Spinach “Brick” Soufflé with Tuscan Bean Sauce (Fagioli all’Uccelletto)

I am making this for dinner this evening.  The blog post dates back to 2011 !!! And the original recipe is by Tuscany-based Judy Witts Francini of https://divinacucina.com/ who smiles in every photo I see of her.  The photos are pretty awful, I know, but the dish is really smashing.  I am sure you will love it.  Not vegan but yes, vegetarian.  A good thing about this recipe is that it can be made in advance.  And don’t forget to make this for Popeye next time you invite him to dinner.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/12/17/cooking-in-advance-a-spinach-brick/

Cooking in advance – A spinach ‘brick’

If you are planning for a large family gathering or a dinner with friends, and time is of the issue, it is sometimes a very good idea to cook a few dishes in advance of the date and store them in the freezer.

This is a recipe for a spinach ‘sformato’, similar in many ways to a soufflé, which I happen to bake in a bread loaf pan and which therefore looks a little like a brick – hence the name ‘spinach brick’.  It is  served accompanied by a bean and tomato sauce.  I used fresh spinach to make this recipe but frozen spinach will do too.

Ingredients: 1kg cooked spinach, 500ml of béchamel sauce,  4 eggs divided into gently beaten yolks and stiffly beaten egg whites, 100gr grated parmigiano (or more if preferred), a good knob of butter for cooking the spinach.

Ingredients for the béchamel sauce: 500ml milk, 50 g butter, 50g flour, freshly grated nutmeg, pinch of salt.

Start by making the béchamel sauce and set aside.

Melt some butter in a saucepan …

Cook the spinach in the butter for a few minutes, add salt and pepper, switch off heat.

Then separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and beat the latter until they are nice and snowy and fluffy.  Set aside.

And now it’s time to put the dish together.

Add the béchamel first to the spinach …

Then the beaten egg yolks.

Now add the grated parmesan cheese.

Use a spatula or wooden spoon to mix up all the ingredients.  And then add the final ingredient:

Add the cloud of beaten egg whites.

Give it a good mix … and that’s it for now.

Pour the mixture into the bread loaf pan.  Bang the pan gently on a surface … this will make it spread more evenly.

Cover with clingfilm …

And pop the bread loaf pan in the freezer for future use.

COOKING THE SPINACH BRICK

When it’s time to cook the spinach brick … defrost it until it reaches room temperature and then bake in an oven preheated at 190°C for about 40 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow it cool a little before turning it over onto a serving dish.

The “brick” is then sliced into individual portions and is served with a mashed-up bean sauce derived from the famous Tuscan/Florentine recipe known as “fagioli all’uccelletto” (see recipe below).

MAKING FAGIOLI ALL’UCCELLETTO TO BE USED AS A SAUCE

Ingredients: 4 cloves garlic, 4 sage leaves, fresh or canned plum tomatoes, chilli, 1 jar or tin of cooked beans (either borlotti beans or cannellini beans), extra virgin olive oil.

Pour the olive oil into a small frying pan and turn on the heat.  Slice the garlic into thin rounds and add to the saucepan together with the sage leaves and as much or as little peperoncino (chilli) as desired.  When the garlic turns a dark golden colour, add the beans and tomatoes, turn the heat up and cook for about 10 minutes.

Please note that it is nowadays frowned upon in Italian cooking to let the garlic turn so dark, it is thought to overwhelm and spoil a dish with its bitterness.  But in this particular culinary instance, please DO let the garlic cook until it becomes slightly brown (not burnt) before adding the sage leaves, beans and the tomatoes!

Repeat: cook for about 1o minutes, adding salt at the end.  And this is what the faggioli all’uccelletto recipe consists of.   And one would serve it in a nice bowl to accompany meat dishes or sausages or even on its own, as a side dish.

I, on the other hand, wished to purée the beans and so plopped everything into a saucepan, so that I could use the hand held processor without splattering the food all over the kitchen wall (happens all the time!).

Now a purist would have used a food mill to process the beans … but I can safely say that an electric processor is absolutely fine for this recipe.  At this point, I got hold of another jar of cooked beans, drained them of their cooking water, and poured them into the saucepan.  I liked the idea of the sauce showing off some beans.

