Saturday, August 28, 2010

Zucchini Sauteed with Fresh Mint

I went to the West End markets today, over the new Go Between Bridge. They have much more character than the other crappy markets around. I went to pick up some lovely lamb shoulder for Marcella's Lamb and Green Bean dish tomorrow. While I was there I bought some of Farmer Dave's lamb sausages, as well as some veges (including for meat broth for tomorrow's risotto).

The choice we faced for a vege dish to go with the lamb sausages was beetroot salad (which I have never made), and Zucchini and Mint, which I have made before but was reinspired by Giuliano's recent blog post on the same dish. It is from his Every Night Italian book. Zucchini won.

The main change from the last time I made it was that I chopped the zucchinis a little larger, as he did in his photo (photos make it easier...). I also didn't have any basil, except for some greek basil from my garden, which I am always a bit scared of as it is so strong.

I upped the quantities a bit as I had more zucchini. I basically cooked as many bits as could fit in my pan in the one layer.

I was a little concerned about the garlic browning. Perhaps I used too much. I need not have worried - it was absolutely delicious, and I'll be making it more often.

I also cooked an eggplant in the oven, so it was a vege friendly lunch, and well received by my two guests. Another winner from Giuliano.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Frittata with Potatoes, Onion, and Rosemary

Frittatas have been one of those dishes long on my wish list. I have made the simple parmesan dish before, but it was a tough sell for a meal at home. This time I wanted to make something with a little more in it. So I bought myself an onion in the knowledge that I had some food from earlier in the week - basil and tomato in particular, and hoped to find a frittata recipe that suited.

Flicking through Marcella Cucina I spotted this dish. I had potatoes, the onion, and some slightly old rosemary. And so I was away. The basil would keep.

I was worried at first about the amount of oil. No, before that I was a little apprehensive that the fat was oil at all. Aren't frittatas made with butter? Marcella Cucina was published at a time when butter was on the way out.

Nonetheless I proceeded as directed, except I put in a bit of extra oil. I know I'm meant to follow the instructions exactly the first time, but two tablespoons of oil is not a lot to cook this much onion.

Once the onion was soft - perhaps not as soft as I would like it, but I didn't want to brown it, I put in the potato and put the lid on. Again I was concerned that there was no liquid to be put in the pan - presumably the liquid from the potatoes themselves were to look after things. I was even more concerned when I had a peek and things were thinking about burning. I quickly put the pan on an even smaller burner but resisted the urge to put in a tablespoon or so of water.

Time past and eventually the potatoes did get soft as promised (although I snuck in a little extra salt), and I poured in the egg mixture and let it set slowly. Once it was reasonably firm except on the top I put it under the grill. I'm not sure what sort of 'broiler' Marcella has in mind, but running this frittata under my grill 'briefly' would not achieve much. I left it there probably for a couple of minutes, until it seemed set on the top although I could spot a little movement under the upper skin. It did not brown, as instructed (cf G Hazan in his works).

I was going to make a salad to go with it but failed to do so.

Instead, I struggled with how to get the frittata out of the pan. I did not use a non-stick pan, as I do not own one that is suitable. Do the frittatas just flop out of those pans? Mine would not, but I was able to use an egg flipper to cut slices and put them on a plate. To my horror, ancient and unpleasant water from the plastic flipper fell onto my frittata, but I did what I could to pour it off and it did not seem to affect the taste.

It did not look very promising on the pan. Rustic, my dining companion reported.

But skepticism soon gave way to adulation, and the dish was pronounced a great success, and much tastier than any frittatas that had been purchased at cafes. It was quite creamy, which I am reasonably sure it should not have been (see Cucina on page 52 - although Marcella also says it should not be stiff and dry).

A question was asked between pleasure noises: Is there much milk in this?

None, I retorted.


Nope, I said smugly.


Nary a drop.

And so I have committed to making this dish again. The onions were a great hit, as were the potato and the rosemary. And I guess the eggs played a part and so everything got involved.

My only question is whether or not what we ate was in fact a frittata - did I undercook it? Can frittata always be cut into little slices and taken on a picnic? Or are some limp, creamy and delicious to be eaten shortly after being cooked, as mine was?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Split chicken with herbs and white wine

This dish is from Marcella's Italian Kitchen, which is perhaps the least well known of her books, as far as I can tell from the internet. It seems to hold a special place in Marcella's heart though, as you get the feeling that she feels it never got the recognition it deserved, and contains some of her favourite recipes. She certainly seems happy in it, and free perhaps of some of the constraints she may have felt documenting the classic Italian in her first two books.

