Pappardelle Con La Coniglio

A quick, simple, cheap, and most importantly, delicious meal for 4.  If you have a local butcher where you can find fresh rabbit, use them.  You probably know that rabbits were always hung outside butchers with at least one paw still on, and that this was because anatomically rabbits are almost indistinguishable from cats……..  Plus supermarket rabbit is generally sourced from China……..  Why buy something of doubtful quality that has been sent thousands of miles instead of supporting local shops?

Ingredients:

14 oz Pappardelle pasta [rippled edged ribbon-like pasta which is wonderful for holding all the wonderful sauce!]  You can use Tagliatelle  if you must, but try to find it instead – and you’ll never eat Tagliatelle again!  1 lb minced Rabbit, preferably organic.  You are very unlikely to find this is the supermarket but if you’ve cultivated your friendly local butcher [if not, why not?]  he will at least clean and section it for you.  If you cannot mince it, strip and chunk the rabbit meat into small pieces;  2 cloves of garlic, not sliced, just peeled and bashed flat!; 1 large onion, sliced and diced; 1 or 2 sticks of celery, chopped, including the leaves; 2 rashers of unsmoked back bacon, sliced into strips; 3 glasses of dry white Italian wine, 1 for the meal, 2 for the cook…..; 3 tbsp Olive Oil, sea salt and black pepper.

Heat the oil in a large casserole or thick bottomed saucepan, with a lid.  Add the onion, celery and bacon and cook gently ’til the onion is softened and browning then add the garlic and cook, stirring for another 2 mins.  Then add the rabbit and cook for another 5 mins.  Turn the heat up briefly and add the white wine.  As soon as it has boiled off, turn back to simmer.   Let it cook away for 30-40 mins, keeping an eye on it, stirring regularly, and if necessary adding a little more water or stock to stop the sauce from thickening too much.  Check and add a little black pepper if needed.

With your pasta water at a rolling boil, add a little olive oil and sea salt, then ease in your Pappardelle.  Cook ’til ‘al dente’, then drain well.  Fold into your sauce and serve immediately.

Buono Appetito!

Relais Riserva di Fizzano

sunset at Fizzano  There are places which one visits and, because of the occasion, they assume magical proportions in our memories. Riserva di Fizzano however is magical through and through all by itself!

The occasion they hosted was a wonderful wedding between my eldest son and his delightful Italian girlfriend, which brought together both our families for the first time.

Italo Zingarelli, the gifted Italian film producer, bought the borgo of La Macie  in 1973 and built up an excellent winery in the midst of the Chianti Classico area.  Along with the vineyards came the derelict hilltop Mediaeval village of Fizzano.  Italo’s brother Fabio, an architect, was set to sympathetically  restoring the village, which now provides 19 super apartments, plus a restaurant and an unobtrusive pool surrounded by vineyards and rolling Tuscan hills.

The staff were unobtrusively helpful and consistently cheerful, with nothing being too much trouble.  The restaurant, which perhaps unsurprisingly hosts cookery courses in the winter, served some of the best Italian food I have ever eaten.  And, believe me, I have eaten some in my time!

I am intending to return in October, just in time for the first pressings from their Olive groves, have another tour of their winery and shamelessly indulge myself yet again!!

My photos don’t really do it justice so I suggest you take their tour.     http://www.riservadifizzano.com/index.en.php

Focaccia Pomodoro – Buy it? – or – Bake it!

If you have a lovely local Italian Deli where they bake their own and you can buy it warm and soft – Buy it and support them!     If however you don’t…………….or it’s a Sunday & they’re closed and if overpriced, flabby, supermarket pap is your only alternative – Bake it yourself!  It’s easy and delicious with that wonderful feeling – I made this!  All it takes is a little time.

Don’t ever make the mistake of using anything other than the best ingredients you can find.  This doesn’t mean paying the earth.  Sometimes it just means getting up off your backside and going to a market or finding a good deli.   Balzano’s Deli in Cambridge for instance has wonderful Sun-blushed tomatoes and lovely Olives, and Seafood, and Prosciutto, and, and, and…………..

Ingredients for 1. ‘Course while you’re at it you could make two or three………

12 oz [350 g] Good quality strong white bread flour; 1/2 tsp sea salt; 1 tsp thyme; 2 tbsp good Olive Oil; 200 ml warm water; 1 tsp yeast.    4/5 pitted & halved black olives; 6 sun-dried or sun-blushed tomatoes [a wonderful treat if you can find them locally.]

