26.2.04

spooky! 


zoë comes home from work
"i had this weird feeling we won £ 1,000,000 at the lottery and i was spending it already!"
i startle
"actually, i bought a ticket last week"
"did you?"
i produce a wrinkled ticket from the dark depths of my wallet
"you better check it then"
"yeah, whatever"
still, i check it here.
the web page congratulates me for being a winner.
my legs tremble.
i check again.
my ticket matches three numbers: i've won the grand total of £10.

i tell the website to bugger off. then i tell zoë that she was right, we had won the lottery but unfortunately she had wrongly guessed the number of zeroes. i politely request her to fine tune her female intuition.

the only way out is food. nice, simple and comforting food. nothing fancy, a classic like seppioline con i piselli.

this dish is at its best whit tiny little baby squids. i only have two medium sized one so i cut them into rings.
i sweat some red onions until soft with chopped garlic and coriander roots, then i add the squid rings and a glass of wine to the pot. another glass of wine goes to comfort the cook. when the wine is evaporated from the pot, in goes some tomato passata.
squid doesn't like half measures. cook it either for a few seconds or for an hour and you'll eat a lovely tender fish. anything in between and you'll end up with hardened chewing gum.
when its almost ready i add some tiny peas straight from the freezer, from the same bag i used not so long ago to soothe my aching back (frozen peas, aren't they magic?).

i should serve it with polenta, or potato mash but i opt for cous cous instead because its quicker, and looks better.

24.2.04

sometimes is good not to work 




nobody booked me for valentine's day.

oh well, maybe the kind of couple who waits for the 14th of february to have a romantic meal is not the kind of couple who wishes to share that "special" marketing dictated moment with a large-ish italian bloke.

it has to be noted that my intention to charge the aforementioned couple through the nose for the privilege probably didn't help.

bollocks to you, boring couple! i will stay home with my girls and will treat isabella to a specially heated bottle of milk and zoë and myself to some a decadently indulgent linguine with lobster.

lobster

"the lobster goes in the freezer for a couple of hours: it will slowly die without suffering, a bit like jack nicholson in "the shining" but sans grin" (god, i quote myself. sad)
after boiling it i extract all the meat and struggling not to eat it there and then, i proceed with the sauce.

in a pan: olive oil, garlic, chopped coriander roots, a bit of ginger, crushed chilis and shallots then the shell and legs of the beast. white wine. high flame. evaporate. low flame. water. simmer. reduce. the kitchen smells good. inhale deeply. smile in anticipation. add a tin of tomatoes. simmer. reduce. turn off.

time to put the baby to bed and the water to the boil.

baby sleeps. water boils.

the linguine are tossed in the pan with the sauce and the chopped meat of the lobster, served with a chilled glass of falanghina.

sometimes it's good not to work.

23.2.04

do you do deutsch? 


if you speak german, you can find some of my recipes on this german site. just don't ask how I got there!

17.2.04

an heartfelt thank you from a gurnard eater 


after the presumably failed attempts at artistic photography with the gurnard, i proceed with the more familiar task of cleaning and storing my beautiful shopping (see previous post).
the lobster goes in the freezer but just for a couple of hours: it will slowly die without suffering, a bit like jack nicholson in "the shining" but sans grin;
the trouts will go in the freezer as well, waiting to be roasted sometime in the near future;
the two squids are cleaned, sac and tentacles preserved, ink pouch empty as usual;
the gurnard will be our lunch.

so the now headless gurnard is skinned, cut in thick slices and quickly pan fried in:
- extra virgin olive oil
- the leftover oil and chili pepper from some excellent olives bought in an arab shop
- garlic
- salted capers
- a splash of white wine
- two ladlefuls of its own stock
- the chopped tentacles of the two squids

it is served on a bed of couscous, soaked with the fish stock and the juices from the pan.
it is a fantastic fish and i just thank all the people who would never buy the beautiful (?) and delicious (!) gurnard, thus keeping its price low.
thank you guys.
and thank you local restaurants: by not serving local fish you are doing a great job. for me.
thank you.
i really mean it.

15.2.04

still life with gurnard 



i was just about to make a fish stock with all the leftover bits and pieces of the gurnard i wasn't planning to eat plus
- lemon grass
- a red onion
- some lime leaves
- a piece of galangal
- an handful of sze chuan peppercorns
everything unceremoniously dropped in the pot from above.

then it dawned on me: even dead, beheaded and about to be boiled, the gurnard was still waaaay more expressive than a lot of people, including this guy here.

a fishy weekend 

as much as i HATE valentine's day with its artificial commercialised celebration of "lurv" i am not one to let a perfect excuse to cook a specially indulgent meal pass me by..

that's why you could have found me queing in the late saturday morning hours at brighton and newhaven fishermen sale point in hove lagoon.

i wish i had my camera with me, for there were a couple of proud looking boats docked nearby that looked pretty dramatic on the metallic grey background provided courtesy of an otherwise dull february day.

i bought the following:

1 lobster, alive and kicking, for the indulgent meal

and

1 nice fat gurnard
2 nice medium squids
2 nice fat rainbow trouts

for more normal everyday meals.

total expense: a tenner (£ 10) for the lobster and £ 9.37 for the rest of the fish.

reports to follow.

