Squid-Ring Cous Cous and Sunday Lunch

So a week ago last Sunday, we … well I … cooked lunch for us (my husband and me) and his parents.  Lunch is a big thing still in Italy, especially among their generation and especially on a Sunday.  Il pranzo della domenica … Sunday lunch.  It’s tradition, it’s heritage, it’s culture, it’s what’s important as far as meals go.  Food fads come and go but this one has not lost its popularity in terms of family meals.

I too think that a luncheon can be a delightful event but only if it is special in some way, otherwise I much prefer dinner.  Lunch for me is the time of day I feel a bit hungry and need to feed myself.  A very basic biological need that needs to be met, nothing cultural about it.   I tend to eat something left over from the day before or else cobble together whatever I find in the store cupboard or fridge.  I ‘feed myself’ as opposed to ‘dine’, if you catch my drift.  I am one of those who can easily be reading a book while munching on lunch.  Dinner, supper, whatever you want to call it, is something else. To me it marks the time of day that has to be celebrated whatever else happened during the day, good or not so good.  And that’s when I’ll have a glass of wine, or two, or three.  I can’t drink at lunch, instead, not even one glass, it makes me very sleepy.  In the evenings I seem to tolerate it very well and sooner or later, it’s bed time anyway.  Another reason I tend to look askance at cooking a lunch is that: well, one has to get up early.  Who wants to get up early on a Sunday?  And the last reason is that I like to sip some wine while cooking but I can’t sip wine in the mornings and it would seem that coffee just doesn’t have the same effect on the cook in me as wine does.   So, I have given you three good reasons why dinner is preferable in my world to lunch.  That said, there is magic to a Sunday lunch despite it all.  And that’s because it’s all about the people.  The why we sit at the same table to eat.  The meaning of sharing food and conversation.

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Last Sunday I decided to go for fish.

2I prefer to cook in my own kitchen but finish off the dishes at the Nonni’s flat.  What you see is what we brought over to theirs.   Let’s take a look at the menu.

For starters I opted for everyone’s favourite this time of year: courgette blossoms stuffed with mozzarella and anchovy fillets and fried in batter.

5Clams for the pasta course: spaghetti alle vongole.

6Vegetable side dish (contorno) number one: asparagus, served simply with olive oil and lemon juice.

7Contorno number two: plain boiled potatoes seasoned with olive oil and chives.  Salt and pepper too, of course.

8Main course, boiled fish.  No parsley sauce this time but home-made mayonnaise instead.  The fish on the plate is seabream (orata) and salmon.  The presentation looked prettier in real life when I brought it to the table with sprigs of parsley and the purple flowers of chives.

9And this is the recipe du jour, the recipe for today’s post.  Let me explain.  I was going to serve fried squid rings (calamari) together with the courgette blossoms as a starter.  But time was running out and I took a short cut.  I brought the cous cous to life using the fish stock I drew from simmering the fish.  And I simply cooked the calamari rings on the griddle, coated in olive oil.  I seem to remember a good squeeze of lemon juice to add some panache.  The friendly parsley and voilà: a dish is born ta da!  It just goes to show that being a teensy bit lazy can prove fruitful at times.  Had it been the evening, I would never have faltered before frying the calamari.

Dessert was a fruit salad of strawberries and bananas.  Easy peasy.

I felt thoroughly chuffed about this new recipe.  Takes hardly any time, is very tasty and I shall definitely be making it again.

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How to Hype Frozen Tripe – Fry It!

What got into me that day? Spoken aloud with much groaning and aaargh-ing and virtual hair pulling exasperation.   Why, why oh why did I decide to defrost the stand-alone freezer on my balcony?  

And no, it was not a rhetorical question. I really did ponder what prompted me to undertake such an ill advised course of action when, really – really, really, really – all I wanted to do was hunker down on the sofa, enveloped by a comforting plaid, whilst sipping a cup of pukka loose-leaf tea and watch a good old-fashioned film or series on TV.  That is: chill out, relax, not think, be mentally (and very lazily) transported to la la land. Anything but the consciousness of being in the present, the mantra of ‘be here now’. I didn’t like ‘now’.  I wanted to escape. This was a few weeks ago, when it was still nippy.

Did the Covid lockdown have anything to do with it?  A freezer full of food and leftovers is not to be scoffed at under any circumstances but especially so when thoughts on survival and Maslow’s pyramid start to stare at us in the eye. Clothes for one’s body. Shelter from the elements. A roof over one’s head. Enough food and water. Vital connexions to the outer world via telephone calls, the internet and zoom meetings (the so-called ‘veetings’, such an ugly word for a God-send of an invention).  One becomes perforce more ‘aware’.   Emotions see-saw between anxiety and gratefulness.  Between irritation and peacefulness.  Between boredom and inspiration.  Alternating between escapism and reality checks.

Food waste, something I always try to avoid in any case, became a real issue. And I can immodestly pat myself on on my back for being good at combining both thrifty/homey productions that were still pleasing, together with naughty-but-nice meals that indulged our more decadent yearnings at table.  Variety, after all as we all know, is the spice of life.

On most days I’m as happy as a puppy when it comes to thinking about food and cooking the meal. It’s the rest of the overall food-eat equation that can be tiresome (the shopping, the schlepping, the queues, the storing, the cleaning, the prepping, the washing up etc).  I knew trouble was encroaching when the freezer showed signs, owing to all the untidily placed stuff inside, of not shutting properly. I solved the problem by placing a couple of plant pots on it to keep the lid down (it worked).  Fyi, the photo below was taken a few days ago.  The balcony and the freezer were a different story back then.

freezer

“It’s just temporary, I’ll deal with it tomorrow,” I said to myself, almost believing that I would.  But ‘temporary’ turned into tomorrow never comes.  Please tell me I’m not the only one who is gripped by procrastination?  After a while, the niggling feeling that had weaseled its way in the hinterland of my recall began to migrate upwards into the nakedness of conscious thinking, until I had to face up to facts.  I just DID NOT WANT TO defrost the freezer. So much work, sigh.

