Polpette di seppia
Some of the most delicious recipes I have ever made come from mistakes, disasters, serendipity. This, my friends, is one of those recipes! It came about when my local fishmonger forgot that when I buy cuttlefish I usually make stuffed cuttlefish (he usually remembers) and chopped my cuttlefish up. Of course I didn’t notice until I got hame in the evening and took the fish out of the fridge to cook!
For the large sides, there was no problem: these are fantastic lightly grilled with a squeeze of lemon juice. I knew however that for two hungry horaces who had both been training today (him football, me running with May) just some grilled cuttlefish and salad wasn’t going to cut it. So I came up with this on a whim and lo and behold, it worked! Crunchy, filling, savoury and just the right amount of fishy, they added the necessary substance to the meal – yum!
You will need:
2 whole cuttlefish, cleaned and with the tentacles placed to one side
a piece of stale bread (I used one about the size of my fist)
a handful of capers (rinsed if in salt)
2 tbsp seasoned breadcrumbs
2 tsp plain flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1. Put the larger sides of cuttlefish to one side. Chop up the smaller parts into cubes. Set the oven to heat to 180°C
2. Place the cubes in a bowl and mix with egg, pepper, capers, breadcrumbs.
3. Soak the stale bread under running water then break up into the mixture.
4. Form the mixture into patties then roll in the flour. Place in a baking tray then drizzle the olive oil over the top before placing in the oven to bake for around 15 minutes, or until piping hot on the inside and golden and crunchy on the outside.
5. While those are cooking, wash lettuce and arrange on the plates with some wedges of lemon.
6. In the last 5 minutes before serving take the cuttlefish sides and sear them briefly in a nonstick pan with a sprinkle of salt. No oil should be necessary.
7. Serve, with cold, dry white wine. We had a lovely Pinot Grigio which surprised me as it isn’t usually a grape I really enjoy, but this was lovely – fresh, dry and with a slight aroma of unripe peaches. Yeah, my boyfriend would say I am talking rubbish too, but trust me, and if you don’t then try it – it’s called Cacciatore, and I’m not sure it’s available outside of italy… anyway, thankfully another successful experiment!
Sometimes being lazy is necessary, and the best thing about being lazy in Italy is that it doesn’t mean you can’t have a delicious meal. I mean seriously:
Creamy buffalo mozzarella, fresh sun ripened tomatoes, fragrant basil and strong green extra virgin olive oil – the Caprese… accompanied by a side of spicy olives (home made by the deli round the corner) and fresh crusty bread to mop up the juices. It’s all about the ingredients…
100% flavour. Minimal effort.
With (lazy) love, from Italy
Risotto alla milanese con porcini from Lombardy
On Italian TV at the moment there is a programme called “Benvenuti a Tavola”. It is based on the age-old North vs South rivalry which is surrounds pretty much everything in Italy and which ranges from the good natured to the downright nasty (some people going as far as wanting to take Italian citizenship from anyone born South of Rome).
I have lived in the North and the South of Italy, and although there are definitely differences, I think that the people are more similar than either side would care to admit.
I don’t like to join in on the fight, and usually say nothing when the verbal battle between North and South begins, but there is one subject about which I am passionate: FOOD.
All of Italy produces fantastic recipes and products. My personal favourites are almost all from the South: Mozzarella di bufala (Campania), ‘Nduja (Calabria), Taurasi wine (Campania), Salerno Anchovies (Campania), Limoncello (Campania) Pecorino Sardo (Sardinia), Cannoli (Sicily)… The list goes on, with the only Northern products getting a look in being Chianti (Tuscany), Balsamic Vinegar (Reggio Emilia) and Parma Ham (Reggio Emilia).
The same goes for recipes. However, there is one Northern recipe that I adore and which I make on a semi regular basis. It is also a hit with my Southern friends, despite its provenance – Milanese risotto with porcini mushrooms, a sticky, savoury, fragrant dish of rice, saffron, butter, mushrooms and one extra secret ingredient that I am about to reveal to you…
You will need (for 2 large portions):
- 1 heaped cup arborio rice
- A handful of porcini )preferably fresh or defrosted frozen, but dried will do at a pinch. If you use dried you will need to soak them in water for at least 20 minutes before starting and use the water for the risotto so as to keep all of the flavours.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 generous knob of butter
- 2 tbsp grated grano padano or other hard Italian cheese
- 1 vegetable stock cube dissolved in a pint of warm water
- 1 glass of dry white wine
- 1 tsp of saffron
- and the secret ingredient, a few drops of truffle oil
1. Heat the oil and finely chopped garlic in a pan until the garlic begins to brown.
2. Add the rice and stir until the rice is coated with a sheen of oil, then add a couple of ladlefuls of stock.
3. Stir constantly, making sure that as the stock cooks off you continue to add more. Bear in mind that the rice will need about 20 minutes all in all.
