What a nice pair

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It was a good and unmistakably Roman start to the meal: crisp, bitter curls of puntarelle (chicory) dressed with olive oil, garlic and anchovy, braised globe artichokes and slices of toasted bread zigzagged with olive oil and strewn with salt. The serving dishes were large, the table long and narrow and a lackadaisical mother allowing her child to crawl everywhere, so a fair amount of passing, negotiating and cooperation was required.

Just when it seemed we’d all helped ourselves to everything, and the dishes had found places between the bottles and the bread, Alessandro (sporting his signature chef bandana) brought an almost whole wheel of pecorino romano to the table. My friend Mauro grinned and made it clear where the cheese should be deposited by drumming his fingers on the table before him. He then took the stumpy cheese knife, impaled it, hewed off a lump of pecorino and began eating. We were in Agustarello obviously.

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It took me a while to come around to pecorino romano, the ewes milk cheese so beloved of the Romans. It’s a distinctive and surly cheese: strong and with a semi-sharp almost muttony taste about it. If parmigiano reggiano is a smooth sophisticated type with a history of art degree and a flat in Kensington, then pecorino romano is a bit of a rogue with an accent as thick as treacle, superlative record collection and oodles of charm

Most pecorino romano is aged from 8 months to a year and then considered a grating cheese. Once grated, it’s launched liberally, lending its distinctive nature and a salty wink to some of Rome’s most prized dishes: pasta alla gricia, all’amatriciana, carbonara, angry arrabbiata, cacio e pepe and the aromatic trippa alla romana.

Some pecorino romano however, is eaten young, at around about five months – I believe semi-aged is the correct term  - which means it’s less pungent, that it’s softer and milder mannered and makes a good table cheese. A very good table cheese, especially with first fave, the first tender broad beans of the spring.

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It’s one of the nicest Roman rituals, one traditionally enjoyed during the symbolic trip to the countryside after winter. A big dish of broad beans still in their pods so that you may peel them yourself is served with a piece of young pecorino romano and a glass of local wine.

Of course fave demand attention! The long, fingerlike pods need to be split down the seam and then the tough opaque coats eased away from each bean before the bright green slivers, tasting somewhere between a buttered pea and asparagus can be eaten with a nub of cheese. Weather permitting we will enjoy this ritual on Monday – otherwise known as Pasquetta or little Easter – in Villa Celimontana. Come! Bring something for the picnic table, a bottle or two and suitable shoes for football. I won’t play football obviously, I’ll sit podding fave and drinking the wine you brought.

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Or – but hush and don’t tell the farmer – you could eat your pecorino romano with pear. But I probably don’t need to tell you that! You know perfectly well what good partners hard cheese and pears make ? How nicely the sweet, buttery, vinous character of pear marries with a hunk of sharp, salty pecorino? The pear should be ripe, but not too ripe! An elusive moment I know, but one well worth waiting for. At least I think so.

This week all my pears, that is the bowlful above and a bag full sitting under the counter, reached that elusive moment simultaneously. Having been almost comically enthusiastic, my son promptly decided he didn’t like chair and shouted every time I presented him with a slice, chunk or puree. Determined the pears shouldn’t suffer the all too common fate in this flat, that is deterioration into a soft, sleepy mush that ends up (shamefully) in the bin, I took charge.

There was pear and pecorino romano just so. A salad of thinly sliced fennel, pear and pecorino was good (the faint liquorice nip of the fennel working well with the sweet and sharp) and a pear and prosciutto sandwich excellent. Then, at the eleventh hour, as the remaining pears appeared to give me the same look my son gives me when I’m typing on the computer: that is hopeful but mournful and resigned to my neglect, I made chutney.

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Pear and date chutney. I’ve had this recipe in mind for weeks, ever since spying it on a new to me blog called Life in Abruzzo. I have a weakness for chutney, for rich, sweet and sharp concoctions to be smeared onto bread, spooned next to curry or nudged onto cheese, scotch egg, pressed potato or a fat wedge of potato frittata. This recipe is a good as it sounds: a dark, sticky muddle of pear (the chunks of which retain something of their shape and shine through the glass jar) and dates, with a nip of aniseed, a pinch of fragrant and feminine coriander and warm undertones from the teaspoon of pepperoncino. Yes please.

