Category Archives: meat

Roll with it

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The number eight tram rolls a good route. At least I think so. Starting in Largo di Torre Argentina, it cuts straight and then crosses the bridge, runs the entire length of Viale Trastevere before curving its way along Gianicolense and sliding into the terminus at Casaletto. On a good day; clear and avoiding the rush, top to tail takes about 22 minutes. On a bad day; rain and rush, it takes 35.

I don’t very often top to tail or tail to top on the number eight. Most days I’ll ride a section though: The Ministry of Education up to work at the children’s theatre, the theatre up to the park, purveyors of fine pizza bianca back to The Ministry, my biscuit shop up to Stazione Trastevere. Come to think of it, of all my routes – there are many, I’m both dedicated and dependent on the exasperating Roman public transport system – this is the one I ride the most.

Then every so often, last Saturday for example, we roll the whole line and are not only reminded what good curved cut the N° 8 makes through the city, but what a good destination awaits at the end of the line.

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Occupying the ground floor of a nondescript modern building just yards from the tram terminus and identifiable only by a small yellow sign, the trattoria Cesare al Casaletto is, from the outside, unremarkable. I’d passed by, at first oblivious and then dismissive, dozens and dozens of times. Then, on advice from Katie, we went for lunch. The best lunch we’d had in a long time. And so we went back, again and again, each visit reaffirming our conviction.

Bright and luminous, da Cesare is the antitheses of the archetypal shadowy and surly Roman Trattoria – I should add I like shadowy and surly from time to time. It’s quietly elegant yet cordial and comfortable. On Saturday we were given a table in the nicest corner with plenty of space for a high chair. Da Cesare is a family trattoria in the truest sense and this is personified by the owner’s bold little girl who marches up to your table to say ciao.

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To start, we divided a portion of plump, preserved anchovies: oily, fiendishly fishy filets to be squashed onto bread and polpette di bollito misto; delicate, fragile, deep-fried spheres of breaded shredded veal served with a spoonful of pesto. Then we shared a primo of fresh egg pasta with vignarola (braised artichokes, peas, broad beans and spring onions) and pecorino romano cheese. We paused. For secondo my companion had baccalà alla Romana (salt cod with tomatoes) and I had involtini al sugo, two quietly delicious beef rolls in a rich tomato sauce. There were also side dishes, one a tangle of dark-green ragged cicioria ripassata and another of chips. Such good chips. We finished with coffee and biscuits that had not long been pulled from the oven.

It took me a few visits to understand what makes the Food at da Cesare so special. Of course it’s the excellent ingredients, the skill and a lightness of touch that transforms traditional Roman food – the menu is much the same as any menu you might find in any trattoria – into something so vital and impressive. Then, after the fourth or fifth meal, I understood. It’s the care taken that sets da Cesare apart. Real care without pretense or fuss, without swagger or caricature. The food makes even more sense when you talk to the owner, Leonardo Vignoli or his wife. Both are gentle, modest, passionate, attentive: a rare combination in Rome.  The wine list is as splendid as the food. As is the advice to help you navigate it.

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As I paid the bill I asked Leonardo about the involtini, the two unassuming beef rolls that had been simmered tenderly in tomato sauce, maybe the nicest I have ever eaten (and I have eaten a few.) ‘Thin slices of good beef, well seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic wrapped around impossibly thin batons of carrot and celery and then simmered gently in tomato for an hour and a half‘ was his advice. ‘How would I know they were done?’ I asked. ‘Touch and taste‘ was his reply. Then he was gone – politely of course – back into the kitchen and I was left with a queue of questions trailing down my throat.

My first attempt was acceptable. My second very reasonable. My third attempt at involtini however, was a resounding success. Not quite reaching the benchmark set by Da Cesare, but nearly. Ask your butcher to cut you 10 thin slices of beef – rump or chuck is ideal. Season the slices prudently with fine salt, freshly ground black pepper and very finely chopped garlic if you so wish (I don’t.) Position a fat bundle of painfully thin carrot and celery batons at the bottom of the slice and then roll, tuck and roll until you have a neat parcel. Secure the roll lengthways with a toothpick. You brown your involtini in hot oil, nudging and turning, until they are evenly coloured and then you cover them with wine and tomato and simmer for a good long while.

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The tomato reduces into a dense, flavoursome sauce and the beef rolls – with their neat bundle of savory – are simmered into tenderness. I wouldn’t have given these involtini a thought (never mind a second glance) before coming to live in Rome. Old-fashioned, boring and just damn fuddy-duddy I might have mumbled. Little did I know. Made carefully with good ingredients, they are simply delicious, richly favoured and well, very Roman. And the word involtini? It comes form the verb avvolgere (to wrap) so literally translated means, a little thing that has been wrapped.

Of course involtini work well as part of a Roman-style lunch. That is; a tasty antipasti, a modest portion of pasta and then a roll (or two) served alone on a white plate with nothing more than a crust of bread to scoop up the sauce. They are also good in a more English manner, that is beside a pile of extremely buttery mashed potato (what isn’t?) Roll with it.

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Involtini al sugo  Beef rolls in tomato sauce

Inspired by the involtini at  Cesare al Casaletto with advice from my butchers at Sartor.

serves 4 (two each with two extra to squabble over)

  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into extremely thin batons (roughly the same length as the beef is wide)
  • 1 large stick of celery cut into extremely thin batons  (roughly the same length as the beef is wide)
  • 10 thin slices of beef (3mm or so) – rump or chuck is ideal
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • a clove of garlic, finely chopped (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • a small glass of white wine or red wine
  • 500 g tinned plum tomatoes coarsely chopped or passed through the food mill

Peel and then cut the carrot and celery into extremely thin batons roughly the same length as the beef slice is wide.

