Lentil and Orange Salad

I  mentioned this salad in a post I wrote a few months back about a super Sicilian-styled lunch chez Stefania Barzini.  I asked her subsequently for the recipe and tried it out.  It wasn’t quite as good as what we ate at her house but still, good enough to want to repeat, which is always comforting.   I think it was the quality of the lentils I used that was the ‘problem’.  For this recipe, the smaller and longer-to-cook lentil, the better: it will retain its shape suitable for a salad.  Silly me, I should have used the famous lentils from the area of Castelluccio in Umbria, which are nearly always what I do use.  Anway, enough with the mortification and on with the recipe.

INGREDIENTS: lentils, olive oil, a few shallots, 1 clove of garlic, 2 oranges and 2 lemons (like the Bells of Saint Clement’s) plus another half lemon for the  final touch, fresh mint leaves and, if you like, and I do indeed like, a few chilli flakes

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Stew some shallots and 1 clove of garlic with some olive oil in a deep saucepan, until softened.  Over a low heat.

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Add the lentils.IMG_3239Cut one of the oranges and the two lemons in half and place them over the lentils as shown in the photo.

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Pour enough water to cover the lentils and turn the heat on.  Sprinkle some salt too.

IMG_3241I can’t remember how long I cooked the lentils – but basically we are cooking them until they are done!

IMG_3247Once cooked, drain the lentils, remove the citrus fruits and wait for the lentils to cool.  Transfer into a salad bowl, season with plenty of olive oil and salt, and then add the juice of half a lemon (or more if you prefer).  Taste, see if more olive oil is required – cooked lentils are guzzlers for oil.

IMG_3253I did not take a final photo of this dish – the photo you see here is just before I poured more olive oil  to anoint the salad.  As you can see, I  had peeled the other orange and cut it into slices, as well as adding fresh mint leaves.  I did not add chilli flakes to the salad bowl (fresh chilli would be even better) because not everyone likes the heat – I sprinkled some over my own helping naturally!  Very simple ingredients for a very tasty salad.

Apple, Pork and Cabbage Combo

I sometimes jokingly define myself as a vegetarian who eats a lot of meat.  By that I mean that I am an omnivore and enjoy my meat and fish  but really do do do absolutely adore my veggies and can’t contemplate a meal without them.

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There are always a minimum of two side dishes (“contorni”) at our main meal and very often three.  I like my herbs too, can’t cook without them (fresh herbs I mean).  The one  vegetable I don’t go crazy over is cauliflower (always needs some kind of “tszuj-ing” or tweaking, i.e. never good enough on its own) and the other is cabbage, even though I eat  both of them.   The recent trend of roasting cauliflower and cabbage has been a great boon for the palate.

I have heard it said that mirrors are the aspirin of Feng Shui tools when the need arises to redress the state of a room and funds aren’t available for a total refurnishment.  Well, in my culinary book, the ‘aspirin’ that will amp up any unexciting vegetable is pork based: sausage, pancetta or ‘guanciale’, pork jowl.   I got it into my head the other day that since apple sauce goes very well with pork, wouldn’t it be a good idea to attempt a cabbage dish that included both?  And here is the result.  It’s nothing to write home about as recipes go, we are talking about something very simple and homey.  But sometimes ‘simple’ and ‘homey’ hit the spot.

Ingredients: cabbage, olive oil, onions, coriander seeds, a wedge of lemon, guanciale

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Above is the cabbage that I washed and trimmed.

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Start by gently browning a chopped onion in plenty of olive oil. Then add the quarters of a couple of apples after peeling and coring them.  Those little dark round things in the photo are coriander seeds, Italian grown ones, which are darker than one usually finds.

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A good pinch of salt is always the best companion to any recipe.

4Now add the cabbage and a wedge of lemon for fragrance.

Stir the saucepan a bit, so that the cabbage gets coated with the olive oil and cook over a low heat with the lid on, for as long as it takes for the cabbage to wilt.

