Category Archives: grains

the slow rise

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I keep writing good with pizza bianca, serve with pizza bianca, eat with pizza bianca in recipe notes for the book. Which is all very well for readers living in Rome, therefore within shouting distance of one of the countless forno daily paddling hot pizza bianca from the gaping mouths of ovens, brushing them with olive oil, strewing them with salt and then slicing them just for you. Less so, much less so, for everyone else. ‘You will just have to do a pizza bianca recipe for the book‘ said my Mum, who is here for the week and being the best baby sitter I could ask for. ‘But I can’t even make bread, never mind pizza bianca and while we’re at it, I can’t write a book, I can’t even write E mails and I hate my hair and all my clothes’  I said in a grown up way.

Then I read a recipe in a book I received for my birthday. A book about pizza by a maestro, the so-called Michelangelo of Pizza (although I don’t think he was the one who coined that immodest soubriquet, he prefers Re or king) a man of broad shoulders and impressive hands; Gabriele Bonci.

I can I told Laura as I paid for a bag of 0f Mulino Marino flour from her Emporio delle spezie. I can I told myself as I weighed out the ingredients. I can I muttered as I mixed the flour with the yeast, the salt, the water and then a dram of extra virgin olive oil. I can’t I thought as I surveyed the wet, sticky, mass clinging like particularly adhesive putty to my spoon, my fingers and the sides of my tin bowl. I covered it hastily with clean cloth for its first rising and took empty solace in social media.

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At which point Dan arrived. Dan is my all baking, beering friend who just happens to have done a Bonci pizza-making workshop. ‘It’s the 70% hydration, it should be sticky’ he explained in a bakers tone before tying on my apron and setting to work. It’s a properly sticky affair, you do this wonderful, gentle pull and fold motion, the Piegature di rinforzo which means folding to reinforce. By stretching and folding the dough gently, developing the gluten and incorporating air into it you render it altogether more manageable. The joy of watching.

The dough then sits in the bottom of the fridge, balanced on the vegetable box and beside the dubious bottle of dessert wine for 24 hours. It’s a slow, steady swell, a true lunga lievitazione that reminds you dough is a living thing. I kept peeping at my pale dejeuner sur l’herbe bottom-like dough all day. I woke up at 3 am sweating and fretting about the gas bill and other animals and was reassured by my ever-increasing bowlful. By (late) breakfast the next day, 23 hours after Dan’s Piegature di rinforzo my bowl was full.

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I’m not sure why handling freshly risen dough is so nice, but it is. The key is being as gentle as possible as you cut the mass into 350 g pieces (5), fold and shape them into a balls (and leave them to rest for another half hour.) Once rested you massage and very gently – this is all about the lightest, pattering touch –  press the dough into a tin-shaped form on an evenly floured surface before lifting this soft cloth-like rectangle into an oiled tin.

I particularly like Bonci’s note that in his experience the cheaper the tin the better it cooks. My tin is a bog standard 30 cm x 30 cm one with a thin base that I inherited with the flat. You pour a thin stream of olive oil over the surface of your dimpled dough.  You have preheated the oven to 250° or 480F.

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My Pizza took 25 minutes (15 on the floor of the oven then 10 on the middle shelf) until it had the requisite characteristics: a firm bottom, full-bodied, tender center punctuated with pockets of air and a burnished crust. I brushed the top with a little more olive and was generous with the salt. It was nearly as good as the pizza I’ve eaten standing on the pavement outside Bonci’s small but perfectly formed Pizzarium. Well. Nearly.

In a world where we are often told we don’t need to fold, or rise, or wait, that we can just fling things together in a jiffy and making too much of an effort is fussy, this way of making pizza might take you aback. It did me at least. But then it didn’t. It makes absolute sense that to make something so good from very basic ingredients – flour, water, yeast, oil and salt – you need something else, two things actually; not a little effort and time.

I am not sure there are many things tastier than freshly baked pizza bianca, warm, crisp at first but then giving way to a proper mouth arresting chew, oil and salt clinging your lips.  This is one of the best things I have ever made. The end. Or the beginning.

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Pizza bianca

I may have eaten more Pizza than is decent and watched it being made many times, but this is the first time I have made it at home. I am pretty damn happy with the results – horray for Gabriele Bonci and long slow rising. I hope I have made things clear below. Elizabeth’s blog post and video are very helpful. If you are serious about pizza, I recommend Bonci’s book, which is now available in English.