I was going to cook the chicken with onions from this book, but to be honest I got lazy and noticed that I had everything for the split chicken. The most fun part was chopping the chicken in half and then bashing the crap out of it with the chicken pan to flatten it.

I was then able to brown the chicken and let its skin go really crispy.

The recipe was a little different to other Marcella chicken recipes. There were unusual (for Marcella) ingredients, like cloves, and there were also quite a few herbs, which Marcella usually cautions us against. Other things that were different were that the garlic was not browned at all, the wine was not reduced at the start, and the heat was set to medium instead of low.

As usual for this sort of thing the sauce got really really tasty. The recipe called for the clear fat to be poured down the sink and I did that wistfully as I love mopping it up. But I did it. The final stage is to bake it in the oven for 10 minutes to get a parmesan cheese crust.

The result was a solid chicken, but I love other Marcella fricasseed chickens so much that when the sauce almost disappears I am not as happy. To me it was more like a baked chicken that hinted of a fricasseed chicken with sauce. The cheese didn't really do much for me.

So I don't think I'll be making this one again. My favourite Hazan chickens are: chicken with red cabbage (Essentials), and chicken with rosemary, white wine, tomatoes (Cucina). I'm also fond of baking the chicken with rosemary and garlic, which is also in Essentials but I use the recipe from Giulian Hazan's How to Cook Italian (which is very similar).

Other recipes I have tried but prefer less are two lemons (Essentials), rosemary and white wine (Essentials) and Bay Leaves (Cuscina).

Next time I'll try the chicken with smothered onions (and mash).

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Sicilian Orange Tart

I had my parents over for dinner tonight. The meal I cooked was:
- risotto with butter and parmesan, after last week's triumph;
- lamb stew with beans from Essentials; and
- sicilian orange tart from Giuliano Hazan's Every Night Italian.

The risotto was wonderful. I used the rarer rice. I don't think it was any better than the arborio from last week. Everyone lapped it up. I used about a cup and a half. I think 2 would have been better.

I half lost my mind when cooking it. I put the rice in with the butter. I had a laugh about how Marcella would not be happy with me making that mistake, started again, and then put the rice in the butter again.

Not even moderately alert (Marcella's precondition for recipe success in her 1973 Classic which caused me much merriment).

Third time was the charm and I remembered the onion.

I cooked the meat broth for it yesterday. I got about 17 cups of broth out of the batch, and used 6 in the risotto. I use the Marcella Says recipe. It is worth it just for the broth instructions.

The stew, with vinegar from Essentials, was different in that I used proper lamb shoulder, chopped on the bone, as required by the recipe. Interestingly the Classic version says to use boned lamb and keep the lid on. Anyway, it took much longer to cook - at least an hour or more. You definitely have to read the description of when it is done when cooking Marcella recipes, they are very important. Marcella admits that timing bores her and in any event it is impossible to give one time as each bit of meat is different.

It was tasty, and all eaten by the 4 of us, with the sauce mopped up with bread. The meat was fattier than the cuts I used the first two times, and some bits was better than others, and so my search for excellent lamb shoulder on the bone continues.

But on to the tart. I think it was Jamie Oliver who said he loved a flexible tart, and who am I to argue? I have never cooked one before. I used my new food processor to prepare the dough, as instructed. I was skeptical about the amount of water to be used. One tablespoon was not enough, but I did as I was told and added an extra teaspoon. That caused it to bind quite dramatically.

I think I made a mistake by adding an extra egg, both to the bottom and the filling. I did this because Giuliano said to use extra large eggs, which I did not have. I think this made the tart too eggy.

I also made a mistake by putting in the juice before I mixed the filling.

I may have also made a third mistake by not rolling the bottom thinly enough. I didn't have a false bottom or anything so I had to roll it and then put it in. I wasn't sure exactly what I was doing, but I think the bottom was too thick - in some parts thicker than the filling. Should it be, I wonder?

The forth mistake may have been to have an oven that was too hot. I took the tart out about 10 minutes early because it looked done.

