Sunday, January 31, 2010

Warm cauliflower salad

I was a little nervous about the vinegar but this was a cracker. A great way to enjoy cauliflower. Next time I'll be putting the vinegar in more liberally. I ate it with the now famous Alice Waters potato gratin (with thyme as something different) and some pan fried chicken.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fresh Pasta

I made the egg pasta using a pasta machine for the first time. Very pleased with myself. Pretty easy really. I wasn't really sure when it was ready when I cooked it though. It was ok but I think it might have been a little underdone when I was eating it with my special ragu........

Bolognese Meat Sauce

What a disappointment. The famous Hazan ragu. Butcher ground meat. Hours and hours and hours of cooking. I mean, hours. Forget 3 hours, this thing takes at least 4.5, even if you only simmer the sauce for 3. That's a lot of bloody hours.

And I made the bloody pasta. No more perfect union in gastronomy, Marcella says.

Well, not my version. I've had tastier ragu from a talentless housewife in 20 minutes.

Bit depressing really.

No doubt if Marcella made it for me it would be as expected. But she didn't. And it's such a pain in the arse time wise, it's a bit of an effort to try again and again. I'm not sure where to turn.

I might wait until my special tomatoes come in, and then make it again using the son's recipe.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Fricasseed Chicken with Rosemary and Lemon Juice

I consider myself quite proficient at fricasseed chicken, Hazan style. My favourite Hazan dish is fricasseed chicken with olives and cherry tomatoes from Marcella Cucina. Coincidentally, it is also made with rosemary, garlic and white wine, just like this dish.

Marcella's fricasseeing technique is different between her books, and it shows in the results. The garlic is not put in this dish until the chicken is browned, and no reference is made to it when Marcella refers to the next 2-3 minutes of cooking. This cooking surely must be all about the garlic browning, but it doesn't end up browning as much as it does in the olive dish, and as a result the dish is less pronounced from a garlic perspective.

Similarly this dish has a sprig of rosemary, rather than 2 full chopped tablespoons. Rustic perhaps but again less pronounced from a rosemary perspective.

Finally, Marcella does not drain the fat from the olive chicken before it is served. I suspect she drains almost all the fat/wine mixture (or goodness as it is known in some circles) from this dish to due to the low fat insanity of the 1980s/1990s. Marcella was under a lot of pressure at that time from the increasingly large Americans to reduce the fat in her (mediterranean) dishes and she says that was one of the drivers in Essentials.

As a result there is a lot less lemony sauce - which is the star of this little number - than you would like. You really have to poke around to find it. If I made this one again I think I would ignore the detail of the Essentials method and just squeeze a little lemon juice into the sauce (sorry, fat/wine) at the end. This would mean the garlic and rosemary contribute more and there is more goodness to share and mop up with crusty bread in the Italian fashion.

All things considered I don't think I will make this one again though. Not with the siren call of the olives and cherry tomatoes in the background....

Potato soup with smothered onions

After my barbie which included, of course, onions, and the Alice Waters potato gratin I had potatoes and onions I had to deal with.

Hazan had a potato and onion soup that looked just the trick. Not normally something for the hottest day of summer, but with the benefit of air-con it might as well have been the middle of winter.

I'm really beginning to love Marcella's simplicity. True to form, this soup doesn't have much in it other than potato and onions, as well as my hard earned beef both and a little parsley and parmesan.

Heaps of onions really, but they nicely reduced as they did in the smothered onions pasta last night. I'm still learning the colours of onions - gold, dark gold, brown, pale brown for example. But I think I got there in the end.

I was a little worried after the simmering that it was going to be a little bland, but some extra salt and the requested parmesan and parsley sorted it out. A great little winter warmer, even if it is the middle of summer.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Smothered Onions Sauce

I had heard about this recipe, but I was still skeptical. Just onions pretty much. Lots of them. And some white wine and parsley. Doesn't sound like much of a sauce for a pasta.

I was a little worried when I put the onions in the saute pan after slicing. Marcella, I have learned, does not believe in heating fat before putting in other ingredients. This isn't so much of a worry when you can see the fat heat and the garlic sizzle, but in this case butter, olive oil, about a million onions (6 cups) and some salt is put in a pan cold before the fire lit and the lid put on. Then it's hidden and you don't lift the lid for an hour or so, after which the onions are meant to be (and indeed were) soft and sweet. I peeked and stirred a few times. If you don't have a braising saute pan for this it no doubt will end in tears.

I was a little hesitant about the browning at the end. She calls for the onions to be browned until they are a 'deep dark gold'. By this stage they were sweet and delicious and I didn't want to ruin a good thing. I didn't want them to end up like barbeque onions. In the end I just browned them in the sense of them being brown rather than white. I'm not sure if this is a deep dark gold, but they sure tasted good. I think next time I'll try and brown them even more so long as I don't burn them.

Once the wine boiled down and the onions were salted I think this sauce could well have been one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten. I know I just said that about the Alice Waters gratin but I'm either easily pleased or on a roll.