Makes 5 square pizza which each divides into four nice slices.

Adapted from Gabriels Bonci’s – Gioco della Pizza with help from Dan and Elizabeth Minchilli

  • 1 kg flour (Italian farina 0. Try hard to find this. Or strong white bread flour)
  • 10 g active dried yeast (Lievito di birra)
  • 7oo g water
  • 20 g salt
  • 40 g  extra virgin olive oil

You will need a standard, square or rectangular, thin based lipped tin /baking tray or pizza stone. I used a bog standard 30 cm x 30 cm lipped baking tray.

In a large bowl using a wooden spoon mix together the flour and the yeast. Then add the water, gradually, once it is incorporated add the salt and the oil. Mix until you have a pale, sticky, putty-like mixture. Cover with a clean cloth or cling-film and leave to rest for an hour at room temperature in draught-free part of the kitchen.

Scrape the mixture onto a lightly floured board. It will still be sticky. This stage is called the Piegature di rinforzo which means folding to reinforce. With lightly floured hands gently stretch and pull the edges of the dough and fold them back over themselves. Try as best as possible to turn the dough 90° (it will stick) by using a dough scape or spatula and repeat the pull and fold. With this repeated pulling and folding, the incorporation of air and the residual flour from your hands and the dough will get drier and become like a soft and manageable. Bonci suggest you repeat this pulling and folding motion three times, pause for 20 minutes, repeat, pause for 20 minutes and then repeat.

Put the soft dough into an oiled bowl and cover it (cloth or clingfilm) then leave it for 18 – 24 hours at the lower half of the fridge.

You pull the bowl from the fridge and leave it to it for 10 minutes. Carefully lift the dough from the bowl and cut it into 5 pieces of more or less 350 g – you can use a scale. Working piece by piece, shape the dough into a ball, fold it over once as you did for the Piegature di rinforzo and leave it to sit for another 30 minutes at room tempertaure away from draughts. Set the oven to 250°c/ 480F.

The final stage needs to be done with a delicate touch – you don’t want to squash out the air you have so patiently incorporated. On an evenly floured board, using your finger tips and starting from the borders and then working up the center of the dough, push and massage it into a square the size of the tin. Once it is more or less the right size, drape it over your arm and then lift it into a the well oiled 30 cm x 30 cm lipped tin /baking tray or pizza sheet. Zig-zag the dough with a thin stream of olive oil.

Bake on the floor of the oven for 15 minutes, check the pizza by lifting up the corner and looking underneath – it should be firm and golden. If it seems nearly done, move it to the middle shelf of the oven for 10 more minutes. Pull from the oven. Brush with more olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Slice and eat.

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Filed under Book review, bread and pizza, fanfare, food, grains, rachel eats Italy, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, Roman food

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.

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

Tabbouleh

I had no intention of writing about parsley again and I should apologise to those of you who dislike the stuff, this rash of parsley recipes must be very tedious. I wasn’t even planning to post this week considering my imminent departure for a long weekend in London. But then on Wednesday night we jumped in the rusty, trusty red panda, scuttled across a very warm and humid city to go to a concert by the lake in Villa Ada. The concert was fantastic, front row no less – Vincenzo was all glassy eyed. this was proper hero stuff for a reggae drummer – as Toots and the Maytals reminded us all that Reggae’s got soul and that Kingston is Funky.

Just before the concert – it must have been about 9, the light soft and dusty, crickets clicking, mosquito’s anticipating we had food from one of the various stalls that are dotted around the lake. Vincenzo went Indian; rice, a tasty chickpea curry and some odd-looking but rather good Indian cheese balls. I was tempted by the steaming curry, dithered, changed my mind and back again, before deciding it was too warm for such hot food and had a plate of Middle Eastern meze.

I know my plateful was nothing special, it was good, tasty and fresh, but I’ve certainly eaten much better. But under the cypress trees, in the dusky light of Villa Ada, waiting for Toots while the bass player finished the sound check, a creamy blob of chickpea hummus, another of smoky creamed aubergine; baba ganoush, the heap of parsley flecked tabbouleh, all waiting to be scooped up by pitta bread, was just wonderful. More importantly the plateful reminded me of the delights of Middle Eastern food, how long it’s been and most importantly, that in all this parsley fuss, the soup, the pesto, the green sauce, I have overlooked one of my favourites, tabbouleh.

