On Matters of Batter and Fried Chicken

I think that brain matter, likewise, has to muscle into the preparation of this recipe.

I don’t know about you but my memory is starting to play up in certain spheres.  I used to be blessed with a very fine memory, one that came in most useful during the final weeks preceding examinations; I was an adept swotter with a quasi OCD approach to note-and-rote learning, with close to photographic results.  But there is another kind of memory that nearly always comes to my aid.  To this day, friends and family will remark on how extraordinary it is that I can still remember a series of events, or even the day of the week something happened.  Well that, instead, I attribute to a very ordinary practice of logical sequencing, linking or deduction: putting two and two together, as it were.  “How on earth do you remember that it was a Tuesday?” for instance, someone will ask.  And I will answer, “Well, because I used to go to gymn classes on Tuedays, that’s how.”  Nothing Sherlock Holmes about this, just plain ol’ Watson.

I did write a diary for a while, starting in my teens at boarding school.  And one can’t deny that a diary involves some kind of  memory function.  Goodness knows what I wanted to record, to save for remembrance.  I suppose it was a way of keeping time, of making sense of the uneventful progressing of the days.  People sometimes wonder whether I had a hard time at boarding school and I answer no: in an age when it is all too easy to fingerpoint at horrid priests and nuns for the maltreatment of their pupils, I must attest to our nuns being actually very nice on the whole.  But life at boarding school was hardly exciting, let’s face it, so my diary was mostly the jotting down of desultory homework requirements, disappointing match results of games played, or an unhoped for change in lunch menu; commenting on a spat between best friends or, yes!, the break-up even of best friends; the changes in mood due to an imminent menstrual period (we used to call it the ‘curse’) and the excitement of someone buying a new l.p. record.  To this day I cannot bear certain songs (John Lennon’s Imagine for one) because we used to play such records to death, over and over again in the space of a few hours.

And I was always ‘pining’.  Oh what a piner I was!  Longing, awaiting, yearning for, moping, hankering after, languishing for, craving … you get the picture.  I suppose it’s what many young girls feel while growing up?  I can recognise much of myself in Anne Frank’s diary – being able to talk to yourself is a way of trying to make sense of things, of giving words to a troubling feeling, it can soothe restlessness, it can stimulate consciousness.  There is a confessional side to writing a diary, an intimacy of ‘sharing’ that one only usually does with loved and trusted confidantes.  What is life all about?  Who can I consult?  I did French for ‘A’ level and was totally taken by the whole existentialist outlook – with the underlying agnosticism or indeed Godlessness somehow not interfering whatsoever with my catholic religion.  I asked hard questions at times, and I fell in love with Camus (never liked Sartre, horrid toad of a man, was not surprised later in life to discover that he used to require his girlfriend to pimp underage girls for him).  One of the set books was Camus’s The Plague and ouff, how ironic that it should come to mind in this Spring of 2020.  In the mid-seventies, his book could be read as a metaphor for the plague of recurring war (the Vietnam war was still going on), and as a generation we were indeed worried about the possibility of a nuclear war. And here we are – at the very start of the third decade of the 21st century, witnessing a very real virus-driven outbreak, who would have thought … who could have thought?  Camus, like all good things, never goes out of fashion.

One thing I did know for sure: I wanted to ‘live’ and not merely ‘exist’.  And yes, laugh if you will, but that desire is with me still.  My idea of ‘living’ might not be yours, of course – travelling and travel of the mind, and friends and family are its four pillars.  To each their own, as they say, and bringing life into this world, having children, has been my most memorable ‘achievement’, that which made me feel ‘alive’ as no other experience had ever previously done.  Can it be altogether coincidental, I am asking myself as I write, that I began a blog round about the time I was dealing with the empty nest syndrome? (One child had already left home, and the other was about to.)  I am not sure I would have started keeping a diary if I hadn’t gone to boarding school.  Then, despite beloved friends with whom I am still close more than forty years later, it was my family I missed the most, my parents, my sisters, even our dog.  The diary helped me cope with what was missing.  And I can only surmise that the blog has served a similar purpose, this time the people missed being my children.  And I am still asking hard questions.  If you think about it, a blog is a bit like a diary, no? It’s about food all right but, also, food for thought.

Now that I’ve gone off at a tangent let me try to get back to the recipe and why I want to have it carved in blog-stone.

The main reason is that, fried chicken never goes out of fashion.  And it requires a good batter.  The second reason has to do with the slings and arrows of a failing memory.  I want to get this recipe down pat, once and for all.