4. About five minutes in, add the saffron and the porcini, chopped into bits. Continue as before.
5. After a further five minutes, add a glass of white wine instead of stock, then continue as before.
6. If you find the stock is not enough, you can continue to add plain water until the rice is cooked. Do not add further stock or you risk making the dish too salty.
7. When the risotto is “ondulato”, that is to say most of the liquid has evaporated and the rice is cooked but the dish is still fluid enough that you make gentle waves as you stir or move the pan, remove from the heat and stir in the butter, a few drops of truffle oil, then the grated cheese. This should thicken the dish to the perfect consistency.
8. Serve with the rest of the wine, as usual
With love, from Italy
Or pasta, potatoes and zucchini, as you prefer.
Yesterday was one of those days. You know, the days you really, really don’t want to go to the shops but you don’t have anything in the fridge that looks like it will make up a whole meal. I had been fancying pasta with courgettes for a while, but yesterday to my dismay I realised there were only two small courgettes in the fridge. “What goes with courgettes?” I thought. I toyed with the idea of peppers but didn’t really feel inspired by it. Then I spied the potatoes and figured “Why not?”. Be aware that this recipe, intended to make two portions, actually makes three (or two ENORMOUS portions if you are hungry!)
You will need:
200g of penne pasta
2x courgettes (zucchini)
2x medium sized potatoes
2x cloves of garlic
A handful of smoked pancetta bits
1x glass of dry white wine (plus another for each diner of course)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp of pecorino cheese
Salt to taste
1. Finely chop the garlic and cube the courgettes and potatoes.
2. Boil some water in a small pan and toss in the cubed potatoes for par-boiling
3. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and gently fry the garlic and pancetta until they brown.
4. Add the courgettes and continue to fry over a low heat. When they begin to soften, add the white wine and a couple of pinches of salt – not much as the pancetta and pecorino cheese are themselves salty.
5. Keeping the hot water, drain the potatoes (they should be almost cooked) and add to the mix, strring well. Bring the water back to the boil, salt, and toss in the pasta.
6. While the pasta cookes, keep stirring the mixture in the frying pan. You want to see the potato begin to come apart and amalgamate with the rest of the ingredients.
7. When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain and add to the pan. Mix well and season with the pecorino and the black pepper. When all of the pasta is coated, you are ready to serve it with that glass of dry white wine we mentioned earlier.
As wine, I used Falanghina. Not everyone agrees, but where possible I try to drink the same wine I used to cook the meal with. Partly because I think it brings out the flavours, and partly because I am a believer in the old saying that if you would not drink it then you shouldn’t cook with it – but that’s a whole other post!
With love, from Italy
With my own hands! So exciting. It was the first of May on Wednesday and therefore a bank holiday and I had the most fantastic day… I took May the mutt to the football pitch to watch Roby play (he scored!), then we went to the beach, had an aperitif and our first dip of the year, then to our friends’ house near Paestum for a pizza making party not dissimilar to the one I mentioned last year. Except for the fact that there was too much dough so even us noobs got a chance to try making a pizza – yay!
To be fair the dough “panetti” were already made and I won’t pretend I know how to do that (although it is apparently pretty easy) but I did mould the pizza dough into a circle (harder than it looks, the dough is super squidgy, soft and stretchy), put on the toppings, picked it up and placed it in the oven – all harder than it looks again.
We made a ridiculous number of pizzas all in all (the one I made was provola cheese, courgettes and speck) and ended up taking many of them home… Hell, even our friends’ kids were making pizza!
I will make a full post on pizza making at a later date, but for now at this late stage of the evening I will leave you with one of the most important facts: when you make pizza in a wood fired oven (hint: ALWAYS) you know that the oven is hot enough all the way through when the inside of the oven turns uniformly white. Then it is ready and you can start popping in the pizzas, although you have to be certain to keep the wood topped up and movng around the oven to keep that nice even heat going. Also, pizza cooks fast – don’t let it burn!!!
