Saturday 2 January 2010

The Arno... worryingly high. It seems as though it's been raining forever - although, in fact, it can only have been since Christmas Day, as I distinctly remember wheeling the terracotta pots from the garden up to Santa Caterina on the afternoon of the 25th, through eerily deserted (and dry) streets.

We went to take a look yesterday at the river level, and - despite the fact that it was a good three metres higher than normal - there seemed little cause for concern, as there was still another three metres to go before it would reach danger point. And still it rained. I went to check again, this morning, having been to the butcher for some fegatini, and saw that two of those three metres have now also gone, and the river bank was dotted with people peering anxiously over at the muddy torrent below. I imagine the more elderly amongst them have clear memories of the floods of '66, when the Solferino bridge was swept away, and this entire quartiera was apparently waist-deep in water. On the news, they've announced that the Serchio has burst its banks at Nodica, about four miles away, and that they've opened the relief canal towards Livorno, which ought to drain off a lot of the flood waters in the Arno. Whether it's enough, remains to be seen - the powers-that-be are announcing a disaster averted - but frankly it seems a little premature of them. The river level here always rises for several days after there's been rain upstream...and there's still more rain forecast (even though today we actually have sun for the first time in ages!)

Time for another cappuccino, and a slice of fruit cake...while we still can!

Tonight's Dinner:

Walnut & Roquefort Sformato.

Chicken Involtini, in cabbage leaves.

Panettone Bread & Butter Pudding

Thursday 31 December 2009

Christmas Week...

One present a day from under the tree keeps Christmas more or less under well as stretching the whole thing out in a fairly agreeable way. For some reason, while the puppy is fascinated by the whole process, the senior four-footed appears to be deeply antipathetic towards Christmas presents this year - he dutifully comes along to be there for the daily exchange of gifts, but manages to communicate very effectively that he really wishes that we wouldn't do it...looking resolutely the other way, and heaving deep sighs of disapproval throughout.

We've eaten too much - although I'm not quite sure why, since we haven't been entertaining - and already there are murmurs about going on a diet and going on the wagon, once we get beyond Twelfth Night. There's probably much to be said for both! Respectable inroads have been made into the Wolfert oeuvre: rabbit stuffed with salami & fennel; quail, with sage & white grapes; chicken, with orange & cardamom; ricotta ice-cream, with fresh pears; apple croustade. Then there have been a few experiments of my own , such as duck & orange ravioli ...and an emergency batch of lattice-topped mince pies in exchange for a yule log that Massimo dropped round (where the implication was that it had been fata in casa, but we rather concluded otherwise, having tasted it). And we spent Sunday afternoon producing a batch of banana and walnut chocolates as a dinner party offering for that evening, where we'd been invited over the river to Via Mazzini.

No gardening, since the past week has been nothing but rain. Every so often we take the four-footeds to Santa Caterina, for them to run around and get soaked, while we check indoors on the Brazilians' progress. Which is slow. And regular effort is needed to prevent them from wandering off mid-task in order to go and start a completely different job in another part of the house, and thus spread builder-chaos over as broad an area as possible.So far (cautiously) so good...

Against the background of the rain, I've read Colm Toibin's 'Brooklyn' ( and savoured every last page) well as traipsed the length of Italy in James Holland's 'Italy's Sorrow', which covers the Italian campaign of 1944 in all its awfulness.

Tonight's Dinner:

Ricotta & Garlic Tart.

Beef, roast in Oil & Dijon Mustard; Potato Gratin.

Orange & Lemon Sorbet with chilled Basil Cream.

Monday 28 December 2009

Recipe: Chicken and Artichoke 'Pie'

This pastry-less 'pie' is excellent as a way of using up leftover bird (chicken, in this instance, but just as easily duck, or guinea fowl, or turkey) - which I often find lurking in the fridge, as a two-person household tends only ever to get through half a beast in the course of one dinner. The 'pie' is best eaten once it has cooled for half an hour or so after coming out of the oven, or even cold, on the following day - while it's still hot, the thing will collapse into a heap if you try to slice it, whilst the process of cooling down allows the collagen to firm, and neat slices then become possible. The flavours are better too, once they've been left to mature for a while.

For simplicity's sake, you can make this in a pie dish, covering the top with foil for the first phase of cooking, which you then remove in order to allow the top to brown. For a more finished presentation, as shown above, I use two identical pyrex casserole lids, removing the top one half way through, and then replacing it and inverting the whole thing at the end of cooking - thus achieving a perfectly smooth surface - and then browning the newly-exposed top under the grill for several minutes.

For one 8"diameter 'Pie'.

Ingredients: the meat from two previously cooked chicken legs, cut into 1 cm dice; half a medium-sized aubergine; a cup of artichoke hearts (frozen is fine); 3 oz Butter; 1 tsp dried Thyme; 2 minced Garlic cloves; grated rind from 1 Lemon; 6 medium Potatoes; Salt & Pepper.


1. Cut the aubergine and artichokes into approx 1 cm dice. Melt half the butter in a heavy frying pan , and soften the diced vegetables in Butter for five minutes, until they just begin to colour. Season lightly, and combine in a mixing bowl with the diced Chicken.

2. Stir into this mixture the Thyme, Garlic, and Lemon rind.

3. Heat the oven to 220 degrees C.

4. Peel the potatoes and slice thinly on a mandolin. Melt the remaining Butter in the frying pan, and toss the Potato slices in Butter, then cover with a lid and leave to cook gently for a few minutes - this is really just to make them soft and malleable, so they shouldn't begin to colour at this stage. Season the slices with Salt & Pepper.

5. In a greased pan (or the greased, upturned lid of a pyrex casserole) use two-thirds of the Potato slices to make a complete layer in the base, and then line the sides - use the longer narrower slices for this, and leave the top of the slices sticking up, as you'll want to bend these over the 'pie' filling once it's in place in order to start to form the top of the 'pie'.

6. Over the Potato base, pile the chicken-artichoke-aubergine mixture, then bend the side slices of Potato over the filling, and use the remaining slices to cover the top of the 'pie'.

7. Either cover the 'pie' with aluminium foil, greased on the underside, or else place a second greased pyrex lid over the top. Bake in the oven for twenty five minutes, and then remove the foil or lid and bake until thoroughly browned for a further twenty minutes or so. Remove form the oven If you've used a Pyrex lid, then at this stage put it back in place and invert the 'pie', so that you have a perfect surface which should then be placed under a hot grill for a minute or so in order to brown.

Leave to cool either partially or completely before serving.