I have made chicken fried in batter at least a dozen times, and each time it’s been a bit different.   The first attempt was based on a Nigella episode where I learned the crafty art of a) pre cooking the chicken in milk and b) shaking the chicken bits in a plastic bag filled with flour (or was it breadcrumbs, mmm?) to coat them – very clever trick indeed.  Successive attempts always included egg somewhere in the recipe but it wasn’t until two years ago that I made a batter to coat the chicken, as opposed to just flour and breadcrumbs.  And that was because my mother was harping on and on about how wonderful (“out of this world” according to her) our cook in Bangladesh’s fried chicken was.  And could I try and replicate it?  Which I dutifully and gastronomically did to general acclaim.  Jolly good.  Except, now, I can’t remember what I did!

I read quite a few food blogs and found myself being intrigued about fried chicken recipes.  Some amount of marinading is always called for.  A magical ingredient known as buttermilk (which we can’t get here in Italy) is presented as to a cut above  yogurt.  Seasoning ranges from family secrets to the ubiquitous salt, pepper and paprika.  Some opt for chopped onion, others for dried garlic.  Fresh herbs? Dry herbs?  So much to consider, so many choices.  The following are my conclusions, which I am most happy to reconsider based on any new information coming my way.

RECIPE and TIPS

Marinading – I don’t know what all the fuss is about.  Chicken is tender, to me it doesn’t need marinading or tenderising.  The tastiness comes from the spices you are going to add to the batter, not the marinade.  So I give this step a miss.  Shoot me.

Pre-Cooking the chicken: well done Nigella, as I already said.  In this version, however, instead of simmering the chicken pieces in milk, I steamed them.  It took about half an hour. Easy enough to do and one less ingredient to add to the list.  The reason for pre-cooking is kind of obvious: when it comes to frying the chicken, it will take less time and you don’t have to worry about eating semi-raw chicken.  All you have to be worried about is getting the batter to turn crisp.  Note to self for next time: rub a little olive oil over the chicken parts and add some salt.  I am sure this will enhance the overall taste.

Batter Ingredients:

(1)Eggs – egg whites only.  There is a scientific (chemistry) reason why we should eschew the egg yolk.  I think it has something to do with the crisp factor.  I confess, I read about it but have forgotten why.

(2)Alcohol – I used grappa, you could use vodka or some other strong alcoholic drink (not wine and nothing sweet of course).  Apparently, at high heat (and frying does require high heat), the alcohol evaporates and makes the batter extra crisp.  We are talking about tablespoons of alcohol, not great big mugfulls!

(3a)Flours for the batter:  both ordinary flour and corn flour/starch

(3b) Plain flour for coating the chicken pieces before immersing them in the batter; for flavouring, read below.

(4)Breadcrumbs: optional

(5a)Dry spices and/or herbs: you choose what you like … paprika, allpice, parsley, thyme, rosemary – not mint or marjoram I shouldn’t think.  Indeed, you don’t have to add any spices if you don’t want to.  But salt and pepper, yes. Especially salt.  No salt, no taste.

(5b) Fresh herbs: parsley, chives, dill, fresh coriander (even teensy amount of sage) finely chopped – but if so, add them to the batter only at the end, just before you fry the chicken.

(6)Fresh stuff: by ‘stuff’ I mean onion and garlic.  Dry garlic is heaven sent and is what I used. I did use chopped onions on one occasion and it was a tad overwhelming – but that is a matter of personal taste.  I suppose spring onions might be a good alternative?  Whatever stuff you choose to include ‘fresh’, make sure you add it to the batter ONLY at the last minute.  Otherwise it will dilute it.

(7a)Tomato paste – to add colour and a hint of acidity.

OR

(7b)Grated lemon zest – to add freshness, but just a touch. If  you are after a lemony fried chicken drumstick, then by all means add to your heart’s content.

(8)Slurry: there used to be an ad on British television about Murray Mints and the line was, “Never hurry a Murray, it’s far too good to hurry”.  So, mutatis mutandis, it’s a good idea to take your time to make a proper slurry.  Sounds awful, somehow, doesn’t it, conjuring up something slimy.  The slurry basically IS the batter, just not a nice name for it.  It will include beaten egg whites (I used three) diluted with cold water (you could use beer I suppose?) to which you will then add all the other ingredients mentioned above.  The ratio of flours is 30 percent corn starch, 70 plain white flour, but you could even do 50/50 why not.  The final consistency has to be fairly thick.  Go ahead – taste it.  You might want to add a je ne sais quoi to make it just right. Last: it’s not a bad idea to cool the batter in the fridge.  A cold batter will ‘react’ with the hot oil for a crispier result.