What was it that finally managed to split the straitjacket of my indolence? Looking back, I think it might have been a wan desire on my part, counter-intuitively enough, to elude reality, to pretend that Covid had not forced us into lockdown or was causing unnecessary deaths, strife and stress.  Sometimes, ‘realistic’ does not inspire, it just blocks.  Sometimes, the game of ‘let’s pretend’ can, instead, act as a stimulant.  After all, it’s what children do all the time.  So I made up a cock-and-bull story that I was about to prepare a feast for loved ones based on what the freezer held.  A culinary challenge, ha ha, so to speak.  Well.  That feast in particular will have to wait BUT, as a reward for yours truly, a new recipe did come out of all that hard work.  I am not sure I am going to make this recipe often but whenever I do, I shall feel almost saintly remembering how creatively I managed to waste-not on that fateful freezer-defrosting day during lockdown.

What I found in the bottomless depths of the freezer was a container full of tripe cooked the Roman way, that is served up with freshly grated pecorino cheese and mint.  Delicious.  That’s if you like tripe which I didn’t until about ten years ago.  My mother used to make it for my husband and he always raved about it.   I asked her for the recipe, good little wife that I am.  If you want the recipe, please refer the the post preceeding this one.

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My father-in-law is also very partial to tripe and so he got a share of this bounty; he and my mother-in-law live in the same block of flats as us and as we are their caretakers, we see them on a daily basis.  My mother lives in Grottaferrata, about three kilometers from Frascati.  She is going to turn 94, he 91 and my mother-in-law 85 this year.  You can imagine their anguish upon keeping up with the daily news, and the death toll of the elderly in care homes.  Looking after old people is not all fun and games but we do try to inject some irreverent humour into our interactions with them, which might strike some as callous. “What? you’re still alive?” my husband will say to my mother (in a very loud voice too because she has become increasingly hard of hearing) when he answers her call.  And please don’t worry, she gives back as good as she gets; if anything it’s this kind of humour that keeps her going.  She likes to say that she ‘killed off’ two husbands and that had she married a third time, she was sure she would have killed that unsuspecting husband too.  Another of her favourites is, “amarsi sempre, sposarsi mai” – which translates into “it’s always a good thing to love but never to get married”.  My father-in-law, instead, is what you’d call ‘quiet’.  Very quiet.  Monosyllabic even.  When things go wrong, he is never surprised, he is that kind of a ‘realist’.  And yet, even he had to give in to ‘surprise’ when his wife was diagnosed with Alzheimers.  It’s just cruel, cruel, cruel, is all I can comment. 

All this to say that it can’t be easy for our old folk, no, not at all.   And, likewise, not easy for us their children.  There are good days, of course, and not so good, mostly the latter.  So … yet again, food to the rescue!   Eating food they like seems to be one very good way of making life tolerable.  My mother has become a little ‘picky’ in her food choices but as for my father-in-law: food is of utmost comfort and he sits down to his two square meals every day, with wine to accompany both.  Covid has in no way affected his appetite, bless him.  So I knew he would appreciate a helping of trippa alla romana.  But what about the rest?

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See this?  It’s a bowl containing a flour-and-egg batter.  Batter and roughly chopped mint and parsley.  So my invention of the day was: use some of the previously cooked tripe to make: fried tripe!

3Here I am frying it in batches.

4It looks a bit like fried squid.

0Sprinkle of salt and pecorino and Bob’s your uncle.

I realise that tripe is not for everyone, fair enough.  But if you should have any left over, why not fry some in batter as an amuse-bouche?  You know me, the fried food fanatic (FFF)

Tripe Cooked the Roman Way

I am reposting a recipe on trippa alla romana that I wrote eight years ago – my goodness how time flies.

Re-reading it, tears came to my eyes remembering Gareth Jones who died in 2015.  Miss him so much.  His brilliant blog seems to have disappeared into thin internet air?  http://www.garethjones.food – can’t seem to open any page, I wonder why.  What a shame, I was going to recommend you read some of his posts – memorable, informative, inspiring, funny and eye-opening.  That and he did know how to cook.  He called himself ‘the last of the independents’ and he wanted each meal to be a feast, whatever the budget.  His campaign was for a ‘blue collar gastronomy’.

If you do indeed like tripe, this recipe will not disappoint.  It takes quite a long time to prepare but there is nothing ‘difficult’ about it.  It can be frozen.  Aha!  And when you defrost it, you can turn it into yet another recipe – I’ll tell you about that in my next post.

file:///C:/Users/utente/Downloads/garethjonesfood.com_8683_salary-salt.pdf

trippa

The MarmiteLover Blog: Volunteering to Cook for the NHS and Key Workers during Covid19 Lockdown

Chef Kerstin Rodgers is famous for her supper club in London, an activity she had to shut down on account of Covid.  No work, no income, no partner to bring in an income.  And yet, and yet, she has managed to put her culinary skills to pursposeful use during Lockdown in London by volunteering to cook for the National Health Service (NHS) and the recently created People’s Army, founded by 29 year-old Hazel Jhugroo (next time someone harps on about millenials I might become a little more voluble in their defence).

