Tuna Balls to the Rescue: Polpette di Tonno

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

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

Polpette di tonno and Mulling over seasonal melancholy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I put in about 4 heaped soup spoons.

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

Shaping the polpette di tonno …

Coating them in bread crumbs …

All those polpette from just two tins of tunny fish!

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

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

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

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

Ravioli di Zucca – Pasta With Pumpkin Filling (and More) …

As I looked around today, there was a lot of orange about … it is Halloween after all, even here in Italy where the occasion was never celebrated by children in weird costume and get-ups until relatively recently (20 years ago, something like that?).  And yes it has become a consumerist bonanza here as elsewhere but how can one resist the whole idea of “trick or treat” ?

It’s a bit like Christmas presents … as long as Father Christmas/Santa is about, then presents are not a ‘reward’ for which one must say “thank you” and be fake-grateful for.  Santa Claus is ‘magic’ and he and and his elves like to give children presents ‘just because’ … Don’t get me wrong, I love good manners and I think that keeping a grateful outlook on life is good for one’s health (seriously, there has been a lot of research in this field).  But ‘having to be grateful’ for a present that is a reward for good behaviou is very very different from receiving a super present for no reason whatsoever !  Think about it.

I used to absolutely loooove Yuletide and all that that entailed, when our kids were little and still believed in Father Christmas.  My husband and I went to great lengths to dissimulate participation in the parcels that arrived after dinner on Christmas Eve as we all sat and mooched around the table after a special dinner.   At length, the door bell would ring (finally!); one of the dinner party who had to leave the room unnoticed, and never my husband or I, would do this as stealthily as possible after having arranged all the boxes and parcels on the stairs to our front door … and our kids would rush to open the door in eager not to mention frantic anticipation and take in the bounty.  Oh the excitement !  As they grew older, their spoil-sport contemporaries did all they could to disavow them of the magic; didn’t they know, they would proclaim and insist, that Father Christmas did not exist?, that it was the parents who bought all the presents? No way, our kids would answer … “Our parents couldn’t possibly afford all these presents”.  Sweet.  More about our family’s Christmas stories another time.

And so … there was I last Sunday, at home, on my own, after having worked non-stop from 10:20 a.m. to about 3 p.m . with a group of tourists.  I had showed them around town, recounting some of its history (quite a lot of history to Frascati, you’d be surprised), and then we went to the winery (Minardi Winery) where we walked around the vineyard; and then I sat them down to a nice lunch.  We wine and dine ’em, and tell stories, that’s what we do chez Minardi.  And nearly everyone who comes along is in a good frame of mind, either on holday and visiting Italy, or living in Rome and wanting to escape for the day to somewhere more bucolic, to Rome’s nearby countryside.  So the atomosphere is always a jolly one.  But it is still ‘work’ for me, and requires that I keep a sharp look-out on things, making sure that everyone is okay and well fed and that glasses are replenished.  Am I grateful for this job? Of course I am.  Do I like it? Of course I do.  Is it also tiring? … Next question.  You have to give it your all to make it work, and that’s all I’m saying.

Last Sunday, I don’t know what got into me once I got home …  I became all wistful.  Christmas came to mind. The fact that our son lives in Milan came to mind.  That my husband had been away down in Puglia for nearly a week.  Came to mind. That both my sisters live in England (i.e. far away) came to mind.  That our daughter was very busy and I hadn’t seen her in a good while.  Came to mind.  I was sliding down the slippery slope of self pity, wallowing in feelings that never lead to anywhere positive.

What to do, what to do?  My recourse? Cooking.

I decided to make home made pasta.  Not just that.  A pasta recipe that no one in my family likes, because no one in my family likes pumpkin.  Everything from scratch. I patted myself on my back metaphorically speaking when I got around to eating it. There IS compensation in food and eating.  Usually, my joy in cooking derives from cooking for others.  Last Sunday … it was about me.  It was for me.