(9)Frying oil: groundnut/peanut oil has a good smoke point.

PROCEDURE/METHOD – WHAT TO DO, IN OTHER WORDS, STEP BY STEP

(1)Coat the chicken pieces with olive oil, season and then steam for about half an hour or until ready.  Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely.

(2)While the chicken is cooking, you can prepare the slurry/batter and put it in the fridge.  .

(3)Dredge the cooled-down chicken pieces in a bowl full of seasoned flour (3b above).  Alternatively, place this flour in a large plastic bag, slip the chicken pieces into the bag and shake it until they are evenly coated.

(4a) Place the floured chicken pieces on a rack or large plate, awaiting to be dunked in the batter before being fried.
(4b)Alternatively, place the chicken pieces in a bowl large enough to hold them, pour the batter over them so that it covers them completely, seal with clingfilm and put in the fridge until the next day.  It’s okay for the batter to be cold but …but fridge-cold chicken will take longer to cook.  Hence, it’s a good idea to remove the chicken from the fridge-cold batter at least one hour before frying.

(5)Heat the oil.  It’s a good idea to use a deep frying pan.  If you have one, even a Dutch oven works very well.  When the oil is ready to receive the chicken (at around 180°C), first dunk each piece of chicken in the batter and proceed with frying in sensible batches (don’t fry them all at once).

SERVE.

 

Fried chicken makes everyone happy, it is festive.  People of all ages like it, it is democratic, it can be eaten with one’s fingers.  Fried chicken is a treat.

And, as we all know, fried chicken tastes fab eaten cold the next day.  Great for a picnic!  Remember Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in the picnic scene in To Catch a Thief ?  Who says fried chicken can’t be sultry and sexy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EN_tYpSpqc&list=PL9AFxNdm-mwMpBs3FlKwBKPC51QGT2Vu8&index=2

Here are some photos from my latest batch, cooked last Saturday and shared with my parents-in-law.  There is something naughty about fried foods, isn’t there, and I wanted my in-laws to live a little – heartburn be damned.

UQXP5354Here are the cooked, cooled chicken pieces coated with spiced-up flour.

WLRP7294Here is one chicken piece about to be coated in the batter.  Notice how slightly ‘pink’ it is in colour.  That’s because of the tomato paste in the batter.

EYHC4361Frying away …

QZFY4900Just out of the frying pan and onto a white carpet of kitchen paper.

IMG_7604And this is one piece that got gobbled up by me before dinner.  After I had sprinkled a little bit of salt over it.   We had fried chips for dinner too.  And home-made mayonnaise but not home-made ketchup.

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We also had the above stuffed courgette blossoms fried in a different batter.  Saturday night was definitely fried-food night!  (Although in all fairness I did steam the asparagus.)

POST SCRIPTUM

There were leftovers next day and we enjoyed those cold.  I brought some over to my mother a day after that.  And that’s when she told me she had notes for the fried chicken recipe of our cook in Bangladesh!  The one she always raved about.  Odd that she hadn’t mentioned she had the recipe before.  It didn’t take her long to find the recipe notes, written on a sheet of paper bearing the letterhead of the company my stepfather used to work for.  IMG_7621I must say looking at that letterhead really threw me back … decades ! Talk about bittersweet memories.  Anyway, our cook was called Toka.   Toka’s Fried Chicken might well  be the title of another post from me in the not too distant future.

 

 

Tuna Balls to the Rescue: Polpette di Tonno

I wrote this post ages ago, ages!!!  But I still make these tuna balls.  They are great finger food and not at all hard to make.  I wrote the post when I was in a bit of a funk over the change in season;  September does that to me, never my favourite month because it heralds the end of Summer.  This recipe can be made all year round, however, please take note!  Ignore the moaning and groaning and just read the recipe.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/polpette-di-tonno-and-mulling-over-seasonal-melancholy/