You know something?  I haven’t mentioned Covid much in my last posts because, let’s face it, did I want to be yet another person putting in her two cents’ worth of on the dire situation or falling into the mire of stating the obvious?  But there is one urge I do want to honour now and that is the very first ‘gut feeling’ I had when lockdown in Italy took off.  “Something good will come of this,” I thought, “It might get worse before it gets better but something good will eventually come out of this.”  And Kerstin is just one example.

Hats off to her and to the People’s Army.

Below is the link to her latest post with recipes.

Cooking for the NHS and key workers during the Covid19 lockdown

At the end of her post, after the recipes, Kerstin provides links if you would like to contribute:

Please donate to the crowdfunder

Email: thepeoplesarmy@hotmail.com

Ask for support or volunteer at the website
Twitter: @peoplesarmyldn
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thepeoplesarmyldn/
Facebook: Peoples Army Islington Covid19 Support Group

Friday and It’s Boiled Fish, Boiled Cabbage and Parsely Sauce

Since I made such a fuss about the frugality of parsely soup in my previous post, I thought I’d make up for it by indulging in ingredients that are about ‘richness’ for this post.  Which might suprise  you since the title is all about ‘boiling’.

Boiling.  I don’t think people are in the habit of boiling anything these days except potatoes (and pasta and rice, yes, naturally).  Boiling has gone out of fashion.  We sauté, we steam, we bake, we roast, we grill, we stir-fry, some of us even deep-fry but God forbid we boil foods any more.  And to think that boiling used to be a ‘normal’ method of cooking food for centuries.  We equate boiling with boring, I suppose, and indeed boiled cabbage sounds as interesting as flat, luke-warm beer taunting your thirst on a hot and sweaty day.

Soups continue to be boiled of course.  And in Northern Italy we have a supreme array of boiled meats that are considered a delicacy and a treat: il bollito  misto.  Only for the well to do or on special occasions.  In Britain, instead, boiled beef appears to have been a staple for the working classes (see the end of this post) and was the grist of a popular Cockney song entitled “Boiled Beef and Carrots” (again, I have provided links to the song and its lyrics for those who might be interested).  The French have their Pot-au-feu, the Austrians have their Tafelspitz.  And I am sure these recipes continue to be enjoyed to this day.  So let’s not get too snooty about boiling beef, okay?

And what about fish?  As I googled “boiling fish” two recipes popped up on the screen: Bahamian boiled fish and Sichuan boiled fish.  I’ve not had the pleasure of eating either dish.  But I have enjoyed boiled lobster – and even prawns, shrimps or crayfisih are boiled too, no? The Swedes not only celebrate their summers with crayfish boiled with plenty of dill to add to their deliciousness, they even have crayfish parties! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZ7a4Y3uL_E).

When I say ‘boil’, I really mean ‘poach’ or ‘simmer’ – meaning that the procedure is a gentle one.   Here is a link that will give you loads of good tips: http://www.professionalsecrets.com/en/ps/ps-university/chef-de-partie-fish/cook-fish/boil-fish/?newsletter_source=Popup&newsletter_confirmed=1

Here is how I went about it – no thermometer, no worries, just making fish for supper.

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I got the fishmonger to gut and remove the scales from the sea bream.  I plonked it in a pan large enough to welcome it.  Covered it with water and added some parsley and turned the heat on.  Not a high heat, remember, I was going to poach/simmer.

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And I turned the heat off when it was cooked.  Can’t remember how long – probably 15 minutes?  Something like that.

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I transferred it to a wooden board and used a fork and a spoon to remove the skin and bones.

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And here is the ‘boiled’ sea bream on the serving dish.

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While it was cooking, I had prepared the parsley sauce.  Easy peasy.  Blanch the parsley leaves in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then drain and drench in very cold water until all the heat is gone.  Pat dry and then finely mince.  Melt butter in a saucepan, add cream, and then add the parsely.  Add some salt and white pepper.

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Spoon the sauce over the fish and serve.  It’s a good idea to heat the serving plate first.  Luke-warm fish, hot serving dish and hot parsley sauce.

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I served the fish with a side dish of … yes, yet again, BOILED cabbage.  I did not boil it too long, not the way they used to  back in the 1970s when it would get cooked to a deathly pale grey; so my veggie managed to keep its nice vibrant green colour.  Thank goodness for olive oil and lemon juice.

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Served like this, poached fish is not frumpy at all.  It’s really delicious – in an old fashioned way, perhaps, but still delicious.

Of course, you can put the urge to boil in the girl, but you can’t take the crunch frying factor out of the girl – you know me, a fried food fanatic (FFF) ?  Well, I couldn’t resist frying some stuffed courgette blossoms to accompany the meal (ahem).

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Boiled beef

Boiled beef is a traditional English dish[1] which used to be eaten by working-class people in London; however, its popularity has decreased in recent years. Traditionally, cheaper cuts of meat were used, because boiling makes the meat more tender than roasting.[2] It was usually cooked with onions and served with carrots and boiled potatoes. It was not uncommon for the beef to be salted in a brine for a few days, then soaked overnight to remove excess salt before it was boiled. In other parts of England cabbage replaced carrots.

This dish gave rise to the old cockney song Boiled Beef and Carrots which used to be sung in some East London pubs when they had a pianist and singsong night.

Boiled beef is also a traditional Jewish dish served in many homes and Jewish delis alike. It is usually flank steak boiled and served with vegetables, broth, and sometimes matzo balls.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Spencer, Colin (2002). British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History. New York: Columbia University PressISBN 9780231131100.
  2. ^ Thring, Oliver (21 June 2010). “Consider boiled meat”The GuardianLondon, United Kingdom. Retrieved 2 December 2014.