Take a slice of beef, lay it flat on the work surface, season with salt, pepper and very finely chopped garlic if you are using it. Again, I don’t use garlic. Place a bundle of carrot and celery at the bottom of the beef slice and then roll the beef around the batons, tucking the sides in if you can, until you have a neat cylinder. Secure the roll with a toothpick along its length.

Warm the olive oil in a heavy based saute pan. Add beef rolls, and cook, turning as needed, until browned on all sides, which will take about 6 minutes.

Add the glass of wine to the pan, raise the heat so the wine sizzles and evaporates. Add the tomatoes and stirring and nudging the rolls so they are evenly spaced and well coated with tomato. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook the rolls covered partially – gently stirring and turning the rolls a couple of times – until meat is cooked through and tender which will take about 1 and a half – 2 hours. Add a little more wine or water if the sauce seems to be drying out during the cooking.

Lets the rolls rest for at least 15 minutes before serving with a spoonful of sauce and some bread.

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Filed under beef, Da Cesare al Casaletto, food, In praise of, meat, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, recipes, tomatoes

The best laid plans and eggs

I’d laid slightly rose-tinted plans to go to Testaccio market extremely early on Saturday morning with a wicker shopping basket tucked under one arm – I don’t actually own a wicker shopping basket but you get the idea. I’d go to the bar for breakfast and then I’d join the earnest calm of the market as it stirred to life. I’d bussle with discerning Roman housewives and trattoria owners sniffing lemons, tasting bitter leaves, demanding the nicest rib of beef, the pinkest veal ossobuco and the brightest eyed fish. I would thoughtfully gather the items on my carefully written list. It would be charming! The best laid plans, serves me right.

At about 1 50 on Friday, just as I was about to start teaching until tediously late, my neighbour reminded me that Saturday was a national holiday ‘la festa di lavoratori’ and that everything, including our faithful market would be closed. I had no option but to tear desperately around the seriously depleted market as it was closing. I got extremely hot and bothered, cursed, grabbed, shoved old ladies out of my way trying to gather our contributions for a picnic, ingredients for Saturday’s supper for 6, a Sunday roast with all the trimmings for 7 and a motley crew of household basics organised people never run out of. Not a pleasant way to shop.

All things considered I didn’t do that badly. Actually, as far as the meat was concerned I did pretty well! Fortunately for me, someone had neglected to collect the beef they’d ordered, Sunday Lunch was saved! I was also just in time to procure the last four sausages. I wanted eight, but four was better than nothing, because as far as I’m concerned, a picnic isn’t a picnic without proper Scotch eggs.

Supermarkets and the villanous manufacturers of nasty food have tried to blacken the good name and reputation of Scotch eggs with their shameful offerings. They’d have you believe that Scotch eggs are slightly sweaty, oversized orange balls that come in individual plastic bags and consist of suspicious, rubbery grey meat loosely enveloping a slightly shriveled green tinged hard-boiled egg – we know better.

A well made Scotch egg is a delicious thing; a peeled hard-boiled egg, wrapped in very good sausage meat, dipped in beaten egg, rolled in fine breadcrumbs and then deep-fried until dark golden brown.

Made properly with good ingredients, a Scotch egg is a perfectly formed savory delight; a crisp, dark crust, the succulent seasoned sausage meat and then the egg, the surprise, in the middle. My friend calls Scotch eggs a ball of breakfast. What’s more, they are neat, compact and will travel beautifully to your favourite picnic spot or table.

I made Scotch eggs a couple of times last week, dusting off my Scotch egg skills to speak, in time for picnic season. They are nice and simple to make, but you do need to be diligent about wrapping the sausage meat around the eggs. This task is made easier by using cling film, which I explain below and is pictured here, a cunning trick picked up from one of my new favourite London based blogs Food stories. When you have pulled away the clingfilm, double-check there are no holes and that the seams are really closed, if not, you might find the sausage coat bursts open in the pan – a scotch egg flasher. You may also need to be flexible and experiment with the cooking times to make sure the meat is cooked through but the crust is not too dark. Fortunately Scotch eggs are delicious enough to warrant experimentation.

Scotch egg with lemon chutney

I have to say that even though I adore Scotch eggs for picnics, there is nothing like a freshly fried one, just wait about 10 minutes, it will still be crisp, and then eat it with your hands and maybe a blob of chutney. Once cooked they will keep brilliantly for up to 8 hours – even though they will lose their crisp crunch – time for you to get to the picnic. They also keep until the next day, some say for two days, but they fade in my opinion.

Scotch eggs

  • 4 medium-sized eggs – very fresh and very organic/free range obviously
  • 350g good sausage meat (about 4 fat sausages squeezed out of casing)
  • 75g plain flour, seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • another egg – beaten
  • breadcrumbs
  • vegetable oil for deep frying

Put the eggs in a pan of cold salted water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for exactly nine minutes. Drain and cool the eggs under cold running water and then peel them.

Tear off 4 squares of cling film and lay them out on the work surface. Divide the sausage meat into quarters and put each quarter on one of the four squares. Now flatten each ball of sausage meat into an ovals about 12.5cm/5in long and 7.5cm/3in at its widest point.

Place the seasoned flour onto a plate, then dredge each boiled egg in the flour.

One by one, place the peeled, floured eggs on the sausage meat oval, then bringing the clingfilm up round the sides squash, mould and wrap the sausage meat around each egg. Once the eggs is covered ease pull away the cling film and continue to mould the sausage meat until it is compact and completely covers each egg – make sure the seams are well sealed.

Dip and roll each sausage meat-coated egg in the beaten egg, then dip and roll into the breadcrumbs..

Heat the oil in a deep heavy-bottomed pan – it should be at least 4 ” deep as you are going to deep fry – until a bread crumb sizzles and turns brown when dropped into it.

Using a slotted spoon gently lower each scotch egg into the hot oil and deep-fry for about 8 – 11 minutes until deep golden and crisp and the sausage meat is completely cooked. Carefully remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

Wait at least 10 minutes (and up to 8 hours) before eating. Pack in a greaseproof paper lined box to take on your picnic or if you are staying at home have one with a dab of strong mustard, optional green leaves, bread and a beer.

