Loosey Goosey Mozzarella Topping for Fried Aubergine Slices

The queen of summer dishes is the Parmigiana di Melanzane, of course.  Slices of aubergine fried in olive oil and then baked in the oven with mozzarella, basil, parmesan and a tomato sauce.  It is, however, a dish that requires an attitude of reverence and plenty of time for its production.  One evening a few weeks ago, I decided I would settle for an aubergine recipe that would use the same ingredients basically but at the same time offer the bonus of taking less than an hour to prepare.

I also decided to go for this recipe because … the aubergines and tomatoes I had to hand weren’t exactly the best quality.  I am a bit of a bore when it comes to where to do one’s food shopping and I have been avoiding/boycotting supermarkets for many years now, ever since I read the book by Felicity Lawrence “Not on the Label”, circa 2005/6/7 … can’t remember exactly which year.  I realise I am at risk of coming across as a terrible snob, with supercilious standards, especially with regard to people who go to supermarkets for reasons of economy.  So I hasten to add that Frascati, which is where I live, is a very short distance to many markets: our own Frascati covered market open Monday to Saturday and a Slow Food Market every Saturday morning, both of which I can reach on foot; then there are farmers markets in the area (Ariccia), and weekly markets (Grottaferrata on Mondays, Cocciano on Wednesdays), as well as a couple of farms (Capodaraco in Grottaferrata and Iacchelli not far from Nemi). And not only do the prices of their wares compete very favourably with supermarket prices but … their produce is infinitely better on the whole, it really is, no contest! I am nearly always disappointed when I buy veg from a supermarket.  Which fortunately does not happen very often.

Anyway, it just so happened that I had some dodgy looking aubergines and tomatoes sourced from, you guessed it, the supermarket.  Their look wasn’t exactly a come-hither one and the only answer for me to such a strait (that perhaps only I deem to be dire) was to go down the tasty camouflage route, i.e. to take recourse to frying.  As they say in Italian, even the sole of a shoe would taste good if it were fried.

INGREDIENTS

Aubergines, tomatoes, basil leaves, breadcrumbs, eggs, mozzarella, good quality extra virgin olive oil, oil for frying (either olive oil or groundnut/peanut oil).  Salt.

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The first thing to do is rip the mozzarella and put it in a sieve or colander so as to dry it up a little, remove the excess of its liquid.

1These tomatoes looked pretty enough but … their taste left a lot to be desired. I had a little bit of tweaking to do in order to amp up their flavour.  Cut the tomatoes in half, and then half again, place in another colander and allow them to drip away.

2And here is the prepping station.  Some beaten eggs in one plate.  Some breadcrumbs in another.  The unprepossessing aubergines.  I peeled them, cut them into fairly thick round slices.  I then coated them with the egg wash before breading them on both sides.

3Be sure to press quite hard.  Fingers get to be incredibly sticky and require frequent rinsing (especially if the phone rings – now why is it that the phone tends to always ring or the neighbour call in when I am in the process of frying food?  Maybe the anti-frying police is after me.).

4Off I went and shallow fried the aubergine slices.  Turning them over only once.  I removed them with a slotted spoon and set them over a plate with kitchen paper to welcome any unwanted oiliness.

6And now back to the mozzarella rags.  I put them in the food processor with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.  I used the pulse feature to process them. I seem to remember adding 1 tablespoon of very cold water, to ‘loosen’ the mozzarella as it were.

7I stopped the blitzing and tasted the mozzarella.

8I decided it required a little more olive oil.  A good sprinkle of salt and white pepper and some fresh basil leaves.  A little more blitzing and it was done.

9And here, dear reader, is my loosey goosey mozzarella topping: easy peasy!

It was time to put the ingredients together and serve the dish.

1011I added a little dribble of olive oil to the tomatoes as well as a tiny sprinkle of salt (sea salt, always sea salt).

On the platter.

1314And for all my lamenting and decrying over the quality of the aubergines and tomatoes, this recipe turned out to be very good indeed.  All of the aubergine slices got wolfed down and a sense of summer satiety obtained at the dinner table.  Frying can work miracles, I tell you.

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.

Nieves makes Paella for Us

Our friend Nieves Alberruche is an artist who can’t help but infuse her creative bent into her cooking.  Or her kitchen, I love the entrance to her kitchen.

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She hails from Spain (Madrid) and adores Dalì but she would never dream of Dali-fying the dish she makes so well and that we all adore: paella.   The paella she made for us last week looked like this:

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And was preceded by a delicious gazpacho.

