Monthly Archives: January 2013

Part and parcel

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Lets just say they can come in very useful those tough, dark, crimpled and otherwise discardable outer leaves. Blanch until supple, pat dry, chill and apply as necessary. Brassica in brassiere – very effective. I also lay a well- chilled leaf across my forehead the other day! Vegetal relief after an infuriating hour of miscommunication at the commune and a series of thwarted attempts to get things done. I’m also convinced my forehead looks a little less lined now. Next time my whole face But enough of such talk.

I was, I’m told, an unfussy child when it came to food. Extremely unfussy and pretty voracious by all accounts! The child that ate everything, even cabbage. Especially cabbage. Unswayed by the pertinacious odour when boiled – hilarious – unphased by the anguish and ridicule of my friends, undeterred even by the attempts of the school dinner ladies to boil the brassica to death, I really liked cabbage. Plain boiled with masses of best butter, salt and pepper was how we ate it at home: a tasty, good-natured, only slightly sulphurous companion to the sausages, mash topped pie or meaty braise. Cabbage was the fourth player in a colcannonesque quartet along with mash, butter and bacon. There was a significant Chou farci in France when I was 14. Cabbage even survived the all or nothing years, the obsessive and disordered ones, when in an attempt to quash all voracious appetites I avoided, eliminated or forsake almost everything. But not cabbage. There was no butter of course, which meant the cabbage wasn’t nearly as much fun, but there was cabbage nonetheless.

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Gillian Riley notes that cabbage, cavolo, Brassica oleraccea has been around for thousands of years and that many of the types we recognise today were known by the Ancient Romans. She also reminds us that the vast Brassica family – which like most vast families is divided into many groups – includes cauliflower and broccoli. Modern Romans, at least the ones I know, not least this 77cm one, are devoted to broccoli particularly their prized broccolo romanesco. Cabbage, be it the handsome savoy, the darker, stronger cavolo nero or the tight, round white cabbage is cooked less in Rome. But when it is cooked, it’s done so with Gusto.

In Volpetti they cook dark, leafy cabbage as they do many of their green vegetables: twice! First boiled until tender but still resistant and then ripassato (re-passed) in a saute pan with a fearless quantity of olive oil infused with garlic.. Twice as nice. They also cook white cabbage in the pan with olive oil, braising it really, letting it cook slowly in the vapours from its own escaping moisture. Sometimes they add cooked cannellini beans – starchy and comely – to this smothered cabbage which is good and something I often make at home for lunch. Volpetti also does a nice farro and bean soup that includes plenty of sliced white cabbage. I’ve eaten more cabbage in Toscana. Most notably the dark, sultry, Javier Bardem of Brassica: cavolo nero, much-loved and a fundamental part of Ribollita, a substantial bean and vegetable soup, re-boiled and then served over the saltless bread of the region. Minestrone too, greatly benefits from a hefty handful of sliced savoy or cavolo nero. And then there’s stuffed cabbage.

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Not in Rome though, I’ve never had stuffed cabbage in Rome. I’ve never had stuffed cabbage in Italy as it happens! Which makes sense, as apparently it’s not really typical to any region!  Feel free to put me right?  That said, I have several recipes of Italian origin I’ve bookmarked over the years: a savoy cabbage and sausage bake from the Silver spoon, a recipe torn from a magazine for involtini, an intriguing Northern Italian recipe for cabbage loaf, Giorgio Locatelli’s Mondeghini. And then of course there is my brother’s advice

On Thursday morning having re-read the majestic oak tree cake post, missing my brother (what a dame) and with a longing for something warm, tasty and – to put it bluntly – porky,  I gathered together the various threads, books and pages and came up with savoy cabbage leaves stuffed with sausage et all and cooked in tomato sauce.

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You need a savoy cabbage, look for one whose dark wrinkled leaves are firm and pert and whose paler head is unblemished and solid. Having removed the very dark, tough outer leaves – discard them, braise them for six hours, fashion them into a scarf or use them for something else – carefully pull away nine very nice leaves. It may help to cut them away from the base with a small sharp knife. Blanch the nine leaves briefly in well-salted boiling water, just long enough to render then supple and mailable. You also need pork sausages, best quality ones. I use Italian Luganega which is particularly good, lean and accommodating. Bread soaked in milk, parmesan, finely chopped rosemary and sage are mixed with the sausage meat to make the stuffing. Hands are best.