Before coming to Italy I used to cook, in a very niave way I’m sure – quite alot of Middle Eastern inspired food. My family has a flat on Paddington street in London and I lived there for several years. It is fantastically close to the cluster of middle eastern, the Lebanese, Arabic, Persian shops, emporiums and restaurants around Chiltern Street and Edgware Road. Living in the midst of this vibrant and delicious community, eating Lebanese, Turkish, Syrian or Arabic – please forgive my ignorance if it shows –  food at least once, often twice a week, I started to experiment at home. It was at this time my Mum suggested I bought Claudia Roden’s Book of Middle Eastern food, a stunning and masterful book which although neglected since I moved to Italy, is and always will be one of my favourite food books. I found an original first edition, 1968, dusty, musty, the alluring scent of old pages, in a second-hand bookshop and then read it like a novel. The second thing I thing I made from it – the first was hummus – was rich, earthy and beautifully simple Lebanese tabbouleh.

I’d eaten plenty of tabbouleh before making it myself, delicious most of it, but often slightly wet with tomatoes or bulky with cucumber which seemed to unbalance the delicate seasoning of the dish. Claudia Roden’s recipe is beautifully simple, just soaked and carefully dried bulgur wheat mixed with finely chopped onion – you use you hands so you can squeeze the wheat and onion together so the juice of the onion infuses each grain – and a vast heap of parsley and mint. This green flecked mass- there is as much parsley as bulgur – is dressed simply with lots of olive and lemon juice. It is a marvelous dish, humble and elegant in the same moment, the earthy bulgur, the fragrant grassy parsley, the refreshing mint, the acidic bite of the lemon, the olive oil of course.

I think that tabbouleh is best in the company of others, in both senses. It’s best eaten amidst the chatter and clatter of people, hands, voices and a muddle of different dishes. My ideal plate would be a spoonful of thick yogurt laced with cucumber and mint, another of hummus creamy with tahini (my friend Daniela’s recipe. She is brilliant cook and I am trying to convince her to write in English more), maybe a stuffed vine leaf or a thick slice of grilled halloumi, some sultry baba ganoush . With all this in mind, I was tempted to dash to the shops for yogurt, chickpeas and aubergines. But thrift got the better of mefor a change– the only dash was for bulgur wheat, all the other ingredients were from the fridge. Pork kebabs, a-kind-of-Turkish-shish-kebab I suppose. We marinated the pork for a couple of hours in olive oil, lemon , garlic and crushed bay leaves, then threaded the cubes on skewers and grilled them. I also made a tomato, cucumber, red onion and black olive salad.

Tabbouleh

From Claudia Roden’s marvellous ‘Book of Middle Eastern Food‘ which has been recently updated. I will be keeping my dusty, fusty, beautiful 1968 copy though.

  • 25og Bulgar wheat
  • 5 tablespoons of very finely chopped spring or mild red onion
  • salt and black pepper
  • 50g ( about a cup and a half) of finely chopped parsley
  • 3 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus extra if necessary)
  • 5 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (plus extra if necessary)

Soak the Bulgar wheat in cold water for half and hour, it will expand enormously. Drain it and squeeze out as much moisture as possible with your hands, then spread it out on a clean dry tea towel to dry further.

In a large bowl mix the Bulgar with the onion squeezing it with your hands so the onion penetrates the Bulgar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the parsley, mint, olive oil and lemon and mix well. taste and season, add more oil and lemon if you feel it is necessary, it should be distinctly lemony.

I am off to London tonight. I should really be packing and buying vast hunks of Pecorino Romano to tuck in my suitcases for my siblings or at least getting ready for my last lesson with the little monsters this afternoon. I shouldn’t be typing away. I am already thinking of lunch, the rest of the tabbouleh and the chickpeas that have soaked all night in preparation for some humus. We just need more olives and bread. I have a feeling this might be a bit of a Middle Eastern July here in Rome so I have left the Book of Middle Eastern Food open on the table ready for my return.

Now I am going to pack. Have a great weekend.

