Fennels for Phyllis – A Tart

No, no no, Phyllis is not a tart.  She’s a friend of mine.

And when it comes to fennel – well, I say, fennels for anybody who likes fennel, and not just Phyllis.

I, however? If fennel were to disappear from the world, I would not miss it.  I feel the same way about cauliflower.  I will and do eat both vegetables, weirdly enough, it’s just that I don’t gush over them.  True, fennel can be eaten on its own, raw, dunked in olive oil with salt and pepper.  Otherwise, just as with cauliflower, it always requires some kind tarting up.  Raw cauliflower? Yikes, no amount of over-seasoned dip can take away its horribleness for me.

I was having this conversation with Phyllis Knudsen, a former chef from Vancouver and author of oracibo.com, whose experience and outlook on food I greatly admire.  That and she cracks me up, she’s really funny and, you will agree, we all need cart loads of humour just now the way the world is going.  I read an article a couple of weeks ago that maintains we are living in a golden age, with statistics to prove the point.  It was written in 2016 and has immense merits (here’s a link if you want to read it: https://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/08/why-cant-we-see-that-were-living-in-a-golden-age/) – it’s just that it doesn’t often FEEL as though we are living in a golden age, I don’t know about you.  Whatever.  Hats off to all those who make life lighter for us, and that means you too Phyllis.

But back to tarting up and a recipe that turns fennel into a tart with surprisingly good results.  Take a look.

 

Slice the fennel in rounds, quite thick ones at that and cook them in a pan with olive oil and butter over quite a strong heat.

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Turn the fennel rounds over just the once, and sprinkle some salt too.

IMG_1440Silly me, I didn’t take a photo first but … if you look closely on the right hand side above, you will see an amber-coloured goo underneath the cooked fennel.  That goo is gorgeous honey.  So, avail yourself of a 26cm baking tray and enjoy the zen-like activity of trickling honey over the tray (not too much honey, however!).

Turn the oven on at 200° Celsius.

IMG_1442Scatter a good amount of grated parmesan cheese over the fennel.  Add some thyme if you have any.  I didn’t and had to make do with oregano.

IMG_1443Cover the fennel with pastry.  This was store bought, so easy peasy.  Use a fork to make some holes in the pastry.  And bake for about 30-35 minutes.

IMG_1449The pastry has puffed up beautifully.

Get hold of a plate that will cover the baking tray and turn the tart over, onto the plate/dish.

IMG_1451Add some fennel fronds to the tart, to add freshness.

IMG_1454IMG_1453And was it good, you might wonder?

Indeed it was.  And I shall definitely make this again.  And I still  maintain that fennel needs pampering, bla bla bla, droning on and on and on ….

 

Feeling Blue with the Flu

What do you eat when you’re not well?  Isn’t it funny how being ill changes our appetites, our desires, our palates.  Now, I’m one of those very fortunate people who are rarely ill.  And when I am I do my utmost to get better as soon as possible because being ill puts me in a terrible mood, I just don’t understand hypochondriacs who thrive on their physical upsets.  I had a lot of childhood diseases when growing up … all of them I believe, you know, the usual suspects for which there are vaccines now: measles, scarlet fever, mumps, whooping cough, the works.  I even contracted malaria as a young child when we were living in Karachi.  Nah!  Being hale and healthy is a beautiful thing.

But of course we all succumb now and then, especially when our immune systems are on strike.  And so it was that I came down with one of the worst colds/flu whatever  I’ve had in years, and this was 48 hours before favourite husband and I were taking the train to Milan to spend the birthday with favourite son who lives there.  The last time we were together for his birthday was three years ago, shortly before he moved there, so you can imagine my distress.  I was gobbling down ginger, Vitamin C, drinking all kinds of tea, taking aspirin, salving my chest with essential oils, and just resting and sleeping, it was all I could do.  Feed a cold and starve a fever, they say, but I didn’t have a fever and I wasn’t even well enough to cook.   Husband stepped in, but I seriously can’t remember what we ate.   Flat out all of Saturday and nearly all of Sunday by which time I was indeed better but hardly well.  My husband was going to Milan in any case for business that provided a hotel room for the night, which came in most useful once we got to the city.  I headed straight for the hotel and did the sensible thing: rested and drank tea and chewed on fresh ginger that I had brought along.   When I say ‘rested’, what I really mean is I tried to rest.  As much as I could.  Because in the middle of all this, I found out that my mother was not well, and once the doctor finally got to visiting her, he diagnosed pneumonia (she just turned 92 by the way and still lives on her own).  Can you believe the timing!  Thank goodness for good friends and neighbours who said they would be more than happy to check in on her the next morning and bring her the necessary medicines.  There were hours of telephone calls and whatsapp messaging between my two sisters living in the UK and me and it was bloody stressful to say the least.  But I was not going to let all this in the way of my enjoying a lovely evening to celebrate favourite son.

