Deliciously Italian

We’ve been eating quite a lot of Italian food during the last month…this coincided (not coincidentally) with the arrival of Rachel Roddy’s book in my letterbox – “Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome”.  This is such a good book; full of stories from her life and experiences living in Italy.  Details of food markets, local eating places, quirky characters and of course, her own cooking and learning. It makes me CRAVE a trip to Italy (I’m very impressionable) so that I can do all the things that she does!  But in lieu of that, I’m making full use of her book so that I can get that delicious Italian feeling.

The first time I used her book was following a trip to the Mediterranean Food Company -one of my favourite places to shop in Christchurch (just for the ambience if nothing else) – where we bought beautiful Italian wines, salami, cheeses and cured meats for a Saturday afternoon platter.  This was then to be followed by a large pot of Pasta and Potato Soup.

To go on the platter I made a batch of Rachel’s Marinated Olives which is incredibly easy but super delicious.  Olives are mixed with olive oil, shed loads of lemon and orange zest, chilli and herbs and it’s recommended that they’re left to sit for at least 3 hours. However…being slightly greedy and impatient, I put some of the olives and their marinade into a small pot after just a couple of hours and gently heated them to further infuse their flavours.  As an added bonus, they’re absolutely divine served warm.  I also didn’t realise until that moment just how great olives and citrus are together.

Following the platter we had a surprisingly satisfying pot of Pasta and Potato Soup.  It’s an incredibly simple soup to make; just cook up a soffritto (finely diced onion, celery & carrot) with some guanciale (cured pork cheek) then add finely diced potato, pasta and water.  As Rachel says in the introduction to the recipe, it sounds like it’ll be too heavy and slightly boring but it’s neither of those things.  On first tasting, it has a very delicate flavour, but after a few mouthfuls you start to fully appreciate the purity of the flavour coming through  – Rachel describes the soup as “pure-tasting, elemental even…” – I wholly agree with this comment.  I’m very much looking forward to making it again as it’s also quick and easy to prepare.  The perfect meal to follow a platter and to accompany copious amounts of wine.

Potato and Pasta Soup

In the vegetable section of the book is a “Recipe for Lentils”.  I’m a sucker for lentils and so decided to make this the central element of our dinner rather than a side dish.  I had some leftover guanciale from the Potato and Pasta soup so I added this to the lentils (fantastic decision if I do say so myself).  It’s basically lentils cooked with a soffrito which gives them a wonderful deep, savoury flavour.  The recipe suggests serving the lentils with sausages which would be delicious, but I served them with blanched fresh greens from the garden which I quickly fried in some of the fat from the guanciale.

LentilsLentils and veges

The first pasta dish I made from this book was selected on the basis that we have lots of courgettes in the garden at this time of year…in future this recipe will be selected because it is sooo so tasty.  The recipe is Linguine with Courgettes, Egg and Parmesan (Linguine con Zucchine) – basically a vegetable version of Carbonara.  To look at the finished dish with its basic ingredients, it’s hard to imagine that it would have flavour to match a more typical carbonara, but looks can be very deceiving!  My husband looked particularly skeptical but on tasting it we were all blown away.  I have found that this is typical of the recipes in this book – a few basic ingredients which deliver a purity of flavour that has me licking my plate (…I know).

Courgette Pasta

Not surprisingly, the next recipe also contains courgettes, although this was a slight adjustment to the recipe on my part.  The recipe is Bucatini with Tomato & Cured Pork Sauce but in this case I substituted courgette spaghetti for the bucatini.  The sauce was absolutely to die for, and I have to admit that it would have been better with traditional pasta rather than courgettes.  It’s another very basic looking recipe (only 5 ingredients) that delivers big flavour – primarily just tomatoes, wine and cured meat cooked until their flavours intensify, seasoned with a healthy dose of pecorino romano (as tends to be the case with a lot of these recipes) and then…scoffed.

The final recipe consists of very slow roasted tomatoes and spaghetti.  This was intensely easy to make and intensely delicious to eat.  Simply put 1kg of small tomatoes in a roasting tray, add a generous amount of olive oil and salt, then roast for about an hour until they are sticky and sitting in a thick sauce made up of their juices and the oil.  Tip cooked spaghetti directly into the roasting tray with a bit of pasta water, mix well and serve.  Too too easy…too too tasty 🙂

Tomato pasta2Tomato pasta1

So this is the beginning of my foray into Rachel Roddy’s book “Five Quarters” and I feel that it is the only the start of what I am sure will become a long and meaningful relationship.  In fact, I’m already looking forward to cooking Sweet Pepper and Tomato Stew tomorrow night with the tomatoes I have sitting on the bench from the garden…and while I eat it I will revel in that delicious Italian feeling 🙂

 

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Gruesome Gurnard!

I’ve been wanting to bake a whole fish for a long time and from what I was seeing in my recipe books, this was a good accompaniment to the fennel bulb I had in my garden.  The recipe I used was from The Food of Italy and was officially for red mullet but in the absence of red mullet I used gurnard instead. I was amazed at the hard boney head of the fish, very different to other fish I’ve used [not that there have been many whole ones!].  I wasn’t sure if I should cut the fins off the back of the fish which looked very dangerous so I decided to cut it off one fish and leave it in place for the other fish. I didn’t notice a huge difference to the end result so I’ll just leave them on next time.

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All snuggled up ready for the oven…one looks a bit scalped!

The fish is stuffed with fennel and the rest of the fennel goes underneath the fish. Unfortunately I over-cooked the fish so it was a bit dry; I nearly took it out early and I should have trusted those instincts. The fish released a lot of liquid as well which meant that some of the fennel was wasted. I wouldn’t say it was the most successful meal but it was fun to make. I will have to refine my process for next time!

