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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Squash Soup and Veggie Frenzie

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If you’ve read my previous post, this (the above photo) is what I ended up making with the squash/pumpkin I had bought at the market.  I made soup.  The soup is utterly vegetarian and, if you eschew the grated parmigiano at the end, it is most definitely vegan too.  If you are interested in the recipe and want to skip my meanderings, please scroll straight down to where it says “Ingredients”.

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I defy anyone to have not reacted even in some minimal way to Megan and Harry’s bolt from the blue statement a few days ago.  I don’t usually watch the news much but even I found myself glued to various TV programmes prying into the story and trying to navigate what ‘really’ is going  with the couple and the British monarchy.   I did find it terribly rude of them to make the announcement without forewarning granny Elisabeth beforehand.  Then it turns out they actually did but only minutes before they went media public? What is at the bottom of wanting to dash off and do their own thing, with their own website ?(Sussexroyal.com doesn’t sound very royal at all to me, but it is catchy I suppose.)

Anyway, discussing the events with friends and family, what stood out for me in the end is that … the world is changing.  Has changed.  Will change.

If the only constant is indeed change, as hindu/buddhist traditions have been banging on about for centuries, with modern physics following in hot pursuit, how are we to accommodate constance and continuity, instead, without turning into paper cut-out doll versions of ourselves, stiff pinocchio-like wooden puppets, as opposed to heart-and-guts living, thinking, loving bodies and people/souls?  Let’s face it, not many people embrace change lock, stock and barrel and most of us rather fear it when it’s thrown in our face, even more so when it’s not our choice number one.  Very often because it means we have to reinvent ourselves, and that can be somewhat tedious when there are so many other important matters to be dealt with on a daily basis.  Like waking up in the morning, brushing our teeth,  looking after people, remembering to throw the rubbish/recycling out, dealing with a boring job, dealing with having to find a job,  dealing with a difficult partner, dealing with living solo after a broken relationship, dealing with people who have not had the benefit of good manners incorporated in their upbringing.  All that and more.

One of the reasons I love cooking and eating so much, I believe, is not just animal appetite and greediness or sensual satisfaction.   I think it is a quasi therapeutic exercise for me – my byline for this blog is “good food to put you in the mood”, remember?  In the mood for what? Well, that depends.  Sometimes we are upbeat, sometimes melancholy, sometimes melodramatic, sometimes quiet, sometimes musical, sometimes sexy, sometimes gossipy, on occasion silly  billy full of love – it’s easy to run the whole gamut and range of human moods via food and eating.  For food is indeed life.  There are no two ways about it.  No-food equals starvation equals diseased  bodies equals death.

And food can also equal fads.  Is it just me who sees the irony in how we all seem to be so preoccupied with our health in an era when the human lifespan is getting longer and longer thanks to better living conditions, access to food and improved medical health care.  It is sometimes nose-scrunchingly puzzling to understand just why, why?, these food fads continue to burst forth.  Fashion I suppose, maybe.  Refreshment?  Seasons are the refreshments of the world we live in, of our days, a reminder of change being unrelenting but reassuring too.  So it may well be that the same old food recipes can strike people as stagnant and very boring, same ol’, same ol’, same ol’.

My sister and I were talking along these lines a few days ago, nice glasses of Frascati wine to keep us going, as we took some of our reveries to task.  And since we both love cooking, and easy recipes in particular, the subject touched upon vegan recipes.  Neither of us is a vegan.  And I would be the world’s biggest fibber if I said that vegans hadn’t irritated me in the beginning.  Whilst the ethos of not hurting animals is obviously laudable, there was a lot of holier-than-thou preaching and even religious-like intensity in conversion that I found distasteful.  Dietary rectitude.  One of the more tiresome (for me) offshoots of veganism was the rebranding of recipes and dishes that had been around for ever as being ‘vegan’.  “Vegan lentils”, for instance. Since when had lentils not been vegan?  Don’t get me started on gluten- free commercial homogenising, either, with labels that are utter nonsense, such as “gluten free rice”.  Seriously?  “Vegan burgers” was another one. A burger is supposed to be made with meat otherwise it is a patty.  Why desire to keep the name of a food that you vociferously want to eschew from your diet on the grounds of ethics?

