Thursday 3 April 2008

Recipe: Pancetta-wrapped Roast Pork

This recipe was a recent and splendid new discovery - hailed by the Technical Department as the best version of roast Pork since the classic version with a mustard-and-herb poultice that was immortalised by Julia Child, forty years ago now, in 'Mastering the Art.
I was sceptical when I first looked at this one. Having long been devoted to the Barbara Kafka method of roasting (heat the oven to smelting temperature, and then blast the meat for as short a time as possible), the idea of heating the oven to only 175 degrees C seemed highly dubious. And then the fact that the meat only cooks for fifty minutes at that temperature.... Hmmm..

But, it works! Even the slightly unexpected combination of Pork wrapped around Pork works well, as the Pancetta becomes beautifully crisp, while the loin within is tender and succulent.

Potatoes are added as an easy means of cooking a vegetable at the same time. If you wanted to omit them in order to serve a different vegetable instead, this would be fine.

For four.

Ingredients: 1 kg boneless pork loin; 250g sliced Pancetta (not the affumicata variety for this dish - and also, I suspect it has to be true Pancetta; this isn't an occasion when you can substitute bacon rashers and expect it to work just as well); 4 sprigs of fresh Rosemary; 4 large Garlic cloves, peeled; 1 kg Potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks; 8 tablespoons of Olive Oil.


1. Heat the oven to 175 degrees C.

2. Season the Pork Loin and wrap it in the strips of Pancetta; then, tie the bundle loosely with string. (Don't make too much of a meal of this task, and worry about the end result being too beautiful - the string really needs to do its job only during the period when the bundle is being seared; after that, the searing process will have caused the Pancetta significantly to stick together and adhere to the Loin, even without the help of the string. When doing this task, I was forcefully reminded of a Christmas job at Selfridges, once, spent stringing packages in the Small Electrical Goods department - which suggests exactly how much three-star skill I was bringing to the job at hand!)

3. Under the strings, insert the sprigs of Rosemary.

4. In a heavy casserole, heat half of the Oil to 'searing' temperature, and colour the bundle on all of its sides - about a minute on each side.

5. Add the Potatoes to the pan, around the Pork, along with the cloves of Garlic.

6. Generously season the Potatoes with Salt & Pepper, and pour the remaining Oil over them all. Stir with a wooden spoon to ensure the Potatoes and Garlic are well covered with Oil.

7. Place the pan, uncovered, in the pre-heated oven and roast for 50 minutes. Test for done-ness by inserting a skewer into the centre of the Loin and putting it to your tongue to see if it is hot (if not, the Pork needs to cook for longer - but this shouldn't be the case).

8. Leave the Pork to rest for 10 minutes, and then slice and serve it with the Potatoes.

If there's any left to pick at, cold, the next day.............Enjoy!

Wednesday 2 April 2008


....come in a number of forms.

It's the name in French for the Humphead Wrasse, for a start - an enormous blue-green fish to be found in great quantities in tropical waters, with a wise and avuncular face, and a huge blocky body that it manoeuvres delicately by the use of tiny little fins, managing to resemble an articulated lorry doing a three-point-turn in a very confined space. They're rather beautiful things...

Then, of course, there are any number of many-layered dessert confections which go under the name of 'Napoleon' - I've no idea why - from the banal to the knee-weakeningly delicious. Amongst the latter, Raymond Blanc has one concocted from melt-in-the-mouth rectangles of buttery pastry, interleaved with slices of poached pear and a vanilla-flavoured Crème Anglaise; and my favourite is probably Bruno Loubet's Napoleon of crisp circles of tempered chocolate, with a filling of rich chocolate mousse and fresh raspberries (sometimes served also with whipped cream, into which chopped fresh mint has been mixed)...