If you, unlike the rest of my family, like pumpkin/squash and fresh pasta … do please take a look at this recipe.  There are lots of ‘steps’ … but none of them difficult or overly fussy. I don’t ‘do’ fussy.

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INGREDIENTS

FOR THE PASTA: 2 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk plus 200g of flour.  I used 100g of Italy’s famed 00 wheat flour, and 100g of durum wheat, also known as semolina flour.  Extra flour to dust on the work surface/countertop.

FOR THE FILLING: Some pumpkin that needs to be cooked. You could steam it too I suppose but I baked it in the oven.

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Wait for it to cool.  It’s not a bad idea to cook it the day before.  Which is exactly what I did.

Also required are:

Mostarda di Cremona – maybe orange marmalade might do instead of this? If you can’t get hold of mostarda that is.  Parmesan cheese.  Freshly grated nutmeg.  Fresh sage leaves.  Crushed amaretto biscuits.  Grated parmesan.

For the sauce to cook the ravioli in: cream, sausage, fresh sage

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Mostarda is basically all about candied fruit.  Sometimes this mostarda comes in spicy mode – something akin to wasabi or horseradish.4

Pear mostarda is the best choice for this recipe but I just used what I found in the store-cupboard.5

Chop it up.2

Process the cooked pumpkin.7Add salt and pepper and plenty of freshly grated nutmeg.

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These are amaretto biscuits – made with bitter almonds.  Very crisp and just the business and TOTALLY called for in this recipe.

10Bash the biscuits to pulverise them.11

Add them to the mix.

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Add some fresh sage – sliced up.

Put it in the fridge.  The firmer the mixture the better and the easier to stuff the ravioli later on.  You could, indeed, make this stuffing the day before.

MAKING THE PASTA

13Once you’ve made the fresh pasta, let it rest in a bowl for about half an hour to one hour, covered with a tea towel.  Allowing it to ‘rest’ will make it a lot easier to stretch it with the rolling pin later on. The resting time makes it more elastic.

14I love how my pasta sheet got so big, I had to ‘dangle’ it over the edge of my countertop.

16Use a glass to cut out some circles.  Discs.  Whatever you want to call ’em.  You could use a cookie-cutter if you preferred.17Fun, hey?  And what a lovely color the pasta is.

1918Out comes the filling, out of the fridge.  Use two spoons .. and spoon the mixture into the middle of the discs.  Then fold them in half.  The shape will now be a half-moon.  Join the corners of the half moon together and fold the edge over.20

And this is what you end up with.  YOU might end up with somethine prettier than this. I was happy enough with what I managed that evening.

MAKING THE SAUCE

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Olive oil in the saucepan, a sausage taken out of its casing … some fresh sage … half a glass of wine.

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Hubble bubble … toil and … add some tomato sauce.  Even out of a tube.  Mine was home-made.

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Taste and add some salt and pepper, as required.

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A splash of fresh cream and a good dollop of butter.  Butter always helps.  It brings everything together.  The Italians use the word ‘legare’ for this, and ‘legare’ means to tie together.  Butter helps to ‘tie together’ the sauce.

COOKING THE RAVIOLI

Cook the ravioli in boiling salted water – only a few minutes, since this is fresh pasta we are talking about.

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Then drain the ravioli straight into the saucepan with the simmering sauce.

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We are talking about a minute or two to reach perfection.

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Plate up.  Spray with freshly milled pepper.  Some parmesan.

28-scaled-2560.jpgI can’t tell you just how good these ravioli are … they are redolent of a medieval cuisine when sweet and savoury were part and parcel of the same food course.  There was no distinction as such in those days.  Yet there IS a distinction in this mix – and that’s what makes this a choice for  a sophisticated palate.

29Deeply, deeply yummy.

Comfort food in the extreme.

Pumpkin Risotto with a Gorgonzola Finish

Dedicated to Ian Rosenzweig.

Yet another potluck, tee hee.  Oh, I do so love potluck evenings!

