31 March 2012

"Two Greedy Italians eat Italy" ~ a Review


When I was up country (as we say in these parts) I had lunch at Carluccio’s; the menu was tempting, the food very good and I was really enticed by the deli selling all sorts of fascinating stuff.  I didn’t have long to linger, however, as I was with my agent (ahem!) and about to meet up with publishers to discuss the possibility of publishing the book I am writing. 

ASIDE ~ if you would like to think positive thoughts for me in this regard please feel free; there’s still time as I haven’t heard anything yet!

Coincidentally, on my return to Cornwall, among the various delights waiting me was another lovely  book from Quadrille (I thank you); “Two Greedy Italians eat Italy” by Gennaro Contaldo and no other than Antonio Carluccio ~ the very chap who developed the above mentioned Carluccio’s caffè business together with his ex-wife Priscilla Carluccio. 


The book is divided into three main sections dealing with food from the mountains (the Alps including the glacial lakes), from the coast and from the rivers and plains giving a little about the geography of each area as it relates to food and lifestyle. 

 “Comfort Food from the Mountains” deals with warming, rib sticking food.  The first recipe is for Beef & Wine Soup which is good beef broth enhanced with wine, cream and Parmesan and served over buttery fried bread.   This is just the sort of food for someone keen on using up leftovers, as I am, and so is the second recipe in the book for Bread Dumplings in Beef Broth.  As it happens I am making beef stock as I type (see recipe at the end of this post) so will try these recipes soon.  

This section also includes several game recipes, polenta, pizza, chestnuts, potatoes, sausages and cabbage, that sort of thing.  Towards the end Carluccio gives a recipe for Mascapone All’ Amaretto.  As luck would have it there was were a few Amaretti in the cupboard and a little mascarpone in the fridge so it seemed only right that I try it for breakfast.  Sadly I had no Amaretto so I had to compromise with a little brandy but it was still delicious!


“Fresh Flavours from the Coast”, of course, gives many fish and seafood dishes plus some desserts and ices and a particularly enticing recipe for Focaccia di Formaggio.

The third section “The Larder of the River and Plains” concerned the the agricultural area where not only fruit and vegetables are grown but also rice for risotto and wheat for pasta. 

Each of the guys contributes recipes, which are clear and straightforward, and also the occasional note on ingredients.  I have never been to Italy (what a slacker!) but this strikes me as real or realistic Italian food, not restaurant dishes beyond the call of day to day cooking and I am tempted by a great deal of it.  I am also tempted to visit Italy.

If the photos are to be believed Carluccio and Contaldo seem to have had fun compiling this volume and they they remind me a little  of “Last of the Summer Wine” ~ two old friends still playing with life and enjoying themselves together.  


ANOTHER ASIDE ~ does anyone have any idea what’s in Compo’s matchbox?

“Two Greedy Italians eat Italy” by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo is a follow up to their first book “Two Greedy Italians” which accompanied the BBC series of the same name (get the DVD here).  It is to be published by Quadrille Publishing Ltd on the 12th April this year and can be ordered from Amazon here. 

Boneless Beef Stock

If you are prone, as I am, to being left with lots of beef scraps after trimming steaks or preparing meat for casseroles then store every little bit in the freezer till there are enough to make an effort worthwhile – 500g at least. 

~   Defrost all the beef scraps if they are frozen – fat and sinew and gore are all fine for this.
~   Cut a whole onion into quarters, no need to peel it!
~   Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large pan and add the onion and all the beef bits.
~   Cook uncovered over high heat, stirring occasionally, till the beef is well browned and the onions may even have started to char.
~   Pour over enough water to cover generously, bring to a boil, cover, turn down the heat and simmer for ages till you have a rich brown stock.
~   Strain the stock into a clean pan discarding the solids.
~   Add a seriously good glug of red wine (half a bottle even!) and boil till the liquid had reduced by 75% or so.
~   Cool, pour into an airtight container, cover and chill.

This keeps very well in the fridge; as it cools the fat rises to the top and solidifies thus sealing the dish.  It can also be frozen and I suggest freezing in ice cubes as it is strong and you may only need a little at a time.  This not at all classic stock has served me very well; I like to add a spoonful to sautéed mushrooms, to steak pans when deglazing, to creamy sauces, and to anything that could do with a beefy boost, such as my ever popular Peppered Steak Salad.  
  

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23 March 2012

Use Your Own Brain!


The Art Café, West Mersea

I have been visiting my sister and her family on Mersea Island and very much enjoying the wares of The Art Café; Cinnamon Toast (read about my way of doing it plus other yummy toasts here) and gorgeous coffee for breakfast, for instance …


… interesting and delicious lunches and wonderful breads and cheeses, olives, charcuterie,  chutneys, preserves, homemade cheese straws and other baked goods and so on and so forth from their shop next door; The Cake Hole.


Today I had a wander about the island.  The weather has been fantabulous and I had a great time  …


Even the funerals look tempting!


BUT the day was spoiled for me by an irritation so here is a bit of a rant.

Rant!