Time to eat our spinach brick …

Slice the spinach brick into whatever sized portions you fancy …

I cut a long line down the middle and then across …

And now heat up the sauce and pour it all over …

See how the beans play peekaboo through the sauce …

Buon appetito … and if you are properly hungry this is a most satisfying plate to set before one’s eyes!

P.S.  The photos of the finished dish are pretty awful, I have to admit!  But it was a case of taking better photos or … getting on with the dinner that reunited friends of ours who live close by and friends who had come all the way from Hungary.  Enough said …

BUT this spinach recipe can also be served on individual dishes and the sauce can be served separately — you don’t have to drown the spinach in the sauce the way I did!

P.P.S.  I was taught this recipe by my lovely Canadian friend who had enjoyed a cooking class with Judy Witts Francini at her then Florence location of Cucina Divina many years ago.  I happen to think it quite delicious and it is truly a life saver when it comes to buffet parties as well as large sit-down dinners.

Frascati Food Shopping, Aperitivo with Michelle, and a Genius Courgette / Zucchini Recipe

Mrs Masi and her family run a vegetable shop in Frascati and are open on Sunday mornings too.  They are the suppliers of very many restaurants in town.  I tend to be a democratic greengrocer and buy from more than one place but theirs is the venue I end up frequenting the most, as it were,  because … because half the time, I don’t know about you,  but I’m in a hurry, there is always so much to do.  This is how it goes: it’s getting to be evening, ideas for dinner need to be considered and scaled down, and off I trot to up the hill into town to get my meat and two veg.  The veg fromt the Masi family and the meat from the Chioccia family in Via dell’Olmo.

I believe that shopping should entail more than just a modicum of pleasure and what better way to celebrate the exercise than an aperitivo after all that strenuous activity?  Hence, on a regular basis now for some years,  I will meet up with my friend Michelle Smith at our favourite watering hole, the “Stanza del Duca” in the town’s oldest square. It’s just behind the historic Palazzo Vescovile, the bishop’s residence.  This is the heart of centuries-old Frascati and, in terms of neighbourhoods,  we consider it the way Romans would Trastevere.  Sleepy time during the day, bustling and alive in the evenings (not so much in January and February admittedly – but then that’s when we all go into hibernation).  Piazza San Rocco wakes up in the evenings, with its many wine bars and restaurants, and the people it draws, the mainstay demographic, are mostly young.  The daily “The Guardian” wrote a lovely article about the buzz in Frascati last September and I am borrowing a photo from it … hope I don’t get into trouble for doing so? 

guardian frascatiAnyway, here is a link to the article: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/sep/10/rome-frascati-wine-food-italy.

Michelle and I put the world to rights over a glass of wine or a spritz and our host, the inimitable Giancarlo delle Chiaie, is very generous with his pour as he is with his trove of stories aka gossip.  Mild gossip, I hasten to add, we are not malicious people.  We bang on about standards, and what the town administration fails to do, how short-sighted they are, versus our way of how things ought to be done.  Sigh.  And on the bright and light side, music plays an important role.  Giancarlo is a choir master and an accomplished organ player and his friend Romeo Ciuffa, who is also a regular at the Stanza del Duca,  is a professional musician and organizes many a chamber music concert in our neck of the woods.  And all that talk makes for thirsty work so Michelle and I will very often ask for a wee top-up to our glass as we carry on delving into topics that require our  undivided attention.

I often think that breakfast, while one is on holiday and without a care in the world, in a hotel say, is the nicest meal of the day.  One has the whole day lying expectantly before us and to look forward to, as we dig into our orange juice and coffee and toast and what have you.  Similarly, but more often for me, I think that aperitivo-time is the best time of day.  The cares of obligatory work are over for the day, in theory, and one can relax and be light hearted and broaden the horizon of mental attention.  Michelle and I can be very philosophical at aperitivo time.

Who is Michelle, you might ask.  Well, she’s not easy to describe in a nutshell … she is one of those people who is a dab hand at anything she does.  A jack of all trades who gets to be very masterly time after time.   Though living in the same area, we didn’t get to meet until relatively recently and we hit it off straight away.  For the purposes of this post let us say she is a sommelier, translator, and painter.  She set up a website (all on her own, every single bit of it !!!!) called easyfrascati.com.  And  I will come out and say it outight: one would think that Frascati’s town council would have gone to the intelligent trouble of setting up an informative website? But no, it took an English rose to do so. Tut tut.  Last, though she and I can wag our fingers disapprovingly, it’s not about self importance, Michelle is one of the most modest people I’ve ever met.  It’s because we care.  We see so much potential going unattended.   Dear, dear … shall we have another glass of wine before going home?

