Saturday 3 February 2007

Recipe: Aubergine & Parmesan Tart

For Four.
Ingredients: 4 sheets Phyllo Pastry 12"x6" each; 2 oz melted Butter; 1 large Aubergine; 2 tablespoons Olive Oil; 4 large Anchovy Fillets; 2 medium Garlic Cloves; 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Parsley; 2 Eggs; Seasoning; a quarter of a cup of freshly grated Parmesan; 1 Duck Liver (optional).


1. Cut the Aubergine into 1 cm cubes, place in a colander and dredge with salt. Leave to sweat out their juice for about half an hour.

2. Brush the Phyllo sheets with melted Butter, and use to make individual pastry shells in four 3" false-bottomed tart tins.

3. Saute the chopped Anchovies and chopped Garlic gently in the heated oil for a couple of minutes. Add the Aubergine cubes and continue to saute for ten minutes or so, until the Aubergine flesh is quite tender. Add the chopped Parsley and stir to incorporate. Cook for one minute more, then transfer to a bowl to cool.

4. Beat Eggs in a separate bowl, and stir in the Parmesan. Fold the cooled Aubergine mixture into this, and check seasoning (add salt and pepper if necessary)

5. Fill the pastry shells with the Aubergine mixture, and bake approximately ten minutes in a pre-heated 180 degree C oven. The tarts will be done when the pastry is quite dark, and the top of the filling is starting to brown.

6. If you wish to use the Duck Liver, slice it finely and distribute the slices on top of the tarts, before grilling them briefly either using a hand blow-torch or else by standing them for a minute under a pre-heated hot grill (be careful they don't burn if you use the latter method).


Friday 2 February 2007

A Day of Theatrics....

Act One: Lucca. A beautiful winter's day - piercingly clear blue sky, brilliant sunshine, and a touch of frost on the statues in Piazza Napoleone. The scene: a neo-classical courtroom, populated chaotically with a portly judge with a taste in colourful neckties, a pregnant lady-lawyer, three protagonists, two assistant lawyers - one serious and skeletal, the other bleached blonde and doubtful - a translator, a second lawyer, and not enough chairs to go round.....The noise level got louder and more frenzied, as the overall impression increasingly resembled one of the more disorganised scenes from Cosi fan Tutti ! End result? Not one millimetre further on in the process at the end of the morning than at the beginning.......and a date set for the next scene in this particular Opera Buffa at the end of the month.....Da Capo...........

Act Two: End of the afternoon. A starkly modern Notary's office, stainless steel and glass furniture and unremittingly modern 'Art' on the walls. The notary's costume seems derived from The Man from Uncle - black turtleneck, and serious thick-rimmed spectacles - although the overall dramatic reference is probably more likely Pirandello. Through the elegantly thin slats of the venetian blinds, night draws in, as the notary's voice drones on in a river of impenetrable italian legalese.......

Fortunately, for the intermission, we repaired to the Ristorante Lo Schiaccianoci, last redecorated in the late seventies with a cheerful mural of the Vondel Park in Amsterdam, which sits awkwardly amidst massed framed copies of nineteenth century engravings of Tuscany, and the occasional mistaken semi nude from the sixties in lurid pink. The food was excellent - a mouth watering dish of squid and black olives, as a salade tiede, and some sausages accompanied by perfectly grilled courgette, aubergine and red pepper. The half litre of nameless wine was slightly frizzante, light and interesting in flavour, and precisely what was needed.

Tonight's Dinner - reflects the sort of day, in being distinctly labour light!

Endive braised in Prosciutto Cotto, with a creamy Emmental sauce.

Scaloppine alla Milanese.

Ricotta Rum Cream. See below for the recipe.

Recipe: Ricotta Rum Cream

For Four-Five.
Ingredients: 2 generous teaspoons Pistachio Paste; one and a half pounds of Ricotta (the best quality you can find - it makes a difference!); 5 oz Sugar; 5 tablespoons Dark Rum; Soft Fruit or Nuts, to garnish, as you prefer (Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackberries, Hazelnuts, or Walnuts....).