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Two years ago, I photographed Nieves as she went about making her delectably more-ish paella. What follows is a blow-by-blow account of how she prepares it … and believe me, it’s worth all the effort.  But first a word of cautionary apology: I read just recently via Tracey Macleod that “true Valencians never eat paella at night – that’s really the mark of a rube, like drinking a cappuccino after lunch in Rome.”  Sigh.   However, hers being a Valencian paella, Nieves did almost stick to tradition, it contains only local seafood; strictly no meat.  (It is not supposed to contain vegetables either but Nieves decided otherwise – I told you, she’s an artist.)

Another ‘artist’ friend of  mine, the food writer Gareth Jones, who tragically left us two years ago, wrote a very engaging blog about paella and arroz, and I would encourage you to read it, here is the link: http://www.garethjonesfood.com/?p=2362

But now  … on with Nieves and HER paella.

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It all starts with a dog.  You have to have some kind of pet or loved one to keep you company as you cook.  Meet Walter.   The family dog.

Nieves says that one has to be thoroughly organised and have all the ingredients and equipment at the ready so as to avoid dither.  Hence … large clean glass or mug (to use as a measuring cup), a water jug, the rice.  Peeled and sliced onions and garlic, olive oil (lots of olive oil!), red capsicum and peas or green beans in one bowl. Sweet paprika (“pimenton”). Cleaned fish in another bowl.  Manila clams somewhere else and, last, whole prawns. Also needed are a few pinches of saffron, salt and 6 lemons. Cut 4 lemons into wedges and squeeze the other two for their juice.

One glass of rice per person.  Two glasses of water per glass of rice.  Pour all the water inside a water jug to make things easier (that way, you don’t have to keep running to the tap to refill the glass).

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It is also mandatory, I would say, to use a proper paella pan. Indeed, the pan itself is called a ‘paella’.  The Spanish colonization of southern Italy must surely have something to do with the fact that the Italian word for a pan is “padella” ….?

It all begins with a good amount of olive oil spread out over the paella pan.  Enough to cover the entire surface of the paella. That means a lot of oil, don’t be afraid !

Switch the heat on, cook the onions and garlic over a low heat, and then scatter some peas (frozen at that) and slithers of de-seeded red capsicum (red peppers).   Very low heat, we don’t want to scorch the ingredients, just make them ‘mellow’.

A prodigious amount of “pimenton” is then added, i.e. the sweet paprika.

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As you can see, Nieves quickly made sure the paprika combined with the other ingredients. She says it must not ‘cook’ for more than a minute or so at this stage, otherwise it will become bitter.  We are still cooking over a low heat.  Hence …


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In went the rice, all in one energetic go.

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And, by the looks of it, Nieves proceeded to spread the rice and let it ‘toast’ for a bit – not unlike the procedure for making risotto.  One big difference is that the rice has to be spread very thinly in this case.  Sprinkle salt over the rice before spreading it around. Rice, after all, requires plenty of salt if it is to acquire flavour.

Oh and about the rice in question, if it can’t be the Spanish bomba, it should at least be a short-grained one (i.e. the oryza sativa): no basmati or jasmine or other Oriental rice.  I expect Nieves used a plain Italian Arborio rice.

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Time to add the water to completely cover the dish. Now also add the pinches of saffron. The saffron should not overpower the taste of the delicate fish. A vast (and very expensive!) amount is certainly not required.

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Fishy flavour can be called into play now, in order to enhance the broth, with the congregation of mussels and calamari that are introduced at this point into the bubble, bubble, toil-but-no-trouble paella.

At no time did Nieves stir the rice.  If anything, the rice must be left well alone until all the liquid has been absorbed, and left to cook longer than one would think.  That is because it is supposed to develop some crust underneath, as well as around the edges.

Nieves added  prawns too, but later on, after about 15 minutes (they take less time to cook).  Her advice is to sink and lightly crush their heads into the rice (using a spoon or toothpick) so that any liquor can also go into making the paella tastier.

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When she deemed the dish ready, she infused the paella with plenty of lemon juice.  She then decorated it with wedges of cut lemons.

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Now is the the last-minute tweak moment: turn up the heat so as to allow the bottom part of the rice to develop a crunchy crustiness.  Then, obviously, switch the heat off. And remove from the burner.

18Looking good, eh? Final touch? Spread a clean tea towel over the paella so that the steam can imbue its magic, helping the overall texture of the dish.

A paella should be served just warm … never hot. Squeeze more lemonjuice if you so desire.  By the way, you will be surprised to discover that all that oil ‘miraculously’ disappears into deliciousness. Skimp on the oil and  your texture will be brittle and horrid.


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Walter heartily approved !  Gracias, grazie, thank you Nieves!

P.S. If you are interested in what makes a true paella, you need to read about Guillermo Navarro.  It is he who has been behind the wikipaella.org pages.