Many, many years ago when the world was young (around the time of the Jurassic) my sister and I and our then-husbands owned a couple of restaurants where we had some original ideas and put them to good use.  Not amazing ideas, just a few “signature dishes” as they are now called and some different ways to promote our businesses.  A dish that springs to mind is “Cornish Rarebit” which was basically crab or crab pâté on toast topped with cheese and grilled.  No big deal, I know, but we had never seen it before but have been seeing it ever since in many restaurants in that part of Cornwall.  It’s years ago, however, that we had that idea and is no problem at all now although a bit of a pisser at the time.  

The second thing that I frequently see ripped off is our Pauper’s Supper.  I well remember the day we invented this because my then-husband woke me up in the middle of the night to say he had a good idea – why not do a cheap 3 course meal on Wednesday evenings to get the punters in?  So we did, called it Pauper’s Supper and on Wednesdays we were packed to capacity ~ we did 3 sittings plus people sometimes ate in their cars.  Now 25 years later in the general location of our restaurants Pauper’s Suppers are still offered on Wednesdays in several eating establishments.  It’s as if Wednesday and the word “Pauper’s” are the only possibilities.  

Why oh why can’t people use their own brains?  I mention all this because  …

The ­Art Café is a bright and sunny place with pine tables and chairs and outside seating serving lovely freshly made interesting breakfasts and lunches, homemade cakes and excellent coffee.  It is called The Art Café because they also display and sell art on the premises






Very nearby, within sandwich lobbing distance, is a pub called the White Hart which most people will have to pass on their way to the Art Café. 

 They have recently opened a café on the premises called The Hart Café presumably in the hope that people will mistake their café for their intended destination and pop in.  For all I know the Hart Café may sell wonderful food and drinks but however good it is they are obviously inept at using their imagination and I think this does them no favours.  Several people in the area have already, in the few days I have been here, told me how irritated they are by this apparent imitation of an established and popular business. 





Their drawing of a cup of coffee is not dissimilar to the Art Café logo (see photo at the start of this rant for comparison), even the steam squiggles are the same! This is surely not a coincidence, in fact the words “blatant plagiarism” spring to mind.

I don’t think the Art Café are very discombobulated by this at all, maybe they are even a bit flattered, but I am a grumpy middle aged lady and it’s really got up my goat!

Anyhoo, sorry about that - get it off my chest and all that!  I shall be going home in a couple of days and back to writing about leftovers as soon as I have some! 

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14 March 2012

Asparagus “Pesto”, Frazzled Prosciutto and a Sexist Comment


~  Menu  ~

Tagliatelle in Asparagus “Pesto” with Frazzled Prosciutto
Small glass of Red
A Handful of Sugared Pecans
Coffee

Looking in the fridge today, in a hungry mood, I found 6 asparagus spears, 2 slices of prosciutto and the last bit of a piece of Gran Padano. I very nearly scrambled some eggs with the asparagus and ham but inspiration struck, as if often the way.  So this is what I did.
~   I snapped the tips from the asparagus, set them aside and cooked the rest of the stalks in salted water till completely tender.
~   I scooped the cooked asparagus out of the boiling water and added 3 coils of tagliatelle to the water.
~   Whilst the pasta was cooking I did 2 things (yes, you’ve guessed, I’m a woman!) … firstly I puréed the cooked asparagus with a knob of butter and a handful of grated Gran Padano, and secondly I cut the prosciutto into strips and frazzled it in tablespoon of olive oil together with the asparagus tips.
~   I lifted the ham and asparagus out of the frying pan with a slotted spoon and added the residual oil to the asparagus purée.
~   Then, I expect you’ve guessed, I drained the pasta and tossed everything together.

I was very pleased with the result and am thinking of doing a similar thing soon with tenderstem broccoli whilst it’s about. 

For Lunch Pudding I had a handful of sugared pecans, I usually do this with walnuts (see here for recipe) but tried pecans for a change and they are just as good.


Any idea what this is?


Yesterday I had a senior moment, as they say, and instead of pouring hot water into my coffee cup I poured it straight into the jar of instant coffee!   After a ponder I poured off the still dry granules and found this in the jar.



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11 March 2012

7 Ways to Use Leftover Polenta


One of our supermarket bargains this week was a few pieces of oxtail which I braised in red wine and ate with a dish of Polenta of which, being as I am the only person in this house weird enough to eat Polenta, I had a fair bit leftover. No worries – there are so many great things to do with the scraps.

The recipe for polenta, in case you are wondering, can be found here.

Polenta Pizza Base

Whilst still warm spread the polenta out thinly to use as an alternative pizza base.  Top and bake as usual.

Polenta Tart Case

Set aside leftover polenta till cool enough to handle and then with lightly greased hands press the polenta into a loose bottomed tart case pressing against the sides and into corners.  Either bake empty (no need to weight and bake blind as it won’t puff up) then cool and fill or add a chosen filling, brush the edge of the tart case with olive oil and bake in a hot oven till the crust is golden and the filling cooked.   Here’s one made earlier with wine glazed shallot filling.


For the following ways to use up leftover polenta firstly, using a wet spatula, spread the unused polenta in an oiled to about15 mm thick.  Leave till cold and if poss leave a bit longer to allow it to dry out a bit.