I continue to think that it is not a healthy way to eat (Vitamin B12, for instance, is hard enough for vegetarians to assimilate let alone vegans).  Veganism is so often presented as a dietary nostrum.   Not convinced.  I also believe that one cannot disregard biology and evolutionary history (https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/food/debunking-a-few-myths-about-meat-eating-and-vegetarianism).

I do think that we should all be more mindful of how animals are treated from start to finish, from how they are raised to when and how they are slaughtered.  And if there are countless articles on how modern cattle rearing is cause for much of the world’s travails, it is also true that farm animals raised ‘properly’ really do contibute to the health of the soil which will then be able to produce lots of nice veggies and cereals for us.  Read the following The Guardian article:  “Intensively farmed meat and dairy are a blight, but so are fields of soya and maize. ”  Also: unless you’re sourcing your vegan products specifically from organic, “no-dig” systems, you are actively participating in the destruction of soil biota, promoting a system that deprives other species, including small mammals, birds and reptiles, of the conditions for life, and significantly contributing to climate change.” (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/aug/25/veganism-intensively-farmed-meat-dairy-soya-maize)

This is, as we all know, a contentious subject and one that I don’t have time for within the context of this blog post, not in the detail it deserves.   Why?  Because it’s bloody complicated, that’s why.  There are too many considerations to take into account.  The bottom line, however, as far as I am concerned is the following one.  Would I be able to slaughter a cow, say, or a pig or a lamb?  And the answer is no.  So there you go … I have to admit that there is some kind of double-standard to my reasoning on food choices.  I have gone fishing and done that.  I come from a family that went hunting/shooting for little birds and remember my grandmother plucking their feathers, and their little dangling heads.  Still, even if I knew how to shoot, I don’t think I would enjoy killing lots of birds.   I am able to eat snails, and have bought them live.  I saw my grandmother kill a chicken when I was little.  It didn’t seem to bother me then.  But I don’t think I would be able to.  And yet I continue to eat chicken, and duck, and lamb, and pork, and beef.  All of which leads me to think that who knows? in the future? Change, as I wrote at the beginning of this post, is inexorably on its way.  I might indeed end up being vegetarian.  But not vegan.  I have no qualms over good quality milk, cheese, eggs and honey.

All this to say that … despite not being vegetarian or vegan … I am absolutely obsessed with vegetables.  It is the reason why I define myself as a vegetarian who eats a lot of meat.  I can easily skip meat or fish at a meal but I definitely cannot …. will not … skip vegetables.  “And by the way, I do think veganism is here to stay, ” my sister said the other night as we delved into some vegan recipes she was looking into.

Bring it on say I.  I live in a country where so many people, in the not so distant past, had to be vegans pretty much because there was little else for them to eat.  Meat was out of the question, only for the very rich.  Some fish maybe.  A little cheese too.  But for the rest, only vegetables and cereals.  The cuisines of the Middle East, Persia, the Indian Subcontinent and the Far East are chock-a-block full of vegan recipes.  I think that veganism, or at least a version of veganism,  has been around for a long time only perhaps we weren’t aware of this.

So … Happy New Year everyone.  Enjoy your vegetables and cereals!  And, say I, also your milk, cream, butter, cheeses and eggs.  Try and help the cause for the better treatment of animals.

Last, please remember that some animals are human animals.  There is a lot of human trafficking where vegetables are concerned.   Immigrant workers in Sicily,  is just an example, bringing us the joy of delicious tomato varieties at a terrible cost to them. K

Kindness for all.  The little we can do, let us do.

INGREDIENTS: squash, onion, garlic, olive oil, salt, peppercorns, nutmeg, parsely, freseh sage leaves, parmigiano/parmesan

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Squash or pumpkin.  Cut it up and remove the skin.

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Drizzle plenty of olive oil into the pot and brown a roughly chopped onion for a few minutes.  This happens to be a small pressure-cooker.  I think they are brilliant when it comes to soups.  I also included a few peppercorns and plenty of salt when I later added the cut up squash.

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Next it was time for parsely and sage leaves.

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A little bit of garlic, too, why not and a good twist of nutmeg.

16Pour in the amount of water that’s required.

17Pressure cook the soup for … oh gosh, sorry, I can’t remember.  I was busy with other stuff.  Ahem, er … let’s say twenty minutes?