It seems that Scotch eggs are not Scottish at all, but English, created by the high-class London food shop Fortnum & Mason in 1738 as a portable snack for coach travellers heading west from London along Piccadilly.

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Filed under Eggs, food, meat, picnics, recipes

Taking my brother’s advice

About a week before Christmas I made an improvised, ad hoc, but really tasty supper of buttery braised cabbage, chestnuts and crispy pancetta. Enlightened and wanting to experiment more, I furrowed around in my favourite books and found many of my favourite writers singing the praises of similar combinations and more importantly, sharing all these delicious sounding recipes; A recipe from Auverge in France for cabbage, chestnuts and crispy bacon; Another for cabbage and pork cooked really slowly so the flavours melt together; Madame Glon’s recipe for chou farci, stuffed cabbage; An intriguing Northern Italian recipe for cabbage loaf.

Then Christmas and New Year interrupted everything, as did a happy, indulgent long weekend with old friends here in Rome for a wedding and the inevitable trudge back to school that followed. My bookmarks and my cabbage and bacon shaped plans were sidelined and somewhat forgotten in the flurry and then slump that is this time of year

Then last Thursday my brother Ben called me from London. Ben and I invariably talk about food and Thursday was no exception. First he asked eager questions about broccolo romanesco and got excited – as only family members can – about my post for pasta e broccoli. He raved about a dinner at Le cafè Anglais and last but not least, he recounted with the enthusiasm of a labrador puppy that had just found a very large bone about making a chou farci or stuffed cabbage, better still, a sausage and cabbage cake.

A sausage and cabbage cake indeed !

I’m sure if I hadn’t had my pre christmas experience with the braised cabbage or it hadn’t been Rowley Leigh’s recipe via my brother, Good taste both of them, I might have been less enthusiastic. But I had and it was, so it seemed like fate. To top it all,  I’d just bought the rather handsome savoy cabbage at the market, the one above, perched on the chair in the precious winter light.

So I made it. Then I made it again on Saturday, just to be sure.

I have to say this is one of the most surprising and satisfying things I’ve made in a while. It is, as the name suggests, a cake of cabbage and sausage. You could call it a cabbage and sausage pie I suppose, the cabbage leaves in lieu of pastry and a layered filling of sausage meat and cabbage. Maybe it will help if I explain how you make it.

You choose about 7 of the larger outer cabbage leaves and blanche them in boiling water for a couple of minutes so they are floppy and wonderfully accommodating. Then you lay the largest and most handsome leaf in the bottom of a round well-buttered oven dish and then arrange the other 6 leaves so they cover the sides of the dish, they should be fanned out, really overlapping and hanging over the edges. I remember Molly once suggesting you could wear blanched kale leaves as a cape, I think you could make a rather wonderful, very eccentric skirt from these gloriously, floppy green leaves.

You chop and cook the rest of the cabbage, season it with salt, pepper, fennel seeds and olive oil. Now you make a bed of this seasoned cabbage at the bottom of your rather charming cabbage lined dish.

Now the nice bit, you squeeze the sausage meat out of its casing and press half of it into the dish, it is of course easily moulded. Now another layer of cabbage, then another of sausage meat and a last of one of cabbage, you press the mixture down with your hands. Finally you bring across the overhanging cabbage leaves to cover the top and make a neat parcel and press again.

You dot the top with butter and slide it into the oven for an hour. In the oven the cake cooks into a wonderfully compact and tidy parcel, solid and firm. You might want to woop with joy, it is so perfect and unexpected, You let it cool a little and then invert it onto a plate, no fear of sticking, and you have a savory cake topped with a leaf pattern, rather like an old, majestic oak tree.

You slice into the cake, each neat slice is rather pleasing with its stripes green, pink, green, pink, green, playful really, I made some very creamy buttery mashed potato to go beside it, just right for a very cold friday night.

The taste, well, its strange that an unexpected shape seems to change the taste of something very familiar. Yes, it is only buttery cabbage and sausage meat, but the cake shape with a tree on top, the happy striped wedge on the plate somehow makes it all the more delicious.

‘This is real comfort food’, I found myself muttering, ‘elegant too’. I might have even said ‘What a wonderful play on a classic supper of sausages, mash and buttered cabbage’, or something like ‘So very clever, so very simple, why didn’t I think of this’.

And then I cut myself another slice.

I called Ben, who was even more enthusiastic than usual. Now, we could really talk about this simple and curiously beautiful dish. ‘You could add a layer of chestnuts too‘ he suggested ‘we had it with homemade tomato sauce, you have to try that‘  he added, ‘When are you coming back to london?  want to take you to Le café Anglais, sausage and cabbage cake is on the menu.

So to the recipe which is Rowley Leigh’s very simple way of making, moulding and serving chou farci (stuffed cabbage,) a much loved but rarely seen piece of French peasant cookery. Quality of sausage meat is really important: a good Toulouse sausage or the Italian luganega both work well as does lean English Cumberland sausage, you simply squeeze the meat out of the casing. Ask your butcher for advice. The fennel seeds are optional, I love the hint of aniseed in this dish (I am normally notoriously funny about aniseed) you may not.

Cabbage and sausage cake

Adapted from Rowley Leigh in the FT

Serves 6

  • 1 large savoy cabbage
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 500g very lean, well seasoned sausage meat
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 30ml olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove 7 of the large, handsome outer leaves (discard any that are discoloured or damaged) and wash them carefully. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and drop in the 7 leaves. Wait for the water to come back to the boil and then blanche the leaves for 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon remove the leaves to a colander in the sink, rinse with very cold water to fix the colour, drain and then spread out, flatten and dry the leaves carefully on kitchen towel. Set them aside.

