Monthly Archives: March 2009

Ratatouille

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This panful needs a nice rest, it will be delicious by the time I get back from work, better tomorrow, and as good the day after, flavours deep and rich from a good wallow. I am not sure it will last that long.

Oh, I am sure some of you will argue you can’t reheat Ratatouille as it loses it’s just cooked freshness and goes a little mushy. I adore it freshly cooked, but I am just as partial to a bowlful after a day or two, different, sweeter, softer, mellow, yes a little soggy in it’s oily syrup, but delicious just the same.

I grew up eating Ratatouille, my Mum inspired by happy, warm, family camping holidays in southern France and guided by Elizabeth David took to wearing smocks, funny headscarfs – which was mortifying for me at the time – and cooking up pans of this provençal ragoût weekly. She gently stewed aubergines, sweet red peppers, courgettes, tomatoes and onions in olive oil, simmering up something aromatic and evocative, each mouthful transporting us somewhere warmer, somewhere slower, somewhere where your face is flushed with freckles or in my case your face is one big freckle, sea salt and the thrusting local red – diluted with water in my case, like the french children at the next table. We ate ratatouille with roast chicken, roast lamb, mixed with some cooked chickpeas, ladled over rice, topped with a poached egg, alongside some scrambled ones, mopped up just warm bowlfuls with bread.

When I make ratatouille now, I think of my Mum, my memories leapfrog the painful years, there were a few too many my moods as black as my excessive eyeliner, back further to the gentler ones. The years when I would sit, perched on the counter repeatedly kicking my heels against the cupboard, which I imagine was more than a little irritating.  I would watch her chopping and salting the aubergines, wiping hers eyes with the back of her hand as the onions brought tears to them and promptly poke an oniony finger in my own eye because I could, taunt the cat by launching vegetable chunk missiles at his basket, run into the garden to get some basil from the pot wedged in the warmest corner of the garden so as to survive the English elements and violent garden games.

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I have a problem with the blackboard today.

At least I am happily worry free about ingredients, the market we live above in Rome is a joy-full little daily carnival of fresh, local produce. A morning shop like this is as pleasing and beautiful as a bunch of flowers.

I like chopping, I can’t do anything fancy or particularly fast, but I can find a happy rhythm, cut things up into nearly regular pieces, cut myself with quite stunning accuracy in the same place at least one a week, and feel most satisfied at the colourful little piles.

pleasing-piles

Purists might gripe at my recipe – don’t they always – saying each ingredient should be cooked separately and then combined to attain the smooth creamy consistency. Maybe they are right, I should try it one day, but until then, I will cook with my Mum in mind and do it her way, I might even don a headscarf while I’m at it.

Having said that, I don’t actually own a headscarf so will use a teatowel, and a specific recipe is rather illusive. As with so many recipes passed down through families and learned by observation and taste, each Ratatouille is somewhat freestyle, accuracy and timings having melted away over the years into something intuitive, shaped by moods, memories, what the seasonal vegetable basket provides and the pans capacity.

Today’s panful went a little like this, 2 sweet red onions, 1 large aubergine, 3 courgettes, 2 sweet red peppers, some garlic, 4 red tomatoes, salt and plenty of good olive oil (my generous glug looked a bit like 10 tbsp.) You chop everything into the shapes you will find most pleasing in your mouth, for me that’s thin half moons slices of onion, coin sized rounds of courgette, modest strips of red pepper and thin quarter moons of aubergine, I cut the peeled tomatoes in half, scoop out the seeds and chop them into a rough and tumble bits.

Once everything is chopped you begin adding the vegetables one by one into the warm oil, allowing them to soften before adding the next. Onions and garlic first then aubergines, courgettes and finally red pepper, adding more oil if you feel the need. You let these 5 simmer away covered for about 40minutes before adding the tomatoes, stirring and letting it all gently cook away for another 40minutes. A final touch, a generous handful of coarsely chopped parsley and basil.

Ratatouille needs a rest, an hour at least, it is then delicious, still just a little warm. It will keep nicely for up to 4 days in the fridge, you just pull it out a while before you intend to eat it, warming it through slightly over gentle flame or simply allowing it to come to room temperature – Ratatouille in my opinion is not one for extremes, too hot or too cold dulls its bright soft flavors.

Last thing, I don’t salt my aubergines and courgettes as the ones I buy locally are sweet, not bitter or coarse or overly waterlogged, you may like to, you know best.

