Monthly Archives: February 2009

Vegetarian cottage pie.


Chickpeas and borlotti beans simmered away with the flavoursome trio of onion, carrot, celery, a tin of deep red plum tomatoes, a magical bay leaf, a splash of red wine for good measure, a flick of Tabasco, and then topped with creamy, buttery mashed potato = tasty in my book.

So tasty in fact, I have made three in the last two days.

The first was whipped up in a terrible rush on Tuesday night after a message from my friends Betta and Andrea asking me to bring something to sustain the vegetarians while the rest of us feasted on Andrea’s Coniglio all cacciatora and watched the Roma v Arsenal match – need I add, I was there for the food.

I had noted this recipe from a blog I am rather fond of called What Rachel ate today, its not just the name, although I admit a ting of namesakeness, I would think her blog delightful even if it wasn’t for the whole Rachel bit. I say I noted it, nothing organised like writing it down or copying it to a file. Several trips to the computer were needed while cooking, sticky hands and a computer keyboard are not ideal partners, in fact I think that is a fleck of red onion wedged between K and L I see before me.

Rushing, food in the keyboard and a phenomenal mess due to rushing in the kitchen aside, the pie was a great success, not quite up there with Andrea’s rabbit but that is another post. We should have let it rest, settle and firm up for a while before digging in but were bound by the time restraints of half-time and calcio passions quite alien to me but rousing nonetheless.

Success enough to merit a second batch yesterday, one for lunch and one for the freezer. This time I was prepared, clean apron, recipe noted on paper- which beats the screen anyday for me – a calmer disposition and a couple of tweeks in mind for the recipe.


Yes, I know, move your head to 90°, it looks better that way.

Time on my side I allowed the onion, celery, carrot, wine and tomato a longer lazy bubble before adding the precooked beans and leaving everything to bubble on for another 30mins. The beany stew was richer and denser as a result. I also randomly mashed some of the beans with the back of a fork before loading on the creamy duvet of mash, giving some of the beany stew a creamy texture which was then studded with the rest of the whole beans.

The mash was better second time round, I allowed myself to hear my mums voice in the background. Boil the potatoes whole in their skins she said so they don’t get waterlogged, allow them to cool and dry a little before peeling and pressing through a potato ricer. Warm the milk and butter before adding to the potato and be generous with the butter (easy peasy), season carefully and give everything a good firm beat with a wooden spoon for a good texture.

I ate the first pie for lunch, everything was still warm enough from being freshly made, so I decided the pie only needed a very brief recline in the oven to heat things up and a flash under the grill to crisp the top a little. I know the second pie which is sleeping in the freezer at present will need a good defrost and then longer in the oven to bring it back to warm, comforting life.


Vegetarian cottage pie.

Inspired by Rachel

makes 1 large pie for 4 or 2 smaller ones for two

  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 mild red onion finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 150ml red wine
  • 400g tin of fine plum tomatoes
  • flick of tabasco
  • 200g cooked chickpeas
  • 200g cooked borlotti
  • 1 kg floury potatoes such as King Edward, Desiree, Caesar, the potatoes need to roughly the same size and modest in size.
  • 200ml whole milk
  • 125g good butter
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Warm the olive oil in a heavy based pan and add the onion, celery and carrot. Over a modest flame allow everything to soften and turn translucent which should take about 10 mins.

Raise the heat a little and add the tin of tomatoes, bay leaf, a flick of tabasco and wine, bring everything to a lively simmer and then reduce the heat and allow to simmer away for about 20 mins.

Add the beans to the pan, stir and allow to simmer away for another 30mins.

Meanwhile make your mash.

Scrub the potatoes clean and then leaving them whole and unpeeled cover them with cold, salted water. Bring to the boil and then reduce to lively simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender to the point of a knife which with modest sized whole ones will take about 30 mins.

Drain the potatoes and then once then are cool and dry enough to handle, peel them.

In a large heavy based pan warm the milk and butter gently and then remove from the heat. Press the potatoes through a potato ricer into warmed milk and butter and then beat everything together with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, taste, taste again.

By now your beany stew should be ready. Using the back of a fork mash and squash some of the chickpeas and beans and give everything a cheery stir. Tip the beans into your pie dish, even out with the back of a wooden spoon and then load on the layer of mash. use a fork to rough up the surface of the pie.

Bake the pie in a warm oven (about 200°C) for 20 – 40 mins depending on whether it is cold or still warm when it goes in the oven.

The pie is ready when the top is nicely browned and the sauce just starting to bubble up around the edges.


