Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas is not Christmas without fritti alla romana

Fritti Romani
In Rome, the tradition is that on Christmas Eve almost every family makes a big batch of Fritti alla Romana. It's a combination of fried vegetables, baccalà (salted codfish) and sliced apples, dipped in a simple batter and fried. This can't be done if not at the last minute. It should be served hot, crisp and fragrant because nothing is worse than waiting a whole year for soggy-oily-oven-heated-fried-food!

Nonno Giulio was the one in charge for the fritti. You wouldn't find him in the kitchen any other time of the year if not sitting at the table, but on Christmas Eve, he knew exactly how to move around like he'd been at it everyday. I can still see the image of this big man walking into the kitchen whistling as he set up his spot in front of the stove. All his women would gather round, wife, daughters, my sister and I, watching as he added the quanto basta of flour and water for the batter. He'd whisk and whisk and check the watch on his wrist. Then went a drop of batter in the hot oil to check if it was time to start. From there, each movement was mechanical, dip and drop and turn and drain. Golden brown, crunchy and perfect, yes, it was all just perfect and not just the food but the whole warmth coming from that kitchen when we were all there, together, tied to one another.

Time has flown by since then, but I don't think there's been one year, in my entire life, that our family ever skipped this tradition on Christmas. It just wouldn't be the same if we did. So here's how we make our Fritti alla Romana.
Fritti alla Romana
Fritti Romani

Plain white flour
sparkling mineral water, cold from the fridge

1 small romanesco
2 artichokes, sliced 1 cm thin
1 potato, sliced thin
1small piece baccala' fillet, divided in small pieces
1 apple, sliced in rounds 1 cm thick

1 litre organic peanut oil, for frying

salt to season
cinnamon and sugar for the apples

In a large bowl add the flour and cold water in equal portions, a little at a time. Add some more water until the batter become smooth, not too liquid but also not too thick.  Add a couple of pinches of salt. Test the right consistency by diipping a fork in the batter. As you pull the fork up from the liquid it shouldn't stick, yet the texture should be thick enough to refrain from falling off quickly like water.

Set the batter in the fridge to rest as you prepare the vegetables.  Rinse and clean the vegetables. You can preboil the romanesco for a softer texture or leave it raw but make smaller portions.  Clean the artichoke and slice thinly, rub with half a lemon so it doesn't oxidate avoid it to turn brown.  Peel the potato and slice in thin rounds, possibly using a mandolin, rinse under cold water and dry with a cloth.  Portion the baccalà in small rectangular shapes.  Peel and slice the apple in rounds, 1 cm thick, rub with half a lemon so it doesn't oxidate.

Preheat a pan, large enough to contain 1 litre of frying oil.  Test if the oil is ready by dropping a small amount of the batter in the centre of the pan.  It's ready when small bubbles surround the mass, soon after it will float to the surface.

Begin to fry and serve hot or warm (but not cold nor warmed up).  Sorry, but it wouldn't be the same.
Dust the vegetables with salt and dust the apples with cinnamon and sugar. Fritti alla Romana

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

still wondering what to cook for Christmas?

Squid Ink Fettuccine with Octopus Ragu and Squash
Minus 3 days to Christmas!  Nothing can be more last minute than these squid ink fettuccine with octopus ragù and diced squash. Last minute intended as thought and made today for lunch.  So if you're still thinking of something to make for Christmas, here's an idea that will solve it all.  It's perfect on Christmas Eve if you follow the meatless tradition and even if you don't.

Stay tuned, more is coming up. Squid Ink Fettuccine with Octopus Ragu and Squash
Squid Ink Fettuccine with Octopus Ragù and Diced Squash
Serves approx 4 people

Squid Ink Dough 
480 g hard durum flour
cold water
16 g squid ink

Add the squid ink to 125 ml of cold water, mix well.  Make a well with the flour and pour the squid ink water in the centre.  Start mixing the flour and water, add more clear cold water as needed.  Knead the dough at least 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.  Wrap with plastic film and set aside for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, roll out the pasta and allow to air dry.  Dust the sheet of pasta with semolina flour.  Roll up the dough and with a sharp knife slice vertical strips.  Unfold the strips and let the fettuccine dry on a dusted tray.

Octopus Ragù
600-700 g circa, fresh octopus
1 carrot
1 small onion
1 celery stick
300 g circa, butternut squash, diced
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 glass of white wine
1/2 glass of water

Rinse the octopus under cold running water. Remove the eyes, beak and any innards.  Thoroughly rinse and scrub the tentacles with rock salt.  Use a sharp knife to finely chop the octopus.  In a preheated pan add 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, the finely chopped carrot, onion and celery and octopus.  Stir with a wooden spoon so that all flavours absorb with one another.  Add half a glass of water and leave to simmer.  When the water evaporates add half a glass of white wine.  Allow the wine to evaporate. Season with salt to taste. Remove from heat and set aside.

In another pan, add the 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil and the diced squash.  Allow the diced squash to brown lightly on all sides.

In a big pot of boiling water, add a handful of rock salt and the squid ink fettuccine.  The pasta is ready when it floats to surface and the boil regains. Drain the pasta, add to the pan containing the octopus ragù.  Add the cooked squash and serve.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

wondering what to cook for Christmas?

This stuffed pasta reminds me so much of an ornament that I had to hold myself from not hanging a few on the Christmas tree but I did decide to add them to our Christmas menu, which, in a way or another, settles the urge.

Stuffed with a mixture of potatoes, fresh mint and pecorino cheese, these tasty-good-looking ravioli from Sardinia are called culurgiones. The decorative closure is less intimidating as it may seem, all you need is a good dose of patience to find the right stitch and pinch gesture.  Once you make a few you'll get a hang of it and before you know it, your kitchen will turn into a culurgiones factory!

Hope this finds room on your Christmas table as well.
Culurgiones with Simple Tomato Sauce

Pasta dough
120 gr durum flour
80 gr plain flour
warm water
a pinch of salt

2 big potatoes
50 gr aged pecorino cheese, grated
50 gr fresh pecorino cheese, grated
8 leaves of "fresh" mint
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or grated
pinch of salt
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

tomato puree
1 small onion, finely chopped or sliced
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
pinch of salt

Boil the potatoes, peel and pass them through a potato masher.

To make the dough, mix both flours in a bowl and a pinch of salt.  Add the warm water a little at a time until the dough is formed.  Knead until smooth and elastic.  Let it rest for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile make the filling by adding all ingredients in a bowl, mashed potatoes, fresh mint, both pecorino cheese, a pinch of salt, extra virgin olive oil and the garlic.  First mix with a spoon and then with your hands to get all the ingredients together.  It would be best to make the filling the day before so that the flavor have time to absorb.

Make the sauce.  In a preheated pan add a the extra virgin olive oil and the onion.  When the onion is translucent add the pureed tomato sauce and a pinch of salt to season.  Let it simmer the 20 minutes.
Roll out the pasta dough and use a glass to make round disks (approx. 6 cm diameter).  Fill each disk with the filling and follow the video below for the closure.

Cook in a large pot of salted boiling water for about 3/4 minutes or until the culurgiones float on the surface.  Drain and serve with the fresh tomato sauce and some more pecorino cheese.