This time chez George and sister Claire from Casale Sonnino. I have already written about the Casale Sonnino farm near Frascati in another post: https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2016/10/29/sora-maria-e-arcangelo-and-casale-sonnino/ .

Claire lives in New York and visits as often as she can and especially when it’s time for the olive harvest.  Their olive oil has won a silver medal in the past.  Last year, just as with so many other olive farms in Italy, they basically did not have a harvest – the previous winter had been bitterly cruel and ruined the growth cycle of the trees.  George runs the Casale (the family’s olive and wine estate) which has been in the family since …. oh gosh, I really don’t know but centuries I believe.

Theirs was quite the posh bourgeoisie family back in the day,  living in a beautiful town house in Rome.  They were forced to flee the country after 1938 on account of Mussolini’s hideous “racial laws” which targeted the Jewish population in Italy and saw so many of them die a ghastly death in Nazi camps in Germany.  Their mother was a Sonnino from Rome.  Their father was a Treves (also from a prominent Jewish family) from Piedmont.  The parents met and married in Princeton and carried on with their lives – some of their other family members were not as fortunate.

Claire and George (and another brother whom I’ve not met) were all born in the States and grew up there, in New Jersey.  George thinks it’s a bit of a giggle that the family shared the same dentist as Einstein! Their mother never forgot the Casale, however, and longed and longed to return there, and came back often.   Very often.

The Casale Sonnino is a place I’ve come to fall in love with.  And I am not the only one. Look up the website and you’ll see why.  It’s like wafting into a time warp.  One just wants to slow down, read a book, paint, sing, think, sit and converse as opposed to ‘talk’, in a Jane-Austenish kind of way.  Cooking and entertaining are its middle name.

The Casale is there to be used as a holiday-let for small groups and families, and those who return do so because it has become a sort of home-from-home for them. George ends up adopting dogs because they too find a home there.  The views are stunning and New Year’s Eve from the terrace is hard to beat – with Rome below and all the fireworks on display till the early hours of the morning.

As I wax lyrical over my ‘interpretation’ of the place, I realise that it’s not quite the same matter for George (and Claire) who have to run it as a business.  Oh the amount of work! You wouldn’t believe it.  Never ending.  And if it’s not one thing, it’s another.   Farmers are farmers all over the world and have Nature to contend with as well as to give thanks for.

Friends of ours from Los Angeles who regularly visit Frascati for work reason have a son who has become entranced with the story of this house.  His name is Ian, he’s in his early twenties, and he is a writer.  From what I’ve heard, he intends to delve into the story of this family and write about them and their Casale – I am so glad, someone really ought to.

Without going into all the boring details that resulted in the coming together of this potluck dinner a couple of weeks ago, suffice it for you to know that: I’d been hard at work that day, so had George and Claire at the olive mill, so had friend Michelle at the winery where she works, and so had another friend Michelle with her lovely young daughter, and, last, Ian – young Ian, who had literally just rolled in from Florence that late afternoon.  Result?  Despite the hurry and fatigue, a great dinner ensued as always.  (Not a late night for a change, we all had an early morning the following day.)

salad

One Michelle and sweet daugther cobbled together a super salad with mixed leaves, walnuts, burrata and peaches.  The other Michelle brought a couple of rotisserie chickens that were literally finger-lickin’ good.  Ian came along with cured meats and cheeses (parma ham … you know what I’m talking about).  And then there was loads of other stuff and a traditional tomato bruschetta … and we told George we really did NOT need the meat he had brought along to barbecue.  My offering was a pumpkin risotto.  I started it at home … so that I could finish it off at the Casale with minimum fuss.

Such is the magic of potlucks – and there are leftovers too, for the next day!

Anyway … about the risotto.

INGREDIENTS: Leek, sausage, pumpkin,  olive oil, pink pepper corns, a glass of wine.  Part II: cream, grated parmigiano, gorgonzola, butter, lemon juice, more red pepper corns, fresh chilli, wild mint.

