egg whites.  Then I came across an article that explained how aquafaba is actually not at all good for us, quite the opposite.  So if you are vegan and are reading this, or have friends and family who are, please stay well away from aquafaba.  See the link below explaining the whys and wherefores and providing an alternative.

2

In a small saucepan, cook some garlic in olive oil and add a sprig of rosemary.  Make sure the garlic does not brown.

3

Rotten photo, my apologies.  It was supposed to show that the garlic had turned golden over a low heat.  Switch the heat off at this point.  And transfer the saucepan to a work surface (i.e. away from heat).
Time to add the chickpeas.   Toss them around so that they become coated with the rosemary and garlic scented oil.

4

Remove the rosemary.

If you are scared of garlic, and many people are (including Queen Elizabeth of England), remove the garlic at this point too.  But I promise you that cooked garlic is not so pungent and imparts a subtle je ne sais quoi to the final taste.  It’s always a question of balance.  It all depends on how strong the garlic is in the first place, and how much you actually add.

5

Now you can switch the heat off.  Add a little water.  Not too much.  About half a glass? You can always add more water later.

6

Add salt and pepper.  Blend the chickpeas until you get a texture/consistency that you like.  Taste.  Maybe add more salt or pepper?  Add some lemon juice.  Again, not too much, maybe 1 tablespoon.  Blend again.  Taste again.  Almost there.

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More rosemary. Slice it very very thinly and add it to the paté.

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Cover and store it in the fridge until you need it.  Remove from the fridge at least one hour before you do.

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That evening, we served the chickpea paté over squares of white pizza (pizza that had been baked in a wood-fired oven here in Frascati, a famous bakery by the name of Ceralli).  We added a teensy slice of celery on some of the squares.  (Don’t ask about what else is on the plate if you are on a diet: fried pizza buns containing porchetta and more white pizza containing sliced mortadella). They are just great as an antipasto – nibble – starter, whatever you want to call it.

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Here I am enjoying a Spritz with my friend Carla just as we were about to serve them.

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And here is a close-up of what leftovers looked like the next day – not very appetising, let’s face it.  So … the moral of this story is, serve and eat straight away.

And don’t forget the ‘other’ morality tale concerning aquafaba:

What Is Aquafaba and Why I Won’t Use It

Artichoke Soufflé (Sformato di Carciofo)

This is how the late and much missed freelance writer Kyle Phillips, a Tuscany-based food and wine lover and expert, described a sformato.  “A sformato is similar to a soufflé, but not as airy, and therefore doesn’t require the care in preparation its French cousin does — there’s no danger that it will deflate.”

The reason my last previous blog was all about soufflé is that I was making a soufflé with cooked artichokes in it.

When I looked at the sheer amount of artichokes, I realized that I did not have a large enough soufflé dish to accommodate it. Not to worry – I went for an oven dish that was indeed large enough.  The only ‘problem’ I realized, however, was that the soufflé would now not ‘rise’ as such because the mixture would be spread out too thinly.  No problem!  Instead of a soufflé, I would make a sformato. Call if a flan if you prefer.

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This is the saucepan containing a mash of three cooked artichokes, which I had blended together with some grated pecorino, cream, salt and pepper and lots of fresh mint.  At this stage, the mash was a little warmer than room temperature.

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I then proceeded to make the roux for the soufflé (6 egg yolks etc – see previous blog).

3

I then combined the soufflé roux with the artichoke mash, and transferred it to a mixing bowl.4I buttered the large oven dish.

5I then whisked the 6 egg whites with an eletric whisk until nice and firm.

6I added some of the egg whites to the artichoke mash – to loosen it up a little.  It was pretty thick.  Be gentle.

7And then of course I added the rest of the egg whites, being careful not to combine too vigorously for fear of ruining the ‘airiness’ of it all.

8It all got transferred to the oval oven dish.

9I popped it into the hot oven, at 190°C.  It cooked for about 35 minutes.