Guillermo Navarro: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/how-to-make-the-perfect-paella-guillermo-navarro-says-youre-doing-wrong-heres-why-9549422.html

Link to Wikipaella.org: http://en.wikipaella.org/receta/public/resultados

Tracey MacLeod on paella: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/features/how-to-make-the-perfect-paella-guillermo-navarro-says-youre-doing-wrong-heres-why-9549422.html

 

 

Swordfish with a Pecorino Imbued Sauce

Anyone who has lived in Italy for any length of time, or even visited it for a brief spell with a gastronomic field trip in mind, will come to know that fish and cheese are not bed mates in this country.  Horror of horrors to any law abiding Italian is – perish the thought – the addition of parmesan or other cheese to any pasta dish featuring a creature of the deep or even surface seawater.  The only exception I am aware of is pasta using mussels and pecorino.

And then, out of the blue, my English friend Michelle Smith who has lived here for over 35 years tells me that one of her favourite seafood pasta dishes involves swordfish and pecorino.  Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather.  “Doesn’t the pecorino overwhelm the swordfish?”, I enquire with eyebrow raised and lips pursed to one side of my mouth in disbelief.  She assures me that it does not though of course one mustn’t overdo it with the grated pecorino.  Hmmm.

The thing is … my family are not great lovers of swordfish.  The last time I even ate swordfish was in Sicilly, during a memorable holiday in July of 2014.  We had lunch at the family restaurant on the water which is featured in so many Inspector Montalbano TV series, called “Enzo a Mare” (https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/08/02/montalbano-land-and-enzo-a-mare/).

And then Friday afternoon (Tuesdays and Fridays are the traditional days for eating fish in Italy) I decided we simply had to have some fresh fish for dinner.  So off I trotted to Monteporzio Catone, a little town up the hill from Frascati, where I know I can find a very good fishmonger open in the afternoon.

The first thing I espy are oysters, French ones at that, and so I make my mind up on the spot that I shall need a few of those just to get me going on the supper.

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I look around and decide that, though I may not marry pasta with it, it’s about high time I had a go at swordfish and pecorino.  And while we’re at it, why not get some juicy anchovies to fry, dusted with flour?

And this is my bounty once I got home (aside from the oysters above):

5A big fat thick slice of swordfish, some gutted anchovies and a lovely bunch of saltwort – barba di frati or agretti, as they are called in Italian.

5aThe agretti are blanched in salted water, draind and set aside.

7The anchovies are thoroughly dusted with flour.

6They are then deep fried in groundnut (peanut) oil at the appointed time.

 

I also found some lovely asparagus, which I trimmed and washed and then sliced into two or three constituent parts.  I proceeded to simmer them in salted water for a minimum time, drain them and quickly plunge them into cold water to stop the cooking process.

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I know that I shall have need of both lemon, oranges and parsely.  The lemon was from the Costiera amalfitana and the orange from Sicily.  What a lucky girl I am indeed.

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Once the asparagus had cooled down, I placed them around the edge of a large platter.  And added some orange slices in the middle.

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And now it was time for a bit of cheesy alchemy.  Olive oil, lemon juice, chopped parsely, grated pecorino romano cheese … and a squeeze of orange juice. And a squeeze of lemon juice.

9Process all the ingredients.  Taste … and add a bit of water, a bit of salt.

10The final flourish is the glug of olive oil (evoo naturally).  Stir and stir, taste and taste, add a bit of this, add a bit of that … and Bob’s your uncle.  This is definitely not the typical Sicilian salmoriglio sauce but … even so … most adequate.  The pecorino is hardly detectable as an individual ‘cheese’ component, and yet imparts some sense of oily gluttony that is just the business for this sauce.

11Pat the swordfish steak until it is dry on both sides, using kitchen paper.

Time to get dinner on the table!

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Plenty of olive oil and plenty of dried oregano (I don’t have fresh at this time of year, sorry).

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Once the heat has got going, add the steak and cook on one side over a fairly high heat.  For .. sorry, I can’t remember how long.  But not too long … maybe three minutes? Enjoy the sizzling sound.

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And then turn it over.  And let it cook on the other side until the pink in the middle of the steak goes a pale white.  Another three minutes?  Whatever.  I don’t like raw fish unless I am eating sushi or ‘crudo’ or ceviche but I do know that swordfish must not be overcooked either. Sprinkle a little salt at this stage.

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Once I think it is done … I cut the steak in half.  Half for me and half for my favourite husband.

16Plonk the halved steak on the seving dish, over the slices of orange and surrounded by blanched asparagus.

17Serve on the individual plate.

18Pour the green sauce.

Enjoy.

It was lovely.  Not overpowering, and the tang of the orange and lemon making it very fresh.  And the ‘secret’, very discreet, ingredient, the grated pecorino, contributing that sense of fatty satisfaction that can only delight a palate.  I was lucky, I had intuited how much pecorino to mix into the sauce.  Any more and it would have been too much.

 

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?

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.