While it’s wilting/cooking away, chop some guanciale (or pancetta if you can’t guanciale) and then add it to the pan.  Now that I think about it, however, it would be a better idea to cook the guanciale at the initial stage, with the onion.  Well, this was an experiment after all.

7Remove the lid.  As you can see, the apple has softened but hasn’t fallen apart (fortunately).

8Keep cooking and tasting until you consider it finished.

9And serve ! (Remove the lemon before serving.)  If you like, you could add freshly milled pepper or chilli flakes.

I enjoyed it enough to want to make it again.  But then I am a homey kinda gal sometimes.

PS If you are vegetarian or vegan, this still works only without the pork, naturally.

Cauliflower à l’Ancienne

“Mr Atlee is a very modest man,” said Churchill once of his political opponent in a parliamentary debate,  and paused before uttering “and he has every reason to be modest”.  This is how I feel about cauliflower.  Everyone gets so excited and raves about it and turns it into cus cus or rice and roasts it like meat and adds sauces and accoutrements and 101 spices and other veggies to turn it into a salad.  Which proves my point.  It’s hard to ‘do’ cauliflower without bolstering it with other helpful ingredients.  Cauliflower on its own is ‘modest’ in the Churchillian sense.

I had bought some cauliflower the other day with the intention of roasting it and serving it with an almond and anchovy sauce.  By the time I got around to preparing dinner last night, however, it was past half past eight and realised roasting was out of the question.  So I simmered the florets for a little bit and then cooked them à l’ancienne, i.e. the old fashioned way.  No fuss.

Butter and extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan, a pinch of paprika, slithers of garlic.  Salt and pepper.0

Cook the cauliflower over a fairly high heat.  Add a bit of white wine and let it evaporate its alcohol content.

1Switch off the heat and add some fresh tarragon.

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Serve.

3A modest effort with a not-so-modest result, huh?

Potato Cake when Diets and Blood Thinners Challenge the Menu one can Enjoy

During the past few years I have occasionally given private, mostly individual English lessons that are all about the person in question, wholly tailor made to fit in with their level of comprehension of the language and, almost as important, their character, their personality, and age.  Anyone grappling with the challenge of learning a new language nearly always suffers from the excruciating pain of looking foolish, I find, and the result is that even outgoing people end up being on the shy side.  It is important that I succeed in getting them to overcome this hurdle, how else otherwise will they be able to make any inroads?  I often take recourse to songs and nursery rhymes, the sillier the better.  People feel okay about ‘repeating’ the words of a song or a ditty because it somehow shields them from exposing their tender language-impaired ‘self’.   And if there is a little laughter or a chuckle to be gained thereby, all the better.  Nothing like a little sense of humour to shake things up a bit, it can do so much to encourage a little courage.

A good song is “O dear, what can the matter be? Three old ladies locked in the lavatory”, etc.  The first verse is fine but things get very complicated, vocabulary wise, after that.  I will introduce it only when we have reached a certain level of understanding.  Much easier to begin with the famous, or infamous if you will, baked beans song.  You know the one, don’t you?

Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart
The more you eat, the more you fart
The more you fart, the better you feel
So eat baked beans with every meal.

I heard the song for the first time when I went to boarding school in England where I learned that flatulence enjoyed pride of place in giggledom.  Farts, and bathroom jokes, I soon discovered were the origin of much hilarity.  So noblesse oblige, I joined in and even participated in a farting competition in my dormitory one night.  I hasten to add that I soon outgrew any fascination for the subject or its physical expression anywhere near my presence.  In one dictionary I looked up the word ‘fart’ in at the time the explanation was quite mind boggling: “a slight explosion between the legs”.  I have a lot of respect for the workings of a healthy body, and any unwanted air must of course be allowed to escape, bar the risk of it rumbling uncomfortably inside the body. That is what I informed my children when they were young.  That said, the bathroom was the best place for its evacuation unless extreme conditions obtained, in which case it would be a good idea to excuse oneself.  I realised that it was a fine line between presenting the act of farting as a ‘normal’ bodily function and casting a socially shameful light on it.