There are entire web sites and weeklong summer schools dedicated to cabbage parcel rolling. Overwhelmed, I just made it up, basing my naive cabbage rolling on baby swaddling, which Luca wasn’t very keen on, which was probably something to do with my shoddy technique. I imagined the ball of stuffing was Luca and placed it in the bottom third of the blanched leaf. I then brought the sides of the leaf in and tucked them round the ball snugly. This – you might be relieved to learn – is where the baby swaddling parallels end! I didn’t (even in the most sleep deprived and peculiar moments ) roll my baby up as I did the cabbage leaf round the sausage ball, that is, into a completely sealed little parcel. I can hear you clicking away to those tutorials.

The sauce is simple, a large tin of peeled plum tomatoes, passed through the mouli! Have you bought one yet? You should, they are terrific and indispensable. A heavy-based pan with a well-fitting lid is important as the parcels cook in both the simmering sauce and the hot steamy vapors that rise seductively from below. Tuck the parcels sardine-like in the pan, there should be enough sauce to come about half way up the parcels. Cook the parcels gently for about 25 minus, turn them, replace the lid and let them cook for another 25 miners. I turned them again and then let them bubble for a final ten minutes without the lid.

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We ate our parcels with a half butter/ half olive oil mash which was pretty tasty. Tasty and complete. While helping myself to another parcel and another spoonful of mash, I noted that this is a meal in which my two kitchen worlds collide in a most gratifying way. Sausages, buttered cabbage, mash and tomato sauce (Heinz I’m afraid, it was England in 1979) reinterpreted in my Roman kitchen. Cavolo verza, lugagana, pane, latteParmigiano, salvia, rosemarino, sugo di pomodoro soaked, amassed, moulded, rolled and simmered into something I’ve called Mondeghini in sugo. Or should it be Mondeghini al sugo? Al or in ? Who knows? Certainly not me!  With our parcels, mash and sauce we had a glass of very average white. Red would have been better, but we’d polished off a whole bottle the night before and it seemed indecent to open a new bottle for Thursday lunch.

The two remaining parcels were even better that evening. The stuffing seemed to have come together. I noted more obvious things:  how the milk soaked bread gives the stuffing a soft, billowy quality, how well rosemary and sage flirt with pork, that the sauce was thicker and richer than at lunch time, what a good couple cabbage and sausage make. Next time I’ll make my parcels in the morning, let them rest and then re-heat them gently at lunchtime. I ate the two parcels leaning against the kitchen counter with the glass of wine I wish I’d had at lunch time – this. I am not sure it was entirely appropriate, I should ask my wise Friend. Damn nice though.  Have a good week.

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Stuffed cabbage in tomato sauce  Mondeghini in/al sugo*

Adapted from Giorgio Locatelli’s recipe in Made in Italy and Jane Grigson’s recipe in her Vegetable book

  • 1 large savoy cabbage
  • 200 g white bread, crusts cut away
  • 150 ml whole milk
  • 300 g good quality plain pork sausages, skins removed.
  • small sprig of sage, finely chopped
  • small sprig of rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • salt
  • 500 g peeled plum tomatoes
  • 30 ml / 2 tbsp olive oil
  • clove of garlic, peeled and gently squashed with the back of a knife.

Discard the very tough outer cabbage leaves (or use them for something else) and choose 9 nice, large inner leaves. Blanch these leaves in boiling salted water for a few moments until supple. Drain the leaves, pat them dry and then spread them out on a clean tea towel.

Soak the bread in the milk – mashing it gently with a wooden spoon – until it forms a soft thick paste. Mix the bread paste with the sausage meat, finely chopped rosemary and sage, parmesan, a grind of pepper and a pinch of salt. Hands are best.