Less appealing is the nineteenth century recipe for steak, prepared à la Napoléon 1er, which apparently involved cooking rump steak in boiling water in which a turkey had also been poached, and then serving the two of them, accompanied by thyme-flavoured mashed potatoes and a hollandaise-rich purée of Leeks. Boiled Steak and Turkey? Presses no buttons for me, I'm afraid....although the leeks sound like quite a good idea.

Actually, the only thing that directly comes to mind when I think of the corsican dwarf and foodstuffs of any kind is that wonderful anecdote that Andrew Roberts related in his book on Bonaparte and Wellington: when once staying in some rural wasteland, Napoleon ordered that the local dignitary arrange for a rabbit hunt, so that he could have some entertainment; when they did, though, it was with semi-tame rabbits who had been reared by a farmer with a surprisingly napoleonic stature - with the result that when Bonaparte stepped out of his coach, guns at the ready, Peter and Cottontail and Flopsy (and their 3,000 friends and relations) all thought he was bringing lunch, and so they went for him. En masse. He fled. Exit stout party, pursued by several thousand rabbits....!

And I could wish the same fate for his blasted legal system, which still 'operates' - and I use the inverted commas advisedly - across those large swathes of southern Europe into which he managed to introduce the Code Napoleon in his wanderings across the continent. It was for this reason that we spent four hours in a cramped courtroom in Lucca this morning, following on from a similar session on the same subject a mere fourteen months ago, for which the proceedings had originally been initiated only sixteen months before that! And we still appear to be far from finished! On reflection, I can see the connection with the Humphead Wrasse, as it moves its fins frantically, all in order to manoeuvre its cumbersome bulk on as tight a turning circle as you could imagine .......

Tonight's Dinner:

Pasta, with Mushrooms & Cognac & Cream, cooked alla risotto

Scaloppini, in Sage & White Wine,with Peas.

Crespelle, stuffed with Frangipane cream

Sunday 30 March 2008

Recipe: Almond Semifreddo

Memory is an unreliable thing. For years, I was convinced that this recipe originated with Claudia Roden, and came from her ' Food of Italy' - it was faxed to me by a friend as a post-dinner-party thank you, many years ago, and the sheet of faxed paper was used repeatedly over the years until the letters had faded to indecipherability, and the detail had anyway been mentally filed away as the inevitable result of such regular use. When it came to stocking the library shelves in Italy, when we first came here, a copy of the original 'Food of Italy' seemed like a good idea, since I'd so much liked the one thing that I knew came from it. Except that I then found that it hadn't. There is a recipe in its pages not a million miles different from the one I had in mind - but with the crucial difference that Ms Roden's didn't use Crème de Cacao - which absolutely makes the recipe, IMHO.

This was a staple on my catering menus for quite a few years, when I generally served it with chocolate-dipped bruta ma buona biscuits. Simple, straightforward, sophisticated, and delicious!

For six.

Ingredients: 4 oz blanched Almonds; 3 oz granulated Sugar; 1 pint of Cream; 2 Eggs; 3.5 oz of Icing Sugar; 2 tablespoons of Crème de Cacao.


1. Make a Praline: toast the Almonds in a small pan over medium heat until they begin to colour, then add the granulated Sugar and raise the temperature slightly. Stir continuously as the sugar first melts, then bubbles, then colours as it caramelises. As soon as it is a rich golden colour, pour the mixture out onto a lightly oiled baking sheet and leave it for a few minutes to go crisp. After several minutes, it should be possible to pick it off the sheet in one slab; at this point, break it roughly into a number of pieces so that you can fit it into the food processor, where you should process it until it has broken down into a fine powder.

2. Whisk the Cream until it is thick.

3. Beat the Egg Yolks with a third of the Icing Sugar, then beat the Whites with the remaining Sugar to make a meringue mixture.

4. Fold first the Egg Yolk mixture then the meringue mixture into the whipped Cream, then fold in the praline, and finally the Crème de Cacao.

5. Transfer the mixture to a terrine mould, and freeze it for at least 24 hours. Remove the semifreddo from the freezer and leave it in the fridge for 15 - 20 minutes before serving.