Why preface a post with all this talk of flatulence, you might well ask?  Well, the reason is actually quite a bittersweet one. My mother had to undergo surgery on her brain last summer to get rid of a haematoma.  Considering her age, almost 90 at the time, she came through it all with flying colours.  The doctors suggested she stay off blood thinners for a while, and all was well until a few months ago, when she began to suffer from very strong atrial fibrillation.  After much to-ing and fro-ing with the cardiologist and blood tests etc, it was decided that she should be put on blood thinnners,  the Coumadin anticoagulant also known as Warfarin, to avoid the risk of a stroke.

Aged 90 plus now, she passed her yearly driving test on the Monday, and was told by the cardiologist not to drive on the Tuesday.  That didn’t go down well with her and she started driving again as soon as her fibrillations abated.  Not that she drives any long distance, bless her, basically only within a 3-5 km radius, but being able to drive is what keeps her ticking.

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Here is my mother, Agnese, a couple of Sundays ago.  At a garden party lunch.

Another thing that keeps her ticking is cooking.  My love of food and cooking has most certainly come from her, and a lot of our conversations over the phone are all about recipes or ideas for a recipe or talk of what she found at the market.  So imagine telling someone like her that they have to restrict their “healthy” food intake.  Crestfallen by the appalling implications of this bloody Coumadin stuff, I told the second cardiologist that to me it sounded like a death knell for her.  Thankfully, he was very sympathetic.  And, indeed, hopefully within the next ten days she will be put on another kind of anticoagulant medication that does not interfere with the diet and does not require periodic blood tests.  Phew.

Please take a look at what she must avoid until then.

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Let me translate for you.

TO BE AVOIDED

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, radicchio, turnips, artichokes, any dark green leafy vegetable

Parsely

Liver, pork, bacon, eggs, butter

Green tea

ALLOWED  ONLY IN VERY SMALL QUANTITIES – LESS THAN 100G PER DAY (that’s just about a piddly 3 ounces !)

Chicory, asparagus, endive, bell peppers, aubergines, mushrooms, courgettes, collards, fennel, tomatoes, carrots

Tuna/tunny fish

Fresh beans, fresh peas

Strawberries

Seriously?

“Drinking grapefruit juice, cranberry juice, and alcohol during treatment with warfarin / coumadin can increase your risk of bleeding.”  “Steer clear of green apples and prunes.” In one of the websites I researched on the subject, even extra virgin olive oil was supposed to be eschewed save for a dribble.  In other words, with Coumadin we are basically being told NOT to eat a Mediterranean diet, the one that is now proven to be so good for us!  How do you think my mother got to celebrate her 90th birthday?

I felt very badly for my mother and when she came over for supper day before yesterday, I wanted to cook something that would seem ‘normal’ and not smack of that dreaded word ‘obligatory’.   ‘Choice’ is such a pleasing sounding word, isn’t it.  At first I thought I might do something with beans, not the proscribed fresh ones but the ordinary cooked kind.  My mother doesn’t like chicken much, the only meat she really enjoys now is pork for some reason but of course she isn’t allowed that, it wasn’t a fish day, she wasn’t allowed eggs … ouff! … so beans sounded like a good kind of protein.  Except that I then thought of the beans’ ‘explosive’ consequences … and that’s how I came up with the idea of the recipe for a potato cake drowned in a cream and pecorino sauce.  I take no credit for the recipe, I saw it on a television programme recently.

INGREDIENTS

Boiled and mashed potato, onion, olive oil (EVOO), tomato sauce (passata), cream (as in full fat whipping cream), grated pecorino cheese, basil (the original recipe called for fresh mint leaves but my mother is not overly fond of mint)

PROCEDURE

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Boil the potatoes (in my case it was only 1 large potato), mash, allow to cool and set aside.

