Tuesday 6 October 2009

Fragola Grapes

We have an abundance of them at Santa Caterina, and the strawberry-heavy scent in that area of the garden is quite splendid right at the moment. The vines are heavy with plump black fruit - literally thousands of the things - and to walk beneath the grape arbour is an intoxicating experience.

I've always understood that the wine made from fragola grapes is illegal - although like all things in Italy, it isn't quite as straightforward as that. There's a rather disgusting sweet and fizzy red wine, sold in great quantities in most supermarkets, which calls itself fragolino, but which I suspect is made with some sort of flavouring agent rather than from the fragole grapes themselves. Otherwise, it appears that there's no law against making wine from the grapes, but there is a law against selling it commercially, once made... so, at least self-harm is acceptable!

We first came upon a white dessert fragolino at a restaurant in Seravalle (which shall remain nameless, in order to protect the guilty) one rainy lunchtime about eight years ago. We were with the Brancolis and the Belfortes, and it was one of those occasions when it was raining chairlegs outside and there seemed little point in finishing lunch... and so we just extended it lazily for the entire afternoon, with the owner every so often suggesting something else we might like to try. Finally, a label-less bottle of fragolino was uncorked, and we all had several glasses of the exquisite (if slightly syrupy) contents. The end result was that we all bought a case of the stuff, and it remained a staple house delicacy for quite a long time thereafter. In fact, it even had a renewed lease of life after the Brancolis were told that fragolino causes blindness or infertility or something, and so we said we'd happily take their remaining stock off their hands (since it does neither thing, but the evil rumour seems to have been put about some years ago by some disgruntled Austrian wine-producers, and the Brancolis weren't keen to risk either eventuality).

I doubt we're going to start wine making any time soon, and there are only so many dozens of bunches of grapes that one can plough through in the course of the season, so I've been researching other options. There is a method of using them to make a fruit jelly, which is ok, but frankly, jelly never exactly resonates with me - really, it's food for invalids or for people with no teeth...in both of which cases, sufficient unto the day. Valentina Harris has a recipe for a grape-studded schiacciata (a first cousin to a ciabatta, in many ways) which is very moreish and would be excellent with fragola grapes, and I've just come across a recipe that uses them in a rather dense cake. Definitely worth trying.

Watch this space...

Tonight's dinner:

Fresh Tagliatelle with Ragu.

Saltimbocca alla Romana.

Peach and Marsala Cream Tart.

Sunday 4 October 2009

Recipe: Veal Stew with Lemon & Rosemary

Loosely based on Bugialli's recipe for Ossobucco alla Novese, this is an excellent 'white' stew, where the combination of lemon, garlic, and rosemary is absolutely first class, and the finished dish is substantial without being heavy. Diced veal is a relatively cheap cut (at least in Italy it is), and so this recipe has the added merit of economy.

Since duck makes frequent appearances on the menu in this household, I generally have available duck fat and duck stock (both of which are used here); if you don't have them, don't worry - just substitute olive oil for the duck fat and chicken stock for the duck stock.

If you have any stew left over, then it can be ground up and used subsequently, mixed with a little grated parmesan and some fine breadcrumbs, as a filling for ravioli (which is what we'll be having as this evening's first course...)

For four.

Ingredients: 1 kg diced veal; 2 tbs duck fat; 1 lemon (peel only); spines from 4 sprigs of rosemary, chopped finely; 2 cloves of garlic, minced finely; 2 teaspoons of capers; dry white wine - approx 15 fl oz; 2 cups duck stock.


1. Melt the fat in a heavy casserole. Finely slice the peel from the lemon, and along with the garlic and rosemary, add it to the melted fat. Sauté this mixture over medium heat for a few minutes, until it has visibly softened.

2. Add the diced veal to the casserole, turn up the heat and colour on all sides, stirring the whole time. Add salt.

3. When the veal is all coloured, add the white wine, to cover the meat, and allow the wine to come to the boil, and then simmer to reduce the liquid by about a third - this should take five minutes or so.

4. Add the capers to the mixture, then the stock. Again, bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pan and let it cook over a very low heat for two hours or more (I always place the casserole over a heat diffuser for this process, to reduce the heat to a low enough level).

5. Just before serving, remove the meat from the liquid, and turn heat to high and boil vigorously for several minutes, stirring constantly, to reduce the liquid to a coating consistency. When it has reduced sufficiently, turn off the heat and return the meat briefly to the pan, to heat through again. Check and, if necessary, adjust seasoning before serving.