Thursday 19 April 2007

The arrival of Summer.... announced by the appearance in the market of Melons and Wild Strawberries. No peaches yet that are sufficiently tender to be baked, stuffed with amaretti and chocolate, but it should only be a matter of weeks before we get there....

Buying Casarecci in Vettovaglie the other day (wonderful pasta crescents, stuffed with a mixture of ground pork and veal, along with parmesan and an unindentifiable spice that somehow gives the whole thing an age-old quality), I was persuaded by Claudia to sample her homemade Torta Pasqualina. Albeit a week late - but who's counting? Filled with Spinach and Ricotta, it reminded me of nothing so much as good old spanakopita, which has been hearty peasant fare in Greece since time immemorial, and a recognisable version of it can even be found in the pages of Apicius. On checking, it appears that Torta Pasqualina - of this kind, anyway - comes from Liguria, and is supposed to contain whole eggs cooked within the filling, and to be made with exactly 33 sheets of pastry (representing JC's age at Easter first time around). Lose points, Claudia! Although, in fairness, her version wasn't bad......

The other culinary highlight of the week was the first course at dinner in the Osteria dei Cavalieri, the night before last. Tagliolini with a sauce of rabbit and asparagus that was completely sensational! In combination with a bottle of Veneroso 2001, and preceding a wonderfully tender Ossobucco, and melt-in-the-mouth cannellini, what more could a person want?

And the other benefit of the arrival of summer? The Brazilians fly south....or north....or somewhere.......but the main thing is....they LEAVE! On the basis that noise and dust and builder-chaos - which is bad news at the best of times - becomes entirely intolerable during the summer months. So, they pack up, and leave us in peace at the end of the week. Work unfinished, of course, but the building site tidily mothballed until we decide we can bear to hear the sound of hammer blows once more......much, much later in the year.

Tonight's dinner:

Asparagus Ravioli.

Bistecchie of Cinta Senese, with a gratin of Celery and Parmesan.

Hazelnut Gelato, with Wild Strawberries.

Recipe: Veal Burgers with Wine & Tomato Sauce

For Two

Ingredients: 450g minced Veal; 2 Salad Onions; 1 small Red Pepper; 60g Butter; 2 tablespoons Olive Oil; 1 Egg; Salt & Pepper; half a cup of freshly grated Parmesan; 3 tablespoons of Plain Flour; half a glass of White Wine or Vermouth; 300g chopped Tomato (tinned).


1. Finely dice the Onion and Pepper. Melt half the Butter in a frying pan and gently saute the Pepper and Onion for ten minutes or so until soft.

2. Combine Veal, Egg, Parmesan and seasoning, add the sauteed Onion and Pepper and mix all together thoroughly. Divide the mixture into four, then make each piece firstly into a ball, then flatten to make a patty shape. Flour each patty on both sides.

3. Heat the Oil in a large frying pan along with the remaining Butter. Over high heat, brown each patty on both sides to caramelise the surface thoroughly, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for approximately ten minutes until cooked through. Turn the burgers frequently in the course of cooking - inevitably, pieces will fall off the burgers as you turn them; this is fine, as the pieces will subsequently be incorporated into the sauce.

4. When you judge the burgers are almost done, pour into the pan the wine/vermouth and tomatoes. Turn the burgers in this mixture a couple of times, than remove them to serving plates, while you turn the heat under the pan to high and cook the sauce for a couple of minutes further to reduce and thicken it. As it cooks, stir well, scraping into the sauce the cooking juices from the burgers which have stuck to the pan. Spoon over and around the burgers and serve.

These are equally good served cold with a salad for lunch on the following day. Additionally, if you want to omit the tomatoes (as happens in this household, where the Technical Department has recently developed a prejudice against cooked tomato) it works just as well to make the sauce with only the wine and the pan juices.