Slice or chop the onion and sweat it with some olive oil in a saucepan.  Then add the tomato sauce, some salt and a teensy pinch of sugar.  Cook for about 10-15 minutes, adding fresh basil leaves a few minutes before the end of the cooking time. Taste and season again if needed.

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Now, add the mashed potatoes and gently combine with the tomato sauce.

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It doesn’t take long to combine all the ingredients nicely, over a low heat.

5Use two spoons or a wooden spoon to shape the potato mix in to a round ‘cake’ shape. Continue cooking until you think one side has been nicely ‘done’.  Then, using a plate, flip the potato cake and slide it back into the pan.

6The potato cake can now cook on the other side.

7Grated pecorino.

8Pour some cream into a small saucepan and add some nutmeg (my idea) and the cheese. Cook until the cheese has melted.  At this point, I switched everything off and decided to make my mother a good old-fashioned tomato bruschetta.

9It was that beautiful time of day, when one can enjoy a glass of wine and contemplate the cinematic performance of a Summer sunset.   Nature can be such a ham at times.

10I got my husband to lay the table.

11He kept my mother company as she enjoyed her sundown bruschetta on the balcony.

14.jpgI stayed in the kitchen getting on with our meal.  My mother had brought some tripe she had made earlier.  Trippa alla romana, which my husband loves.  So, heating that up and covering it with pecorino was easy enough.

15There had been no mention of green beans being dangerous in any way.  So, I had prepared some with a clean conscience.

16I pan fried some breaded beef slices.  Who doesn’t love a “fettina panata” now and then?

12I heated up the potato cake and then slid it onto a plate.  I apologise for the photo, not a good one.

13I heated the pecorino cream sauce and poured it over the potato cake.

17Rustic tablecloth, colourful combination of various hues  – thorougly unsubtle at that.  Sometimes, it’s  a good idea to go for ‘cheery’ even though it’s a mite over-the-top.  Dinner was ready to be enjoyed.

18And enjoy it she did, phew.  My mother said it was really nice.  She did not eat all of it and took the rest of it home later.

19Grapes were fortunately also not on the Verboten list.

And all in all we had a lovely evening, followed by watching the film “Florence”, with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant.

The moral of this story?  The enjoment of food, especially at a certain age, is an essential part of a life worth living.  Do not let dour medicine get in the way of it.  Get thee hence Coumadin.  Roll on the new medication.  But in the meantime, even a ‘restricted’ meal must appear to be inviting.

A Flash in the Pan but not a Flashy Fish Recipe

Sometimes it is easy to forget how a handful of readily available ingredients are all that it takes to make a simple fish taste so good.

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This couple of ‘orata’ (sea bream) were caught from near Civitavecchia, or so the fishmonger told me as he gutted them and removed their scales.  One orata for me, one for hubby, they weighed about 700 g each.  When I got home, I rinsed them again in running water, and patted them dry.

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I put some flour aside for coating them later on.

3In the saucepan to start with: olive oil, butter and some sweet paprika.

4Once the heat was turned on, I added some garlic, minced parsely and about a teaspoonful of coriander.

5After flouring the fish on both sides, I lay them gently into the bubbling olive oil and butter.

6I did my best to turn them over without removing any of the skin, but as you can see, I wasn’t entirely successful.

8I had some white wine on standby.

7Once I deemed the fish to be cooked, I placed them over a bed of plain peas seasoned with a little bit of butter and salt.

9I poured some wine into the saucepan, turned the heat up in order to let the alcohol evaporate, and then poured whatever lovely juices remained through a sieve all over the fish.

10On the table and ready to be served.  Doesn’t look like much, and yet is was so satisfying (all that butter folks! and the nuance of paprika and coriander) and very pleasant to eat.

11Also on the menu was saltwort which had been blanched first and then cooked through in another saucepan which was waiting for it with crispy guanciale (pork jowl) and all that that entailed.  It’s the first time I served ‘barba di frate’ or ‘agretti’ as saltwort is called in Italian this way.  I know it won’t be the last.

I think it took me less than 20 minutes to make this dinner.