Make the parcels:  If necessary pare away some of the fat stalk so the leaf lies flat. Using your hands, make a ball of sausage mixture roughly the size of a golf-ball and sit it about a third of the way up from the base of the leaf. Bring the bottom third up and over the ball, tuck the two sides of the leaf in and then roll the sausage filled bottom third over the top two-thirds of the leaf tucking the leaf back around the whole parcel.  Secure with a toothpick.

Pass the tinned tomatoes through a mouli, sieve or simply chop them roughly while still in the tin with scissors. In a heavy- based saute pan with a lid, warm the oil and then saute the garlic until golden and fragrant (be very careful not to burn it.) Add the tomatoes, stir and bring the sauce to a gentle boil. Once boiling, lower the heat until the sauce simmers and place the parcels carefully into the sauce.

Cover the pan and gently simmer the parcels for 25 minutes, turn them, replace the lid and simmer for another 25 minutes.  Remove the lid and simmer for another 10 mines so the sauce reduces a little Let the parcels sit for 15 minutes before serving with mashed potato.

*Just to clarify –  As I noted in the post I have used Giorgio Locatelli’s rather unusual name for this recipe (and spelling) Mondeghini. This word is usually reserved for polpette (meatballs) in Lombardia as is the word mondeghili. But as I was pretty faithful to Giorgio’s recipe for stuffed cabbage from his book Made in Italy, it seemed appropriate I used his word. His Grandmothers actually, so possibly a a regional/dialect word from nearly 45 years ago! Any other information or thoughts about this word are very welcome. R 

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Filed under cabbage, food, Rachel's Diary, recipes, sausage, stuffed cabbage, supper dishes, tomato sauce, winter recipes

Fat chance

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So I’m back home in Rome. Home in Rome, even after eight years that still sounds strange. It doesn’t feel strange though, it feels just right. This is due in no small part to my son, my blond-haired, blue-eyed boy, who looks decidedly English, but whose gestures, countenance and fervent, slightly comical mamma suggest otherwise and who is unmistakably content to be back.

Nearly three weeks in England was, as predicted, exactly what I needed. Long enough to immerse myself in the things I pine for – not least the beauty and beast that is family – quash the nostalgia and quietly notice the things I don’t miss one jot. Long enough also to miss Rome. To really miss Rome. Which may seem surprising given my exasperation before I left!  Or maybe it’s not so surprising! My exasperation at my adopted city was after all just that: exasperation, a familiar and relatively innocuous state. A state that’s quashed as quickly as my nostalgia for London when pitted against the things I truly, deeply like about the city that saved me, not least her sublime and shambolic beauty, her unexpectability and her infuriating but alluring attitude. And these three.

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From left to right, pancetta, guanciale and lardo. But more about these marbled slices in a moment. On arriving home in Rome, having pounded and weaved our way like territorial tom cats through Testaccio and having put the small tom cat to bed (I confess that by 7 30 I love bed time more than my son?) I settled down in front of my computer with an embarrassingly large glass of red to catch up on my reading. It’s January and there’s much talk of resolution, of greens, grains, gluten-less and guices, excuse me juices. Quite right too. And then there are the Italians (and converted Italians) who – almost without exception – are talking about lardo, lardo, guanciale, pancetta and salumi. In short cured pork products with a fearless, stupendous and delicious quantity of silky, milky-white fat. Superlative fat, now how about that!

Fully embracing the idea that January is the month to insulate and relish the fatted pig (It’s traditionally the month for slaughtering and then preserving) an almost empty fridge and a rude yearning for cured pork it seemed wholly appropriate that having bought my greens and grains I should visit a fine purveyor of all things cured: Volpetti. I explained my plans to Claudio who suggested pancetta and lardo from Toscana and an aged guanciale from Le Marche. The attention and care with which he handled the pieces, cut each slice and then wrapped it first in white paper then in brown was touching. Abandon preconceptions, this is good fat, the antitheses of insidious hidden fat. This is fat to be used (sparingly) with relish and to be celebrated. Lets start with Lardo.

