Beloved Blini – Home Made!

It’s that time of year, festivities, end of calendar year.  And one way to celebrate is to make Blini.  By the time you read this it will probably be too late for you to make any in time for dinner tonight (and that’s if you’re staying in) but who knows? Maybe next year?

Next year is not only a new year, it is also a new decade.  May this decade bring peace, prosperity, emotional healing as well as good health, comfort and cheer, warm relationships and lots and lots of fun for everyone.

INGREDIENTS

100g – Buckwheat flour

200g – 00 Flour (with pinch of salt BUT add the salt later, when it has rested for 1 hour)

300ml milk with pinch of sugar in it

200 yogurt or sourcream

4 eggs – separate egg yolks from egg whites

Yeast: half a cube of fresh brewer’s yeast, about 12.5g

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GETTING STARTED

Warm the milk until it just about reaches boiling point, take it off the heat and then add the yeast. Whisk so that it dissolves in the milk.

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Below you will see the yogurt in one bowl, on the left, with the milk with the dissolved yeast in a pan on the right.  Top left, the bowl with the two flours and four egg yolks in it. Top right are the four egg whites.

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Start by adding the yogurt to the milk pan.

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And now you can pour this mixture into the bowl and use a whisk or a wooden spoon to combine all the ingredients.  You could, if you preferred, beat the egg yolks separately and include them in the wet ingredients.  You choose.

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Cover with a tea towel for about an hour.

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This is what it looks like after about one hour.

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Whisk the four egg whites.

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Add the beaten egg whites to the blini batter.

IMG_6008Add the salt only NOW.  If you add the salt too soon, it will hinder the raising agent work of the yeast.  Again, cover with a tea towel and let it rest for one hour, better two.

IMG_6009And here it is now … all light and fluffy and waiting to be cooked.

IMG_6010Melt a small amount of butter in a frying pan, maybe a non-stick one would be a good idea.  When the blini start to ‘bubble’ on the surface, turn them over.  It doesn’t take long to gook the blini.  They’re just lke pancakes after all.

IMG_6011IMG_6014They are very nice served with sour cream and smoked salmon.

IMG_6015Shame I can’t get fresh dill around here.  Aw well, never mind.  I used a bit of dried dill instead.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE !!!

Bagna Cauda – A Piedmontese Dip/Sauce That We Can All Love

All of us who like anchovie, that is.

I wrote this post in November 2013.  It hasn’t dated I am glad to say – I mean the sauce hasn’t dated.  It is umami in the best of ways and will uplift any bland morsel that needs livening up.

Foraging inside the Fridge and a Hot Dip – Bagna Caoda

“When it comes to stocking the refrigerator,” I should like to say suavely with knowledge born of long experience, “my general goal is to stick to three staples:  the sort of ingredients that are required on a daily or regular basis, those that last for a good long while, and those that can always be counted upon in times of emergency.  Hence: coffee, milk, cream, eggs, butter, lemons, anchovies packed in oil, parmesan cheese, pecorino cheese, pancetta or guanciale, a tube of tomato paste, carrots and celery.”

Ha!  In my dreams …

In real life, there are times when opening the fridge door could serve as living proof of a law of physics (whose name escapes me because my own knowledge of physics is lamentably scratchy) whereby if someone utters a sound, and the waves of that sound ‘hit’ a barrier, the barrier will transmit a variation of that sound back if left unimpeded by empty space.  It’s what we call an ‘echo’.  Meaning, there are times when my refrigerator is so cavernously empty that if I belt out a mock rendition of a yodelling song, it will echo a riff of it back to me … as if to say, “Oi! What do you expect hee hoo?”