10And here it is out of the oven and ready to be eaten.

And very nice it was too.  Pecorino cheese and artichoke are best friends.

This is good to eat even at room temperature.  Perfect for a picnic, why not?

Below is a link to another website that quotes Kyle Phillips and sformato making, just in case you might be interested.

https://www.thespruceeats.com/how-to-make-a-spinach-sformato-2019091

Soufflé Olé

Below you can read a post I wrote about soufflé making on my previous blog (My Home Food That’s Amore). I wrote the post almost seven years ago but nothing has changed in the way I make it.  I continue to like its relative simplicity and everyone seems to like it.

The Suave Soufflé: Food that gets Blown into Deliciousness

The poor soufflé is saddled with a bad reputation for being difficult to make.  I would say that a superb soufflé might be arduous to produce but that an ordinary, jolly good one is easy peasy and should definitely be included in the midweek supper menu, especially when the weather starts sending out signals of nippiness.  Alan Davidson in the Oxford Compantion to Food [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 735), gives us the following historical vital statistics on the soufflé:

Souffle – A French word which literally means “puffed up,” is a culinary term in both French and English (and used in many other languages) for a light, frothy dish, just stiff enough to hold its shape, and which may be savory or sweet, hot or cold.The basic hot souffle has as its starting point a roux–a cooked mixture of flour and butter…This type of souffle was a French invention of the late 18th century. Beauvilliers was making souffles possibly as early as 1782 (though he did not publish his L’Art du cusinier until 1814).

Recipes for various kinds appear in Louis Ude’s The French Cook of 1813, a work which promises a “new method of giving good and extremely cheap fashionable suppers at routs and soirees. Later, in 1841, Careme’s Patissier Royal Parisien goes into great detail on the technique of making souffles, from which it is clear that cooks had been having much trouble with souffles that collapsed. The dish acquired a reputation for difficulty and proneness to accidents which it does not really deserve…There are some Ukranian and Russian dishes of the hot souffle type, independently evolved and slightly different in composition.”

I owe my basic soufflé recipe to Delia Smith and have always found it to be very reliable (thank you Delia!).  The BEST thing about a soufflé is that you can prepare most of it, if need be, the day before — which is an excellent idea for when you are having people over to dinner.  The mixture can be doled out into individual ramekins instead of a single oven dish and that makes it quicker to serve too, as well as making the presentation an engaging one.   You can add all sorts of puréed vegetables or other ingredients to the basic soufflé mix and chime in with whatever is in season: squash, courgettes, artichokes and mushrooms for instance.

This is going to be quite a long post, be warned.  But once mastered, the steps prove to be very intuitive and easily remembered.

Here are the ingredients: 6 eggs, 200g cheese, 300ml milk, 50g butter, 50g flour, a pinch of cayenne pepper, a pinch of mustard powder, a twist of freshly grated nutmeg (not shown in the photo) and salt and pepper.  This will be enough to feed 6-8 people.  If, instead, there are going to be 3-4 to dinner, and there is plenty of other food on the menu, then use half of these recommended doses.  Regarding what cheese to use: use a mixture of cheeses if you like, why not, and bear in mind cheddar, emmenthal, gruyère, fontina and parmesan.

The first thing to do is turn the oven on, at 190°C and then grease your ramekins or soufflé dish with butter.  Set aside. (PS – the oven setting should NOT be convection – the air blowing around the oven would not be hepful for soufflés.)

Then, start the recipe by cracking the eggs and separating the yolks from the whites in different bowls.  Place the bowl containing the egg whites in the fridge — this will make it easier to whisk them later on.

Place the flour, butter, cayenne pepper and mustard powder in a saucepan.  Arm yourself with a whisk and a wooden spoon, you are going to need them.

Switch on the heat and very soon it will start looking like this … use the whisk to mix all the ingredients and cook for about 1 minute (or less).

Now add the milk.  A little at a time, using one hand, and whisking away with the other hand.  It might look ‘lumpy’ at first, but don’t worry.  Keep whisking and it will all meld beautifully.

