Friday, October 16, 2015

Dear Barbara...

che zuppa
Dear Barbara,

The first time I saw your cookbook was that day we went out for lunch together.  Remember?  You handed it over to me with a smile that went from to ear to ear.  Coincidentally, we ordered soup, spoonful after spoonful, I realized that your book, che zuppa, was what I flavored most that moment. Flipping through...burrata cream with peppers and anchovy crumble, spinach and farro broth with veal meatballs, zucchine and seafood soup with pasta grattata, made me want to jump into those pages and taste every single thing.

A few years ago, at a cafe' across the street from where we used to work, I noticed a big ciambellone was put out on the counter that day.  Far from any industrial kind you would expect to find in a common cafe', I knew it was homemade only looking at it. Curious, I ordered a slice to go with my cappuccino, one bite and it was, damn is this good...only years later I found out you made that ciambellone.  Today, while we were having our double cappuccino at another cafe' close to where we now work, in front of me was a beautiful talented woman.  Secure and passionate of what she does yet discrete and humble as she moves forward with success and as the author of a cookbook, that's clean, filled with texture and warmth.

Even if I didn't know this book was yours, I would have recognized it to be so, only by looking at it, just like that damn good ciambellone that day, in that cafe'.

Your friend,
Elvira xxoo
che zuppa
The original recipe calls for diced sweet potatoes,  I varied by using the sweet potatoes to make gnocchi which I then added to the soup.

Zuppa Speziata di Patate Dolci e Cavolo Nero - Spicy Sweet Potato and Kale Soup
adapted from the cookbook Che Zuppa! Pane & Burro

1 onion
2 garlic cloves
1 hot pepper
3/4 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp ground coriander
600 g sweet potatoes
1/2 liter vegetable broth  or chicken broth
400 g peeled tomatoes
230 g kale
extra virgin olive oil

In a pot on medium heat add the onion and garlic finely chopped, as well as 2 tbsps of evo oil and a hot pepper. Simmer until the onion is traslucent..  Add the cumin and coriander.

Add the sweet potatoes that have been previously washed, peeled and diced in the pot. Roughly crush the peeled tomatoes in a bowl with a fork, add to the pot.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  On a low flame, cook for 5 minutes, stir occasionally.

Add the broth, as soon as it reaches a boil let it cook 30 minutes.

Rinse the kale and remove the middle hard stalk.  Cut into stripes and add to the soup, continue to cook the soup for a further 5-6 minutes.

Serve with a light drizzle of evo and fresh ground pepper.

*you can top the soup with roughly crumbled feta cheese

*if you prefer to substitute the sweet diced potatoes with sweet potato gnocchi, click here for a basic gnocchi recipe, simply use sweet potatoes and flour.

Friday, October 9, 2015

a perfect combination of ingredients

If there's a combination of ingredients that go well together, it would be riso, patate e cozze (rice, potatoes and mussels). So well, that the ingredients name the recipe, Tiella Riso, Patate e Cozze. Don't be fooled that it's as simple as that. There's a whole lot of talking behind this recipe, each family has their own way, it can trigger serious discussions, if not, family arguments in which, some can go days without speaking to each other.  I'm not kidding!

Every nonna makes it better than the one next door, reason for which the discussion starts and ends who knows where, who knows when. Some, add an extra ingredient depending on the season, like slices of zucchini, but the lady next door would probably say that's wrong.  The aunt may add mussels without their shell, but her cousin in the apartment two floors down, would criticize that because she adds them with the shell.  Nonna Maria uses the mussels with the shell and opens them raw before she adds her rice, whereas nonna Michela prefers to add them previously cooked with the shell. Some soak their rice in water before adding it to the tin, others think it's not necessary. The tiella itself (baking tin) needs to be of the right kind, some rigorously use the aluminum one, others, the clay cooking pots.

Go figure!