It’s pleasingly straightforward. You chop the pears and dates and then macerate them - or whatever the verb is – for an hour or so in cider vinegar and sugar. Seeds are fried in hot oil until they’re fragrant and your kitchen smells like somewhere else. Onion is added to the seeds and then once it’s soft and translucent you add the fruit et al, bring the chutney to the boil and then reduce it to a burping simmer for nearly an hour. You ladle your dark, sticky, spoon-coating chutney into scrupulously clean jars. I find boiling water and a warm oven does the trick but don’t tell the earnest canners that, they will have me up in front of the preserving judge before you can say not hermetically sealed. But really, around here chutney is kept in the fridge and eaten long before any unsavory types have time to even think about visiting, never mind moving in.

Pear and date chutney and pecorino romano, what a nice pair, and one that fits neatly into a Roman life with English undertones. Just perfect for a picnic (in the kitchen.) Have a good (and long) weekend.

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Pear and date chutney

Adapted from Sammy Dunham’s recipe in Life in Abruzzo which was in turn adapted from Lucinda’s recipe. With advice (as is so often the case) from Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David. Did I mention how much I like Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David. Two practical notes. Firstly, stir and scrape attentively during the simmering, chutney can be terrible sticker if left to its own devices. Secondly this chutney – like most chutneys –  is best when cooked to a moderate set: jammy and coating the back of the spoon, but still a little runny; if too thick and solid it will dry out. I halved the quantities suggested by Sammy. The recipe below makes three jars

  • 750 g pears
  • 250 g dates (ideally Medjool)
  • 325 g demerara or soft brown sugar
  • 250 ml cider or apple vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped pepperoncino or cayenne pepper
  • 50 ml olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
  • 1 scarse teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 large red or white onion (yielding about 300 g when diced)
  • salt and black pepper

Wash, core and chop the pears into small chunks. remove the stones from the dates and chop them roughly. In a large bowl mix the pear, dates, sugar, vinegar, and pepperoncino and mix thoroughly (hands are best). Leave to sit for an hour or so, stirring every so often.

In a heavy based pan, heat the oil and then add the seeds and fry (vigorously but not aggressively) for 30 seconds or so or until the seeds are fragrant. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, lower the heat and then saute the onion until it is soft and translucent.

Add the pear mixture, a pinch of salt a several grinds of black pepper to the pan. Stir, bring chutney to the boil and then reduce to a bubbling simmer for 45 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so scraping well round sides and bottom of pan.

The chutney is ready when it is dark, thickish, sticky and coating the back of the spoon.

Ladle the chutney into warm sterilized jars (I wash mine in boiling water and then sit them in a warm oven to dry.) Screw on lids and leave jars to cool. Store somewhere cool and dark. Ready to eat straight away, but better after a week and better still after three (according to Sammy.) Once opened, keeps in fridge for up to a month.

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42 Comments

Filed under cheese, chutney, dates, jams and preserves, preserves and conserves, rachel eats Rome, Roman food, spring recipes

42 responses to “What a nice pair

  1. I recognise that look that a child gives its mother when she is typing. That one though has been surpassed by the said child sitting impatiently by my side so that she can play a game that entails painting fingernails, asking repeatedly ‘have you finished yet?’. I like a young pecorino.

    • rachel

      Kath, the worse thing about it is that he already seems resigned to my low level neglect. We will have all morning the park to make up for this computer driven week. I have decided to go computer free on Sundays – we will see. Do you still have snow? We had rain but it looks like sun today. Have a lovely long weekend xx

  2. Wow. I don’t know what to do first, go buy the perfect piece of pecorino or buy dates for the chutney. Villa Celimontana is new to me–sounds lovely.
    Happy Easter and enjoy Pasquetta with Luca.

  3. Susan

    Your comparison of parmigiano reggiano to pecorino romano is genius and made me laugh out loud. I so love it, being a pecorino girl myself. Happy Easter to you and Luca!

  4. Chutney of any kind is a foreign concept in Puglia, which inspires me to make this one and spring it on my friends. Thanks!

    • rachel

      Same in Rome, that said some of the mostarda type preserves are rather like relish/chutney. It also goes well with salumi. Have a good Pasqua

  5. Wow it’s wonderful to see the pear chutney in its new incarnation, gorgeous photos Rachel and great post

    • rachel

      Thank you thank you to you Sammy. I have bookmarked half your super recipe collection (the whole site in fact, I am long overdue another trip to Abruzzo)

  6. There is a dish which I’ve only had in Rome (or now at home) of short fat pasta tubes (mezze maniche rigate is good) served slightly awash with their cooking water, into which a generous handful of Pecorino has been sprinkled. Black pepper to taste and that’s it! you get a sticky, stringy, cheesy, peppery mess. Three different warm and heartening textures – watery, soft/chewy and al dente – to settle the stomach on a chilly day, before something rich and meaty. Or just for a really quick lunch!