Either way, it was damn good. So good I was reluctant to toss it with the pasta, although it did meet my old friend parmesan in the process. I didn't use as much pasta as was suggested because I loved the sauce so much.

So how was it? Well we both gobbled it down pretty fast, and it was declared a winner. This will be cooked again, no doubt. I think next time I'll drizzle some olive oil over the top before serving. Glad to have a pasta that isn't tomato based that is so tasty.

Makes me keen to make the chicken with onions from Marcella's Italian Kitchen.

Friday, January 15, 2010

La Fiorentina - Grilled T-Bone Steak, Florentine Style

This is a simple approach to cooking steak that is perhaps more common now than it was in the 1970s. First, it is cooked once on each side. Second, it is salted on each side. Third, coarsely ground black pepper is rubbed on each side, and perhaps a garlic clove is rubbed over it. I oiled the meat early as I was cooking it in a pan rather than on a grill, which is a bad thing according to Marcella.

But it tasted pretty good to me.

The real hero of the dish though was the Potato Gratin from Alice Waters Art of Simple Food. It had almost nothing in it. No cheese! No cream! Only salt, pepper, milk, potato and dabs of butter. I held grave fears. But it was one of the most delicious things I've ever cooked.

Keep an eye out for Alice.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Amazon review

I thought I'd better review this damn book on Amazon seeing that I'm cooking my way through it. Here it is:

I like this book because a single, cranky, authentic and ultimately wise Italian voice steers you to a framework of Italian cooking around which you can structure your own kitchen for a lifetime of feeding yourself and your family. Marcella is stern and suggestive and completely confident in her own assertions based on a real Italian childhood and a lifetime of teaching the cooking that Italians traditionally employed in their own homes. It is not food for restaurants, or food that astounds or seeks to impress. It is food that reassures, and comforts and employs traditional folk knowledge gleaned over generations to simply transform healthy and natural ingredients into something that you and your family will like to eat, often.

It would take years to cook through this book, and I know this because I am attempting to do so in the Julie/Julia fashion. Recipes that have really taken me so far are the fricasseed chicken with red cabbage, spaghetti carbonara, minestrone soup, roast chicken with rosemary and garlic as well as things as simple as boiled cauliflower and potato salad. Recipes I still wish to try include smothered onion pasta and fricasseed chicken with rosemary, white wine and lemon. I also need to re-do my Drunken Pork dish (pork with red wine) after I fudged it by putting in way too much wine (amazingly Marcella herself gave me some tips via facebook at age 85!).

What I particularly like about the recipes in this book is their simplicity. As Marcella says, what is left out of a dish is as important as what is put in. My feeling is that many of the recipes in this book have been refined over her decades of teaching (on top of the traditional folk knowledge) to be the purest form of their expression. Any less and they would not work. Any more would be a distracting indulgence. Instead they result in simple flavours that work together rather than conflict and ultimately let the food best taste of itself.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Minestrone all Romagnola

I'm now convinced that the key to these long lived peoples of the world is making vegetables taste so so good.

I already cook a minestrone just from vegetables from a recipe from Marcella's son, so I wasn't too enthused to make this one. His is good! Further, Marcella's required the lion's share of my precious meat broth, which cost me many hours and a few dollars earlier in the week.

But I persisted, and started off, although not well. In the Marcella fashion she said the fat should be put in cold with the onion. Not french (or thai) at all and a knob of butter floating around onion looks really weird. Things deteriorated from there when I tried to put in the potatoes - I'd eaten them with the Veal Scaloppine and lemon earlier in the week.

Ah, at least I had the beans I thought, as I greedily grabbed the bag I had bought from the markets on Saturday. None of that supermarket crap for me.

Unfortunately they were full of spiders, or some other web creating, bean enjoying creature.

So they were no good. I checked my emergency vegetable stash. It consisted of an eggplant, which I didn't think would suit, and a few carrots that, to be frank, looked more like doorstops than the fresh ingredients Italian cuisine is so famous for.

But something had to go in. Along with extra cabbage. So the carrots were cut into chunks.

The broth was pretty well last. It was in ice cube form by this stage as instructed. I had melted them on the stove while cutting the veges.

I was still skeptical, but things were just getting started. Minestrone does, after all, take a long time although it is largely unattended.

Two hours or so later and I was a believer. In the meat broth. That stuff is great. Forget vegetable goodness, Brodo really adds a depth of flavour that you just can't get from water. I was excited about the soup, and only had to wait another hour or so to eat it.

The parmesan was the last to be added. Marcella theorises in a subsequent book that it has a special favour yet to be discovered that excites the eater in whatever food it is added to.

Anyway, after 1 day making meat broth and 1 day making soup two steaming bowls were finally put on the table. The aircon was turned down to simulate winter, and we were away.

Extremely pleased with the result. The broth was exceptional. A certain someone stole a cup of it after just to sip as an after dinner drink. The veges were delicious. Why wouldn't you eat them?

