A Sultry Sicilian Sunday Lunch, Stefania Barzini Style

Question: how many people still ‘do’ Sunday lunch these days? Meaning, as the high point of the gastronomic week, as the family get-together nexus, as the excuse to invite good friends for a slow-paced convivial experience?

Culturally speaking, I associate this ‘special’ Sunday meal with the rightly famous British Sunday Roast and with the Italian “Pranzo della Domenica”.  Meaning, question again, was the Sunday lunch a big deal in other countries too? I’ve not heard of it being celebrated in North America, or France or Spain or the Netherlands, Scandinavia or Germany/Austria/Switzerland or Eastern Europe – but of course that’s not to mean that it does not exist in these geographical parts, simply that I’ve not heard about it.

So far as my family is concerned, this was never a tradition chez nous.  I’m of maverick stock.  So no one would say that I am an ardent proponent of the Sunday luncheon.  That said, it’s primarily because it means having to prepare much of the meal the day before, and wake up at the crack of dawn on the day to get everything done spit-spot.  It’s the timing that’s tiring for me.  Drinking wine is most definitely part and parcel of the pranzo della domenica and then what happens, eh?, I ask you?  One gets sleepy and yearns to catch forty winks – what better way to book-end the experience than a Sunday nap?  But if one is with friends, or not in one’s own home, this is not an option and it becomes hard work staving off the droopy eyelids despite the copious cups of post prandial coffee.  Sigh.  I get woozy after a boozy dinner too but going to bed is the natural next step and falling asleep is simply bliss.  So, yes, these are just some of the reasons why I prefer a dinner on the whole.

They say that the mundane is to be cherished.  True.  How much more, then, should a ‘special’ occasion be appreciated !  It stands to reason.  Which is why I heartily accepted an invitation to Stefania Barzini’s for Sunday lunch the other day.  This was not the first time I had enjoyed a Sicilian menu cooked by her and her friend Paolo Colombo (if you have not heard about Stefania, you can read all about her in this piece I wrote: https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2016/11/23/kale-crostini-by-stefania-barzini/).

Another attraction (well, for me at least) is that because the invitation is open to people who are interested in a top-notch home-cooked meal presented in the chef’s own home, you never know who you are going to meet.  Some are friends of Stefania’s, some are acquaintances, and others are complete newcomers.  The atmosphere is one of a hail-fellow-well-met welcome, sit yourself down, and eat and drink.  Very little fuss, people are supposed to cooperate.  They are expected to mix and mingle as Stefania and Paola see to the finishing touches and bring in the food, course upon course.

Since, on the whole, it is mostly I who do the cooking for dinner parties, on top of the mundande-to-be-cherished daily meals, I confess that not having to lift a finger (other than to eat) for a change is  a feeling I embraced to the hilt.  I felt so spoilt.  My delightful daughter who loves Sunday lunches (as well as all things Sicilian) decided to join me and that was an added and unexpected bonus.   I love Stefania and her husband’s home, not to mention the kitchen!, it seems made for this kind of entertaining.

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Stefani’as kitchen before the onslaught of the guests.

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I served some fantastic just-fried saffron-steeped rice balls as an ice-breaker to a group of people sitting on the sofas around the large coffee table.  “Since you are all too shy to be the first to grab one, I shall pass the plate around,” I said encouragingly.  No further chivvying was required after that – we all partook with a vengeance of whatever was put before us as nibbles before sitting at the tables for the main courses.

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Oh this citrus-buttressed chicken liver paté … I couldn’t get enough of it.

 

There was also a large platter of cured meats from Sicily (silly me, didn’t take any photos) as well as home-cured olives and pepper flecked cheese from the Nebrodi region of Sicily.  Nibbles galore.

4And then, once seated at the table(s), we were served our pasta course.  Ravioli stuffed with fresh ricotta and dressed with a mint and sage sauce.  A sprinkling of pecorino cheese.

6And were they good?  Is the pope catholic ….?  No, seriously.  They were excellent.  The texture of the home-made pasta was incredble, it was as silky as the ricotta stuffing.  The flavour was of course a savoury one but there was just a hint of sweetness that the mint and sage offset beautifully.  Very more-ish indeed.

7The pièce de résistance … the brioche salata, or “brioscia”.  A pie named after the French brioche, I presume.  This, as well as the other recipes, were all from Fabrizia Tasca Lanza’s repertoire, for which Stefania was most grateful, as were we.

