Popeye’s Spinach Patties – Spinacine

The word for meatball in Italian is ‘polpetta’; and the English word ‘pulp’ must surely be related to it, as in when you beat someone ‘to a pulp’.  Pulp as in ‘mushy’.  But while a meatball always contains meat, duh!, in the English speaking world, in Italy the eclectic polpetta can be made using vegetable-only ingredients, or even just bread and cheese. Number one.

Number two. And whereas in English a hamburger contains only meat (unless it’s a veggie burger), the north Italian equivalent of a ground-meat patty (which is what a burger is after all) is called a ‘Svizzera’.  ‘Svizzere’ were what people bought at the butchers before the word ‘hamburger’ become common even in Italy, probably towards the 1980s.

Kyle Phillips wrote the following in a blog post dated 2013 from “Cosa Bolle in Pentola”: “Why the Milanese should have called a ground beef patty a Svizzera is beyond me, but they did, and Svizzere were already quite common in Italy before companies like McD’s began to introduce American-style fast food.  And now in every Italian supermarket and butcher’s shop you will find a considerable variety of ready-to-cook Svizzere, including moderately fatty beef, lean beef, beef with pork, beef with turkey, beef with chicken, and many Svizzere with different kinds of herbs and flavorings mixed through the meat.”

Further down in this post, he provides a link for the recipe of a Svizzera with spinach – the first time I see the marrying of meat and spinach in one fell swoop.  Sadly, Kyle Phillips is no longer with us and I cannot consult him as to how we came to have a dish called “spinacina” in the single, and “spinacine” in the plural.   As you might have guessed even though you may not speak Italian, the word ‘spinacine’ is based on the Italian word for spinach.  A spinacina is a patty made up of minced/ground chicken (or chicken and turkey) to which spinach is added.

I reckon that Popeye has something to do with this. We have all grown up thinking that spinach is good for us, and contains a lot of iron.  It is just part of our culture.  But – and there is the rub – how do  you get people to eat more spinach, especially if they don’t like it?

Thus, I also reckon that some adult wanted to entice a child to eat more spinach and that an obliging butcher invented this dish in order to come to the aid of an exasperated mother who couldn’t get her child to eat greens.

Last, I reckon that  an Italian industrial ready-to-cook meat producing company (Aia) launched them country-wide in 1990 in order to a) help  busy or time-strapped mothers prepare a quick, child-friendly dinner and b) reassure said mother that the child would also be ‘forced’ to eat some healthy spinach thereby.  I suppose the idea behind the spinacina is that this patty is so delicious, the kid will love it even if it doesn’t like spinach.

I went through a phase myself where I thought it normal to buy ready-to-cook or frozen foods for my young children: chicken cordon bleu, fish fingers, or frozen crispy pancakes (called ‘sofficini’ in Italian) but I don’t remember ever buying these spinacini.  I did, once, go to the bother of making a chicken cordon bleu at home for the sake of my favourite son, now grown up (https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/thoreau-and-a-chicken-cordon-bleu/) and so when I came across a recipe for making spinacine the other day, I thought to myself: well why not? what it boils down to, basically, is chicken and spinach polpette. And my favourite daughter, who loves spinach, is bound to like ’em.

What I can say, having tasted one, is that they are definitely worth the effort and not hard to make at all.  The ones I made were fried in plenty of very hot vegetable oil and I know a lot of people hate to fry.  The alternative is to place the spinacine on a well-oiled sheet of parchment paper and cook them in the oven.  If they turn out a bit dry, you can always serve them with some kind of sauce or …. ssssh … ketchup.

Have a go!

Ingredients: 400g minced/ground chicken (I used chicken thighs and got my butcher to mince the meat for me); 150g fresh spinach leaves; 40-60g grated parmesan: 1 egg for the mix and 2 eggs for the eggwash; 2 serving spoons of Italian breadcrumbs (otherwise use panko) plus more for breading; salt and pepper, some freshly grated nutmeg.  Oil for frying: I used groundnut/peanut oil which has an excellent smoke point.

