Category Archives: parsley

blue book

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The first thing I made was the slow-cooked lamb shanks. It was 1996 and I was studying in Chalk Farm and living on Haverstock Hill, not quite opposite the Sir Richard Steele Pub, in a flat above a kebab shop. Not that we went to the Sir Richard Steele Pub. The grubby Fiddlers Elbow was the place in which we drowned our bruised or inflated egos each night after a day at The Drama Centre.

A couple of weeks previously I’d been for lunch at The River Cafe. A lunch that had spun an otherwise hopeless date into a spectacular (if futureless) one.  A char-grilled peppers with anchovies, deep-fried zucchini flower, linguine with crab, grilled sea bass, chocolate nemesis lunch that had left my date with an enormous hole in his pocket and me with both architectural and gastronomic goosebumps and the need to evangelise about a restaurant on Thames Wharf, Rainville road, London W6.

The day after lunch, knowing I would probably never have the good fortune – or indeed fortune – to eat there again, I bought a blue book with bold white font: The River Cafe Cook Book.  I spent the afternoon sitting on Primrose Hill (in the days when it wasn’t quite so fashionable) bookmarking everything before walking up and over the hill, skirting Regents Park and cutting down Parkway into Camden town to get 6 small lamb shanks, 6 red onions, red peppers, rosemary and a bottle of plonk and heading back to Haverstock Hill. I seem to remember the shanks were a tad on the dry side – a case of cooks at the cooking wine – but tasty nonetheless. The marinated grilled peppers however were superb. Which was everything to do with the recipe and very little to do with the (boozing) cooks. I made those peppers more times than I care to remember, as I did the bean soup, grilled squid, mussel soup, bread soup, raw fennel salad…..

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My copy of The River Cafe Cook Book has been sitting on my mum’s kitchen bookshelf for nearly nine years now, ever since I absconded to Italy with nothing more than the clothes I stood up in. I’ve been thumbing though it these last couple of weeks while here on a holiday of sorts. It remains – in my opinion –   along with Elizabeth David’s Italian Food, the English book that best captures the spirit and soul of Italian ingredients and cooking. It still looks as sharp and uncompromisingly good as it did 17 years ago. I still want to make everything.

Assisted by a post-it, the book fell open at page 172 and a recipe for something Rose and Ruth call Inzimonio di Ceci or Chickpeas with Swiss chard. As much as I like a nice food picture it is not usually the thing that inspires me to cook. Quite the opposite in fact. Pictures, especially if too pretty, styled or framed with incongruous bits of this and that, leave me cool.  On this occasion the picture, unstyled and unframed, made me eager to cook and eat. A women in a white apron is holding a platter on which there is a pile of glistening chickpeas and chard flecked with tiny nubs of carrot, red onion, parsley and chili sitting in generous, golden puddle of extra virgin olive oil.

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Having soaked the dried chickpeas overnight, you cook them until tender. If you have forgotten to soak your chickpeas: you open two tins. I forgot. You blanch your chard or greens in a large pan of fast boiling well-salted water, drain and then chop them coarsely. You sauté diced carrot and onion until soft in lots of olive oil before adding crumbled chili, white wine, tomato and letting everything bubble vigorously for a minute or two before adding the chickpeas and greens.

Another 10 minutes over a gentle flame with the occasional stir, a handful of parsley and the juice of half a lemon and lunch is nearly ready. Nearly. As is almost always the case with dishes like this, a rest in which the flavours can settle is wise. My mum has a large white plate with a little lip just like the one in the picture which was pleasing. She also has a white apron, but I resisted dressing up.

And to think I used to consider chickpeas the good Samaritan of the store cupboard, worthy but weary making hard work. No more. After pasta e ceci this is maybe my new preferred way to eat them. The combination of chickpeas, soft greens – offering as Fergus Henderson would say structural weave – sweet and tender nubs of carrot and onion, given heat by chilli and depth by the wine and tomato is a full and delicious one. Wholesome but generous. We had our chickpeas and greens with ricotta and bread.

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Chickpeas with greens

Adapted (slightly) from The River Cafe Cook Book.

serves 6

  • 800 g greens (ideally chard but spring greens work well)
  • 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 2 medium carrots
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 dried chili, crumbled
  • 250 ml / 8 fl oz white wine
  • 2 tbsp of tomato sauce or passata or 1 tbsp concentrate
  • 400 g cooked chickpeas
  • a generous handful of chopped parsley
  • the juice of half a lemon
  • more extra virgin olive oil to serve

In a large pan of well salted fast boiling water, blanch the greens briefly. Drain them and then once they are cool enough to handle, chop them coarsely and set aside.