It is not often, however, that the fridge in our home is minimalist and yodel-like.  It’s usually quite ‘stocked’ … maybe not ‘well’ stocked, but stocked nevertheless.  And that’s because a fridge is as easy to clutter as a home.  It requires tremendous discipline to keep it in spanking shape.  Discipline and people who are tidy and methodical as opposed to nearly always being in a tearing hurry or trying to do too many things at the same time …

Try as I might to stick to three basic staples, there are times when the fridge door ajar reveals a congeries of plastic, glass, ceramic containers and/or parcels wrapped in paper and aluminium foil, storing all kinds of leftovers and ‘bits’.  It’s a state of affairs that will intransigently forbid echoing of any sort and, if anything, seems to glare at me defiantly as if to say, “Don’t give us that look of chagrin, it’s all your doing that we are here, cooped up in this fridge of yours.”  And then there are other times, mercifully, when all that bounty in the fridge is truly a pleasure to behold.  Variety is the spice of life and all that.

But variety is at variance with discipline, as I mentioned above … and recently I had not been a good girl and my fridge had been left to fend for itself — it if could speak it would have lodged a complaint with the RSPR (Royal Society for the Protection of Refrigerators).

Thus it was that I recently resolved to undertake a thorough Feng Shui Decluttering and re-organization of the fridge, upon pain of succumbing to some grubby-fridge-related malaise.  It took me the better part of six hours, let me tell you … I washed and rinsed EVERYTHING, and whacked some sorely needed law and order into this most important of household containers and my zeal knew no end.  And yes, I did throw quite a lot of stuff away … which I always hate to do because it seems so wasteful.  But clinging onto ‘bits’ when you know you are not going to get around to utilising them is just sad and creates clutter in the fridge.  I found an inordinate amount of half empty jam jars which fuelled a sudden passion for making jam tarts (crostata).  “Very nice this crostata, good jam eh?” commented a family member and I didn’t have the heart to tell them it was actually a mixture of various jams.

Another treasure I came across as I foraged inside the fridge, that I was again happy to ‘transform’ instead of throw away, were these salt-dried anchovies.

IMG_3010They look pretty awful don’t they.  I don’t know how long they had resided chez nous but it was definitely a case of months as opposed to days.  They were very dried out.IMG_3011I put them in a bath … lots of baths actually … I kept throwing the water away and repleneshing it … and the final rinse saw a splash of wine in the water.

I had decided to make a Piedmontese dish called “bagna caoda” which translates as “hot sauce” — a ‘bagna’ being a sauce in that part of Italy and ‘caoda’ the dialect for the word “calda” meaning hot or warm.  I was almost 30 the first time I tasted this and fell in love straight away.  This is the recipe that my Torinese friend Piera Sacco taught me and I hadn’t made it in a long, long time!  It may not be exactly how she she would have made it but it’s very close.

IMG_3012Steel yourself.  The first thing Piera told me that we were talking about one whole head of garlic per person per (can’t-remember-how-many) anchovies per person.  In other words lots and lots of garlic.  I’d say that we are talking about 40 cloves of garlic in this photo?IMG_3013Here is the garlic, peeled and in a saucepan.  You could slice the garlic thinly … but who has the time?IMG_3014Cover the garlic with milk and simmer until the garlic softens.  This might take about 30 minutes and keep an eye on it, in case you need to add another splash of milk.  The reason we simmer the garlic in the milk is that we want to remove some of their pungency … otherwise the garlic would be raping your taste buds senseless instead of courting them.  That and no one will want to sit next to you for at least three weeks, you’ll reek so much.IMG_3015While the garlic was simmering … I got on with the anchovies that had fortunately recovered a bit of their freshness by now.IMG_3016I proceeded to groom the anchovies: top and tail them, and removed all the bony and scaly parts.IMG_3017When the garlic had gone nice and mushy ….IMG_3018I introduced the garlic to the anchovies, trying to leave as much of the milk behind as possible.IMG_3019I then broke up the anchovies and mushed them up with the mushy garlic …IMG_3020I added about half a glass of olive oil … enough olive oil to cover the anchovies and the garlic by about half an inch, say …IMG_3021And I simmered what had by now become a paste for about another 20 minutes, over a very low heat.  The paste must not burn … and, again, do keep any eye on it and add a little more olive oil if necessary.IMG_3022I then poured the paste into a glass jar (and yes, that’s a bit of chocolate I recovered in the fridge — even though, as we all know, chocolate should never be inside the fridge in the first place … and the other two glass jars contain various stocks that I did use up in a soup).IMG_3023Once the paste had cooled down, I added more olive oil to seal it in, and covered the jar with its lid.IMG_3024When it was cool enough, I placed the jar containing the bagna caoda in the freshly cleaned fridge, standing next to a jar of dried roses.  Talk about a contrast!IMG_3047Segue a week later and we are having friends over for dinner and I thought we’d have bagna caoda as an appetizer.  I plopped a tablespoon of butter into a saucepan …IMG_3048I added some bagna caoda and turned the heat on.  I left the butter to melt over a low heat, and simmered the sauce (it IS a sauce now and no longer a paste) for a few minutes, until everything melded together beautifully.