12.2.04

is my blog taboo? 

traditional horse meat cuts
following the success of his "is my blog burning" project, alberto called for more ideas on the same wavelenght. here is mine:

is my blog taboo? is inspired by what Marvin Harris calls the riddles of food and culture. you will take part in it by cooking - on a designated day- something that for you is normal or acceptable, but that in other parts of the world might be considered disgusting or even taboo.
if, like me you are living abroad, it would be nice if you could prepare something considered taboo or disgusting in the country you are living in, share it with your local friends and record their reactions.
as an italian living in england i could prepare some tasty horse meat speciality...
on the other end, a british blogger living in italy would struggle not to have an italian retch over these served for breakfast.
and so on...

interested?

11.2.04

the colour coded peppers 

i like my peppers stuffed
last week i broke -again- yet another of my apparently not so strict rules for healthier, more sustainable and better living:
rule #5 thou shalst not buy vegetables in a supermarket.

it's incredibly difficult to source good vegetables in brighton, and the few fruit & veg shops are not very good at luring in the potential customer with luscious displays of good quality produce. quite the opposite. not to mention the post-war grimness of the open air market.
(i've tried an organic box scheme but there is a limit to the amount of oversized, watery, tasteless cucumbers an italian can eat).
so yes your honour, sometimes i just give up and buy vegetables in my local supermarket, which the indigenous population call "the posh one" probably refering to the fact that it sells food that most of the times is actually edible.
moreover, wherever you roam in these pepperly challenged lands you will only be able to buy artificial looking peppers of the same size and of bright easily identifiable colours. nuances are strictly prohibited!
i will always eat the same pepper. wherever i go, whatever the season, i will always eat the same pepper.

so last week i bought six peppers of three different colours and put them together in the same bag. at the checkout the assistant took them out and weighted them separately. i was quite amazed by this peculiar behavior and asked for an explanation. it turns out that even if they sell for the same -extortionate- price, different coloured peppers have different codes which therefore allow the supermarket to always stock a perfectly colour balanced display of artificially coloured peppers.
i thought: how low can you go? but maybe it's just me.

ps: last night i stuffed a couple of peppers with some boiled arborio rice mixed with delicious peppercorn coated mackerel, coriander, onions, extra virgin olive oil and someting else which i don't remember now (not to worry, next time will be something different). the rice was almost, but not quite, completely cooked, to allow for the 40 minutes it then had to spend in the oven.

10.2.04

a quick snack 

turkey & fennel or fennel & turkey or...
are these panfried fennel rings with strips of turkey brest on toast or bruschetta of panfried strips of turkey breast with fennel rings? mmmm.. maybe goujons de dindon à la carlo no no.. padellata di tacchino con finocchi is better!
ehi! what are these men in white doing? leave me alone, i haven't finished yet .....

9.2.04

random tip#2: reasons why i never use mozzarella on a pizza 

(1) real mozzarella has a very short shelf life: 2/3 days for the real thing, up to two weeks for the best commercial products.
therefore (2) when you go out there and order a pizza, it will be made with an industrial produced copy of the real mozzarella because (3) real mozzarella is too expensive.(4) real fresh mozzarella is too good: just eat it on its own, at room temperature, and feel the stabs of pleasure up from the palate and down to the spine.
(5) oh,by the way, that stuff you find on supermarket shelves is only good to kick against a wall. several times.

on my pizzas i use cheddar.

8.2.04

i burned my blog 

this is my contribution to "alberto's"is my blog burning?" project.
ideas like this don't change the world but make better meals.
which is a good enough contribution as far as i'm concerned.

my original intention was to make something i had never made before, a localized version of an italian classic, pasta & fagioli (pasta & bean soup), which in its most rustic and risqué version calls for generous quantities of sausage. as we will see later things didn't quite go my way.

this soup is not a looker, it's not the right subject for glamorous photos but its texture has a smoothness that embraces like a soft duvet and its flavour is an antidepressant a hundred times stronger that prozac.

ingredients:
- borlotti beans, three tins for four people. the done thing would be to soak the dry beans overnight then boil them for a couple of hours. the acceptable shortcut is to buy good quality tinned borlotti. using another kind of beans would be an unacceptable shortcut.
- sausage. good sausage. oh how i've been longing for a proper sausage. a sausage without bloody rusk! a simple pork sausage, nothing fancy in it... i've finally found an acceptable sausage, with an unobtrusive amount of rusk, good enough to stop me from taking the next flight to milan.
- galangal. i could not cook without it.
- garlic. i could not get near a kitchen without it.
- onion. i could not go back home without it.
- carrot. just a little finger's worth. organic.
- oil.
- glutammate free vegetable stock powder or -better!- some real stock.
- some tagliatelle, crushed into small pieces.

