Monthly Archives: April 2009

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Tuesday lunch of farro, beans, caramelized onions and Pecorino

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This is a what I had at the time variation on this fine recipe which you probably read too, maybe you made it, maybe you are eating it right now and nodding approvingly – I hope so, it warrants nods of approval and those funny little umm, um, ummm sounds you can only make when your mouth full of something tasty.

I think I may be making this rather alot because it is just delicious.

It’s the combination, nutty, wholesome fortifying farro- the ancient grain spelt – rather like good, nutty brown rice/ barley nuggets soaked in beer but better – the soft, earthy, hearty beans, melting soft, sweet, slightly sticky caramelized onions and the salty kick of pecorino Romano.

Just delicious.

A perfect lunch really.

My appreciation is hardly surprising considering that I love all 4 elements in their own right. I would happily eat a bowl of farro with some olive oil and good salt, Stop or lunch on a portion of warm butter beans with plenty of black pepper and glug of Umbrian extra virgin olive oil. I am very conetent to scoff a spoonful of caramelized onions squashed on some bread and equally content to simply snack on a hunk of Pecorino Romano just so standing against the kitchen counter.

All 4 together, a humble but delightful little symphony.

This was a perfect Tuesday morning recipe, nothing complicated but requiring a bit of thought, modest activity and planning, it fitted in perfectly with a morning of cleaning and sorting and clicking away on the computer. My beans were ready, but it wouldn’t have been much trouble to let them simmer away for an hour or so while I pottered away doing lazy cleaning. Chopping the onions provided a tearful but pleasant pause from domesticity and then gently sizzled away alongside the simmering farro while I wasted time on the computer.

Have you made caramelized onions recently, I hadn’t. I had forgotten how delicious they are, and how simple. Yes, they need a little patience, about 1 and a half hours of it, but barely any effort bar the odd stir and sniff, You just slice some sweet (red) onions finely, sizzle them in some warm olive oil with a pinch of salt, lower the flame till it’s gentle and let them soften and then caramelize away for some time until they are floppy and sweet and just lovely.

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The farro only needed a 30 minute soak in cold water before I drained it, put it in pan with plenty of fresh water, brought it to the boil and let it simmer for for about 25 minutes until soft, swollen but still a bit nutty. Once the farro and onions were ready , I drained, stirred everything together, perked everything up with a squeeze of lemon, crumbled over the Pecorino and ate my lunch.

The original recipe calls for lentils and feta, a combination which rocks my world, but was not to be. The butter beans and pecorino were delicious substitutes mind.

The caramelized onions will be a permanent feature though.

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I think the combinations for this quartet are endless really. Farro could be brown rice or bulgar wheat, even couscous. The beans could be borlotti, cannellini or chickpeas to name just 3. The cheese needs to be punchy and salty I think, so Parmesan, fetta, some ricotta salata could all be very nice. I leave these decisions and experimentation to you.

Farro, beans, caramelized onions and Pecorino

Serves 2 for lunch or 4 as a starter

Inspired by this

  • 200g cooked butter beans
  • 200g farro soaked for 30 minutes in coldwater
  • 3 medium red onions sliced finely into half moons
  • olive oil.
  • salt
  • half a lemon
  • some crumbled Pecorino Romano

If you need to cook soaked beans start with them first. if your beans are already cooked, get them out of the fridge so they can warm up to room temperature. If you are opening a tin, no rush, you can do that just before you mix everything together.

Warm a very generous glug of olive oil in a large heavy based frying pan and then add the onion and a pinch of salt. Allow the onion to sizzle gently, stir and then lower the heat to medium low. Now leave the onions to soften and wilt and gently gently sizzle and start to get sticky and caramelized for about 1 and 1/2 hours stirring lazily every now and then.

When the onions are about an hour into their sizzling, drain the soaking farro and put it in a pan with plenty of fresh water. Bring the pan to the  boil and then reduce the heat to a happy simmer and let the farro bubble gently away for about 25 minutes. When it is soft, swollen but just a little nutty remove it from the heat and drain and leave to sit for about 10 minutes.

Now your onions are caramelized and delicious because you have just tasted them 3 times.

Add the farro and the cooked beans to the onion pan, mix well and squeeze over some lemon juice, taste, DO NOT add more salt, the cheese will do that.

Pour the wine, small glasses, it is lunchtime after all, divide the contents of the pan between 2 plates, crumble over the cheese, leaving it on the table for extra, dribble over more of your nicest oil.

Eat.

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Parmigiana di melanzane or Aubergine Parmesan

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Layers of aubergine slices- fried until golden, creamy velvety buffalo-milk mozzarella, fresh tomato sauce, peppery basil leaves and freshly grated Parmesan baked until bubbling and just a little crisp on top, allowed to cool and settle a little before being served just warm in generous slices, is another of my favorite things.