Boiled Beef and Carrots

As originally recorded by HARRY CHAMPION:

As originally recorded by HARRY CHAMPION:

When I was a nipper only six months old
My Mother and my Father, too
hey didn’t know what to wean me on
hey were in a dreadful stew
hey thought of tripe, they thought of steak
Or a little bit of old cod row I said,
“Pop round to the old cook-shop
And I tell ya what’ll make me grow”

Boiled beef and carrots Boiled beef and carrots
That’s the stuff for your ‘darby-kell’
Makes you fat and it keeps you well
Don’t live like vegetarians
Or food they give to parrots
Blow out your kite from morn’ till night
On boiled beef and carrots

The rest of the lyrics on the link  below if you’re interested:

https://lyricsplayground.com/alpha/songs/b/boiledbeefandcarrots.html

Here is the link to the youtube video of the song sung by Max Bygraves:

 

 

Soup during Covid – Parsing Parsley Parsimoniously

Title a bit of a tongue twister, eh?  A cheeky little foray into click-baiting, I admit.
What, you might be wondering, am I alliterating about?
Parsley, that’s what.  And how to make soup with it.

So, let’s talk parsely.  The humble herb that some came to disdain on account of its ubiqitous appearance on a ‘finished’ plate, aka the dreaded GARNISH.  So twee.  So 1980s.  Other people who might otherwise appreciate its contribution to the overall flavour of a dish find themselves distancing themselves from said herb on account of its notorious clingyness – to one’s teeth.   Not just unsightly, it gives one’s gum-receding age away.  But that’s in a restaurant or at a formal dinner party.  Spinach got a bad rap too, for the same reason, in restaurant eating.  I can attest to my own fear of green bits adhering to my teeth in public and my husband and I have a code ‘look’ – one such glance from him and I know I’m in trouble and have to be excused from the table.  At home, however, what is there to stop us?

Where I live and shop for vegetables, i.e. greengrocers or markets here in Frascati or in or around Rome, a bunch of parsley, albeit  a small one, will always be given away by the vendors as a parting gift for the buyer.  It is tradition.  It’s what Italians call ‘odori’ – literally ‘odours’.

The usual  mix of odours consists of one carrot, a celery stalk, maybe a small onion and some sprigs of parsely.  A few wisps of basil will be included during basil growing season.  And it’s a case of first-come-first-served.  You won’t get any odori towards the end of the day, all gone.  Of course supermarkets never give them for free! Oh no, you have to fork out about 1 eu for a bunch of parsley  Are you telling me they can’t afford to? Are we supposed to feel sorry for them?  Just don’t get me started on supermarkets again,  you know how it’ll end.

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Here are some ‘odori’ from last week.

On the other hand, imagine my surprise when I first shopped in the Marche, in the historic, beautiful and small hill-top town of Monterubbiano, where my mother-in-law hails from and where my husband and I spent many a summer holiday with our kids … There I was like a lemon waiting for the shopkeeper to hand me out my odori … and all I got was one measely little strand of parsley, handed over to me as if I were being presented with a precious metal.   When I asked for some basil, the look on the greengrocer’s face morphed along the lines of “you have the temerity to ASK for free basil?”  Oliver Twist.  I hastily said I wanted to purchase a big bunch of basil (I’m into alliteration today, sorry) and how much did it cost.  “Ah, that’s more like it,” his softened facial expression seemed to say.  I realised that the Marche can’t be big on parsley  – not like we are here in Lazio where even the fishmonger will give you some to go along with your catch-of-the-day purchase.  You know how in the UK it is Scotland that gets a bad reputation for people being stingy?  Well, in Italy it’s the citizens of Genoa and the people of the Marche who are guilty as charged.  Isn’t it awful when clichés turn out to be true as far as parsley is concerned?  Which is a tremendous shame, actually, because the people I’ve encountered in all my time in the Marche were always very friendly, kind AND generous.  Just not with their odours.

Another suprise for my readers might be the discovery that in Italy parsley has long held a reputation for helping terminate an unwanted pregnancy.  I thought it was just an old wives’ tale.  When I was pregnant with my first child, more than one person warned me against eating too much parsley and I thought they were frankly bonkers.  We didn’t have the internet in those days.  But look it up and lo and behold – there is some truth to this (here is a link if you don’t believe me, scroll down to where it says “parsley oil”  –  https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/abortifacients).   All of this beggars the question: what about tabbouleh?  I wonder if Middle Eastern women are told to eat less tabbouleh when they are pregnant?

I have to confess that I do occasionally fall into the habit of of wanting to garnish a plate with parsley (or mint), it’s been instilled in me bones – but at least I try to keep it understated.  And à propos of bones: parsley is excellent for our bone health and has lots of vitamin K and other beneficiary components.  Here is a link which makes it quite evident:  https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/parsley-benefits#section8.

And one final ‘fun fact’ about parsely in Italy is an old adage, hardly ever used now.  Whereas  people “turn up like a bad coin” in English, in Italian they turn up like parsley – always in the middle of something.  Meaning, of course, that parsley is lavishly added to hundreds of dishes.

And now onto the recipe itself.  I was convinced, but con-vinced (please note the emphasis) that my trusty ‘The Prawn Cocktail Years’ book, first published in 1997, contained a recipe for parsley soup.  It turned out the recipe was, instead, for parsley sauce.  Sigh.  Onto internet investigating for ideas but all my research forays always came up with other ingredients to tartify the soup – mostly potatoes. So … nothing.  Head scratching.  More head scratching.  I knew, just knew, that I had eaten parsley soup at some point in my life, I was not making this up!  Until … ta da da daaaaa.  I remembered the vaguely-coloured watery ‘stuff’ that passed for soup and was regularly served to us for dinner when my family was living in what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Soup with parsley in it.   Not parsley soup.

