Friday 14 September 2007

When in Rome.......

........where to eat? Or that was the question posed by Eric Kirby of West Cork, in any event (impossible to say something like that, I note and not have it sound like a Radio 2 announcer, or that rather irritating man who chairs Gardeners Question Time these days....). I'm not sure I'm the best person to ask, since I don't dine out in Rome that often any more, and so my recommendations might be a little rusty. My all-time favourite, though - and one which still gets rave reviews from people to whom I've recommended it recently - is Il Chicco d'Uva in Corso Rinascimento. Spectacularly good, in my experience.....and as I write about it now, I can practically smell the aroma of White Truffle Risotto which permeates the place at the right time of year, and which you can sense coming your way as it leaves the kitchen, all of two rooms distant! I also recall with great fondness a parmesan sformato.....and a very good wine list.

Another place of particularly rich memory is Taverna Giulia, in Vicolo dell'Oro - although I'm going back quite a few years on this one, and I've definitely come across some ho-hum references to it recently. My specific memory is of dining by candlelight, and papardelle with a Walnut and Cream sauce (a ligurian speciality, as so many walnut dishes are) which was sensational. Practically as good as the papardelle con carciofi at the Tre Coronne in Verona, which has always pretty much set the standard as far as I'm concerned. Otherwise - in Rome? Sabatini, in Trastevere, was always good - although again it rather seems to have fallen off people's radar these days. Slices of melt-in-the-mouth grilled porcini are the particular memory from there - along with recollections of a Fellini-esque birthday dinner for the sister of a very old friend, who was married to a Roman Municipal Bus Driver, and where the guests included a rather tatty Contessa and one of Italy's leading architects of the day.......

But back to Mr Kirby's question - on which I haven't been a lot of use. I did recently come across the following website, where - buried in amongst much else, - I suspect there are exactly the sort of gems he's looking for: It certainly reads well. Worth trying, I think......

We're flying back to London this afternoon, so I'm now off to enjoy a final half an hour on the terrace in the sunshine.....

Tonight's Dinner......will be capable of preparation in all of Ten Minutes, post arrival from the airport:

Casarecci (courtesy of Claudia)

Salsiccie Lunghi
(from Maurizio), with Aubergine, braised with Anchovy & Garlic

Fresh Raspberries and Cream (Welcome back to London!)

Thursday 13 September 2007

Recipe: Passion Fruit Tart

Passion Fruit is a strange thing. It gives the sense of great age, with its gnarled prehistoric skin, and an interior that looks like rotten eggs. The scent has something slightly rotten about it too - a sickly sweetness that verges on something having gone off......a little like the heady quality of fragole grapes. All of which makes it all the more intriguing that the taste of Passion Fruit is absolutely intoxicating. This is one of those desserts where the first mouthful is followed by complete silence around the table, as people contemplate the flavour....

For Four.

Ingredients: 4 sheets of Phyllo Pastry, each approx. 12" x 6"; 2 oz of Butter; 12 Passion Fruit; 4 Eggs; 5 oz of Sugar; 5 tablespoons of Cream.


1. Melt the Butter, brush the Phyllo sheets with it, and use them to make four individual Pastry Shells, fully cooked. Once you've removed the shells from the oven, re-set the temperature to 180 degrees C.

2. Cut the Passion Fruit in half, and scrape the innards into the bowl of your food processor; process at high speed for thirty seconds, just to break up the membranes, then pass this mixture through a fine sieve. Discard the pips and anything else which hasn't gone through the sieve.

3. Beat the Eggs and Sugar together, then mix in the Passion Fruit juice and finally the Cream. Divide this mixture between the pre-baked tart shells, and bake for twenty five minutes at 180 degrees C - when they're done, the tops should be slightly coloured, and the Egg mixture should be just firm (it can be slightly wobbly still, as it will continue to firm up as the tarts cool).

Serve, dusted with Icing Sugar, either on their own or accompanied by Lemon & Vanilla Ice Cream.