1. Let the Paste soften in the Rum for five minutes or so.

2. Combine all ingredients apart from the fruit/nuts in a food processor, and process for approximately 20 seconds - don't overdo it, or it will collapse into a sort of slurry!

3. Divide between bowls and refrigerate for at least two hours. Garnish with berries or chopped nuts before serving, according to preference. (If using soft fruit, I generally macerate it for half an hour or so beforehand in something like either Cointreau or Maraschino.)

Thursday 1 February 2007

Pomiane's Philosophy & Kitchen Practice...

Pomiane's philosophy was very straightforward: a quality of life, significantly enhanced by the relaxed enjoyment of good food and drink, preferably consumed in the company of good friends. He disliked formality, pomposity or pretension. Pleasure should be simple - and the route to finding it should be equally uncomplicated.

This philosophy can be distilled into a number of distinct rules for the Cook. As follows:

  • Plan ahead. Plan your menus so that you aren't trying to do too many complicated dishes within one meal.
  • Programme your meal plans to achieve economies of scale: - if a dish will freeze readily, then make twice as much first time round, and have a second portion ready to go for several weeks later; - when I'm making crepes for one day, I generally make enough to use the following day in a completely different recipe (e.g. savoury stuffed one day, and suzettes the next); - when I make Moules Marinieres, I always make enough that I also have cooked mussels to make a Tarte aux Moules a couple of days later, and so on....
  • Organise yourself, so that you can multi-task the various steps involved in producing three courses in parallel with each other, rather than one after the other.
  • Don't spend too much time in the kitchen - I produce a three course dinner every evening, and - unless there's a dish I particularly want to spend time over - I rarely spend more than an hour a day cooking.
  • Clear up as you go along! How can you possibly relax into the enjoyment of food and company, when you know the Kitchen is piled with dirty pans awaiting your attention as soon as dinner is finished? By the time the first course is served, your kitchen should already look practically pristine....
  • If you're starting to get stressed, then you aren't planning sensibly in relation to your capabilities. Stress is not enjoyable. Don't bite off more than you can chew. Your abilities will inevitably expand with practice.
And lastly, bear in mind that food doesn't have to be complicated in order to be good. For that reason, I've given one of my favourite Pomiane recipes below: Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon. Simple and delicious, it encapsulates everything Pomiane stood for, and works equally as well as the first course for a grand lunch on Christmas Day as it does as comfort food beside the fire on a dreary day in February. Enjoy!

Tonight's Menu is..........the responsibility of the Bandierine restaurant. I'm having an evening off!

Recipe: Scrambled Egs with Smoked Salmon

For Four.
Ingredients: 8 large Eggs; 4 tablespoons Cream; 1 oz Butter; Salt & Pepper; 6 oz Smoked Salmon; Dill (optional)


1. Melt butter in a heavy frying pan.

2. Beat Eggs with cream and seasoning - be careful with the quantity of salt, as the Smoked Salmon will also be quite salty; better to under-season at this stage and adjust later if necessary. Mix well, to break down the egg white thoroughly.

3. Cook eggs over a medium heat, stirring to break up the 'membrane' as it cooks - but not so much that the texture resembles a kind of porridge. The cooked eggs should look rich and fluffy.

4. Cut the Smoked Salmon into small strips and mix into the cooked Eggs just before serving.

5. Serve, garnished lightly with (optional) Dill.

Wednesday 31 January 2007

The Best Mozzarella in the World......

..........comes from a 'biological' (whatever that may be) dairy called Vannulo, just outside the gates to Paestum. Both the Mozzarella and the Ricotta produced by Vannulo are quite exceptional - and once you've tasted either cheese, your benchmarks for 'good' as regards either product will have been radically altered. Permanently. The taste and creaminess is so remarkable that even hardened afficianados of italian cheese have been reduced to awed silence at their first taste - I know; I've witnessed it....