18Once it’s safe for you to open the lid of the pressure cooker, do so and then blend all the ingredients.  It was a bit too thick at this stage, so I added a little more water.  I tasted it, and had to add a bit more salt too.

19A snowstorm of freshly grated parmesan/parmigiano and Bob’s your uncle.  No cheese and you are veganic.

Silver spoon optional.

Pearl Barley instead of Risotto – Orzotto alla Mantovana

I hope people who celebrate Judeo-Christian festivities are holding up?   Hannukah and Christmas have a way of grinding us down as well as buoying as up.  So much preparation and craziness before the celebrations themselves, followed by …. so much eating and drinking (AND cleaning up afterwards, let’s not forget).  Anyway, it just dawned on me that a lot of squash and pumpkin is available this time of year and that one could put it to good use not just for a risotto but also for a …. for something similar, using barley instead of rice.  It’s called “orzotto” and is jolly good.  I made one a few years ago and am reposting the recipe because only three people read that post back then; who knows, maybe some of you might be interested in making one now?  Anyway, you know the drill by now.  I start off a post with a fair amount of bla bla.  So if you want to skip that by all means do.  Go straight to where it reads “ingredients”.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/10/02/pumpkin-barley-orzotto-not-risotto-orzotto-alla-mantovana/

Pumpkin Barley Orzotto (not Risotto) – Orzotto alla Mantovana

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Invited to an inauguration for future cooking classes in a fine kitchen-ware shop called “Ottagoni” in  Rome’s Trastevere area last week …..

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I espied a lone-looking chef deep within the bowels of this snazzy showroom selling Cesar kitchens.  I would have made a beeline in his direction but the throng was such that I had to dart in and out of oncoming human traffic …

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And so it took me some time …

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His name is Andrea Trenta and he told me that he used to run a restaurant near Sacrofano. Bent as he was on preparing what he was preparing, I did not want to pester him by posing too many questions … but I could not stop myself from ooohing and aaahing over his inventive dish!

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IMG_1821What I was oohing and aahing over was … an Orzotto (made with pearl barley) that he was preparing using squash/pumpkin and mostarda essence, with amaretti bisuits and pecorino romano.  Clever thing!, I thought to myself … he has drawn on the tradition of Mantova by using squash and amaretto biscuits, he has made it seasonal (pumpkin) and he has made it ‘local’ by using products and produce that were sourced directly from the organic farm Ecofattorie Sabine (http://www.ecofattorie.it/).

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He explained the amounts he was playing with : 4kg of pearl barley, 6kg of pumpkin/squash, 1.5 kg of pecorino.  Not the sort of amounts I normally deal with in my own kitchen!

IMG_1834And here was my little stash … together with a very nice glass of beautifully cold Stajnbech Chardonnay.  And it was delicious.

INGREDIENTS

Pumpkin soup, onion, pear barley, amaretti biscuits, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, butter, pecrino romano cheese, fresh sage leaves

I made some carrot and pumpkin soup the other day and I had some left over … and so I thought I would follow Andrea Trenta’s suit … and here is my version then.

2Leftover soup … made with onion and garlic, carrots, pumpkin, lemonjuice and salt and pepper …

1The packet of pearl barley … (bought at a supermarket, note, not something I do often … and that’s because I didn’t do the shopping.  Helpful helper was asked to kindly do the food shopping and when I asked for pearl barley, said helper trotted off to the supermarket, tsk tsk).

3I didn’t have any ‘mostarda’ nor mostarda essence … so I opted for some good quality balsamic vinegar (in the background) instead … and in the front are the amaretti biscuits.

4I grated some pecorino romano cheese …

5I began to sauté a red onion in some olive oil on a fairly moderate heat.

6I turned on the heat to bring the soup to a simmer and also added some water — I could see it wasn’t going to be enough liquid otherwise.

7Once the onion had softened, I added the orzo … the pearl barley.

8I stirred it well so that it would get coated with the olive oil.

9And immediately added some of the soup.  Orzo is not rice … and even rice does not need constant stirring … so I just stirred when I fancied it.  I kept adding ladles of the soup by and by.

10I started off by wanting to add 5 amaretti biscuits.  I ended up using 8 altogether.  I poured the balsamico into the wooden spoon – that’s the amount I used altogether since it was quite potent.