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So what you see here are … red peper corns, a mashed up sausage and the white part of a sliced leek.  (The green part of the leek I reserved for making the stock with which to cook the risotto).  I started cooking it with some olive oil and then added a splash of wine.

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Chop up some pumpkin.

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Once the sausage meat was pretty much cooked, I added the chopped pumpkin.  Sprinkle plenty of salt and a good pinch of pepper.  Cook for about 10 minutes?  Something like that.

IMG_5023Bit of gorgonzola hiding in the fridge. I got some kitchen/parchment paper and wet it under running water.   Maybe too much water.  Anyway, the idea was to wrap the gorgonzola in something ‘damp’ so that it would not dry out.  I waited for everything to cool down and then …  It was time to get into the car and drive to the Casale.

AT THE CASALE

Once there, I got some water onto the boil and added the ‘other’ half of the big leek, the very green part, in order to create a vegetable stock.

img_5024.jpgI toasted the rice – without any oil !!! please note — and then added one ladle of the hot leek water.  The white ‘splash’ you see among the pumpkin is a bit of fresh cream.

IMG_5025Here is the hot leek water on the left – kept hot.  When you add the water/broth/stock/whatever, it must always be HOT.

img_5026.jpgThe risotto is  bubbling away now – that ‘fat’ weird green thing in the saucepan, that’s the leek that was used to make the stock/broth.  Iadded it to the risotto – to flavour the risotto even more.  I removed it towards the end, naturally.

img_5027.jpgKeep adding the broth and stirring away – and do avail yourselves of a glass of wine to keep your spirits up, for goodness sakes!  At one point I added some more pink pepper corns and a bit of chilli.  You know, to spice things up a bit.

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Aha.  Some butter.  Some French butter no less, the very nicest there is!  And a half of a lemon.  Yes.  Funnily enough, a risotto will always benefit from a bit of either lemon juice or vinegar.  I prefer lemon juice and that’s what I did: squeezed about one half of a lemon into the risotto.img_5029.jpg

When the risotto was almost done, I added a profusion of grated parmesan cheese.IMG_5030And once that had been properly assimilated, I added the little bits of the gorgonzola – which took no time at all to melt into the risotto.IMG_5031Things were coming to a head now – the risotto was cooked and I switched the heat off. I added plenty of butter (and I mean plenty) and stirred like crazy.  Actually, this is Ian stirring like crazy.  Good lad!

73395280_10220946760724699_24852866913009664_oHere I am – half way through  cooking, in one of my favourite kitchens.

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Here he is, young Ian.  Giving it a final stir.  The green stuff? It’s wild mint from my balcony (called ‘calamint’ in English apparently).   You could use rosemary or sage or any other kind of mint instead.

72689793_10220946758484643_8665815076298555392_oThe last-minute potluck people: readying ourselves and happy, and looking forward to tucking in.

Yes … but … where ARE George and Claire?

Ah of course – Claire is taking the photo and George is in the dining room laying the table.

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.

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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.

Pasta Ulrika following on Pasta Camilla

Here we are.  I seem to be having a courgette/zucchine obsession.  Well, in my defence, they ARE everywhere this time of year and you know what they say, when life hands you lemons, make Limoncello … no no no.  When life presents courgettes, find a way of making them interesting.

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Some fresh chilli for instance.  As in the above photo.

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Since I am making pasta, I know I shall want some grated cheese – and I opt for a mixture of pecorino and parmesan.  There is no one about wanting to help me grate the cheeses so I choose to cheat.   This is not the best way to grate cheese because it can’t be fine enough.  But it was fine enough for me that evening.

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What you see are eight slices of thinly sliced (by my butcher) of guanciale, pork jowl.  If anything can make a pasta dish more ‘interesting’, it’s most definitely guanciale: think Amatriciana, think Carbonara, think Gricia.  I cut the guanciale up into smaller portions.