Michelle is also a good cook by the way and so we often discuss recipes.  “So, what are you cooking tonight?” will often start the conversation.  Which brings me to today’s recipe.  I got all excited because it is so much more than the sum of its very simple parts.  When one is a little strapped for time, one should still find the energy to make the main meal of the day a ‘special’ one.  What’s the point of living otherwise?

I got this recipe from Mrs Masi, and I thank her for it.  The only ‘long’ thing about it is its cooking time in the oven.  It can even be eaten at room temperature although I tend to think that it gives its best when served just out of the oven.

INGREDIENTS:  slices of courgette/zucchini, olive oil, mozzarella, thinly sliced onion, some parsley if you like it, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper

IMG_6715What you see are the sliced courgettes coated with olive oil, over which I sprinkled salt and pepper,  I then added little lumps of mozzarella.  I squeezed the mozzarella to remove some of the liquid.

IMG_6717I also added half an onion, very very thinkly sliced.  And an avalanche of roughly minced parsley.

IMG_6718Finish it all off with a layer of bread crumbs.  I suspect I drizzled some olive oil over the surface for good measure, before popping it into the oven.

IMG_6719And this is what it looks like when it comes out of the oven.  To be honest I can’t remember how long it cooked (just over half an hour) and I expect the temperature was 200°C.

This recipe looks like a lot of trouble went into it and yet it couldn’t be simpler to make!  Unless your name is Phylis Knudsen, you could even add a few ancovies to the mix.  (Bless her, Phylis can’t stand anchovies.)

So, what are you thinking about making for dinner tonight?  Please don’t tell me you are ordering in ….! 🙂

P.S.  If any of you should be in Rome and would like to do something a bit more bucolic and pastoral outside of the capital, please feel free to get in touch with either Michelle or me.   And there will always be a glass of wine and good food to put you in the mood …. 🙂

P.P.S.  I wrote about La Stanza del Duca in this post from last year.  Here is a link in case you missed it: https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2019/01/01/a-duke-some-ladies-lots-of-hats-and-an-afternoon-tea-in-frascati/

Cooked Cicoria Catalogna – Since When?

Vegetable familes are just like human ones, at times confusing in their variation.  Chicory, or cicoria as it is generally known in Italy can either be cooked or eaten raw.

The very dark green leafy kind has to be cooked, indeed simmered for longer than one would think advisable, and then drained.  Impossible to eat raw.  It’s absolutely one of my favourites, hands down, especially the wild kind.  Here is a link:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2010/11/25/cichorium-intybus/

zed cicoria

Instead, with the kind of chicory that is referred to as “catalogna” or “cicoria asparago” (what on earth has it got to do with asparagus I ask in consternation), tradition has it to eat it raw.  This is where we get the famous ‘puntarelle’ here in Rome.

zed puntarelle

Here is a link, in case you’re interested https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/little-points-big-salad-puntarelle/

I was discussing vegetables in general with Chef Luigi at the Minardi Winery where we work, and he was telling me about a fantastic recipe from Puglia which involved cooking the kind of cicoria that we only eat raw around here, i.e. the puntarelle.  So of course I had a go.  In fact, I had TWO go’s.  Take a look.

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I got rid of the very white stalks on the right.

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I went old school with the garlic,  It’s the done thing nowadays to keep the garlic whole or semi-whole, bashing the bulb around a bit and then removing it after a while.  If you don’t remove the skin, you say that it is left ‘inside its shirt’, i.e. “l’aglio in camicia” in Italian.  Old school means you are not afeared of garlic, of ending up with a ‘rustic’ taste, that was erstwhile fit for peasants sort-of-thing.  Posh people, like Queen Elisabeth, have a problem with garlic.  Vampires from all over the world flock to Italy because of the decrease in use of garlic … ha ha ha, of course not.  Anyway back to the recipe.  As much garlic as you like, some chilli flakes and a big puddle of good quality olive oil.  Make sure the garlic does not burn, it must only turn golden.  And it’s also a good idea to keep the heat low, so that all the yummy stuff in the garlic itself will infuse the olive oil in a gentle way.  Should things get out of hand heat-wise, simply remove the frying pan from the source of heat and carry on cooking without it.