11I crushed the amaretti first … and added them towards the end of the cooking time.  I added the balsamico immediately afterwards.  After stirring them in and tasting, I added a little salt and white pepper.

12When the orzotto was almost ready, I added the grated pecorino cheese.

13And then I added some butter too:

14I am positive that Andrea Trenta didn’t add butter … but I love butter so there you are.  It melted almost straight away.

And that was it!

15I grated a little more pecorino directly over the orzotto … added two sage leaves … and one amaretto biscuit as garnish.

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It was actually very very nice and I am going to make it again.  The only thing I hadn’t realised … is that barley takes between 30 and 40 minutes to cook, much longer than a risotto.

Thank you Andrea Trenta!

P.S.  For those who did not know, barley is one of those super foods:

http://www.oprah.com/health/Barley-Dr-Perricones-No-3-Superfood

PPS Here is another pearl barley orzotto recipe — there must be a “Great-Minds-Think-Alike as Regards Pearl Barley Syndrome” wending through our autumnal kitchens! –posted by peripatetic food lover and chef-on-the-move Kay Gale recently: http://thesinglegourmetandtraveller.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/mushroom-rocket-orzotto/

Home-Made Sausages and Aubergine Rolls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of Story.

RECIPE

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

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

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

Turn the oven on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Primosale

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

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

Stale Bread, Kale and Bean Soup (Pancotto con fagioli e cavolo nero)

I am reposting a recipe from 2012  because you know what? It still makes sense.  Especially for this time of year.  It is thoroughly vegetarian and if you are vegan all you have to do is leave the cheese bit out.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/dont-dread-stale-bread-make-soup-instead-soup-series/

Don’t dread stale bread – make soup instead (Soup Series)

There is a very traditional soup, with variations throughout Italy, whose body consists of stale bread, added to which, besides broth, are other herbs or vegetables and usually some kind of grated cheese and olive oil.    They all taste pretty delicious in a comforting way and a very dear American friend of mine thought it was a pity, really, that the only name Tradition managed to come up for them was “pancotto”:  which literally means “cooked bread”.  The Tuscan version  has an even less attractive nomenclature: “acquacotta” — which translates as “cooked water”.  It doesn’t sound very enticiting, now, does it?  I thoroughly concur with my friend even though I had never thought about it until she mentioned it.

These were soups that came from whatever scraps a housewife could put together.  Bread holds a sacred place in Italian food generally, it is revered and no meal is ever complete without it.  Even today, Italians will feel very bad about throwing away stale bread, thinking it the height of waste.  There are always uses for it … and soup would have been just one of them.  So …. let’s see what kind of cooked-bread I ended up making!

Please believe me when I say this bread was very dry and stale indeed.  You would have had a very hard time trying to cut it with any knife …

Here is an ugly but very useful large pot …. lots of water within which I heated before adding the stale bread:In it goes …

And when it’s gone all soft and mushy again, out it comes, and gets put into another large pot.

I roughly chopped and then washed some cavolo nero (kale).

That got cooked too, for a few minutes, in the same water that had softened the bread. Drain and set aside.

This is what is left and gets thrown away.  It is too bitter and would ruin the soup.

Drizzle some olive oil into the pan and add chopped garlic and chopped onion and a few peppercorns.

Some carrot and celery will also add to the final taste.  Sauté for a few minutes but do not brown.

These are two rinds of parmesan cheese … another food item that would never have been thrown away (I keep mine in the freezer).  The rind can be grilled but most usually it makes a great addition to any hearty soup.

Beans would very often accompany these soups … and so who am I to disagree with tradition!  Keep some cooked beans to hand.  They get added to the soup after it has cooked for a while.  If you add them too soon, they become too mushy.

THE COOKING OF THE BREAD AND WATER BEGINS!

Add the parmesan rinds to the soup pot …

The “cavolacci” (translation: “bad” or “ugly” cabbage) as they are called here in Lazio go in next ….

Next, the soffritto … the sautéed carrot, onion, celery and garlic ….

Pour in water, enough water to cover everything.  Turn on the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes.  Add salt and pepper somewhere along the timeline.

Add the cannellini beans about ten minutes before serving.

I love my herbs, so I always add some chopped mixed herbs too, towards the end.  This is a mixture of parsely, marjoram and rosemary.