Filed under Beans and pulses, food, pies and tarts, recipes, vegetables

Borlotti bean and farro soup

Apparently farro makes you happy.

I think it may be true, Prozac be gone you old fool, give me farro my good man and plenty of it, and pint of your finest ale.

It also contains more protein than lentils, a hefty dose of fibre and complex carbohydrates, it’s good for your hair and did I mention the fact it makes you happy.


I am not going to apologise for the photo – the soup is cosi, brown lumpy highly textured and RUSTIC – or the fact this soup is rather like this because I am trying ever so hard not to keep apologising for myself, a bad habit which slips from my lips almost compulsively. I am the fool who splutters ‘Mi scusi’ to the person who has just poked ME in the eye with their over-sized umbrella or mumbles sorry to the idiot who just crushed my toes with their big winter boots. I am the red faced customer stuttering mi dispiace mi dispiace to the stroppy shop assistant who curls her lip in disgust and looks most put out at being asked to go to the stockroom –  which I assume is part of her job – to find my size because everything on display is for teeny tiny people. I apologise incessantly, I don’t know why, I often don’t mean it at all, which makes me very insincere I suppose.

The leaf has been turned, my page is clean, after all as P G Wodehouse once said ‘It is a good rule in life to never apologise. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take advantage of them

So no apologies then…

This is another of those thick, hearty, honest, soup stews the Italians excel at. Nothing fancy, nothing clever, just a bowl of deeply flavoured, simple and nourishing food. The combination of borlotti, some pureed and some left whole and farro is just wonderful, a smooth and creamy base studded with the soft, earthiness of whole beans coupled with a the nutty, fortifying bite of the farro.

I having been making this soup almost as compulsively as I apologise recently, it is rather fitting for the meteorological and economic climate we are all enduring, as my friend Harriet would say, it is austerity cooking of – I should add – the very nicest kind.

It’s all very straightforward once the overnight soaking and then the precooking of the beans is over and done with. Of course if you can get your hands on some fresh borlotti, lucky you, if like me you are quietly mourning their absence dried ones will have to suffice (tinned coming in at #3 in bean options.) Oh, and depending on the type of farro you are using, that may need an over night soak too, mine didn’t but I don’t suppose it would have been to much bother alongside the beans.


So you have soaked and cooked your beans (may I suggest flinging a bay leaf or two and some whole cloves of garlic in the pan while they simmer away) and set them aside reserving the precious cooking water. First up a soffrito, warm your olive oil and then add the onion, soften until translucent and floppy, throw in the carrot and celery and let it all gently sizzle away but not colour for about 10 minutes. Now add the garlic, stir and cook for another couple of minutes. Add about 3/4 of the cooked beans and the tomato paste and a couple of tablespoons of the water you cooked the beans in. Cover the pan and let everything bubble away over a gentle flame for about 20minutes.


Now you have really made the soup, a very thick one at that. Pass everything through your mouli if you want a thicker texture or wizz it all up with a stick blender if you desire something very smooth. Now put everything back in the pan along with the farro and the rest of the bean water and let it simmer away over a gentle flame for about 25 minutes (attentive stirring is necessary to avoid the clump of farro stuck to the bottom of your pan) at which point the farro will be soft, swollen and full of flavour

To serve you add the rest of the reserved whole beans, salt and freshly ground black pepper and good dribble of the nicest extra virgin olive oil you care to afford and some very finely chopped rosemary. Eat and be happy.


Borlotti bean and farro soup

Adapted from Giorgio locatelli’s brilliant book Made in Italy.

  • 160g farro/spelt (soaked over night if necessary)
  • 100g dried borlotti soaked overnight and then simmered with a couple of bay leaves and 2 whole cloves of garlic in plenty of cold water until tender but still just a little nutty which should take about 2 hours.
  • extra virgin olive oil and extra for finishing
  • 1 carrot peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 mild onion peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp of thick tomato paste
  • 600ml of the water you cooked the beans in – add water to make up 600ml if necessary
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a few fresh rosemary leaves crushed and then roughly chopped

Instructions AGAIN, I will not apologise for repeating myself !

First up a soffrito, warm your olive oil and then add the onion, soften until translucent and floppy, throw in the carrot and celery and let it all gently sizzle away but not colour for about 10 minutes.

Now add the garlic, stir and cook for another couple of minutes.

Add about 3/4 of the cooked beans and the tomato paste and a couple of tablespoons of the water you cooked the beans in. Cover the pan and let everything bubble away over a gentle flame for about 20minutes.