The Neapolitan/Campania people have a sense of humour that is hard to beat in Italy.  (Please pardon this apparent non sequitur – it will make sense when you reach the end of this paragraph.)  And Neapolitans adore their pasta, just like all Italians.  But forget about rice: they are not rice-eating people at all.  One of the very first schools of medicine in the world was located in Salerno (this is before universities came about, so  I am talking a long long time ago) and once the Spaniard occupation starting cultivating rice around those parts, it was considered very precious.  Very expensive too, presumably.  The doctors from the Medical School of Salerno deemed rice to have curative powers and regularly prescribed it when people were poorly or recovering from some malady.  Just plain, boiled, no frills.  So, let’s face it, thoroughly uninteresting.  Very white too.  Which is why, to this day, when an Italian has a dicky stomach he will insist on ‘mangiare in bianco’, on eating ‘white’ – i.e. simple, plain food with no sauce or any other redeeming flavour enhancer.  As a result of all this plainness and whiteness and blandness, the Neapolitans tend to refer to rice as “sciacqua panza” – a stomach rinser.  Food that will ‘rinse’ out your stomach but won’t satisfy your appetite or your taste  buds.   At the risk of extending the metaphor inappropriately, let us just say that ‘sciacqua panza’ can be applied to any dish that rhymes with ‘meh’, dull.

I apologise for going off at a tangent like this but … but when the Proustian moment dawned, when I was carried back to the plain vegetable soup we were saddled with in Dhaka as I was growing up, ‘sciacqua panza’ was all I could think of.  Thus it was, that I became inspired to come up with a parsley laden soup that would have no truck with stomach rinsing whatsoever – quite the opposite.

What also contributed to this tall order was the vision of a prodigious amount of parsley accumulating in the  bottom drawer of my fridge staring balefully at me, as if to say: you are wasting food, how long do you think we (i.e. the parsley) can stay fresh enough to be eaten?  I don’t know about you but food ‘talks’ to  me. I was being told off.  I was being reminded that wasting food is not okay.  So, naturally, a little self-complacency muscled its way as a ‘secret’ ingredient into the composition of this recipe.  I was being frugal.  So there ….

INGREDIENTS

Lots and lots of parsley leaves, carrot, celery, onion, peppercorns, olive oil, 1 tiny tomato or else a squeeze of tomato paste, salt, some lemon zest.  Parmigiano/parmsan.  Optional: zuppa imperiale

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First I revived the limp looking parsley in some water.4Then I set about removing the larger stems.

5Golly, look at that knife!  Stealing my photographic thunder because it makes it hard for you to espy the slice of lemonzest at the top and a small tomato all chopped up on the right.  On the left is the chopped/minced parsley.

IMG_7315What you see here are, all chopped up, the carrot, the celery stalk and one spring onion. If you peek hard enough you can also see the peppercorns.  A good drizzle of olive oil and you turn the heat on.

6Once the soffritto has cooked for a bit, you add the parsley, the lemon zest and the tomato and plenty of water.  Add some salt but not too much …. you can always add more later.

7Ah yes, put the lid on.  You don’t want the soup to evaporate as it cooks.

And that’s it!  When the soup is ready, you serve it with some parmigiano sprinkled all over it.

BUT, aha! … I had espied something very naughty-but-nice in my freezer.

8A bag containing something called “zuppa imperiale”.

Zuppa imperiale is a soup from Bologna.

What tranforms an ordinary albeit perfectly good meat stock/broth soup into something worthy of the sobriquet  ‘imperial’ is the addition of what you see above.  Those little golden cubes.  They are made up of whole eggs, semolina flour, and parmigiano.  The batter is baked in the oven and left to cool.  Then it is cut up into very small cubes. Which can be frozen but are usually sold fresh.  I had bought these from that historic, iconic and beautiful store in Bologna called Atti where they are famous for their fresh pasta and tortellini and all sorts of inviting typical foods (see link to the shop at the bottom of this post).  Naughty but nice because you end up putting on a lot of weight when you eat in Bologna!!!

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My imperial parsley soup!

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This photo shows the soup to better advantage because the soup plate is white.  Well.  Nothing sciacqua panza about this soup, I am very glad to report.  Plenty of taste – the imperial cubes and the parmigiano saw to that.

And for once the word ‘frugal’ didn’t  make me sad.  This is indeed a frugal soup, ingredients-wise, if you omit the imperial cubes.  Anyone can make it.  And if you haven’t got parmigiano, then add some cheddar, why not?  Some croutons too, why not?

Who said parsley was only for garnish, eh?

Foodie Must-See: Inside the Historic Atti Bakery

 

Sicily On My Mind Again: A ‘Fake’ Sauce (Sugo Finto) for Ricotta-Stuffed Ravioli

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Chiara Maci is a young Italian TV food blogger/presenter.  I say young because she was born in the 1980s.  One of her recent programmes is called “Italian Bites” – “L’Italia a Morsi” and she travels all over the country to eat in people’s homes – a home restaurant as opposed to a commercial restaurant.  She is a bit like me, i.e. ‘half and half’.  Half of her is from Bologna (North) and the other from Campania Region (South).  She has an extraordinarily beautiful smile and does a lot of telegenic moves on the programme à la Nigella but one can tell that she is the real deal, and is authentic about her love of good food.  Soon after lockdown, I remembered the basics of a Sicilian pasta dish she was making with her hostess Elisa in the Sicilian town of Modica.  My daughter helped me replicate this dish and upon tasting it we decided it was a recipe to be repeated.  Different.