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I cooked the guanciale over a low heat so that its fat would render.  And I waited for it to become a little crispy.

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While the guanciale was cooking, I set about removing most of the pulp from the courgettes.   Talking about kitchen toys as I did in my previous post, that tool you see with a white handle is a courgette corer.  Very handy for when you want to make stuffed courgettes.  You can also use it as an apple corer.

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I slimmed down the courgettes and cut them down to bite size.

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And now it’s almost time to cook.  Pour a generous amount of olive oil into a big saucepan and add garlic, pepper corns and fresh mint.

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Once the courgettes have been slimmed down even more into large cubes, turn the heat on, cook the garlic until it becomes golden, and then add them.

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I added the fresh chilli too.  The veggies were cooking under quite a fiery heat.

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And now I did the porky ‘thing’ of adding the fat rendered from the guanciale to the  mix. Only the fat.  Save the guanciale meat for later.

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I swithched the heat off and blended the courgettes as much as I could.

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The blending became easier after the addition of plenty of cream.

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The last addition was the grated cheese.  Time to test.  Add salt and pepper as required.

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Drain the pasta directly into the large saucepan, add a little cooking water and toss and turn until the pasta is well coated and/or has absorbed some of the sauce.

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See what I mean?  I added yet more fresh mint leaves.  And last, the crispy guanciale.  You could, if you wished, add the guanciale directly onto the pasta served on a plate.  But people were getting hungry, all eight of us and there wasn’t time for such a nicety.  There was some extra grated cheese already on the table for those who wished to add a sprinkling on top of their plate.

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So eager was everyone to dive in, that no one took a photo – not a single photo of the delicious pasta on the plate !  So what you see above is the pasta (what was left of it) the day after.  Sigh.

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The good thing was that someone got to eat these leftovers.  Pasta can indeed by reheated and enjoyed – but only ONCE.  I wrote that in capital letters and will repeat: pasta can be reheated but only once.

Anyway.  The title of this pasta is Pasta Ulrika, in honour of my delightful niece from Sweden who was visiting.

Shame about the lack of photo to show how enticing this humble mix can be – but give it a try anyway, I think you’ll like it very much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making Mushrooms Sexy

Well, not really.  But you know what I mean, don’t you?  Mushrooms, ordinary button mushrooms, that are called “champignons” in Italian (which is of course a French word actually), aren’t exactly thriling now are they.  I can’t imagine people getting all excited about eating a plate of these mushrooms.  They seem to have gone out of fashion – I don’t even see them on Italian menus in family-run restaurants any more.  Sometimes as part of a pizza topping but that’s about it.  I wonder why, poor things.  They are quite tasty after all and surely, unless you hate mushrooms or are allergic to them, you don’t mind having them as a side dish, sautéed in olive oil and garlic and finely minced parsely.  But again, the operative word is “don’t mind” (which of course are two words but let’s not quibble here) as opposed to “hanker after” or “crave”.  Mmmmm.

As my children were growing up, I had to account for differing tastes when it came to vegetables and since I love vegetables myself – all of them I hasten to add – I did not mind putting at least two and usually three vegetable side dishes on the dinner table every evening. (potatoes often being the common denominator).  Favourite daughter can’t bear mushrooms, and might even be slightly allergic to them.  Whereas favourite son likes them, even the lowly button-mushroom kind.  Favourite husband is usually easy to please but he has never waxed lyrical over them.  So the bottom line, now that both kids have left home, is that I rarely cook mushrooms (except for the porcini kind, when they are in season).