Anyway, we enjoyed it. We ate it with a bit of cream which improved things. I am going to make it again as I am fond of the orange flavour. It also looked appealing. It was a little eggy.

Again, it is hard for me to say it was a good tart or not as I've not really eaten tart before. I think it has potential and I want to give it another crack without mistakes.

It would be nice with a little ice cream.

I sent the left over tart home with my 65 year old dad, who was quite pleased about that. He fixed my cupboard and had a left over screw, which when combined with the tart sent them off laughing as well as being satisfied which can only be a good thing.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Risotto with Parmesan Cheese

This dish is insane! I am on such a high. Who would have thought that half an onion, a cup of rice, some butter, some meat broth, and some cheese would produce such a dish, a dish that fired off (almost) every pleasure receptor in my brain, in a way I haven't ever managed to produce on my stove before, in 30 minutes of enjoyable cooking.


I had never produced a successful risotto. They were all duds. Every one of them. Failures. Unpleasant to eat. Deeply unsatisfying. Conflict inducing. Marcella, who is wonderfully warm and generous with her time, was aghast, again, with the difficulty I was having, although I had never tried to cook a risotto out of her book. She kindly posted a comment to me on Facebook, which I will reproduce here as it has not come from her book and I do not think she would mind (although I will check):

"Use a true Italian rice variety, carnaroli is the best, but arborio and vialone nano are also good. Do not wash the rice. Chop half a medium onion fine. Saute the onion with lots of butter until it becomes colored a deep gold, even faintly browned. While the onion is cooking, bring a saucepan of broth or water to a simmer alongside the burner where you have the onion. Add the rice - 1 cup makes a very generous portion for two - and stir it thoroughly coating every kernel with butter and onion. Add three or four ladlefuls of broth or water. Stir well. Adjust the heat to medium high. Keep stirring. When the liquid you have added has been absorbed and/or evaporated, add another two or three ladlefuls, and as always keep stirring. As you stir, make sure the rice comes free of the sides and bottom of the pan. Repeat the procedure as frequently as necessary, but do not EVER stop stirring. After 20 minutes, add some salt and ground black pepper. Taste to see if there is enough salt. I hope your broth isn't salty. Cook for another 5 to 8 minutes. The rice should have absorbed all liquid, but its consistency should be runny. Take pan off heat and briskly stir in a nugget of butter, then a handful of parmesan. Serve it alone, Italian style. It should be delicious. When you have mastered that, you can play with adding other ingredients to the sauteed onion before you put in the rice. "

It was these instructions I followed. I had precious "Marcella Says" meat broth in the freezer (and let me tell you, this stuff will change your cooking forever), I brought it to the simmer while I diced my onion using the technique Marcella's son, Giuliano Hazan, posted on youtube (thanks!). In went the onion with a couple of knobs of butter, the onion went golden, almost brown, and in went the rice, followed by marvelous broth. I followed the recipe, feeling all in charge, enjoying the stirring. I couldn't imagine not stirring - the rice would stick and burn pretty quickly, at least at the heat I had it at. I started running out of broth, so I just topped up the simmering pot with some hot water.

After 20 minutes, I added my salt and pepper, and it was tasting good. After 25 minutes (the time Marcella says it takes her to cook her risotto), the heat was turned off, and my parmeson and a little knob of butter was swirled in.

It rested a little and we were into it. I really went crazy for it, as did my dining companion. It was just the right texture, for me - not hard, and not mushy. Some resistance, just the right texture for pleasurable eating. It was creamy and rich, but not sickening (at all!). I do find obviously rich dishes - such as Marcella's famous butter and tomato sauce - a little too rich. But not this. It was 100% pleasure.

I went back to the pot, which I had thought was empty, to spoon out the rice grains that had mistakenly assumed they had survived the ladle.

I think I am now a risotto addict. I'm going to cook it every week. Looks like I'm going to be getting into a routine for the meat broth to ensure I always have a steady supply.

Next up, risotto with asparagus I think.

As for rice, I used arborio - I'll be searching for Marcella's suggested carnaroli, that's for sure.

What is interesting is that Essentials suggests putting in the butter and parmesan on the heat, whereas Marcella above suggests it be done off the heat. I suspect either way would work.

This dish ranks as one of my life's cooking highs.