Polpette di tonno and Mulling over seasonal melancholy

An Indian summer … although we’re half way through September … it’s so easy to enjoy the heat but too late to pretend not to notice that the days are getting shorter … and busier … and that any day now it will get brrrr-cross-your-arms-and-slap-your-shoulders-nippy and we’ll start having to wear sweaters and what have you and don slippers indoors instead of traipsing about bare foot.  It is as if a whisper of seasonal melancholy were subtly knocking at my front door. For someone who loves summer as much as I do, September is a very challenging month and can see me veering towards a moany-groany, want-to-run-away frame of mind.  This year I decided I would be grown up about it and do my best to stretch the summer’s feel of freedom as much as I could.  I tried to organise myself so that I could work in ‘chunks’ … and thus it was that a few days ago, I was able to scamper off to the beach at Sabaudia for most of the day.  It took us one and a half hours to get there but, as always, it was worth it. There were very few people about, now that people are back at work and children back at school.  The breeze was caressing as only a zephyr can be, the sea was still warm enough for me to swim in (I am such a wimp about cold water!) and it was all I could do to tear myself away and head for home as the sun began to set.  Aaaah.  Sigh …. isn’t the sun setting over the sea one of the most compelling sights to behold? Ultra-organised, smug lady had prepared some vegetables the day before (a potato and celery purée and roast capsicup/bell peppers), had bought gorgeous fruit on the way to the beach, knew that wine was cooling in the fridge, so it was only a question of buying some chicken or meat on the way home and dinner was going to be a snap.  But, repeat, I had a very hard time of wrenching my body and soul from the siren call of the sea with the result that all the shops were naturally closed by the time we finally did drive past them. I didn’t feel quite so smug then, as I took on the slim prospect for our main course that evening, knowing that just like Mother Hubbard, I was going to find the cupboard woefully ‘bare’ when I got there —  the ‘cupboard’, these days, naturally being the fridge and the freezer.  But thank goodness for Nursery Rhymes because I realised that there was indeed one food in my cubbyhole cupboard that was going to save the day: tuna fish packed in oil! Polpette di tonno … i.e. meatballs made out of tuna fish (technically the tuna doesn’t qualify them as ‘meat’-balls … but what else can one call them in English? croquettes? ugh).

The ingrdients: salted capers (which need to be rinsed and drained a few times to be rid of the excess saltiness), lemon zest (the zest you see came out of the freezer), parsley, two tins of tunny fish packed in oil (and please note that it wasn’t the top quality kind), and last, and in the case of any kind of polpette, never least … the moistened bread (again, as I wrote in the other post on meatballs, ‘plastic’ white bread serves very well). You will also need an egg to bind the polpette mixture, bread crumbs to coat them and, optional, some grated parmesan cheese.

The tuna is drained of its oil and gets plopped into the blender …

Add the other ingredients.  Ordinarily, I would have chopped up the lemon zest before adding it for a ‘finer’ and more understated taste.  But that evening I was in too much of a hurry … and too hungry!

Freshly milled white pepper …  (Don’t ask what the coffee is doing in the photo … I expect it was lurking about near the stove when we got home and nobody bothered to put it where it belongs).

Process the mix being careful not to ‘overwork’ it … it must not go all liquid-y.   Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and …

Add the grated parmesan cheese if you think you are going to like it.  We do and we did.

I put in about 4 heaped soup spoons.

One egg.  Mix everything up very well and if the consistency is not thick enough, add some bread crumbs to ‘toughen’ it up.

Shaping the polpette di tonno …

Coating them in bread crumbs …

All those polpette from just two tins of tunny fish!

Fry the polpette in plenty of oil and in small batches.  Remove with a slotted spoon and let them rest on some kitchen paper before serving.

I served the polpette over a purée of celery and potatoes (which I had made the day before), together with the peperoni al forno (which I had also made the day before):

Please note the size of the garlic … it is cut very ‘big’.  The garlic imparts an inimitably pleasing flavour to the overall taste of the dish and is thus very necessary.  However, not everyone, including myself, actually likes to eat the raw garlic itself.  The bits of garlic are large enough to be espied by even the most near-sighted diner and hence he or she can safely shove it out of danger’s way, to the far end of the plate.

The impromptu meal brought on by my stubborn desire to tarry a while by the sea reserved another surprise.  I remembered that we had some Canadian wild salmon in the fridge, which we ate accompanied by toasted bread and butter.  So … what was going to be a very ordinary though perfectly good supper turned out to be a bit of a feast. It was half past nine by the time we sat down to eat.  Very late.  Very very late. The sort of naughty ‘late’ that seems fitting only during Summer, when time flows more slowly, ‘a misura d’uomo’, as they say in Italian, meaning ‘suitable or appropriate for man’.  And for yet another evening, I was able to ignore the whisper of seasonal melancholy subtly knocking at my front door.  It will bang loudly soon enough …

My Mother’s Aubergine/Eggplant Sandwich

Since I wrote about my mother-in-law’s recipe with aubergines, I think it might be a good idea to also include one of my own mother’s aubergine recipes.  This is not about rivalry between mothers-in-law but, rather, about variety being the spice of life.

