Squash Soup and Veggie Frenzie

0

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”.

……………………..

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

12

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

13

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.

14

Next it was time for parsely and sage leaves.

15

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.

Bread Salad – Panzanella

I wrote about a ‘special’ panzanella on this blog four years ago – ‘special’ because it added an ingredient that is not normally associated with a panzanella, in this case squid.

https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2015/06/21/antipasto-squid-panzanella-inspired-by-ristorante-pepenero-in-capodimonte/

IMG_3430

More recently, I read such a beautiful post about panzanella by Judy Witts Francini (of Divina Cucina fame) that I thought to myself: what IS the point of writing another one, you’d only say more or less the same things.   The one panzanella she didn’t mention is the one we make near Rome (panzanella romana), the one my grandmother would prepare for me as an afternoon snack (merenda).  Basically, it was just a lot of chopped tomatoes placed over a slice of bread, and seasoned with salt and olive oil.  Delicious.

The good thing about panzanella is that it can be prepared ahead of time and is actually great for parties.  Here is a photo of a huge panzanella I made last summer on the occasion of my sister-in-law’s birthday.

IMG_4045

And now, without further ado, but with imagined roll of drums and blaring of trumpets, here is the link to Judy’s post:

Panzanella – Why Tuscan bread is Saltless

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.

1

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

2 (2)

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.

3

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.

4

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

5

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.

6

7

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

8

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.

9

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.

10

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

11

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.

13

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

14

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

15

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

16

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.

17

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.

18

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.

19

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Polpette di Melanzane al Cumino -Aubergine Patties with Cumin

These patties, or ‘polpette’ as they are called in Italian are quite simple to make and create a bit of interest taste-wise on account of ingredients that ‘pop’:  cumin, spring onion and fresh mint.  They’re dead easy to  make and are crowd pleasers because you can eat them as a finger food or serve them as a part of a main course.  I made them for the first time just over a year ago, on a whim, and have kept making them since, tweaking them this way and that.  There is no real recipe, if you see what I mean.  Just a bunch of ingredients thrown together.  There are countless recipes for aubergine/eggplant patties in Southern Italy and this one would not differ too much save for one ingredient: cumin.   I’ve never come across an Italian recipe calling for cumin.

Try them, you might like them.

Ingredients

Aubergines/eggplant, plastic bread, spring onion or ordinary onion, parsely if you don’t have mint, tomato paste, cumin, sweet paprika, salt, 1 egg, breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon grated parmigiano

IMG_3131This is one aubergine, sliced, and cooked in the oven until it dried out a little.  About half an hour.  Wait for the slices to cool before proceeding.

IMG_3125Some slices of bread (this is what I call plastic bread).

IMG_3126Break up the bread.

IMG_3127Add the parsely.  And whizz the parsely too.

IMG_3128Add some cumin: a couple of teaspoons say …

IMG_3129Add 1 peeled onion, cut into quarters.  Spring onions are better, but I didn’t have any that day.

IMG_3132

This is a tube of tomato paste, tomato concentrate.  My fridge is never without one because this tomato can be added to so many recipes.  Just a squidge here and there.

IMG_3130Okay so here is a view from the top: I processed the bread and then the parsely.  After I added an onion, some cumin, a squidge of the tomato paste, a good pinch of salt and, last, the bright orange you see on the right, some sweet paprika.

IMG_3131Remember these?  Time to add them.

IMG_3133IMG_3134IMG_3135The end result was somewhat sticky.

IMG_3147

I transferred this mix to a bowl, and added Italian breadcrumbs, which are very dry, a tablespoon of freshly grated parmigiano, and 1 egg.   I used a spoon to bring the mix together, adding more and more breadcrumbs until I reached the consistency I was after.

A little on the laborious side but not rocket science, it was now time to shape the mix into patties .  I prevailed upon my husband to do this while he was watching some news on the TV.   If he can do this, anyone can.    (Not that I was idly lounging about, I hasten to add, I was otherwise occupied in the kitchen and getting our dinner ready.  The patties were just an ‘extra’.)

I left the patties in the fridge overnight.  I fried them in ordinary groundnut oil, the next day, and served them with some tahini sauce.

I had been asked over to a potluck dinner at a friend’s house and all was well.

1

That’s some tahini sauce in the middle.

2I suppose you could also serve them with ketchup, why not?  A squeeze of lemon?  Leave the egg and cheese out, and these can be served as a vegan dish too.

To me … these polpette speak of summer and warmth and longer days.

Pasta alla Checca

Following the worst May in Italy since 1957, with plummeting temperatures and buckets of rain, the weather is finally beginning to make seasonal sense.

And I can’t wait for it to be hot enough to  make pasta alla checca.

