(my)baby(and her)food pt.2

my beautiful baby

Isabella is 16 months old now and the war against a junk food future is raging on.

It might be a hopeless fight - unless aggressive advertising of junk food aimed at preteens is banned - but I can count on some strong allies:

1. My mom's minestrone. During a holiday in Italy we gave Isabella a bit of the minestrone we were eating to try and taste: next thing we know she is devouring an adult size portion of the thing with such gusto that we dubbed it "magic potion" on the spot. I made a few modifications of my own to the recipe and now the result is even better (yeah, you guessed it: my mom doesn't read my blog. I will keep on writing it in english just in case...).

2.Pasta but above all pastina. Pastina, is pasta in tiny little shapes and it is the quintessentially italian babies' food. Simmer it in stock with finely chopped courgettes or carrots or broccoli or just on its own. Pour it in a plate and stir in bits of soft cheese. Stand back and rejoice at the view of your little one wolfing it down only stopping to say "gnam gnam".

3. Couscous, which is basically pasta in another shape and even quicker to prepare and easy to mix with absolutely everything.

4. Roast chicken: i always try to give her the breast and keep the brown juicy bits for me but then paternal instict kicks in and i give up.

5. Fish: mackerel , bream, skate... bring them on!

6. Apples -good to eat - and bananas - great to splatter all over the face.


a cupboard with the world in it

a wonderful day

have you ever been in a tiny lift in the company of a huge pot of *very* hot vegetable stock?
well, i have, and if the stock in question is conjured up by fusion maestro peter gordon it is quite an experience. not that i can tell you what was in it, peter was darting around the kitchen picking a sprig of this, a few dashes of that and tossing the lot in the aforementioned pot. half alchemist, half speedy gonzales.
peter really keeps the world in his cupboard, it' his idea after all, and fridge and most of that world i tasted in a rice made in the garden with the help of that wonderful stock, a giant paellera and two hours of unexpected sunshine.

in the meantime sri owen was preparing plantain and prawn fritters, some other nibble and a majestic thai beef salad.
which i sliced.
with dubious skill.
while copiously sweating (as per bottom right picture).
i was nervous after all: i was sharing a kitchen with the guy who single handedly brought fusion cooking (yes horrible crimes have been committed by lesser chefs in the name of fusion cooking but let me tell you, peter is a genius) to the english shores and the first lady of asian cooking.
and i'm just.. you know who i am, you've been reading my blog...

after all that sweating, the feast. we had to go back to peter's apartment as the british summer reared its ugly head once again.
it really rained hard when we were enjoying our feast.
but after the rain came an amazing rainbow.
and sri owen's dangerously good black rice ice cream with peter's coconut biscuits.
and a rare vodka from new zealand.

to cap it all up, later on that night my dear friend manuel from italian band afterhours played at the scala with greg dulli's twilight singers. but this is another story which belongs to my previous life.

ps: many thanks to the kind lisa barber for taking and donating those pictures and for making me look quite dishy...

pps: a full report of the day will appear soon in the sunday supplement of the independent


good news day

in no particualr order:
1.repubblica reports of a new italian law inspired by the green party and unexplicably approved by a parliament usually too busy keeping mr berlusconi rich and out of jail to do anything good..
it will require olive oil "producers" like our friend bertolli to clearly state on the label the origin of the goods they pack and resell, thus preventing them to call "italian" what it is actually imported from albania (fact). the same applies to tomato passata: a third of what is packaged by big brands, you will be glad to know, is produced by adding water to a concentrate paste imported from china.
2. the new president of sardinia's regional council renato soru has blocked with immediate effect all building developments on the island's coastline. at last!
3. isabella walked the whole of eight consecutive steps: she wobbles like a drunken frankestein but still she manages to be the most beautiful thing in the world.


a study on the weird eating and drinking habits of the indigenous populations of the british islands. pt1: would you like a cup of tea?

for quite some time now i've been observing the weird and not-so-fascinating eating and drinking habits of the indigenous populations of this island i found myself stranded on.
i've finally decided to report them for the benefit and the amusement of the populations of the civilized world.

it seems very appropriate to begin with tea.

the relationship between the natives and tea is fascinating indeed. whatever the circumstances you can be assured that you can tame any member of the indigenous population by pronouncing these simple words:
"would you like a cup of tea?"
whatever the occasion, the day, the hour, the season the native will answer in the following fashion:
1.his/hers eyes will brighten up
2.he/she will say the words "mmmhhh... i would *love*one"
3.he/she will look at you with loving anticipation as if they are puppets and you the master.
(you must be then ready to serve the cup of tea. the consequences of not fulfilling your promise are too horrible to be mentioned in this blog).

the first time you are confronted with such behaviour you will think that for some obscure reason the poor creature had been left starving for tea for weeks.
it is quite possible - or better, it is very likely - though, that the native in question had its latest cup only a couple of hours before. (two hours is apparently the longest the british can be left without tea of any denomination without developing serious withdrawal symptoms of which the most severe are a ridiculous love of monarchy and the unexplicable appreciation for tim henman).

what are the rules for the preparation of the holy beverage, you might want to know?
the natives have refined the art of drinking tea to its lowest possible level.
to prepare the perfect "cuppa" you will drive to the supermarket, buy teabags filled with something-that-resembles-and-once-might-even-have-been tea in bulk. once back home you will toss one of the aforementioned bags into a cup and cover with scalding water. remove the bag after ten seconds and throw away, even if there's enough almost-tea left to feed a family of four for a week.
drink as soon as you can avoid branding your lips with the side of the cup, or better, watch a native drinking from its cup as it was the fountain of youth.
you will know the native has finished the drink when you hear the words:
"oh, that was a *lovely* cup of tea".
mind you, the phrase has no relation to your tea making skills: you will never know if your tea tastes like recycled mouthwash, the natives are too polite to tell you.

if you are bored, wait a couple of hours and start all over again.


guess who's coming to dinner

i have nothing against salmons.

some of my best friends are salmons (even if, i must admit, i wouldn't like my daughter to marry one).
still, i eat a lot of fish and write about it many times but i never had salmon for dinner.

