Monthly Archives: October 2010

Pump it up.

I find it virtually impossible to even look at a pumpkin without thinking about a friend of mine doing an impression of Elvis Costello and singing (I use the term singing in the broadest possible sense) ‘Pump(kin) it up‘ and in the middle of Borough market while we were choosing our Halloween orb a few years ago. I laughed so hard I managed to drop the chosen one. As we snorted over the split mess she started singing ‘Pump on the floor’ to the tune of Technotronic’s ‘Pump up the Jam‘ at which point my stomach went into belly laugh spasms, I experienced respiratory problems and we had to retire to the Wheatsheaf Public house for a lunchtime pint and lengthy recompose.

The pump on the chair was a belated birthday present (excellent, I prefer an extended drip drip of gifts as opposed to a downpour) from my friend Andrea. He also gave me a bag of Dante carnaroli rice and a great book about the food of Ferrara which – rather neatly – has a recipe for risotto di zucca (pumpkin risotto) on page 60. But before you can say ‘Risotto can be tricky ‘ I noticed a recipe on the back of the rice packet for a charmingly simple sounding lunch: riso e zucca or rice and pumpkin. It’s a wonderful packet by the way, with a photo of the seductive, sultry Silvana Mangano in the film ‘Riso amaro,’ great rice too, superlative superfino, I only wish I could find you a link and some outrageously good mail delivery offers.

Working on the principle that Signor Dante seems extremely serious about his award-winning superfino carnaroli rice and therefore wouldn’t suggest a shoddy recipe, and that proper risotto – which I adore, both the making of it and the eating – can be unpredictable, I decided to give the recipe on the back of the packet a whirl. It’s all very straightforward. Having peeled or engaged in some fancy carving and de seeded the pumpkin, you cut it into chunks which you then poach in a little water. After a few minutes you add the rice and then – bar the odd nudge, stir and a bit more water – you can leave things alone, bubbling gently, for about 17 minutes. Once the rice is tender, silky, but with bite, you add a thick slice of butter, lots of freshly grated Parmesan, maybe a little salt and a good grind of black pepper, stir enthusiastically and serve.

We were both a little skeptical, no onion cooked in butter, no vermouth perking proceedings up, no chicken stock, no figure-of-eight stirring for 17 minutes, no risotto – were we going to be terribly disappointed? Vincenzo had to remind me four times that we were following a recipe which suggested you stir occasionally as I attempted risotto-style continuous stirring. We both peered suspiciously into the pan at the very very orange contents, we both tasted with furrowed brows. It has to be said the first taste was a pretty subdued experience: the texture was good, the rice was indeed excellent – Bravo Signor Dante, the pumpkin full of flavour, but it was all rather neutral. But then, ‘That was to be expected‘ we mumbled, ‘After all, it was just rice and pumpkin cooked in water.‘ We needed to wait for the addition of the very thick slice of good butter, a little mountain of the king kong of the cheese board: Parmesan, a grind of black pepper and a flick of salt. We tasted again, furrows relaxed.’Very nice‘ sparkled Vincenzo’s eyes, suddenly things were looking and tasting, well, really rather tasty.

We declared it delicious, not as complex or refined as a risotto but, delicious none the less. It tastes as pleasingly straightforward as it sounds on the back of the packet, as true and simple as its name, Riso e Zucca. The rice – creamy and starchy, and the pumpkin – which has partly collapsed into a soft, sweet/savory puree but with some soft, tender chunks, are brought together by the butter and the rich, round parmesan into a glorious soft mound, a delicious yielding whole. As we devoured the whole panful, which was more than enough for four, we discussed the fact that if liked or used the term comfort food – I blame food magazines who hijacked this term then twisted and over foodstyled it into a horrid cliché – we might well use it now.

In the presence of such a majestic piece of Parmesan – another present, this time from my Dad who spent a few days in Rome recently and insisted on doing some of our shopping in Volpetti (another excellent thing) – it seemed churlish not to grate a little more over the top.

Vincenzo reminded me that, as with risotto, our Rice and pumpkin needed a couple of minutes on the plate to settle, so the flavours could come together. After sad two minutes he proceeded to spread the mound out a little on the plate, from the center towards the rim, so the steam dissipated before he took the first mouthful.