IMG_6255I’ve no idea what this photo is all about.  Maybe to show that the garlic had turned the proper hue?

IMG_6256In go some anchovy fillets, the kind that are either salted or come bottle in jars.  If you hate anchovies, for goodness sakes leave them out.

IMG_6257In goes the cicoria catalogna … over a strong heat I say.  Don’t be shy.

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Quite a lot of liquid will be released.  Normal.  It’s okay.  Let it cook down.IMG_6260It does cook down after a while.

IMG_6261When it is ‘done’, add plenty of freshly grated pecorino cheese.

IMG_6264Simple, hearty and delicious.  Yay kind of delicious.  Who knew?

RECIPE NUMBER TWO

I thought  I would cook sausages that evening.

IMG_6442I cooked the Italian sausages in a frying pan, adding a little bit of red wine and some herbs.  Once cooked, this is what was left behind.  The cicoria catalogna I cooked in a separate saucepan, as shown above.

IMG_6443Ooops and did I forget the pecorino?

IMG_6445IMG_6446No, no … I had not forgotten the pecorino.  But I also added the juices from the sausages.

Anyway … with or without sausage, this was a most welcome new entry into my world of Winter Vegetables.

P.S.  If you’re watching your carbs (you know what I’m getting at … avoiding bread and all that), well … be warned then, don’t say I  didn’t tell you!, this is a most dangerous dish.  It just clamours good crusty bread, begs for it.

10 Winter Vegetable Ideas

Gosh, it’s already the end of January but Spring is still a way off and the vegetables in the stalls are resolutely of the glorious Wintry sort (yes, even though aubergines/eggplants, courgettes/zucchine and peppers continue to make their uncalled-for appearance at this time of year).  Anyway, for what it’s worth, here are some ideas for a vegetable side dish that IS in season.

(1) RADICCHIO AND ORANGE SALAD

Treviso trio saladThere are three kinds of radicchio leaves in this salad and some slices of orange.  Season with olive oil and lemon juice, or a few drops of balsamic vinegar.

(2) CAVOLO NERO

Cavolo nero (pictured below) is a type of kale also known as black cabbage or Tuscan kale. It is non-hearting with long strap-like leaves similar to savoy cabbage in texture. … Cavolo nero can be used the same way as cabbages, or in dishes with a distinct Italian flavour.

Cavolacci fagioli e guancialeWe call it ‘cavolo nero’, black cabbage here in Frascati.  I simmered it for a few brief minutes, then drained it.  I cut up some guanciale (you could use bacon or pancetta) and toasted it in a frying pan with some olive oil. Then I added the cavolo nero and a jar of cannelini beans.  Vegetables yes but in this case not vegetarian.

(3) BROCCOLETTI

IMG_6266I think these are known as broccoli rabe in English … I always forget.  Anyway, a similar procedure to above, simmer first and then drain.  Olive oil in the saucepan, with some garlic too, why not, a couple of cherry tomatoes and a handful of raisins.

(4) BROCCOLETTI NO FUSS

IMG_6447

These broccoletti are simply cooked, drained and when cool enough to handle squeezed a little (to get rid of excess water).  Serve with olive oil and lemon juice.

(5) ESCAROLE SALAD

1Find the tenderest escarole leaves for a salad that will also include slices of fennel.

(6) COOKED ESCAROLE with pine kernels, raisins and spring onion

Cook the escarole leaves for at least five minutes then drain.

2

Meanwhile …

3Olive oil, pine nuts, raisin and roughly chopped spring onions (scallion).

4Warm up the cooked escarole in the pan and serve straight away.

(9) PAN FRIED ARTICHOKES

IMG_6267The easiest way to cook an artichoke … slice it up and fry it in a saucepan with plenty of olive oil.