Warm the oil in a heavy based saute pan, add the onion, carrot and a pinch of salt and cook them slowly for 15 minutes or until they are tender. Season with a little more salt, pepper and the crumbled chili.

Add the wine to the pan and allow it to bubble away until it has almost completely reduced. Add the tomato sauce or concentrate, greens and chickpeas, stir and cook, stirring every couple of minutes for 10 minutes.

Add 3/4 of the chopped parsley and the lemon juice to the pan, stir, turn off the heat and allow the pan to sit for 10 minutes.

Transfer to a large platter or serving  plate, sprinkle with the remaining parsley and a little more extra virgin olive oil and serve.

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I’m not about about to deprive my Mum, so I have bought another blue book with bold white font to take back to Italy with me. Which says it all really. Now if you will excuse me, I really should go and pack, our flight is at 3.

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Filed under Beans and pulses, olive oil, parsley, rachel eats London, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, recipes, ricotta, summer food, vegetables

The sauce is greener

Windowsill in Rome at about 4pm on Saturday 18th August – a dog day if ever there was one. From left to right, parsley, basil and (despite dastardly heat) a very perky mint plant.

I’ve recently rediscovered green sauce. I’ve reembraced this gloriously good, gorgeous green amalgam of herbs, capers, anchovies, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. This piquant, salty, fresh, grassy, sour, oily, punchy, slap of a sauce  I’ve been spooning it over (almost) everything. I’ve been eating it straight from the jar. I’m considering tucking a small tub of it in my handbag, a culinary first aid kit so to speak, in case I encounter any comestible blandness that needs remedying. I’ve decided upon my epitaph: She – after experimentation and sound advice – made a good green sauce.

I used to call my green sauce by its Italian name, Salsa verde, which literally translated means sauce green. ‘This is sauce green madam, with tongue of veal’ declared the waiter at the Trattoria near Ferrara as he presented me with my lingua con salsa verde a few years backAnd very good lingua it was too (tongue is a dish deserving of our culinary courage, one that – quite literally – sticks its tongue out at you and your squeamishness and whispers I dare you!) But it was the Salsa verde that really got me going, the chaotic tumble of parsley, capers, onion, anchovies, breadcrumbs, garlic and olive oil.

Following that meal in Ferrara  I started making Salsa Verde at home. At first I was faithful, reverential even, to the parsley-breadcrumb-onion-garlic-caper-anchovy-olive oil salsa I’d enjoyed so much. Then, feeling a little frisky about my salsa skills and with sound advice from Marcella Hazan, Giorgio Locatelli and Fergus Henderson, I began to experiment. I discovered that I’m partial to a little mint and basil alongside my parsley, that onion isn’t (always) necessary, nor for that matter are breadcrumbs, that a heavy hand with the anchovies is no bad thing.

I shared my Salsa Verde observations with a man from Milan over an aperitivo in an odd bar near Piazza Navona. I wish I hadn’t! He shook his head violently as I spoke of herbs other than parsley. He snorted when I suggested omitting the breadcrumbs and winced at the mention of garlic. ‘Non è Salsa Verde‘ he replied disapprovingly before saying something rude and clichéd about the English and their food. I wasn’t in the mood for gastronomic argy bargy with a possibly knowledgable but properly pompous old fart . ‘How right he was‘ I conceded ‘It wasn’t!  It was green sauce.’

I’m never very precise when I make green sauce, a bunch of this, a handful of that, a bit more of that. But then last Saturday – the dog day – in an uncharacteristic fit of pedantry and a sleeping child I counted the leaves.. Well the basil and mint leaves at least! So I can confirm that to my big bunch of parsley I add 25 leaves of both basil and mint. And how big is big? Well once I’d pulled the parsley leaves from the stalks I had a bulging fistful of leaves! Is that helpful? Not really!

You can of course make you green sauce in a food processor! However, I’d like – if you don’t mind – to give you three good reasons to make your green sauce with a sharp knife. Firstly, because only by chopping will you achieve the chaotic, tumbling more-salad-than-sauce textual delight. A food processor – bless – can’t help but obliterate all the ingredients into a bit of a pulpy slurry. Secondly, for the stupendous heady aroma that pervades your kitchen when your knife hits the parsley, mint and basil. If I ever faint in your presence, please waft a board of chopped herbs under my nose. Thirdly, when chopped rather than blitzed, your green sauce will be greener.