8By the time the ‘brioscia’ arrived on our table, I was feeling pretty much full.  It is a very rich dish, sumptuous.  It was served with an intriguing lentil dish.

9It may not look like much but these lentils were super.  They were cooked with an orange and a lemon, and dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, a little bit of chilli and fresh mint.  It’s definitely a recipe I want to incorporate in my repertoire.

8aThe bottom of the brioscia was slightly burned but no matter.

And then came the dessert.  Two desserts.

12A superb cassata.

12aThis was my helping, I simply couldn’t eat any more but I can tell you – it was really delicious.  And I’m not usually a great pudding eater.

And here is the tangerine ‘gelo’ – il gelo di mandarino.

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10aA gelo is a bit like a jelly in consistency.  The tangerine flavour coupled with the pistachio (and don’t the colours pair well too!) was intensely satisfying.  And it ‘cleaned’ the palate, so to speak.

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It was definitely time for coffee.  What a meal!

13Here is a lovely photo of Paola, Stefania’s friend and co-host.  And no, I didn’t take any photos of Stefania.  Normally I’m the one taking photos of everything and everyone but today I was just relaxing and involved in the various conversations.  What’s a Sunday lunch about after all!

The photo of Stefania below, and a few of the above, were taken by Stefania’s friend Donatella Monachesi.

14Stefania looking after her guests.

15And this one is of Donatella holding forth and intriguing us all with her witty conversation.

The lunch was followed  by a viewing of a documentary all about Sicilian food traditions. I had to miss this opportunity because it was time to go home for me.

 

 

Yuletide Meatloaf with Porcini Mushrooms

Meatloaf, or polpettone as it is known in Italian, must surely rank as the most evocative of home food repasts both in Europe and North America, the embodiment of what a good housewife/mother or grandmother could put together for the family meal.  Wholesome, tasty, comforting and satiating, a meatlof would never aspire to la-di-da but neither would have the better-off classes sneered their noses down at what is basically a huge sausage.  We have all grown so much more sophisticated these past few decades where meals and cuisines are concerned thanks to TV programmes and social media and, let’s face it, a bit of an obsession over eating in general but I would wager that none of us would think it stonkingly out of place if we were to be served a meatloaf at a friend’s house for a meal – slightly out of fashion maybe, like food from the 1970s, or perhaps quaint, but not ‘wrong’ as such.  And that is because there is an intrinsic honesty to a meatloaf; it can’t lie, and there is only so much tweaking that can be apportioned to it upon pain of distorting, misrepresenting and downright perverting its nature.  So let’s hear it for the meatloaf, say I, let’s make it welcome even in the 21st century.  At the same time, and I realise I might be raising a hackle or two in saying so, let us not turn to any Ottolenghi-inspired makeovers, his shopping list alone would be an insult to what a meatloaf is all about.  Simple.  It is not supposed to make an impression or draw attention to itself.

It is supposed to be good, however, of course !  And the version I am about to talk to you about was definitely most enticing, taught to me and members of a group who had the good fortune to be invited to stay at the Casamora Farm for a gastronomy tourism workshop in Tuscany last June.  This farm and holiday destination is famous for many things, including its top notch extra virgin olive oil.  Owned and run by the erudite architect Maurizio Montani Fargna and his delightful energetic wife Matilde Visconti, a lot of historical family blood and background courses through their veins.  The photo below was snapped by Annalee Archie, who wrote about our experience on her tavoladelmondo.com website (see ‘tags’). They were the kindest of hosts and Maurizio a most engaging conversationalist.

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They turned to Stefania Barzini and her trusty friend and assistant Paola Colombo to run the cooking classes and I was overjoyed to take part.  What wasn’t there to like?

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But first a confession.  I am one of the few people in the world who would find meatloaf a challenge.  Indeed, one of my attempts turned out to be an outsized disaster and saw me transmogrifying a meatloaf into a cottage pie, sigh (https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/sheepish-in-meatloaf-battle-or-cottage-pie-a-litalienne/).  So the fact that Stefania was going to see us through a meatloaf from scratch was quite a boon.