Pass everything through your mouli if you want a thicker texture or wizz it all up with a stick blender if you desire something very smooth.

Now put everything back in the pan along with the farro and the rest of the bean water and let it simmer away over a gentle flame for about 25 minutes (attentive stirring is necessary to avoid the clump of farro stuck to the bottom of your pan) at which point the farro will be soft, swollen and full of flavour.

To serve you add the rest of the reserved whole beans, salt amd feshly ground black pepper and good dribble of the nicest extra virgin olive oil you care to afford and some very finely chopped rosemary.

Eat and be happy.


Filed under Beans and pulses, food, recipes, soup

Braised Ossobuco


I am aware that this post is rather similar to the previous one, I have clearly got a meaty, tomatoey, robust, braise phase going on – what can I say it’s February which thuds in at #12 on my favorite month chart and it’s rather chilly. A braise bubbling happily on or in the oven is just what my cold cockles are in dire need of.

In Italian Osso means bone and buco means hole.

Ossobuco is quite literally a bone with a hole.

Well almost. The bone with the hole I am talking about is cut in thick rounds from a knuckle of veal (veal shanks) so surrounding it is a circle of tender flesh which if you look closely is individual nuggets of flesh cunningly encased in a network of fibres and soft connective tissue.


I am going to be bold and say that veal ossobuco is without a doubt my favorite meat to braise and maybe just maybe my favorite to eat.

I first ate ossobuco in Milan in a restaurant I can’t for the life of me remember the name of.  I do however remember the meal, vividly, a meal which has stayed with me years after the last delicious forkful. The ossobuco I ate that night was alla milanese, cooked with butter, white wine and aromatics, served with a gremolada of garlic, lemon peel and parsley and accompanied by a fine, delicate, saffron coloured and flavoured risotto alla milanese. It left me with a gastronomic sense memory which still burns brightly.

This recipe is not strictly speaking ossobuco alla milanese as it contains a hearty proportion of tomatoes which the lombardia classic does not. If I was planning the full monty of ossobucco, risotto and gremolada I would forgo the tomatoes feeling they were overpowering in the presence of the other distinct flavours but considering I am aiming for a more solitary plateful I have included them. This a fine fine recipe and yields a plate of ossobuco which more than placates the yearnings of my sense memory.

The recipe goes something like this, after a good, lively browning the ossobuco is subjected to a long, slow, patient simmer with a carefully executed soffritto, a generous glug of white wine, some fine plum tomatoes and plenty of flavoursome aromatics during which it is transformed into a meltingly tender and full flavoured delight with a thick creamy sauce. And to top it all a most delicious treat awaits you inside the bone, ready to be scooped or sucked out – a pool of soft, rich and indulgent bone marrow.


A few thoughts

It goes without saying some top notch veal ossobuco is in order here,  you will most probably have to order it. Any butcher worth his salt will cut it to size for you while you wait and admire his artful touch with the electric saw required for these bony chaps – my butcher is such a dab hand with knifes and saws it is provoking a most childish of crushes and uncontrollable blushing on my part.

Each ossobuco requires an attentive and patient browning before you unite it with the equally attentively made soffritto of finely chopped onion, carrot and celery.

Fresh aromatics (except bay) are pretty essential – dried, bottled ones are all a bit musty, I would rather do without.

The strips of lemon peel are vital.

I don’t worry about tying string around the circumference of each ossobuco to hold them together and they have held their shape well enough.

I add a little water as opposed to veal stock, I think the end result is rich enough and would rather save my stock for something else- you may disagree.

This is cooking for a lazy day, rushing is not really an option, there is nothing complicated about the recipe but it all needs quiet thoughtful execution as you build up the rich layers of flavour.

This recipe will be very happily made one or two days in advance –  it can be gently reheated over a gentle flame.

We ate for dinner last night with creamy mashed potatoes which was very very good but I have to admit the final plateful was even better at lunchtime today after a night of mellowing and wallowing in all those sublime juices. At about 1 30 today while Vincenzo – who does not partake of meat had ALL the leftover mash as fried potato cakes with a fried egg on top – I ate the final slice with some very good bread to mop up the sauce and scoop out the marrow bone, a big green salad finished a very indulgent Monday lunch very nicely indeed.