Having chopped your herbs, do the same with your capers and anchovies. The capers can be very roughly chopped but you need to reduce the anchovies to a creamy consistency, almost a paste really. Almost. So some serious chopping and squashing with the edge of the knife is in order. Did I mention how much I like anchovies? Yes! Good. The garlic too needs reducing to a paste! I use a pestle and mortar. Meeting a nice chunk of caper in your sauce is one thing, a chunk of garlic is quite another!

Having chopped all the components, scrape them into a bowl, add the vinegar or lemon juice mix everything together thoroughly and energetically with a fork. Then add the olive oil in a thin stream – another pair of hands is useful here – beating the mixture sharply so as to amalgamate the oil with the other ingredients. You are looking for a loose still spoonable  – but not runny or oily – consistency, a thick, gloopy, snooker-baize colored pond. Taste, season with black pepper and add a little more lemon juice or vinegar if you feel it needs it (the anchovies should negate any necessity for salt.)

Green sauce

Makes a jarful.

  • a big bunch of flat leaved parsley (leaves only)
  • 25 basil leaves
  • 25 mint leaves
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic
  • a small tin of anchovy fillets (8 fillets)
  • 2 tablespoons capers (in brine)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar
  • 200 ml extra virgin olive oil (you may not need it all)
  • black pepper

Chop your herbs finely with a knife or mezzaluna.

Peel the garlic and then crush it in a pestle and mortar or with the back of a large knife before chopping it very finely.

Drain the capers and then chop them roughly. Chop the anchovy fillets.

In a bowl, mix together the herbs, garlic, capers, anchovy, lemon juice/vinegar and enough olive oil to reach a loose, still spoonable –  but not runny or oily – consistency.

Taste, season with black pepper and add more vinegar or lemon if you think it needs it ( the anchovies should negate any necessity for salt.)

How to eat it

Straight from the jar. Otherwise with just about everything! Green sauce is outrageously social (some would say undiscriminating but they’re just jealous) and its companions know no bounds. It goes brilliantly with meat cooked in almost every manner! I adore it with poached chicken, pork chops and cold roast beef. The same for fish! Cod with lentils and green sauce please! It is terrific with potatoes, sliced tomatoes, steamed and raw vegetables, on sandwiches and with eggs (next to omelets, under poached) especially hard-boiled ones.

It was a good lunch. Hope summer is treating you well.

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Filed under food, olive oil, parsley, rachel eats Italy, sauces, summer food

Better ate than never

True to form, I’m late! But not too late I hope, to wish you all a very Happy New Year, Buon anno and – raise your shot of vodka – szczęśliwego nowego roku. Lets hope it’s a good one, or a tasty one at the very least. Talking of tasty, I’d like to tell you about a recipe, an assembly really, of which I am extremely fond and slightly obsessed at the moment.

It’s a variation on the classic Roman pasta dish Spaghetti aglio, olio and peperoncino (spaghetti with garlic, oil and chili) with the addition of three loyal kitchen companions, ingredients whose absence on my kitchen shelves makes me as twitchy as a smoker on a long haul flight: anchovies, capers and parsley.

As with Spaghetti Agio, olio and peperoncino, while your spaghetti is rolling around in a pan of well- salted, fast-boiling water, you cook the garlic and chill in olive oil. The oil should be warm enough to tame the garlic’s aggressive bite – tempering it into something a little milder and sweeter, but not so hot as to burn it and make it bitter. Next you add 6 (or in my case 7 or 8) anchovy fillets to the pan and – still over a moderate flame – you nudge and push the fillets around the pan until they dissolve, disintegrate and melt into the oil creating a curious brown sauce studded with garlic and flecked with fiery red flakes. Next you add some capers to the pan, stir for another minute or so before you add the drained pasta, a splash of pasta cooking water and finish things off with a fistful of chopped parsley. You toss everything together energetically, serve and eat.

There is nothing subtle about this dish, at least not the way I make it. It’s a deliciously bold and punchy affair! Which is hardly surprising considering the players: Anchovy, the most intensely fishy fish, strong and bold, garlic with its pungent sweetness, the heat of the chill, the quirky nip of capers, the grassy nature of parsley. Oily, salty, fishy, briny, hot and grassy! My god, it’s the pasta equivalent of a fumble with a rather attractive and robust fisherman on a grassy sand dune. But please don’t let my crude comparisons, the recipes simplicity or its late night supper speed deter you, this is a tasty plateful that knocks the socks off any number of over-worked, over-sauced, over-overed pastas.