Cut the rest of the cabbage (the heart) into quarters and bring the same pan of water back to the boil, Drop the four quarters into the boiling water for 5 minutes by which time the cabbage should be tender but the stems still firm. Drain the cabbage quarters, rinse with cold water, drain again and squeeze out access water. Cut away the hard central stem and separate the leaves into  bowl and dress with the olive oil, fennel seeds, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Squeeze out the sausage meat from the casing.

Take a round, flat, 20cm oven proof dish and smear it with half the butter. Choose the largest and most handsome leaf from the 7 you have set aside and place it in the bottom of the dish, it should fill the base of the dish and come up the sides. Arrange the other 6 leaves so they cover the sides of the dish, they should be fanned out, really overlapping and hanging over the edges.

Using a third of the seasoned cabbage make a layer at the bottom of the dish and cover with half the sausage meat, pressing it down so it moulds in the dish. Repeat the process, ending with a third layer of cabbage leaves. Press everything into the dish.

Fold and bring in the overlapping leaves to cover the top and make a neat parcel, dot with the remaining butter.

Bake in a medium oven  (180°/ 350F) for an hour.

Remove from the oven and the allow the cake to sit for 5 minutes before inverting a plate on top of the dish and turning it on to a plate. Be careful and do this over the sink as there will be hot juices.

Serve with creamy mashed potato and a dab of strong mustard if you like.

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Slow, simple and splendid

Ragù: From the French Ragoût or meat stew. This term has been adopted for long-cooked rich sauces, especially in Emilia-Romagna for their Ragù alla Bolognese which often served with tagliatelle.

Tagliatelle al ragù

I don’t know about you, but I like my ragù rich, dense, comfortable and cooked very slowly, a three hour gurgling simmer with an occasional blip of a bubble on the back of the stove. I like it made with half beef, half pork and a little pancetta, with red wine not white. It should be very very discretely tomatoey, so a soft brown colour rather than raging red, it should contain milk added towards the end of the cooking. I like it to cling- to but not overwhelm the pasta, which is usually fresh egg tagliatelle.

That’s how I like ragù.

It’s taken a while, I followed recipes and took advice, much advice – I live in Italy, advice about food is omnipresent and served in abundant portions with seconds especially if you are English. I made a lot of ragù, I ate a lot of ragù and ummed and ahhed and furrowed my brow in a….good but…..I can’t quite put my finger on it…..do you think if I added..….way.

For a while I settled on a very good and authentic Bolognese ragù recipe as my template, nearly nearly we all mumbled approvingly. Then I came across the wise and witty Rowley Leigh’s recipe, which is virtually identical to the one I’d been using (his recipe has clear Bolognese origins) except for a couple of little quirks in ingredients, proportions and style that nudged it towards pretty perfect in my ragù book. His recipe is beautifully balanced; first a trio of fat, oil, butter and the pancetta; then the holy trinity, onion, carrot and celery softened slowly slowly. Now the meat, half beef, half pork, a very discrete quantity of tomato, a flick of nutmeg, red wine, stock, the addition of milk towards the end of the cooking which is long and slow.

Talking of perfect, a word I overuse, I think tagliatelle al ragu is a pretty perfect laid back late autumn/ December supper and a relaxing one too if you make it in the morning for eating that night. The usual suspects arrive – it doesn’t matter if they are early or late as ragù is endlessly patient and accommodating as to when it’s served – you open the wine, Volpolicella maybe, some salami and olives to start while the water for the pasta comes to the boil and you gently re-heat the ragù. If you feel like it, you can make a green salad for after the ragù and before the deep ruby-red poached pears you made a day or two before. Supper, simple and splendid.

As you know, I don’t make pasta. I can, but not well and I find the whole experience quite stressful. I buy it wrapped up neatly in waxed paper from Gatti – pasta all’uovo in Via Branca who make better pasta than I can ever dream of creating at home. I suppose this address isn’t really very helpful if you don’t live in Rome, unless of course you decide to come and visit, in which case we will go together.

I am convinced ragù is better after a rest, the flavours are mellower, gentler and even more comfortable. I generally make ragù in the morning – sometimes the night before – to eat that evening.

The recipe

Tagliatelle al ragù

Adapted from Rowley Leigh’s ‘No place like Home’

serves 4 – 6

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 25g butter
  • 50g pancetta chopped very finely
  • 1 medium red onion peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 large carrot peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 sticks celery peeled and finely chopped
  • 200g ground beef (shin or chuck is good)
  • 200g ground pork
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purèe
  • 250ml dry red wine
  • 250ml chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • 100ml whole milk
  • 500g fresh egg tagliatelle
  • freshly grated parmesan

Warm the olive oil and butter in a large heavy based pan (earthenware or enameled cast iron is great) add the minced pancetta and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring every now and then.

Add the finely chopped onion, carrot and celery to the pan, stir and allow them to soften over a gentle heat for about 10 minutes.

Turn up the flame and add the ground beef and pork, season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper then stir and turn the meat constantly, breaking up the clumps until it is evenly cooked on all sides and it has lost all trace of its red raw colour.

Add the tomato purèe and a grating of nutmeg and mix well before adding the red wine, stock and bay leaf.

Bring the pan to a gentle boil and then turn the heat down so the ragù cooks uncovered at the laziest of simmers with the occasional blip of a bubble for 3 hours.

The ragu will need very little attention at first, a stir every 1o minutes. After 2 1/2 hours the liquid will have reduced and the sauce will be thick, rich and syrupy and so you can add the milk, stir and leave simmering for the final 30 minutes.

Taste and add more salt if necessary.

Bring a large pan of well salted water to a fast boil and gently drop in the tagliatelle and cook until al dente – still firm but not hard in the middle. Drain immediately in a colander, saving a little of the cooking water and then return the pasta to the pan and add the sauce. Working quickly mix and turn the pasta in the sauce and add a little of the cooking water to get a nice creamy coating of sauce on the pasta.