Braised ossobuco

Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essensials of classic Italian cooking.

serves 6

  • 1 large white onion peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery finely chopped
  • 50g butter
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 strips of lemon peel with no white pith
  • 5 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 6 ossobuco steaks (each about 1.5″ thick)
  • flour for dusting the ossobuco
  • 250ml dry White wine
  • 100ml water or veal stock
  • 400g good tinned plum tomatoes roughly chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • sprig of fresh thyme
  • 2 sprigs of parsley
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Set the oven to 180°C/ 350°f

In a very large heavy based pan big enough to accommodate the ossobuco in a single layer melt the butter over a gentle flame and add the onion, carrot and celery. Raise the heat a little and saute the vegetables for about 10 minutes until soft and translucent.

Add the garlic and lemon peel and cook gently for another couple of minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

In a large frying pan warm your vegetable oil over a lively flame. Dip the ossobuco in the flour on a plate, coat each slice and shake to remove excess flour.

Once the oil is really quite hot, fry the ossobuco slices first on one side, then the other until they are golden brown, in batches if necessary. Once they are done use a slotted spoon to lift them out of the frying pan and place them on top of the vegetables in your big pan.

Carefully spoon off most of the vegetable oil from the frying pan leaving just a little oil and all the meaty residue. Over a good flame add the wine to the frying pan and while it sizzles de-glaze the pan – scape away the meaty residue stuck to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon and then tip everything over the meat and vegetables in the big pan.

Add the tomatoes, stock or water, thyme, bay, parsely, salt and freshly ground black pepper to the pan.

Bring the pan to a gentle but lively simmer, cover it tightly and then put it in the oven for 2 hours. turning the ossobuco every 30 minutes and adding a little more water if necessary.


Filed under food, meat, recipes

A kind of Pollo alla Cacciatora

Oh, the title of this post has given me a headache, what to call it.

I am bold and brazen enough to post about a heavyweight Italian classic like Pollo alla cacciatora -chicken hunters style- but more importantly am I resilient enough withstand the mummers of quiet disapproval or chorus of you don’t do it like that, you do it like this or mia mamma fa cosi. Maybe should I just chicken out and call it chicken cooked with onion, tomato and rosemary.

No, today I am bold and brazen, half a bottle of Barbareso courage  is making things quite wonderfully uninhibited, well almost uninhibited, hence the kind of.


From what I understand – and I have a whole other language to deal with here which still leaves me in a frazzle – cooking alla cacciatora generally speaking involves frying joints of usually rabbit or chicken until they are golden and starting to crisp and then uniting them with aromatic additions  – vegetables, herbs, olives, wine, sometimes some vinegar. Everything is then cooked together producing a dish of moist but firm and flavoursome meat with a rich, concentrated sauce.

So with all that in mind, this is my version. It is an almighty muddle of various recipes and platefuls eaten seasoned with endless bits and pieces of advice I have willingly adopted and experimented with over the last four years in Rome. I think it just about meets the broad criteria of Pollo alla cacciatora and more importantly it is utterly simple and certainly delicious.


A good chicken – jointed, a large red onion, garlic, some good tinned plum tomatoes or passata, rosemary, dry white wine, salt and pepper are all you need – oh and a frying pan and a big, heavy, robust pan in which you can simmer everything together gloriously.

The initial frying of the joints is fundamental, carefully pat them dry first with kitchen towel. Then in your large frying pan heat a good inch of good olive oil , fry the joints in small batches, first skin side down before turning, until they are beautifully golden and just a little crispy.


You set your crispy joints aside while you gently soften your onion in your big robust pan. Once the onion is soft and translucent you add the garlic, rosemary and the chicken joints, salt and a few good grinds of pepper. Next you glug in the wine and enjoy the wonderful alcoholic sizzle – maybe one of my favorite cooking moments. Pour in the tomatoes, stir and allow to bubble and blop blop and simmer happily for about 45 minutes. Done.

I don’t think this really needs anything other than some good bread to mop up the rich, dense sauce, potatoes of the mashed kind could work well.

By the way Rome was beautiful today cold cold but clear and glorious, I walked up to Gianicolo and gasped slightly at my adopted city – that plane ticket was one of the best things I ever bought.

A kind of Pollo alla Cacciatora

serves 4

  • 1.5kg chicken jointed into 8 pieces
  • About 8tbsp good extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and finely sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a nice sprig of fresh rosemary gently bruised with a heavy knife handle.
  • 6 tbsp dry white wine
  • 400g tinned plum tomatoes or passata

Wash the chicken joints and then carefully pat them very dry..