INGREDIENTS

Dried porcini mushrooms, milk, bread, onions, carrots, good extra virgin olive oil, 1kg minced meat/ground beef, 1 egg, roughly chopped parsely, grated parmesan cheese, freshly ground nutmeg if desired, salt and pepper, flour, wine, plum tomatoes

The first thing to do is soak the porcini in hot water for at least twenty minutes, better still for one hour.  The mushrooms will regain some moisture and the liquid will be impregnated with their taste.

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Then soak some bread in milk until it has softened but not become too soggy:

53Put the minced meat in a mixing bowl.

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Add the bread and 1 egg.

7Then add the grated parmesan cheese.

9Add the rougly chopped parsely.

10Add some grated nutmeg (if you like it) and combine the ingredients, using your hands.

11Add salt and pepper last.  That’s it for now.  Stefania and Paola work in unison.

It’s now time to make a simple ‘soffritto’: chop a couple of onions and two carrots and sauté them in a frying pan that will be large enough to hold two meatloaves.

4The olive oil we used was, naturally, Casamora’s own evoo, one of the best in all of Italy.

15Once the onion and carrot have softened (about 5-minutes, you don’t want the onion to brown), you can start adding the porcini mushrooms.

16Remember our meat?  Now is the time to divide it and shape it into two loaves.  Then, using plenty, and I mean plenty, more than one would think!, flour … dredge the loaves so that they are utterly coated in flour.  No skimping !

17And now that the mushrooms have cooked a while, Stefania is about to lower the loaves into the pan.

And here we are: both loaves are in, the flame is a strong one, and a lid is placed on top of the pan.

20After about 10 minutes, off comes the lid, and in goes plenty of wine.  Please note: never sprinkle the wine on top of the meat itself.

21Stefania  makes a little room between the loaves and then turns them over (not as easy as one might think).

22In go two tins of plum tomato passata.  Unlike with the wine, it’s okay to slather the loaves with the tomatoes !

23On goes the lid … and we have to wait a little bit.  By a little bit,  I mean … oh very well, then, I’ll have to own up: I can’t remember how long.  Probably about 20 minutes or so ?

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

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

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And then it’s time to pour in some of the water that the porcini mushrooms had steeped in.  Dried porcini mushrooms are notorious for wanting to hang on to the soil they grew in, and there is bound to be some grit in the water.  Better to strain the porcini water through a fine mesh strainer before pouring it into the pan.  And now is the time to banish the lid.  The liquid has to cook down.

27After about another 10 minutes or so (yes, I know, I  know, I am only guessing – but surely I can’t be too off the chronological mark?) …. the sauce has thickened beautifully, the meat is cooked through and all is well in the meatloaf world.

28This is what one of the loaves looked like just before being served.  I wish I had more photos of it on the plate but I was too busy eating and enjoying my lunch by then.

So yes … a humble dish with an aristocratic ingredient, the porcini mushroom, also known as ceps in English.  Not too shabby as a yuletide dish … what do you reckon?

 

Stinco di Manzo con Uva di Frascati

 

I simply intuited that I would want to attend a themed dinner chez  food writer, teacher, journalist and caterer Stefania Barzini last November (i.e. 2015) in Rome (Stefania can be quite the gadabout – more about her in another post).  She and friend Paola run these evenings that bring acquaintances and strangers to the same table, and the atmosphere can be made even more interesting just by that very fact.  Food is guaranteed to be special, not just good.

Anyway the menu that evening centred around Tuscany, based on all things bright and beautiful sourced directly from the delightful  Badia di Coltibuono estate.  Indeed, so directly that Emanuela Stucchi Prinetti herself brought  all the ingredients over from the farm (including olive oil and award winning wines) and helped cook the meal.  Emanuela’s mother Lorenza De’ Medici is famous for her cooking:

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Another reason for me to want to attend the evening was that my darling Uncle James, who had died only just a few weeks before, had treated us to lunch at the Badia only three years previously and the memory was still sweet, if poignantly so now.  He was enchanted by the place, the food and the atmosphere … and mesmerised by the enormous cedar tree on the estate.

Uncle James was a pretty good cook himself and made his own bread right to the end. In our family, he is well known for enjoying anything you put before him and making the best cocktails.  My son’s mates here in Frascati remember Uncle James’s cocktails too; they sipped them at an age when they couldn’t conceive fully of their after effects but at least they learned the difference between a good and a bad one!  Evenings at Uncle James’s tiny house in Chiswick, London, always began with cocktails, served in vintage glasses and accompanied by delicious appetisers.  Despite the casual attire he favoured after retirning from a bank job where he always had to look sharp, he always had that touch of class about him.   Anyway … back to the Tuscan dinner and the inspiration for me.