Serve immediately with plenty of freshly grated parmesan

ps

I have not abandoned my chestnut cooking, far from it, we are overwhelmed by the nutty brown things around here and the kitchen is very very sticky from another very chaotic session of chestnut jam making and my adventures in marron glace making. Not sure which part to inflict on you next.

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Filed under food, meat, pasta and rice, recipes

Thick and thin

Slow roast pork, roast potatoes, braised red cabbage, apple sauce and bread sauce.

Bread sauce, I know, a little out-of-place, but someone insisted.

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It had been a while since I’d made a stoutly English Sunday lunch, roast meat heavy, roast potatoes, two vegetables, gravy, appropriate sauce and trimmings accompanied by plenty of red wine and eaten in good company. Best followed by a proper pudding with cream and permission to sidle sideways from the table into the nearest comfy chair with the Sunday newspaper from where you may slip into a postprandial nap with aforementioned paper over face at any given moment, low-level snoring allowed.

It’s one of my favourite meals, of which there are many, but one of my favourites nonetheless.

I didn’t grow up in a particularly traditional family and things were far from straightforward, but we did – through thick and very thin – have a traditional Sunday lunch ‘Sunday Roast‘ nearly every week. A meal as much about family, friends, home, and being together as the food.The food, a reassuring rotation of roasts – beef, lamb, pork, chicken, turkey, duck – accompanied by the appropriate sauce – horseradish, mint, apple, bread, Cumberland, prune – the right vegetables, trimmings and stuffing, gravy and always lots of roast potatoes.

As a child I not only adored the lunch, I adored the ritual and routine of it all. Vegetables being peeled as the late Sunday breakfast things were being cleared away, the piece of meat perched on the counter. Setting the table with the nice plates and Grandma Roddy’s bone handle cutlery. The smell of roasting meat curling through the house and the heady whiff of my grandma’s sherry and my Mum’s Gin and it. The flurry of activity and hands needed in the last 10 minutes to drain vegetables, make gravy, decant sauce, warm plates, shout then howl up the stairs to gather everyone to the table. My Dad carving. My grandpa Roddy worried my Mum had undercooked the vegetables and that he may choke to death on a green bean, the clatter of serving spoons and bumping of elbows as everyone filled and the more pedantic arranged their plates. The silence that descended as everyone took the first few mouthfuls….

Ironically it was probably during my unhappy teenage years and the mess of my early twenties, when I struggled my way through such lunches, eating and contributing very little or simply avoided them, that I most valued Sunday lunch, the ritual, the routine, the solidity of it all.It was a fixed point, constant when I wasn’t.

Sunday lunch and all it stood for – good food warmly given – waited for me to come back. Which I did eventually, by which time our Sunday Lunches were broader and more expansive, we all had partners, extended families and homes of our own. The cooking was shared and the lunch eaten at various tables. Of course tensions sometimes bubbled and simmered away like the gravy, occasionally spitting to the surface like potatoes hitting hot fat in the meat tin, But the meal remained constant and at its heart the proud resolute roast, with potatoes, two vegetable and appropriate sauce and trimmings.

I suppose it makes sense that when I came to Italy a stout English Sunday lunch was one of the first things I really missed. Even amongst all the gloriously good Italian food and I mean gloriously good and the joys of I Pranzi di Domenica I missed it. Because it wasn’t just the food -although I missed that too, particularly rib of beef with horseradish – it was the tradition, ritual, family and friends being together however difficult, my other home in England.

I missed it all…

It’s strange but didn’t occur to me for quite some time that could make us an English Sunday lunch in Rome. I think that’s because said lunches had become all muddled up with nostalgia and my homesickness, the here and there, England and Italy which I’d polarized the idea that my life was like that and now it’s like this.  Anyway, it wasn’t as if I was completely bereft of English Sunday lunches, occasional trips back were tiding me over.

It was only when I realised that I was really putting down roots in Rome, slowly starting to assume very Italian eating habits and becoming part of an Italian family with its own deeply entrenched rituals and routines around food that I made a silent promise to myself to cook us English Sunday Lunch at least once a month.

I haven’t quite kept my promise

But nearly.

Last Sunday it was roast pork, roast potatoes, braised red cabbage, apple sauce and bread sauce. This is my second favourite Sunday lunch, just piped at the post by rib of beef with yorkshire pudding.

For this kind of lunch I like either a proper roast leg of pork or a shoulder of pork on the bone both cooked with the skin on for a carapace of amber crackling. This presents a problem here in Italy as meat is butchered differently and skin is more often than not removed. Luckily I have a very obliging butcher who will get me most things even strange English cuts if I ask him in advance. Unfortunately I forgot to ask in advance. Fortunately my butcher had a very nice shoulder of pork with no bone and no skin but a nice, thick layer of fat which could handle a slow roast.

Slow roasted shoulder of pork with potatoes

  • 2kg shoulder of pork with skin or a very good layer of fat.
  • salt and freshly round black pepper
  • 2 onions,peeled and halved
  • 6 whole peeled carrots
  • 1.5 potatoes peeled and cut into 4 or 6 depending on size
  • stick of celery
  • bay leaf

Dry the joint. If it has skin score the skin with a sharp knife. Rub the joint with salt and then put if fat/skin side up I put in a hot oven (220°/475f) for 30 minutes.

Cover the joint very snugly with a double layer of foil and put it back in the oven at 170°/325f for 3 hours.

Remove the joint and the foil. Lift the joint aside and pour off most of the meat juices and fat into a small pan leaving just enough to roast the coat the vegetables. Add all the vegetables to the tin. Using a wooden spoon nudge the vegetables around the tin so they are all well coated with fat and meat juices. Put the joint back on top of the vegetables, baste it with a little of the fat and juices you have poured off.

Put the joint back in the oven uncovered for another 45 minutes nudging and turning the potatoes every now and then.