This will be enough to serve six moderately hungry people and four rather hungry ones.

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Do not wilt the spinach, no need.  But do wash it, naturally, and pat dry.

5Place the spinach on the bottom of the food processor.  Sprinkle salt and pepper and the nutmeg.

6Then add one egg and the parmesan.

7And finally the breadcrumbs and the chicken.

8Pulse the ingredients until you get the texture you prefer and everything is well combined.

9Here is one huge spinach and chicken polpetta !  So the thing to do is divide it into six parts.

10Cut it in half and then cut each half into three parts and roll them into polpette – six polpette in all.

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Once you have the six polpette, flatten them into an oblong shape with rounded edges.

12It’s actually quite fun, moulding these spinacine.

13They should be about 1.5cm thick … i.e. not too thick otherwise they won’t cook properly in the middle, and you don’t want to eat raw chicken.

Time to bread the spinacine.

14Two beaten eggs in one bowl, and the breadcrumbs in the other.

15Dip the spinacina into the eggwash first …

16And then bread it.  Press firmly.

17At this point, if you wanted, you could freeze the spinacine, to eat on another day.

19Instead, I put them in the fridge for half an hour, so that they would firm up a bit.

Time to fry the spinacine.

20Heat the oil in a large and deep enough frying pan.

21Get yourself ready.  Have a plate with  plenty of kitchen paper on it nearby.

22Use a slotted spoon.

23Use the slotted spoon to slide the spinacine into the hot oil.

24Let the spinacine cook on one side for about two minutes.

25Then, because they are quite ‘heavy’, use two spoons or two forks to turn the spinacine over on the other side.

26See how nice and golden the already fried side is.  Cook the other side for less time – about one minute will do.  Use the slotted spoon, again, to transfer the cooked spinacine to the plate.

27Here they are … resting on the kitchen paper, any excess oil being absorbed by it.

28But to be honest, they really weren’t greasy at all.  And that is because I followed the golden rules of frying: the oil must be at least two inches deep, or deep enough for the food to ‘swim’ in it, and the oil must be hot enough when you put the food into it.  If you haven’t got a thermometer, and I don’t often bother with one, you can know that the oil is hot enough if, when you put the thin end of a wooden spoon inside the frying pan, the oil ‘bubbles’ cheerfully around it.  Last, do not cook all at once.  Every time you lower food into the frying pan, the temperature naturally goes down – so fry the foods a little at a time.

29I had spinach leftover which I wilted.  I put it on the plate, cold and pressed, together with some nice tomatoes and some mozzarella.  Seasoned with olive oil and salt.

30It was a very nice combination. I sprinkled some salt over the spinacina and a few drops of lemon juice too.

31I cut the spinacina in half to show you what it looks like inside.

Anyway, just for the record, favourite daughter happened to be home and had these for dinner last night and pronounced them very good.  She took the remaining two to work with her today.

P.S. The recipe I read called for 40g grated parmesan.  I think that a wee big more is advisable, which is why under ‘ingredients’ I wrote: 40-60g grated parmesan.

 

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.

4

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 …

6

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.

2

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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Denuding a Misapprehension – Egg to the Rescue when it comes to Gnudi

GNUDII think that today is the first Sunday in many many weeks that I have not had to hurry, to get on with things, or to travel.  I even managed to read a few online newspaper articles just now and it almost felt like being on holiday.  One of them, however, pricked by nose-scrunching, eyebrow raising, er dunno? what’s this all about? sentiments.  An article by Nigel Slater on how to make gnudi and why they should repose in the chill of a fridge for at least 24 hours before being cooked :(http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/feb/28/nigel-slater-gnudi-broccoli-minced-lamb-butternut-recipes).  I am not a gnudi expert (seek out Judy Witts Francini instead) but something atavistically Italian in me prompted me to question the wisdom of devising a recipe that requires refrigeration when said recipe was probably being cooked, and frequently so, even before fridges were a staple appliance in homes.  Does Nigel Slater have anything against eggs, one wonders?  Add eggs to the ricotta mix and you have no need for tampering with cold temperatures and can enjoy your gnudi in next to no time. None of this delayed gratification nonsense!