I followed mamma Carolina's recipe on youtube.  With the only difference that I steamed the mussels previously, just enough to open them.  This way, I was able to identify the rotten ones that remained closed so I can toss them away. Mamma Carolina opens them all by hand and puts them in raw before baking. I was afraid of that because I wouldn't have noticed any of the rotten-dead ones if not through the procedure I used above.
patate riso e cozze

I thought it was easier to show you how the tiella is made through mamma Carolina's video.  She explains in Italian but shows you step by step, so it's easy to follow.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

this time of year and grapes

uva fragola
This time of year, in the Roman hilltops, better known as the Castelli Romani, the Sagra del Vino takes place.  It's a three day wine festival that comes during the last stage of grape harvest, in other words, right now! It's a big thing around here and pretty attractive, I mean how many fountains do you see with wine that flows from the tap?! A chaos of people, who've bent the elbow a little too much, tune roman songs as they walk in herds, one holding the other, more for the need to keep each other from falling then that of comradeship.  Warm biscuits and briosche made with wine must are sold off the streets, have you every tried one?  Gosh are they good!  But all of this, is not for me, except for the biscuits and briosche of course. I prefer what can be found just below Marino, where vineyards overlook Rome. It's quiet and fragrant, it smells all so good.  The only tune may come from my radio while I drive along those curvy streets, the car window is rolled down and bit of that misty air mixed with the scent of wine flow in.  My hair goes frizzy, my skin damp and that scent leaves a taste of fermented grapes on my tongue.  All of this makes me feel good as much as it smells good, it's me, just me and what I like best. 
A couple of years ago I asked my dad if he can help me build a tiny vineyard in the garden and for "tiny" I meant tiny (!!!). Four plants are enough, papa' said, and so, four tiny grapevines were planted in the garden the next day.  Last year, we got our first taste of fine grapes.  This year, the grapes multiplied, even quadruplicated to the point that the tiny vineyard has become fructuous, so fructuous, how much could you possibly eat in a day, a week, a month? I realized I had enough when my son saw me coming in from the garden for the umpteenth time with another basket full of grapes and said, Ma' it's time we move on to apple season.

The remaining grapes were gathered and reduced to a simple grape syrup.  A syrup I've used in so many different ways, on pancakes, in porridge and to accompany roasts, like this pork loin roast here. 
roast and concorde grape sauce
uva fragola
Pork Loin Roast
1 kg lean pork loin
pancetta, about 20 thin slices       
fresh herb mix (sage, rosemary, thyme etc.)
extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
1 glass white wine
cooking string

Ask your butcher to butterfly a piece of pork loin.  If you don’t have an option, it’s not difficult to do it yourself.  Start by laying a boneless piece of pork loin on the cutting board.  With a sharp knife, from one end to the other, cut a horizontal incision one inch deep straight down the middle of the roast.  As you cut, pull back the meat.  Return to where you began the incision and cut a light deeper into the meat as you pull back the meat.  Repeat until the loin is flattened out into a rectangular shape.

Finely chop a mix of fresh herbs, I find that sage, rosemary and thyme work well with pork but you can use the herbs you prefer.  Mix the finely chopped herbs with a tbsp. of butter, a pinch of salt and pepper to form a sort of paste.  Season the entire piece of loin with a little salt and pepper and in the exact middle of the meat place the paste of butter and herbs along a horizontal line from one end to the other.  Roll the piece of loin and wrap with thin slices of pancetta.  String the entire roast so that it keeps its shape while cooking.  

In a hot casserole pot for roast, add 2 tbsp. EVO oil. Place the roast in the pot and sear on all sides until golden brown.  Add un glass of good white wine.  Place the lid on the pot and lower the heat.  Allow the roast to cook for about 45 minutes on the stove or in a preheated oven at 190 ºC.

Grape Syrup
1 kg concord grapes
2 tbsp. honey

Pull the grapes from their branches and wash in abundant fresh water. Drain and place in a pot.  Allow the grapes to boil and then lower the heat and reduce to a simmer.  You will notice after about 10 minutes that the skins and seeds will separate from the pulp.  Use a wooden spoon to mix and press the grapes.  Allow to simmer for another 5 minutes.  Remove from the stove and pass the grapes through a sieve, pressing the grapes constantly against the sieve.  Discard the seeds and skins.  Place the grape juice back on the stove and add the honey.  Allow to boil on high heat for about 5/10 minutes so that the juice thickens and becomes a syrup.  Pour the juice in a container and allow to cool.  It stores up to a month in the fridge.

* The syrup diluted in fresh sparkling water becomes a juice.

*When using the syrup for meats, add a little salt.  When using the syrup for drinks add a little sugar or honey to your taste before adding to sparkling water or liquor.