The recipe entails making fresh pasta and cutting it into squares or rounds (I used a glass to do this).  The ‘fake’ sauce is thus named (“sugo finto”) because it contains no meat.  Yep, seriously, that’s why.  Obviously in the past if you couldn’t add meat for whatever reason, it didn’t pass muster or something like that.  Also, while ricotta is utterly ‘normal’ when stuffing ravioli, I was surprised by the inclusion of fennel seeds in the fake sauce. Elisa was lucky enough to have a concentrated form of tomato purée only made in Sicily called “u strattu” … so I had to substitute with just plain tomato purée.  All this to say that today’s blog post is a mannerist interpretation of the recipe (good enough for me).

I am including a link to the episode in question. Move to roughly 35 minutes into the programme to follow the recipe at its source! https://it.dplay.com/food-network/l-italia-a-morsi/stagione-2-episodio-13/

INGREDIENTS:

(1)Fresh pasta: 1 egg per 100g of durum wheat flour (or other flour of your choice) per person (Elisa made hers differently adding water even).  Said rule of thumb yields a hefty portion so I used only 2 eggs/200g flour for three people at lunch that day.

(2)Filling: fresh marjoram leaves, ricotta and caciocavallo cheese

(3)Sauce: fennel seeds, bayleaf, carrot, onion, olive oil, canned plum tomatoes, tomato purée or “strattu” if you can find any !

Freshly grated pecorino cheese to top off the past once plated

 

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THE PASTA: Well,  make the pasta first.  Set aside to rest before rolling it out.  While it is resting you can get on with the fake sauce.

THE SAUCE:

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Chop up the onion and carrot.2

 

Warm some fennel seeds and a couple of bay leaves in a sensible amount of olive oil.5

Don’t wait too long before adding the carrot and onion – we don’t want the fennel to burn or overpower the flavour.6

When the carrot and onion have gone kinda golden – add about two tablespoons of tomato purée.7Then add one large jar of Italian plum tomatoes and a glass of water (not in the photo). Add salt.  Taste.  Maybe a pinch of sugar? You never know.

MAKING THE RAVIOLI

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Use a glass or a cookie cutter to make the ravioli.10

This is fresh marjoram.  From my balcony no less ! Pssst.  I do not have green fingers. Quite the contrary.  The reason I have plenty of marjoram is because marjoram just grows and grows and needs hardly any attention whatsoever, year after year, whatever the weather.11

Caciocavallo cheese on the left and ricotta on the right.  If I’d had a ragusano cheese it would have been divine but I had to make do with caciocavallo.12

Mix the two cheeses, add salt and pepper and the marjoram leaves.15

Stuff the ravioli with this filling.

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My daughter’s ravioli were much nicer than mine.  She has more patience.14

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Use a fork at the end to crenellate/crimp these half-moon packets of promising gorgeousness.   By the way, this is not how the TV Elisa went about it.  She made little triangles and then after folding in half, she ‘pinched’ the edge.

TIME TO COOK AND SERVE !

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Add yet more marjoram to the sauce.20

Cook the ravioli and plonk them straight into the fake sauce in a large saucepan over a high heat.21I sprinkled some pecorino over the dish just before serving the ravioli.

The plate is Sicilian too … and very cheerful and bright.  Which is what we are in need of at the moment.

 

Sicily On My Mind: Aubergine Rice Cake

As I was pining for a return to Sicily and my mind casting back to the lovely holiday there in 2014, I had a spur-of-the-moment aha!-recipe idea.  I’m given to spur-of-the-moment excursions in the kitchen, they can be very exciting.  On occasion, the enthusiasm they engender can be more satisfying than the actual dish but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, the food will still taste good and make you smile.  The word ‘enthusiasm’ derves from the Ancient Greek to mean something like: God Within.  When we are spiritually fired up (enthusiastic), the sky is the limit, isn’t it.  And the opposite is of course also true.  Not a good idea to cook for someone  you love when you are in a filthy mood.  The negative reverberations of one’s state of mind will somehow infiltrate the final outcome in an unhealthy way.  Remember the film “Like Water for Chocolate” ? Something like that.

 

Anyway, the idea was to create something undeniably Sicilian in scope and savour and yet cut the corner of time-consumption.  I did not have forever and a day, I had now! Also,  I had what I had in the fridge and store cupboard and I couldn’t just dash out for a missing ingredient, lockdown had seen to that.  I’d like to share the outcome with you, it has a happy ending, phew.

INGREDIENTS: Italian rice, sausages, Italian plum tomatoes, olive oil, onion, fresh mint, cinnamon, parmigiano, butter, aubergine/eggplant, groundnut oil for frying, mozzarella, fresh basil, breadcrumbs

COOK THE RICE FIRST

Well, start by browning a chopped onion with some olive oil in a saucepan, then add either tomato passata or a jar of Italian plum tomatoes – or even fresh tomatoes, why not, if you have any … in order to create the tomato sauce.  Add a pinch of sugar if you think it’s a good idea.  Be surprised and add a pinch (not too much!) of cinnamon.  Do add an appropriate amount of salt because that is always a good idea and let this sauce simmer for about 10 minutes, that’s it.  Then add the rice and some boiling water and just leave the rice to cook until it’s ready.  Stir occasionally, naturally, When the rice is cooked, take it off the heat and add a hefty tablespoon of butter and plenty of freshly grated parmesan, which will melt most deliciously into the risotto.  Set aside to cool.

1The green ‘bits’ in the cooked risotto are mint leaves.  Parsely also a very good idea.

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While the risotto is cooking, fry the aubergine slices.  These look very greasy, I avow.  I did mop them with kitchen paper before adding them to the dish.