I have no idea whether it is the quality of the Buffalo milk which is responsible - presumably having been reared by 'biological' methods makes some difference to the quality of their output - or some wrinkle in the way that the cheeses are made. I suspect herds of Buffalo in Italy are few and far between these days, so I wonder if in fact what Vannulo produces is what Mozzarella and Ricotta used to taste like (I know....that old line again.....see earlier references to Felchlin chocolate...possibly I'm getting old) and our palates have merely become accustomed to what passes for 'good' these days, instead of what it used to be? Certainly, I can remember - when I first visited Paestum in the sixties, before it became such an item on the tourist landscape - there were rather grubby looking herds of Buffalo wallowing aimlessly pretty much everywhere you looked in that part of the World. Last time I was there, about five years ago, I don't recall seeing any at all.....

Anyway, I'm afraid this post is by way of being a 'so near, and yet so far', since I can tell you about Vannulo, but there's no way short of going there that you can lay your hands on any of their cheese. They don't distribute it, they won't send it, they have no outlets.......apart from on their own premises. I've tried all methods I can think of to get hold of it in Tuscany, all to no avail. The only possibility appears to be to queue up at their gates, and to buy it directly from the dairy, in person. Which is no awful hardship, but not entirely practical.... We've only enjoyed it hitherto by dint of some friends from Milan who have a house near Paestum, and who generously drop off a care package when they pass back through on their journey north (the cheese comes packed in a polystyrene box, accompanied by hushed instructions to 'eat it today - it won't keep'.......which isn't entirely true, but there's never any left after a couple of days anyway.) I'll put a link to Vannulo's website in the side bar. Good luck.....!

Tonight's Dinner:

Palline di Melanzane e Mozzarella (Aubergine fritters stuffed with Mozzarella - di Bufala, but not di Vannulo, sadly.....)

Swordfish Steaks with Salmoriglio Sauce.

Lemon and Almond Tart - see below for the recipe.

Recipe: Lemon & Almond Tart

For Two Individual Tarts.
Ingredients: 2 sheets Phyllo pastry, approx 12"x6" each; melted Butter, approx half an ounce; 1 Egg; 1.5 oz Sugar; grated rind and juice of 1 Lemon; 2 oz ground Almonds; a drop of Almond Essence.


1. Grease two individual false-bottomed tart tins. Brush the Phyllo sheets with the melted butter, cut each sheet in two, and use each pair of pieces to make a double thickness pastry shell in each tin.

2. Whisk the Egg and Sugar together for several minutes until pale yellow in colour and it falls away from the whisk in a ribbon; beat into this mixture the ground Almonds and Almond essence, and fold in the juice and rind of the Lemon.

3. Bake the shells for about 5 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 200 degrees C. Remove them when they are look crisp and quite brown. Reduce the oven temperature to 180 degrees C. Fill the pastry shells with the almond-lemon mixture, and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes - take them out when they have puffed generously and start to colour on the surface.

Dust with icing sugar once they have cooled, and serve.

Depending on the size of the tart tins you use, you may find you have some mixture left over after you've filled the pastry shells. Put any left-over mixture into a greased ramekin and bake it alongside the tarts - useful to put in the fridge for one of those odd moments when it's time for a little something!

Tuesday 30 January 2007

Essential Equipment: Simmertopf

I've mentioned this piece of kit before, in passing, but I didn't know at the time whether it was still available, and if so how widely. This is an integrated double boiler, or bain marie, where an opening in the top of the handle allows you to fill the base of the pot with water, which when heated then acts as a bain marie for the top part of the pot. I first came across this invention sometime in the eighties, in Divertimenti in Fulham Road; it was then made by a German company, it was called (appropriately enough) a zimmertopf, and cost the sort of price you'd expect from Divertimenti. I've never had to replace one (I have one in each kitchen - hence 'essential'), and so was uncertain whether they were still around, and whether they still cost an arm and a leg. They are and they don't!
A cursory look around the internet found them at both Amazon and an outfit in the US called, I think, Gourmet Kitchen. Much more reasonably priced than I recall, as well, at around $50/£27. I suspect they aren't called 'zimmertopfs' any more though, so some creative thinking might be needed in tracking down the exact item from the stockists' list.