Polenta Chips, Croutons and Pretty Shapes

Cut cold polenta into shapes or chips or croutons and coat in flour or dry cornmeal to help form a crispy crust.  Deep fry a few pieces at a time - do not overcrowd the pan, the oil needs to stay good and hot - and when crisp and golden, lift out carefully and drain on kitchen roll whilst frying the rest.  


Crostini, Bruschetta and General Nibbly Things

As above but instead of deep frying brush with olive oil and season and grill OR season and coat in a little dry cornmeal and  shallow fry till crisp and golden.  Sprinkle with sea salt for a crunchy snack or add a delicious topping  and flash under the grill or into a hot oven to heat through. 

Cutting out pretty shapes results in a few odd pieces and trimmings so here’s what to do with them …

Polenta Hash

~   Heat a little olive oil in a shallow pan.
~   Add the polenta and fry till hot with crispy areas.
~   Add anything you like – leftover veg, meat, fish, herbs, spices etc.
~   Continue cooking gently a few minutes more till heating through, crisp and golden.



Polenta Gratin

One of my favourite ways to use up polenta trimmings; toss the bits of pieces of polenta with soft buttery cooked leeks and put in a buttered dish.  Crumble over some blue cheese, sprinkle with breadcrumbs and bake till hot and bubbling.  A glass or red wine is de rigueur here.

Polenta Topping

Scatter bits and pieces of polenta on top of a savoury stew, hotpot or casserole, cover the dish with foil and bake till hot through.  Uncover and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and cheese f suitable, return to the oven till crisp and bubbling.  For a posh do use slices of polenta, cut into pretty pieces and laid slightly overlapping. 

See here for more on polenta including Stuffed Polenta Cakes. 



I have so many ideas for leftovers that I wrote The Leftovers Handbook which has ideas for over 450 possible scraps and remains. Click here and you will taken to a rather fine preview!




What a lovely day it has been here in Cornwall, really springy and the place is rife with primroses.  

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4 March 2012

The Eden Project and Polenta Cake

I went to The Eden Project a couple of days ago with my friend next door, Diane.  Yet another great thing about living in Cornwall is the £5 locals’ annual pass to Eden; what a bargain!

I was eager to visit the tropical (rainforest) biome to see if it was any good for my homesickness but in that respect if was a disappointment; much more humid that Tortola and none of my friends were there!  It was wonderful, nevertheless with lots of interesting stuff to see, not only plants ...


Interesting birds ~ these chaps were wandering about in the tropical biome quite at home, more like visitors than exhibits.  They have strange stubby tails, as you can see, which they wagged in a doggy fashion and were very friendly.  If anyone reading this knows who they are could you please let me know.


Artworks ...


Advice ...


... and  Strange comfy seating.


After an hour or two in the rainforest we retired to the dining area which was also interesting not least because it is run on an honesty system.  You eat what you like and then tell the people at the till what you had!  I hope it works for them.
  

Diane and I both had a slice of Orange and Ginger Cake which I immediately identified as a polenta cake. 


It was utterly yummy although Diane felt it should have been gingerier, apparently this is a word – I originally put more gingery but my spell check wanted gingerier.  She suggested that I come up with a recipe or things might go badly for me.   So here it is, it’s basically a recipe from the Beeb but I’ve added ginger and a pinch of salt and glazed with hot glaze when hot as opposed to cold glaze when cold as their recipe says.

Orange & Ginger Polenta Cake
  
250g butter at room temperature; soft but not runny
250g sugar + another 100g
4 eggs
140g fine polenta
200g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
finely grated zest and juice 2 oranges (divide the juice in 100ml and whatever is left!)
2 knobs of ginger from the jar – coarsely chopped (or finely if you prefer)

~   Preheat the oven to 325°F/160ºC/140ºC fan/gas 3.
~   Grease a cake pan – I used a 23cm springform.
~   Mix together all the dry ingredients.
~   Cream together the butter and 250g sugar till pale and fluffy.
~   Beat in the eggs one at a time, if the mixture looks a but curdled add a spoonful of the dry ingredients.
~   Once the eggs are incorporated add the dry ingredients and mix in.
~   When the dry ingredients are all mixed in add the orange zest, the chopped ginger and any orange juice in excess of 100ml
~   Decant into the prepared cake pan, level the top and bake for 45-50 minutes till risen and cooked.  (I have a confession to make here – mine really sunk in the middle which may be because I had the oven on the wrong number 130ºC instead of 140ºC.  Nevertheless it tastes great).
~   Whilst the cake is cooking stir together the remaining 100g of sugar and 100ml or orange juice in a small pan over a medium heat till the sugar has dissolved or melted or whatever it does in this situation.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 3 or 4 minutes.
~   Turn the cooked cake out onto a rack and stand the rack over a large dish.
~   Drizzle the hot syrup over the cake which, being warm, should absorb it but excess will be caught in the dish and can be licked up when no-one is looking.
~   Cool and serve with clotted cream if possible.

The Heather flowering on the way out of Eden was gobsmacking.



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