The bagna caoda is served hot, usually in a ceramic pot called a “fujot”, and a large variety of crudités are used to dip into it.  IMG_3049Silly me … I didn’t frame the photo so that you can see the aperture where a candle is burning and keeping the bagna caoda hot … but if you look closely, you can see that it’s there … there is a glow on the right.IMG_3051And it’s not just veggies and boiled potatoes and spring onions that you can use as a dipping tool … if you have any leftover bagna, you could probably use some over boiled meat? a little spooned over a poached egg? an omelette? green beans?  The mind boggles … this is a hot dip indeed.

Classic Anchovy Sauce and the Cauliflower

This is for all my cauliflower-loving friends who by now know full well how hesitant I am about this vegetable.  I just can’t fathom why you like eating this, admittedly pretty looking,  member of the Brassicaceae family.  You rave about it whether it be raw or roasted or made into fake-rice (for those who cut down on their carbs).  Victor Hazan apparently has always enjoyed it cooked and served with just a little olive oil and wine vinegar.  Go anywhere near Ottolenghi and the addition of ingredients goes into double figures.  The point I am making is that cauliflower always needs dressing up and, for that matter, can cause bloatedness and its cousin flatulence (https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/health/1044703/stomach-pain-bloating-bloated-stomach-remedies-cauliflower ). Yet still I forge on … trying this recipe and that, always in the hope that I might one day be won over.

Last week I got into a frenzy as I visited Frascati’s vegetable market.  I went wild and bought loads of veggies including some not shown in the photo below.

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Maybe its because the days are getting shorter (and next weekend we are going to be switching the clocks back) and dark days are looming ahead (I mean in terms of light during day-time), it got so I wanted to buy nearly ALL the vegetables on show there, including Mr Cauliflower himself.

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Once home, I had all kinds of ideas for the rest of the vegetables and thought kindly even of Mr Cauli.  Forget about all those recipes I’d looked into during the past  few years.  I resorted to a classic accompaniment: an anchovy sauce.  My friend Phyllis Knudsen will be raising her eyes up to heaven as she reads this but I know her hubby would appreciate it.  My husband most certainly did – so phew.

INGREDIENTS: Cauliflower (duh), a tube of anchovy paste or otherwise some anchovy fillets, garlic cloves, some milk.  The polar opposite of an Ottolenghi recipe list ha ha ha.

DIRECTIONS – couldn’t be easier.

Start by cutting up the cauliflower into florets and simmer it in slightly (repeat slightly) salted water.  Drain it ONLY when the sauce is ready.  It doesn’t take long to make the sauce so this is just common sense.

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Pour a good amount of olive oil into a small saucepan (this happens to be a milk pan) and add as many or as few cloves of garlic as you wish.  Cook until the garlic turns golden, over a very gentle heat.  No browning please !

4Get your anchovy paste out of the fridge.

5Add some milk to the pan containing the garlic and cook it until the garlic goes mushy – it doesn’t take long.  Meanwhile, squirt the equivalent of 4 tablespoons of anchovy into a little bowl.

6Add the paste to the milk pan and stir and stir until you get a nice consistency.  Drain the cauliflower florets.  Put them into a serving bowl.  Pour the sauce over them evenly, gently mix.

7And serve.

