Salt-brining….the procedure for producing home cured meats is a centuries-old tradition that is handed down from parent to child. I’m the latest in my family to have acquired the secrets for the best results for this seemingly easy but time demanding job. Here I will show you how to produce the famous and quite delicious “Lonza” (cured whole pork fillet). To start with you have to choose a cold time of the year, usually December to February, in the photographs you can see my lonza prepared just last weekend (second week in January). The whole cuts of meat are put under plenty of coarse salt for 36 hours which flavours it at the same time as drawing out a lot of water. After this time the salt is removed and the meat washed, first in cold water and then with wine flavoured with orange peel.
The next phase requires a lot of care because the Lonza will be inserted into the very well washed casings from the pig and then into net casing which are closely tied at each end. The thus prepared lonza has now to cure for 3 or 4 months in a dry airy place to obtain the ideal conditions for drying and curing. I would tell you the secret place I store my lonza, but then I would have to…
- saffron 2 pistils per person
- stick of celery
- 2 onions
- 1 carrot
- bunch of parsley
- 1 medium potato
- risotto rice handful per person
- olive oil
- glass white wine
- knob of butter
- mild cheese - mild pecorino - to taste
- Allow the saffron to infuse for 24 hours in a cup of warm water, about two pistils per person is sufficient. Prepare a good vegetable broth by boiling the chopped celery, one of the onions coarsly chopped, the chopped carrot, half the parsley and the chopped potato. Boil for about an hour in a good sized pan with 2 ls of water, salt to taste. stir often.
- Once you have prepared the broth begin the preparation of the risotto.
- Fry the other finely chopped onion in olive oil and when it become translucent add a handful of rice for each person. mix with the onion until well glazed with the oil, about 2 to 3 minutes, then deglaze with the white wine, now begin to add the broth a ladleful at a time, wait until the broth has been absorbed by the rice before adding the next, don't leave the pan! you have to stir constantly. At the end of cooking, when the rice is cooked but still slightly al dente - with a little bite - pour in the saffron water turn up the heat to evaporate the excess water add a piece of butter, the rest of the parsley, finely chopped and grated mild cheese to taste. Take off the heat and leave to rest and absorb the flavour of the saffron for five minutes, give a final stir and serve.
- 1kg good quality Italian sausage
- chopped onion
- 500g broccoli, cut into flowerettes
- cold water
- 3/4 tbs passata
- 50g pancetta, diced
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
- Fry the pancetta in a little oil until it starts to render its fat. Cut half the sausages from their skins and crumble the meat, add this to the pan and continue to fry until the pancetta has given up most of its fat but before it crisps up, by this time, about 10 minutes, the sausage meat should have taken on a little colour. You may want to drain off the excess fat at this stage. Traditionally this dish has no garlic but I like to add a chopped clove at this point and cook for a minute or too extra.
- Add the broccoli and remaining sausage cut into chunks, give the pan a stir to mix everything up then add the passata and enough water to cover the ingredients. Cook uncovered for 30 minutes or so at a reasonable boil. Keep an eye on it and if the liquid is evaporating too soon cover, or add a little more water, or both. The final sauce should be slightly thickened.
- Serve hot, either on its own which would be the Italian way, or with potatoes or rice
- Italian sausages are made exclusively of meat and so respond well to this type of dish. Poorer quality sausages will tend to dissipate into a soup so ensure you use the real thing!
In poor Italian households this cake is one of the oldest of all, traditionally children would take a hot slice wrapped in paper to nibble on the way to school. Chestnuts are plentiful in Italy and so the flour is cheap, or free if you collect dry and grind the chestnuts yourself. Chestnut flour is a useful alternative to wheat flour as it is gluten free and therefore suitable for celiacs. This recipe has no added sugar and so is also very healthy.
Unlike a traditional fruitcake the fruit and nuts are added to the top of the cake rather than mixed with the dough, which is simply chestnut flour and water.