Basic Cooking Class Italian Style – A Bit of Boot Camp Never Hurt

Kindness is timeless.

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You know the cooking experience is going to go well when you are offered a beautiful orchid plant even before starting the lesson!  The story may be apocryphal but I had read that in China it was customary for an audience to clap before the show took place, maybe to clear the air of any unwanted negative energy or, on the contrary, to imbue the air with positive vibrations emanating from the clapping itself.  I was just so touched by the attitude of gratitude that my two fellow kitchen ‘combatants’ showed me with their floral offering and their smiles.

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The venue was the home of Victoria Bonadonna and her very generous and thoroughly organized kitchen space.

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I don’t like the kitchen spaces used for formal cookery lessons; highly technical, ergonomic and hygienic in the extreme, and thus practical for understandably obvious reasons, they lack any ‘real home’ element to them – it’s like being in a gymn as opposed to walking in a park or swimming in the sea. Victoria’s is no huge kitchen and is proof that size does not matter immeasurably when it comes to putting good food on the table.  Victoria does, however, boast many and necessary accoutrements for making the cooking process a smooth one, the helpful kitchen gadgets or ‘toys’ as I call them:  precision electronic scales, knives, immersion blender, electric whisk/beater and plenty of pots and pans of all sizes.  Victoria has plenty more kitchen trinkets but these are the ones that really matter. Oh, and scissors ! Scissors can save the day.

And Victoria is, and very much so, organised.  I think that that is one of the ‘ingredients’ that doesn’t get enuogh mention when it comes to realistic, do-able, enjoyable cooking. Mental clarity and organization are everything.  So it is better to start learning a few simple techniques and tips first and play around with those until they are under your belt, and then brave recipes that require a lot more skill.  And this is precisely why I love Italian cookery: the techniques are so easy, anyone can learn them.  Good meals can be prepared in very little time.  Since time management, as we know, is something of a challenge for so many of us, this is an immense boon.

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Victoria is the mother of two and an accomplished home cook.  Moreover, she can bake whereas I do so with hesitant trepidation.  And she can barbecue too – which I cannot because we live in an apartment and don’t have a garden.  Victoria is privy to an award-winning barbecue recipe that her cousin in Missouri shared with her; she gave me some tips for spare ribs that I then made for my nephew who loves them and, though roasted in an oven as opposed to a proper barbecue, boy!  Boy were they good!.

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Victoria’s lifestyle is typical of many women raising kids: an early wake-up, breakfast for the kids, drive them to two different schools, pick them up at lunch time (in Italy school kids finish their day at around 1 o’clock after a certain age), make them lunch, make sure they get started on their homework, take them to various sports or activities in the afternoon, and then – of course- make them dinner.  In other words, she is busy.  Busy all day.  In and out of the car at regular daily intervals.  Oh and did I mention that she runs the Culture Club of the Castelli as well as the Castelli Welcome Neighbour Association?

Christine (below) is a mother to be and about to return to her native Napa after spending nearly two years in Italy on account of her husband’s work.  She likes to cook too and was keen to learn more about a few simple, easy to make Italian recipes, for weekday meals.  So Victoria and I conspired to organize an Italian Bootcamp Cooking Basics for her day before yesterday.  The appointed time was 10 a.m. and it had to be over by 4 p.m.  I did most of the shopping the day before but bought some fresh vegetables first thing in that morning.

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Here we are, the car unloaded and we are about to begin.

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Below is the list of what we prepared together. At the end of this post, I put up some links to most of the recipes we cooked that I have blogged about.

LIST OF RECIPES

(1) Chicken stock – which we used to make (2 ) Chicken Corn soup (admittedly not an Italian recipe) and (3) Egg Drop Soup (stracciatella).  We also made (4) Salad soup.

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(5) We prepared the easiest of tomato sauces – Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce using just a can of plum tomatoes, an onion and plenty of butter.  We used this sauce to make (6) riso al pomodoro (rice in tomato sauce) and to cook (7) meatballs in what was left of it.  It would make a delicious sauce for pasta too (8), all one would need is add some freshly grated parmesan.  So just think about this: one tomato sauce and three recipes as a result!