(10) CAULIFLOWER SALAD

I borrowed the recipe from blogger Stefano Arturi (https://qbbq.wordpress.com/2020/01/26/insalata-tiepida-di-cavolfiore-arrosto-con-pinoli-capperi-e-uvette/)

As with any cauliflower salad, it requires a lot of ‘props’ to make it zing.  Cauliflower just can’t be hacked on its own – that and it will often make you fart.  Anyway, it turns out this recipe was jolly good and I gave the leftovers to my daughter to take to work the next day.  They gave it the thumbs up and thought it lovely.  Good.

Well, first of all you have to roast the cauliflower florets in a hot oven until they are cooked.  Coat them with olive oil first, naturally.

IMG_6538

Once they have cooled down you can add all the other ‘stuff’ – the stuff that makes it taste good.  Orange zest for instance.

IMG_6539Blurry photo, sorry.  The blob you are staring at is a spoonful of orange marmelade!!! What a nice twist, hey?  Dot the salad with a few blobs of orange marmelade, it works a treat.

IMG_6540That morning I was making pasta with chickpeas … but instead of opening a jar of chickpeas I opened one that contained cannellini beans.  I wasn’t going to throw them away now, was I? So in they went too.  So this cauliflower salad gets reinforced with the protein from the beans … double trouble (beans, beans, are good for the heart, the more you eat, the more you … yes, well).

IMG_6541The rest of the ingredients: raisins, pistachio (I had run out of pine kernels – which by the way are pretty expensive, have you noticed?), capers, parsely, olive oil and whatever other condiment you might wish for your salad dressing … wine vinegar or lemon juice.

I think the orange zest and the orange marmalade did the trick.  I have to confess it was actually very nice.  And no gassy consequences the following day either, go figure.

Vegetables Va Va Voom

Hello there, how are you all getting over the recent festivities and what usually accompanies them?  You know what I mean – that extra pound or two as we weigh up the situation on the scales, the liver sensibly asking for some respite from tipple-mania, and the body aching to be involved in a modicum of movement and fitness.   Yes, it is very good to overindulge every now and then, to allow our hair to cascade down, to increment the variety of spices in our life and to let two of the Seven Cardinal Sins, gluttony and sloth, out of the moral no-no box in which we justly allocate them the rest of the year.  My mother-in-law Maria’s mental health is  fast degenerating on account of dementia/Alzheimers with all the sadness that that entails for all concerned, not least of which are the ‘missing’ wit and quips in her conversation.  If there were to be just one sentence I would love to hear her utter again then that would be, “Lord save us from the virtuous !”.

That said, one does have to be sensible.  I can’t stand the term ‘detox’ but I’m presuming a large swathe of post-holidays revellers are embracing it full on.

Last Saturday I went to Frascati’s weekly Slow Food (local) farmers’ market as well as to the town’s covered market which is open six days a week, and it was as if I couldn’t get enough of the vegetables on offer.  I went quite beserk, and came home laden like a mule with bags hanging from both shoulders and being carried in both hands.  It’s not a long walk from these markets to where I live but it was quite the haul, I assure you and not very comfortable.  As I took out the vegetables out of the bags, I could see that I had perhaps … ahem … erred on the side of vegetable excess (can’t think of the Cardinal Sins’ name for that one) ?  I made myself some squash soup for lunch and as I went about my way, I fell into a reverie of sorts.

We all know vegetables are healthy and good for us.  But really, I do love love love me veggies – there wasn’t a hint of ‘detox’ notion clouding my purchase – it was sheer lust (another Cardinal sin) that drove me.  Vegetables make me happy, you see.  As does wine.  And so my thoughts flitted about being  vegetarian and vegan in our contemporary times.  Again, I came to the conclusion I’ve had for a while, which is that I am an omnivore with a twist: I am a vegetarian who eats lots of meat, fish and dairy foods.  But I can easily eschew meat or fish at a meal whereas I simply cannot contemplate one without vegetables.  I started writing a post along these lines yesterday but it ‘degenerated’ and got to be so long that I am going to post it separately.

Here, in the meantime, just take a look at all my lovely vegetables from last Saturday’s morning shop.  The exercise included walking and weights so well done I.

6Radishes … mmm.  My sister made a herring based paté to serve with them (it included yogurt, thick Italian spreadable cheese, freshly grated horse radish, lemon juice and zest, parsely and olive oil.  We tweaked the recipe from one of Jamie Oliver’s TV ones that was made using smoked mackerel instead.

