Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mushroom Hunting

potato pie1potatopie-coverThere’s a beautiful stretch of woods just around the corner from where I live.  The trees stand tall on hilltops and overlook Rome on one side, lakes on the other, the papal summer residence and the sea in the far distance.  The scenery leaves you jaw-locked-open, but what I love most as I walk through paths of fallen leaves and scattered chestnuts, are the tiny wild sowbreads that struggle to poke their pink flowers from beneath the earth, the mystical rays of sun that filter through trees leading to who knows where up above and the smell of earthy mushrooms.  Mushroom hunting is a must here and you can’t leave the woods without bringing some home. The other must, is that you need to be sure you are choosing the right ones, you don’t want to die after eating bread and “deadly” mushrooms.  It goes without saying that you need some mushroom knowledge before you go picking, that’s why we always stick to just two varieties, the ones we are sure of and can’t get wrong.   
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Time runs fast when you go mushroom hunting, there's lots of walking...searching...hoping, as you look right there, next to that tree, under those leaves and it may happen to be, that someone beats your same path leaving you empty handed and disappointed. This is when all the lunch plans fall apart. The funghi porcini that you were dying to have?  Well that’s not going to happen now.  Unless, you decide to go buy them :)

And that’s what we did.  We bought lovely porcini mushrooms from an old lady that was selling some just off the road on our way back home.  The mushrooms that were supposed to fall in our basket were on her stand and were being sold by the weight of gold! 

This potato and porcini mushroom pie paid off in not finding the mushrooms ourselves and rewarded our effort in trying to do so.


4 medium size porcini mushrooms
4 medium size potatoes sliced 5 mm thick
2 garlic cloves
Extra virgin olive oil

In a preheated pan add 3 tbsp. of olive oil and 2 crushed garlic cloves, add the diced porcini mushrooms, some salt and pepper.  Saute’ the mushrooms for 3-4 minutes, turn off the heat, add some parsley and leave aside.  Slice each potato 5mm thick.  Oil an oven proof dish with some olive oil and coat with breadcrumbs.  Place the potatoes in a circular manner to cover the bottom of the dish, season with salt and pepper.  Add  some of the cooked porcini on top of the potatoes.  Start building layers by alternating potatoes and mushrooms.  Finish the last layer with potatoes, brush with olive oil and coat with breadcrumb.  Bake in the oven for 50 minutes at 180ºC.  Leave in the oven some more, if necessary, to form a nice crispy gold crust.  Serve warm.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Parcel Wrapped Carrots

Carrots have been growing abundantly in my garden lately.  I've had them in salads, soups, baked in cakes, juiced, pickled, added to stocks, roasts, frittata, oven roasted, boiled...phew! I've eaten so much of them that if what they say is true, that carrots improve your eyesight, then I should be seeing through walls by now!  

With so much abundance, my imagination goes wild exploring different ways to cook.  As much as I try to find a unique way to make things taste and look different, I always tend to go back to simple because that's how I enjoy my food best. What's there to complicate in a carrot when the taste is right there and then. The very moment you bite into it raw you've already explored the essence of its flavor.  So, today, I'd like to share with you the method I use to cook my carrots, which I find is slurpy good and I'm sure bugs bunny would agree too.  
Wash and clean the carrots, leave them whole and put them in a bowl.  Add salt and fresh herbs, i.e. parsley, chives, marjoram, sage or any other type you prefer and some extra virgin olive oil.  Mix so that all the carrots are coated and shiny.  Set down a couple of sheets of parchment paper, one on top of the other, and place the seasoned carrots in the middle, add a splash of water or white wine and a couple dollops of butter.  Wrap the carrots with the parchment paper to form something like a package.  It shouldn't be airtight, but puffy and the edges sealed so that the liquid remains inside.  Bake in the oven at 180ºC for 40/45 minutes. Simple is best!  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Roasted Lamb Leg

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I don't know how this recipe dawned on me, I must have saved it in the back of my head from the many magazines, books and blogs I constantly read and accumulate.  I certainly didn't invent something new, nonetheless I did put together a meal that has become one of the best roasted meats I've ever done in my entire life.  The good news is that the oven does most of the work!  To start, you need a good piece of meat and it needs to have some healthy fat on it.  For "healthy" I mean a nice white healthy looking fat.  We all know that fat, especially saturated fat, is not good for you,  but we're talking every once and a while, plus, we don't want a dry roast. We want it juicy and tender.  My philosophy is,  you either eat it right or you don't eat it at all.  For this recipe, I chose a lamb leg, but I'm sure beef, pork or chicken will probably work just as good.

Rub some salt and pepper over the meat and place it directly in a preheated oven at 220°C. As soon as it starts to brown, remove from the oven, drizzle with some olive oil and put it back in the oven, lowering the heat to 200°C.  It will cook in approximately 50 min. to 1 hour,  depending on how big the meat is.  I suggest you use a meat thermometer it takes the guesswork out of cooking.