Monday 10 September 2007

A Thing of Beauty..... the Olive Oil decanter that the Brancolis brought with them when they arrived for dinner on Saturday. I know I ought to feel embarrassed by my past vocal praise for the identical item that sits on the dresser in the kitchen up in Brancoli - but when coveting your neighbour's ass can have quite such a positive outcome, it's difficult to regret having done so. The object itself stands a foot tall, and drizzles perfectly from a stopper held in place by its ground glass edges. I know it's considered a bad idea to keep oil inside clear glass - the effect of sunlight is supposed to denature it over time, which is why good oil always comes in green bottles - but the rate at which we consume it here leaves little opportunity for any de-naturing. And anyway, the decanter has now found its place on the glass shelves at the back of the kitchen, where no direct rays of sunlight ever penetrate, and any self-respecting vampire could feel perfectly at ease....

Along with the Brancolis came an American Godmother - as charming as she was energetic - just striking out on a grand tour of Europe to visit all of Rabbit's friends and relations that she'd accumulated over the past few decades. Next stop the frozen wastes of north Sweden, and we talked of her likely future meals of rotten herring and potatoes ( always potatoes in Sweden!), as we chowed down on Squid Ink Ravioli, stuffed with Sea Bass, in an Anchovy sauce, followed by Rabbit, with Celery sformati , and finished with Passion Fruit Tarts and Lemon & Vanilla Ice Cream. Conversation drifted from Swedish food to Swedish drink, to Swedish midsummer parties - unforgettable for a whole host of reasons, not least the subsequent Swedish hangovers - to Russian parties, and Japanese parties.........and the waist-enhancing after-effects of salmonella-inducing sashimi (1984, I think that one of the Brancolis and I were fellow sufferers on that occasion). Over dessert, we were wandering great dive-sites of the World, and by the time the grappa was being poured, it was a question of the relative aesthetic merits of baby yellowfin sharks as compared with giant barracuda. By the time the candles were burning low and the heights of Brancoli beckoned (if not the drive to get there, I'm sure) it felt as though we'd managed a grand tour all of our own, in the course of the evening......

Tonight's dinner:

Salad of Yellow & Red Peppers, with Capers and Anchovies.

Pork Loin, pot-roast with Radicchio de Treviso.

Peaches, stuffed with Almond & Chocolate.

Sunday 9 September 2007

Recipe: Lemon & Vanilla Ice Cream

This one's for Bob, who would have been twelve next birthday. A Thurber dog to the end of his days. In his old age, he discovered a great fondness for home-made ice cream, and developed a remarkable facility for nonchalantly materialising when dessert was being served 'just on the off-chance'......

The vanilla in this recipe somehow neutralises the acerbic edges of the lemon, giving it a rich and soft quality; the result is lemon flavour, but without any astringency.

Makes about 700 ml.

Ingredients: 1 Vanilla Pod; Zest of 1 or 2 Lemons (depending on size); 90g Sugar; 5 Egg Yolks; 375 ml Milk; 180 ml Cream; 3 drops of Lemon Oil (if you have it)


1. Split the Vanilla Pod, and put it in a zimmertopf or double boiler along with the Milk, grated Zest, and half of the Sugar. Heat for fifteen minutes or so, until the Milk is quite hot, then turn off the heat and let sit for the Vanilla and Lemon flavours to infuse for a further fifteen minutes.

2. Beat the Egg Yolks along with the remaining Sugar until they are light in colour and have the texture of a lightly whipped cream. Mix the Milk infusion - including the Pod - into this mixture, and then return it to the zimmertopf or double boiler. Heat, stirring occasionally, until it has the consistency of a light custard. Set aside to cool, and then chill in the fridge - this might take a couple of hours.

3. Retrieve the split Pod from the mixture, and scrape the innards of the Pod into the mixture, discarding the Pod itself.

4. Churn in an Ice Cream Machine, adding the Cream and (optional) Lemon Oil as you add the mixture to the machine.

Good on its own, but goes particularly well with Passion Fruit Tart. In theory, I suppose it ought to last a couple of months, properly sealed, in a freezer - but why?