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Not to be confused with English lard (struttoLardo – specifically lardo from the Tuscan hamlet tucked between two marble quarries: Colonnata – is pork back fat cured in white marble trough with salt, black pepper, aromatic herbs and garlic. I’d like to be cured in white marble trough. Eleonora and Emiko thank you. It’s a glorious, silken and deeply flavored delicacy that you eat as you would any other salumi, that is by the (very thin) slice. A delicacy that defies all expectations, dispels prejudice and should make Jack Sprats wives of us all.

I first ate lardo di colonnata a little under eight years ago in Tuscany. It was sliced extremely thinly and draped nonchalantly over a mound of puree di potato. I have to admit being a little bewildered when I first saw the plate. I was beautifully bewildered when I tasted the rich, silken, aromatic lardo melting – yielding really – into the soft, warm and accommodating mash: glorious and ambrosial, this is food that lingers in mouth and memory. Time has not faded or jaded, I still feel the same beautiful bewilderment when I eat lardo di colonnata on toasted bread. A few black olives, some radishes and a glass of prosecco and I have my perfect antipasto. And after the antipasto comes il primo so lets talk about guanciale. 

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Guanciale, which is cured pork jowl (guancia means cheek or jowl) is beloved by Romans and has changed the way I cook.  It has a sweet, delicate taste that is halfway between best bacon and proper well-rendered lard. It is an exceptional ingredient that imparts its distinct sweet flavour and rich fatty nature to whatever it is added too whether that be a soup, stew, pasta, torta or braise.

I use aged guanciale – sparingly, a little goes a long way – often. I adore the deep, rich, fatty, reassuring notes it imparts to whatever it touches. The Saul Berenson of cured pork.  Many Romans consider it fundamental to authentic All’amatriciana, Carbonara or to today’s recipe, another Roman classic and my favourite these days: Pasta or Spaghetti alla gricia.

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Pasta, guanciale, cooking water, pecorino romano and black pepper: Alla gricia. This much I know. Al dente spaghetti (or rigatoni, mezze maniche or tonnarelli ) is tossed with gently sautéed guanciale: the aim is to slowly soften the guanciale, keeping it translucent never brown and crisp which would negate the pleasure of biting into soft, fatty, sweetly flavored curls. Drained pasta is added to the guanciale along with a little of the pasta cooking water, this starchy water is a key to the dish, emulsifying the fat to create an almost creamy sauce for the pasta. The dish is finished with a fearless amount of bold, brazen, tangy and freshly grated pecorino romano and plenty of cracked black pepper. More pecorino scattered liberally from above is recommended. Eat.

Simple to make but – as is so often the case – practice is prudent. Practice until you can sauté the guanciale until it is perfectly soft, pink and succulent, perfectly judge the splash of pasta cooking water, understand exactly the right amount of vigorous pan shaking of spoon and wrist partaking required to bring the ingredients together. It goes without saying the ingredients should be authentic and the very best you can lay your hands on. If you can’t find guanciale and pecorino (I know I know fat chance) pancetta, parmesan and the same principles will make an extremely tasty dish, not gricia, but an extremely tasty dish none the less. Ben, some guanciale in exchange for a jar of seville orange marmalade?

Home in Rome chewing the fat and the spaghetti.

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Spaghetti alla Gricia

Serves 4

  • 450 g spaghetti
  • 1 tbsp lard (strutto) or olive oil
  • 150 g aged guanciale
  • 150 g  aged pecorino romano, grated
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Cook the pasta in plenty of well salted boiling water. Meanwhile place the guanciale in a cold sauté pan with the lard or olive oil and place over medium heat. Slowly sauté the guanciale. When the guanciale is soft, pink and translucent and rendered it’s fat, add a small splash of water from the cooking pasta

When the pasta is al dente, set aside a cup of pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta and add it to the pan, then turn up the heat and listen for some sizzle. Toss the pasta vigorously, coating it with the guanciale and rendered fat. Remove the pan from the heat and add three quarters of the the grated pecorino romano cheese and the black pepper, toss vigorously, and add another splash of the reserved pasta cooking water if necessary to bring the ingredients together into a soft creamy muddle. Divide between four warm bowls, scatter over the rest of the pecorino and serve immediately.

Next week pancetta, oh and cabbage.