I have been boycotting supermarkets for over ten years, a decision I came to after reading the book “Not on the Label – What Really Goes into the Food in your Plate” by British journalist Felicity  Lawrence.  I have been guiding tours around Frascati for almost two years and this piece of information pops into the tour when I show our clients my shopping street and the town’s market.  And I tell them, the way I write to you now, that I cannot get on my moral high horse about this – because food shopping is incredibly easy to do in Frascati and I have access within walking distance to everything I could possibly want (except for fresh coriander – for that I have to go into Rome.  Coriander/cilantro still not big in these parts).  As life would ironically have it,  however, it turns out that I have had to  frequent supermarkets on a regular basis (weekly!) ever since my mother stopped driving last year and I have to take her shopping (she turns 93 in December bless her).  I kid you not, I have been more often to the supermarket this past year than I have all together in the previous ten or more.  Oh – and by the way it’s not the idea of a supermarket that I am against.  It’s the fact that they don’t pay the producers well.  That and lots more but let’s drop the subject now and get back to the recipe for today’s post.

So there I was looking at the fresh foods at the supermarket with her the other day and turning my nose up disdainfully.  The aubergines/eggplants looked okay, I suppose.  The salads all came in plastic bags.  I’ll admit the cucumber looked good.  But for the rest I was really underwhelmed.  I went for the button mushrooms in a desultory bid to avoid coming home empty-handed.  I had to make dinner after all.

By the time I did get home, my husband told me he’d be late that night … so it was a case of my being on my own.  And that’s when I decided I would make a pasta dish with these champignons and let’s see if I could raise the bar here, and make them a bit special?

In the fridge I had some fresh tomatoes that I had cooked down in order to make a tomato sauce, and which I had put through a food mill.  A home-made tomato sauce is always good for adding ooomph to a recipe.  For the rest it was a case of the usual suspects: olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs.

On the other hand, since I WAS trying to make this a bit special, I knew I had to bring out some big guns.  Follow me.

 

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The pasta brand. This pasta brand.  Verrigni.  One of the best in Italy, full stop.  From Abbruzzo.

3A secret ingredient – dried porcini mushrooms.  Please ignore that lovely onion from Tropea in the foreground.  I used that to cook something else.

4I poured boiling water over the funghi porcini and let them soak until they were tender.

5Once they were totally rehydrated, I used a pair of scissors to cut them up.  And don’t even think about throwing away that porcini-infused water!  That’s what was to give the dish a bit of ooomph.

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Not too shabby either was this home-made tomato salsa I had prepared the day before. I skinned the tomatoes, chopped them up very roughly, and just cooked them down for about 15 minutes.  Afterwards I put them through a food mill and added salt and olive oil (extra virgin olive oil, naturally).

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The mushrooms soaking in a bowl of water.  They needed a good soak, it was very hot that day.

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The same mushrooms, a little later, roughly cut up and ready to be cooked.

TIME TO COOK

I put the water onto the boil for the pasta.

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I am recently very much ‘into’ this big frying pan – don’t ask me why.  I certainly didn’t need anything this big for my recipe but for some reason this was the only pan that ‘spoke’ to me that evening.   Made me feel a little cheffy, I suppose.  As you can see there is plenty of garlic, and plenty of olive oil.  There are, also, a few pepper corns (no, they are not mouse droppings).  And the green herb that you see is what we call “mentuccia” and which, I think is what is known as “calamint” in English (the official name in Latin is Clinopodium nepeta).  It is very strong, very.  Think mint on steroids.  And it goes wonderfully well with mushrooms. You could always substitute with marjoram, or tarragon, or thyme, or mint or even plain parsely.  Mentuccia is very easy to grow (I grow don’t have green fingers, trust me).

8I had the garlic cooking on a stronger heat that I would normally use.

9The minute the garlic started to turn golden, I added the mushrooms.

10And shortly after I added the porcini mushrooms and the water in which they had been soaking.

11Here you see everything bubbling away over a high heat.

12Time to cook the pasta too.

13I now added my tomato salsa.

14A thick slice of a beautiful lemon from the Amalfi Coast (they are famous for their lemons there).

15I tasted the sauce, added some salt, a bit more mentuccia and … yes … even some freshly squeezed lemon juice.  A little at a time.  A little goes a long way.

16I added a little bit of freshly grated pecorino cheese and switched the heat off.   The cheese melted easily even with the heat switched off.