I think it goes without saying fresh, top notch ingredients are pretty vital for something as simple as this.

Ratatouille

Inspired by my Mum and many happy holidays. Adapted from Elizabeth David’s Mediterranean Food.

yield – nice panful.

  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 large firm aubergine
  • 2  medium sweet red peppers
  • 3 courgettes
  • 10tbsp olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • handful of coarsely chopped fresh basil and parsley

Prepare your vegetables.

Peel and slice the onions into thin half- moons slices. Mince the garlic. Cut the aubergine into quarter moon 1/2 inch slices. Chop the courgettes into 1/2 inch rounds. Open and deseed the red peppers and cut into strips. Peel and deseed the tomatoes and cut them into rough chunks.

Warm the oil in a large, thick bottomed wide pan. Add the onions and cook until they are soft but not brown, you want them to stew in the oil not fry.

Add the aubergines, stir and cook for a couple of minutes.

Add the courgettes, stir and cook for a couple of minutes.

Repeat with the garlic and then red pepper.

Cover the pan and cook over a gentle flame for about 40minutes, stir every now and then.

Add the tomatoes, stir and recover the pan and cook for another 30minutes. Then uncover the pan and cook for a final 10 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, Add the chopped basil and parsley and allow to rest.

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Asparagus and asparagus frittata.

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‘Asparagus inspires gentle thoughts.’

Charles Lamb

I think asparagus is the most beautiful vegetable, especially when it is fine stemmed, at once delicate and tender, but with freshly picked firmness sporting compact and violet tinted tips. I picked up two delicious bunches at the market today, which in the absence of the sun- which has been shining all over the place recently, until yesterday that is – was another pleasing reminder that it is spring.

The first bunch is for tonight. In the absence of a proper asparagus pan, I will do my usual improvisation which involves chopping off the woody bottom inch from each spear, giving the bundle a nice string belt and trying to stand them up in my narrowest deepest pan of happily boiling water with the delicate tips above the water, happy to steam away under the tin foil hat I give the pan. I have found that if I toss the woody bits I have chopped off the asparagus in the water while it’s coming to the boil alongside some scrubbed new potatoes they help to keep the bundle upright. The woody bits may not be edible but they certainly have some flavour to lend to proceedings and the potatoes not only help keep the asparagus upright but benefit from the flavours rolling around in the pan.

Did that make any sense, I’m not sure it did, maybe you have one of those cunning pans especially for asparagus in which case it doesn’t matter anyway

We will eat the asparagus and new potatoes with our fingers dipping them in melted butter sprinkling over some coarse malden sea salt, I might hard boil some eggs as well, that, with some nice bread and a bottle of Pieropan Soave (swoon), will be our supper.

But that is supper, that comes later, first is lunch.

This is lunch, yes, double asparagus for me today.

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A frittata, nothing more than 6 eggs, salt, plenty of freshly ground black pepper and a good half of one of my bunches.

Simple simple to make, I just boiled the asparagus spears in my usual improvised way, about 7 minutes for these tender and willowy specimens and drained them well. Next in my trusty cast iron frittata pan I melted some butter, tossed in the asparagus and turned it around before pouring over 6 lightly beaten eggs seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Finally over a low flame I let it cook away for about 15 minutes before sliding the nearly cooked frittata onto a plate, inverting in onto another and sliding the frittata back into a newly buttered pan for another 5minutes.

Did that make sense.

I think you get the idea.

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I think a dab of mustard might be nice with this, oh and a green salad and the obligatory slice of warm pizza bianca from the bakery I just happen to live above.

Oh……….. the sun just popped out and……boo….just popped back behind that grey blanket again, he is clearly teasing me, you can’t fool me you big yellow thing, I know it’s spring.

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Roasted red onion, green bean and parmesan salad.

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I was trying my best not to leap around like an overexcited five year old yelping the sun the sun the sun until I went to teach my class of 23 five year olds this morning. I arrived at school during their break and was greeted by a joyous frenzy of sun soaked happiness as 23 little ones hurled themselves around the playground, little bodies liberated from the coats and gloves that had impeded their movement all winter, little faces warm and pink, and smiles that cried il sole il sole il sole.

We drew pictures of the sun, each bright yellow circle with an appropriately curved smile, before I attempted to teach them The sun has got his hat on hip hip hip hooray. 23 little Italian faces scrunched and contorted earnestly as they tried to mimic the funny English sounds. Finally we took the lesson where it belonged, outside, we leaped and jumped and spun while we chanted uh sun ah ot heez at on ip ip ip ooray.

