Learning Italian in the Kitchen

Ciao amici miei!

I have recently started learning Italian. It’s a beautiful language and I am really enjoying it. Sadly as I get older my memory gets worse so it is hard work. I am trying all sorts of ways to get it into my head for more than a few hours (or minutes in some cases). I am learning on line both the grammar and vocabulary, I am taking conversation classes, I am writing my shopping list and a daily diary in Italian and reading Italian children’s books.

But being a bit of a food obsessive and as you know an enthusiastic amateur cook I decided that using an Italian language cookbook might be the way to go.

It’s great, I am working my way through La Cucina di Toscana and about to start on Un Settimane di Cucina Italia. 

The first dish was Acquacotta, which literally means Cooked Water – who knew? This tasty dish of onions, yellow peppers celery and tomatoes was easy peasy and I ‘ve learnt LOTS of new words. Marvellous! or meraviglioso! as we say in Italian – see it’s working already.

A Refreshing Drink for a Hot Day

Elderberry shrub / ketchup an odd recipe which can be made as a savoury vinegar ‘ketchup’ or a sweet ‘shrub’ cordial.

Elderberry Ketchup (or Shrub) (G. Watson)

Although this is called ketchup it is not like the sauce we know and love but a spicy vinegar. Remove the shallots and it is a lovely drink called shrub.  Vinegar as a drink? Try it, it is really refreshing, the vinegar mellows with the sugar and sparkling water.

500ml elderberries

500ml cider vinegar

25g shallots (finely chopped or minced)

A blade of mace

A 1cm cube ginger

1 teaspoonful cloves

1 teaspoonful black peppercorns

Sugar – see method for quantities

Method

Strip the berries from the stalks and rinse in water. Put them in a large jar with the vinegar and leave for 24 hours. Strain off the liquid without crushing the berries.

For shrub - Transfer the elderberry vinegar liquid to a pan DO NOT ADD SHALLOT . Add the spices and boil gently for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, for each 500ml of liquid use 500g sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then pour through a sieve to remove the whole spices. When cold bottle and label.

For the ketchup - Transfer the elderberry vinegar liquid to a pan and add the shallots and spices and boil gently for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, for each 500ml of liquid use 200g sugar. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then pour through a sieve to remove the whole spices. When cold bottle and label.

To serve, mix with sparking water. Start with 1 part shrub to 6 parts sparkling water and adjust to taste. The syrup may also be mixed with still water or used in cocktails.

Try it – you will be pleasantly surprised

The Tyrany of Geometry

I was amused yesterday when I read India Knight’s article in the Sunday Times about the British and gardening. I do like her articles but this one particularly struck a chord and when India remarked ‘ I’m keener on higgledy-piggledy hollyhocks and courgette flowers than on perfect geometry, I laughed out loud.

I love gardening, my garden isn’t perfect and often stretches the balance between random and completely disorganised. But I love it I don’t want Little Miss Neat or Mr Tidy out there with me. I love the fact that the flowers bulge out of every corner in a riot of clashing colours and the raspberries are taking over the salad bed. What appear to be weeds are actually deliberate – sweet cicely, Jack-in-the-hedge and dandelions are all great in salads, although my neighbour thinks that is just an excuse.

However things are different on the allotment. Why? I don’t know but when growing veg on a larger scale I can’t seem to stop myself growing things in rows. The carrots, radishes and other roots are perfect in their lines and the sweetcorn marches in a set square. The runner beans supports are a marvel of symmetry.  A recent newcomer to the allotment plot remarked ‘gosh how organised you are, I wish I was like that’ – well I don’t. I don’t want to be a control freak.

That is until we have filled the gaps and still have plants to put in when my true untidy nature comes out and why I laughed at India’s comment, because one of the’allotment sayings’ that Terry and I have is ‘ we must rid ourselves of the tyrany of geometry’ as we stuff spare plants in any old corner. 

and I feel much better for it.

British Pie Week Day 5 – A British Classic Bacon & Egg Pie

For the final pie in British Pie Week I give you a classic. This is a real memoryjerker. Bacon and egg pie turned up quite frequently on our menu as a child in the 50s and 60s. With my mum’s light hand with the pastry and a variety of vegetables from the garden this was a staple.  