You can of course use the finest, costliest jar of plump, pink anchovies you can lay your hands on, or the vastly superior salt packed ones (even though I feel the soaking required for these rather defeats the object and swift beauty of this supper). You can also use a little, flat, oval tin of workaday anchovies, the kind you find at most supermarkets, the kind I squash on hot buttered toast for a late night snack, fillets as loud, crude and salty as a Billingsgate fishwife.

The same goes for the capers, you can use the superior salt packed ones which need soaking and rinsing. I prefer the tiny ones preserved in brine for this recipe, they add a cheeky, briney bitterness that perks things up no end.

I wasn’t going to give you a list of precise ingredients, measurements and instructions today! Firstly because it’s all so simple, but secondly because a recipe with ingredients like these, ingredients with such strong personalities and flavors has to be a very personal thing. I for example like an excessive amount of anchovy, have no fear of garlic breath and like a caper in every forkful. I am however cautious with the chill. You might skip the capers altogether, play down the anchovy, up the chill and decide not to inflict overly garlicky post dinner kisses on your date. Then I realised the post would look lopsided without a written recipe, that my word count would be down and that I like the companionship of a recipe in the kitchen, even one I know I will follow very liberally.

So here it is. Please feel free to adapt and adjust accordingly.

Spaghetti with garlic, oil, chili, anchovies, capers and parsley

Serves 2

  • 2 – 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 – 3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into slivers (or left whole and gently squashed if you want to remove them before eating)
  • 2 -8 anchovy fillets in olive oil
  • 1 or 2 dried red chilis, or a good pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons capers
  • a handful of flat leaved parsley roughly chopped
  • 250g good-quality spaghetti
  • Bring a pot of  well-salted water to a fast boil. Cook the pasta until al dente.
  • In the meantime, heat the olive oil in a medium-sized heavy based frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and chili and cook for a couple of minutes or until the garlic is fragrant and soft.
  • Add the anchovy fillets and gently nudge and mash them into the olive oil until they melt. Continue cooking until the garlic is quite soft and just beginning to turn golden, but not brown. Add the capers and stir.
  • Drain the pasta (reserving the cooking waiter) and add to the pan and toss to coat in the sauce. Add  the parsley and a little pasta cooking water and continue stirring to create a sauce with the olive oil.
  •  Serve immediately.

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I’ll say it again, Happy Happy New Year to you all. I’m not going to reveal all 47 resolutions, but I will tell you they include the words wine, more, sleep, chou farci, more, blog, good, more, write, camping, Palermo, more, fudge, fine, bacon, weekly, less, pickles, mother and more.


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Filed under food, olive oil, parsley, pasta and rice, Rachel's Diary, recipes, Uncategorized

Wilting in Rome.

It’s too darn hot. At least it is for me. Vincenzo on the other hand is delighted by the soaring temperatures and assumes the Gecko position whenever possible. Such unreasonable weather however, like having your tonsils out, has a gastronomic benefit. Namely, that you can – with absolutely no need for justification or adherence to acknowledged meal times – consume as much ice-cream, sorbet, granita, jelly, ice-cold blancmange and panna cotta as you wish. In such weather it’s also permissable, advisable even when you feel the wilt, to stop whatever you are doing, roll up your sleeves and cut yourself a vast wedge – this is no time for dainty slices – of ice-cold watermelon. Vincenzo likes to squeeze some lemon juice over his. Shun all offers of cutlery and approach the eating of your wedge with slightly aggressive relish.

Until last year I’d never done anything with watermelon other than eat it in the manner described above. Then last year in Umbria my brother Ben and I made watermelon juice and then watermelon granita. Both were a great success, and thus my watermelon repertoire broadened from one to three; the wedge, the juice and the granita,

I’d read about watermelon and feta salad and watermelon and toasted haloumi salad and I’d been mildly interested but not convinced. Then a couple of weeks ago my Mum, Jenifer, rang with important news. Her voice was slightly urgent, and the line wasn’t terribly good. I felt the surge of panic that’s becoming more frequent and familiar as my parents get older and I stay in Italy.