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Filed under antipasti, guanciale, lardo, pancetta, pasta and rice, primi, recipes, Roman food, supper dishes

Takes me back

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At first at didn’t miss England at all. Quite the opposite in fact. For almost six and a half years I was happily engulfed by alternating waves of relief that I’d left (excuse me: fled) and contentment at my new (chaotic, often unfeasible and unexpected) Roman life. Then about a year and a half ago I was struck by a bolt(s) of missing. The list is predictable and clichéd I’m afraid: lawns like green baize, orderly queues, doors held open, brusque but cheery Goodmornings and Pardon mes, The Royal Mail, London Underground, John Lewis, BBC, ironic asides, Hackney cabs, well swept pavements, The Guardian Newspaper, eccentric and slightly inappropriate clothing, women going to work on the bus with damp hair. And the food! I was almost overwhelmed by waves of longing for glorious British food. Food that I’d spurned – somewhat disdainfully – in favour of glorious Italian food. But that’s another paragraph.

The problem with the missing was two-fold. First there was the missing itself – which felt a little like the hollow yawn in your stomach when you’re hungry or a persistent nagging sensation that something’s wrong  – and then there were the comparisons that inevitably accompany ‘missing’.  Now I think you know how much I truly, madly, deeply like my adopted city, but that period of missing and comparison was bloody hard. Longing for green lawns made Rome seem parched. Nostalgia for orderly queues accentuated the apparent inability of Romans to form any sort of even vaguely civil line. The metro seemed infuriatingly inefficient and Italian TV shockingly deficient. I felt exasperated by Taxis, bad service, triple parking, litter strewn public spaces, lack of irony, the postal service, doors in my face and obsessive dedication to blow-drying.

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Maybe it’s a sign you should go back‘ suggested a Roman acquaintance I shouldn’t have bothered confiding in. An acquaintance who then took umbrage at my suggestion Romans lack a sense of irony before proving my point by launching into a diatribe about cervicale and the merits of of blow-drying. ‘Maybe it’s because you’ve really decided to stay?‘ Suggested another, wiser Roman friend. She was right, the missing struck at exactly the same time circumstances in my life: an unexpected job with nice prospects at Teatro Verde, my writing, a man, confirmation of my official residenza in Rome and a half Italian baby growing inside me collided with my truly, madly, deeply. It was clear I was going to stay.

Of course you miss things about England‘ she reassured me before ordering another espresso. ‘It’s perfectly normal and damn healthy‘ She added while ripping and tipping the bag of sugar into her tiny cup and stirring an extraordinary number of times. ‘What do you English say: the grass is greener?’ She added while positioning her teaspoon back on her saucer. ‘It’s also healthy you’re finally seeing the deep, raging flaws in Rome and Romans‘ She noted before tossing back her hair, head and espresso. ‘Seeing the flaws and yet still wanting to stay!’  She paused. ‘You do need a good, long holiday in London to see what you are and aren’t missing though.’

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Of course it wasn’t quite as simple as that. But nearly. I’d been back countless times during the previous six years but that trip back about eighteen months ago, a trip full of missing, longing, a baby and guided by the words of my friend was different. I spent two weeks in England. Fourteen days in which I very consciously sought out and savored all the things I pined for: soft green lawns, orderly queues, even pavements, high quality costume drama, dirty low-brow comedy, The British Museum, Baker St station, Regents Park, Bloomsbury, Kew Gardens, Tate Modern, Propers pubs, Daunt Books and Boots the chemist. And I ate, for two: smoked fish, pork pies, icy white celery, Neals yard cheese, Sunday lunch, watercress, fruit fools, horseradish sauce, custard tarts, gooseberries, back bacon, pork chops, and cheeky fat sausages, raspberries, clotted cream, english peas and afternoon teas.

Then still acting on good advice from a my friend, I started noticing the things I didn’t miss about England – another predictable and clichéd list I’m afraid and one I will keep to myself – and quietly observing some of the things that led me to flee. I also noted the things, dozens and dozens of things, I missed about Rome! Rome my home.