Nothing ever burns or gets lumpy in this pot. You can make things like Creme Patissiere, or Hollandaise and be remarkably relaxed about doing other things at the same time, and merely returning from time to time for the requisite stir and to see how near 'done' it is. Excellent for melting chocolate, or butter, or apricot paste..... you probably get the gist.

I think I once - about ten years or so ago - had to replace the little glass element in the base of one of the handles - through which you can gauge whether or not the water needs to be refilled - and the replacement piece cost about three pounds and arrived with German efficiency in about three days from ordering. The in-house technical department (i.e. bloke here with a screwdriver) made the substitution in about ten minutes, and all was as good as new.

Todays Menu:

Celery Risotto. (The Italian Celery has a flavour about five times as intense as that you normally find in the UK!)

Breast of Chicken, with a Lemon and Caper Sauce.

Poached Pears on a Prosecco Zabaglione.

Recipe: Chocolate Terrine...

For Ten:
Ingredients: 150g White Chocolate; 125g Plain Chocolate; 150g Milk Chocolate; 135 ml Double Cream; 6 Eggs + 6 Egg Whites; 135g Butter; 3 tablespoons Sugar. Mint- flavoured Creme Anglais, to serve.


1. Grease the inside of a standard Loaf Tin, and line the base with greaseproof paper.

2. Melt Plain Chocolate in zimmertopf; off heat, beat 3 tablespoons of heated Cream into the melted Chocolate; beat in 2 Egg Yolks, then 45g of Butter, cut into small pieces. Ensure that the Butter is thoroughly amalgamated and that the chocolate cream is properly smooth.

3. Whisk 4 Egg Whites until stiff, then beat into this 1 tablespoon of Sugar. Whisk for approximately 20 seconds, until glossy. Fold this meringue mixture into the chocolate cream.

4. Pour this mixture into the base of the prepared loaf tin, and freeze for approximately 30 minutes, until firm.

5. Make the White Chocolate layer, exactly following the steps 2-4 above, and pour on top of the Dark Chocolate layer, which should by now be firm. Re-freeze until the White Chocolate layer is also firm; repeat steps 2-4 with Milk Chocolate, and add in turn to the loaf tin. Cover the Milk Chocolate layer with greaseproof paper, and freeze for at least six hours.

For the mint-flavoured Creme Anglaise, make the Creme as normal, but steep a handful of crushed mint leaves in the milk, gently heated, for half an hour or so before straining the milk and using it to make the Creme Anglaise. If you make more than you need, the remainder can then be poured into an ice cream machine to make a beautiful mint ice cream.

Monday 29 January 2007

Making Fresh Pasta.....

The first time I made fresh Pasta must have been about twenty five years ago, in Greece, and it involved breaking eggs into mounds of combined plain and semolina flour on a marble work surface, laboriously flicking flour into the eggs and gradually kneading the mass into one homogeneous lump. Nothing more sophisticated than a wooden rolling pin came into play, and the process ended with the room festooned with coat hangers, suspended from each of which were yellow tresses of hand-cut tagliatelle. Talk about melt-in-the-mouth! It was wonderful stuff....

From there, I graduated to the other extreme, and for several years I used a fully electric pasta machine - a little like a sort of play-dough contraption - where the eggs and dried ingredients went in at one end, and extrusions of penne, or spaghetti, or thin strips of lasagne wormed their way out of the other. It was satisfying to a degree, but on the whole I prefer to be more directly involved with the process than that - as Julia Child said in Volume One of Mastering the Art, "Il faut metre la main a la pate!"

Living in Italy, I wouldn't dream of making my own fresh pasta. Not only would it seem rather impertinent, but, being surrounded by people who make and sell the most amazing pasta for next to nothing, it would just be a phenomenal waste of time. In London, however, the quality of fresh pasta available commercially is no better than the stuff I can make at home, and the prices they charge are ridiculous! Definitely worth getting the technique right, and investing in a hand rolling machine.

For one batch of pasta, I use the following proportions of ingredients: 2 cups Plain Flour; 4 Eggs; 1 teaspoon Olive Oil; pinch of Salt. (You should experiment, as sizes of egg can vary, and you may need to adjust the quantities to suit what you normally have in the cupboard - if the dough is coming out too sloppy or too dry either add more flour or more egg accordingly, and note the proportions for future reference).