INGREDIENTS

Aubergine/eggplant, flour, egg, oil for frying (groundnut oil), mozzarella, anchovy

Start by turning the oven on.  Isn’t it weird how so many summer dishes actually entail having to deal with a hot oven? Sigh.

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Flour on the left, beaten eggs on the right.  You might even add a little water to the beaten egg.  I had to water down my egg wash once because I didn’t have enough eggs to hand and everything worked out just fine.

2Slice the aubergine into rounds.

3Flour them on both sides and then dip them in the egg wash.

4Fry them on both sides.

5Pat the top of the fried aubergine with some kitchen paper to absorb any excess oiliness. Then sprinkle a little bit of salt.  Only a little.

6The idea is to make a sandwich with the slices of fried aubergine.  Place some mozzarella and a fillet of anchovy (the kind that is packed in oil) on one slice, add some basil and then bring the two halves together.

7Bake in the oven (200°C I would say) until they are done – about half an hour?

They don’t look like much but don’t be fooled.  Not once, not once I repeat, have I ever had any leftovers when it comes to this recipe !

Langoustines Francoise Dubo’s Way and Old-Fashioned Spinach My Mother’s Way

 

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I am not very good with growing herbs.  The only ones to flourish on my balcony are basil, sage, rosemary (and not always!), parsely, pennyroyal (called “menta romana”), chives, and marjoram.  I have lots of trouble with oregano and mint – and thyme isn’t very collaborative either.  But the winner is … yes, you’ve guessed it: dragoncello.  It just keeps growing, bless it, year after year (as witnessed by the above photo).  I used some sprigs to season a bottle of vinegar a couple of years ago, and I sometimes use it in sauces or for a particular chicken recipe.  For the rest, I have become too Italian to know how best to use it in my cooking.  I associate tarragon with French and English food.

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So … every now and then I crave shell fish.  And every now and then I have to resort to buying frozen.  My compromise is to buy the best quality frozen I can find (read: the most expensive) otherwise what is the point.  Still, I know that they spray some kind of preservatives over frozen fish to prevent them from going yukky, including something akin to bleach – which would explain the nasty whiff one gets sometimes with frozen fish.  Nowadays, apparently, they’ve done away with the awful stink and it’s all for the better.  Even so … I rinse my shell fish, after it has defrosted, I can’t tell you how many times.  Many many many, let me tell you.

“Gamberoni” or langoustines remind me of a friend and former yoga teacher of mine, the beautiful Francoise Dubo.  This charming French lady cooked some for my husband and me not long after we had married, and I still haven’t forgotten how good they were (and they were fresh, yes).  She was surprised that there was no fresh tarragon to be had in Frascati.  The word for tarragon in Italian is “dragoncello”, which means “little dragon” – and it is true, it is hardly used at all in Italian cuisine.  Hence, very difficult to find fresh.  So  Francoise had to resort to using dried tarragon.   With a little inward chuckle, I mused over the irony that I was going to use fresh tarragon and frozen langoustines this time.

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Some garlic, olive oil and butter.

6I added the tarragon shortly after taking this photo.  See below.783I added some cognac.

1012Once the cognac had cooked off its alcohol, I added some cream.  Salt and pepper (white pepper if you have some).

15Ready to be served.

To accompany this dish, I cooked spinach the way my mother used to.  It’s a recipe she learned in Sweden, but I suspect that it has very French origins. The spinach is quickly boiled in salted water, then drained, squeezed and roughly chopped.  Boil an egg.  Cool it and grate it or chop it with a knife if you prefer.  Slice and cooke an onion.  Add a pinch of nutmeg, some paprika and some cream.  Salt and pepper.

171819It is a very old-fashioned way of cooking spinach – very rich too.  We like to cook it this way at times and it seemed like just the best accompaniment for Francoise’s langoustines.

20Please don’t ask me how long it took to cook the langoustines – not a long time at all.  A question of minutes.

21As you can see, the flesh is not overcooked, it hasn’t gone “gummy”.

Merci bien, chère amie, grazie Francoise.  E grazie Mamma too !  Sometimes it’s nice to go old school (butter, cognac, cream, tarragon).

Nutty about Nuts! Curry Nut Roast

I have copied this directly, word for word, from my former food blog, http://www.myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com, because for some unfathomable technical reason that blog post won’t show any of the photos I had uploaded at the time.  Which is a shame since this is a relatively stress-free, plan-ahead, vegetarian/vegan friendly (if one cuts out the egg) and delicious concoction of foods that anyone can enjoy (unless one is allergic to nuts naturally).