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They look very creepy with their white eyes after they are cooked!

Multi-Tasking Has its Risks…

It was my birthday recently and my husband got me a cookbook called “500 Delicious Delights”…I can’t help but think this gift had some self-interest on my husband’s part!  The book had its first test in the weekend when I made Rhubarb Meringue Bars to take to my mums house.  I was a bit concerned about a few parts of the recipe…the raspberries are frozen and the rhubarb goes in raw…seems like a prime opportunity for a soggy base…and the meringue didn’t come out fully cooked initially so I had to put it in for a second bake…seems like a prime opportunity for something to burn!  It turns out that the last issue was a result of me not reading the recipe properly because I was making gnocci at the same time…I was supposed to crank the oven up to cook the meringue which I didn’t do.  However, it turned out that these concerns were all unnecessary because it was absolutely delicious!  The base was lovely and crunchy without being too hard, the filling was beautifully sweet from the raspberries and the meringue was satisfyingly marshmallowy.  Totally devine and a great way to use up rhubarb when it starts to get really productive.

They looked so lovely I couldn't resist taking a photo...and it appears to be colour coordinated with all my kitchen utensils!
The rhubarb and raspberries looked so lovely I couldn’t resist taking a photo…and they appear to be colour coordinated with my kitchen utensils!
Such lovely layers!
Seriously scrumptious!

In regards to my gnocci…I forgot to take a photo of the final dish but I did manage to take a snap of the gnocci in their raw state.  This recipe was from my Italia book by Jo Seager and I prepared a Garlic, Brown Mushroom and Parsley Sauce from the same book to serve with them. They were very tasty and had a lovely texture but I had a few difficulties with the rolling and cutting of the dough…not to mention the sticking of the dough to surfaces.  The recipe warns about not adding too much flour or over-working the dough or they will be rubbery, “they should melt in the mouth”.  As a result I ended up putting too little flour into my mixture creating a very wet and sticky dough which made it very difficult to work with.  However, I had the satisfaction that they definitely melted in the mouth 🙂

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Such lovely tempting looking pillows 🙂

Hearty Meals

Ever since I first saw a recipe for pasta and beans in my Southern Italian Home Cooking cookbook I’ve been wanting to make it. This particular recipe isn’t from that book but is from Winter on the Farm and is called Pasta e Ceci. It was a quick and satisfying meal that could be rustled up when we were less than organised.  From what I’ve read it’s a popular lunch in Italy.

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Pasta e Ceci

Once again, this is a recipe from my Winter on the Farm book by Matthew Evans, such a great book. I love cooking with beans and lentils so this recipe [like the previous one] really appealed to me. It’s called Bratwurst with Braised Lilliput Lentils.  We didn’t have bratwursts but used a good quality pork sausage; it was a great mid-week meal which didn’t take long to cook and was really tasty.

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Looks great on my new plate!

Recently my vegetarian mum came round for dinner and I cooked Autumnal Squash, Butterbean and Mushroom Cobbler from Anjum’s Indian Vegetarian Feast. It was great for having guests because it can be prepared to a certain point before they arrive and it tastes amazing!  We were all blown away by how delicious it was. I made it again 2 days later with the other half of the pumpkin because it was just so good! The cobblers are a really nice addition.
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Such nice generous dumplings…there’s nothing worse than not enough dumplings!!

The next recipe is for a Cassoulet that my husband’s work colleague sent to me. The recipe came from a very inspiring blog [http://www.seriouseats.com/2014/10/how-to-make-cassoulet-chicken-food-lab-french-casserole.html] and I just had to cook it! It takes a long time so it’s nearly a full day task but what better way to spend a day in the weekend?! It also required salt pork which I had to make myself due to a lack of supply. It was a nice recipe but unfortunately my salt pork was too salty which over-powered the dish. I also didn’t keep the liquid topped up as much as I should have so I had to add quite a bit towards the end although this was partly to try and dilute the saltiness. It was a fun process and I’ll definitely try it again but now I’ve learnt that I should soak the salt pork first or failing that, just use pork belly which I think would be equally good.

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I nearly achieved the required crust but not quite…looks pretty good though!

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An Italian Friday Feast

Last night I got some chicken drumsticks out of the freezer with no thoughts as to what I might cook with them.  I realised on my way home on the bus tonight that I still hadn’t thought any more about it!  Luckily I happened to have Bill Granger’s Italian Food recipe book on the bus with me for a bit of light reading so I had a look in there to get some ideas.  I came up with an amazing ensemble if I do say so myself…and I do 🙂

The meat dish is Chicken, Green Olives, Pine Nuts and Garlic although I used hazelnuts because I can’t eat pine nuts.  We had some lovely Sicilian green olives and they have a beautiful, mild, fruity flavour which worked so well with the chicken, it really was a delicious dish.

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Pretty as a picture

I served this with Lemon Braised Potatoes and Artichokes which were also very nice and a lovely accompaniment to the chicken.  The recipe uses a jar of artichokes which I was happy about because I’ve had a jar in the fridge for quite a while now; they were seriously tasty and added a nice tang to the meal.

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Mmmm…artichokey, lemony potatoes…

And the final dish was Braised Green Leaves for which I used a combination of spinach, sorrel and kale from the garden.  I haven’t used sorrel much and wasn’t sure how it would taste so I cooked up a few leaves and was amazed at the beautiful soft lemony flavour.  Now that I know what they taste like I’m keen to use them a lot more.

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Nice bowl even though the innards aren’t that attractive!
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The whole delicious ensemble! What a feast…
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This is the first helping…there were more to follow 🙂

There is something so satisfying when you cook a meal and everything works out just as you hoped it would…what a great start to the weekend.