Gone are the days when I fuss around laboriously with a fork and a rolling pin. These days, it all goes into the food processor for thirty seconds, until it forms a nice solid ball, and then into the fridge, wrapped in cling-film for half an hour, at which point it's ready to be rolled, using a traditional mechanical roller.

The Rolling Method:

1. Set up your pasta machine, clamped firmly to the work surface, and place a dry tea towel beside it, on the side onto which the pasta dough will be being rolled. Dust the tea towel generously with flour. Set the roller setting at it's widest (normally number 1).

2. Cut the pasta dough into four parts, and keep the pieces you aren't using under a slightly damp cloth so that they don't dry out. Work with one quarter of the dough at a time.

3. With one hand, push the dough between the rollers, while you turn the handle of the roller with the other hand. As it emerges from between the rollers catch it and lay it onto the waiting tea towel. When it has all emerged, fold it left-to-right in on itself, as though folding a towel, to make a neat package, the open ends of which are the same size as the width of the rollers. Feed this back into the machine, open side first, and repeat the process. Do this at least half a dozen times, so that the dough is properly kneaded within the machine. If it starts to become sticky, dust the piece lightly with flour.

4. After having repeated this initial rolling process half a dozen or so times, carry on repeating it, but each time you feed the pasta back into the machine adjust the setting of the rollers down by one setting, so that the pasta is coming out slightly thinner from the rollers each time it emerges.
As it becomes thinner, the strip will become longer, and you may find towards the end that you need to cut it into two and to process each strip in turn rather then trying to deal with one impractically large strip. The desired thinness of the finished pasta is a matter of personal preference, but I generally find that I start at setting number 1, and end up at either setting number six or number seven.

5. When one strip of pasta is ready, hang it to dry, somewhere where there is generous air circulation round it - over a broom handle laid across the back of a couple of chairs is ideal. Then continue with rolling out the remaining pieces of dough. Before cutting the strips of pasta, they should develop a slightly leathery feel, which they do after twenty minutes or so of resting.

6. I confess, I've never got to grips with the various complicated pieces of kit available for attaching to the pasta machine which will then cut it into different sized strips as desired - I merely flour each strip and roll it up, before slicing it by hand to a thickness that approximates to whichever kind of pasta I want, linguine, tagliatelle, papardelle, etc......Whichever cutting method you use, after it's been cut, hang the pasta once again to dry in strips until you are ready to cook it.

And that's it. Once rolled and 'aired' the pasta can be used to make flat or stuffed shapes exactly as you wish. Some variations are possible within this method, such as adding a colouring/flavouring agent at the processor stage - a sachet of squid ink for black pasta, for example, or a tablespoon of chopped spinach for green pasta, or a teaspoon of powdered saffron for a deeply golden pasta (delicious with a shellfish sauce). The World, after all, is your oyster!

Today's Menu:

Funghi Trifolati. (Thinly sliced mushrooms, sauteed in oil, with garlic and parsley)

Fegato alla Veneziana. (Calves Liver and Onions italian-style, in plainspeak. The quality of the liver here is incomparable......)

Chocolate Terrine with Mint-flavoured Creme Anglaise. (I'll give the recipe for this in tomorrow's post.)

Recipe: Rabbit in Garlic.

For four:
Ingredients: 1 tablespoon Butter; 2 tablespons Oil; 1 young Rabbit, approx 2.5 lbs, cut into ten pieces or so; three quarters teaspoon each of Salt & Pepper; 6 cloves Garlic, peeled and chopped quite finely; 2 medium Onions, peeled and thinly sliced; 1 cup dry White Wine.


1. Heat Butter and Oil in a heavy saute pan, with a lid. Brown the seasoned Rabbit pieces for forty minutes in the Oil & Butter, over a medium-high heat. Turn the pieces every ten minutes. Keep the lid on firmly during this process. If the Rabbit starts to dry out, add a little water, as necessary (if the lid is a good fit, the Rabbit shouldn't dry out). The Rabbit pieces should be well browned and quite 'crusty' in appearance by the time you've finished .