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We prepared previously cooked, shop bought (9) borlotti beans with the rind of pancetta and some tomato paste squeezed out of a tube (we had used the pancetta for the salad soup).  We made (10) pasta e ceci (pasta and chickpea/garbanzo thick soup).  Using my special quick-and-easy technique, one could also make pasta e fagioli, pasta with beans soup, it would be the same procedure.

Pasta dishes:  (11) pasta with broccoli and sausage and (12) spaghetti with garlic, oil and chilli flakes.

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The broccoli and sausage pasta (11) is on the upper left of this photo, next to the carrots.

We  made (13) polpette – meatballs – from scratch and cooked them in the tomato sauce with the addition of peas.  We used thinly sliced chicken breasts to make (14) chicken with ginger (my own recipe) and (15) chicken with oranges.

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We blanched spinach to make (16) spinaci alla romana.  We cooked (17) broccoletti in the oven with olive oil, lemon zest and a dusting of parmiggiano  (parmesan).  We made (18) mashed potatoes the Italian way (with the addition of parmesan and nutmeg).  We also made (19) a pepper stew – peperonata – even though this is not the best seasons for capsicum.  We also sliced some carrots (20) and cooked them down with butter and water.

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We made a very unscientific batter (21) and fried (22) artichokes and (23) courgette/zucchini flowers.

And this marked the end of the savoury dishes.

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Last we made a (24) jam tart (crostata) with wild cherry jam.  When I say ‘we’, I actually made Victoria make it – I know she likes getting her fingers stuck in the job when it comes to baking.   Thank goodness for a stand mixer … I was giving her instructions all backwards, and told her to put the flour in first, instead of the butter.  Ah well, kitchen catastrophes do take place and we have to understand that that is ‘normal’ too, and that we have to find remedies for them.  A good sense of humour and a glass of wine can be very helpful.

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The sour cherry crostata, just out of the oven.

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Victoria, on the left, is holding the crema pasticcera (baker’s custard).

So … all in all …. 25 recipes.  Not bad.  And every single one very easy to make and execute (except for the frying maybe). The whole experience was coloured by banter, joking, exchanging stories and all those conversations that are so good for bonding.  When I got home, a little on the exhausted side physically, but ‘high’ emotionally, I came across an article which just spoke out to me, as if  to pat me on the back as it were – me and all the wonderful ‘ordinary’ people people, not celebrity chefs or ‘slebs’ as Gareth Jones used to call them, ordinary people both male and female, young and old, who understand that cooking is NOT, or at least need not be, a chore.  It  was an interview with  Jules Blaine Davis in which she mentions how her mother admonished her  for relying on take-away/take-out foods so heavily.  Her mother told her in no uncertain terms:

“We need to make the kitchen a place where you can BE, not a place where there are things you have to DO.”

Well … thank you Christine and Victoria.  We certainly did a lot of both ‘doing’ and ‘being’.

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If you are interested in trying some of the recipes above, for which I have written a blog post, you will find the links below.

Recipe for a mixed meat stock/broth: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/taking-stock-over-making-stock-olivers-brodo/

Lettuce soup: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/soup-series-salad-soup/

Pasta e ceci soup: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/pasta-e-ceci/

Pasta e fagioli soup: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/good-golly-pasta-e-fagioli/

Spaghetti with garlic, oil, chilli, pecorino and mint: https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2015/08/29/dracula-style-spaghetti-with-garlic-mint-and-pecorino/

Pasta with broccoli and anchovy and pecorino sauce: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/11/13/green-technique-and-sicilian-broccoli-pasta/

Pasta with broccoli and sausage: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/11/25/pasta-with-broccoli-and-sausage-pasta-broccoli-e-salsiccia/

Chicken with orange: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/the-doleful-door-stop/