well, while farmed salmon is cheap, it is heavily coloured with the happily named canthaxanthin not to mention that its farming is an heavily polluting business, with dreadful consequences...
therefore, at home i rarely eat salmon, because wild salmon is as expensive as it is rare to find and when i cook for my clients i make a point to let them try some of the delicious fish that comes daily practically on their doorstep: mackerel, gurnard, squid, skate, huss, red mullet, breams...

a few days ago i managed to find some organically farmed salmon which i thought to be a good compromise, because that was exactly what i wanted to think.
thanks to my easily fooled conscience i bought it.

to prepare it a took inspiration from a couple of rick stein's recipes twisted an turned them, added a bit here, took out a bit there and came up with my own poached salmon with shallots and sze-chuan pepper. the recipe goes like this:
poach some salmon in a lot of olive oil flavoured with bay leaves, szechuan peppercorns and thinly sliced shallots for 30 minutes in an oven at very low temperature.

drain and eat for dinner.


the great italian oil swindle: an update

these are the not so quintessentially italian owners of the bertolli brand...

and this is an interesting piece of information from the states

"In 1998, the New York law firm Rabin and Peckel, LLP, took on the olive oil labeling misnomer and filed a class action suit in the New York Supreme Court against Unilever, the English-Dutch manufacturer of Bertolli olive oil. The firm argued that Bertolli’s labels, which read “Imported from Italy,” did not meet full disclosure laws because, even though the oil had passed through Italian ports, most of it had originated in Tunisia, Turkey, Spain or Greece. “Bertolli olive oil is imported from Italy, but contains no measurable quantity of Italian oil,” according to court documents".

and remember, the same applies to every single "italian" big brand.

buon appetito?



i actually drank them

pictured above -resting on the table of the sun terrace of the secluded villa on the ligurian coast where we were lucky guest earlier last june- is the most exciting display of italian wines you will ever see.

praise and thanks go to my dear friend stephen, refined australian gentleman (well that is an oximoron if i've ever seen one) living in florence with lovely marina and recently arrived baby raphael eliodoro.
stephen is my wine sherpa. for more than a decade now, he has been guiding me with skill and passion through the highest imaginable peaks of taste... and he even foots the bill!!
he has been discovering, buying and offering me wines that would soon be elevated to the top of any league.

but this selection which he showed me on my arrival just left me speechless.
from left to right:

- the now legendary solaia 1997: the best wine of the best modern vintage in tuscany and wine spectator's wine of the year 1999. not cheap but affordable when stephen bought it: just on release, before the rave reviews. now it retails, if you can find it, at no less than £300 (it's not a typo..). i had already drank a few solaias in my previous life in italy, when wine prices were much lower and my wages much higher. i can recall exactly when and where such remarkable experiences they were, but i won't bore you with the details;
- cepparello 1997, the second best wine of the best modern vintage in tuscany;
- an incredibly rare and movingly wonderful sauvignon 1996 by the reclusive maverick genius of miani's Enzo Pontoni. his wine are produced in very limited quantities and are extremely difficult to find, and the few dealer that stock them only sell them to the inner circle of their best clients. a few years ago i managed to buy four bottles of tocai and sauvignon at venice's aciugheta only because i was with stephen... being able to drink another bottle of miani's wine was an unexpected surprise and a great privilege. a bottle that conjured up old fond memories and managed to create plenty of new ones;
- sassicaia 1995 in recent years sassicaia has been affected by the ferrari plague: ferraris are great cars, but each time you see one in the street, you are almost certain that the driver is a pretentious fart wishing to show off his wealth in a loud and slightly vulgar way. or a footballer. or jamiroquai.
so, even if sassicaia has become the kind of wine which is ordered in fashionable restaurants by would-be ferrari drivers it is still an absolute gem of a wine. my canny sherpa bought it when it was much much cheaper and we enjoyed every single drop.
- antinori secentenario was bottled in mgnums on the 14th of may 1985 to celebrate the 600th birthday of the family's winemaking activity. six hundred years make some know how. the wine we drank on the 8th of june 2004 was perfect.

pictured above is the most exciting display of italian wines you will ever see.
i can't believe i drank them all.


a public utility post

last sunday the monthly food magazine that comes with the observer was completely dedicated to italian food.

i will forgive the fact that it used all those worn out clichés you can expect in these occasions: mafia jokes? check
happy families around table? check
pictures of smiling old peasants? check
tuscan villas? check
"insert_name_of_region" the new tuscany? check
etc..? check

i will forgive the fact that the food of northern italy was completely ignored. there's no way you can paint a complete picture of italian food by ignoring the wealth of flavours and wines that come from piedmont in general and the langhe in particular.
no way.

i will forgive all of the above because nowadays i'm older and wiser and more tolerant.
*much* more tolerant.

what i will not forgive though is that the whole of the issue was sponsored by bertolli, which presents its oil as the quintessentially italian product of a quintessentially italian family run producer of centuries old tradition.

the present owners bought the bertolli *brand* in 1994 from the holding company which owned it. just the brand. not the production plants. not the family estate because it never existed in the first place.

moreover, bertolli only packs and resells oil it buys from various sources: not less than 80% comes from spain, greece, turkey, tunisia ( all the big "italian" brands out there - berio, carapelli, carli, sasso etc.. - do the same).

it's not a scam, it is perfectly legal and perfectly detectable: check the bottle and you will see that it only says "packed in italy".

so, next time you want to buy extra virgin olive oil steer clear from the big itaian brands: they just add a premium on the greek oil you find on the same shelf at a cheaper price.


the catch of a day

i'm beginning to think that blog is a contraction for backlog...

i just can't keep up with everything. i cook,i eat, i take pictures, (not necessarily in this order). the photos are then left to gather digital dust: not much time for choosing, editing, writing etc..

it was with a huge sigh of relief that i welcomed wena's nominating "the catch of the day" as the theme for this month's is my blog burning? day.

what a wonderful chance to indulge in some fresh fish while at the same time get to use up some stale old photos, i thought.
then i changed my mind.

this post will therefore describe the fishiest parts of a meal prepared last saturday with the catch of that day. we were on holiday in italy, guests of the very wonderful marina & stephen (via marina's sister francesca and her husband antonio who actually owns the place) in an heavenly house overlooking the golfo dei poeti.