Here is a link to a gnudi recipe I wrote a few years ago and Buona Domenica to you all.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/04/27/gotta-ricotta-2/

Pressure in the World Grand Prix Motorcycling Race – No Pressure Making Sunday Lunch’s Bolognese with the Pressure Cooker

39Many people who are a dab hand in the kitchen are of the opinion that pressure cookers are passé and (secretly, laughably) temporally naff, embarrassing even.  Well, I disagree.  My trusted pressure cooker saved the day today, as it has done on many an occasion.  When the adjective ‘slow’ is cause for inward groaning, i.e. on those occasions when timeliness and swiftness are of the essence, a pressure cooker can be a gal’s best friend.  Here is my story today.

What’s a poor gal to do.  She knows that her boys want to watch the MotoGP Finale on TV, the one to be held in Valencia on Sunday afternoon, beginning at 2 p.m.  Which is that time of day that signals a quasi atavistic pull of what goes into family-bonding lore – the Sunday lunch, ‘il pranzo della domenica’, as nostalgically spoken of in hallowed terms in Italy as is its counterpart in the United Kingdom , the famous Sunday Roast.  Traditionally, the pranzo della domenica is the preferred meal of older folk, because they weren’t used to eating a large meal in the evening.  It heralds and permits gastronomic specialities and even excess, it revels in conversation, debate and catching up, and sometimes includes card playing and favorite TV programmes to follow, not to mention furtive or blatant siestas.  Sunday declares it is not a day of work, it is a day to forget about the woes in life, it is supposed to be a day of rest and recuperation.  Time slows down on a Sunday.

The only hitch,  truth be told, is that the traditional pranzo della domenica actually entails a lot of work and scotches the very notion of a comfy lie-in to catch up on any sleep lost from the surfeit of Saturday night’s carrying on.  If  you don’t mind doing all the shopping and schlepping on the Saturday, and then getting up early on the Sunday morning, to do the rest of the cooking, set the table and fiddle dee dee … then indeed it can be truly delightful.  It’s not often that I cherish waking up early on a Sunday morning, however, and that is why we rarely have a proper ‘pranzo della domenica’ in our home.   We are more Sunday supper kind of people.  That said, a feeble essence of what should constitute a Sunday en famille has always clung to me.   We owe it to ourselves to make one day in the week a little special for us.  It’s a civilised thing to do.  My last post was all about how I attempted to make a plain courgette risotto a little ‘special’ on a Sunday, and I probably wouldn’t have bothered to do that had I had to make the risotto on any other day of the week.

Anyway, back to today.  The boys announced that they were going to be gripped by a whole afternoon of live-sports TV watching – first the exciting motorcycle world championship final and then the ordinary Sunday football matches (the Roma-Lazio match being very close to the knuckle today).  I don’t know much about either but I did know that Valentino Rossi is the big name in motorcycling racing, and when I innocently ventured to ask why he was not in starting the race in pole position … I got an earful of explanations that were quite beyond me.   All I managed to understand was that there had been some hanky panky behaviour on the part of another motorcyclist Marc  Marquez in a previous race in Malaysia and that some of the protagonists of these races were not above chicanery and trickery (Read more about it at this link: http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/motorsport/34731253).  Human nature is human nature, I suppose, in whatever guise it presents itself, be it in the world of racing or in plain everyday life.

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(The boys engrossed in the MotoGP finale in Valencia showing live on TV)

Friends had invited my husband and me to a spiffing dinner last night, one that we overindulged in because every single plate and dish was just so tempting.  I don’t normally go for puddings and desserts and yet even I ended up tucking into freshly made panettone by Rome’s purveyor of gastronomic goodies,  Roscioli … on top of a passion fruit, chocolate and ricotta pudding, home-made chocolate and pistachio log and dessert wine both bubbly and still.   All this to say that the last thing I wanted to think about this morning was … food.  And yet, it’s a funny thing … people get hungry again, even after large meals – go figure!