My dreadful two-week procrastination in writing this post has meant that we have actually made this four times now, testament to the fact it is very good, beautifully simple and pretty perfect for these autumnal days and my low-key (lazy) presence in the kitchen at present. Advice for this one, well, the best ingredients you can lay your hands on, especially the rice and the parmesan and the pan should be heavy based. I have used both our shallow saute pan and the rather appropriately coloured flaming orange Le Creuset.

Last thing, when I made this for supper with some friends last week, I deep-fried some sage leaves and crumbled them over the top. Soft, velvety sage leaves become crisp like brittle autumn leaves when fried, so you can crumble them between your fingers and scatter their alluring, musty scent over your riso e zucca – highly recommended.

Pump it up I say.

Riso e Zucca (Rice and pumpkin)

  • 300g Carnaroli rice
  • 600g pumpkin flesh (I reckon a this is a 1kg pumpkin peeled and deseeded)
  • 500ml water plus extra
  • 60g butter
  • 50g freshly grated parmesan plus more for on top
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • sage (optional)

Cut away the skin from the pumpkin, remove the seeds and stringy flesh and cut it into walnut sized chunks.

In a heavy based pan or deep frying pan bring 500ml of water to the boil. Once the water is boiling add the pumpkin and let it cook for 4 minutes and then add the rice.

Lower the heat slightly so the water is gently boiling and set the timer for 17 minutes. Now you need to stir the rice and pumpkin gently, turning it, every few minutes or so. You will probably need to add more water, the mixture should be loose, like a thick soup and roll off the spoon – I added another 200ml.

After about 15 mins taste: the rice should be cooked but still have bite and the pumpkin should be soft and collapsing but still retain some shape. Add the butter and parmesan and stir enthusiastically, taste and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Serve with more freshly grated parmesan and ideally with crumbled deep-fried sage leaves.

Post lunch, slice of cake would have been perfect but grapes and clementines were nearly as nice.

Apologies for being so absent by the way, both with posts and comments. I hope you are all well and that I can pump it up rather more around here in the coming weeks.


Filed under food, grains, pasta and rice, recipes, vegetables

Loafing around

The other morning, having grumbled my way through breakfast – for the fifth day in a row – about the coffee (lavazza might be Italy’s favourite but it isn’t mine) some teaching I dread and my recent blogblock, Vincenzo, who is not a fan of too much breakfast communication which makes me a constant challenge, spoke. He suggested – rather wearily it must be said, but then it was the fifth day in a row – that we stop being martyrs, abandon the lavazza mid packet and buy some Illy. He continued by proposing I do the same with the nightmare student before pointing out – the bombshell – that if I actually got back into the habit of going to the market and cooking it might reignite my blogging passion.

The hour, the coffee and my slightly oversensitive disposition these days meant my initial response to his advice was neither good nor grown up. I deposited my disappointing coffee on the table so it made a noise, the hot drink equivalent of teenage bedroom door slamming. ‘How dare he give me so much sensible advice at 8 30 in the morning’ I thought. ‘Couldn’t he see my problems were irresolvable.’ I then proceeded to remind my boyfriend that I’d been to all five illy vendors in Testaccio and their wasn’t a single tin to be found, that my work situation was ‘very very complicated‘ and that I felt bad enough about my neglect of the market literally under our house, our kitchen, our home cooked nourishment and this space without him reminding me about it. I then got up and banged around the neglected kitchen.

I banged, growled and muttered until about 11 30. But although prone to overreacting and noisy washing up in such situations, I’m not generally one to stew for more than half a day, so by about midday I’d admitted, first begrudgingly and then with great relief, that he was right. I made myself a cup of tea, sat at the table, decided both the lazazza and student had to go and that, more importantly, I needed to get cooking.