The menu at Stefania’s that evening was the following:

Crostini al cavolo nero Crostini toscani classici (Crostini with kale)
Pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale (Papparadelle with wild boar sauce)
Stinco all’uva (Shank cooked with grapes)
Purè di patate (mashed potatoes)
Semifreddo al caffè (Coffee ice cream)
Cantuccini (Cantucci, the typical Tuscan biscuits)
Trappoline Bianco Chianti Classico
Chianti Classico Riserva Cultus Boni
Chianti Classico Riserva Vinsanto

It was a fabulous  meal, I remember plenty of interesting conversation, an easy atmosphere and more than one languge being spoken although it was definitely a predominantly Italian evening.  There isn’t much ‘fuss’ at Stefania’s dining table … people have to help themselves and pour their own wine and just get along.  (It reminded me a little of the table-side manners we had to adhere to at boarding school.  However shy one was, one had to make conversation and just get along.)

emanuelaThe dish that struck me the most was the beef shank, cooked slowly with wine and grapes.  The photo below, unfortunately, does not do it any justice.img_2217You shall just have to take my word for it – it was melt-in-yout-mouth tender, savoury with a hint of sweetness and there was even the tiniest bit of crunch brought about by the grape pips.  I decided that I wanted to make some at home.  Thank you Emanuela !

Because home is Frascati, I was going to use Frascati wine naturally.  The word for shank in Italian is ‘Stinco’ and hence the title of my adaptation of Emanuela’s recipe.

RECIPE

This is a recipe that takes a long time to cook but it’s not in the least bit difficult.  I expect it can be made the day before – some stews taste even better the following day.
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4So, let’s begin at the beginning.  Ask the butcher to cut the beef shank in half; that way it will take less time to cook.  Adorn the roasting tray with some onion, garlic, and a few tomatoes.  Coat the meat with olive oil.  5
Turn the oven on at 125°C.   That is a temperature I just guessed.


I let the shank cook for about two hours.

10This is what the  shank looked like after two hours in the oven.

I changed the position of the meat around and left the shank to continue cooking until 7 p.m.
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In the meantime I washed some grapes and put them into a very large saucepan.13I coated the individual grapes with a little evoo and salt and added a few peppercorns to the mix.

14When the shank had cooked for almost 4 hours (i.e. 3 and three quarter hours), I took it out of the oven.
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And this is what it looked like.  Ravishing already!

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But I wasn’t finished with the cooking.  Not yet.  Wine o’clock !18

Red wine at that, only red wine for this stew.  The Frascati Casale Marchese “Rosso Eminenza” – the eminence in question referring to a cardinal in the estate’s owners family, Cardinal Micara.  He gave the last rights to the opera composer Giacomo Puccini, how’s that for blogpost trivia.
20What I did next was to debone the shank … not hard to do, it literally back apart with my fingers.
22Place the meat on top of the grapes .
24Add all the ingredients and juices too …
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30Cover with a lid and when it starts to simmer, cook over a low heat.


32This is what it looked like after about one hour.  I tasted it and thought it need a little bit more cooking.  Without a lid now.
3435About 15 minutes later, I added two bayleaves.

39The meat was almost done.

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Time to add some Cognac.  About 2-3 tablespoons.  The cognac added a bit of ‘depth’, can’t explain better than that.  It was a ‘trick’ I used when making coq-au-vin: add a bit of cognac towards the end.

Time to switch the heat off.  Please note: total cooking time was from 4 p.m. to 9:40 p.m., i.e. almost 5 hours.41And this is when I added twists of pepper.  This is a valuable tip I got from Gareth Jones – always add the pepper only towards the very end.

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I used a pair of scissors to chop up the shank a bit.

Add some fresh grapes to the mix … just for colour and vitality.

And then serve and enjoy.  I am so sorry that, just as with Emanuela’s photo of her shank stew above, the photo of my Stinco doesn’t look anything as good as it tasted !
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We chose a Principe Pallavicini Mororello to accompany the meal.

It was not the same as Emanuela’s but it was good, very very good.  And I shall be making this again when the temperatures drop and we need some slow cooking, slow drinking, bonding and befriending.

In honour of Uncle James, who would have noddingly approved !

uncle-james