1Artichokes are coming into their own season-wise just now.  We had these three beauties for dinner last night, cooked the classic Roman way.  See link below.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/03/02/edible-roses-the-seasonally-correct-artichoke-1/

7Spuds.  We got these for our mother.

IMG_6186Thinly cut, lots of olive oil, dried chilli flakes, and salt and pepper.  This is how we cooked them that evening.

4The garlic bulbs  (Italian, from the Abbruzzo region) were for my sister to take back to Blighty.  It’s hard to find good garlic in the UK.  The fennel is still in the fridge, as is the  bunch of spring onions.  That yellow thing is a bergamot.  I’d never seen one before. Smells heavenly.  Tasted the zest and it was overpowering, fwah.  The apple I ate after lunch.  The red pepper: we griddled it and had it for dinner with olive oil, parsely and thin slices of garlic.  Up top in the photo and hard to make out, is some lamb’s lettuce and a small bunch of rocket/arugula.

8These are what we call ‘broccoletti’ in and around Rome.  Broccoli Rabe or Rapini elsewhere.   I’d trimmed them of the bits that are not nice to eat and left them to soak in this cheerful yellow tub.  Later I boiled them in salted water until tender.  Once drained and cooled, they need to be pressed to remove the excess moisture.  They can be served either plain, with just a squirt of lemon juice and olive oil (which is how we enjoyed them).  Or else, they can be cooked a second time in a frying pan, tossed about and coated in olive oil, garlic and chilli flakes.  Here’s a link to a quick pasta recipe using broccoletti:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/hurry-up-pasta/

10This is what we call cicoria – pronounced chee-corr-eee-ah in English.

11It’s a bit of a labour of love trimming cicoria.  It too needs soaking in plenty of water before cooking.  There is always some soil attached to it that needs removing.

The link below will show you what I did with this cicoria, after boiling it first.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2010/11/25/cichorium-intybus/

9

The above vegetable is “Cicoria catalogna”, another variety of cicoria.  During this time of year, this veggie gets trimmed and turned into a beautiful salad.  We call this “puntarelle”  here.  The dressing includes the ubiquitous olive oil, plus garlic, vinegar and anchovy fillets.  Quote from wikipedia: Puntarelle or cicoria di catalogna or cicoria asparago is a variant of chicory. The heads are characterized by an elongated shape (about 40–50 cm), light green stems and dandelion shaped leaves. ‘Puntarelle’ shoots have a pleasantly bitter taste.

Our Christmas Eve wouldn’t be the same without them.  Anyway, see a link on how to prepare them:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/03/30/little-points-big-salad-puntarelle/

2This broccolo romano is still in the fridge.

3Ditto this cabbage.

12And last and definitely not least, here is some of othe squash I used to make myself some soup as already mentioned.

Here is wishing you all a happy vegetable-filled year.

Home-Made Sausages and Aubergine Rolls

Playfulness, childhood, forgetting oneself in fun and games – remember those days? I do.  And I do my best to re-enact them in a more adult way.  Life will always bring up ‘situations’ which in the best of cases will enhance our learning and experience, make us wiser in the long run and more capable of embracing all that Life has to offer, the good and the ‘bad’.  But in other cases it will or might do the exact opposite and crush us.  I refuse to be crushed.  After decades of practice, I have anti-crush antennae that are well honed.  The minute I am aching to buy something that I (a) really don’t need, (b) don’t know where to put and (c) can’t really afford (meaning that the money could be spent on something much more ‘useful’) I know exactly what’s going on: my anti-crush antennae are giving me sound advice … “Go! Go! Go! Be playful.  Have fun.  Giggle a little!”

Some people might call it retail therapy, I don’t know.  Others invoke Oscar Wilde’s saying: I can resist everything except temptation.  And these are the optimists.  Those who are apt to judge with pursed lips might, instead, hold forth on the futility of consumerism or go all saintly on us and mention the worthy example of Marie Kondo, the world famous tidying/decluttering guru.  On a video I just watched about her, she is said to move houses once a year.   Seriously? I call that a tad restless – and whilst I like travelling I think that moving, unless absolutely necessary or advisable, is a lot of work.  I don’t like clutter and a messy house either, but a minimalist I am not.  Our home is just full of ‘stuff’, including lots of books.   But even Marie Kondo might be wowed by how I always find space for ‘things’ in our relatively small flat and yes, these ‘things’ do indeed spark joy, which is what her regime is all about.  Going for things that spark joy: I’m all for that.