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Filed under antipasti, food, grains, parsley, Rachel's Diary, recipes

More peas please.

I always have a packet of peas in the freezer. For years they were Birds eye, then dubious buyouts, my conscience and an Italian address got the better of me and my allegiance was swapped to a small Italian brand called la via lattea. Tucked next to the ice cubes, on top of the tub of chicken stock – I’ll come to that uncharacteristically organised habit later – and squashed up against a couple of parmesan rinds which may or may not have adhered themselves to the freezer wall, this packet of peas is often the only thing in our tiny, icy, post-box-sized freezer.

My relationship with this packet of peas is much the same as the one I have with my tin of illy coffee, and very like the one I used to have with my packet of cigarettes – cue wave of guilty nostalgia. Meaning mild anxiety when I’m approaching the last few servings, proper twitchy anxiety at the thought I may run out prompting urgent trip to the shops, and great relief when a new packet is purchased and tucked away.

And what do I do with all these frozen peas you might – or might not – be asking? Well, rather too many of them are steamed back to life then mixed with rice, butter, black pepper, sometimes parmesan or a chopped hard-boiled egg, maybe some smoky fish for a rather unsophisticated but tasty and faithful solitary supper. If I’ve remembed to defrost the stock, I make Lindsey Bareham’s quick pea and mint soup, just-like-that as Tommy Cooper would say. Sometimes I feel very English and boil peas to death with fresh mint and then blast them with lots of butter into a green velvety puree for beside the roast chicken. We have them tossed with tiny farfalle pasta or rolling around beside mashed potato and fat sasauges. I could go on. As a rule I like peas at least once a week, did I mention I like peas?

But then, for about six weeks each year the packet sits patiently, and I like to think approvingly, in the freezer adhering itself to the bottom shelf, while it’s local, sweet, peak-of-season, freshly picked cousins in their smart, perky, bright green jackets, take center stage and roll around our kitchen.

Most of the first bagful is eaten raw and slightly compulsively, pods split, peas flicked from within straight into our mouths. on the way home from the market, if they’re particularly small and tender, pod and all. Vincenzo likes to eat them as Romans eat the first tiny broad beans, fave, meaning a big dish of peas in their pods is put in the middle of the table so everyone can peel their own to eat with hunks of salty, piquant, sheep’s milk cheese Pecorino Romano, sweet and salty mouthfuls, interspersed with sips and gulps of white wine. The second bagful is shelled, steamed with mint and doused with butter. The third is probably destined for frittedda and the fourth, the Venetian dish Risi e Bisi, Rice and peas.

Now before you are underwhelmed by the name, let me explain. Risi e Bisi is a quite delicious dish that I think epitomizes spring and the simple beauty of Italian food. Onion cooked in butter, some very fresh peas, homemade stock and Italian rice are simmered up into a soft, rippling, creamy mass, which is speckled with chopped flat leaf parsley and enriched with freshly grated parmesan.

Don’t be fooled or told otherwise – I was, before being corrected in no uncertain terms by a very knowledgable and bossy Venetian and Marcella Hazan – Risi e Bisi is not risotto with peas, it is a soup, albeit a very thick one, which you can eat with a fork, but the slightly runny consistency means a spoon is probably better. Its execution is similar to that of risotto, but the cooking time is slightly longer and you don’t need to stir so continuously, just the occasional nudge nudge.

My frozen pea dependency means I can make Rice and peas all year-long, but it should only – our friend, Marcella and Vincenzo are very clear about this – be called Risi e Bisi in spring, when it’s made with fresh peas, some of the empty pods which made the dish even sweeter and good homemade stock. Now this is where I could be accused of inauthenticity, Marcella and several other recipes insist on a beef stock, but I find that rather imposing and prefer a lighter chicken stock.

So this stock. Now, I am forever disappointing myself in the kitchen, full of good intentions, fancy pants plans and projects which remain, well, good intentions, fancy pants plans and projects (I never told you about most of the lemons did I!) However, I have finally got into the satisfying habit, it’s been a couple of years now, of making stock, mostly chicken, each week, half for the fridge and half for the freezer. Fergus Henderson is right, there is almost nothing as reassuring as having stock up your sleeve. I generally make it on a Monday with the carcass of the roast chicken from the weekend or chicken bones, neck and wings my butcher gives me for near to nothing. Please feel free to skip this next section if you are not bothered or in need of chicken stock advice

Fergus Henderson’s chicken stock

Onions (with skin on, chopped in half); a bulb of garlic (with skin on, chopped in half); carrots (peeled and slit lengthways); a leek (split lengthways and cleaned); celery with leaves; a bay leaf; herbs; a few peppercorns; chicken bones and wings with skin.