POST SCRIPTUM

I also bought broccelletti that morning:

IMG_4936Here they are in a water bath.  I simmered them in salted water, drained, squeezed well and – when they were cool enough – placed them in the freezer.  There is also a big leek in the photo and one solitary fennel, which we ate raw.

Clever cooking tip for roasted peppersOh and bell peppers – here’s a nice tip  I picked up and wish to pass on.  Slice the peppers and then let them bask in hot water (i.e. water brought to the boil which you then switch off) for 10 minutes.  Remove, let them cool down, and then pat dry.  When you’re ready, cook them on a griddle (cast iron preferably) over a high heat, slightly coated in olive oil.  I suppose you could grill them (we don’t have a grill).  Please believe me, the taste and ‘bite’ of these peppers was simply delicious!

And there was also a bunch of beetroot, aha!  But I’ll tell you about those in my next post.

 

Soufflé Olé

Below you can read a post I wrote about soufflé making on my previous blog (My Home Food That’s Amore). I wrote the post almost seven years ago but nothing has changed in the way I make it.  I continue to like its relative simplicity and everyone seems to like it.

The Suave Soufflé: Food that gets Blown into Deliciousness

The poor soufflé is saddled with a bad reputation for being difficult to make.  I would say that a superb soufflé might be arduous to produce but that an ordinary, jolly good one is easy peasy and should definitely be included in the midweek supper menu, especially when the weather starts sending out signals of nippiness.  Alan Davidson in the Oxford Compantion to Food [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 735), gives us the following historical vital statistics on the soufflé:

Souffle – A French word which literally means “puffed up,” is a culinary term in both French and English (and used in many other languages) for a light, frothy dish, just stiff enough to hold its shape, and which may be savory or sweet, hot or cold.The basic hot souffle has as its starting point a roux–a cooked mixture of flour and butter…This type of souffle was a French invention of the late 18th century. Beauvilliers was making souffles possibly as early as 1782 (though he did not publish his L’Art du cusinier until 1814).

Recipes for various kinds appear in Louis Ude’s The French Cook of 1813, a work which promises a “new method of giving good and extremely cheap fashionable suppers at routs and soirees. Later, in 1841, Careme’s Patissier Royal Parisien goes into great detail on the technique of making souffles, from which it is clear that cooks had been having much trouble with souffles that collapsed. The dish acquired a reputation for difficulty and proneness to accidents which it does not really deserve…There are some Ukranian and Russian dishes of the hot souffle type, independently evolved and slightly different in composition.”

I owe my basic soufflé recipe to Delia Smith and have always found it to be very reliable (thank you Delia!).  The BEST thing about a soufflé is that you can prepare most of it, if need be, the day before — which is an excellent idea for when you are having people over to dinner.  The mixture can be doled out into individual ramekins instead of a single oven dish and that makes it quicker to serve too, as well as making the presentation an engaging one.   You can add all sorts of puréed vegetables or other ingredients to the basic soufflé mix and chime in with whatever is in season: squash, courgettes, artichokes and mushrooms for instance.

This is going to be quite a long post, be warned.  But once mastered, the steps prove to be very intuitive and easily remembered.

Here are the ingredients: 6 eggs, 200g cheese, 300ml milk, 50g butter, 50g flour, a pinch of cayenne pepper, a pinch of mustard powder, a twist of freshly grated nutmeg (not shown in the photo) and salt and pepper.  This will be enough to feed 6-8 people.  If, instead, there are going to be 3-4 to dinner, and there is plenty of other food on the menu, then use half of these recommended doses.  Regarding what cheese to use: use a mixture of cheeses if you like, why not, and bear in mind cheddar, emmenthal, gruyère, fontina and parmesan.

The first thing to do is turn the oven on, at 190°C and then grease your ramekins or soufflé dish with butter.  Set aside. (PS – the oven setting should NOT be convection – the air blowing around the oven would not be hepful for soufflés.)

Then, start the recipe by cracking the eggs and separating the yolks from the whites in different bowls.  Place the bowl containing the egg whites in the fridge — this will make it easier to whisk them later on.