I made this yesterday for my parents who are in Rome for two weeks doing an intensive Italian course. Their presence is more than lovely, but rendering me more than a little fraught as I try to do my job – which is looking suspiciously like full time at the moment (need to do something about that) and my futile and exhausting attempts at the roles of effortlessly shiny, happy daughter, keen and enthusiastic tour guide, quirky translator and perfect fragrant host with a bun in the oven. This was a supper offering for two tired students, food for when they finally raised their heads and furrowed brows from the old fashioned text books and quite extraordinary quantity of homework they are being given each night. – I think they are a little shocked, my Dad is shaking his head more than usual.

They have rented a flat in our block, it is as tiny and oddly charming as ours but with the quirky bonus of a neon Trattoria sign from the eatery below glowing outside the bedroom window, illuminating and lending a vaguely red light district mood to proceedings . They are on the other side of the palazzo so transporting supper involved walking down the stairs, out of our front gate, walking around the building into their gate. Saying goodnight is a little easier as I can shout from our balcony across the courtyard to them. I am sure we could arrange some kind of pulley system from balcony to balcony for future suppers, it wouldn’t be out of place in a building in which several older residents still lower down baskets on ropes each morning to be filled by loyal market stallholders and then hoisted back in through the window.

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This recipe is lazy morning cooking in my book, its all very simple, but there are various stages which could get messy, you need a bit of time if you are going to do it properly and enjoy yourself. I speak from experience, it was messy, I was just trying to be the happy daughter/perky host, I knew I didn’t have enough time – that didn’t stop me.

Firm, shiny aubergines, sweet red tomatoes, fresh buffalo- milk mozzarella, perky green basil and grainy, nutty, mildly salty Parmesan are all in order..

While your aubergines are salting, to purge them of water – which is essential for this dish – you make your tomato sauce, With good tomatoes, the sauce needs be nothing more than halved tomatoes softened in a covered heavy based pan, passed through a Mouli before being tipped back into the same pan with some warm extra virgin olive oil and left to bubble and reduce away over a lively flame.

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While the sauce is reducing you dredge each slice of aubergine in flour and then fry them one by one until golden before draining on kitchen towel.

Don’t be deceived by this photo the other-side of the kitchen is carnage.

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Now it’s all about assembly, a layer of aubergine slices, one of tomato sauce, one of thinly sliced mozzarella, a few riped basil leaves and a layer of freshly grated Parmesan.

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Repeat the process, ending with a layer of aubergines topped with plenty of Parmesan.

Bake for 25 minutes.

Did that make sense, am I getting better at explaining things ?

I like Parmigiana di melanzane served just warm (room temperature is nice too,) Beside it, a big green salad or even better a salad of fennel, orange and onion, which contrasts the slices rich and decidedly cheesy nature.

You can make it a day in advance, it will keep beautifully in the fridge under cling film, you can warm it up for about 15 minutes on the top shelf of a warm oven.

Parmigiana di Melanzane

Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

  • 1.35 kg aubergine
  • olive oil
  • flour spread on a plate
  • 1kg red, ripe tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 300g buffalo-milk mozzarella
  • 12 fresh basil leaves
  • butter for smearing
  • 50g freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

Salt aubergines

Cut off the green spiky tops and peel the aubergines. Cut them into slices 1cm thick. Prop a layer of slices upright against the inside of a colander and sprinkle with salt. Stand another layer of slices against the first, sprinkle with salt and repeat the procedure until you have finished the slices. Place the colander over a plate and place another plate weighted down with something heavy in top. Leave the aubergines to steep and purge water for about 30 minutes.

Make sauce

Cut each tomato in half, put each halve cut side down in a heavy based pan, cover and put on a lively flame. After a couple of minutes, take of the lid a squish the tomatoes with a wooden soon to release some liquid, recover and leave for another 5 minutes. Once the tomatoes are very soft, take them off the heat and pass them through the mouli into a bowl. Back in the heavy pan, warm a tbsp of olive oil and add the tomato passata, allow it to bubble away over a modest flame until it is reduced by half. Season with salt

Fry aubergines

Once the aubergines have steeped for 30 mins, brush off any access salt and pat each one dry with kitchen towel. In a deep frying pan heat about 2″ of olive oil until hot. Dip a slice of aubergine in flour and then slip it into the hot oil, add a couple more slices, but do not overfill the pan. Once the slices are golden brown, turn them over using a slotted spoon and fry until golden on the other side. Remove the slices and drain on kitchen towel. Repeat with the next batch of slices.

Cut the mozzarella into thin slices, tear each basil leaf into small pieces and grate the Parmesan.

Smear a oven to table baking dish with butter.

Assemble

Arrange a layer of aubergine slices in the bottom of the dish, spread some tomato sauce over the slices, cover with a layer of mozzarella a few basil leaves and the sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Repeat the procedure, ending with a layer of aubergine topped with a generous layer of Parmesan.

Place in the top upper third of a preheated oven (200°/4oo°) for 25 minutes

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