It subsided as she proceeded to tell me with infectious enthusiasm the important news, green fingered news, the news about her garden. First the broad beans, and how they would be ready by the time I came back. ‘Don’t forget the pecorino when you come’ she said. ‘A nice big piece from Volpetti to eat with the broad beans.’ Then she talked about the gooseberries, the baby lettuces, the chard, courgettes, the rocket. Once I was fully up-to-date with garden progress, we talked about this, that, and a surprising and very good salad she had eaten at the Chelsea Physic Garden restaurant during her gardening course.

There were big pieces of ripe, sweet watermelon‘ she explained. ‘Surprisingly big pieces, with cubes of feta cheese, good feta, and some of those really wrinkled black olives, you know the sort?’

I think so‘ I replied. ‘You mean the wrinkled, very black, oven baked ones you used to buy from the Athenian grocer in Bayswater?

Exactly‘ said Mum. ‘There was some red onion, sliced very finely’ another long pause. ‘Oh and parsley, lots of parsley, chopped very roughly so you could really see the leaves.

Lemon juice? Olive oil?’

Of course‘ she said.

My Mum was right – she usually is when it comes to food related matters – it’s a surprisingly good salad. It’s delicious actually, good food for these searingly hot days. The crisp, cool, sweetness of the melon, the dark, briny olives, the creamy, salty feta, fragrant parsley, mild onion and the bright citrus make for a wonderful combination. I have made it several times now, tweaking and testing. Fresh mint makes an excellent addition, as many of you have already discovered, after all. this salad is well documented. On this occasion I added some cucumber which was nice, but mainly because it was such a tasty cucumber which is a rare thing these days. I suggest adding cucumber if you really like it – I do – otherwise it’s superfluous.

The watermelon should be ripe, sweet and well chilled, the onion red and mild. Toss the salad gently with your hands, it’s the best way. Serve immediately.

I have been eating this for lunch with bread, but I imagine it could be a good starter for a summer supper or part of a rambling BBQ.

Watermelon, cucumber, feta and black olive salad

Inspired by Mum’s Lunch at the Chelsea physic garden

Serves 2 as lunch, 4 as a starter. If this was a starter for supper I’d serve it alongside a plate of prosciutto.

  • a small, mild red onion
  • A handful of parsley
  • A sprig of mint
  • a few black olives (I use greek Kalamata or ideally the wrinkled oven baked ones)
  • 600g ripe, red, juicy watermelon
  • a small cucumber (optional)
  • 100g feta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • lemon or lime juice to taste
  • black pepper

Peel and chop the onion in two and slice each half carefully into slim half moons.

Pull the parsley leaves from the stalks, wash and pat them dry. Then chop the parsley very coarsely, you want nice leafy pieces. Do the same with the mint

Remove the rind and pips from the watermelon, and cut into approximately 2cm chunks.

Peel the cucumber and cut it into 2cm cubes.

Cut the feta into rough 2cm cubes. Stone the olives.

Put the watermelon, cucumber, feta, parsley, mint, onion and black olives into a shallow bowl. Then spoon over the olive oil, add a good squeeze of lemon juice and a twist of black pepper. Then using your hands toss the salad very gently so that the feta and melon don’t lose their shape.

Taste, and add more lemon or lime juice, olive oil or pepper if you think necessary.

Serve immediately.

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Filed under food, fruit, parsley, recipes, salads, summer food, watermelon

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

Parsley pesto

Apart from the pasticcini diversion and tasty fried anchovy and courgette flower experiments that I’m hoping to write about next week, we’re still having a parsley phase here at Via mastro giorgio 81. Vincenzo suggested parsley daze might be a more appropriate way of describing the situation, as he ate another mouthful of very green food.

I made the parsley soup again, but this time with vegetable stock. It was good, but the stock was, as I suspected, unnecessary. Parsley soup is, in my opinion, a soup best made with water. Then I made Fergus Henderson’s parsley salad, the one he famously serves with the roast marrow bone at St John, lots of chopped parsley, tiny capers and finely chopped shallots dressed with olive oil and lemon. I ate it with some lardo di colonnata on toast. I should post about that too because it’s  delicious. Then I made parsley pesto.

I’ve made parsley pesto before, but this time I’d planned to do some research. Jodi suggested using walnuts instead of pine nuts, another friend uses almonds, I seem to remember reading that you can blanch the parsley first and I wanted to try that. But in the end, time, work and habit meant I made it, like before, using the Genovese basil pesto recipe as a template but substituting basil with parsley. So: pine nuts, really fresh flat leaved parsley, Ligurian olive oil, half parmesan and pecorino sardo and on this occasion, garlic.