While the roast it cooking away in the oven, prepare the rosemary grape sauce.  I used a mix of black and green grapes, that's what I had handy and, I must say, it does give a nice chromatic look to the dish, but you don't necessarily need to do the same, especially because there's no change in taste.  Use any kind of grapes, as long as they are sweet and ripe.  In a preheated wide pan, add 3 to 4 tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil, 3 whole garlic cloves, skin on, crushed with the palm of your hand and a couple of rosemary stems. Let the garlic and rosemary sizzle to flavor the oil, for about 1 minute, add a cup and a half of halved grapes.  Make sure you deseed the grapes if you have picky eaters.  If, instead, you are like me, leave the seeds and enjoy the extra crunch.  Toss and swirl the sauce constantly so that flavors mix.  Cook for about 5 minutes.  Now add a cup of grape juice. Cook another 5 minutes and remove from the stove. 

*Make your own grape juice by simply blending grapes. Pour the liquid in a cup through a sieve or cheesecloth so that the seeds and skin remain behind. 

When the meat is done, remove from the oven, let it rest for 5 minutes.  Collect the meat's juice from the pan and add it to the sauce.  Put the sauce back on the stove and cook for a couple of minutes so that flavors blend.  Serve the meat sliced on a platter covered with the rosemary grape sauce, leave some of the sauce on the side for extra serving.

It takes more to explain the recipe than to actually cook the whole meal, but trust me, this recipe is effortless.  You must try!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Celeriac and Potato Soup

If you follow me on instagram you may have noticed some pictures from the train station in Rome.  That's where I end up at least 2 times a day, going and coming from work.  Needless to say, it's the coming from work the part of the day I take that train most willingly. Just to give you an idea, the station in Rome is exactly how you would imagine Dante's inferno, people rushing, running, climbing, sometimes climbing on's all fast pace, noisy, chaotic, everyone seems to have atomized motions, thoughts wander, people are distracted. 

If, in all of this confusion, you take a moment to stop and observe, you will notice some incredible things.... 
Usually my train is never on time, never means completely unreliable...unless I'm late, that's when the train will leave precise on the dot.  It happened to be that I missed my train that day and I had to run across the station to catch another one on the opposite side, which was leaving in 10 minutes.  Another misfortunate in front of me runs to catch his train too and while doing so, something falls out of his pocket...his wallet.  Not too far from the wallet was a bench with a homeless man sleeping.  Next to him, a cart with his entire home stacked and tied up in ropes.  On top of all of that, what would be the roof of his home, was his dog, snoopy style, wide awake and alert.  My pace gets faster towards the wallet, with the intention to give it to the guy who, by now, was far and camouflaged in the middle of the crowd.  I knew that anyone else behind me would have picked up that wallet to keep it or give it back to the owner.  I did something else.  I kicked it to the side of the man sleeping on the bench.  His dog, jumped down from Mount Everest, fetched the wallet and put it in his owner's hands.  At this point, I was walking backwards, the man woke up, opened the wallet, looked at the dog, looked at the wallet, back at the dog...he then made room on the bench and had his dog join him.  The dog wrapped his paw around the owner and they slept some more.  A few days later, I saw that man and dog again, they were both eating some food that seemed to be decent, the man had a good pair of running shoes on his feet.  There was an incredible empathy between them.  I like to believe that, that kick towards their side did some good, even if on the expense of the man who lost his wallet, he must have been really pissed that day, I know I would be, but in Dante's inferno, life can be rough for some.  I think luck should go to those.

The recipe today is humble and simple, actually it's just a matter of boiling 3 ingredients, adding some salt and pepper, a few croutons and some crispy prosciutto bits.  All of this together will give you an excellent creamy soup that rewards in taste and comfort.  Something that requires the least of effort and gives a whole lot of warmth inside. 

for 4 people

4 medium size Potatoes
Celeriac, also called turnip-rooted celery or knob celery
1 garlic clove
1/2 litre water
a pinch of salt
some diced bread to make croutons
some thinly sliced prosciutto (or bacon) 
some fennel leaves for extra flavor
good extra virgin olive oil

In a pot, add cold water, chopped potatoes, chopped celeriac, 1 garlic clove and some salt.  Bring to a boil.  In the meantime, dice some bread, making little cubes, drizzle with some olive oil and place under the grill in the oven until golden brown. Place the thinly sliced prosciutto in a non-stick pan and cook until crispy.

When the vegetables have softened (poke with a fork to check) remove from heat and blend all of the ingredients to form a creamy consistency.  Serve in each bowl, add the croutons, the crispy prosciutto, some pepper and drizzle with olive oil.