i sear the sausage in not too much olive oil, then remove it.
i finely chop half an onion and the carrot and fry them gently until the onion is transparent.
one tin of beans is pureed in the food processors with a clove of garlic and an inch of galangal then added to the pot, along with the beans from the other two tins, the now-chopped sausage, the stock or stock powder and water.
bring to the boil. simmer, simmer & simmer. too dense? add water. too liquid? simmer some more.
the soup is ready. it's early so i turn off the flame and let it rest. i join the others in the living room. just before meal time i will bring the soup to the boil again, add the crushed pasta and serve after five minutes.
this is not going to happen. we will be too impatient and i will serve the lukewarm soup with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of black pepper. oh and a very decorative sprig of rosemary.

my blog burned, and it was good.

7.2.04

what's wrong with this risotto? 

this risotto is bad! this is the risotto i made on wednesday: comfort food after a long winter day.
what's wrong with it? it certainly looks good.
it's perfectly cooked: look at the grains, plump with stock but still perfectly separated, clearly "al dente". after all it has been made with love and care and the finest carnaroli rice. and it is a proper risotto con i funghi - butter, onions, rice, wine, mushrooms, stock, a bit of butter at the end, parmesan - not one of those concoctions which are called risotto out of laziness or ignorance or marketing or plain old scam (ehi, I am from Lombardy: we are precious about our risotti!).

so what's wrong then?
if the heart of a risotto is a good rice (leave arborio alone, please) its soul is the stock.
beef stock is the best, chicken stock is acceptable, vegetable stock is boring. i'm not talking cubes. real stock is essential. (ok, ok, i do sometimes use a good vegetable stock powder without glutammates.. i'm only human after all).

this risotto, made with an unfortunately bland vegetable stock, was a risotto without a soul.

4.2.04

it was a dark and stormy night... 

sunday, 8pm.
i'm back home from a nice weekend with friends after a ghastly 90 minutes drive in the pouring rain spiced with occasional gales.
i am HUNGRY but don't feel like cooking and cannot bear the idea of waiting for a take away.
the fridge is empty, the family demands food.
i must act!
i scour the cupboards and find a can of broad beans, neglected even in previous emergencies.
broad beans, broad beans... what shall i do with thou?
broad beans & pecorino cheese, a classic!
fresh broad beans are delicious with some fresh pecorino cheese and bread.
but: my beans are tinned, my pecorino is seasoned, my bread is finished.
i cream the broad beans in the food processors with some extra virgin olive oil and a bit of garlic, then stir in a lot of grated pecorino and a ladle of chicken stock (endless!). i am at a crossroads: this could be the base for a soup or the sauce for a pasta. i am hungry. pasta. which pasta? capelli d'angelo (aka angel hair): they will cook in 2 minutes, one minute in the pot with the water, another minute in the pan with the sauce.
more grated pecorino on top.

timeline of angel hair with cream of pecorino and broad beans:
scouring of cupboards: 90 seconds
preparation, basically grating: 3 minutes
boiling of water: 5 minutes
further cooking: 1 minute
wolfing down: 2 minutes.

2.2.04

things that go well with pork  

maiale ripieno - stuffed tenderloin
i had a piece of tenderloin in the fridge, with not long left to wait for me to come up with an interesting idea. i don't usually buy lean meat because i find it boring, but in the aftermath of two weeks in Italy i must pretend that i am doing something to compensate. as if..

this is the reason why i also have in stock an unusual quantity and variety of dried fruit. apple rings, plums, apricots, figs.

a quick look at my list of things that go well with pork:
apples --check
prunes --check
fennel seeds --check
butter
honey
mustard
fennel
milk
cream
sage

and the recipe for the pork tenderloin with dried fruit and fennel seeds comes up by itself.

i take an handful of dried fruit - apricots included - previously soaked for extra plumpness and whiz them in the food processor with quite a lot of fennel seeds (i love fennel seeds!).
the mixture looks good but sickeningly healthy, so i add some unsalted butter straight form the fridge and whiz a little bit more.
that's better.

the meat is unsubtly impaled on the handle of a wooden spoon and the cavity is filled with the mixture.
what is left of the mixture is patted all around the piece of meat. any leftovers go straight in the pan, diluted with a ladle of water to make the base for the cooking.

i leave it to cook until there is a nice slightly burnt crust on each side.

by the time it's ready i'm not hungry anymore. i leave it to rest overnight.

the following day i slice it: it looks greats and tastes better.

these things go really well with pork.