Vincenzo is extraordinarily patient. If he’s cooking, he makes pesto in the pestle and mortar, a long, slow grind. I, on the other hand, am not very patient, but do know that pesto made with a pestle and mortar has a texture and consistency that can’t be achieved in a food processor or blender. So I compromise. I pound the nuts and garlic in the pestle and mortar with a little salt which means the garlic is crushed as opposed to being chopped with a blade. Then I tip the nut and garlic paste into bowl, add the parsley a little at a time and use the stick blender to reduce this to a thick, green paste. I try to work the mixture as little as possible. Then using a wooden spoon I gradually stir in the oil, and last but not least, the cheese.

In the absence of linguine or trennete we stirred the pesto into spaghetti alla chittarta. This is a pasta dish that reminds you how important the pasta cooking water is. It is crucial that you use and save some of the water the pasta has been cooking in – it will be cloudy with starch – to loosen the pesto a little. Generally I put a couple of tablespoons of pesto into a warm serving bowl, then just before draining the pasta, I scoop ladleful of the well salted, starchy pasta water into the pesto to thin it into a looser, creamy paste which will coat the pasta. When I drain the pasta I save a little more of the water in case it is required. Finally, I tip the drained pasta into the bowl, stir and add more pesto and pasta water if it’s nessesary, to achieve the silky, slippy, creamy consistency we like.

Parsley pesto may not have the extraordinary peppery, warm, spicy heat of basil pesto, but it has other qualities, it is fragrant, subtle, grassy and wholesome. We both agreed that a little garlic works well with the parsley – I find garlic can overwhelms basil and we often (not always) leave it out of basil pesto. We liked the simplicity of this plateful. We like that parsley is the star.

I think that parsley pesto will be taking occasional turns with basil pesto from now on. I am looking forward to trying this recipe with walnuts, maybe toasting them first, then I’d like to experiment with almonds or as the brilliant Alex suggests, brazil nuts. I imagine parsley pesto could be very good thinned with a little more olive oil and stirred into boiled, sliced new potatoes and slim green beans or a good, green flecked dressing for cherry tomatoes to be piled on toast.

Last thing, I think pesto is a really personal thing, these are loose guidelines, feel free to play around with these measurments and quantities.

Parsley pesto

Makes a small jar (which gave us 6 servings)

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • pinch of salt
  • 50g pine nuts
  • Bunch (about 150g) of Italian flat leaved parsley
  • 250ml extra virgin olive oil (preferably a light and fruity one, Ligurian is great)
  • 50g freshly grated parmesan and/ or pecorino sardo

Separate the leaves from the parsley and wash and then dry them very carefully and throughly in a clean, dry teatowel.

Either in a food processor or using a pestle and mortar start with the garlic and salt. Smash the garlic and then add the nuts and crush them.

Add the parsley a few leaves at a time and crush or pulse the food processor or stick blender until you have a thick, green paste.

Stop the food processor if you are using it. Now work by hand, preferably with a wooden spoon. Pour in the oil in a thin stream, stirring all the time until it is incorporated. Stir in the cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve within a couple of days. The pesto will keep well covered in the fridge with a thin layer of olive oil over it to stop it discoloring. Freeze if you will have any left over after 3 days.

I don’t need to tell you how to cook pasta, but I will note that we eat 100g of pasta each so 200g in total into which we stir in 3 really large tablespoons of parsley pesto.

Talking of Peroni, I’m off for one now. Hope you had a sunny and happy weekend where ever you are.

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Filed under food, olive oil, parsley, pasta and rice, sauces

Parsley time

I planned to start this post by claiming that we always, always have a jar, glass, bunch, sprig or mazzeto of parsley in the kitchen. I then realised this would be a fat lie, because at this precise moment, the contents of the jar above is long gone, and there isn’t a sprig or a stem, not a single a leaf of the handsome, very green herb in our kitchen. There isn’t even a bedraggled, neglected, withered stalk lurking under the carrots and the other vegetable orphans in the bottom draw of the fridge. An absence of parsley! A rare thing, but a thing nonetheless.

We almost always have parsley in the kitchen. I wish I could tell you that it’s freshly picked from the garden, but we don’t have one, so it isn’t. It’s usually nice and perky though, because each day, when one or other of us goes to the market – we live virtually on top of the splendid, workday market in Testaccio, five minutes from an organic farmers market and have very erratic jobs, so we can go every day  – we are given a handful of parsley.