Can't wait to make it again with the potatoes and the beans.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Potato salad with olives

This is from the book Marcella's Kitchen. I'm not sure of the dish's exact name, but it is boiled potatoes sliced and dressed with olive oil, salt, parsley and bacon while warm. I've also thrown in olives. It sits for a while at room temperature and gets tastier. I'm very pleased with it, and it is now my standard barbie salad.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Basic Homemade Meat Broth

Bloody meat broth. So many of Marcella's recipes call for it. And her son's. Soups, stews, vegetable dishes, true risotto. In Hazan world you certainly have one hand tied behind your back if you don't have some trusty brodo in the fridge or freezer.**

So, finally, after at least a year of cautious examination, I decided to make the damn stuff. Boiled meat. With flesh on the bones. Some vegetables. No herbs. No spices except salt. Or are there? One benefit of cooking through this book over 15 years after its publication is that you can see what Marcella and her son have said in subsequent books. Up until Marcella Says, the recipe seems to be the same. In Marcella Says she throws a few things in that makes it more stock like such as bay leaves and black peppercorns. That sounded like a good idea to me. But first I had to get the meat.

Once again the butcher thought I was mad. No stock bones for me. No cheap cuts of veal. So I bought some braising steak, and some osso bucco meat. Not a cheap exercise, by McDonald's standards. But I guess it isn't McDonald's.

(Marcella does counsel that the 'active cook' can collect meat morsels from other dishes that can be frozen for use when Brodo Day comes. Alas I must not be such a cook as my freezer was bare).

So I threw it all in and I was away. The subtle variations of technique given by Marcella in her various books were a bit confusing. Would my broth end up watery? Would the meat cook properly? Should I leave the lid off (Essentials) or on (Says)?

I concluded it didn't really matter and just got on with it. For hours my creation simmered and bubbled, until I came to think of it as in some way being alive. In time it became increasingly meaty - not obviously delicious in the way a french chicken stock is, but meaty.

As instructed I dutifully ate the boiled meats for dinner when done, with a simple dressing of lemon, olive oil and pepper. With a salad. It was ok.

The brodo in all its glory was strained in a pasta strainer (not ideal), cooled a little on the bench, and ended up in the fridge. A layer of fat awaits, followed by beef broth ice cubes, and hopefully some tasty and quick Italian classics including a half decent risotto.

**Interestingly when I interviewed Marcella's son Giuliano Hazan he said he had none in his fridge. Just me and Marcella perhaps.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Veal Scaloppine with Lemon

I've been wanting to make Veal Scaloppine for a long time. It's exotic. It looks easy. Marcella says its all in the cut, and, as you may expect, she says the butchers don't cut it right. Even in Italy. She buys her own hunk of meat and cuts it herself. What chance did I have.

Anyway, I bought some meat from the butcher. Not a hunk. Bits. They were labeled Veal Schnitzel but the butcher swore it was the right cut. I asked him if was cut against the grain, and was from the 'top round'. He said that the way it was done was the way they did it. I asked him again and he looked angry and confused. I bought the veal.

I made some mash to go with it. I was pleased to see I hadn't forgotten how to do it. One benefit of aircon is that you can eat mash in the summer. The recipe for the veal is dead easy, in the 70s Marcella fashion. Butter, lemon and parsley are the holy trinity. That wasn't my worry though, it was cooking the veal. It looked simple enough, but how brown was brown, and how would the meat react to longer cooking?

The meat didn't really brown like golden brown. I didn't want to cook it more than about a minute a side. Unfortunately I don't have anyone to ask about that. Just as I don't have any 'taste memories' to do a sanity check before congratulating myself on any end product.

Anyway, I got it together, and served it with mash. How was the flavour? Lots of lemony goodness, which is nicely Italian and puts smiles on faces. The veal itself wasn't tough, but I'm not as sure as it was as tender as it should have been, again, due to a lack of anyone having ever cooked something like this for me.

Perhaps it should have been browner. I would like to heat the pan more, and use a little less butter. I'm going to look into the browning side of things traditionally for this cut, and cooking times, and also try some quality Italian joints to see how theirs tastes.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Roast Chicken with Rosemary and Garlic

To be honest I skipped a generation to Marcella's son's recipe from How to Cook Italian. It's basically the same, except where it comes to attending the chicken. Giulano says you should cook for 30 mins per half kilo, and have the chook upside down for the first third. Fair enough. The rosemary and garlic are not piled on, and the final chicken does not taste strongly of either. Instead it is just a delicious, moist roast chook. I had it with a lot of boiled cauliflower finished with olive oil, salt and pepper (thanks Neil) and roast pumpkin, also with garlic and rosemary. All very good, although a certain someone made up some gravox gravy when I wasn't looking...

This will become my standard roast chook. I (gasp) prefer it to Marcella's chicken and two lemons.


Made the calamari, which is just fresh squid cleaned, chopped, coated with flour and shallow fried. I don't think my squid was at its best, as the fridge door was open all night. I want to persist though, as fresh squid is something that I can pick up. It's actually the second time I have made it. The first involved me playing silly buggers with the squid ink. Marcella calls for a splatter screen, which I thought was stupid until a bit of squid popped and hot oil went everywhere. I resisted embellishing with anything other than salt.