COOK THE SAUSAGE

Remove the casing from the sausage, and divide the sausages up into equal parts. Shape them into a small meatballs and cook them with some olive oil.  Don’t overcook them.

SPRING-FORM PAN

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Grease the springform pan with butter.  Line the bottom with some of the fried aubergine slices.  Then add one layer of the risotto.  Plop the sausage meatballs in. Add cubes of mozzarella.  Sprinkle with torn basil leaves.  Maybe salt and pepper is a good idea at this stage.

5Add another layer of risotto, like a lid.  Then cover it all with the slices of fried aubergine.  Finally, sprinkle the bread crumbs.  Dribble a little olive oil, too, otherwise it will be too dry.  Bake in a preheated oven at 200°C for … I don’t know, sorry, I can’t remember.  About half an hour, I expect.  Don’t forget, all the ingredients are already cooked.  We are just bringing them altogether to form a savoury ‘cake’.

6Just out of the oven.

7Place the pan on top of a large serving dish.  Careful, it’s very hot!

8Then cover that with another serving dish.

Wait for the rice cake to cool a little.

9Flip the dishes so that the bottom goes on top and vice versa and … hey presto! Ta-daaaa!

10Not much to look at, maybe.  But.  It was good.  Oh so good! Yes very very good.  Did I mention it was good?  And all done in less than two hours.  Not that’s what I call ‘fast’ food … 🙂

Montalbano, Sicily and Food Inspiration

I am not much of a TV viewer on the whole but I can become obsessed with the odd TV series.  One such obsession turns out to be the Sicilian sleuth “Commissario Montalbano” series, set in Sicily.  My husband and I even bought DVDs of the programme.  Recently, the Italian state television was showing a few re-runs and we concurred that the older episodes were a lot better than the recent ones.  Every Montalbano story features some kind of Sicilian food to drool over and I was inspired to try out a few dishes – beginnig with the Pasta Ncasciata that takes forever-and-a-day to make.  But then, with the lockdown, there is very little excuse as regards availability of time on our hands. (https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2018/08/18/pasta-ncasciata-a-sicilian-medley-of-marvellous-mixture/)

In July of 2014, our mother treated the whole family (three daughters, their husbands and grandchildren) to a memorable holiday in South-East Sicily, renting a va va voom property with a swimming pool very close to the town of Scicli.

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The above photo is a view of Scicli from the rental villa.  It was holiday we still rave about … I fell in love with Sicily and would love to go back.  In the  meantime, I have memories.  Here, I’d like to share a post from my older blog about a day spent in Punta Secca, where a lot of the Montalbano filming took place.

Montalbano Land and “Enzo a Mare”

 

During the Autumn of 2002, I signed up for a course of cooking classes that were held on a Tuesday evening and happened to coincide with the TV showing of the popular Inspector Montalbano series.  I took a look just now and apparently it was already in its Fourth Edition by then –  but that was the first I had ever heard of the TV series and of course missed it all.  Shame on me for never having read Camilleri’s books on which the series was based.  I was grateful it was showing, however, because my husband and two children seemed to enjoy it a lot and didn’t mind my absence (I hasten to add that I always cooked dinner for them before going).  Years later, I got to view and enjoy some of these episodes myself on DVD … and now, somehow, they hold a special symbolic meaning for me, reminding me of a very happy, energetic and lighthearted phase in our nuclear family’s life.

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More recently, just last month in fact, an extended-family holiday in Sicily saw us residing within driving distance of Punta Secca, in the province of Ragusa.  Our daughter who is a great fan of the Montalbano series said that there was no way she was going to give  ‘Marinella’ a miss.  Punta Secca is the real name for the fictional Marinella, the small town with Montalbano’s house and large terrace overlooking the sea.  The town with the big white lighthouse.  Our daughter got quite excited at the prospect of seeing them ‘in real life’.  I am apt to turn up my nose at touristy tours that rely on indulging the voyeur in us but this time I was game. And besides, I just love the sea.

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And I also love me a long hot summer … it makes swimming all the more enjoyable.  This year the Italian summer has been more like monsoon downpour territory and unseasonably cold to boot.  What is the point of a wet, cold Italian summer?  We were fortunately spared the worst down in Sicily but it wasn’t exactly hot … the temperature on average being in the region of 28°C.  Picture my joy then as the day we chose to visit Punta Secca was gloriously sunny and even, almost, ‘hot’ (i.e. over 30°C) ! Clear blue skies! Bliss.

3This is the bay where Montalbano likes to take a swim.4Nothing trendy about it.  Here I am, taking a shot veering to the right of the bay.5And here am I, looking to the left of the bay.  And there in the distance … is ‘the’ terrace that so entrances Inspector Montalbano and his viewers, sporting a white beach umbrella. If you enjoy a spot of visual play, you will notice that the beach umbrella looks a bit like a ‘moustache’, set against the grey building whose windows look like ‘eyes’ !6A closer shot of the terrace – or is it a balcony? never mind.  A man sitting there under the beach umbrella.  Wonder who he is …7Beyond the balcony and in the distance is the … white lighthouse.  ‘The’ lighthouse that appears at the programme’s signature trailer at the beginning of each episode:

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9M0re views of Montalbano’s house.10I can’t explain it but the atmosphere was just so energising and restful at the same time.   There was direct synergy at work between the physical and the emotional.  The intensity of the blue of the sky and two-tones of the sea were mesmerising.  The air too tasted of ‘salt’ … iodine. On days such as these, you feel you want to live forever. 11It was coming up to lunch time and I was already looking forward to having a swim afterwards …1213And then … just beyond the lighthouse ….14What should we espy in the distance but ‘the’ beach-hut restaurant where Montalbano likes to eat!15Enzo a Mare!1617Is that a sight for sore eyes or what?1819We were just all so relaxed and happy and looking forward to our lunch … Normally I snap photos left, right and centre of the food being served but this time, somehow, I was so ‘in the now’ that I didn’t !