Remove the joint from the oven and lift it onto a carving board and cover it with a layer of foil to rest for 15 minutes. Put the potatoes back in the oven for another 15 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon lift the potatoes and carrots to a warm serving dish.

By now in the little pan the fat should have separated from the meat juices and you should be able to pour the fat off into a little bowl use another day and you are then left with small quantity of intensely flavoured pork juice to use a gravy.

Braised red cabbage

I have a soft spot for this red cabbage, I can be funny and fussy about sweet and sour and too much jammy sweetness in my savory food, but this recipe works beautifully. It is best made a day in advance and gently reheated. I’ve posted about this before, the proper title is Braised red cabbage cooked in the Viennese fashion and you thicken the cabbage with cream and flour at the end of cooking. For a Sunday lunch like this – especially one with bread sauce – I don’t add the cream and flour but you might like to.

Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s book How to Eat.

  • A large red cabbage
  • a large spanish onion
  • 50g butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of soft brown muscavado sugar
  • a large cooking apple
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 100ml red wine
  • 200ml water or beef stock

Cut the cabbage into quarters, discard the outer leaves, cut away the hard central core and shred each quarter finely. I prefer to do this by hand but then I have no alternative.

Peel and slice the onion finely. In a large, deep heavy based pan, gently melt the butter and oil over a moderate flame and add the sliced onion. Saute the onion until it is soft and translucent and just starting to colour.

Add the sugar to the onion and stir well. Add the cabbage to the pan and stir well to coat all the cabbage.

Quarter the apple, core but do not peel, chop it into little chunks and add to the pan, stir again.

Add the vinegar to the pan, stir, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, stir and cover. Cook over the moderate flame for 15 minutes.

Heat the oven to 150°

After 15 mins add the water or stock and red wine and put the pan in the oven to simmer away for for 2 hours.

Taste to check the sweet/ sour balance and add a little more vinegar or sugar – but go easy here

Jane Grigson’s Bread Sauce

Adapted from English food

I adore bread sauce but not quite as much as my little sister Rosie and now rather surprisingly Vincenzo. It’s a bit out-of-place with the Roast pork I know, a better partner for roast chicken or game. But Vincenzo doesn’t eat pork and loves bread sauce with his potatoes and I love him more than our family rules about sauce/meat pairings.

  • 1 small onion, peeled but left whole and stuck with six cloves
  • 500ml rich milk
  • 90 – 125g  fresh breadcrumbs from the soft inside of a very good loaf.
  • nutmeg
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • 50g  butter
  • 2 tbsp thick cream
  • cayenne pepper

Put the milk and clove studded onion into a basin balanced over a pan of simmering water on a low flame and bring to a just below boiling point. The idea is to infuse the milk with the flavour of onion and cloves so the longer the milk takes to come to the boil the better. ( about an hour).

Remove the onion and then keeping the basin over the water whisk in 3/4 of the breadcrumbs. Keep whisking gently until the sauce thickens. If it seems a little thin – bread sauce should not spread very much when spooned on to the plate – add more breadcrumbs. If it seems so firm that the spoon stands up in it, add a little more milk,

Season with nutmeg, salt and white pepper.

Stir in the butter and cream and put into a warm serving bowl or jug and then sprinkle a little cayenne pepper on top.

Put the cayenne pepper on the table for those who like their sauce fairly hot.

Nigella Lawson’s Apple sauce

Adapted from How to eat

  • 50g butter
  • 3 cooking apples (about 1kg) peeled, cored and cut into chunks
  • 75g sugar
  • 3 cloves
  • juice of half a lemon
  • good pinch of salt

Put all the ingredients in a heavy based saucepan and then cover the pan and cook over a medium heat for about 15 minutes – lifting the lid every now and then to prod and turn everything – when the apples should have collapsed into a soft, lumpy, heap.

Pass half the apple mixture through a fine sieve and then mix it back with the unsieved mixture.

Taste adding more sugar, lemon juice or salt of necessary. It should be sweet but not sickly so.

If you feel the mixture is too runny you can boil it down a little – like bread sauce, apple sauce shouldn’t spread too much when you spoon it on the plate, it should sit in a well-behaved little pile. If it seems to thick add more butter or lemon juice.

A note about pudding.

Bread and butter pudding made with panettone. To be continued……

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Meatballs in tomato sauce.

It’s been a while.

I’d almost forgotten how much I like meatballs cooked in thick, velvety tomato sauce and that when they are good and carefully made, they are surely one of the most gratifying of comfort foods.

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Especially, when they are made in the morning from good freshly ground beef and then they have the rest of the day to go cold and hang around, wallowing and mellowing so the flavours settle and deepen before being gently reheated. Especially, when once the meatballs are warmed through you remove them from the sauce and set them aside on a warm plate while you stir some spaghetti into the sauce. Especially, when you serve up steaming bowls of spaghetti and tomato sauce with 3 meatballs balanced on top.

I didn’t grow up eating meatballs. We had savory mince made by my grandma Roddy which we ate in true Lancastrian style with buttery mashed potato on Tuesdays and the Bolognese sauce (we are talking England 1980 here) made by my Mum to top our spaghetti. Both were essentially deconstructed meatballs give or take an ingredient and delicious to boot……but they weren’t meatballs, our friends had fun little balls of mince…….this kind of thing can damage a child.

So deprived as a child and not bothered with much, nevermind meatballs, during in my wasteland years – a long, tedious and unhappy phase which had it spawned a blog, it could have been called ‘Rachel doesn’t eat much and when she does it’s faddy‘ – I came to Meatballs late.

Thankfully, probably because I was a late starter,  I managed to avoid encountering bad dry – mealy or worse greasy – slimy meatballs, thin sauces and general meatpatty nastiness which I have heard is dreadful and can put you off for life…..I do seem to remember something suspicious in the school canteen but I knew better than to look never mind taste – remember we are talking England circa 1980. My meatball initiation was a thankfully a good one, afterall I was in the safe hands of Elizabeth David and her recipe from Italian food.