the italians amongst you will have immediately recognized the alien blob pictured above for what it truly is: moscardini!

a moscardino is a baby octopus, usually no longer than ten centimetres. tentacles and all.
what i bought that morning from the fish market in lerici were a sort of teenager octopi (?): not fully grown but still half a kilo each. i had to feed 10 hungry italians so i bought a few.
they went in a shallow pan with water, garlic, herbs, tomatoes, celery, carrots. all cold.
the pan was covered with a lid and left to simmer for almost two hours which is a bit longer than needed.
(i wanted to play it safe: the previous day i had a bad experience with a reckless fisherman and a fully grown octopus: "cook it for twenty minutes" he said. "twenty minutes???" i said "twenty minutes!" he said.
i cooked it for twenty minutes.
it was so hard that i threw it on the rocks below where it bounced and bounced and bounced and bounced ...)
the moscardini were oh so tender, with a flavour to match.

triglie in the garden below the house and above the rocks where the octopus is still bouncing, there are a couple of lemon trees.
a previous experiment during a previous holiday proved that the usually neglected lemon leaves make a perfect complement for a delicate fish such as red mullet.
the typical mediterranean red mullet is a tiny, delicious fish, much smaller than the equally delicious version i can find here. i bought 1.5 kilos of red mullets and went back home with 40 plus little fishes, mercifully cleaned by the the fishmonger.
my original idea was to fill the cavity of the fish with rosemary and garlic and wrap it in a leaf frm the lemon tree. i did it before and it worked wonders. this time there were so many fishes and so little time. i took an oven tray, covered it in foil. i laid a layer of lemon leaves. the fish went on top, sprinkled with chopped rosemary and garlic. more leaves, more foil to seal, oven.
10 minutes are enough.
the smells of lemon, sea, garlic and rosemary are the essence of this dish.
i filled my lungs and i tucked in.


the flying italian vs ricotta woman

"two starters ready for table two, quick!"

early into the debut night of the flying italian i actually said those words.
that's when it hit me hard.
i was doing it!

matthew, official photographer for the brighton festival and la cena, runs up and down the stairs to bring orders and take plates. max, mac evangelist and it technician runs around the kitchen trying to make sense of what i'm telling him.

i run around the kitchen trying not to look like an headless chicken on panic.

the first guest arrive. the first plates go upstairs.
more guests. more plates.

the plates come back empty.
everything runs smoothly.

"any comments matthew?"
"yeah, everybody says food is great..."
"but woman at table 7 says it is edible"
oh well, i'm all up for some constructive criticism, i'll check that table later.

later on i go upstairs.
all plates are empty. good sign. my maternal (??) side rejoices.
there's a table where nobody had any cake.
my maternal side shrieks in disbelief.

i approach the table.
one of the ladies asks:
"so what is it that you teach in your cook group??"
i explain while the lady looks aloof and dismissive. then, full of drunken contempt, she says
"i can teach *you* how to make a cheese cake without making it curdle..."
"yes. this cake is curdled. you know, it tastes of whey!"
"...errr madam this is a ricotta cake and ricotta is just pure whey..."
"isn't this mascarpone??"
"please look at this menu: it says *ricotta*. by the way, you might be interested to know that one of the things i teach is how to tell ricotta from mascarpone.."

almost everybody left happy and tipped generously.

ricotta woman and her lady friends' bill was £57.50. they paid with £58.00 and asked for their 50p change.


shameless self promotion pt.2

the first night of "the flying italian", is *SOLD OUT* (and there's even a waiting list!!!!)




the world in a bowl of rice

a rice salad
today is a glorious day. springtime at its best: blue sky, warm sun, fresh air...
and yes, i still leave in brighton, england, where i hope global warming will bring me soon the beach lifestyle i always longed for but somehow failed to achieve so far. northern italy and southern england are not the best places for that.
so, from the depths of my heart a big shout out to my mate El Nino.

today is also "is my blog burning" day, a day of around the world cooking, from alberto's original idea and hosted this month by globe trotting pim, whose mouth watering thai feasts haunt my culinary dreams.

the theme is "around the world in a bowl of rice".

i am happy with the theme, i like rice. rice is an important staple in the diet of anybody growing up in northern italy: italy is europe's main producer of rice and most of it comes from lombardy, where i am from. lombardy's capital, milan, is the home of risotto.

a risotto recipe would have been a natural choice but today is a glorious summery day which calls for something fresh. the idea of spending part of it in front of simmering pots of stock and risotto just doesn't fit.

what does fit to perfection is a nice refreshing huge bowl of insalata di riso aka rice salad.
one of my favourite dishes ever for its ever changing array of flavours and textures.
there is no recipe, of course. i've never made two identical rice salads because it's a dish that takes advantage of the best of what you have in the cupboard and in the fridge.
there are a few important tips, though:
- use only italian rice varieties as a plump glutinous grain is paramount to the flavour and texture of the salad;
- cook the rice like you would cook pasta, in lots of salted boiling water until al dente and no further;
- as soon as you drain it, rinse it thoroughly under running cold water to stop the cooking process;
- add all the ingredients that you fancy and leave it to rest as long as possible;
- make enough to spare for the following day: a day old rice salad is even better.

in honour of the theme of the day i put the world in my bowl of rice:
greek cheese, italian olives, english pickled onions, thai sweet basil, spanish tinned tuna, sicilian capers plus boiled eggs, fresh peppers, fresh courgettes, more cheese and so on (and on and on)...
a final word of advice: whatever you do, do *not* spoil the intricate and fascinating imbalance of flavours by further dressing your salad with large blobs of mayonnaise.

i do it and i will go to hell for it.


shameless self promotion

shameless self promotion!!

when i turned f**ty, i found myself in walthamstow -of all places! - in a nice little italian restaurant with a greek owner and an english cook. i think it was called "la ruga" or something similar.
the meal was surprisingly good, the guy was very chatty and liked my complimenting his wine list, small but perfectly formed.
when he knew what i was doing he gave me an idea: "why don't you rent out a small café and have your own restaurant for a night?".
"nice idea", i replied. " i will definetely think about it".
and about it i thought, for two years and a bit.