Mix the flour, salt & thyme well together in a large mixing bowl.  Crumb the oil into the mix.  Stir the yeast into the warm water and mix that in too.  Knead it together, not too vigorously, then cover the bowl and leave in a warm place for 2 hours.

Turn on to a floured surface, lightly knead again, then flatten and spread to an oval shape and put onto a oiled baking sheet.  No thinner than 1/2 “.  Arrange your olives and tomatoes on the surface, and leave in that warm place for 45 mins to rise further.  When risen indent all over with your fingers [my favourite bit!] and drizzle a little Olive Oil and sprinkle a little salt.  Pre-heat the oven to 180 [170 if a fan oven] and bake for 35/40 mins.  It’s done when golden-brown and slightly hollow sounding when tapped on the bottom.  A bit like me really………………………..

Serve with a Green Salad and/or Antipasti.

Buono Appetito

Risotto Bianco for Dummies!

So many make a great fuss about Risottos.  It actually takes no more time than any other hearty family dish.  Does it need stirring?  Yes!  So what!  It only needs it each time you chuck another ladleful of stock in.  Use the time in between to prepare something else, the pudding, or test the wine, talk to your guests, grate the cheese, whatever!  This is cooking not a boring task like scrubbing the bath!   Enjoy!

This is a simple recipe for a basic risotto, excellent on its own, or you can experiment and add items [mushrooms, sea-food, bottled artichoke hearts, etc] to make something even more special.

Serves 4, though as usual you can increase the basic ingredients to suit the number of bodies!

1 1/2 pints stock [I make mine from organic veg cubes or powder, but, even better, if you have your own stock, chicken, fish or w.h.y. do use it as appropriate for the dish];  1/2 a good size fennel bulb separated and finely chopped; 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced; a medium onion finely chopped; 8 oz of proper Risotto rice; 1 good wineglass of Pino Grigio [and make it a good one, don’t cook with stuff you wouldn’t serve to your favourite guests]or a Dry Vermouth; 2 oz unsalted butter; 2 tbsp good olive oil; about 3 to 4 oz of grated Manchego [personal bias again,I just find it creamier when melted than Parmesan]; Sea salt & pepper to taste.

Heat the stock ’til it has boiled then leave to stand on one side, add a pinch or two of sea salt and pepper. I put mine in a large jug with ladle at the ready in it.  Use a good size, wide & deep, fry pan with a flat bottom and cover  if you have one, and heat the olive oil & butter together ’til melted.  Add the Fennel, Garlic and Onion and cook on a lowish heat for about 15 mins stirring occasionally so it goes translucent but NOT brown.  When the mix, or soffrito, is ready add your rice and turn up the heat.

The rice begins to fry, keep stirring and the rice begins to take on the oil and become somewhat translucent itself.  When it does add the wine/ vermouth and stir away ’til the rice has absorbed it, enjoying the delightful smell being given off.  Cook’s Perks!

Then add your first ladleful of hot stock.  A soon as it boils up turn down the heat to a simmer so the rice doesn’t begin to harden on the outside. Stir and push the rice around so that it begins to give off its creamy starch.  Let each ladleful get absorbed before adding the next.  I usually add my extra ingredients, if I’m using any, about half way through the stock jugs contents. This is plenty of time for seafood, artichokes or whatever to heat through without breaking down to mush.

Continue adding stock and stirring the rice and test when you think it may be done.  A slight al dente is about perfect.  Don’t worry if you run out of stock before this happens, just have a little boiling water on hand to add to your jug and keep going ’til it’s done.  By this time it will be creamy and smooth.

Turn the heat off and sprinkle the grated Manchego over evenly.  Put your cover on and leave for a couple of minutes ’til it’s melded into a delicious whole.  Serve immediately, with a mixed green salad and ripe plum tomatoes, sliced.  Perfecto!

Buono Appetito!

Zuppa di Pasta e Fagioli

For this soup it is well worth seeking out from your local deli the small pasta shapes, which are intended for these dishes, Nochette, Anelli, Acini di Pepe, or Ditalini.  Failing that most supermarkets these days have Orzo, the small pasta which looks like rice.