So there I was, one Monday morning a few weeks ago, taking my mother for a weekly shop at a supermarket.  I hate supermarkets and what they represent and I have been boycotting them for about 10 years now.  Yes, yes, I know that they are very useful and we do indeed ‘need’ them in our modern world.  I just wish the financiers, the owners, would care more about the people who produce the food to be eaten rather than the stake-holders who just care about how much money they are making with their stocks.  My mother will turn 93 next month and she stopped driving last year.  Ever since then it is I who take her shopping once or twice a week and she, of all people!, insists on going to the supermarket (although recently she has started agreeing with me that vegetables are much much much better at the covered food markets).    So I have spent more  time in supermarkets during the last year and a half than I have for all the eight or so years previously!  Not a happy puppy.

Anyway, that day she asked would I mind if we drove to a mega supermarket which is just below the town of Albano.  Sure! No problem I said.  And that’s because I was being kind.  It was a bit of a drive from where we live and at the end of the day it was still ‘only’ a supermarket, big deal.  We went for a cup of coffee before our shop and I was already bored and wanting to go home.  And that’s when my anti-crush antennae started kicking in.  I scolded myself for my desultory attitude and did my best to cheer up (inwardly).   Which is when I espied an electric slicer and a sausage making machine.  Cheap and cheerful variety, you understand, supermarket standard and nothing state-of-the-art.

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I decided I simply had to, just had to, have the sausage making machine (which doubles up as a tomato crusher for making passata).  And told my mother so.  “Ma, I am going to make you home-made sausages.  You are always complaining how the sausages we buy these days are either tasteless or too salty.  What do you say you I start making some, at home?”.  So that was a done-deal.  And in it went in the supermarket trolley (cart in American English).  My mother did indeed make her own sausages when we lived in what was then East Pakistan, and now Bangladesh.  Her own bread too.

And then I found I couldn’t take my eyes off the electric slicer … Hmmm.  Just think how many things I could slice, ever so thinly, so expertly, so refinedly.  As I stared in admiration my mother, bless her, said she’d buy it for me … it could be my Christmas present, no?  Double whammy!

And that is how I came home later that day with two boxes.  My husband gave me the raised-eyebrow look but refrained from daring to comment, as he would have done in the past, on (a) the buying of yet more ‘things’ we didn’t need and (b) the dearth of space in our home.  He actually commented favourably on both new-entries in the magic world of my kitchen even though he tried to back-track when I mentioned I would be relying on his help in setting up the sausage machine (I am absolutely helpless when it comes to manuals and instructions, never understand a thing).  Indeed, some magic really did happen – he was there from start to finish and it was he who ‘made’ the sausages! (I had bought the meat and the casing as well as the machine, naturally.)

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IMG_5325Our very own sausages – something to be proud of wouldn’t you agree?

When my mother eventually got to eat one, she judged it very good.  So, phew.

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I even brought one to work the next day for my fellow chefs to taste (above photo).  The sausages were a tad ‘bland’ the night we made and ate them, tastier the following day.  Apparently that’s ‘normal’, they told me;  over time, as they dry out a little at a time, the savoury part will come to the fore.

And we had so much fun making them !  Which proves my point, and MY favourite motto, by Voltaire: “le superflu, chose si nécessaire”.  The superfluous is so very necessary.

End of Story.

RECIPE

I happened to have some sausage left over and decided to use it to make a sauce.  I had an aubergine/eggplant, some cheese called ‘primosale’ (a kind of bland fetta cheese) and, most important of all, I had an electric slicer, aha!

1

And so I made aubergine rolls.  I sliced the aubergines as thinly as I could.   Ditto the mortadella (that didn’t work out too well, I must say).  I added some cubes of primosale. Some tomato sauce using up the home-made sausage and whatever herbs I found on my balcony (marjoram I think).

2

Slice an onion and let it bathe in a bowl with some water for about 10 minutes.  This will draw out its excess ‘oniony-ness’.  Trust me, this is a good tip.  When you go to fry it, it won’t burn and if anything it will cook or turn golden faster.

Turn the oven on.