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I’ve just spent another two weeks in England, it was long overdue and it was good to be back. There were generous doses of people and things I miss. There was also rather more of the things I don’t miss than anticipated! Which is fine, it’s good to be reminded. I also ate, cooked and shared plenty of really good English food, (and some not so good, but that’s fine, it’s good to be reminded.) One particularly nice, low-key supper was cooked by my mum last Monday.

Dad and I had been to Magic Voices, which is – and I quote – ‘a contemporary choir created by renowned Musical Director, Andy Rumble.’ It was the singularly most bizarre and joyful evening of my visit. Singing it seems, suits me. Happy, harmonized and humming ‘Bring him Home’ we arrived home to a blazing fire – gas I hasten to add, but blazing no less -and  mum bearing three glasses of Hugel Riesling and one of my favourite suppers waiting patiently on the AGA:, a truly, deeply good and nostalgic supper: Cauliflower cheese.

Now I imagine we are all well acquainted with cauliflower cheese! But just case you aren’t! Let me introduce you? Cauliflower florets are boiled until tender in well-salted water, arranged in a well-buttered baking dish, covered with a fearless quantity of well-made white sauce (béchamel) that has been enriched (even further) with cheese. The smooth glossy sauce is topped with breadcrumbs and more grated cheese and then baked until golden, blistered and bubbling at the edges. Well, well, well  it’s just delicious.

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I made it again two days later for lunch with Dad, my sister Rosie, nieces Beattie and Freya and my bonny and extremely dramatic son. I took time over the white sauce, infusing the milk with a bay leaf and a clove studded onion and then letting the it bubble and burp away contentedly for a good half hour. It was worth it. I remembered that when we were little my Mum sometimes scattered a tin of butter beans over the cauliflower florets. It’s an addition I can highly recommend: the soft, plump and nutty beans making the dish even more pleasing and substantial. Now about the cheese, most cheddar works well, but best of all is a mix of strong English cheddar and bold piquant Italian parmesan. Strong English and piquant Italian, ah yes, I know it well!  Remember, be generous with the salt and pepper.

I boiled some Curly Kale. Once it was tender but still as resistant as I am to life on a Monday Morning (quite), I drained it and tossed it with butter and coarse salt. It made a good, green and toothsome companion to an otherwise very beige lunch. I had a dollop of mango chutney beside my cauliflower cheese! Strange I know, but very nice.

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Cauliflower cheese

Adapted From Jane Grigson’s recipes in English Food and The Vegetable Book.

  • a large cauliflower
  • 700 ml whole milk
  • a bay leaf
  • a small onion peeled and studded with three cloves
  • 50 g butter
  • 50g plain flour
  • 50 g strong cheddar
  • 50 g parmesan
  • a tin of butter beans (drained)
  • breadcrumbs
  • more butter for dotting

Set the oven to 200°

In a small pan bring the milk, bay leaf and onion studded with cloves slowly to the boil. As soon as the milk starts to rise in the pan, turn it off and leave it to sit and infuse for 15 minutes.

Melt the butter in a heavy pan, stir in the flour and cook to a roux ( a sticky paste that comes away from the sides of the pan) for two minutes, without browning.  Remove the bay leaf and onion and then over a very low flame pour the milk gradually into the roux whisking constantly. Raise the heat a little and bring the sauce to simmering point, whisking until the sauce thickens to the consistency of thick double cream. Turn down the heat and let the sauce simmer gently for twenty minutes. Stir in all but a small handful of the grated cheese, taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper

Break the cauliflower into large florets. Bring a large pan of well salted water to a rolling boil and then drop in the florets. Boil the florets for about 5 – 8 minutes or until they are tender to the point of a knife. Drain the florets carefully so as not to break them. Arrange the florets in a baking dish, scatter over the drained butter beans, pour over the cheese sauce and dust the surface with breadcrumbs, the remaining cheese and a few dots of butter.

Bake for twenty minutes or so or until the surface is blistered and golden and the sauce is bubbling at the edges.

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Filed under cauliflower, food, Rachel's Diary, recipes, supper dishes, vegetables, winter recipes

Avoid embellishments

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Phyllis Roddy, my paternal grandma, a good and gentle woman we miss greatly, had much to do with my liking for celery.  For amongst the sandwiches, sharp cheese, pickled vegetables, fruit cakes and sweet tarts there would always be English celery when Phyllis made Tea.  Tea the meal that is, the one served at 5 30 on special days in lieu of supper. Yorkshire tea: good and simple and not to be mistaken for the posher, highly creamed afternoon tea.