I made my way home from Gianicolo, soaking up warmth and glorious views of Rome while winding my way down the curves of via Garibaldi and weaving my way through the labyrinthine lanes of Trastevere. I stopped to lean-up against the polished wooden bar at Bar San Calisto in the sun filled piazza of the same name, inhaled a perfectly intense espresso, which injected rather more perk into my step than I expected, before walking to the river and following it’s twists and turns home to Testaccio.

It was about one o clock when I arrived at the market, my trusty fruttivendolo raised his palms, shoulders and eyebrows as I approached, a gesture which needed no wordy elaboration but perfectly expressed his reproach ‘what are you doing coming here at this hour, you are late late late, all the good stuff has gone, you know you have to get here early, you know you know, everybody knows.’ I didn’t need anything anyway, I just like breathing in the air of the market, even in the last hour of it’s working day, piles of crates being heaved into order, big old fashioned brooms rhythmically sweeping the escaped chicory leaves and artichoke petals into heaps, a lemon flying across the floor in an impromptu game of football. My late arrival was rewarded with a big hand-full of vibrant green parsley, the last two oranges and a wink which affirmed our pact of loyalty and it’s gifts.

This is the man himself, the other Vincenzo in my life, my fruttivendolo – oh Lo voglio bene Vincenzo.

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Back home I flung everything open – I say everything but everything in our tiny flat is actually only one very large door and one very large window, but they top and tail our two rooms – light flooded in. Joy was followed by momentary horror as I took in the sheer quantity of dust, a fuzzy blanket covering everything, the breeze sent a dust-ball, worthy of a role in a western, scuttling across the floor, you know in the opening scene when you see the abandoned ghost town and the tumbleweed rolls into view, my dust-ball would like to audition for any forthcoming productions. It was no time for spring cleaning though, I adopted selective vision and the room looked quite pretty again.

I was still unsure what to have for lunch, but I knew it should really involve red onions, a rope of which were making the onion basket look quite lovely but loveliness aside, deserved some culinary attention and green beans which merited the same.

red-onions

Green beans and red onions, I went a bit funny for some time – the way I do when trying to remember an actors name – while I tried to recall a recipe I’d seen involving both in one of my cookbooks. I don’t know if it helped, but repeating the words green beans and red onions while I persisted in my stubborn search was strangely satisfying, if not a little annoying for Vincenzo who was reading the paper in the corner.

After a rather messy search, which had the dust-balls not just rolling but twirling tauntingly around the room, I found it on page 73 of Giorgio Locatelli’s fine and heavy volume Made in Italy. Like so many recipes which catch my eye, it’s an assembly really, soft, creamy, roasted red onions separated into layers, tossed with a edgy dressing and left to laze for a while you boil up some fine, sweet green beans, drain and toss them with some grated Parmesan and a slightly mellower dressing. To serve you make a pleasing pile of onions and top that with a pile of beans dotted with Parmesan, to finish you shave over some curls of Parmesan. stop, eat.

It’s worth roasting more onions than you need as they will keep for a day or two. Keep them in the fridge but pull them out a while before you eat them. They are a delight squashed on some nice bread with some piquant goats cheese or chopped up a little and tossed with hot spaghetti and sprinkled with plenty of Parmesan.

It may only be a simple assembly, but it is utterly delicious, we ate with the door open as did the family in front which made it seem quite a social affair. Plenty of bread is required to mop up the dressing, hot pizza bianca is even better. I tried to teach Vincenzo the sing the sun has got his hat on hip hip hip hooray and got quite hysterical at his inability to pronounce H, then he retaliated by getting me to say ramarro and laughing at my inability to roll my r’s – ah  that’s love.

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Roasted red onion, green bean and Parmesan salad.

Adapted from Giogio Locatelli’s Made in Italy

serves 2 for lunch or 4 as a starter

  • 2 large red onions
  • 200ml red wine vinegar
  • 1tbsp sugar
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 240g fine green beans
  • 2tbsp freshly grated Parmesan and extra for shaving
  • 2 tbsp your favourite dressing
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Set the oven to 220°c.

Leaving the skins on wrap each onion in tin foil and bake in the oven for 1 hour.