I had written the post back in November 2011.  As we all know, fashions come and go, and that includes food choices and preferences, as well as trending, innovations and fads.  Well, I think this is a recipe that can stand the test of time, although there is always room for tweaking.

I was drawn to the mysterious disappearance of the photos by my daughter, who wanted to make this dish two days ago.

IMG_6813

In the event, this is how she presented the dish.  Surrounded by strips of sunny yellow capsicum/pepper, a sprinkling of rocket leaves and a handful of almonds.  It looks most inviting, even if I say so in a proud mamma way! 🙂

If you think you might enjoy making this, read below.  And again, bear in mind that I wrote it almost six years ago.

Nuts are a wonderful invention of Nature and it’s a pity, really, that we tend to eat nuts mainly, or only, as ‘nibbles’, to accompany a drink at happy hour, or to add crunch to a cake.

They are full of all kinds of nutritional goodies (1 Brazil nut a day will give you enough selenium for optimum daily intake) and keep many nasty health conditions at bay (walnuts for instance repel diabetes) and yes, the are fattening, but so what!  Instead of ‘fattening’, think ‘filling’ and healthy and unless you allergic to them, nuts can become a best friend on the dinner table.

The following is a recipe that my vegetarian friend Sarah taught me many years ago, called a Curry Nut Roast.  It may be vegetarian friendly but that doesn’t mean that omnivores can’t enjoy it too!  It can be served as a starter or as a main course, accompanied by rice or salad or even some lovely, thick Greek youghurt.  It is eaten at room temperature and is great for parties — and leftovers can be frozen too.  What more do you want!

The first thing to do is preheat the oven at 200°C.

THE INGREDIENTS

Hazelnuts 150g, walnuts 150g (or any other combination of nuts of your choice), 100g bread crumbs, 1 large onion, one red pepper, some olive oil, 250g plum tomatoes, curry powder, dried herbs of your choice (I used oregano), 1 egg to bind the mix, salt and pepper.

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On the far right is a special salt I happened to have, containing many herbs.

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Chop the onion and the red pepper and transfer to a frying pan with some olive oil in it.

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Have your curry powder, herbs and salt ready for use …

 

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Turn the heat on and let the onion and red pepper sweat for a few minutes over a medium heat.  After about 10 minutes add the curry, herbs and salt …

 

 

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The aromas wafting about in the kitchen at this point are truly delectable, especially if you like curry! When the veggies have had their sweat and are suitably wilted … time to add:6

The tomatoes.  These are cherry tomatoes (organic at that) out of a jar but plum tomatoes will do just as well, as would fresh tomatoes.

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Combine and stir, mixing everything up and cook for a few minutes.

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Meanwhile, while all this is happening or even before if you prefer: Put the nuts and the bread crumbs into a food processor and …

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Pulse until the nuts are smashed up and mixed in with the bread crumbs.

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Add them to the frying pan, combine and stir well with a wooden spoon. And that’s it. Switch off the heat and let it cool a little.

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There is your egg.  Beat it and add it to the mix.

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Here is superbly old-fashioned pyrex dish (circa 1970 for sure! I inherited it from my mother’s kitchen).  I buttered it first and then added the curry nut mix and pressed down with a spoon.

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I popped it into the oven and baked it till it was done … 30 minutes.  It could even take 40 minutes … the timing depends on the oven a lot.  And that’s it … finito, ready.  All you have to do is remove it from the oven and serve it.

If you are anything like me, you might want to drizzle a tiny amount of olive oil on it.  It is a very rich dish and a little goes a long way.  Enjoy!

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Catastrophic Artichoke Patties

In which a disgruntled hero tackles a disappointing result hands on hips.

Well, the hero (or heroine rather) would be me, and the adventure a culinary one from which even Aesops might draw a moral.  It all began with my being attracted to a recipe for cooking artichokes in a way completely different from my usual Roman trope (alla romana, alla giudia or even fried in batter).  Indeed, the recipe hails from Lombardy and the hint of mint made my nostrils flare with anticipation: parmesan, breadcrumbs and mint – what’s not to like? To be baked in the oven as opposed to the stove top – curioser and curioser.  So, nothing loath, off I trotted to buy the carciofi, the artichokes.