See?  Now is the time to switch to the wooden spoon.

Stir away to cook the mixture (roux) for about 2 minutes.  Add salt and pepper.

Now add the cheese.  Ahem … what you see in the photo is not quite ‘proper’.  The proper thing to do is to grate the cheese first — but I was in a hurry that evening.  No matter.  The cheese did melt eventually, it just took longer that’s all.

Here is the proof that the cubes of cheese did melt!  Now switch off the heat.

Beat the egg yolks well with a fork or whisk and add them a little at a time to the roux. In order for the egg yolks to combine perfectly with the roux, it is a good idea to add them one at a time.  That is the ‘proper’ thing to do.  Ahem … I wasn’t in a ‘proper’ mood that evening, evidently, and added the beaten egg yolks all together.

But I did stir away with great vigour and zest with my trusty wooden spoon!

All combined and golden and gleaming.  I call this the end of “Phase I”.

Phase II:

Take the bowl containing the egg whites out of the fridge and get hold of your electric beater.  You could try whisking them by hand … you could … but I wouldn’t advise it, too much elbow work unless you are an expert at it.

Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and then whisk away until you get the cloudy, foamy, frothy peaks that are going to put the souffle into your soufflé!

And here we are, ready to combine the two.

Start by putting a large spoonful of the beaten egg whites into the golden roux and mixing well.  This will loosen it up a little.

Then mix the whole lot together — but very gently! you don’t want the bubbles of air that make the egg whites stiff to lose their fluffiness.  When combining, remember to stir the spatula or wooden spoon (whatever you prefer) in a downward-to-upward movement as opposed to a round-and-round movement.  This protects those precious bubbles of air.

Then pour the mixture into the butter-greased soufflé bowl – in this case it was an oval pyrex dish, very 1970s!

Give it one final gentle stir.

The ‘proper’ temperature for cooking the soufflé is, apparently, 180°C — but experience has taught me that on my oven at least, the closer the temperature is to 200°C the better.  Every oven is quirky in its own way, so the best advice I can give you is to try it at 190°C (I’m very good at compromise).

Cook until ready.  How often have I read that in a recipe and been very irritated with the recipe writer for not being more specific!  All I can say is that, again, depending on the temperamental quirkiness of your own oven, this soufflé can take any time between 25 and  35 minutes.  Since it is considered the height of tabu to open the oven door while the soufflé is cooking — I would advise that you opt for a sensible 30 minute cooking time.

Here is the soufflé served with spinach.

Here is another soufflé I made in another pyrex dish.

Served with salad that time …

And that is the end of Soufflé Story for today except for one super time-saving and mood-enhancing tip, and that is that most of the soufflé can be prepared the day before!  Yes! And that is very good news if you are having people over to dinner and want to spend more time talking with them than you do preparing food in the kitchen (that’s what I meant by mood enhancing).  On Day 1, follow the instructions all the way to Phase I.  Then put everything in the fridge, covering both the egg-white bowl and the roux with clingfilm/saran wrap/plastic food wrapping.  On Day 2, take the roux out of the fridge at least one hour before cooking time (it has to be at room temperature, in other words).  Proceed with Phase II.  Don’t I deserve a medal for telling you that? I think I do!

POST SCRIPTUM – SOUFFLE WITH SQUASH

The idea was to add pumpkin to my cheese soufflé.  I poached the pumpkin in milk, adding garlic and sage leaves too.

I also added some olive oil and a strange salt I picked up, made with maple syrup.  Use ordinary salt by all means!  Those little beads scattered on the pumpkin are coriander — about one teaspoon.Once the squash was cooked, I mashed it up with a wooden spoon first …And then passed it through a food mill to get the texture I was after — a very smooth one.  I tasted it again and then added a bit more salt and pepper.  I was cooking 10 ramekins and so added 10 spoons of this pumpkin puré to the soufflé roux at the end of Phase I.