Being quite heavy and dry to modern tastes I have modified the recipe and instead of water I use milk. I also add 100g of sugar, an egg, a couple of tbs of sunflower oil and half the fruit to the batter mix. This helps it rise and give the base a bit more taste and I am afraid I do prefer the sweetness a little sugar adds!
450g chestnut flour
cold water to mix
1 tbs caraway seeds
3 tbs chopped pinenuts (or almonds)
pinch of salt
Soak the sultanas in cold water 15 minutes, drain and dry on kitchen roll. Sieve together chestnut flour and salt, stir in enough cold water to make a stiffish batter, slightly stiffer than a pancake batter.
Oil a shallow cake tin (I use a skillet – frying pan with a metal handle) and pour in the batter, smooth with the back of a spoon and scatter with caraway seeds, remaining sultanas and almonds
Bake in reasonably hot oven around 190c, for 20 minutes or until surface is crispy. serve straight from the oven or cold with a glass of dry white wine suitably chilled.
Cauliflower risotto, ai Cavolfiore Romanesco
A cauliflower risotto is the ultimate comfort food on a winter’s day.
The pointy, bright green Romanesco cauliflower is ready to crop from the orto now and is filling the shelves of greengrocers all over Le Marche. It is much tastier than the white cauliflower and a typical Le Marche style of preparing it is to cover the florets in a tempora type batter and deep frying before adding to an antipasti platter. Making a risotto with it sounds a little odd but really makes the most of this vegetable. I use grated mature Pecorino cheese from Cossignano market in the risotto as it has a lovely rich taste. So here is my Le Marche version of Cauliflower Cheese!
400g risotto rice
1 Romanesco cauliflower
a large onion, few sticks of celery and 2 cloves garlic
1.5 litres of vegetable stock
2 tbs olive oil
2 wine glasses of white wine
100g freshly grated Pecorino or Parmezan cheese
one handful of bread
small jar of anchovies
Chop the cauliflower, parting the florets from the stalk. Place the florets in the hot stock. Finely chop the stalk, onion, garlic and celery and with the olive oil make a soffrito (gently fry for 15 minutes or so)
Then turn up the heat and add the rice for a minute, then the wine. Stir continuously until the alcohol evaporates.
Add the stock a little at a time with the cauliflower florets and stir, stir, stir! It normally takes me at least 20 minutes until all the stock and cauliflower is incorporated and then taste the rice to see if it is cooked, but still al dente.
Take the pan off the heat and add the cheese and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, stir and leave for 2 minutes before serving. Add salt and pepper to taste.
The bread and anchovies are blitzed, then fried to present as a crunchy topping for the risotto.
fava e piselli
A few weeks ago we posted “A herald of spring in deepest November” a blog about Fabio’s dish of fresh spring peas with artichokes. Here is a variation on the theme using anchovies with the Fava beans. Not quite “liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti” but tasty none the less!
This Le Marche recipe, inspired by the wish to make a healthy, green dish for lunch and by looking through my freezer to discover: freshly frozen fava and peas from my summer orto (vegetable garden) which can be briefly cooked from frozen to create a healthy, speedy salad.
two handfuls of frozen fava beans
two handfuls of peas
extra virgin olive oil
white wine vinegar
a garlic clove
Pecorino cheese ( a local Le Marche sheep’s cheese )
Boil the fava beans for 5 minutes, then run under the cold tap. They they pop out of their dull outer skins easily to reveal a fresh green inner bean. Boil the peas from frozen for three minutes and allow to cool.
Meanwhile make a dressing with 4/5 crushed anchovies, a garlic clove, olive oil and vinegar (with a ratio of 1:5 vinegar to oil) with some freshly milled black pepper. No salt required as the anchovies provide a lovely kick to the dressing.
Simply mix the beans, peas and dressing together. arrange on a serving dish and garnish with shavings of pecorino cheese.