In a large heavy frying pan warm 4tbsp of oil. Once it is hot add about half the joints, skin side down to start. Fry them until they are golden and slightly crisp, turn and fry the other side. Set the cooked joints aside on a warm plate and season with salt and black pepper and then fry the other half of the joints in the same way.

In your large heavy pan warm the other 4tbsp of oil and add the sliced onion. saute the onion until soft, translucent and golden. Add the slivers of garlic and rosemary and stir. Add the chicken joints.

Glug in the wine wine and move the joints around gently while the wine sizzles away for about 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and bring the pan to a happy simmer and cover the pan with the lid askew. Allow to gently bubble away for about 45 minutes stirring every so often and adding a little more water if you feel the need.


Filed under food, meat, recipes

Olive oil and orange cake for breakfast


Just to be clear, as Vincenzo has just pointed out that the title sounds a little ambiguous, as if we ate orange cake and, well, I don’t know, drank olive oil for breakfast – which is actually not a bad idea considering how good our oil is this year – no, this is a cake made with both olive oil and orange zest.

I have had my eye on this recipe for a while now, about 3 years to be precise…3 years..3 wipper snapper where did you fly to years. I can be so precise because I bookmarked it with another recipe, for Ricotta Gnocchi – which I haven’t made either – ripped out from a newspaper which is conveniently dated, Lunedi 6 Marzo 2006. Talking of years it is very nearly 4 since I spontaneously, irresponsibly, irrationally and liberatingly bought myself a plane ticket and came to Rome.

So, I have had my eye on it, as well as about 113 other recipes and a very cute pair of robin hood green shoes with fearsome heels which would thrust me up to about 6″ 2 and into serious debt.

New shoes are not a priority at present, but nice cakes are and Olive oil and Orange cake sounds very nice indeed.

I finally got around to making it on Sunday after a halfhearted attempt at cleaning the flat and sorting out the countless recipes I have torn compulsively from newspapers and magazines – which are in desperate need of a new box file of a home. Housework was rudely interrupted by an urgent need to make both the cake and the Gnocchi. It was however still only 10 o clock and considering the recent arrival of our new oil the cake seemed more appropriate.

I made it and we ate it for breakfast, may I suggest you do the same.


This is my kind of cake, after all I am a simple cake kind of girl, plain, straightforward and not too sweet, no clever combinations, icing, fancy layers and buttery creams which don’t do anything for me. This cake fits my cake criteria perfectly. It may be plain but it is far from boring, surprisingly savory with a light open texture, the olive oil lends it a wonderfully particular fruitiness, the orange zest a pleasing lift and the Marsala a quiet but distinct kick.

It is pleasingly simple to make, perfect for a bit of lazy, still sleepy Sunday morning kitchen therapy with Grant Green’s Idle moments soothing you in the background.


You do need to be gently attentive while you whisk together the eggs and sugar, you want a creamy pale froth. Now you decide, what is less appealing on a Sunday morning noise from an electric whisk or arm lively exertion from hand whisking ? – I opted for the noise,which was quite rude considering the idle atmosphere Grant was lending the kitchen, what can I say, I was feeling lazy.

Olive oil and orange cake

Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s The essensials of classic italian cooking

  • 3 eggs
  • 125g caster sugar
  • zest of 1 orange without digging into the white pith
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 tbsp dry Marsala
  • 6 tbsp milk
  • 175ml extra virgin olive oil and extra for greasing.
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 170g plain flour

A 2.2 litre circular tube tin

Heat the oven to 200° 400°f

Break the eggs into a bowl and add the sugar. Beat or whisk them together until they are pale, creamy and frothy.

Add the orange zest, salt, Marsala, milk and olive oil and then gently fold everything together.

Sift the flour and baking powder into the bowl and then again gently gently fold everything together so as not to knock air out of the mixture.

Smear the inside of your baking tin with oil and then pour in your gloriously gloopy, smooth batter.

Bake in the upper part of the oven for about 45minutes at which point a toothpick should come out clean.

Let the cake rest in its tin for 10minutes before running a palate knife around the inside of the tin to loosen the cake. Turn the cake onto a cooling rack.

Serve just warm.



Filed under cakes and baking, food, recipes

Walking to breakfast


My Wednesday started so well.

The sun peeped out while I walked, no, I strode to the bar to have breakfast.

Then it all kind of clouded over and I stumbled and dragged my feet through the rest of the day. I did make another pan of this, but even that didn’t stop the day from being pretty damn dreary.

I do have a tart and a stew I want to tell you about, but I am fit only for bed so I will leave them for another day.


Filed under Rachel's Diary