Cover your stock ingredients with enough water to allow for skimming (which is vital), but not so much as to drown any flavour. Bring the pan to a simmer, but not a rolling boil as this will boil the surface scum back into the stock. I shall say again SKIM. Simmer for about 2 hours. To know if the stock is ready taste and taste again. Strain the stock into a large bowl and allow to cool. Chill overnight.
Skim off any fat that has formed on the surface. Use within 3 days or freeze
.

What was I talking about? Ah yes, Risi e Bisi.

Once you have made your stock and podded your pea comes the tricky part, well, I say tricky it’s fiddly really, but very worth while. You take about ten of the nicest empty pods and pull away the clear inner membrane on the inside of each pod along with any stringy bits – I’ve explained it better below. You are going to add this sweet green flesh to the pan, it will sweeten and add flavour to proceedings and then dissolve. It is – my friend tells me – the secret of this dish. Now it’s all very straightforward, the chopped onion is sautéed in butter to which you add the peas, prepared pods and most of the stock and simmer for 10 minutes. You add the rice, the end of the stock and simmer covered for another 20 minutes with the occasional stir and nudge. Finish with parsley and freshly grated parmesan. Serve with more Parmesan.

The juxtaposition of sweet peas, starchy grains and the deeply savory parmesan, the contrast of textures, the absolute goodness and simplicity of it all, the fact we can only have it for a few weeks every year, it’s the sum of all these parts that make this the dish it is. It is one of our absolute favourites. Having said that, Vincenzo has firmly requested I don’t make it for a while having eaten it, what with leftovers, five times this week, thus proving you can have too much of a good thing.

You can of course use a very good, full flavoured homemade vegetable stock and yes, of course you can make this with frozen peas, after all some of the fresh ones leave alot to be desired, those mealy, out-of-town canonballs. Just remember to call call it rice and peas thats all.

Risi e Bisi

Apparently serves 4 but the two of us can polish off most of this leaving nice (very small portion of) leftovers for later. So lets say serves 4 as a modest primo and 2 as a main course for hungry (greedy) people.

Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

  • 1 kg young, sweet, peak of season unshelled peas (should yield about 300g of peas) or if you really can’t find them 300g of frozen peas.
  • 50g butter
  • 1 small white onion finely chopped
  • salt
  • 225g Italian rice (vialone nero or carnaroli rice)
  • 750ml homemade chicken or vegetable stock
  • a handful of finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 50g freshly grated parmesan

Shell the peas and set them aside and reserve 10 of the nicest empty pods. Now on the inside of each pod is a thin, clear membrane which you can gently pull away (it is very thin so will break and you will need to pull it away in bits.) Cut away any bit you have been unable to skin. keep these skinned pods with the peas.

In a saute pan, deep frying pan or soup pot, saute the onion in the butter over a medium flame until it is soft and translucent. Add the peas and the skinned pods and a good pinch of salt. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring and nudging.

Add about two-thirds of the broth, reduce the heat and cover the pot, allow it to cook gently for 10 minutes.

Add the rice and the rest of the broth, stir, then put the lid back on the pot and allow it to cook at a gentle but persistent simmer for about 20 minutes and the rice is cooked but still firm to the bite. I start tasting after 15 minutes.

Stir in the parsley and gated parmesan and then turn off the heat. Taste, add salt if you think it is necessary and then serve with a bowl of grated parmesan so people can help themselves.

Thank you for all your nice, supportive and not so supportive – I value criticism too, even if it is anonymous – comments and messages about my last post, the rather self-possessed one that felt nearly as messy as my departure. I will pick up where I left off at some point, I’m just not sure when. Hope you are having a good weekend wherever you are.

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Filed under food, grains, pasta and rice, rachel eats Italy, recipes, vegetables

Tuesday lunch of farro, beans, caramelized onions and Pecorino

working-lunch-52

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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