On our facebook page last week we touched on the more flippant, culinary aspect of the wild boar cull that was under way by the corpo forestale. However, as in hunting of any kind there will always be the proponents of pros and cons on an ethical and practical level of population control.
Originally from South-East Asia in the Early Pleistocene era (when Rupert was still a boy) wild boar were introduced all over the world by man as an important source of food and are the ancestor of most domestic pig breeds today. So how did they become such a problem that they (supposedly) need to be culled?
Weighing in at between 100 – 200 kg a wild boar can do a lot of damage to crops, vineyards and vegetable patches as they root around for food. Anyone who has come face to face with a fiercely protective mother wild boar and her litter of up to eight babies hopefully knows to walk away quietly and calmly. However, the fear of what she is capable of if she thinks you ARE posing a threat has given rise to an largely undeserved bad press for such a naturally non aggressive animal.
But these problems would be few and far between if it wasn’t for man’s destruction of their natural habitat; woodland and scrubland; where they actually have a beneficial effect on the environment, ploughing up/manuring the land and dispersing seeds. Combine this loss of land with a population explosion owing to the lack of natural predators (again thanks to man) and we see what has pushed the boar onto agricultural and residential land.
Several years ago the corpo forestale introduced some grey wolves back into the eco system near here to try to deal with the problem. According to the locals they are eating more sheep than wild boar but researchers working for the “assessor for the environment” say that from their droppings their diet is mainly wild boar and deer. I remember at the time being a bit worried about there being wolves around and about if my children were playing in the fields and woods. But as a kind friend pointed out, really there was nothing to worry about until the wolves got out of hand and they sent in the leopards…
So really, unless humankind changes their disrespect for all non profit making aspects of the environment they live in, the culls will have to continue because a handful of wolves can only eat so much.
Italian food blog: Faggotini (Italian food parcels of wonder)
Faggotini are another specialty Italian food from the Ascoli region that we are pleased to include on our Italian food blog. They are small thin pancakes stuffed with a mixed meat filling severed with a bechamel sauce. Faggotini are served as a primo (first/pasta course) or as a light lunch. They are melt in the mouth delicacies and a neat alternative to ravioli to impress the guests. All the ingredients and methods are familiar and they reasonably easy to make. You can use a similar stuffing to the Ascoli Olives in the previous Italian food blog recipe or try the one here.
for the stuffing:
100g each of beef, pork and chicken or other white meat, all cut into small cubes
50g chicken livers
half an onion, a carrot and stick of celery
50g freshly grated parmesan
to flavour – salt, pepper, nutmeg and cloves
splash of white wine
for the pancakes:
100g plain flour
béchamel sauce to serve
Cook the onions in the oil until translucent, add the meats and vegetables and brown. Add the flavourings and the wine put on a lid and simmer for a hour or so on a low heat. Add a little water if it gets too dry. Allow the mixture to cool.
While the meats are cooking prepare the pancakes. Whisk up the pancake mix till smooth. Pour a small amount of the mixture into a small (15cm) frying pan in which you have a little sunflower oil. Tip the pan quickly to cover the base, when cooed through toss the pancake and brown slightly on the other side. Slide out of the pan and cook all the rest of the pancakes, they should be thin and lightly coloured and flexible not crisp. cover with a cloth until you are ready to assemble.
Back to the filling: mince the cooked meats in a mincer or food processor to a coarse consistency, mix in the parmesan, season to taste. Take a pancake and spoon a small dollop (technical term) of the stuffing into the middle. lift over the top, bottom, right and finally left sides of the pancake to cover the filling then turn the little parcel over and place in a oiled ovenproof dish. Do the same with the remaining pancakes and fill the base of the dish pushing the parcels together but not overlapping. Pour enough béchamel sauce to provide a scant covering of the parcels and put the dish uncovered in a hot oven (200 C) for 10/15 minutes. Everything is already cooked so you are really just making sure it is all lovely and hot.
serve with black pepper and parmesan – and a green salad if you are feeling desperate.
Read more authentic recipes from our Italian food blog