Pasta on the Beach: Courgette Concert

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My husband and I decided to spend a day on the beach at Porto Ercole. It’s on Tuscany’s Monte Argentario coast.  That’s what I like about living near Rome, we’re never too far away from a really nice beach.

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Lovely clear, clean water and – for a wimpy wuss like me who can’t bathe in normal ‘cool’ water – there was the added advantage of the temperature being warm enough for me.

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This was late August, and the beach still quite busy.  But not overcrowded as beaches tend to be in many parts of Italy during the June-September holiday season.

A few days before, at work in the kitchen at the Casale Minardi wine estate, I watched as chef Luigi went about making a very simple pasta dish.  Hmmm.  Simple but delicious, so I just had to try it out for myself.

INGREDIENTS: courgettes/zucchine, olive oil, an onion, some pork jowl (guanciale) – I suppose pancetta or bacon would do, lemon zest, grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, almonds.  P.S.  Remove the guanciale and this is easily a vegetarian recipe.

 

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I snapped the courgette blossoms off and placed them in a bowl of fairly warm but not hot water.  By the way, if you can’t find courgette blossoms, this pasta will still taste good.  And, as a piece of perhaps not very vital information, I can also tell you that these were female flowers.  The male flowers have a little stem to them.

4I removed the flowers after about 15 minutes and left them to dry out for a bit.  Notice how they have plumped out by a good soak in the water. Set aside.

Chop up some almonds.  You could toast them first if you liked.  I couldn’t be bothered. Set aside.

7Grate some pecorino cheese.  If you can’t find pecorino, parmesan will do very nicely.  Set aside.

Get a packet of pasta ready.  Set aside.

Slice some guanciale very thinly, set aside.

Enough with all this setting aside!  Time to get cooking.

Put the water onto boil.

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Roughly chop an onion and cook it with some olive oil.  It must not brown, okay?  Low and steady heat.  Go for a blond colour.

9Now add the slices of guanciale.

10Give the guanciale enough time to render its fat and then add the courgettes.

11Cook the courgettes until you are happy with their texture and now add some lemon zest – in slices, not cut up finely.  Because you will remove the lemon zest before serving the pasta.  If you are a lemon zest fiend, as Luigi the chef most definitely is, you could chop it very very finely and leave it in.

12Time to add the almonds.  Combine the ingredients.

13Tear the courgette blossoms and add them too.

14Mix them in and turn the heat off until you are ready to drain the pasta directly into the saucepan.  Next time, I would add the blossoms last.

15Here we go.

Turn the heat on and add some of the cooking water.  Finish cooking the pasta. Then take the saucepan away from the source of heat.

16Add some of the pecorino and mix it in.

17Taste.

18Add some more.  Taste.

19Add a little bit more cooking water if necessary.  And yes, it was necessary.  It helped to make everything come together.

Remove the lemon zest and serve.  Keep some for leftovers.

20Enjoy some the next day on the beach – an essential secret ingredient for this recipe.

 

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/

Cuscus with Red Peppers and Almonds

047Since I mentioned Filippo La Mantia in my previous post, it dawned on me that I could repost another recipe of his.   I told you, this Sicilian eschews garlic or onion but he welcomes anchovies.  So dear anchovy-avoiding friends, I am here to tell you that the dish will probably taste very good even without the anchovies, tee hee!

Have a great weekend everybody!

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/07/30/cuscus-with-red-peppers-and-almonds/

 

Insalata di Riso con Polpo e Gamberi

There was quite the international ‘feel’ at our flat for the football World Cup final match.  My Swedish niece and her partner were staying with us, our new Portuguese upstairs neighbours came along, as did new friends Kate from England and partner Gary from New York, ‘old’ friend Susy also from England, ‘old’ friend Alison from New Zealand and very very ‘old’ neighbour, Carla, a childhood friend.  Oldies and Newies all got on very well, as beers and glasses of wine and port flowed.