Milan’s underground (metro) system is brilliant for getting around and it didn’t take us long to meet up with him at the appointed time, and his girlfriend, and two friends of theirs who were also joining us to celebrate.  It was in a district that has been gentrified and a very ‘cool’ place where one could have both pre dinner drinks and nibbles, the “apericena” (a pseudo meal invented in Milan but now popular all over Italy and one that I frankly detest, because it’s neither here nor there) or dinner itself.  We decided on the latter but asked the waitress if we could have some chips to help us along with the drinks.  I ordered a bloody mary.  And then I ordered another one.  And then I had some wine along the way with the meal itself.  It was a super duper evening, lots of fun, and I was just so happy.  (I mention the bloody mary because apparently they are very good for us, all that tomato juice, freshly squeezed lemon juice and tabasco etc.)

The next morning we took a leisurely stroll down the elegant Via Montenapoleone and Via della Spiga, doing a lot of window shopping and noticing how slingbacks are all the rage this year, fashionistas take note!  Loved the Dolce and Gabbana shop(s), TOTT (totally over the top, see below) but that’s maybe because they reminded me of summer.

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The one and only Prada.  Love the bottoms of these trousers.

One thing I’ll say for Rome.  It has a café or ‘bar’ as we call them here every 50 yards or so, maximum 100.  I remember over a decade ago in Paris thinking how, yes the cafés are all very well and good and charming in Paris, but they are really few and far between.  Same thing in Milan.  Go figure.

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This is the café we finally stumbled upon and what a delight, indeed.

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Sadly, the museum I wanted to see on the mysterious and alluring Via Mozart was closed that day, as was another, and so it was that we ended up unwittingly at what I called the ‘horrid museum’ (well, it was all medieval, chain-and-mail and swords and dark and couldn’t wait to get out of there claustrophobic, I don’t know how the family lived there until 1974), grabbed a salmon bagel at Milan’s imposing train station and went back to Rome.  Our favourite daughter came to get us at the train station, we picked up some Chinese take-away, and went home.  After eating my share, I went to my mother’s and stayed the night there.  If you are wondering how she is, blood tests taken two days ago show that all is well.  There is a reason her nickname has become “Highlander”, bless her.  She is still on the low side and coughing, but on the mend.

Anyway, I got worse from there on and two days later I took to bed.  Well, the sofa during the day and the bed at night, dealing with those awful hacking coughs that keeps not just self awake, but the whole neighbourhood and poor patient spouse.  I did my back in with the coughing, and had to take medication for that, that’s how bad it got.  And did I mention the ignominious malfunctioning of the bladder, seriously!  But the real proof of my poor state of health was … guess what?  I had no craving for wine.  I actually did not drink wine for days.  Even my husband got a bit worried, and he’s not one to worry.  I had my first proper glass of wine only day before yesterday.  Prior to that just the thought put me off.

So.  Husband not exactly a good cook.  Thank goodness for reserves in the freezer and for the ease with which a very ordinary chicken soup can be made.  I had a craving for toasted bread, so had plenty of that with olive oil dribbled over it.  Then I got a craving for plastic bread, to toast and spread butter upon.  And the weirdest craving was one for baked beans, yes, baked beans!  So I had to make some at home.  I had some pancetta, some onions, brown sugar, salt and pepper and bob’s your uncle.

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What I didn’t have in my larder was plum tomatoes.  So I made do with concentrated tomato paste.

8.JPGNot exactly the same as the Heinz kind but … good enough!

1Found three lonely sausages and baked those in the oven, adding a little bit of water.

2Also in the oven went some cauliflower with a bechamel and parmesan sauce.

3And since the oven was on anyway, I thought I’d get rid of some phyllo pastry.

6I wilted some radicchio with butter. (The radicchio was in the fridge.)

4I spread the cooked radicchio over the phyllo pastry and added blobs of gorgonzola that I found lurking in the fridge.

5a.JPGIt didn’t take long for it to cook.

And that was dinner that evening … bits and pieces waiting to be used up in the freezer.