Here is a link, containing yet another link – a little bit like those Russian Matryoshka dolls – from long ago.  I read both posts and am glad to report that no editing or tweaking was necessary.  That’s the beauty of the pasta alla checca recipe.  Its utter simplicity.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/liar-liar-pants-on-fire-pasta-alla-checca-demographic/

IMG_7509

 

 

Fennels for Phyllis – A Tart

No, no no, Phyllis is not a tart.  She’s a friend of mine.

And when it comes to fennel – well, I say, fennels for anybody who likes fennel, and not just Phyllis.

I, however? If fennel were to disappear from the world, I would not miss it.  I feel the same way about cauliflower.  I will and do eat both vegetables, weirdly enough, it’s just that I don’t gush over them.  True, fennel can be eaten on its own, raw, dunked in olive oil with salt and pepper.  Otherwise, just as with cauliflower, it always requires some kind tarting up.  Raw cauliflower? Yikes, no amount of over-seasoned dip can take away its horribleness for me.

I was having this conversation with Phyllis Knudsen, a former chef from Vancouver and author of oracibo.com, whose experience and outlook on food I greatly admire.  That and she cracks me up, she’s really funny and, you will agree, we all need cart loads of humour just now the way the world is going.  I read an article a couple of weeks ago that maintains we are living in a golden age, with statistics to prove the point.  It was written in 2016 and has immense merits (here’s a link if you want to read it: https://www.spectator.co.uk/2016/08/why-cant-we-see-that-were-living-in-a-golden-age/) – it’s just that it doesn’t often FEEL as though we are living in a golden age, I don’t know about you.  Whatever.  Hats off to all those who make life lighter for us, and that means you too Phyllis.

But back to tarting up and a recipe that turns fennel into a tart with surprisingly good results.  Take a look.

 

Slice the fennel in rounds, quite thick ones at that and cook them in a pan with olive oil and butter over quite a strong heat.

IMG_1439

Turn the fennel rounds over just the once, and sprinkle some salt too.

IMG_1440Silly me, I didn’t take a photo first but … if you look closely on the right hand side above, you will see an amber-coloured goo underneath the cooked fennel.  That goo is gorgeous honey.  So, avail yourself of a 26cm baking tray and enjoy the zen-like activity of trickling honey over the tray (not too much honey, however!).

Turn the oven on at 200° Celsius.

IMG_1442Scatter a good amount of grated parmesan cheese over the fennel.  Add some thyme if you have any.  I didn’t and had to make do with oregano.

IMG_1443Cover the fennel with pastry.  This was store bought, so easy peasy.  Use a fork to make some holes in the pastry.  And bake for about 30-35 minutes.

IMG_1449The pastry has puffed up beautifully.

Get hold of a plate that will cover the baking tray and turn the tart over, onto the plate/dish.

IMG_1451Add some fennel fronds to the tart, to add freshness.

IMG_1454IMG_1453And was it good, you might wonder?

Indeed it was.  And I shall definitely make this again.  And I still  maintain that fennel needs pampering, bla bla bla, droning on and on and on ….

 

Pasta alla Norma

I made pasta alla Norma a couple of weeks ago and a Summer would never be complete without having it at least once.

I wrote extensively about this recipe in a previous post which I would invite you to read, if only because I talk about its provenance and history as well as the steps to making it.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/the-diva-pasta-pasta-alla-norma/

img_8756.jpg

The main difference between the way I cooked it then and more recently is that I salted the aubergines before frying them this time.  A little more work, yes, but worth it.

IMG_8755Another difference is that I used onions instead of garlic to make up the tomato sauce.

IMG_8753IMG_8752img_8772.jpgWhat can never be changed is the type of oil with which to fry the slices of aubergine – only extra virgin olive oil can be used for this dish.

IMG_8771Once the pasta was on the boil, it was time to ready the sauce into welcoming it within the confines of a large saucepan.  I began by throwing in some fresh basil and a little olive oil.

IMG_8773

I then poured the sauce in and turned the heat on.

I also grated some Ricotta Salata cheese.  This is a ricotta that has been salted and allowed to age and dry off.  Sorry, I didn’t take a photo.

IMG_8774If you look closely, you can see some white ‘bits’ in amongst the pasta – that is the ricotta salata.  What I did was drain the pasta directly into the saucepan add a little of the cooking water and finish off cooking the pasta there.  Only afterwards did I add the fried aubergine slices (so as not to damage them) and, lastly, the roughly grated ricotta salata – together with extra basil.  I was having a bit of a basil frenzy.

IMG_8776It was a casual outdoor dinner at a friend’s house and she was okay about bringing the pasta to the table in the saucepan.

IMG_8777img_8775.jpgOnce we had plated up, everyone was free to add more ricotta salata to their plate.

Oh … sigh … how I love al fresco meals and Summer in general.

P.S.  It has been the weirdest late July/August ever around here in the Castelli Romani – we’ve had nothing but buckets of rain late in the afternoon.  Not my idea of Summer evenings at all.  But, still, a Pasta alla Normal is an uber-summery pasta dish and is best enjoyed this time of year.