    I like the way one can buy the younger Pecorino infused with truffle, or chilli or pepper. Substitute that for a change.
    ———
    Following on from last time’s theme of similarity, you’ve reminded me of going to school with cheese and date sandwiches ;-)
    ———
    Oh and Puntarelle, mmmmmm!

    Thanks again for a pleasant and inspiring read.

    Richard

    • rachel

      I think that will be cacio e pepe (cacio being the Roman shorthand for pecorino romano). I just love the way you describe it.
      I too had date and cheese sandwiches as a child (sharp cheddar in this case) maybe that is why I have such a soft spot for this chutney with pecorino.
      Puntarelle yes, always.

  7. Just when you had me headed out for pears – you bring up the chutney. I thought I had enough to cook this weekend – but what a wee bit more?

    • rachel

      It sounds as if you like chutney – this is a good one and not too much trouble give or take a stir. Happy and delicious Easter to you (all)

  8. I’ve never had young pecorino. You’ve inspired me to ask my local cheese guy about it. Your posts are always so beautiful and full of inspiration.

    • rachel

      To one Rachel from another – Thank you. Remember to ask about young pecorino romano (there are dozens and dozens of types of pecorino.)

  9. I must confess, I’m more of a parmagiano fan myself, but your lovely words are encouraging me to go out and buy a big old hunk of pecorino to go with the last (I hope) of this season’s pears. Happy long weekend, Rachel!

    • rachel

      I am happy with both: smooth and sophisticated and rough roguish charmer. I feel the same way about my cheese. Have a lovely and delicious Easter Ann x

  10. surly, yes. love the description. and would love to come by, pod and drink wine. (there is a chance, in late May-early June; I’ll keep you posted!)
    I’ve never considered pears and dates together! you’ve got me convinced . x

    • rachel

      A chance, a chance, woopee. We obviously need to talk about this at length. Have a lovely, tasty, happy weekend (hope it involves a little boy) Rx

  11. No pecorino romano in the house but you inspired me to pair some young broad beans with a lovely Umberto Avanzini single-herd parmesan tonight. Pear Chutney another time.

    • rachel

      Sounds good and I think I need to seek out Umberto Avanzini and his single herd cheese. I’ve been craving Lancashire cheese ever since reading your post.

  12. Oh no. Now I want everything you’ve mentioned here. You do have a way, Rachel.

  13. Pingback: Links: Thumbprint Cookies and a Breakfast for Dinner Winner - Food in Jars | Food in Jars

  14. The ritual of eating fave with pecorino, what a wonderful way to welcome spring! But then again, you had me at puntarelle ;)

    • rachel

      it is one of nicest ways to welcome spring: That said, we welcomed spring but now she seems to have gone again. Puntarelle – yes – it is good to be understood.

  15. It seems like every year around this time I read an ode to fave and pecorino, so I pick up some broad beans and hard cheese and a grassy California white wine at the farmer’s market, and then I sit outside and enjoy this spring time delight. It’s time again! Happy spring!

  16. Jude

    A couple of quick questions about the (delicious sounding) chutney recipe from an inexpert cook… Should we peel the pears or not? And does the weight of the dates include or exclude the stones?
    Cheers,
    Jude

    • rachel

      Two excellent questions (so I should thank you). No you don’t peel the pears as the skin helps the pieces retain their shape at least a bit. The weight of the dates includes stones. Hope you make it and more importantly hope you like it Rx

  17. Jude

    Many thanks! I shall now roll my sleeves up and put my pinny on!

  18. I’m not a chutney or jam maker. Although I should be. For there is nothing nicer than a clumsy blob of fruit goo married with some cheese and bread and the kitchen table. A nice kitchen picnic.

  19. I love making chutneys! They are so easy to make and can change any meal into something completey different. I’ll save this for when pears are in season.

    • rachel

      I agree, about the changing a meal that is (I have been spooning this chutney over all sorts of suppers.) I am still a chutney novice with lots to learn but I am very inspired after this little success.

  20. thanks for your kind comments. we really must meet for a testaccio coffee at some point! it’s been a while since i strolled through that side o’ town.

  21. When I come to Rome – soon, I hope – I don’t know whether I should beg you to make this for me – over drinks and chatter with our little ones – or your famous potato croquettes… So many choices. xx

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