In life, things are often planned at the last minute (or not planned at all) and trust me that nowhere is that more true than in Southern Italy. The Southern Italians get undeservedly bashed by their Northern neighbours for a lot of things (I especially hate when they say that people here are lazy – actually most of them work ridiculous hours for very little pay) but when they complain that they like to do everything at the last minute… well I have to say that at least amongst my group of friends this is absolutely true. The converstaion on facebook which led to the last minute lemon cake was therefore not in the slightest bit unusual…
Silvio: So we aren’t going to Naples anymore
Carlo: No, everyone is coming to my place for dinner
Two hours of random banter later
Carlo: Damn! We don’t have desert! I know it’s late, but can someone make a cake?
Of course, two people then ended up making cake and we had two deserts. Ah, I love you Italy! The quick and easy lemon cake that I went with was pretty popular despite the fact that it almost fell apart in the car as I also had to pick R up from Naples before going to the dinner party – light and fluffy with a much more lemony, sharp bakers cream than usual used to cover it. I liked the baker’s cream for a party, but in all honesty if I was making this to keep at home I would probably just stick with a simple sponge.
Ingredients (for the sponge)
120g plain flour
120g corn flour
250g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
1 tbsp milk
1 shot glass of limoncello
2 tsp baking soda
Zest of two organic lemons
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (mine is fan assisted)
2.. Separate the egg yolks and the whites into two bowls. Put the whites to one side.
3. Cream the butter with the sugar and the egg yolks
4. Whip the whites into soft peaks (if you are doing this by hand, a very tiny pinch of salt in the whites makes this easier and doesn’t change the flavour)
5. Fold the whites into the creamed mixture and gently seive in the flour and baking powder
6. Add the tablespoon of milk, the shot of limoncello and the lemon zest and beat to get a smooth, light cake mixture.
7. Grease a cake pan, pour the mix in and place in the oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown on top and a knife inserted into the cake’s centre comes out clean.
In the meantime, for the cream, you will need:
2 egg yolks
200 ml milk
Flour (quantity on the basis of how thick you want the cream)
Juice and zest of one lemon
Shot glass of limoncello
1. Warm the milk DO NOT BOIL!!!!!!
2. Whip the yolks and the sugar in to the warm milk over a LOW heat
3. Add the lemon juice, zest and limoncello and stir.
4. When all of these ingredients have been amalgamated, begin to seive in the flour, a little at a time, until you reach the desired thickness. As I was using this to cover rather than fill the cake I used quite a bit of flour and added a little more sugar and limoncello to maintain the desired flavour.
5. Leave the cream to cool.
By the time you have made the cream and cleaned up the kitchen, the cake should be ready. Leave it to cool if you have time (I didn’t) before using a spatula to evenly cover the cake with cream and garnish with lemon slices.
Try not to travel in the car too far with it. Trust me, it ruins the pretty presentation – not that my friends seemed to notice, they were too busy filling their faces!
With love, from Italy
Say you are in Italy. Say you want comfort food. You know, the kind of food that feels like “hugs on the inside”, all warm and tasty and makes you feel drowsy and contented after consumption… What do you choose? Why carbonara of course…
You might notice it doesn’t look very liquid. That’s because it isn’t. Carbonara isn’t what most people think it is… It doesn’t use any cream.
Just eggs, bacon, garlic, black pepper, pecorino cheese and of course pasta.
1. Prepare the water for the pasta and get ready to salt it and chuck the spaghetti in. You know the drill.
2. Beat the eggs (2 per person is about right) with a healthy dose of pecorino and black pepper.
3. Start to heat the pancetta or bacon bits over a flame. You can add a drop of olive oil if you want but I tend to find it isn’t needed.
4. Chop the garlic and add to the pan with the bacon. When the garlic begins to brown, take off the heat.
5. When the pasta is cooked al dente drain it and chuck it in the pan with the bacon and garlic. Stir, ensuring the ingredients are evenly spread.
6. Pour the egg mixture over the hot pasta and stir vigourously. You may need to turn the flame back on briefly.
Serve with copious amounts of black pepper, pecorino cheese and scrummy red wine!
With love, from Italy