Serves 4/6

To make this a quick and simple dish I would use 2 drained cans of suitable beans, in water, Flageolet, Borlotti or Cannelini are perhaps best; 2 tsp olive oil; 2 rashers of unsmoked bacon or bacon pieces, chopped small; 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped, 1 onion, finely chopped; 1 stick of celery, finely chopped [or better still if you have any 1 ‘skin’ of Fennel Bulb, finely sliced]; 1 litre of stock, homemade if you have it, or for convenience I often use organic, low salt, stock cubes or powder; 1 can organic chopped Italian tomatoes; 200 g of small pasta; freshly grated Manchego to top, which I find melts deliciously rather than floating like Parmesan ice floes tend to.

Heat a large saucepan with the oil and put in the bacon, garlic, onion and celery or fennel.  Saute stirring until soft and the garlic is just turning brown.  Add the tomatoes, 3/4 of the stock and bring to the boil.  Turn down and simmer for about 15 mins, then add your beans and simmer for a further 5 mins.  Scoop out a good quantity of the beans in a sieve, and then push them through the sieve back into the soup.  Bring back to the boil and add your pasta.  Though small they may well take 10 mins to soften so keep stirring to prevent your soup sticking.  The soup should be thick.  If getting too dry add the remaining stock.

Serve into soup bowls grating a little black pepper on each and adding the Manchego.   Accompany with thickly sliced, warmed, ciabatta loaf and you have the perfect supper dish for a chilly day, Spring or Winter.

Keralan Lamb Stew

A tasty curry which, though mild enough to serve to the wimpiest non-curry aficionado, I find myself being asked to cook again & again by even hardened India hands.

About 3 lbs  of stewing lamb, neck or shoulder is best, either left on the bone or trimmed and cut into small chunks;  4 tbsp rice or veg oil; cinnamon sticks in 2″ pieces, about 2 or 3; 10 cloves; 10/12 green cardamom pods; 2 tsp black peppercorns; 1 lb onions finely sliced; 2″ fresh ginger, peeled then finely sliced and cut into ‘matchsticks’; 6 whole long green chillies slit down the centre; 1 lb potatoes, peeled, big enough to cut into 4 lengthways and give you thick wedges; 1 pint thin coconut milk; 1/2 lb ‘banana’ shallots, peeled and thin sliced; a handful of fresh curry leaves or about 2 tbsp of dried; 2 tbsp lime juice.

For this you will need a large casserole.  Heat the oil and when hot put in the cinnamon sticks, cloves, cardamoms, and peppercorns.  Stir to coat with oil, then add the onions and ginger.  Cook until the onions are translucent, then add the lamb, green chillies and 1 pint of the coconut milk.  Bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer for about 35 mins.  Add the potatoes, bring back to the boil and then fast simmer for about 20 mins or until the potatoes are soft enough to push a fork into but not falling apart.

Heat a little more oil in a small pan and saute the shallots until they are nicely browned.  Add the curry leaves and stir through. Put in the remaining coconut milk and when it comes to a simmer add the whole pan to the stew stirring it in along with the lime juice.

The result will be a delicious creamy stew, the chillies will have lost all their heat, the lamb will be mouth-wateringly tender and just watch people fighting over the potatoes!  Serve in large bowls,  just accompanied by Naan Breads to wipe up the last bit of juice!

Curry Powder the Western Curse!

Kerala, that hidden tropical jewel in South-West India, abundantly grows so many of the spices we now prize and are fortunate to find in almost any store.  Buy them whole and fresh, in small quantities, keep them in an airtight jar, preferably in a dark cupboard, and then you can enjoy the sensuous pleasure of crushing your spice blends and releasing all the exotic aromas anew.

They cost relatively little to buy and, if you are lucky enough to have Asian shops nearby, may well turn out cheaper than mass produced, so-called, ‘Curry Powders’ which are, in my not very humble opinion, a complete waste of time.  Yes, when first opened some of them may seem fine but they will soon deteriorate into sad dusty memories of what a spice blend could be.  Stick them in the compost today, they might as well have some use!

About the only ground spice I buy is good quality Hungarian Paprika, avoid the stuff which looks and smells like dry Poster Paint, ‘cos that’s what it tastes like too!

I wouldn’t myself use the ‘super-whizzer’ blenders that smash spices to hell,  just get yourself a simple Pestle & Mortar instead.  Pounding and grinding spices can be positively therapeutic, and a good way of building up your Chef Muscles!

A delicious Keralan Curry recipe to follow later today!