The parmesan rinds will have given off their final taste to the soup and can be removed. Taste the soup and make sure all is well in the salt-and-pepper department.

SERVE

You can serve this soup with either grated parmesan or pecorino.  A drizzle of olive oil.  And for those who like chilli, add that too.

A soup based on leftovers doesn’t sound like much, does it?  And yet … and yet … and yet … it tastes dashed good, yes, you bet!

P.S. And yes, I do know what Lord Curzon supposedly said … “No gentleman takes soup at luncheoon”.  Well, in Italy they did and they do … and it wasn’t just the ‘gentlemen’!

Aubergine/Eggplant Baked ‘Boats’

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I would rank this among the ‘epitome section’ of home-made dishes.  And by that, I mean that I would not expect to see it offered on any restaurant menu.  A quiet pride at their core made up of unsophisticated and bold statement-making flavour(s), the ‘barchette di melanzane’, i.e. “little aubergine boats”, are the kind of summer dish that only a Mamma would make for her family.  It does take patience, for one thing.  My own mamma never made these but my mother-in-law did.

We were visiting my husbands’ parents who spend their summers in a small town in the Marche, called Monterubbiano.  Very sadly, my mother-in-law is now incapable of cooking anything because she has Alzheimers and her version of reality has already gone beyond the slippery edge of mixed-up reasoning.  She still recognizes us and that is a boon and when she sees me preparing for a meal asks me whether I could do with some help.  I make her peel garlic or potatoes, or slice tomatoes – that sort of thing.  Funny how ‘manually’ speaking she is still capable of some things.  Conversation, however, can veer off into pockets of the absurd that might have inspired Beckett, and repetition is the least of it.   All ill health is tragic but some diseases are more tragic than others.

This recipe, the aubergine boats, used to be one of her summer specialities, that my husband remembers with the fondness of a grateful son.  Now she can’t even remember making them.  I had never made them before and I expect there are other versions out there that are easier or better to make but here we go anyway.

INGREDIENTS

Aubergines/egg plants, minced meat, onion, garlic, parsely, tomato sauce, extra virgin olive oil, freshly grated parmesan cheese

Silly things first: turn the oven on, put a pot of water to boil, arm yourself with some patience – depending on which time of day make yourself some coffee or tea or else pour yourself a glass of wine.

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Begin my cooking the minced meat with a little olive oil.

3

While it’s cooking, cut the two aubergines in half and use a sharp knife to diagonally cut the inside of the half into diamond-like shapes – as in the photo above.  Be careful not to reach the bottom of the aubergine otherwise you’ll cut that too.

4Spoon out the cut chunks of aubergine.  This is not quite as easy as it looks by the way, be prepared.

5Brown an onion with some olive oil.

67Three things going on here at the same time: (1) the meat is cooking, (2) the onions are browning and (3) the aubergine halves are being dunked in boiling salted water for only a minute or so, to soften them.

8Add some parsely to the onions.

10Then add the chunks of aubergine.

11Add the meat and some tomato sauce (passata di pomodoro).

912I decided it needed some garlic too – and extra parsely.  Make sure to taste and season accordingly (salt and pepper, maybe a little bit more olive oil even).

All this didn’t take very long and is quite an ‘intuitive’ approach to cooking minced meat in a tomato sauce – think lasagna for instance.

I had to wait for the aubergine halves to cool down – and they were very ‘floppy’.  It was at this point that I asked my mother-in-law to help me – and she did.  By spooning the sauce into the aubergine ‘boats’.

13Here she is.  As you can see, we sprinkled some parmesan over the boats before placing them in the previously heated oven.

14Bake for about 30-40  minutes at a temperature of 200°C.

15They can be eaten at room temperature – in fact, even better.  Here they are served the following day.

Asparagus and Courgette Risotto for Belinda

 

Today’s post is about every cloud having a silver lining when dinner needs to be made.

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The ‘cloud’ in question was the lack of an ingredient – proper, nice locally grown romanesque courgettes/zucchine such as the ones shown in the photo above.  The ‘silver’ turned out to be my having to add asparagus to the recipe, in order to bolster the overall taste, and the result is the recipe I am writing about today.