9The next day I made a saffron risotto and added parmesan and beaten eggs to it.  I used chicken stock to cook it.   What you see in the photo are the leftovers, the following day, and it doesn’t look very enticing I know but trust me the risotto was just the ticket, it really hit the spot.

img_1352The other evening, the evening I began to drink wine again, I was well enough to cook Roman-style ossobuco with mashed potatoes.  To start off with, I made home made pasta to but cut into squares and cooked it with peas and onions and a hint of carrot, using more chicken soup naturally! It’s known as “quadrucci coi piselli”.

img_1349I got my mother-in-law Maria to help me, it was she who stretched out the pasta bless her, and helped me slice it into squares.

img_1331And the day before I got really ill (i.e. when I stopped drinking wine), I made my version of madeleines which I took to my mother’s to bake.

So, thinking about all this, it seems to me that chicken soup is a vital ingredient to recovery.  And that fragrant bread, especially toasted, served with oil or butter, is equally health promoting.  I’ve no idea where baked beans figure in this equation but they really hit the spot for me, tee hee.  And of course we all know the rhyme, beans beans are good for the heart …

Supplì (Fried Rice Balls) with a Little and Much Appreciated Tip from Chef Arcangelo Dandini

Roman Supplì, like their Sicilian cousins the Arancini, are very much a street food staple, enjoyed by young and old because they taste delicious and are brilliant when it comes to stopping hunger pangs in their tracks.  Without ruining the appetite, either.

There was a time when a supplì and a cappuccino, standing up at the bar  “Il Delfino” in Rome’s central Largo Argentina, were often what I had for lunch, followed by a cigarette.  I may look back in horror at this gastronomic mash up now but neither am I totally surprised: a cappuccino and a supplì furnished just what I needed for a ‘light’ lunch that would keep me going for the rest of the day until supper.  Sometimes, if colleagues and I fancied a ‘proper’ meal we’d go to Armando al Pantheon, it was just an ordinary trattoria back in the early 1980s and no one had to book the way you do now.  And the “Il Delfino” bar is where my love affair with my husband really took off.   So you see, I have an especial fondness for them.

I did write a post about supplì back in 2011, following the classic recipe and its ingredients.  See the following link: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/the-surprise-in-suppli/

The recipe I am proposing today is a riff that is inspired by one I read about, done by Roman chef Arcangelo Dandini, who owns the famous L’Argangelo restaurant and who is busy in the hospitality industry and behind many openings in Rome.   He is actually from the Castelli Romani, and we are even related – his grandmother and mine were cousins.  What a small world.  It was he who opened a place called “Supplizio”, a play on the word in Italian, in the centre of Rome, that sells only supplì basically, and very good and posh ones at that.  He is famous for his supplì’s crispiness.  And won’t reveal the secret, I don’t suppose.  What he did reveal is that there is no  need to toast the rice in olive oil – one can just toast the rice all on its own! Who knew!

I am thinking that not many of you are going to want to make supplì, and I can’t say that I blame you.  It’s a long and laborious business and I end up making them only about once a year.  But do trust me when I say that they are definitely worth it.  And the good thing is that they can be frozen.  So you can make them in advance.  The recipe I am giving you yielded around 30-35 supplì; you can make one huge batch and freeze them, and enjoy them a few at a time.

INGREDIENTS

Carnaroli or Arborio rice 500g, 3 Italian sausages, 2 medium-sized onions, 2 carrots, 4 celery stalks total, 500g plum tomatoes, 160g grated parmesan, 100g butter, 2 + 1 egg (3 eggs in total), mozzarella, flour, milk, Italian-style breadcrumbs or panko, and groundnut or olive oil for frying

(1) Ingredients for the vegetable stock: 2 celery stalks and 2 carrots

(2 )Ingredients for the risotto:  the rice, 2 onions, 2 celery stalks, the sausages, the plum tomatoes, parmesan and butter, 2 eggs

(3) Ingredients for the exterior of the supplì: 1 egg, flour and milk, breadcrumbs (panko)

Part I – The Vegetable Stock

Make the vegetable stock – just carrots and celery and plenty of water (no salt).  It should simmer for at least 20 minutes.

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Part II – The Sauce for the Risotto

3Chop the onions as finely as you can, and the celery too, and sauté them in some olive oil over a low heat. This can take any time between 10 and 15 minutes.  Add some vegetable stock after a while, to soften the texture.

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Take the skin off the sausages.

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Chop them up as finely as you can.

5When the onions and celery are ready and no longer crunchy, add the sausage meat and cook it down.