Linguini alla Putanesca

One of my personal favourites for a quick, easy, fairly light meal.  As there is no cheese used on the meal itself I often follow this with a Plum Tomato & Pak Choi [fresh & small leaves if poss. or sliced into strips] salad accompanied by a decent Brie or Neufchatel.  A simple meal, which when eaten outdoors on a Summers day, with a chilled Pino Grigio and good friends makes life seem somehow brighter!

Serves 4

4 garlic cloves finely chopped; 2 tbsp capers rinsed; 12 oz fresh ripe tomatoes, peeled & chopped [or a can of chopped Organic Italian tomatoes]; 2 handfuls of black olives, pitted and halved; can of anchovies, oil drained and not used; 4 tbsp good quality Olive Oil, 2 oz unsalted butter; 1 dried red chilli, crushed and mixed with the capers.  Fresh coriander chopped finely. 400 g Linguini.  Black pepper.

Heat the oil & butter in a large pan and add the drained anchovies, snipping them up with scissors.  Then add the garlic.  Stir until the garlic is just browning, then add the caper/chilli mix.  Stir, then add the tomatoes and olives.  When bubbling turn down and simmer for 20 mins, adding pepper to taste [it may, of course, be spicy enough without pepper!].

Then, with your pasta water at a rolling boil, add a little rock salt and olive oil, then your linguini. Stir once gently to ensure it doesn’t stick together and cook until ‘al dente’   Drain well and stir into your pan with the sauce.  That’s why you needed a large pan!  Leave to cook for a couple of minutes ’til the linguini is well coated with the sauce.  Sprinkle over the chopped coriander, and serve, in the cooking pan, straight to the table.

If any of your guests raise their eyebrows at this…..They’re the wrong guests!!!!

Buono Appetito

Farfalle con i Broccoli e le Acciughe

You know how it is.  Sometimes you look in the fridge and cupboard and think WTH!! What can I make out of this lot!  Well, experiments can turn out well and sometimes, much to my surprise, I find either Italians or Indians [dependent on the amount of spices used] have got there first!  This recipe has its home in Southern Italy, the Apulia region I later found, and it has become a favourite quick meal for ‘Veggie/Piscatorial’ friends when they drop in.

A small head of Broccoli; a good glug of decent Olive Oil; a can of anchovy fillets in oil; 3 oz Manchego cheese, freshly grated; black pepper.  400 g of Farfalle [pasta bows] or Conchigle or similar.

Cut off the broccoli florets, halving if overlarge, slice the stalk into thin rounds.  [I invariably keep my broccoli in the fridge standing in a bowl of water having cut off the bottom slice.  Keeps it fresh & green ’til you need to use it.]  Steam over a pan of boiling water for about 5 mins, removing while still Al Dente.  Then cut the florets into small pieces.

Heat the oil over a medium heat and add the anchovies, oil and all, snipping them up small with scissors.  Add all the steamed broccoli, and stir and cook together for 2/3 minutes. When well melded together grind plenty of black pepper over the mix, and turn the heat right down.

Bring your pasta water to a rolling boil adding a little rock salt and olive oil, then cook your pasta.  Drain and put into a warmed bowl, stirring with a little olive oil.  Add the Broccoli mix and stir gently through.  Sprinkle the Manchego overall.

Then serve, and if asked, airily say, “This?”, “Oh it’s just something I knocked up from odds and ends……….”

Buono Appetito!

Mascarpone di Frutta

A simple but delicious way of making a boring fruit salad into a real treat!

I always use seasonal fruit and, as far as possible, local grown and/or organic, but Kiwis, Melons and Pineapples don’t [yet!] grow in the UK, so indulge yourself a little!

If available fresh English Strawberries, hulled of course and halved if large; Pears and Apples, cored & cut into largish chunks; Peaches and/or Nectarines stoned & cut as before. Kiwi fruit, peeled and sliced thick; A small melon, using the sweetest centre flesh in chunks; Black or White grapes halved.  A glassful of fresh orange juice; 1 1/2 oz brown sugar; 2 tbsp of organic runny honey; small tub of Mascarpone; 10/12 fresh picked Mint leaves [I transplant supermarket mint plants into terracotta pots and stand them in saucers of gravel, water the gravel, the plants take what they want, and last for a year at least!]

Warm the OJ and dissolve the sugar in it.  Pour over the mixed fruit in a shallow bowl and leave for 20 mins.  Mix the honey with the mascarpone.  Serve the fruit into individual bowls and put a large dollop of mascarpone on each.  Pick mint leaves, and roughly tear, then decorate the mascarpone topping with them.

Buono Appetito!