While the onions are baking put the red wine vinegar in a small pan and boil energetically over a good flame intil it had reduced by about a third. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved and them whisk in the olive oil to make your vinaigrette for the onions.

Once the onions are ready, they should be soft and creamy not crunchy, unwrap the foil and peel them. While they are still warm, cut each onion in half and separate the layers, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and put them into the vinaigrette.

Cook the green beans in plenty of well salted boiling water for about 5 minutes, then drain them very well and toss them in a small bowl with the grated Parmesan and 2 tbsp of your favorite dressing.

Arrange a layer of onions on each plate and top with a pile of beans and shave over some Parmesan.

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A mess, a stock and caponata.

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Caponata aside, it’s not been the best of weeks in our kitchen. It’s been pretty dreadful actually, with me limping from one culinary disappointment to the next, cooking up small disasters along the way. It was as if the culinary equivalent of a computer virus infected me, erratic and unexplained behavior, partially deleted memory which left me bereft of some cooking fundamentals, scrambled files and periodic crashes. More than once I decided I couldn’t cook at all, should hang up my apron, kick off my old lady kitchen sandals, pass all culinary duties over to Vincenzo and start a blog about knitting, then I remembered I can’t knit.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if I had been doing some serious experimentation, trying to make some seriously delicate patisserie or salting my own prosciutto. Then I might have been able to stamp my feet, swear in Italian and brush it off as a rather painful learning experience. No, it was bad bad, apart from my first time with a foolproof custard recipe – which isn’t – and some farro salad inprovisation which was stunningly insipid, I fucked up things I thought were in the bag. I bodged things I thought I could do with my eyes closed while balancing on one of those gym balls (joke, I don’t have one, don’t want one.) Roast chicken – yes, I know I posted about the perfect one a while back, it works, it really does, just not in my kitchen last Sunday. Pasta fagoli – made it about 212 times in the last 4 years – worst ever. Fried eggs – ugliest ever, which put me off. Lemon tart, so bad I can’t talk about it.

As I washed- up  the unnecessarily numerous pots, pans, dishes I had used to make the failed lemon tart and glimpsed the sad lemony specimen himself sitting on the table desperately – for he knew his fate as well as I did, I decided a week off from all things cooking was in order. THEN I remembered the chicken, the one I had failed so abysmally 2 nights before, the one in the fridge crying ‘at least make a stock of me you bad cook you’ and all the ingredients for caponata I had bought at the market on Saturday, when I was still in the clutches of my virus ridden cooking frenzy, squealing ‘make caponata for Vincenzo, you promised you would when he gave you a lift to work which made him late, you bad girlfriend you’.

By yesterday morning, chicken guilt, other guilt and a sudden craving for caponata had overwhelmed me, 2 cancelled lessons seemed like fate. I tied on my apron, slipped on the granny kitchen shoes, rolled up my sleeves, if there had been any cooking sherry I would have had a slug, but there wasn’t so I sniffed a pritt stick and set about making peace with the whole cooking malarkey before I embarked on my week of rest and repose.

The stock nudged me off to a good start, either my virus had disappeared or it was resting. While the stock was maintaining it’s tremulous simmer, a state I would like to experience one day, I somewhat apprehensively began the caponata, a task which stirs up memories as agrodolce as the caponata itself.

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Exactly 4 years ago last Saturday I arrived in Italy, after a week in Naples I left it’s glittering bay on the overnight ferry to Palermo and the next day I ate caponata. I had eaten it before, but it was nothing to the little plateful in a raffish, rough and tumble trattoria nestled in a shabby street near the Vuccuria market, a meltingly delicious confusion. Cubes of deep fried aubergine, fennel, onion, courgette and celery mixed with sultanas and pine-nuts and marinated in a palate startlingly agrodolce of oil, vinegar and a touch of sugar. If the truth be known I cried into my caponata, it wasn’t the caponta as such, even though it was delicious enough to merit a tear, I was crying at my own willful, desperate and sudden lonely flight from London and crying because I knew I had done the right thing however terrifying it felt at that moment. An old man at the next table peered suspiciously over the top of his glasses at the strange English girl sobbing into her lunch. He passed me a tissue and muttered something in incomprehensible Sicilian-  but I understood was gentle and sympathetic- before paying his bill and leaving. The comfort of strangers, I cried agrodolce tears all the way back to my hotel.

I knew I had done the right thing.