Previously I had placed fairly thin slices of the pumpkin in the oven, and cooked them for 15 minutes.  I also cut up some pancetta and cooked that until crispy.  When the ramekins of soufflé came out of the oven, I placed the slices of pumpkin and the pancetta on top of each one.  I was going to garnish the ramekins with fresh sage leaves but my friend Diane had the brilliant idea of  coating them with flour and cooking them quickly in olive oil for an added dash of both taste and texture, as well as presentation.

This photo gives you an idea.  If you look closely, you can see the pancetta, the slices of oven-cooked slices of squash and the sage leaves.  All in all, a very nice autumnal soufflé!

Version 4 Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino tweaked by a Crunch Factor

This being the fourth in succession of the Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino let’s just call the recipe AOP at this stage.   As stated previously, AOP has to be the second simplest pasta dish to make (the first is pasta seasoned with just butter and parmesan).  Even so, it requires a little bit of attention.

OLIVE OIL – The best olive oil you can muster.

GARLIC  – The thinly sliced garlic must ‘stew’, turn golden, and not burn, in plenty of olive oil.  That’s why it is a good idea to heat it over a low heat.  It can be cooked until it is almost brown if you prefer a stronger taste (this is very old school).

PARSELY – The parsely delivers best if it is a) finely chopped and b) also cooked in the olive oil.  I have been known to do neither thing, and just strew a bit of roughly chopped parsely over the cooked and seasoned pasta just before devouring it.  It is still good but, as I said, finely chopping it and letting it sauté in the olive oil takes the recipe to another level.

CHILLI – Dried chilli flakes … as much or as little as you like.  This ingredient also benefits from being included in the recipe from the word go.

PASTA – The ideal spouse for this pasta seasoning, it’s crowning glory, is Spaghetti.

Today’s variation features toasted bread crumbs, just for the fun of it, just for the added frisson of crunch in our mouth-feel.  Except that I didn’t have any bread crumbs to toast. Oh woe is me! Or rather woe would have been me had I not been able to resort to a little trick that is becoming very popular in Italy at the moment.  I don’t know whether you’ve heard of Taralli that hail from Puglia and other parts of Souther Italy?  The closest description I can come up with is  “teensy bagels”.   They are served as snacks at all times of the day and it’s always handy to have some around.  Warning: despite being somewhat bland in taste they are nevertheless very more-ish.

 

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So, if you’ve been reading the other posts on AOP you know the drill by now.

IMG_2130Chilli and garlic in plenty of olive oil and don’t let it burn.

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While that’s happening, finely chop some parsely and ‘pulverize’ one or two of the taralli (the little mound you see on the right).  I used a meat pounder to obtain the desired texture.

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I then added the chopped parsely and let it cook for very little time, let’s say one minute?

IMG_2133I took the pan off the heat and removed as much of the garlic as I could find.  You don’t have to do this.  And I personally wouldn’t bother normally but it was just one of those things you do, on a whim, for a very late Sunday lunch when making AOP for my daughter who’d had a late night the night before.

IMG_2134When the pasta was almost cooked and ready to be drained, I put the pan back on the heat and toasted the crushed taralli.  This is a terrible photo, I apologise, but trust me: the ‘stuff’ in the middle is the crushed taralli.

IMG_2135Then in went the cooked spaghetti.

IMG_2136I had to add some of the cooking water to finish the dish off, to get the right texture (and taste).  A bit of tossing went on too but I was unable to photograph that.

IMG_2137And just before serving I added a further sprinling of taralli (that I had toasted in a separate pan).

There you go.  Very nice too.

I would definitely recommend cooking the parsely in the olive oil from the start, whichever of the four AOP recipes you might like to try out some time.

For the rest … Passover and Easter are coming up soon.

Auguri!  Greetings to you all and carry on cooking !

Below is a link to another post concerning the use of toasted breadcrumbs on pasta:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/the-crunch-factor-in-pasta-the-game-of-love/