Because of Elizabeth Davidthe woman who helped establish many of my better kitchen habits – my early meatball education was leaning heavily towards the Italian school of thought, the inclusion of parmesan, the flat leaved parsley. the flick of nutmeg…….. and then I came to live in Italy…..

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……and I was given Vincenzo’s nonna Sara’s recipe, polpette al sugo or as she would say in Sicilian Purpette ca sarsa. In theory nonna Sara’s recipe is not actually so very different from the other 3 fine recipes I have come to trust. Her ingredients are almost the same, the ground beef well marbled with fat, the bread soaked in milk, the parmesan, the sauted onion, the parsley, the egg, the flick of nutmeg. Her measurements however, like so many recipes passed by word and observation not pen, are not as reassuring as the books. It’s the fact the recipe is soaked in family history, has been part of so many meals that makes it important. By following her recipe it I too feel part of the story, a story you can taste.

I’d also forgotten how nice they are to make, while the tomato sauce bubbles away on the hob in it’s gently reassuring away you can roll up your sleeves and get on with gentle kneading, mixing and moulding of the soft squishy mince mixture into pleasing little walnut sized balls.

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About the sauce.

The tomato sauce for meatballs should be smooth, rich and thick so passata is a good base. You can buy it, you can pass tinned plum tomatoes juice and all through a food mill or kitchen aid to get a fine passata pulp, or best of all you can make your own passata from red, ripe, flavoursome fresh tomatoes.

As we have still got nice September tomatoes around here I made some. I do this by washing and cutting a couple of kilo’s of Roma tomatoes in half and then putting them cut side down in a heavy based pan with 2 teaspoons of salt. I cover the pan and put it over a low flame. After a couple of minutes when the tomatoes are just starting to soften I squash them with a wooden spoon to release some juices so they collapse and cook but don’t burn. I cover the pan again and leave them to cook away for about 20 minutes or until I have a pan of slushy, soft tomatoes.

tomatoes cooked down

Which I then pass through the foodmill which sifts out skins and seeds and other obstructions to a fine smooth passata.

Now the passata is going to cook with meatballs for about 30 minutes and some people think that is enough. I like to give it a head start. So once you have passed the tomatoes through the foodmill, back in the heavy pan warm  some olive oil and then add a couple of cloves of garlic you have squashed with the back of a knife. Once the garlic is soft but not brown add the passata, stir and raise the heat so it bubbles at a gentle simmer. Leave the pan for about 20 minutes, the passata reducing gently while you make the meatballs.

Hope that makes sense.

If not maybe the recipe with be clearer.

Anyway sorry I don’t have any photos of the spaghetti, that happened later in the day with Vincenzo’s parents. It was a nice evening, I kept thinking how lovely it is to have done everything in advance, the meatballs were cooked, I made some bread, the salad and grapes washed, all I needed to do was cook the pasta while I warmed the meatballs through and dressed the salad. It nearly wasn’t like that, I nearly panicked and cooked something else at the last minute thinking is wasn’t enough, I nearly launched into something complicated which could well have left me red faced and stressed in front of the cooker rather than enjoying an aperitivo and the fact I had already done the work.

It was a good dinner, a friend of mine once described meatballs as humble and homely which I think is a very good way to put it, it was an honest and humble dinner…. no….. supper sounds more appropriate, more frayed around the edges….. kitchen supper….now, does that sound nice or silly, maybe it’s confusing, suggesting we might have other kinds of supper in other rooms which we don’t.

These meatballs are also nice with rice…..

Meatballs in Tomato sauce

Inspired by Nonna Sara, Marcella Hazan, Nigella Lawson and Elizabeth David

Serves 4 abundantly which is the way I like it

for the meatballs

  • 2 slices of stale good quality white bread with crusts removed.
  • 100ml whole milk
  • 500g ground beef (chuck is very good)
  • 1 small mild white onion chopped very very finely
  • 1 heaped tablespoon of finely chopped parsley
  • 3 heaped teaspoons of finely grated parmesan
  • 1 egg – lightly beaten
  • a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil for cooking the onions
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil for mixing in the meatballs
  • very fine, dry, plain breadcrumbs on a plate.
  • olive oil or vegetable oil for frying the meatballs

For the sauce

  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and still whole but gently squashed with the back of a knife
  • 2 400g tins of best quality plum tomatoes or a 800g of passata (or 800g of your own homemade passata)

Chop the onion for the meatballs very finely and saute it for about 10 minutes in 1 tbsp of olive oil until it is soft and floppy. Set it aside.

In a small bowl cover the stale bread with milk and leave for 10 minutes so the bread absorbs the milk.

Start with sauce. In a heavy based pan warm the 3 tbsps of olive oil with a couple of cloves of garlic you have squashed with the back of a knife. Once the garlic is soft but not brown add the passata, stir and raise the heat so it bubbles at a gentle simmer. Leave the pan for about 20 minutes, the passata reducing gently

Make the meatballs. Put the minced beef in a large bowl. The bread should have absorbed all the milk by now and seem quite cool so mash it to a pulp using a fork. Add the mushy bread, the sauted onion, the parsley the parmesan, the beaten egg, the tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, the nutmeg and some salt and pepper to the beef. Gently knead the mixture without squeezing it until all the ingredients are combined.

Gently shape the mixture into walnut sized balls (about 2.5cm/1 in diameter) and then roll each one in the fine breadcrumbs and set aside on some grease proof paper.

Choose a large saute pan which can accomodate all the meatballs in a single layer and warm a good glug of olive or vegetable oil for frying (I reckon my glug was about 3 tbsps.) Raise the flame to medium high and slip in the meatballs. Brown them on all sides, turning them carefully so they don’t break.

Once the meatballs are browned lower the heat slightly and add the tomatoes to the pan, you can pick out the garlic at this point. Turn the meatballs once or twice to coat them with sauce and incorporate the meat juices from the bottom of the pan.