Place the flour, butter, cayenne pepper and mustard powder in a saucepan.  Arm yourself with a whisk and a wooden spoon, you are going to need them.

Switch on the heat and very soon it will start looking like this … use the whisk to mix all the ingredients and cook for about 1 minute (or less).

Now add the milk.  A little at a time, using one hand, and whisking away with the other hand.  It might look ‘lumpy’ at first, but don’t worry.  Keep whisking and it will all meld beautifully.

See?  Now is the time to switch to the wooden spoon.

Stir away to cook the mixture (roux) for about 2 minutes.  Add salt and pepper.

Now add the cheese.  Ahem … what you see in the photo is not quite ‘proper’.  The proper thing to do is to grate the cheese first — but I was in a hurry that evening.  No matter.  The cheese did melt eventually, it just took longer that’s all.

Here is the proof that the cubes of cheese did melt!  Now switch off the heat.

Beat the egg yolks well with a fork or whisk and add them a little at a time to the roux. In order for the egg yolks to combine perfectly with the roux, it is a good idea to add them one at a time.  That is the ‘proper’ thing to do.  Ahem … I wasn’t in a ‘proper’ mood that evening, evidently, and added the beaten egg yolks all together.

But I did stir away with great vigour and zest with my trusty wooden spoon!

All combined and golden and gleaming.  I call this the end of “Phase I”.

Phase II:

Take the bowl containing the egg whites out of the fridge and get hold of your electric beater.  You could try whisking them by hand … you could … but I wouldn’t advise it, too much elbow work unless you are an expert at it.

Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and then whisk away until you get the cloudy, foamy, frothy peaks that are going to put the souffle into your soufflé!

And here we are, ready to combine the two.

Start by putting a large spoonful of the beaten egg whites into the golden roux and mixing well.  This will loosen it up a little.

Then mix the whole lot together — but very gently! you don’t want the bubbles of air that make the egg whites stiff to lose their fluffiness.  When combining, remember to stir the spatula or wooden spoon (whatever you prefer) in a downward-to-upward movement as opposed to a round-and-round movement.  This protects those precious bubbles of air.

Then pour the mixture into the butter-greased soufflé bowl – in this case it was an oval pyrex dish, very 1970s!

Give it one final gentle stir.

The ‘proper’ temperature for cooking the soufflé is, apparently, 180°C — but experience has taught me that on my oven at least, the closer the temperature is to 200°C the better.  Every oven is quirky in its own way, so the best advice I can give you is to try it at 190°C (I’m very good at compromise).

Cook until ready.  How often have I read that in a recipe and been very irritated with the recipe writer for not being more specific!  All I can say is that, again, depending on the temperamental quirkiness of your own oven, this soufflé can take any time between 25 and  35 minutes.  Since it is considered the height of tabu to open the oven door while the soufflé is cooking — I would advise that you opt for a sensible 30 minute cooking time.

Here is the soufflé served with spinach.

Here is another soufflé I made in another pyrex dish.

Served with salad that time …

And that is the end of Soufflé Story for today except for one super time-saving and mood-enhancing tip, and that is that most of the soufflé can be prepared the day before!  Yes! And that is very good news if you are having people over to dinner and want to spend more time talking with them than you do preparing food in the kitchen (that’s what I meant by mood enhancing).  On Day 1, follow the instructions all the way to Phase I.  Then put everything in the fridge, covering both the egg-white bowl and the roux with clingfilm/saran wrap/plastic food wrapping.  On Day 2, take the roux out of the fridge at least one hour before cooking time (it has to be at room temperature, in other words).  Proceed with Phase II.  Don’t I deserve a medal for telling you that? I think I do!

POST SCRIPTUM – SOUFFLE WITH SQUASH

The idea was to add pumpkin to my cheese soufflé.  I poached the pumpkin in milk, adding garlic and sage leaves too.

I also added some olive oil and a strange salt I picked up, made with maple syrup.  Use ordinary salt by all means!  Those little beads scattered on the pumpkin are coriander — about one teaspoon.Once the squash was cooked, I mashed it up with a wooden spoon first …And then passed it through a food mill to get the texture I was after — a very smooth one.  I tasted it again and then added a bit more salt and pepper.  I was cooking 10 ramekins and so added 10 spoons of this pumpkin puré to the soufflé roux at the end of Phase I.

