Friday 2 March 2007

A Sicilian Invasion.....

Dario announced yesterday that he wanted to come round and cook dinner - he does it from time to time, because his kitchen isn't set up to accommodate visitors. Since he's from Catania, his menus are always focused on Sicilian specialities - and the process of making dinner is generally punctuated by a number of phone calls back home to check exactly what he's supposed to do next! As a paleopathologist - just finishing his Phd on Sicilian mummies - conversation over the dinner table tends to feature much discussion of body parts and the relative merits of different embalming techniques......

Last night, he made two different kinds of pasta. One was a Pasta alla Sarda: bavette, with a sauce made from sardines, wild fennel, raisins, saffron, fried onions and anchovies. The other one was a spaghetti with a pesto of pistachio. Both were excellent, but the alla sarda was particularly good - a subtle and complicated sweet-and-sour flavour, that suggested arab influences from long, long ago.

Having announced on arrival that he hadn't given any thought to a starter or a dessert, I raided supplies and for the first course we cut into the Rabbit Terrine I made last week, and which I was keeping for when Laura and Giovanni come to dinner tonight (leaving still enough for at least another eight servings, so no problem there). For dessert, we had clafouti, using a couple of Pears that were hanging around in the fridge. Since paleopathologists - apparently - aren't supremely organised in the kitchen, the fact that Dario was only preparing one course meant that the team of sous chefs was just about able to keep on top of the chaos as he progressed, and a splendid time was had by all!

Tonight's menu:

Rabbit and Lemon Terrine. (Which I'll call a Pate, and serve accordingly....)

Pot Roast Pork with Radicchio de Treviso (See below for the recipe).

Three-Chocolate Terrine, with Mint Creme Anglaise.

Thursday 1 March 2007

Recipe: Pot Roast Pork with Radicchio

For Four.
Ingredients: Boned and rolled Pork Loin, approx 750g in weight (you can use Veal instead, if you want to spend the extra money); 100g chopped Pancetta; 3 large Radicchio de Treviso (the long ones, not the round variety); 6 fl oz White Wine; 3 large cloves Garlic, peeled and roughly chopped; 3 tablespoons Olive Oil; Seasoning.


1. Heat the Oil over medium heat in a heavy bottomed casserole, cast iron preferably.

2. Add the Garlic to the oil, and then, once the oil has reached a good temperature, brown the Loin on on all sides in the Oil. Remove the meat from the casserole.

3. Add the pancetta to the pan, and brown it in the Oil for about a minute. Add all of the Radicchio, roughly chopped, turn up the heat and cook for a few minutes until the Radicchio has thoroughly wilted.

4. Return the meat to the casserole, and pour over it the White Wine. Let the liquid reduce for a few minutes, then turn the heat down to low. Add salt in moderation, and then cover the casserole, and leave it to cook for about an hour. (With modern cuts of meat, this should be long enough; traditionally the meat would have cooked for longer, but this now just makes the meat dry and dull.)

5. When the meat is cooked, but still tender, remove it from the casserole, and boil fiercely to reduce the remaining liquid to sauce consistency. Check seasoning and adjust if necessary. Slice the meat, and return the slices to the sauce right at the end to eat through.

Serve the slices of meat with the Radicchio and its sauce over around the meat.

Monday 26 February 2007

Strudel: A World of Opportunity....

Healthy (which can be taken as a synonym for whatever you choose...) discussion took place over dinner about the correct way to make Apple Strudel. Some people tread on very thin ice, when it comes to starting debates of that sort with somebody who has just devoted forty minutes of their life to the process, and at best the levelling of an old-fashioned 'look' is to be expected. On this occasion, however, the end result was a splendid discovery. In the process of deflecting the afore-mentioned look, recourse was had, as ever, to the bookshelf for further and more expert advice. In this instance, the volume in question was 'Das Grosse Buch der Osterreichischen Mehlspeisen' by Josef Zauner. This is not one for the linguistically challenged - and I confess I myself was dependent on the resident language department for enlightenment, but the discovery in question was not only vindication with regard to the method for Apple Strudel, but also the discovery of Strudel recipes for Cheese, Meat, Walnuts, Cherries, Wild Mushrooms.........Pretty much, you name it, it can go in a Strudel! - another dimension to menus!

Otherwise.....I have a lousy cold - probably contracted from Eduardo, one of the students who rents the ground-floor flat, who came in yesterday to talk about putting a WiFi antenna on the roof, and has been heard coughing and sneezing in the distance ever since - and the Brazilians are working overhead, day in, day out with drills and sledge hammers. No - they did NOT get all the noisy building work done before we returned.....naive to think otherwise, really.