now i am doing it!
i have rented a small café and on the 29th of may i will have my restaurant for a night!
i've called it the flying italian: blink and it's gone.
two set menus to give consistent quality and to minimize the panic.

it has occurred to me though, that maybe some geographically close readers might be interested in giving it a try: if you do, drop me a mail. i offer no discounts (ehi, the price is *low*!) but a priority on booking.

some people (ie:me) have no shame.


rabbit cravings

this is not rabbit
when i was a kid and they took me to visit my aunts in the country, one of the first things i did once there was to rush and check out the rabbits' cage.
i was not interested in playing with them, cuddling or whatever... i just wanted to make sure they were growing big and fat.
and big and fat they were!
not much to do apart from munching on salad and leftover vegetables and the occasional burst of reproductive frenzy.

i fed them some more, just in case.

those rabbits were destined to become the main ingredient of some of my most delicious childhood memories. my aunts used to make the definitive comfort food. rabbit casserole with porcini mushrooms served with steamy scalding polenta cooked in a copper pot on the fireplace.

oh to be that young and happy again...

in warmer months they would roast the rabbit with white wine with just a simple green salad on the side. those rabbits had lots of fat so they stayed moist and tender even when roasted. and the smells, have i mentioned them yet?? those smells would sneak out of the kitchen and reach us in the garden where we would stop playing straight away and start fighting for the best seat at the table.

oh to be that young and foolish again...

later on, on a trip to tuscany with a girlfriend i discovered -amongst other things- the heavenly delights of rabbit with olives and coniglio in porchetta ie: rabbit stuffed with a magical concoction of wild fennel, garlic, black pepper, rosemary and god knows what else then roasted to pink perfection..

oh to be that... --ooh SHUT up!

when i moved to the UK i was therefore quite shocked to learn that here rabbits are pets. or pests.
animals to be either cuddled or shot at.
on one hand you cannot eat them because you would make little girls cry, on the other you won't eat them because they are too lean and too gamey.

no wonder i have rabbit cravings. sometimes *serious* rabbit cravings.
my solution to those is fake rabbit with olives.
i take some tasty and safe chicken thighs and take the bone out.
in a frying pan i heat some good olive oil with garlic and mixed olives, destoned and lightly crushed. i like to use those wonderful marinated olives you find in arab shops, especially those with herbs and chili. i cook the chicken skin side down until the skin is crisp then turn it to cook and brown the meat.
when ready i pour the lot including all the juices on to a bed of home made hummous.
would my aunts approve?
I don't know but it sort of reminds me of rabbit and its delicious on its own merits.
the cravings are sorted.

until next time.


a straightforward recipe, for once

smelled real good!

take a large violet pearl aubergine, slice it, fry the slices in hot olive oil, lay them on a tray, cover them in tomato sauce, top with mozzarella, bake in the oven, sprinkle with basil.

this is so easy

roast the leeks in the oven, score them lenghtwise, fill the opening with sweet gorgonzola, put back in the oven for a couple of minutes.

eat several helpings of both.


a short story

a nice plateful of shellfish

this is a nice plateful of clams, cockles and mussels I said to zoe, joe and ange.

and after

...and fifteen minutes later, that's all that was left.

the end.


who needs the sun?

a few days ago the sun shone bright and warm(ish) over brighton.
if we are lucky springtime might actually come sometime soon, i thought.
among many other more meaningful things it made me realize i do not have much time to talk about one of my favourite winter comfort foods.

(yes, i was actually leisurely pushing my little girl's pram on the seafront and worrying about this blog. ten out of ten for dedication!)

there's no lack of winter comfort foods where i am from, a small town on a lake close to the swiss border, with an average of 250 rainy days per year and ball freezing cold winters aplenty.
my mom is from the northof italy too, from a region where rice is grown extensively and october fogs last until february.

that's how mediterranean i am. there's no olive oil in my childhood memories.

my mom cooked with butter, sunflower oil, cream - not at same time, mind you, i wouldn't be here to tell the tale - and one of her signature dishes is maiale al latte o pork cooked in milk and cream.

a nice piece of roasting pork is browned in butter (note to british readers: remove all skin first) then covered in cream an milk and left to braise for one and a half hours or until you see it's going to break under a slight pressure of a fork. you want it to be *tender*.

when its ready i slice the meat and transfer the lot in a roasting tin with some porcini mushrooms and boiled potatoes. the tin goes under the grill to give the lot a slightly charred edge.

serve on its own and eat all snuggled up in warm clothes with someone you love and a glass of a nice ruby red wine of medium body (nebbiolo, grignolino).

who needs the sun?


can cook, won't cook

mackerel fennel

to my knowledge there are two situations in life in which some people feel authorized to brag about their ignorance and wear it on their sleeve like a badge of honour.

the first is computers: phrases like "me? i don't even know how to switch the bloody thing on" or "e -mail? I couldn't send one to save my life" are usually delivered with a self satisfied grin and a certain disdain.

even worse though, is the fierce pride with which some people declaim that they "can't cook, won't cook". these people will usually eat junk straight from a dodgy tv ad via a microwave, spend fortunes on take aways and restaurants and end up fattening up their arteries first, and the atkins empire's vaults later.

it defies me: after all it takes some training to use a computer but cooking is more than anything, a state of mind, an attitude. what does it take to make a good healthy meal? at a certain level, nothing. and i have the proof.

a few nights ago i was feeling tired and lazy. blessed as i was with a pause in child caring duties and two episodes of the simpsons in a row i still needed to feed my lovely partner and myself.
as it often happens i had some fresh mackerel and fennels.
i wrapped the mackerel in foil with: no herbs, no spices, no condiments., no oil, no lemon.
i chopped up the fennel.
did i add oil and herbs?
couldn't be bothered.

stuffed the lot in the oven.

nailed myself on the sofa until the first ad break of the second episode.
the fish was perfectly cooked, its fats good enough to keeep the flesh tender and moist, its freshness more than enough to provide a wonderful flavour.
and fennel was just slightly charred, which only added to its charm.

a meal worth of the great homer himself.