Previously I had placed fairly thin slices of the pumpkin in the oven, and cooked them for 15 minutes.  I also cut up some pancetta and cooked that until crispy.  When the ramekins of soufflé came out of the oven, I placed the slices of pumpkin and the pancetta on top of each one.  I was going to garnish the ramekins with fresh sage leaves but my friend Diane had the brilliant idea of  coating them with flour and cooking them quickly in olive oil for an added dash of both taste and texture, as well as presentation.

This photo gives you an idea.  If you look closely, you can see the pancetta, the slices of oven-cooked slices of squash and the sage leaves.  All in all, a very nice autumnal soufflé!

Panettone Pudding – Making the Most of a Christmas Leftover

 

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So, yes … Nadia, my sister-in-law, came to the rescue as regards the dessert for our dinner (see previous post).  Not only is the recipe pretty fool-proof, even by my own dessert-making-101 standards, but the final outcome was heralded and enjoyed with much flattering appreciation for its maker.  It was sweet without  being uber-sweet, if you know what I mean?  Talk about loving the leftovers ! That said, I would like to add that … it is important for the panettone in question be a good-quality one.  Ours was a first-time for me, produced by Attilio Servi in Pomezia, Lazio, and not very far from us, and jolly good it was too – so I don’t mind publicising it: http://www.attilioservipasticceria.com/en/.

Right – now on with the ingredients.

Lots of eggs are required, be warned, all 12 of them ! A tiny amount of butter, 1 liter of milk, 1 vanilla pod or, alternatively, good quality vanilla essence, 450 g sugar in total, 200g mascarpone, 400g cream, a shot of rum or cognac, powdered cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg and 1 star anise (which I didn’t have so could not include).

Part 1 requires: 1 panettone, 8 eggs, 300g sugar, 1 liter milk, 1 vanilla pod

Part 2 requires: 200g mascarpone, 400g whipping cream, 4 egg yolks, 150g sugar, the rum and spices

The oven needs to be preheated at 180°C and you will also need a 28-cm springform cake pan that has to be buttered.

Ready? Let’s go!

1a

Pour the milk into a pan, add the vanilla pod, and bring to the boil over a low heat. Then, remove the vanilla pod, and remove the pan from the heat too (although the milk should not get cold, bear that in  mind, it was to be hot when put to use later).

2Butter the cake pan.

3Slice the panettone and place it inside the cake pan in layers.

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Stop when you reach the rim of the cake pan.

Beat the eggs with the sugar with an electric whisk.

5Then pour the milk into the beaten egg and sugar and combine.

Now …

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9Now pour this mixture over the sliced panettone.  It may seem like an awful lot of liquid misture at first, but the panettone will gradually absorb it.  Take your time.7Once the panettone slices have been properly sodden, pop the cake pan into the oven for 30 minutes sitting on a baking tray (this is because some of the liquid mixture wanted to ooze out of the springform pan).  Remove the cake from oven and allow it to cool.  You can go and eat your dinner while it is cooling.

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End of Part One

10Beat the egg yolks with the sugar (freeze the egg whites for another day).

11Add half the mascarpone and beat some more …

1213Get your spices ready.

14Add a few pinches of the spices to the egg mixture.  Taste – don’t overdo it!

15Make it more robust and grown-up with the addition of a liqueur you fancy: we chose rum. Then and add the rest of the mascarpone and mix well.

16Beat the whipping cream until it is nice and thick.

1718Blend the two and … Bob’s your uncle ! Job Done!  (The other cake you see in the photo was made by my friend Michelle … a delicious lemoncake, most of which,  I  know, got wolfed down by a crowd of younger people the next day!).

20The panettone has cooked and cooled down.

21Add the spiced cream and serve.

22You can even add more spices if you like!

It was a great evening! Thanks Nadia for this fab dessert !

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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 ?

25

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

24

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

26

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?