Saturday 16 June 2007

Recipe: Saltimbocca alla romana

The blend of flavours in this dish is superb!

For Four.

Ingredients: 4 Veal Scaloppine, beaten thinly; 4 large Sage leaves; 4 slices of Prosciutto Crudo (dolce, if you can get it); 60g Butter; Salt & Pepper; half a glass of Dry White Wine.


1. On each of the Scaloppine place a Sage leaf, and on top of that a slice of Prosciutto. Using two wooden toothpicks for each Saltimbocca, skewer the Veal and the Prosciutto together(sandwiching the Sage in between), so that you can turn each Saltimbocca whilst cooking without the whole thing falling apart.

2. Melt the Butter in a heavy frying pan, over medium heat. Place the Saltimbocca in the pan, making sure they don't overlap, and fry for approximately two minutes on each side, or until done. Season lightly with Salt & Pepper (but be careful with the salt as the Prosciutto is already quite salty).

3. Once the Saltimbocca are done, remove them to heated serving plates. Add the Wine to the pan and, over high heat, scrape all of the cooking juices and the residue from the base of the pan together to make a sauce which you should then spoon over the individual Saltimbocca before serving.

Friday 15 June 2007

Home again.....

.....after a couple of days traversing the countryside of South Tuscany. Ancient landscapes and beautiful weather. And very, very winding little roads that snake endlessly back on themselves as they negotiate the contours of the hills. With the unfortunate result that by the time we got to Vivo d'Orcia - where in fact the restaurant Il Castagno is situated; Pienza is the nearest town of any note - I couldn't actually face any lunch, and instead sat in the square outside, under the eponymous Chestnut Tree, drinking in great gulps of fresh air and mineral water to try and recover. The assembled party remarked on the fact that it was unusual for me to refuse food, as they tucked into plates of Tagliatelle with tartufo sauce, followed by Rabbit cooked with Orange. All very good, they assured me enthusiastically afterwards. I take their word for it. Il Castagno was plucked from the pages of this year's Slow Food Guide, which is normally pretty reliable.

And thence to the gardens of La Foce - by which time I felt completely recovered, and significantly regretting the Rabbit! An interesting visit, but probably more for the literary associations than for any 'wow' factor in the gardens themselves. It looks as though there's rather a lot of 'blokey' garden maintenance, involving heavy duty motor mowers and lots of power-tool hedge trimmers, but not a lot of thought devoted to interesting planting and garden design. Splendid location and views, though!

Thereafter, up to the outskirts of Siena and thence cross-country to Belforte. Since we'd been warned there was no dolce on offer as part of dinner, we detoured via Radicondoli, where we invested in a rather makeshift assortment of gelati from the town's main bar. Possibly, 'only' bar. They weren't used to selling in bulk, and the various ice creams ended up being crammed together into a foil roasting dish - for want of any more suitable container - and we drove at speed to Belforte before the whole lot could collapse into a multi-coloured puddle.

A bucolic summer's evening, sitting in the garden in the lengthening shadows, drinking prosecco and admiring the new kittens. Who are deeply admirable. Before eventually we dragged ourselves indoors for a splendid feast of Fegato alla Veneziana (so, by chance, we had it two evenings on the trot - which was unexpected, but at least allowed a vertical tasting. I have to say that white rather than red onions work better with this dish, and that the butcher in Colle val d'Elsa, surprisingly, supplies even better calves liver than does Maurizio in Pisa).

Tonight's Dinner:

Tarts of Melanzane, with Garlic, Parsley and Parmesan.

Spit-roast Chicken, with Potatoes roast with Sage and Rosemary.

Pear Clafoutis.

Wednesday 13 June 2007

Recipe: Flambeed Langoustines with Vanilla

For Five.

Ingredients: 10 Langoustines; 4 medium sized Leeks, trimmed; 2 tablespoons Olive Oil; 1 Vanilla Pod; 2 oz Butter; 50 ml Dark Rum; Salt & Pepper.


1. Chop the Leeks finely, and sweat in the Butter over medium heat until they have completely collapsed. (They shouldn't go to a mush, but should be not far off that). This might take half an hour or so. Season to taste once they are done.

2. Split the Langoustines lengthwise and arrange them, cut-side up, on a plate (or, more probably two, as you will almost certainly have to cook them in two batches). Mix the contents of the Vanilla Pod with the Oil, and brush the exposed flesh of the Langoustines with this mixture.

3. When the Leeks are practically done, cook the Langoustines for two minutes in the microwave on a high setting.

4. Heat the Rum gently in a small saucepan, then light it with a match and spoon the flaming Rum over the Langoustines, as the flames die down.

5. Divide the Leek mixture between five serving plates, and arrange two Langoustines on each plate. Spoon over any sauce that may have been left from the Langoustines plates.


Tuesday 12 June 2007

Masterchef Weekend 2007.......

.......passed off without serious crisis. The weather was splendid, and much pre-prandial Kir was consumed on the terrace, before lunch each day (with the evening tipple generally chilled prosecco, enlivened with a dash of Creme de Peche de Vigne). In fact, the assembled throng were sufficiently chilled in general that it proved impossible to drag anybody out to participate in the Saturday Passagiata , which actually looked quite lively, as Pisa is gearing up for its annual festa on San Ranieri's day on the sixteenth, when we have a luminara along the river, and much general jollification.

And to eat: the Technical Department had invested in industrial quantities of vanilla pods, delivered direct from Madagascar ( and was all set to do everything with Vanilla. As it was, he managed two out of three, and was only persuaded off Pork in Vanilla on the basis that I'd done it last year as part of Masterchef 2006. Jennie produced a splendid Fish Tagine, courtesy of a recent trip to Marrakesh, and the duffer of the weekend was a Fava Bean and Tuna Clafouti, which came highly recommended from a french food website and in truth would have performed a more useful function on a construction site than on the plate! Light and airy it was not!

Fortunately, we avoided being directly competitive, and the corporate triumph of the weekend was Sunday's dinner, when Peter and Gianluca came down from San Remo and we feasted on Flambeed Langoustine infused with vanilla, on a bed of leek mirepoix, followed by Rabbit in a Mustard Sauce, with Ginger-glazed Pears, and finished off with an Almond Tart, baked with Oloroso and a layer of Quince Jelly. And the inevitable moonshine grappa, of course. I forget at what unearthly hour dinner finally finished........

Tomorrow, we're off to Pienza for lunch (ristorante Il Castagno - comes highly recommended) before a visit to Iris Origo's garden at La Foce; then dinner and overnight at Belforte, doubtless to chew on something that's been grilled over the fire, and a hearty glass or two of something reviving.

Tonight's Dinner:

Casarecci, from Claudia, in Vettovaglie.

Fegato alla Veneziana. (OK, I'm feeling lazy!)

Peaches stuffed with Chocolate and Amaretti.