Meatballs with peas in a tomato sauce: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/meatballs-with-peas-polpette-con-piselli/

Mashed potatoes the Italian way: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/the-comfort-of-a-spud-il-pure-di-patate-mashed-potatoes-italian-style/

Spinaci alla romana (they are mentioned towards the end of the post): https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/02/13/going-tuscan-for-st-valentines-peposo-cannellini-and-spinach/

Batter for frying: the ‘unscientific’ recipe we used in our cooking class was the following: 2 serving spoons of ordinary flour plus one of corn starch; repeat until you think you have the desired amount (we did it 4 times).  Add one egg.  Add one spoon of vodka or grappa.  Add one tablespoon of olive oil.  Allow to rest for at least 20 minutes in the fridge. The following link is another way to make batter: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/my-favourite-batter-for-courgette-blossoms/

Recipe for crostata pastry (pie crust): 300g sifted flour, pinch of salt, 3 egg yolks, 1 whole egg, 150g sugar, 150g butter at room temperature, finely grated lemon zest.

Baker’s custard (crema pasticcera) https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/05/15/bakers-custard-crema-pasticcera/

And the flowers are just so beautiful.  Again, thank you.

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How to Boast about Pork Belly Roast

I was watching an old Nigella  TV programme a little while ago and one of her unfussy weekend recipes involved slow-roasting a huge joint of pork.  And Nigella said to add some vinegar to help make the crackling get super crisp.

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I’d never heard of that before (adding vinegar I mean) and so was prompted to experiment myself asap.  Only I would be cooking for just my husband and myself hence the pork volume in question would have to be appropriately curtailed.

A few days later, I went into the butchers to buys some sausages for dinner and espied a cut of pork belly that was simply preening itself, in my eyes, and crying out to be used experimentally.  And so of course I bought that too.  I never mind over-shopping – there are always leftovers to be gleaned from such surfeit.  I asked the butcher to score the fat for me into lozange shapes; easy peasy enough to do at home but I was feeling lazy that day and besides, butchers have much sharper knives than I ever will.

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One ingredient that Nigella did not use, which is Italian, and which is incredibly useful in the roasting department is a salt and herb concoction called Ariosto, found in every supermarket all over Italy.

2The ingredients are natural enough: sea salt, garlic, rosemary, sage, juniper, basil, marjoram, oregano, bayleaf, coriander, and parsely.  All good stuff and no ‘naughties’ !

3I poured some olive oil into a bowl and added generous pinches of the Ariosto, 1 tablespoon of vinegar and a twist of pepper.

6I turned the pork belly fat-side down and dusted the other side with some plain sea salt.

7Then I poured the mixture over the pork belly’s padding of fat, and tried to rub as much of it as I could into the cracks.  I then scattered the sausages randomly around the pork belly (they don’t need any primping, taste great on their own) and slid the baking tray into a very hot oven (250°C) for less than 10 minutes.  And then I turned the heat down to 190°C.

8I also added a tray of mixed vegetables to roast alongside.  Roast vegetables are lovely, we all know that.

9When the sausages looked cooked (i.e. had gone a nice brown colour), I removed them from the oven and scattered some bayleaves around them, torn in half, because a little bit of green does wonders for a sausage.

10And when I could see that the pork belly’s fat had gone beautifully crisp and golden .. well, then … time to eat!

11Doesn’t it look lovely?

12Oh so very yummy .. I kept breaking off little bits of crackling … I couldn’t help myself.

13So we had sausages and veggies …

13aPlenty of crackling !

14And of course there were plenty of leftovers for the next day. (By the way, I arranged the tomatoes like that to hide the fact that I had eaten the crackling.)

One thing, however, the crackling was only crispy when it was hot. The next day it was rubbery.  Remember that if you think you might be prompted to try this dish!

In my defence, I cooked this dish when the temperature was cruelly low outside … and when it is very cold indeed, we do need more calories and fat to keep us going.  Not sure I would relish this dish, for example, in the  middle of summer.