17When the pasta was ready, I drained it directly  into my beefy saucepan and turned on the heat to a fierce temperature as I mixed in the sauce with the pasta.  I even did a bit of showing-off tossing – but couldn’t photograph that of course.

18I served it with some freshly grated parmigiano (parmesan).

19I added some chilli flakes just after I took this photo because I like a bit of heat.

I thought it was rather nice, thank you very much.  See?  There WAS  a way to make button mushrooms sexy after all.  Or so I thought.

The next day, while I was away, my husband had some leftovers for lunch.  When I got back, I enquired as to his liking of the dish.  He scrunched up his nose, took in a deep breath and pronounced it “unconvincing”.  I mean, he ate a whole plate of the stuff but it wasn’t exactly ‘good’ according to him.  He wasn’t being mean, by the way, just offering an honest opinion.

Yet.  You can imagine how crestfallen I felt.

“Did you add freshly grated parmigiano to it?” I asked.  He answered that no, he had not.

That must have been it then, I said to myself, trying to cheer myself up.  Ah well, you win some, you lose some.

PS – if you leave the cheese out, this recipe is fit for vegans.

PPS – It’s always a good idea to add some lemon juice to mushroom soup too.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/mushroom-soup-for-parties/

PPPS – Here is a little background on Mint (https://www.summerdownmint.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Food-Wine-Sept-2011.pdf)

More Mint Mythology
In Roman mythology Minthe was a
lovely young nymph who caught
the eye of Pluto, the ruler of the
underworld. When his wife Persephone found out about his love
for the beautiful nymph, she was
enraged and changed Minthe into
a lowly plant, to be trodden underfoot. Pluto couldn’t reverse Persephone’s curse, but he did soften
the spell somewhat by making the
smell that Minthe gave off all the
sweeter when she was trodden
upon. The name Minthe has
changed to Mentha and become
the name of the herb, mint.
In ancient Greece, mint was used
in funerary rites, together with
rosemary and myrtle, not simply
to offset the smell of decay but
mint was an element in the fermented barley drink called the
kykeon that was an essential brew
for participants in the Eleusinian
mysteries, which offered hope in
the afterlife for initiates.

 

 

Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style

The thing about Pasta Alfredo is that it is basically well known only outside of Rome and especially in North America.  There are two restaurants in central Rome that that can lay claim to the origin of this recipe and it became famous because famous foreigners got to enjoy it, including early Hollywood film stars.  If you have a little gander around google you will encounter scores of articles to enlighten and amuse you.  If you haven’t got the time or patience, I would advise you to click on the links below for two excellent articles and video on the history and the recipe written by Elizabeth Minchilli and by Frank Fariello.

For my part, I can say that most Romans – if they are going to make a simple butter and parmesan pasta at all – will not use fresh pasta (fettuccine) but dry pasta instead.  The recipe is sometimes dubbed as the dish that is made for the man whose wife cheats on him (“la pasta del cornuto”); having squandered her time away from the kitchen in pursuit of forbidden pleasure and frippery, she will not have the requisite time to prepare a ‘proper’ pasta sauce.  What else can a poor unfaithful wife do but resort to a quick and easy “pasta burro e parmigiano” that she can prepare in no time at all?  As if.  Anyway, I got a craving for this dish when I was pregnant the first time – so it was very amusing for me to discover that the original chef Alfredo who ‘invented’ this concoction did so in order to improve the appetite of his pregnant wife!  There you go.  Nothing to do with being unfaithful whatsoever.  Also, it is the pasta to make after one has been ill for whatever reason.  “La pasta in bianco” it is called (white pasta) and sometimes olive oil will be substituted for the butter.  In Umbria they call it the Englishman’s pasta. I wrote a post about this some years ago: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/english-pasta-spaghetti-burro-e-parmigiano/.

But back to today and the new pasta Alfredo I want to tell you about.