my first memory of Anna is a phone call from Zoe from barcelona.
earlier that day, nine years ago, an italian woman was browsing through her shop. they started to chat, she was from milan, she worked in the music business, she knew who i was. Zoe was impressed by that woman, so different from all the other italians she had happened to meet thus far. Anna was lively, bright, friendly..

even when i moved to brighton Anna used to call quite often, mostly by mistake: my number was the first in her mobile phone and she always forgot to lock the keypad. i found myself projected inside her handbag, trying to overhear a conversation which was none of my business or just listening to the background noises of a city far away in time and space.
once, though, the noises were those of a band playing on one of the biggest stages in milan: Anna was calling to tell me that that would have never happened without me.
maybe not true but certainly appreciated.

my last memory of Anna... well i'm trying hard to forget THAT. it just wasn't her.

i don't believe in any kind of after life. still, there's the chance i might be wrong (ehi, it has happened before) therefore i am comforted by the thought that, wherever she might be now, she's already telling the boss off.



is my blog burning? - the day-after tartine

the day after tartinei had different plans for clotilde's tartine edition of "is my blog burning?" cooking day.
i had planned the most delicious tartine i could dream of. i even gave it a name, "the three steps to heaven" in recognition of its heavenly taste and its extreme simplicity.
unexpectedly, my usual dealer had run out of the main ingredient, and by no means i would use a lesser quality version, even if in a photo it may have looked the same.
hey, this blog has ethics.
"yeah, whatever.. just tell us what the ingredient is"
well, stay tuned and the three steps to heaven will eventually be posted.
(hint: the ingredient *stinks*).

after all the tartine i came up with is in the true spirit of this blog. instead of being carefully planned and prepared it was rustled up using some left overs from the previous day's supper.

the previous day, last tuesday, i had bought two beautiful, beautiful shoulders of local salt marsh lamb. one went straight into the oven where it slowly cooked for five hours until melt-in-your-mouth-ly tender.
fantastic. a simple fresh green salad on the side to cut through the greasiness of the shoulder's meat and a truly scrumptious dinner was served.
and a lot of leftovers to boot.

lamb leftovers are great for day-after sandwiches or ground to make a quick ragù for some pasta.
or, in this case, to make my day-after tartine.

on a slice of good bread i put a layer of spinach, then soaked the spinach with the juices from the roasting tin, skimmed of the excess fat, then i put a few slices of meat on top and sprinkled with sea salt flakes.
it didn't look that good so for the sake of the photo i added three roasted cherry tomatoes which i then removed.
roast tomatoes and spinach just doesn't work for me.
the rest did.

a nice, ethical tartine.


(my)baby(and her)food

there are strange undercurrents in food blogging.
i realized it when, just before writing this post i checked alberto's blog.

we both live abroad, we both are fathers for the first time, we both face the problem of "emulsifying" two different cultures.
we both decided to blog about it at the same time..


the problems are the same. contrasting advice (italian authors order parents to steer clear from oats for the first ten months while here you are strongly advised to give the baby porridge as first weaning food...) which only agrees on the fact that you should feed your baby only unsavoury, uninspiring food. allegedly healthy but terminally BORING.

so, after a cautious approach, we have started feeding isabella proper food even if not what we eat yet.
she is seven months and toothless after all.

this is what she likes:

  • pears, grated or cooked, with yoghurt or créme fraiche;

  • carrots, steamed and mashed with a bit of butter;

  • baby muesli with breastmilk or formula;

  • broccoli, steamed and puréed with grated parmesan and extra virgin olive oil;

  • chicken legs boiled with celery, carrots, potatoes and onions, all whizzed together including a little bit of chicken skin to add extra kick; her favourite!

  • mangoes;

  • sweet potatoes au naturél;

  • spinach with potatoes, grated parmesan and extra virginolive oil.

what she doesn't like:

  • bananas (very unexpectedly so)

  • lamb (maybe a bit too early)

tune in in a few months to learn about my struggle to shelter her from baked beans, marmite and ribena (they have a "tooth kind" product line... makes you think).


the ten minutes meat feast

ten minutes meat feast
eating meat is a privilege we should treasure and cherish.
intensively farmed and inhumanely slaughtered meat is bad for the animals, bad for the environment, bad for you.
it's a major problem and luckily there is a lot we can do:
talk to friends, spread the word, stop buying cheap meat, buy from small reliable worthy butchers and producers.

there are times when i decide to treat myself to an expensive, deliciously sustainable, well hung tender steak of sirloin from my local butcher.
i cut the meat it in strips, place it on a foil covered baking tray, with garlic, rosemary thime, shallots, lemon and white wine.
ten minutes in the blazing hot oven it's all it takes to be perfect.

my teeth rip through the exquisite muscles of the once living beast.
there is nothing like the thrill the first bite of rare red meat sends to the brain.
for that moment i am just an animal eating another animal.
then i remember:

somebody reared this animal with love.
somebody killed this animal with skill.
somebody cut this animal with craftsmanship.

this animal died for my pleasure.




zoë comes home from work
"i had this weird feeling we won £ 1,000,000 at the lottery and i was spending it already!"
i startle
"actually, i bought a ticket last week"
"did you?"
i produce a wrinkled ticket from the dark depths of my wallet
"you better check it then"
"yeah, whatever"
still, i check it here.
the web page congratulates me for being a winner.
my legs tremble.
i check again.
my ticket matches three numbers: i've won the grand total of £10.

i tell the website to bugger off. then i tell zoë that she was right, we had won the lottery but unfortunately she had wrongly guessed the number of zeroes. i politely request her to fine tune her female intuition.

the only way out is food. nice, simple and comforting food. nothing fancy, a classic like seppioline con i piselli.

this dish is at its best whit tiny little baby squids. i only have two medium sized one so i cut them into rings.
i sweat some red onions until soft with chopped garlic and coriander roots, then i add the squid rings and a glass of wine to the pot. another glass of wine goes to comfort the cook. when the wine is evaporated from the pot, in goes some tomato passata.
squid doesn't like half measures. cook it either for a few seconds or for an hour and you'll eat a lovely tender fish. anything in between and you'll end up with hardened chewing gum.
when its almost ready i add some tiny peas straight from the freezer, from the same bag i used not so long ago to soothe my aching back (frozen peas, aren't they magic?).

i should serve it with polenta, or potato mash but i opt for cous cous instead because its quicker, and looks better.


sometimes is good not to work

nobody booked me for valentine's day.

oh well, maybe the kind of couple who waits for the 14th of february to have a romantic meal is not the kind of couple who wishes to share that "special" marketing dictated moment with a large-ish italian bloke.

it has to be noted that my intention to charge the aforementioned couple through the nose for the privilege probably didn't help.

bollocks to you, boring couple! i will stay home with my girls and will treat isabella to a specially heated bottle of milk and zoë and myself to some a decadently indulgent linguine with lobster.