Tonight's Menu (lightweight, since I'm feeling under the weather):

Alsatian Onion Tart (the original Pomiane version. Highly recommended)

Chicken Breast in a sauce of lemon and capers.

Ricotta Rum Cream.

Recipe: Apple Strudel

For Six.
Ingredients: Two large eating Apples (preferably the pinkish variety, that don't go to mush when cooked); quarter of a cup of ground Almonds; 4 Cloves; 9 sheets of Phyllo Pastry, each 12"x6"; quarter of a cup of Rum; quarter of a cup of sugar (or same volume sweetener); quarter of a cup of Pine Nuts; 4 oz Butter; quarter of a cup of Breadcrumbs; quarter of a cup of Raisins or Sultanas; 1 beaten Egg.

1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees C.

2. Soak the dried fruit twenty minutes in warm/hot water, then drain.

3. Meanwhile, peel, core and thinly slice the apples. Mix in a bowl along with the ground Almonds, Pine nuts, cloves, rum, sugar (or sweetener). When soaked and drained, add the dried fruit and mix this in as well.

4. Lay a tea towel out on the work surface, and place four sheets of the Phyllo on it slightly overlapping, to make a large rectangle, narrow side nearest to you. Melt half the Butter, and brush the Phyllo rectangle with it; then lay the remaining Phyllo on top, going in the opposite direction, so that the seams of the lower layer of Phyllo are covered. Brush the top layer with melted butter in turn.

5. Melt the remaining butter, then gently saute the breadcrumbs in it over a medium heat until nicely golden.

6. Spread the breadcrumbs evenly over the Phyllo rectangle, leaving a border of about two inches all round. Carefully distribute the Apple mixture over the top of the breadcrumbs. Fold the 2" border of pastry over the filling, all round, and then carefully - using the towel, swiss-roll fashion - roll the whole thing up, starting with the short side nearest you.

7. Transfer to a greased baking sheet. Brush with beaten Egg, and bake in the pre-heated oven for about fifty minutes.

Best left to go completely cold before serving, as the concentrated flavours go back into the filling as it cools. Aesthetics suggests you dust the Strudel with confectioners sugar before serving; waistline suggests otherwise. Your choice!

Sunday 25 February 2007

Bread and Circuses.....

Farmers' Markets always look interesting from afar, and I generally get sucked in before I remember that for the most part they are only pale imitations of what they pretend. For quite a long time, I had a Saturday morning ritual in London of Coffee, a pastry, and the FT crossword, squeezed into the little cafe at the back of Sally Clarke's - before doing the rounds of the Notting Hill Farmers' Market. It was a close enough approximation to the idea of what it was supposed to be, and there were enough good-value highlights - such as the fish stall, and the man with splendid Gressingham Ducks - that I kept on going. But, over time, I had to admit that none of the meat was very well hung, and the range of vegetables available in winter was really limited ........and it was expensive! I think the final straw was when I realised that the butter and cream in Sally Clarke's - who, let's face it, is hardly famous for being cheap - cost less than from the stall in the market. I dropped the market, there and then....and continue to be sceptical about the concept.

In Pisa, we have a Mercato Contadino once a month - on a timetable that I can never work out, and so am always taken by surprise whenever I see the stalls set up in Piazza Cairoli, down beside the Arno. This month, yesterday was the day, and as ever I couldn't resist. In practice, the stallholders always look as though they aren't died-in-the-wool contadini but have actually given up their jobs on the production line at Fiat and are now making lavender honey or turning out rather twee little breadboards as a means of escaping the rat race. And, on the basis that nothing ever changes, of course I found myself buying something that had 'exotic' written all over it. A bright yellow loaf, that I thought must be coloured from Saffron, but in fact turned out to be full of swirls of mustard powder, and dotted with lumps of rather chewy and strongly-flavoured cheese. It was......interesting... as a digestive experience; a little like consuming the entire contents of a cheese and pickle sandwich in one go, and with about the same lightness on the stomach! At eight euros a loaf, however, I don't think I'll be repeating the purchase any time soon - and it would probably be cheaper in Sally Clarke's!

Today's Menu:

Risotto of Fagiolini and Red Pepper.
Scaloppini with Crema di Noci (from the pasta shop in Vettovaglie.......excellent!)
Apple Strudel.