Vincenzo’s mum Carmella makes us caponata now, whenever we go for dinner a bowl-full is produced especially for me and then a neat little box of leftovers is carefully wrapped for me to take home. Caponata is like a most sublime chutney, we eat it piled on bread with some salty goats cheese, nice salami or best of all some milky, soft mozzarella. A little pile is the perfect bed for a grilled tuna steak, we have it with fried scallops or by the spoonful straight out of the bowl.

This is Carmella’s recipe given shape and disipline by Giorgio Locatelli, whose recipe is almost identical to the one passed down through the Caristia family from Gela in southern Sicily to Rome today.

Oh, in case you were wondering, my caponata was a peaceful and happy one, no disasters, no stamping of feet, I think I may not need that week off now, I am happy in the kitchen again.

caponata-ingredients

There is nothing complicated about making caponata, its all about chopping really, the onion, courgette, aubergine, celery and tomato into pleasing 2cm dice. Attention is vital while you are plunging the vegetables into hot oil and then scooping them out, but after that, you can relax as you lazily stir and taste and stir and adjust and taste again to find an oil, vinegar, sugar agrodolce you are happy with.

It needs a nice long rest, steaming away under some cling film, before you eat it as this is when the fried vegetables transform into a deliciously, meltingly, sweet and sour, soft explosion of flavours.

Caponata

Inspired by Sicily, then Carmella and given shape by Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy

  • 1 large firm aubergine
  • olive oil for frying
  • 1 mild onion cut into 2cm dice
  • vegetable oil for deep frying
  • 2 celery stalks cut into 2cm dice
  • 1/2 a bulb of fennel cut into 2cm dice
  • 1 courgette cut into 2cm dice
  • 3 plum tomatoes cut into 2cm dice
  • bunch of basil
  • 50g sultanas
  • 50g pine nuts
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 5tbsp good red wine vinegar
  • 2tbsp tomato passata
  • 1tbsp caster sugar
  • salt and pepper

Cut the aubergine into 2cm cubes, sprinkle with salt and then leave them to drain in a colander for at least 2 hours. Squeeze the cubes gently to get rid of excess water.

Warm some olive oil in a pan and saute the onion until soft and floppy but not brown. Tip the onion into a large bowl.

Put the vegetable oil into a large deep saucepan (no more than 1/3 full) and heat to 180° – a thermometer is pretty vital here. Add the celery and deep fry for about 2 mins until it is tender and golden. remove the celery with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Once the oil is back to 180° put in the fennel and cook in the same way as the celery. Repeat with the courgette and then aubergine.

Add all the deep fried vegetables to the bowl with the onion along with the diced tomatoes.

Tear and add the basil leaves an the rest of the ingredients,stir, taste and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, stir again.

Cover the bowl with clingfilm while everything is still warm and leave the bowl at room temperature for at least 2 hours so the flavours can steam and mingle and develop while the vegetables cool slowly.

Last thing, it is better the next day and even better the day after that. Keep it in the fridge but pull it out a good hour before you intend to eat it as the cold dulls the flavours.

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Spinach soup

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If I had started this blog earlier last year it could well have been called spinach soup and other stories because in April I made and then we consumed more spinach soup than I care to remember.

For some reason I became obsessed with cooking up vast pans of the stuff. It was variations on a theme mind, spinach was always the key player but leeks, peas (nice), potatoes, bacon (crispy scattered on top is good) chickpeas (v good,) nettles (too much,) egg yolk (whisked in at last min = odd,) squeeze of lemon (soup goes funny colour but otherwise tasty) all featured, cream, sour and not (stirred in and blobbed on) made various appearances, nutmeg ( good but not too much which is very bad) was a special guest, I did a pretty good job of bubbling up most shades of green.

But variations aside, it was all essentially spinach soup. Needless to say, we overdosed and both ended up swearing to never touch the stuff again…….

‘Of course, we didn’t mean it, we just needed a break to appreciate how lovely you are, you green and fortifying soup you’

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I renewed my acquaintance with my green friend yesterday lunchtime, it was a solitary lunch, but better that way, I think Vincenzo may need a few more months before I present him with a bowlful. I was uncharacteristically modest with quantities, I didn’t want to overwhelm myself with another 3 day panful while we are still getting comfortable with each other.

I kept things simple, sticking to the most basic of recipes and avoiding any erratic experimentation or fridge clearing. A mild onion, celery and carrot as the trusty foundations, a couple of potatoes for consistency, a handful of peas for a hint of sweetness, top notch spinach, a flick of nutmeg, a Parmesan rind because its magic and water, STOP.