"the lobster goes in the freezer for a couple of hours: it will slowly die without suffering, a bit like jack nicholson in "the shining" but sans grin" (god, i quote myself. sad)
after boiling it i extract all the meat and struggling not to eat it there and then, i proceed with the sauce.

in a pan: olive oil, garlic, chopped coriander roots, a bit of ginger, crushed chilis and shallots then the shell and legs of the beast. white wine. high flame. evaporate. low flame. water. simmer. reduce. the kitchen smells good. inhale deeply. smile in anticipation. add a tin of tomatoes. simmer. reduce. turn off.

time to put the baby to bed and the water to the boil.

baby sleeps. water boils.

the linguine are tossed in the pan with the sauce and the chopped meat of the lobster, served with a chilled glass of falanghina.

sometimes it's good not to work.


do you do deutsch?

if you speak german, you can find some of my recipes on this german site. just don't ask how I got there!


an heartfelt thank you from a gurnard eater

after the presumably failed attempts at artistic photography with the gurnard, i proceed with the more familiar task of cleaning and storing my beautiful shopping (see previous post).
the lobster goes in the freezer but just for a couple of hours: it will slowly die without suffering, a bit like jack nicholson in "the shining" but sans grin;
the trouts will go in the freezer as well, waiting to be roasted sometime in the near future;
the two squids are cleaned, sac and tentacles preserved, ink pouch empty as usual;
the gurnard will be our lunch.

so the now headless gurnard is skinned, cut in thick slices and quickly pan fried in:
- extra virgin olive oil
- the leftover oil and chili pepper from some excellent olives bought in an arab shop
- garlic
- salted capers
- a splash of white wine
- two ladlefuls of its own stock
- the chopped tentacles of the two squids

it is served on a bed of couscous, soaked with the fish stock and the juices from the pan.
it is a fantastic fish and i just thank all the people who would never buy the beautiful (?) and delicious (!) gurnard, thus keeping its price low.
thank you guys.
and thank you local restaurants: by not serving local fish you are doing a great job. for me.
thank you.
i really mean it.


still life with gurnard

i was just about to make a fish stock with all the leftover bits and pieces of the gurnard i wasn't planning to eat plus
- lemon grass
- a red onion
- some lime leaves
- a piece of galangal
- an handful of sze chuan peppercorns
everything unceremoniously dropped in the pot from above.

then it dawned on me: even dead, beheaded and about to be boiled, the gurnard was still waaaay more expressive than a lot of people, including this guy here.

a fishy weekend

as much as i HATE valentine's day with its artificial commercialised celebration of "lurv" i am not one to let a perfect excuse to cook a specially indulgent meal pass me by..

that's why you could have found me queing in the late saturday morning hours at brighton and newhaven fishermen sale point in hove lagoon.

i wish i had my camera with me, for there were a couple of proud looking boats docked nearby that looked pretty dramatic on the metallic grey background provided courtesy of an otherwise dull february day.

i bought the following:

1 lobster, alive and kicking, for the indulgent meal


1 nice fat gurnard
2 nice medium squids
2 nice fat rainbow trouts

for more normal everyday meals.

total expense: a tenner (£ 10) for the lobster and £ 9.37 for the rest of the fish.

reports to follow.


is my blog taboo?

traditional horse meat cuts
following the success of his "is my blog burning" project, alberto called for more ideas on the same wavelenght. here is mine:

is my blog taboo? is inspired by what Marvin Harris calls the riddles of food and culture. you will take part in it by cooking - on a designated day- something that for you is normal or acceptable, but that in other parts of the world might be considered disgusting or even taboo.
if, like me you are living abroad, it would be nice if you could prepare something considered taboo or disgusting in the country you are living in, share it with your local friends and record their reactions.
as an italian living in england i could prepare some tasty horse meat speciality...
on the other end, a british blogger living in italy would struggle not to have an italian retch over these served for breakfast.
and so on...



the colour coded peppers

i like my peppers stuffed
last week i broke -again- yet another of my apparently not so strict rules for healthier, more sustainable and better living:
rule #5 thou shalst not buy vegetables in a supermarket.

it's incredibly difficult to source good vegetables in brighton, and the few fruit & veg shops are not very good at luring in the potential customer with luscious displays of good quality produce. quite the opposite. not to mention the post-war grimness of the open air market.
(i've tried an organic box scheme but there is a limit to the amount of oversized, watery, tasteless cucumbers an italian can eat).
so yes your honour, sometimes i just give up and buy vegetables in my local supermarket, which the indigenous population call "the posh one" probably refering to the fact that it sells food that most of the times is actually edible.
moreover, wherever you roam in these pepperly challenged lands you will only be able to buy artificial looking peppers of the same size and of bright easily identifiable colours. nuances are strictly prohibited!
i will always eat the same pepper. wherever i go, whatever the season, i will always eat the same pepper.

so last week i bought six peppers of three different colours and put them together in the same bag. at the checkout the assistant took them out and weighted them separately. i was quite amazed by this peculiar behavior and asked for an explanation. it turns out that even if they sell for the same -extortionate- price, different coloured peppers have different codes which therefore allow the supermarket to always stock a perfectly colour balanced display of artificially coloured peppers.
i thought: how low can you go? but maybe it's just me.

ps: last night i stuffed a couple of peppers with some boiled arborio rice mixed with delicious peppercorn coated mackerel, coriander, onions, extra virgin olive oil and someting else which i don't remember now (not to worry, next time will be something different). the rice was almost, but not quite, completely cooked, to allow for the 40 minutes it then had to spend in the oven.