Given, because unless you are in need of a great quantity, as I was the other day,  you are usually given parsley, which is called prezzemelo, in Italy. Once you’ve finished the rest of your shopping, a few stalks of flat leaved parsley with broad, bright green leaves and gangly, plump legs will be tucked into your shopping bag. Depending on your loyalty to the stall, you might also be given other odori (which can be translated as aromatics) a carrot, a stick of celery, some basil, a branch of rosemary and sprig of mint or sage.

We almost always have parsley because we use it all the time. Whether it be the fragrant base of a soup, sauce, stuffing or stew, tucked in or under fish, chopped and stirred into cold sauces and salads or sprinkled, like green confetti, over this, that and the other.

Recently I have been using parsley even more than usual, hence the big bunch above. It all started with a wave and punch of nostalgia for watercress (which I adore) from the watercress farm near my parents house. Thoughts of watercress salad, watercress tucked in cold roast beef sandwiches and my mum’s watercress soup. Unfortunately for me, but reassuring in a world where you can find most things everywhere and even more disturbingly at anytime of year, watercress is not to be found in Rome.

In the absence of watercress and yearning a green summer soup, I debated the merits of rocket, basil, spinach and celery but finally settled on trying to make a parsley soup. Using my mum’s watercress soup as a template, I sautéed spring onion (the marvelous pink tinged spring onions (cipolle) from Tropea) and the plump parsley stalks in a mixture of olive oil and butter. Next some diced potato, a little dry white wine, which you evaporate away, some water (or stock if you like) and generous pinch of coarse salt. I stirred and then let the pan bubble and simmer gently for about 20 minutes.

Then I added the parsley leaves and let the soup cook for another couple of minutes. Finally I passed the soup through the smallest holed circle of my mouli and checked the seasoning. If you don’t have a mouli – in which case you should think about getting one because they are invaluable for beautifully textured soups and sauces – a trusty stick blender will do a good job, even though the texture will not be as smooth and silky. Passing the soup through a sieve is long-winded option which creates a beautiful texture if you can be bothered

I let the soup cool to a summer appropriate temperature, which for me is tepid. I imagine this soup would also be excellent chilled, like a nice very cold vichyssoice. I did consider – alla Simon Hopkinson – about adding a little cream, but eventually decided against it in favour of some nice olive oil.

This soup may not have the peppery warmth of one made with watercress, but it’s really delicious nonetheless. It’s very green, beautifully simple, subtle but surprisingly full of flavour. The honest, fragrant goodness of the parsley is given body by the potatoes and gentle spring onion base notes, which in turn are given a certain creamyness by the butter and oil. The plump sweetness and the savory celery-like flavour of the fat parsley stalks really emerge in this soup. Best of all, it’s nice to see a beloved herb, maybe the most vital and reliable member of our kitchen chorus, taking center stage.

The nicest, freshest, most vibrantly green parsley you can find, a generous bunch with fat stalks and tender leaves.

Parsley soup

I have made this soup three times now, twice with water and once with light chicken stock. I loved both. However the water, even though it doesn’t lend the same depth of flavour as the chicken stock, made a simpler, purer, soup, which allowed the parsley to really show off. I plan to try it with a light vegetable stock next week so I may well amend this paragraph. I know some people are funny about tepid and cold soup –  not me – you can of course eat it warm.

2 – 4 servings

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 25g butter
  • A bunch of spring onions, white and green roughly chopped or 2 large leeks, white part only sliced
  • 1 large potato (about 4oog) peeled and roughly diced
  • a very large bunch (about 300g) of flat leaved parsley – leaves separated from stems and stems coarsely chopped.
  • 100ml dry white wine (optional)
  • 1 litre filtered water or light chicken stock
  • salt

Warm the oil and butter in a large based soup pan and then sweat the onion or leek and parsley stalks gently, uncovered for 20 minutes. Add the potato, stir and then the wine. Allow the wine to evaporate away and the add the water or stock, a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Simmer for another 20 minutes.

Coarsely chop the parsley leaves and add them to the pan and simmer for two minutes.

Pass the soup through the mouli, fine sieve or blend with a stick blender, taste, adjust seasoning. Serve at room temperature or chilled with a blob of yogurt or some olive oil and bread.

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Filed under food, parsley, recipes, soup