It is very easy to find the romanesque cougettes where I live, the markets and veggie shops sell them all the time (sometimes even when they are theoretically out of season).  It just so happened that for various reasons of busyness and business, I had to perforce opt for my least favourite place for sourcing vegetables – the supermarket.  You should have seen my face, I was hardly able to contain a surly stance as I looked around.  Most of the veggies looked sad or came in plastic packaging.  The artihcokes were floppy instead of firm.  Onions hailing from Argentina and Egypt???? What, we can’t grow onions in Italy?  Garlic from Morocco.  Don’t get me started.  And, just as I had surmised, there wasn’t a local romanesque courgette to be seen, only those dark green tasteless kind, very fleshy, very watery and seriously unappetising unless you choose to jolly them up with all kinds of gastronomic bells and whistles.  Yes, I do boycott supermarkets because I think their policies towards producers are thoroughly reprehensible but that is not the only reason:  you simply cannot compare their produce with the good stuff sold at markets and greengrocers.  No contest.  Harumphm, sniff and snort, thus spake Frascati Cooking That’s Amore.  I had to grudgingly admit that the asparagus weren’t bad looking, so I bought two bunches.

Once home, I got on with the risotto.  Since the end result was actually very good indeed, I have to do an about-turn and say to myself that it was thanks to the forced option of dark green courgettes that I came up with the recipe in the first place.  There you go, always a bit of Pollyanna lurking about in me.

This risotto was in honour of visitors from New Zealand, Belinda and her husband Peter, together with friends Alison and Gary.  That’s why I am calling this the “Belinda Risotto”.

Okay on with the recipe now.

INGREDIENTS:

IMG_2832

Courgettes/zucchine, asparagus, 1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 celery stalk, carnaroli or vialone nano rice (arborio will do it that’s all you can find), olive oil, half a lemon, mascarpone, one apple, parmesan, fresh mint, a teensy amount of fresh rosemary.

COURGETTES: I started by slicing HALF the courgettes into rounds which I set aside, and slicing the other HALF into rounds which I then roasted in the oven until they were cooked.

ASPARAGUS: I trimmed the asparagus of its points, then cut the rest of the asparagus spear also into thick rounds.  I used what was left of the asparagus spears to boil into an aparagus ‘stock’  of sorts.

IMG_2833

On the left … I chopped up the carrot, onion and celery and sweated them down in extra virgin olive oil before adding the courgettes.  On the right, are the tough part of the asparagus spears that I was simmering for about 15 minutes.

IMG_2834

I threw them away and kept the cooked water to use as stock for the risotto.

img_2836.jpgI transferred the cooked courgettes into a saucepan and added the asparagus stock – and proceeded to blend all the ingredients into a thick creamy stock.  I added a little squeeze of lemon juice.

While all this was going on, in the meantime, this is what I was doing with the OTHER HALF of the courgettes:

IMG_2837I coated them with olive oil.

IMG_2839And roasted them in the oven until they went a nice golden colour.

 

IMG_2840I added more water to the asparagus and courgette stock and got it simmering.  I dropped a large tablespoon of butter into it for good measure.

IMG_2841And now I could get cracking the the risotto.  As you can see from this photo, the stock is simmering away in the background and the risotto is being toasted in the foreground.  Please notice: no olive oil, no butter, no nuffink.  Once the rice turns pearly white, add a ladle of the hot stock, let it get absorbed, and add more.

IMG_2842A risotto will take about 18-20 minutes to cook.  Once you are getting close to the end, add the asparagus that you chopped up, as well as the spears.  Keeping stirring and keep adding the stock.  Taste and add salt and pepper.

IMG_2843Add the roasted courgette rounds, the mint and the rosemary.  Nearly there.

IMG_2844And here is the touch of cheat’s genius: a good dollop of mascarpone. Add some of the grated parmesan too, at this point, and taste.  You might need more salt, a twist of white pepper would not go astray.  A little bit of butter will also help.

img_2845.jpgThis was a serving of the risotto the next day, i.e. the leftovers.  I didn’t get a chance to take photos as I was serving the risotto, there was too much chatting going on and people’s appetites were more than ready for quick relief.  Those pretty flowers are flowers that I picked from my chives on the balcony.  Look closely and you’ll see a couple of little cubes: those are bits of apple. The apple complemented the dish really well.

img_2846.jpgThank you for inspiring me Belinda!