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The only 100% Italians were my husband, Alison’s partner and Carla.  That’s Frascati for you: it’s sort of ‘expat-y’ without being expat cliquey.  Or at least, this is how I experience it since I am both a local yokel (my mother is from Frascati) and a ‘foreigner’ (my father was Swedish and my stepfather was Scottish).

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I was working that Sunday morning till about 3 p.m. so asked everyone to kindly contribute something to a potluck buffet. The whole idea came about in dribs and last minute drabs so there was no time to plan as such.  The theme was “easy”, anything to make life simple.  The atmosphere: casual.

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Once France won and we grudgingly conceded that it was indeed the best team and deserved to win, we carried on celebrating – what would have been the point otherwise?

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It ended up with us listening to all kinds of music and even indulging in dancing … the kind of dancing our children would find most embarrassing to witness but which, I am sure, they grudgingly concede makes us super-cool parents too … yes? no?  Whatever.

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Carla’s mother made this super jam tart for us, how sweet (I am never very good in the dessert department).

IMG_8078And it was a beautiful balmy July evening with a sky that sported a crescent moon making some kind of astral contact with a star or planet (Venus?).

I decided that since it was hot and we were going to eat buffet-style, a nice summery “insalata di riso” would be a good idea.  A room-temperature ‘insalata di riso’ (a rice salad that is no relation whatsoever to a risotto) is an Italian staple that is often rendered inedible by lazy people who buy ready-made sauces for the rice that might even include pseudo-German cocktail sausage and worse.  For that reason, I never did like them.  It was my mother in law, Maria, who introduced me to the pea, cuttle fish and lemon combination many summers ago, and that’s the one I stick to.   This time I used squid and prawns.  Here’s how I made it.

1.I cooked the rice as per the packet instructions in plenty of water with plenty of salt in it as well as half a lemon.  Once cooked I drained it and ran it under the tap.

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2. I then transferred the slightly cooled rice to a tub full of cold water and left it there for a couple of minutes, to cool down completely and to prevent it from overcooking and going flabby on us.

3.jpg3. I then drained it again and just left it whilst I got on with the rest of the recipe.

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4. There was the easy peasy (pun intended to the nth degree) job of cooking the frozen peas for a couple of minutes and then draining them.5.jpg

5.  And there was the task of cooking frozen prawns in plenty of salted simmering water for only a couple of minutes.

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6. What did take relatively long was cooking the squid.  I apologise, I have no photos.  But basically all I did was place the defrosted squid in a pressure cooker, add salt and half a lemon, and let it cook for 20 minutes.  I left the squid to cool in this water before proceeding to slicing it up.

7.  Adding taste to the rice.  The taste is mostly made up of olive oil, lemon juice and lime juice.  And salt, of course.

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8.  I thought that a little bit of both lemon and lime zest would jazz things up a bit too.

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9.  And so the seasoning begins.  Add the olive oil, the juices and pinches of salt, and use your fingers to mix everything together.  I seem to remember seasoning the squid and the prawns prior to adding them – that’s definitely a good idea, give them a double whammy.

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10.  Serve in a large platter and add lemon and lime wedges.

I must add that this is a somewhat ‘delicate’ insalata … people who like more definite tastes might be tempted to add  Tabasco or pepper or chilli flakes, which would sort of mar the whole point of this dish.  It’s supposed to be a little ‘bland’.  That’s what makes it refreshing on a hot summer’s day.  That’s what the lime and lemon juice are for.  But, each to his own taste naturally …

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10Here is a link to a previous insalata di riso I made, goodness me!, six years ago: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/rice-salad-with-cuttle-fish-and-peas/

Seabream Fillets as an Excuse for Green Garlic

Have you ever heard of green garlic? I had, well … sort of, but not really.  I was looking at a bunch at the greengrocer’s and thought it was some weird kind of spring onio/scallion.  There you go: you live and you learn (“and then you die and forget it all” as Noel Coward once famously quipped).  Anyway.  I bought a bunch and put it in the fridge for a very long time before I got around to using it, and decided I really liked it.  Below is some information on green garlic that I have copied from a website called http://www.thekitchen.com – and very useful it is too:

Quote: “Regular hardneck garlic is easy to identify — dried little white paper bulbs that taper off at the top — but what about the bright-green versions of garlic you often see at farmers markets labeled green garlic and garlic scapes? Are those really the same thing? And how are they related to the garlic plant?