The Alfredo in question is Alfredo Minardi Baldoni who runs his family’s nine-generation vineyard and olive farm near Frascati.  The vineyard and farm house/cellar couldn’t be prettier and more picturesque, with breathtaking views of the rolling hills of the Castelli Romani area, the peak of the ancient town of Tusculum,  the town of Monteporzio, as well as the hills north of Rome and the seashore to the left.

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I have been collaborating with Alfredo and his tours and wine tasting since last September, and our conversations are always about the history (and a bit of gossip) of where we live, wine (naturally!), olive oil and food.  It didn’t take me long to discover that he likes his nosh, has a fine palate and is a dab hand in the kitchen.

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I was telling him about that incredible pasta sauce I had enjoyed in Tuscany back in October, consisting of only three ingredients: sausages, mascarpone, and parmesan cheese (salt and pepper too). When we were discussing what two pasta dishes to offer our guests one Sunday, we decided go for a traditional Roman dish (Amatriciana) and to do a take on the famous (or infamous considering the ‘heavy’ ingredients) of the sausage-mascarpone-parmigiano recipe.  And this is the result.

“What are we going to call this dish?” I asked him, minutes before serving the guests? He started prattling on about the ingredients and I shook my head.  “No, we shall call this dish Pasta Minardi, after the vineyard!”  I can take no credit for the tweak on the trio of ingredients, the ideas were all Alfredo’s (except maybe for the addition of mint).  And hence, some time later, I reckoned it was a good idea to name this dish “Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style”.

INGREDIENTS

Italian sausagues, mascarpone, freshly grated parmesan cheese.

A handful of almonds, a glass of white wine (Frascati naturally!), some olive oil and as much or as little garlic as you prefer.

METHOD

Use a knife to finely chop the sausages after having skinned them.  Then brown the garlic in the olive oil, taking care not to actually ‘brown’ them.  They ought to be a golden colour. Remove the garlic afterwards (or keep it in the sauce, if you like it).

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Add the chopped sausage to the pan and use a wooden spoon or spatula to break it up as much as possible. Careful not to overcook the meat otherwise it will tend to go all hard and chewy.

You can slice the almonds with a knife or you can do what I did.  I covered them with parchment paper and used a meat pounder to crush them.

When the meat has just stopped turning pink, pour a glass of white wine into the pan (not directly on the meat) and turn the heat up to let the alcohol evaporate.

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Now add the almonds.  Stir.

The meat looks really ‘brown’ in the above photo but that’s not what it looked like in real life.  Anyway, I added 4 tablespoons of mascarpone and mixed it in.  I then added a fifth tablespoon to loosen up the sauce somewhat.  I tasted it (delicious already!) and added a little bit of salt.  Pepper (freshly milled) I always add at the end.

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The pasta was boiling away (doesn’t look like it in this photo, I know). I used roughly 700g of pasta.

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I transferred the sauce to a larger pan.  A pan that I would use to finish off the pasta.  At this point I added a few teensy mint leaves that I found on my balcony.  Dried  mint can work too, I suppose.

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The pasta was almost ready, so I turned the heat on.

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I had added some pasta water to the previous pan, to soak up whatever got left behind. I poured this into the new pan and then drained the pasta directly into the pan.

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Here I am finishing off the pasta in the pan, adding more pasta water (as needed) and tossing and or stirring the pasta.

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Pepper and parmesan last.  Give it a good stir and serve.

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A lovely wintry recipe,  my appreciative guests commented as they enjoyed Pasta Alfredo Frascati Style a few evenings ago.

I should think so so too.  This might not grow hair on your chest, but you will find yourself breathing better as you savour the richness of the texture, the crunch of the almonds, the saving grace of a faint hint of mint and the rounding off of a parmesan-mascarpone finish.

http://memoriediangelina.com/2013/05/19/fettuccine-alfredo/

http://www.elizabethminchilli.com/2017/02/how-to-make-fettuccine-alfredo-video/