a quick snack

turkey & fennel or fennel & turkey or...
are these panfried fennel rings with strips of turkey brest on toast or bruschetta of panfried strips of turkey breast with fennel rings? mmmm.. maybe goujons de dindon à la carlo no no.. padellata di tacchino con finocchi is better!
ehi! what are these men in white doing? leave me alone, i haven't finished yet .....


random tip#2: reasons why i never use mozzarella on a pizza

(1) real mozzarella has a very short shelf life: 2/3 days for the real thing, up to two weeks for the best commercial products.
therefore (2) when you go out there and order a pizza, it will be made with an industrial produced copy of the real mozzarella because (3) real mozzarella is too expensive.(4) real fresh mozzarella is too good: just eat it on its own, at room temperature, and feel the stabs of pleasure up from the palate and down to the spine.
(5) oh,by the way, that stuff you find on supermarket shelves is only good to kick against a wall. several times.

on my pizzas i use cheddar.


i burned my blog

this is my contribution to "alberto's"is my blog burning?" project.
ideas like this don't change the world but make better meals.
which is a good enough contribution as far as i'm concerned.

my original intention was to make something i had never made before, a localized version of an italian classic, pasta & fagioli (pasta & bean soup), which in its most rustic and risqué version calls for generous quantities of sausage. as we will see later things didn't quite go my way.

this soup is not a looker, it's not the right subject for glamorous photos but its texture has a smoothness that embraces like a soft duvet and its flavour is an antidepressant a hundred times stronger that prozac.

- borlotti beans, three tins for four people. the done thing would be to soak the dry beans overnight then boil them for a couple of hours. the acceptable shortcut is to buy good quality tinned borlotti. using another kind of beans would be an unacceptable shortcut.
- sausage. good sausage. oh how i've been longing for a proper sausage. a sausage without bloody rusk! a simple pork sausage, nothing fancy in it... i've finally found an acceptable sausage, with an unobtrusive amount of rusk, good enough to stop me from taking the next flight to milan.
- galangal. i could not cook without it.
- garlic. i could not get near a kitchen without it.
- onion. i could not go back home without it.
- carrot. just a little finger's worth. organic.
- oil.
- glutammate free vegetable stock powder or -better!- some real stock.
- some tagliatelle, crushed into small pieces.

i sear the sausage in not too much olive oil, then remove it.
i finely chop half an onion and the carrot and fry them gently until the onion is transparent.
one tin of beans is pureed in the food processors with a clove of garlic and an inch of galangal then added to the pot, along with the beans from the other two tins, the now-chopped sausage, the stock or stock powder and water.
bring to the boil. simmer, simmer & simmer. too dense? add water. too liquid? simmer some more.
the soup is ready. it's early so i turn off the flame and let it rest. i join the others in the living room. just before meal time i will bring the soup to the boil again, add the crushed pasta and serve after five minutes.
this is not going to happen. we will be too impatient and i will serve the lukewarm soup with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of black pepper. oh and a very decorative sprig of rosemary.

my blog burned, and it was good.


what's wrong with this risotto?

this risotto is bad! this is the risotto i made on wednesday: comfort food after a long winter day.
what's wrong with it? it certainly looks good.
it's perfectly cooked: look at the grains, plump with stock but still perfectly separated, clearly "al dente". after all it has been made with love and care and the finest carnaroli rice. and it is a proper risotto con i funghi - butter, onions, rice, wine, mushrooms, stock, a bit of butter at the end, parmesan - not one of those concoctions which are called risotto out of laziness or ignorance or marketing or plain old scam (ehi, I am from Lombardy: we are precious about our risotti!).

so what's wrong then?
if the heart of a risotto is a good rice (leave arborio alone, please) its soul is the stock.
beef stock is the best, chicken stock is acceptable, vegetable stock is boring. i'm not talking cubes. real stock is essential. (ok, ok, i do sometimes use a good vegetable stock powder without glutammates.. i'm only human after all).

this risotto, made with an unfortunately bland vegetable stock, was a risotto without a soul.


it was a dark and stormy night...

sunday, 8pm.
i'm back home from a nice weekend with friends after a ghastly 90 minutes drive in the pouring rain spiced with occasional gales.
i am HUNGRY but don't feel like cooking and cannot bear the idea of waiting for a take away.
the fridge is empty, the family demands food.
i must act!
i scour the cupboards and find a can of broad beans, neglected even in previous emergencies.
broad beans, broad beans... what shall i do with thou?
broad beans & pecorino cheese, a classic!
fresh broad beans are delicious with some fresh pecorino cheese and bread.
but: my beans are tinned, my pecorino is seasoned, my bread is finished.
i cream the broad beans in the food processors with some extra virgin olive oil and a bit of garlic, then stir in a lot of grated pecorino and a ladle of chicken stock (endless!). i am at a crossroads: this could be the base for a soup or the sauce for a pasta. i am hungry. pasta. which pasta? capelli d'angelo (aka angel hair): they will cook in 2 minutes, one minute in the pot with the water, another minute in the pan with the sauce.
more grated pecorino on top.

timeline of angel hair with cream of pecorino and broad beans:
scouring of cupboards: 90 seconds
preparation, basically grating: 3 minutes
boiling of water: 5 minutes
further cooking: 1 minute
wolfing down: 2 minutes.


things that go well with pork

maiale ripieno - stuffed tenderloin
i had a piece of tenderloin in the fridge, with not long left to wait for me to come up with an interesting idea. i don't usually buy lean meat because i find it boring, but in the aftermath of two weeks in Italy i must pretend that i am doing something to compensate. as if..

this is the reason why i also have in stock an unusual quantity and variety of dried fruit. apple rings, plums, apricots, figs.

a quick look at my list of things that go well with pork:
apples --check
prunes --check
fennel seeds --check

and the recipe for the pork tenderloin with dried fruit and fennel seeds comes up by itself.

i take an handful of dried fruit - apricots included - previously soaked for extra plumpness and whiz them in the food processor with quite a lot of fennel seeds (i love fennel seeds!).
the mixture looks good but sickeningly healthy, so i add some unsalted butter straight form the fridge and whiz a little bit more.
that's better.