Cover the pan and cook at a gentle and quiet simmer for about 25 minutes.

Taste both meatballs and sauce then adjust the seasoning.

To serve with spaghetti.

for 4

Cook 400g of good quality spaghetti in a large pan of well salted, fast boiling water.

While the spaghetti is cooking, gently reheat the meatballs and sauce over a modest flame, nudging them around with a wooden spoon so they don’t burn. Using a slotted spoon remove the meatballs from the sauce and set them onto a warm plate and cover with foil. Drain the spaghetti reserving a little of the cooking water. Stir about 50ml of the pasta cooking water into the sauce to thin it a little and then add the spaghetti to the sauce and toss well.

Devide the spaghetti between 4 bowls and top each with 3 meatballs and a spoonful of the any sauce still clinging to pan.

Serve and bring the rest of the meatballs to the table so people can help them selves.


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Coniglio alla cacciatora or Rabbit hunters style

Other wise known as lunch in Livorno.

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‘Rabbit

Lisa declared like a verbal stamp of the foot

‘Rabbit

She repeated, in exactly the same tone that she had announced she needed granita di limone about 30 minutes previously .

for lunch I want rabbit.’

We both came to a standstill in the middle of the noisy abundance, bussle and colour of Livorno market. Lisa rubbed her belly now unmistakably 5 months rounder

it wants rabbit too

I was not about to argue with either mother or bump- both clearly at the mercy of very specific and particular cravings – nor such a good idea, rabbit it was.

I find it a very pleasing fact that in Italy Coniglio (rabbit) is as unsurprising and commonplace as chicken on many menus and tables. Even more so that it is cooked and eaten with such passion, it’s lean, aromatic, flavoursome meat prized and appreciated as all good food should be.

I have barely, even among Italians who choose not to eat or dislike rabbit, heard a whisper of squeamishness, never mind horror or disapproval at it’s presence on the table. Actually that’s not true, I have heard disapproval, but that was everything to do with the suggestion the rabbit on the menu may have dubious – intensively reared – origins and nothing to do with it’s place on the menu.

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You often find rabbit cooked alla cacciatora (hunters style) which can be loosely – I say loosely there are as many versions as there are cooks – defined as;

First cooking the rabbit joints in padella, in a frying pan, and then the aromatic additions – vegetables, garlic, wine, herbs, olives, pancetta, capers, anchovies or vinegar – are all added later, then the joints are cooked covered to obtain a very dry result, the joints bathed in a very little concentrated sauce.

Our lunch was the simplest kind, the most basic of recipes taught to me by a friend who says a good rabbit needs nothing more than a clean shot, a good clean, a pan, a lid, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, white wine, a low flame, an hour or so, a table and a grateful stomach.

coniglio 2

You cut (or ask your butcher nicely) to cut your rabbit into pieces. First soak the rabbit pieces in a mixture of water and white wine vinegar for at least 30 minutes. Rinse the rabbit pieces, pat them dry carefully and season them with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

In a deep frying pan with a tight fitting lid (wide enough to accommodate all the pieces of rabbit without them being too over crowded) warm the olive oil with a couple of plump cloves of garlic for a few minutes. Remove the garlic and set it aside, turn the flame to medium, once the pan is nice hot add the rabbit pieces and cook, turning frequently until they are nicely browned and golden – wear an apron as the oil splatters and spits somewhat.

Add the wine and return the garlic to the pan, allow the wine to sizzle and bubble energetically and then using a wooden spoon scape the bottom of the pan to dislodge any meaty goodness from the pan in into the sauce. Once a half the wine has evaporated away, turn the flame down, cover the pan and allow it so simmer for about 50 minutes stirring every now and then. If things look a little dry, which they shouldn’t if you didn’t evaporate away all the wine and the flame is low enough. add a little stock of plain water to the pan.

coniglio lunch

We made a warm salad as well, rocket, red onion and fresh piattelli beans

like fresh cannelini… but better

said the formidable lady behind the handsome and popular market stall which bustled with Livornese preparing for the weekend.

A good salad, dressed with a bit of coarse salt, extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice, very nice with the rabbit.

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The best rabbits are wild ones who live on herbs and woodland shrubs, the meat is tougher but more flavoursome.You need to become or make friends with a hunter with good shot to obtain one of these, Next best thing is a decent butcher who has a reliable source.

As I said before this is the simplest of recipes and one to be practised and played with and elaborated, the additions of rosemary, pancetta and olives are worth trying.

Coniglio all cacciatora

serves 4

  • 1 rabbit (about 1,3kg – 1.5kg), cleaned, cut into about 14 pieces, washed.
  • 1 litre water mix with 175ml white wine vinegar for soaking
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 plump cloves of garlic peeled and gently squashed with the back of a knife
  • 200ml dry white wine

First wash in fast running water and then soak the rabbit pieces in the mixture of water and white wine vinegar for at least 30 minutes. Rinse the rabbit pieces very carefully, pat then dry carefully and season them with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

In a deep frying pan with a tight fitting lid (wide enough to accommodate all the pieces of rabbit without them being too over crowded) warm the olive oil with a couple of plump cloves of garlic for a few minutes.

Remove the garlic and set it aside, turn the flame to medium once it is modestly hot add the rabbit and cook, turning frequently until they are nicely browned and golden.

Add the wine and return the garlic to the pan, allow the wine to sizzle and bubble energetically and then using a wooden spoon scape the bottom of the pan to dislodge any meaty goodness from the pan into the sauce.

Once a half the wine has evaporated away, turn the flame down, cover the pan and allow it so simmer for about 45 minutes stirring every now and then. If things look a little dry, which they shouldn’t if you didn’t evaporate away all the wine and the flame is low enough. add a little stock or plain water to the pan.

Allow the pan to rest for at least 10 minutes and stir the contents of the pan so each piece is coated with the thick sauce before serving.

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