So off I trotted to the Sunday farmers’ market at Ariccia, and bought some veggies and spuds and good bread and fresh fettuccine.  It was well past one o’clcok when I got home and started to get on with the lunch.  Some would call me ambitious or silly or both.  Me? I know I can rely on my trusty pressure cooker on occasions like today.

But you have to be disciplined and organised too.  Start by putting the ingredients together:

1 carrot, 1 celery stalk, 1 onion for the soffritto, 500g of minced/ground beef mixed in with 2 Italian sausages, evoo, tomato sauce (passata) 660g, 2 tablespoons of tomato concentrate out of a tube, half a glass of milk, 1 glass of red wine, butter, parmesan cheese, salt, nutmeg

1
The first thing to do is get the soffritto going… which I  started off straight away in the pressure cooker.
1a I put the water on to the boil, and added some bay leaves and another celery stick that was lurking about in the fridge.  The bay leaves and the celery would add a je ne sais quoi to the cooking water … but they are not a necessary ingredient.2 The minced and sausage meat …3 Sprinkle salt over the meat, together with just a hint of nutmeg.4 5 6 Squeeze the tomato concentrate directly into the glass of red wine.7Give it a good stir.
8Add a good ‘pinch’ of salt to the milk.10 Grate plenty of parmesan cheese.

Okay, now that the soffritto got going, and I had all the ingredients to hand, I got on with the recipe.

12 This was the time.13Pour some evoo into a frying pan, and add a few peppercorns and 1 clove.  Add the minced meat and cook it over a high heat.14 Meat cooking on the left, soffritto almost cooked on the right.15 When the meat has browned, 16Add the wine all in one go.  17 Use the wooden fork to un-clump the meat, to loosen it as it were.18 Now add the passata.  Stir it in.  Once it has combined (in less than a minute, surely?), switch off the heat.  Transfer all of this to the pressure cooker.19 Combine the meat, its sauces with the soffritto.  Stir well.20 Remember the milk?21 Time to add the milk. Stir.22 I liked the idea of adding some parsely stems.  Again, stir.23 Secure the lid of the pressure cooker … and away we go.24 What’s the time?  Right …25 The pasta water is bubbling merrily away …26I decide to make some hummus while I wait.  I may as well, it doesn’t take long.  I can hear the boys in the other room exclaiming and groaning and commenting like crazy.  Much good it will do me, don’t understand a thing about this race other than poor Valentino Rossi has been penalised.  What ‘s the time now?
28 Ten past two.  The pressure cooker has been on for 20 minutes.29 Switch off the heat.  Move the pressure cooker to another burner that is not hot.  Release the steam etc and open up the lid.30 Now place the opened-up pressure cooker to a burner with the heat on, to simmer. While the fettuccine cook.

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The fettuccini take less than 5 mintues to cook.31 Remember the first frying pan?  It’s still streaked with some of the sauce.  Add a knob of butter.  Fellow blogger Stefan (http://stefangourmet.com) commented on the generous portion of butter added to my risotto last week.  This is to show him that it’s not just risotto that stands to benefit from butter, tee hee 🙂 !

Time to dish out!  It’s nearly ready!
33 Put some of the ragù in the frying pan.  Turn the heat on.  The butter will start to melt straight away, because the ragù is hot.34 Drain the cooked fettuccine straight into the large pan.35 Use a wooden spoon and a wooden fork to combine everything.  Make liberal use of the pasta water when you see things drying up a bit – don’t worry about adding too much, egg pasta is notoriously greedy when it comes to pasta water, it will absorb it with gusto.36 Do add more ragù too … until you reach the proportion of meat sauce/fettuccine that pleases you.37 Add a teensy bit more on top.38 Shower with parmesan.39 40 And yes … I love food and I love cooking food for the people I love.41 Fettuccine with ragù alla bolognese … served in a lovely hand-painted ceramic plate (c/o Giardini di Sole) and served on a bog-standard IKEA plastic tray, ahem.  Is there a better way of watching a race on TV?

 

And later on … phew … the Roma team beat Lazio 2-0.42Lefotvers for tomorrow … or to freeze.