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I am happy to announce it was a happy reunion, a blob of sour cream and some nice bread made for good company. I ended up wishing I had made more but knew it was better that way.

A note about texture, its a personal thing I know. This is one of the few soups I like really smooth, so I give it a serious blast with the immersion blender. If you like things a little more textured I suggest removing half the soup into another bowl, blending that and then returning it to the pan with the rest of the unblended soup.

Last thing, I love this soup with some properly deep fried croutons.

Spinach soup

4 nice servings

  • good knob of butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium mild onion peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 carrot peeled and finely diced
  • 1 stick celery finely chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes peeled and diced
  • handful of frozen peas
  • 600g spinach carefully washed, washed again and picked over
  • 600ml water (the spinach will give up plenty of water too)
  • a parmesan rind
  • a flick of nutmeg
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large heavy based pan melt the butter and add the olive oil. Over a modest flame saute, not brown, the onion, carrot and celery until it is soft and floppy which should take about 10 mins.

Add the peas and potatoes to the pan, stir well. Add the spinach to the pan, it will look rather alot and seem uncontrollable for a few minutes. Gently turn the spinach, then cover the pan to allow the spinach to wilt down for a couple of minutes.

Add the water and parmesan rind to the pan, stir.

Bring the pan to a gentle boil and then reduce the heat and allow everything to simmer away for 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, remove the parmesan rind and using a immersion blender wizz everything into a gloriously smooth green gloop. Grate in a little nutmeg and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper

Serve in warm bowls with a blob of soured cream, a dribble of olive oil and some good bread.

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Bottarga di muggine or grey mullet bottarga.

I have to admit that for some time I called bottarga, bottega. Finally a friend quietly suggested that maybe (she is a gentle and diplomatic soul) I meant bottarga, ‘bottega‘ she explained ‘is Italian for workshop, you don’t really want one of those with your spaghetti.’ A mild mistake I know, but I can’t help but cringe and screw my face up when I think of it because I inevitably think back to a certain supper, one of the first at which I actually felt bold enough to use my Italian in front of strangers, and I banged on about spaghetti alla workshop.

A definition is probably my best option here as I have a tendency to beat around things, bushes, recipes, the point.

Bottarga is fish roe, extracted with its membrane still intact, lightly pressed, cured in brine and dried in the sun. There are two kinds of Bottarga, that of grey mullet (bottatge di muggine) or tuna (bottarga di tonno.)

Mullet bottarga is beautifully strange and curiously shaped, like a flattened teardrop or tongue, it’s colour ranges from deep red- amber to brilliant orange- yellow. The best comes from the female thin lipped grey mullet, most notably those fished from the waters of Cabras, a lake off the western shore of Sardinia. Good mullet bottarga is hardly surprisingly, expensive, but not exclusive if bought in small quantities.

bottarga

The first time I ate bottarga was in Sardinia in a trattoria near Olba, it was August and we had just spent the day on the beach, we had sand between our toes, our noses were freckled and our skin was pleasingly tight and salty. The bottarga was sliced paper thin and served with olive oil and lemon.

The flavour of good mullet bottarga is quite curious at first, my palate was confused when it encountered the first sliver. It takes a moment, at first you are not sure, the texture is a little waxy, then its melts and the flavour begins to open up in your mouth, a soft creaminess, a delicate fishy, briny, warm almost spicy sensation fills your mouth. The flavour lingers, opens up some more, a hint of something pleasingly metallic (yes, I know but I am only being honest) it lingers some more, you taste buds are at work, negotiating the soft but intense sensations of warm, spicy, salty, fishy, creamy. Finally you realise you have eaten something quite extraordinary.

Later, during the same holiday I ate spaghetti alla bottarga for the first time, the neutral base of pasta providing a perfect foil for the curiously delicious bottarga. On another occasion I ate slivers of it tossed with green salad and a small dish of warm cannellini beans topped with gratings of this amber delicacy.

Back home, this was no holiday romance, since that hot August day, we have eaten bottarga with spaghetti more times than I care to remember. We slice it thinly and squash it on hot buttered toast, it has perked up various bowlfuls of cannellini and (possibly one of my favorite ways to eat it) been grated modestly over scrambled eggs – not exactly the height of sophistication but just divine.

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