The English version of Quiche? There is some discussion about where this originated, we Brits think it was a Victorian breakfast pie but in New Zealand it is a common household dish and it is common to come across it in menus of popular restaurants. So many people there claim that the pie probably originated in New Zealand. The jury is out on that one. A very popular, cheap and filling meal, hot or cold.

This version was written by G. R. Moore and is from the 1950s section of Recipes from an Unknown kitchen but everyone had there own take on this classic. 

Ingredients

500g of shortcrust pastry

300g bacon

1 medium onion (chopped)

5 eggs

30ml milk

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

100g peas

Salt and pepper

Method

Pre heat the oven to 200oC/400of/gas 6

Cut the bacon into smallish pieces. Put the onion and bacon in a frying pan and cook on a medium heat until the onion is transparent, the bacon crisp and no liquid is left. Roll 2/3 of the pastry and line a loose bottomed flan tin. inches diameter (20cm) about 2inches (5cm) deep, then roll the remaining 1/3 into a round to make the lid.

Lightly beat  2 of the eggs with 30ml milk and season, light on the salt but heavy on the pepper. Hard boil the remaining 3 eggs and chop roughly.

Place the bacon and onion mix in the pie, add a layer of chopped hard-boiled egg and the parsley then? pour on the egg mix. Add the layer of peas and season again then put on the pastry lid. Glaze with beaten egg.

Bake for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 180oC/350of/gas 4 and bake for another 30 minutes.

Recipes from an Unknown Kitchen

British Pie Week Day 4 – An American option? Pecan Pie

I know it’s British Pie Week but the odd American import must surely spice things up. So against the grain here is a lovely Mimi’s Pecan Pie Recipe from Cordon Blue Grass – Blue Ribbon recipes from Kentucky. 

 

 

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups dark corn syrup (or maple syrup)

1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla

1 teaspoon lemon jiuce

5 eggs

1 tablespoon plain flour

1 1/2 cups pecan nuts

1 prepared flan case uncooked

Method

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Add all other ingredients except the pecans. Mix well.

Fold in the pecans.

Bake the pastry case for 2 – 3 minutes at 450 degrees f/230 degrees C/Gas mark 8

Pour in the filling and return the pie to the oven and reduce the heat to 350 degrees f/ 180 degrees C/Gas mark 3 and bake for 40 minutes.

This is scrummy!

Cordon Bluegrass

British Pie Week Day 3 – Comfort Food Egg Pie

It’s raining and cold here today so a bit of comfort food in the form of Egg Pie, a pie with mash not pastry. This recipe is from Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen (again!). From the time of World War II and like a lot of recipes in this era, Egg Pie was born out of a necessity brought about by rationing but actually reflects British comfort food. It just shows what you can make out of the store cupboard and with an inspired veg dish this will fill the family. 

Egg Pie

Ingredients

4 hard boiled eggs

500g potatoes

4 onions, sliced

A little oil for frying

150ml white sauce

Salt and pepper

A small bunch of parsley

Method

Hard boil four eggs. Throw into cold water and remove the shells. Fry the onion slices until golden.

Boil and mash  the potatoes with a little butter, minced parsley and season to taste. Spread a layer of this at the bottom of a pie dish, then put a lay er of the cooked onions spread on the potato.

Then put a layer of sliced eggs a little white sauce and more potato and repeat until the dish is full. Finish with potato on the top. Put a few bits of butter on the top & bake until really hot and brown.

 

British Pie Week Day 2 – Festive Jalousie

A great all-rounder, this pie comes from Vegetarian Cooking & Vegetable Classics by Roz Denny and Christine Ingram. I love it and it comes with it’s own inbuilt creamy sauce.

Festive Jalousie

Ingredients

450g/ puff pastry, 450g Brussel sprouts, 16 whole chestnuts, 1 large red pepper, 1 large onion, 45ml sunflower oi,l 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon of water,

For the sauce

40g plain flour, 40g butter, 300ml milk, 30ml dry sherry, 75g cheddar cheese, good pinch of dried sage, 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, salt & freshly ground black pepper

Method

Roll out the pastry to make 2 large rectangles (1 slightly larger than the other) roughly the size of your dish and about 6mm thick.