Ingredients for the disaster Baked Artichokes

The original recipe called for six artichokes but because there were going to be only two of us for dinner I halved the amounts.  Thus: 3 artichokes, 40g grated parmesan, 25g breadcrumbs, fresh mint leaves, 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Usually I comment the photos I take, one by one.  This time I won’t reference throughout because the procedure is quite obvious.

The artichokes need to be trimmed and their tough outer layers of leaves be unsparingly removed (show no mercy).  Simmer the artichokes whole in boiling salted water for 15 minutes, drain and place in cold water until they cool down.

Put the stuffing together (breadcrumbs, grated parmesan, minced mint leaves, and olive oil).

 

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Stuff the artichokes, sprinkle salt, dribble olive oil and place head down in a pyrex dish, with each head of artichoke covering a whole mint leaf.

Put the dish in a preheated oven (150°) for around 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven … and this is when I am supposed to say, “And Enjoy”.

Oh woe is me.  I cannot. This was the first time ever my favourite husband disappoved of something I had cooked; he nodded his head disapprovingly from side to side and confessed that, “No … they just aren’t good.  I can’t eat them.  Sorry.”

They were … haaard.  Woody.  Woody and weird.  Unappealing in the extreme.  I tried two bites and then gave in myself too.

And I was angry.  I hate it when a recipe fails to satisfy.  In this I am very much like Richmal Crompton’s character William Brown, from her  Just William book series.  I expect readers much younger than I will have never heard of them and you don’t know what you you are missing  – I think people suffering from depression should be made to read them as part of their recovery programme (here is a link to an episode from the TV series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TycXDEZdqgo – and here is another one, from a previous series:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEVm4MuB9_c  ) but the original books are bound to be better).   Anyway, in one of the stories, I’m afraid I can’t remember the title, William is spurred to break apart a grandfather clock, following the instructions from a Do-it-yourself book on how to recreate something or other.  When he attempts to put the clock back together again, and is unable to, he blames the book.  “You’d think the book would know what it’s talking about!” he complains bitterly, feeling quite betrayed, and amazed that his parents should get cross with him for his misdemeanour.  And that’s a little how I felt about that artichoke recipe.  And so, just before falling asleep that night, I vowed that I’d teach those artichokes a lesson or two, huh.  Scroll down and you will find out how I salvaged the situation.

Ingredients for the Salvation Artichoke Patties: diced chunks of mozzarella, 1 egg, breadcrumbs, groundnut oil or olive oil for frying

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This is what I started off with.  Basically, two cooked artichokes.

19I placed them in the processor and turned them to a pulp.

I cut up a mozzeralla into small chunks.  And I rolled the pulp into ball shapes.

22I flattened the balls and placed some mozzarella over each one.

23I rolled them back into a ball again.  So, in other words, each ball was stuffed with some mozzarella.

24I beat one egg and coated the artichoke balls with it.

2526I then coated the balls with breadcrumbs.

27And I fried them in batches in very hot oil for a very short time (they were already cooked after all) – just until they turned golden.

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Here is one of them, cut in half … the molten mozzarella looking like the telephine line of a supplì !

And this time, they WERE good, phew.  Not sure I’d make them again but at least I managed to salvage the situation and make something good of a kitchen catastrophe.

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Three left over the next morning.  Good even at room temperature.

So: three cheers and hurrah for luscious leftovers and delicious fried artichoke patties. The fried food fanatic (FFF) did it again, yeay!

PS St Lawrence is the patron saint of cooks.  Does anyone know if there is a patron saint for fried foods?

Yuletide Meatloaf with Porcini Mushrooms

Meatloaf, or polpettone as it is known in Italian, must surely rank as the most evocative of home food repasts both in Europe and North America, the embodiment of what a good housewife/mother or grandmother could put together for the family meal.  Wholesome, tasty, comforting and satiating, a meatlof would never aspire to la-di-da but neither would have the better-off classes sneered their noses down at what is basically a huge sausage.  We have all grown so much more sophisticated these past few decades where meals and cuisines are concerned thanks to TV programmes and social media and, let’s face it, a bit of an obsession over eating in general but I would wager that none of us would think it stonkingly out of place if we were to be served a meatloaf at a friend’s house for a meal – slightly out of fashion maybe, like food from the 1970s, or perhaps quaint, but not ‘wrong’ as such.  And that is because there is an intrinsic honesty to a meatloaf; it can’t lie, and there is only so much tweaking that can be apportioned to it upon pain of distorting, misrepresenting and downright perverting its nature.  So let’s hear it for the meatloaf, say I, let’s make it welcome even in the 21st century.  At the same time, and I realise I might be raising a hackle or two in saying so, let us not turn to any Ottolenghi-inspired makeovers, his shopping list alone would be an insult to what a meatloaf is all about.  Simple.  It is not supposed to make an impression or draw attention to itself.