 The Difference Between Green Garlic and Garlic Scapes

 

Green garlic is young garlic with tender leaves that is harvested early in the season before the bulb is fully formed. Garlic scapes are the curly shoots from the plant that form later in the season into curly green stalks that have tightly closed buds on top.

More About Green Garlic

The easiest way to think about green garlic is that it’s baby garlic. It has a long green top that looks a bit like scallions, sometimes a tiny bulb at the end, and it may even be tinged with a bit of pink. Green garlic is more mellow and less spicy in flavor then regular garlic, and can be used raw or cooked like scallions. It’s usually harvested in the spring.

End of quote (and thank you Kitchen ! https://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-green-garlic-and-garlic-scapes-221167)

One evening I really fancied eating some fish for dinner.  At the fishmonger’s I fell in love with a beautiful seabream called ‘orata’ in Italian, and asked the fishmonger to fillet it for me into two halves.  I had a special date with husband that evening and wanted to cook something a little different.

Well, the green garlic was different.  Coriander with fish? also a little different.  Bread crumbs toasted with olive oil? Why not! And here is the recipe I made up just like that (and for ‘just like that’ read ‘after a couple of glasses of wine’).  We thought it was really really really yummy.  And it was not at all difficult to make, on the contrary.

INGREDIENTS

Seabream fillets, green garlic, coriander, breadcrumbs toasted in olive oil, butter, olive oil, 1 and only 1 solitary clove, a few coriander kernels, a couple of peppercorns, some lemon zest, a willingness to make the most of life for a couple of hours, a desire to make a loved one happy, and a glass of wine or two, espresso after dinner optional.

INSTRUCTIONS

Start with the fish.  I was lucky to find line caught fish (and lucky enough to afford it – one seabream cost Eu25).  Otherwise just use what you find, and can afford.  If it is frozen, pat it dry before cooking.

4Start by grating a little bit of lemon zest and put it aside for now.

1Then get your seabream fillets ready and your saucepan out.

2What you see here are: a blob of butter, a green garlic roughly cut up, some coriander kernels, a couple of peppercorns, one and only one solitary clove, and a puddle of olive oil. Good olive oil, obviously.

3Turn the heat on, cook the fillet(s), skin side down at first, for a couple of minutes over a low heat.

5Add the other fillet to the saucepan. Flip the fillet when you think it’s cooked.  It does not take long.

6Toast some breadcrumbs in another saucepan with some olive oil.  And maybe try not to cook it quite so much as I did (phew – I just managed not to burn it).

7Add the lemon zest first and then the breadcrumbs. Some salt.  Some pepper if you like.  and that’s it! Done.

8The last thing is to add some freshness to the dish.  I had some mint leaves and that’s what I used.

8The fish was cooked to perfection even if I say so myself – it was cooked to a consistency that is ‘soft’ as opposed to ‘dry’.  Luscious.

9Can you see?

10And there was plenty of ‘ooze’ too – melted butter and olive oil, to keep things nice and moist.

11I served the fish with some spinach.

And with some fried aubergine/eggplant cubes.  Sprinkled marjoram leaves over those.

12Some dinners are special just because … and this one was.  How nice.

My Home-Made Porchetta (Roast Hog)

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If you can’t beat them, join them they say.  If you can’t buy delicious porchetta where you live, why not try and make some yourself one day?  It’s really not at all ‘hard’ to prepare.  It takes a bit of time, yes.  But the results are so rewarding, you won’t be disappointed.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/07/17/pushing-my-luck-with-porchetta-a-second-attempt/

And here is another porchetta recipe link, for a smaller sized version:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/07/06/beginners-luck-with-home-made-porchetta/

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