3Put the thin (ha ha) slices of onion in the oven, even if it’s just started.  It will heat up along the way.

4Reserve some of the aubergine and chop it up into little cubes.

5Start by cooking the onion in plenty of olive oil, and then add the cubed aubergine. A sprinkle of salt is always a good idea.

67Cook the sausage meat.  I added a bit of chilli.

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Then bring all the ingredients together and add tomato sauce – plum tomatoes or passata.

10

In my excitement and haste to savour the recipe, I removed the aubergine slices too early from the oven.  They really could have done with at least another 10 minutes.

11Here are the slices of mortadella on the left and the chunk of primosale on the right. Please note that this primosale was made from ewe’s milk.  I bought it from the Depau cheese  makers in Frascati. https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/the-united-nations-of-ricotta-azienda-agricola-depau-grottaferrata/

Time to assemble.1213Lay a slice of mortadella and a few cubes of primosale and then roll the slices and secure with a toothpick.

14Line the bottom of an oven dish with the sausage tomato sauce and place the rolls on top.

15Pour the rest of the sauce over the rolls and dot the dish with yet more cubes of primosale.  Bake the rolls until done.

16I scattered something green over them as they came out of the oven.  Marjoram, I think?

17Parsely and basil too by the looks of it.  It really doesn’t matter – just use whatever you have handy or prefer.

And yes, the slices should have cooked a bit longer as written – but it was still a very tasty dish.  One that can be made in advance too, which is always a boon.

Here are some links to what primosale is all about, just in case you might be interested:

https://www.lalatteria.co.uk/primo-sale-mozzarella

Primosale

http://www.201cheeses.com/primo-sale

https://www.tasteatlas.com/primo-sale

Autumn Vignarola – Genius Idea

BACKGROUND

A vignarola, for those who may not know, is a vegetable stew that is all about Spring, late spring.  The word ‘vigna’ means vineyard and signals the bounty that the countryside can bring to the table during that time of year.   I wrote an in-depth post about it some time ago, when it was seasonally appropriate.  It is mostaly about ripe artichokes, fresh broad beans and peas etc. (https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/vignarola-the-pilgrimage-of-posh/).

LAST NIGHT

Last night, as I composed a dish with some ingredients that happened to be sitting in the fridge, I became ‘high’ on my own steam … the delight of ending up with a recipe that was too good not to repeat!  The creativity of it all was an incredible boon.  And so I felt just like Little Jack Horner and said “What a good girl am I” for having come up with the idea.  The idea of an Autumn Vignarola.  Genius! Ha! Clap of hands and a good old-fashioned whirl, never mind the ubiquitous thumbs up.   It’s good to be self congratulatory now and then, why not.  It’s good to play in the kitchen, the way we used to play as children.

INGREDIENTS

Please bear in mind that I already had these ingredients, and it was only as they came out of the fridge that I cobbled the recipe together.

Artichokes, pork jowl (guanciale), spring onion, somewhat limp courgette blossoms, fresh mint, parsely, previously cooked ricotta, dessert wine.  Considering it is Autumn and the vineyards are still producing ripe grapes, maybe I will add a few grapes next time.

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See this? this is some ricotta that I had baked in the oven a few days previously.  Just ricotta, no other ingredient.

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That’s what you can do with leftover fresh ricotta: bake it in the oven for use another time.  IMG_5186

Here you see the spring onion, diced ricotta and courgette blossoms that are well past their first bloom but still edible.

LET’S START COOKING

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I trimmed and sliced the artichokes and started cooking them with just olive oil and slices of pork jowl.  Normally, ripe artichokes don’t take that long to cook this way.  After a while, however, I could see that these artichokes (they are not quite in season and are a little hard) were taking their time.  So I added some water to speed up the stewing.

IMG_5187I also added a splash of dessert wine – it works very well with artichokes as it turns out!

IMG_5189When the artichokes were finally cooked, I added the diced ricotta, the raw spring onion, the courgette blossoms and the fresh mint and parsely.  I turned the heat off but left the ingredients in to ‘warm up’ before plating.

IMG_5190Added a spray of pepper.

Doesn’t look like much, does it.  What a shame.  It was deeeelicious, even if I say so myself.

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Autumn vignarola.  Another seasonal dish to look forward to.