the meat is unsubtly impaled on the handle of a wooden spoon and the cavity is filled with the mixture.
what is left of the mixture is patted all around the piece of meat. any leftovers go straight in the pan, diluted with a ladle of water to make the base for the cooking.

i leave it to cook until there is a nice slightly burnt crust on each side.

by the time it's ready i'm not hungry anymore. i leave it to rest overnight.

the following day i slice it: it looks greats and tastes better.

these things go really well with pork.


random tip #1: if you can't beat them...

the first weeks in the UK were quite frustrating, cappuccino-wise: I find no comfort in dipping my nose into cupfuls of froth with the faintest trace of liquid, topped with the most unlikely substances.
now I know what to do to enjoy a nice italian-style cappuccino:
I order a latte.


friends.. what are they for?

the true essence of Italian cooking is making the most of whatever ingredients the place where you live offers you, in a simple, imaginative way. i happen to live in Brighton now, which means that my favourite butcher is 1067 km away.
On the other hand, the freshest, juiciest mackerels are just a short walk to the fishermen's hut on Hove seafront.
i have also developed an enthusiastic curiosity for thai food...
my cooking has changed since I moved here, i like to experiment more, to put two and two together and come up with a big, tasty, five.

I prepared this black soup for four hungry friends who one day volunteered to be fed the results of one of my experiments. I used:

a few courgettes, the smaller the better
some asparagus (is there a plural?), the thinner the better
one tin of coconut milk, the thicker the better
one kilo of mussels
the ink of two squids (or three sachets of squid ink)

a litre of endless chicken stock*
whole garlic cloves
grated ginger
crushed chili pepper
olive oil

*it is sort of acceptable to use vegetarian stock powder provided that is flavoured with galangal, bay leaves, lemon grass etc.. before using it for the soup.

after the tedious but rewarding cleaning of the mussels i briefly steam the asparagus until tender but still "al dente". Ginger, garlic ad chili pepper are flavouring the oil in the cast iron pot . i add the vegs and let them soak up all the nice flavours. i try to be patient here because i want my vegetables to really soak up the flavours. now the coconut milk for a little extra soaking. now the stock. whille i wait for the concoction to boil, i open the mussels in a separate pan. i don't want the courgettes to overcook (do i?) so i doublecheck the soup: as soon as it starts boiling i reduce it to a simmer, and add the shelled mussels and the squid ink.
two more minutes and it's ready.
black steamy fishy, silky...

my friends tell me they like it a lot.

that's what friends are for.


the endless chicken pts 2,3&4

after the feast of the day before i'm still left with 800g of top quality free-range-organic-not-necessarily-corn-fed-rare-breed chicken meat and a nice well scraped carcass.
i eat all the brown bits from the bottom of the carcass on the spot, and a bit of skin too, sprinkled with sea salt flakes... is there anything better?? the answer is yes but not now.
so, after the feast of the day before i'm still left with 730g of... well, you know what.

half the meat goes into a salad with a grated carrot and two grated courgettes. i had bought the courgettes for isabella but even if organic, they are so out of season that i decide against feeding her those. lunch is sorted with a bit of cous cous on the side.

the carcass, with all the bones saved from the night before, goes into my beloved le creuset oval cast iron pot to which i add the following:
- a large onion, peeled and cut in half;
- a root of galangal, cut in half lenghtways;
- several bay leaves;
- a generous handful of sze-chuan peppercorns;
- three stalks of lemongrass, cut in half lenghtways;
- enough cold water to fill the pot.

i clarify the stock then use it to make a wrong zuppa pavese.
a zuppa pavese (soup from the city of Pavia) is very easy to get right, if you only break a fresh egg on top a slice of toasted bread (farmhouse, not prepackaged loaf!!) which sits at the bottom of a deep bowl, top it with grated parmesan and pour hot good stock on the lot.
i have no bread left and decide against parmesan this time so to give it some extra substance i add a bit of the chicken meat and some thinly sliced courgettes.

right or wrong, when the stock is good - and boy, this is amazing! -a zuppa pavese is at the top of the comfort food list.

there's still more than half of a brest left. i'll have it tomorrow in a sandwich (but i have to remember to go and buy some decent bread... not easy in brighton).

bottom line: four great meals from a chicken and i still have a couple of liters of stock to flavour my cooking.

endless or what?


the endless chicken pt.1

lesson i learned: do not trust chicken that comes without qualifiers.

believe me, i want nothing to do with what is sold as "chicken" in this country.

the previous statement is obviously untrue: when i feel lazy i am keen to buy a dubious chicken provided that somebody spit-roasted it for me. when i feel dirty i treat myself to a kebab.

i don't let these slight incongruences distract me from the right way, so in my household chicken is a rare treat because good free-range-organic -not-necessarily-corn-fed-rare-breed chicken --(ehi! a LOT of qualifiers)-- is expensive.

let's say £6 to £8 per kilo --(imperial measures are banned in this blog)-- or £12 to £16 per bird.

money well spent: i won't fill our bodies with unwanted antibiotics and those two kilos will go a loooong way.

day one:
the oven is getting hot, the chicken is out, potatoes are cut. everything is well coated with olive oil and two halves of a nice lemon sit snugly in the birds' bum. a few garlic cloves.
in goes the roast tin and i'm off to play with isabella while zoe is having one of her long baths.

after 90 minutes isabella is sleeping in her cot --(bless!)--, zoe is almost out of the tub and the chicken is ready.

a nice green salad, a glass of wine... i am happy.

coming up: the endless chicken parts two, three and four (!!!)
also coming up: the accidental vegan.


home cooking is my thing

this is the first line of my first blog.
this isn't.

no, my sense of humour is not what urged me to move to the UK.

some reasons: my partner being from brighton, the sad demise of the italian music industry, a poisonous cultural climate and the fact I'm allergic to berlu***ni.

more about me here.

home cooking is my thing.

so i have decided to keep track of what i cook at home and for my clients for a series of reasons including:

- why not?
- i have some time to spare
- it won't hurt anybody
- it might be useful one day
- it might be interesting for someone somewhere sometime.

can't wait...