Blanch the brussels sprouts in 300ml of boiling water for 4 mins then drain, retaining the water and refresh them under cold running water.

Cut each chestnut in half. Lightly fry the red pepper and onion in the sunflower oil until transparent for about 5 mins. Set aside until later.

Make up the sauce by beating the flour, butter and milk together. Beat the sauce continuously and bring to the boil until it is thickened and smooth.  Then add the reserved sprout water cheese, sherry, sage and season to taste. Simmer for around 3 mins then add the parsley.

Fit the larger piece of pastry into your pie dish and layer the sprouts, chestnuts, peppers and onions on top. Pour over the sauce making sure it seeps through the vegetables. Brush the pastry edges with the egg mix and fit the second sheet of pastry on the top sealing the edges well. Crimp the edges. Glaze well with the egg mix.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees f/200 degrees C/ Gas mark 6. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

Vegetarian Cooking and Vegetable Classics

Great British Pie Week Day 1 – North Country Fidget Pie

North Country Fidget Pie (G. R. Moore)

Generally fidget pie includes apples and bacon or ham so this North Country version is quite unusual. Fidget Pie is a traditional English recipe for a pie served in the fields to the workers busy bringing in the harvest. I can see why.  The name fidget (or fidgety) pie, originates around Derbyshire andShropshire, in the middle of the country. The origins of the odd sounding name seem to have come from the fact that it originally was fitched, which means five sided in Anglo-Saxon. 

Pastry

250g plain flour

Pinch salt

175g margarine

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon of cold water

Filling

1 finely chopped onion

250g sausage meat

Pepper and salt

1 egg

250g raw potatoes

150g peas

Method

Make the pastry by popping the flour, salt and margarine in a processor, whizz until the mix is like breadcrumbs then add the egg then the water, to make a firm dough. Wrap in clingfilm and allow to rest in the fridge for half an hour or more. Mix the chopped onion with the sausage meat, seasoning and bind with the beaten egg.  If you are using frozen peas defrost and drain well, if you are using fresh- cook gently then drain.

Roll out the pastry and use 2/3 to line the base of a pie dish. Put in a layer of the sausage meat mix, then a layer of potatoes thinly sliced, season well then add the peas. Lightly beat the egg and pour over the filling. Use the remaining 1/3 of the pastry to form the lid, glaze using beaten egg. Heat the oven to 190oc/375of/gas5. Bake it in hot oven for 30 minutes reduce heat to moderate – 180oc/350of/gas4 and cook for further 15 minutes. Can be eaten hot or cold.

From Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen 

Scarborough Fair Pancakes

Looking for a savoury pancake to celebrate Pancake day? I love these so much I make them every year and sometimes when it is not even pancake day!.

Scarborough Fair Pancakes makes 8 large pancakes or 16 small

This recipe comes from The Artful Cook, Secrets of a Shoestring Gourmet by Richard Cawley published in 1988.Reflecting the spirit of the age when chefs were realising that food could be beautiful as well as tasty. This book has some excellent recipes.

8oz plain flour, 2 heaped teaspoons baking powder, salt & pepper, 9 fl oz milk, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon each chopped fresh, parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme. Oil for frying

Mix together pancake ingredients. Stir in chopped herbs. Drop tablespoons of the batter into a lightly oiled frying pan and cook over medium heat for 3-4mins turn over once until golden on each side.

Strangely these can be eaten sweet or savoury. For a sweet option serve with yoghurt,  soured cream or maple syrup. For a savoury option serve with goats cheese and salad they also make a good alternative to breakfast pancakes. I also tried them filled with steamed asparagus (of course with a little butter and ground pepper)

Good bye to a cooking friend

I know I am supposed to be in the book selling business to earn a living but sometimes I find it very difficult to actually part with some of my books. It is like saying goodbye to a friend and today is one of those days.

I am a particular fan of hand-written recipe books and one that I had in the shop has gone to a new home in Australia where I am sure it will be much loved.

William Sayer starting writing his book in 1821, the hand-writing is beautiful and the recipes exciting. Some of them I used to write Recipes From an Unknown Kitchen, including currie powder, camp vinegar, curacao, Oxford sausages.

Cheerio William enjoy the antipodes.