2. Remove the Rabbit pieces from the pan and put to one side. Add the Garlic and Onion and cook in the juices left in the pan for 2-3 minutes.

3. Add the wine, and cook for a further 2-3 minutes, bubbling. Scrape the Rabbit cooking residue from the base of the pan as the sauce bubbles.

4. Return the Rabbit pieces to the sauce and turn them in it several times to cover.

You can either treat this as a saute and cook it to serve immediately, or else make it up to a day in advance and reheat gently in a covered pan in a 150 dgree C oven. Delicious either way.

Sunday 28 January 2007

Mullet deconstructed....

Yesterday's Triglie recipe came under review over dinner last night, and in conclusion it was found wanting. Not for its flavour, which was splendid, nor actually anything to do with the end result at all......but the techniques used to get there were decidedly confused, and definitely up for revision. In brief, the question that went unanswered was: What's going on with the breadcrumb treatment?

If you are going to use breadcrumbs - it was posited - wouldn't it make more sense to follow a more usual egg-and-breadcrumb process, which will result in a good crisp coating once the fish have cooked? This then begs the question, why coat the fish in breadcrumbs, and then make them soggy by drizzling marinade over the top of them? And with the efficient temperature controls of modern ovens, why should you have any concern that the fish might dry out, since you can control the oven temperature in a way designed to prevent this, rather than soaking it in further drizzlings of marinade? (NB. Harold Magee is quite interesting on the subject of the effect of modern temperature controls on traditional cooking methods - I forget in which of his two books, but since they're both worth reading, it doesn't much matter which...) In general, it was concluded that the recipe as quoted was a confused misunderstanding of different cooking techniques, and that there was a more sensible way to achieve at least as good a result.

The upshot of it all was a decision that the fish should be egg-and-breadcrumbed, and kept well away from the marinade thereafter. Best of all, would be to shallow fry them, rather than baking them - but for that you'd need to have them gutted with much more care than the hack-and-slash method generally adopted these days, which doesn't really leave a usable cavity for stuffing so much as a widely gaping v-shaped gash. If you tried to fry this sort of road-accident-gutted fish with any kind of stuffing, the stuffing would be all round the frying pan in about two nano-seconds! Talk then wandered off onto the possibility of gutting through the gills, and leaving the stomach which point, it seemed a good idea for somebody to make themselves useful and get round to producing some coffee, instead.....

Dario turned up for dinner with a Dessert offering from Salza, in Borgo Stretto - slices of a sort of lemon and chocolate mousse confection. So the Frozen Hazelnut Zabaglione stayed in the freezer for use tonight.

Today's menu:

Pear and Parmesan Ravioli.

Rabbit in Garlic. A version of a recipe which apparently originally came from Jacques Pepin, and was then 'adapted', to remove the alcohol; for present purposes, it's been re-adapted back in the direction of the original.

Frozen Hazelnut Zabaglione, with Fruits de Bois coulis. The recipe for this is given below.

Recipe: Frozen Hazelnut Zabaglione

For Ten.
Ingredients: 7 Egg Yolks; three-quarters of a cup of Sugar; a quarter of a cup of Marsala; 2 cups Cream; 60g Hazelnuts, toasted and skins removed.


1. Make a zabaglione in the zimmertopf using the egg yolks, marsala and sugar. Whisk until it is good and thick, and approximately doubled in volume. When ready, scoop this out into a large bowl and whisk over ice until cooled.

2. Beat the cream until firm, then fold into the zabaglione.

3. Liquidize the hazelnuts briefly - try to avoid reducing them to a powder, they should preferably be 'chopped' into pieces rather than pulverised. Fold the pieces of hazelnut into the cream/zabaglione mixture.

4. Pour the amalgamated mixture into a loaf pan lined with cling-film, and freeze for at least ten hours.

5. Remove from freezer only briefly before serving; unmould, remove cling-film and slice to serve, accompanied by either a fruits de bois coulis, or a chocolate sauce.