It is supposed to be good, however, of course !  And the version I am about to talk to you about was definitely most enticing, taught to me and members of a group who had the good fortune to be invited to stay at the Casamora Farm for a gastronomy tourism workshop in Tuscany last June.  This farm and holiday destination is famous for many things, including its top notch extra virgin olive oil.  Owned and run by the erudite architect Maurizio Montani Fargna and his delightful energetic wife Matilde Visconti, a lot of historical family blood and background courses through their veins.  The photo below was snapped by Annalee Archie, who wrote about our experience on her tavoladelmondo.com website (see ‘tags’). They were the kindest of hosts and Maurizio a most engaging conversationalist.

casamora-by-lee

They turned to Stefania Barzini and her trusty friend and assistant Paola Colombo to run the cooking classes and I was overjoyed to take part.  What wasn’t there to like?

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But first a confession.  I am one of the few people in the world who would find meatloaf a challenge.  Indeed, one of my attempts turned out to be an outsized disaster and saw me transmogrifying a meatloaf into a cottage pie, sigh (https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/sheepish-in-meatloaf-battle-or-cottage-pie-a-litalienne/).  So the fact that Stefania was going to see us through a meatloaf from scratch was quite a boon.

INGREDIENTS

Dried porcini mushrooms, milk, bread, onions, carrots, good extra virgin olive oil, 1kg minced meat/ground beef, 1 egg, roughly chopped parsely, grated parmesan cheese, freshly ground nutmeg if desired, salt and pepper, flour, wine, plum tomatoes

The first thing to do is soak the porcini in hot water for at least twenty minutes, better still for one hour.  The mushrooms will regain some moisture and the liquid will be impregnated with their taste.

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Then soak some bread in milk until it has softened but not become too soggy:

53Put the minced meat in a mixing bowl.

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Add the bread and 1 egg.

7Then add the grated parmesan cheese.

9Add the rougly chopped parsely.

10Add some grated nutmeg (if you like it) and combine the ingredients, using your hands.

11Add salt and pepper last.  That’s it for now.  Stefania and Paola work in unison.

It’s now time to make a simple ‘soffritto’: chop a couple of onions and two carrots and sauté them in a frying pan that will be large enough to hold two meatloaves.

4The olive oil we used was, naturally, Casamora’s own evoo, one of the best in all of Italy.

15Once the onion and carrot have softened (about 5-minutes, you don’t want the onion to brown), you can start adding the porcini mushrooms.

16Remember our meat?  Now is the time to divide it and shape it into two loaves.  Then, using plenty, and I mean plenty, more than one would think!, flour … dredge the loaves so that they are utterly coated in flour.  No skimping !

17And now that the mushrooms have cooked a while, Stefania is about to lower the loaves into the pan.

And here we are: both loaves are in, the flame is a strong one, and a lid is placed on top of the pan.

20After about 10 minutes, off comes the lid, and in goes plenty of wine.  Please note: never sprinkle the wine on top of the meat itself.

21Stefania  makes a little room between the loaves and then turns them over (not as easy as one might think).

22In go two tins of plum tomato passata.  Unlike with the wine, it’s okay to slather the loaves with the tomatoes !

23On goes the lid … and we have to wait a little bit.  By a little bit,  I mean … oh very well, then, I’ll have to own up: I can’t remember how long.  Probably about 20 minutes or so ?

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Tieta Madia doesn’t mind waiting (https://chivoltailculamilan.com/).

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Nor do Matilde Visconti (centre) or Annalee Archie (on the right).

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And then it’s time to pour in some of the water that the porcini mushrooms had steeped in.  Dried porcini mushrooms are notorious for wanting to hang on to the soil they grew in, and there is bound to be some grit in the water.  Better to strain the porcini water through a fine mesh strainer before pouring it into the pan.  And now is the time to banish the lid.  The liquid has to cook down.

27After about another 10 minutes or so (yes, I know, I  know, I am only guessing – but surely I can’t be too off the chronological mark?) …. the sauce has thickened beautifully, the meat is cooked through and all is well in the meatloaf world.

28This is what one of the loaves looked like just before being served.  I wish I had more photos of it on the plate but I was too busy eating and enjoying my lunch by then.

So yes … a humble dish with an aristocratic ingredient, the porcini mushroom, also known as ceps in English.  Not too shabby as a yuletide dish … what do you reckon?