The icy-white, deeply ribbed stalks with soft feathery leaves would stand in a jug of very cold water – Phyllis knew this was the best way to keep them crisp and lively.  In turn, the jug would stand in the middle of the starched linen cloth covering the dining table in my grandparents house in Cleveland Avenue. How can you not like celery?  I might have thought, as I snapped yet another stalk between my teeth: cool and savory, the perfect foil for the soft sandwiches, rudely-pink beetroot, crumbling Cheshire cheese and dark fruit cake.

Started by Phyllis and then nurtured by my mum – who never condemned celery with must or good for you and had the extraordinary knack of making a celery baton nearly as appealing as a biscuit – my liking for stringy stalks withstood the sneers and earned me favour with other mothers.  I was after all, the only child eating the token vegetable batons at the Birthday tea.  A tasty and smart move I might have thought as I accepted another slice of cake while the mother of the birthday child told my mother what a good eater I was.

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I’m writing this from my parents house near – but not near enough – to London.  I’ve been eating, drinking and flicking through my Mum’s cook books while my son plays with inappropriate and slightly dangerous objects.  A few days ago I read this in Jane Grigson’s Good Things.  “Put on the table two or three heads of celery, outside stalks removed, and the inner stalks separated, washed and chilled.  Have a dish of unsalted butter at spreading temperature, and some sea salt. Each person puts butter fairly thickly into the channel of his celery sticks, then sprinkles a thin line of seas salt along it.  Simple and delicious.   Avoid embellishments.  A good way to start a meal.”

I need little convincing to either eat celery –  I’m talking about the good stuff here, commonplace but juicy and flavoursome – or to’ put butter fairly thickly‘ on anything.  I am also completely enamoured with Jane Grigson so before you can say celery, butter and sea salt they were on the table.

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Now it may sound odd to the uninitiated but I assure you celery, butter and salt is delicious.  Truly delicious: the celery crisp, savory and just a little bitter contrasting with the soft fattiness of the butter and shards of granular salt.  It goes without saying the celery must be good, the unsalted butter excellent and the salt best quality, unadulterated and reeking of the sea.  Maldon is ideal.  Don’t be shy with the butter, imagine you are plastering a deep hole in a particularly important wall.  As with life, avoid embellishments.

As for those outer stems!  We made Jane Grigson’s celery soup from Good Things, a simple soup that tastes – as she promises – exceptionally good. Standard practice here, onion and chopped celery sautéed in plenty of butter and a dash of olive oil.  You add chopped potato for body and a litre of chicken stock before leaving the soup to simmer gently for about 30 minutes.  To finish you blast the soup with the immersion blender before adding a little heavy cream and freshly grated black pepper.

Simple, savory and tasting as it should, most resolutely of celery.  It felt like the perfect antidote the excess of the past weeks but didn’t for a second feel anything but generous and good.

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Celery soup

Adapted from Jane Grigson’s Good Things

  • 75 g / 3 oz butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 250g / 10 oz chopped celery
  • 100 g / 4 oz diced onion
  • 100 g / 4 oz diced potato
  • 1 litre /2 pints of light chicken/ turkey or ham stock
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • heavy or double cream

Stew the celery and onion gently in the butter and oil in a covered pan for 10 minutes.  Add the potato and stir to coat well with butter and oil.   Don’ let the vegetables brown.  Add the stock.  Bring the soup to the boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer for 30 minutes or until the celery is very tender.  Blend or pass the soup through a mouli. If the celery is particulary stringy you might like to pass it through a seive.  Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper as you see fit.  Ladle the soup into warm bowls,  spoon over a little double cream, swirl and eat.

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Happy New Year and wishing you all ‘Good things.’  Thank you for reading and thank you for your thoughtful, affectionate, funny, wise, frivolous, critical and honest comments.  Rach

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Filed under celery, food, rachel eats London, soup