6After a while, add some of the vegetable stock – so that it doesn’t dry out.

7Blend the plum tomatoes and add them to the mix.  Simmer for about 30 minutes at least, and add salt and maybe even a teaspoon of sugar if the tomatoes are too acid.  Stir occasionally.

The ragù can be made in advance.  If you liked, you could wait for it to cool down and then put it in the fridge until the next day.

Part III – Cooking the Risotto

8Toast the rice in a nice big saucepan.  No olive oil! Just the rice.  Toast it for just a few minutes or the time it takes for the rice to go pearly white.  At this point switch the heat off.

9Add a couple or more of the simmering vegetable stock.  Watch out for the steam! Use a wooden spoon to make sure the rice absorbs this liquid and does not stick to the saucepan.

10Add the tomato sauce, all of it and switch the heat on again.  The rice needs to cook for about 20 minutes or however long it takes for it to be ‘done’.  Keep adding the vegetable stock by and by, as required, and make sure it is always piping hot.  Should you run out of stock, you can always add a little bit of boiling water.

11Turn the heat off.  Add the grated parmesan.  Use the wooden spoon to mix it in well as it melts into the risotto.  Remove the pan from the source of heat.

12Crack two eggs and beat them well.

13Wait for the rice to cool down a little and then add the beaten eggs.

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Mix well.  Taste.  Yum.  Job done.

And now the rice has to get really cold, not just cool.

Part IV – Resting the Supplì

I was catering a Christmas party for a friend of mine a few years ago and when I had reached the above stage in the supplì-making it was getting on for 1 a.m. and I was exhausted.  So I decided to leave everything to the next morning (well, technically, it already WAS morning but you know what I mean).  And so, necessity being the mother of invention, I came up with the following way of ‘dealing’ with the rice, that worked very very well indeed and that I am very happy to share with you.

15Get hold of a tray.  Measure out the amount of parchment paper that will cover it.  Wet the paper and squeeze out the excess water and lay it over the tray.

16Actually, you will need two trays for the amount that this recipe yields.

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Divide the risotto in half and lay it over the two trays equally.

18Spread the risotto flat, as it were.  Later, you can take a knife and cut the risotto into squares, one for each supplì you will make.

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Genius, no?

At this point, add another layer of wetted parchment paper over the rice, and a damp tea towel over that.  The rice needs to be kept damp, so that it doesn’t dry out.  I left my risotto kitted out like this, on two trays, out on the balcony all night long.  It was December and acted like a fridge for me.

Part V – Shaping the Supplì

Okay.  This is the bit where it takes a bit of patience – some bolstering and moral and physical support might be required.  On the other hand, depending on your temperament, this could be an agreable zen activity for you.  Hmm.  Me?  It depends.  It would depend on my mood.

25But the job has to be done.  We’ve come this far and there’s no turning back.  Avail yourself of a bowl of water.

28Dip your hands in the bowl of water.  That way, the rice won’t stick to them.

29Spread some risotto over the palm of one hand.

30Add a little chunk of mozzarella in the middle.  Make sure you have allowed the mozzarella to dry a little before use.  But if you’ve forgotten, it’s not the end of the world. Add it just as it is.  Life’s too short.

32Close your hand and then use both hands to shape the supplì into an almost oval shape.  By the way, these beautiful hands belong to my daughter, and these are photos I have taken from the previous post.

Part VI – Breading the Supplì

19In one bowl, the one on the left, I mixed the flour, the 1 egg and some milk together, to form a liquid mixture that will make the breadcrumbs cling to the supplì.  Silly me, I can’t remember the quantities.  Let’s say: 1 tablespoon of flour, 1 egg, 1 glass of milk.  That should work.  Alternatively, you could dust the supplì in plain flour first, and then dip it in an egg wash.  That’s what I did in the previous post I mentioned.

In the bowl on the right, are a couple of supplì being plunged into the breadcrumbs.  The procedure has to be done twice: i.e. first the egg mixture and then the breadcrumbs, twice.

Laborious? Are you kidding! Phaw.  A labour of love.

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21And here they are, these beauties, waiting to be fried.  Deep fried.

As it was, I decided to freeze them.

So when I do get around to frying them, I shall take a photo and add it to this post.

If any of you do decide to be foolhardy enough to want to attempt this recipe, I would love it if you wrote to me afterwards and told me how you got along.  Good luck!

P.S. Please note that these supplì in particular are somewhat on the big size.  When I have made smaller ones, I ended up making just under 50 supplì.

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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/