There are various reasons for my recent cooking hiatus. Some are happy ones: the wedding, the rash of September birthdays, lots of lovely meals out, but the rest are quite tedious: illness, back backs (two), laziness, going back to school, Vinx away drumming. I won’t bore you with details because that would be, well, boring. It’s probably suffice to let you know I haven’t been writing because apart from the pasta e fagioli, two lots pasta e pomodoro and an overdose of omelettes  we – actually I, as Vincenzo is excused in concert season – haven’t been cooking. Until yesterday that is. I went to the market early, I pulled on my granny apron, had a slug of cooking sherry and made pasta e ceci, aubergine parmesan and roasted a chicken. I then, quite uncharacteristically it must be said, made a cake.

I think I’ve already mentioned that apart from the occasional flight of fancy, on the rare occasions I do actually make a cake, it will be one of the five: the nice plain one, the clementine one, the chocolate one, the other chocolate one, and this one, the double ginger one.

This is a great cake, or more precisiely, ginger loaf. It’s one for the ginger lovers amongst us, a delicious dark, sticky, dense, ginger treat studded with fat sultana’s and chunks of stem ginger. It’s from Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries, a book which rather like my stick blender, I have mixed feelings about, but use all the time. Talking of Nigel, have I told you I used to live near him in London and would often spy him at Marylebone Farmers Market or sniffing cheese at The Fromagerie. On more than one occasion I followed him as he did his shopping, buying similar things and predicting what his next recipe in the Guardian would be. Yes, all a little odd and come to think of it, probably bordering on stalking! Fortunately I don’t think Nigel ever cottoned on.

Anyway back to the loaf. It’s a simple but dark and broody loaf, a Fillipo Timi of a loaf in a world of sickly, boring Tom Cruise cup cakes with frosting. It’s satisfying and extremely tasty, it’s warm and spicy on the back of your throat with a proper ginger kick and a touch of caramel from the gloriously unctuous llye’s golden syrup. I’ve been known to add an extra pinch of ginger and double the stem ginger – in which case it is kick-ass double ginger loaf and only for ginger devotees.

I think this is what is called a wet cake technique – although don’t quote me because I may have just made that up –  in that you melt the golden syrup and butter, add the sugar, sultanas and chopped stem ginger and then warm this dark amber coloured, syrupy panful until it bubbles. Then you add wet ingredients to the dry ones; flour, ginger (obviously) cinnamon, baking soda and salt before stirring in the eggs and milk. The resulting mixture is glorious, sloppy batter that if it were a paint colour it would be labeled dark russet or sepia, rather like my hair in fact and exactly the same colour as my favourite winter coat, the one I left on the number 30 bus when I was drunk, the one I still mourn.

You should really wrap the cake in greaseproof and tin foil and leave it for a few days to mature:  the textures closes, it becomes more compact – a good thing – the flavour deepens and the top gets stickier which means bits might adhere themselves to the greaseproof paper and then you have to scape them off with your teeth. I find it hard to wait an hour never mind two days, so I generally make two loaves, one for immediate consumption and the other for wrapping. I love a doorstop of double ginger loaf with cup of tea late morning or at about 4 o clock. It is also very good with thick slice of English cheddar and an apple.

Double Ginger Cake

  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 2 level tsp ground ginger
  • 1 level tsp cinnamon
  • 1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 200g golden syrup
  • 4 lumps of stem ginger in syrup diced very finely
  • 2 tbsp syrup from the stemmed ginger
  • 125g butter
  • 50g sultanas
  • 100g dark muscovado sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 200ml whole milk.

Line a deep loaf tin with baking parchment and set the oven to 180°

Sift the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and cinnamon into a large bowl.

Over a low flame gently melt the golden syrup and butter in a small pan then add the stem ginger, sugar and ginger syrup and keeping stirring while you allow the mixture to bubble gently for a minute or two.

In another bowl beat the eggs and then add the milk, beat again.

Add the butter and syrup mixture to the flour and mix thoroughly with a large metal spoon, now add the milk and eggs and mix again. The mixture will look like a thick, sloppy batter.

Pour the mixture into the lined tin and bake for 40 to 45mins or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin and then carefully remove it and gently pull away the parchment.

Ideally you should wrap the loaf in a new layer parchment and then another of foil and leave it to mature for a few days. Or you could make yourself a cup of tea and eat a nice big slice straight away.



Filed under cakes and baking, food, Rachel's Diary, recipes