Which is a shame because it was all delicious.  I ordered a plate of linguine with a swordfish ragout sauce.  I am not a great lover of swordfish but I thought I would be adventurous and try something new.  I am so glad I did … it was possibly the best dish I ate throughout our whole week’s stay in Sicily.

Everthing about Enzo a Mare is great … even the lamps made out of baskets!

2122And here is Nuniza, the chef.  I asked her for the recipe and if memory serves me well it goes something like this.

LINGUINIE WITH SWORDFISH

Pan fry a little garlic in some olive oil, to which you must also add: a small amount of lemon zest, salt-dried capers, olives and fresh mint leaves.  Add the swordfish, diced.  Cook for the briefest of time (1 minute say) and then splash a little balsamic vinegar in the mix. Turn up the heat and toss the pan.  Add tomato sauce and cook for about 10 minutes.  When serving the linguine sprinkle some Sicilian oregano around the rim of the dish.  Truly more-ish!

20We said arrivederci to this corner of paradise and went to lie down on the sand … Some time later I ventured back to Montalbano’s bay and waded in as far as my thighs.  The water was freezing and I was too much of a wuss to manage to dive in, as I would have liked, and enjoy a swim à la Montalbano.  Ah well … next time.


24On our way back to the car, later in the evening, I espied this lady reading decorously on her terrace within spitting distance of Montalbano’s house.  I was very much intrigued by her … and by her flowers on the terrace and the greenery climbing all over the facade of her house.25Another lady of ‘a certain age’ and beautifully dressed walked up to the front door and rang the bell.  The lady who was reading heard it and got up and peeped over the rails of the terrace.  Her face broke into a lovely smile as she recognised her friend.  “Ciao cara,” she said.  She beckoned for her to come up, to join her.  “Passa di qua,” she told her.  And her friend made her way into the house not by the front door, no, but by a large open French window (or whatever these things are called) on the ground floor.  I felt as if I were trespassing so I didn’t take any photos.  It was an amazing vignette of Sicilian life to ‘catch’ … so pleasant, so unhurried, so civilised.  I wonder who these lovely ladies are …

Punta Secca (Santa Croce Camerina) and Enzo a Mare.  Good company, glorious food, the sea … what more could I have asked for?

Frozen Fish Supper during Lockdown

The menu for supper was a mixture of fresh and frozen – the  veggies fresh and the fish frozen.  The fresh ingredients fell into two categories:

(1)Bog-Standard ingredients that are always so helpful when cooking all kinds of recipes: extra virgin olive oil, garlic, parsely, chilli, lemon and lime

(2)Standard ingredients: Potatoes, Lettuce, fennel, Red pepper, chestnut mushrooms, home-made mayonnaise (if you don’t want to make your own mayo, you could always buy some)

Something slightly different? Fresh horse radish.  Not always easy to find here in Frascati, indeed the one I used came from England when my sister came to visit last January and I froze some.

The frozen ingredients were: salmon fillets and octopus (polpo in Italian).

1So what you see here are some chestnut buttons on the left, boiled potatoes left to cool in a colander, a jar containing home-made  mayonnaise, the defrosted salmon fillets with a solitary half lime on the plate, and the cooked octopus on the right.

OCTOPUS: I used a pressure cooker to cook the squid, adding one inch of water and half a lemon.  FYI re octopus: even if you buy it fresh, always a good idea to freeze it for about an hour before cooking.  The flesh always ends up being tender that way.  For this reason, I hardly ever buy fresh octopus any more.

POTATO AND OCTOPUS SALAD: Boil the potatoes, allow to cool.  Then season them with plenty of good quality olive oil and chopped parsely.  Salt too, of course. Cook the octopus.  Allow to cool.  Season with olive oil and salt.

23 Place the potatoes and octopus, all nicely cut up, in a serving dish or salad bowl.  I added a twist of pepper to this salad on my dish when I served myself.  I love the scent of freshly milled pepper.  FYI: pepper is very good for you, combats all kinds of germs and nasties.

06Season the char-griddled pepper with olive oil, salt and a few drops of lemon juice. Parsely too, if you like it.  Or even mint.

5I cooked the button mushrooms in this pan with: garlic, fresh chilli and some horse radish.

7The salad was a no brainer:

4Lettuce, fennel and some rocket leaves (arugula).  We dressed it olive oil and lemon juice just before serving.

And then I got on with the salmon last.  Salmon shouldn’t be cooked for too long at the best of times – even less so when defrosted.

8I used the same pan in which I’d cooked the mushrooms, couldnt’ be bothered to get another one.  I just added some more horse radish.

9I also added lemon zest and half a lime.  It’s a bit difficult to spot the lemon slices but they were there, I assure you (look to the left of the lime).

10I cooked the fillets over a strong heat and flipped them over only once and turned the heat off.  By the then the salmon had virtually cooked through.  Salt and pepper, yes.

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12On the plate … served with mayonnaise.

Except for the octopus which I realise might sound ‘exotic’ to some outside of Italy and Greece, all these ingredients are not difficult to source.  The recipes are easy and require no cheffy skills.  If there is one take-away from today’s post it’s the inclusion of lemon and lime wedges in the cooking pan.  They jazz things up.  And you end up with a mid-week dinner that seems more special than the sum of its parts.  This to me is the essence of home cooking.  I hope I’ve inspired you?