Tuesday, 27 January 2009


I spent this weekend doing all of my favourite things; my time was divided between cooking, eating and writing about food.
The recurring theme with regards to the food prepared could only be described as an overwhelming need for comfort food. When it's this cold, wet and grey AND there's an assignment due in on Sunday night, it’s not that surprising...
My way of tackling the Saturday night dinner as well as easing the miniscule moments of homesickness came in the form of a royal Shakshuka; the vegetarian, nutritious equivalent of Huevos Rancheros, served with a dollop of the ever soothing Ricotta (and the always welcome companionship of eggplant wedges roasted in olive oil, swimming in a yogurt lemon garlic sauce sprinkled with joyous pomegranate seeds). This WAS comfort, however, Sunday night was the piece de resistance. The ultimate in comfort. The true depiction of the essence of comfort. The realization there is a fine line between pure good and pure evil (in the good sense of the word).
The Tartiflette* consists of 4 ingredients, as, in my opinion, the best comfort food recipes are.

a few recommendations before we go any further:
- Prior to the preparation of this recipe make sure you have a powerful digestif at hand. Grappa is great.

- As this is a powerful dose of comfort, and I wouldn’t have it more than once a year, the ultimate comfort should be used when is most necessary, during the last week of January, when it's really cold, grey, wet and dreary.

- You want a green salad on the side. I prepared a light Rocket salad with strips of Speck, torn Mozzarella and thin slices of pear.

- If you need this to be an even stronger dose of comfort, add a fried egg on top.

* Tartiflette – A dish that originated in the French Alps, home of the Reblochon cheese, and was invented and launched during the 80s by the Reblochon trade union as a way to promote its consumption.

** unfortunately, the Tartiflette was all but gone before there was a chance to capture the magic.
so I leave you with a soothing image. It goes with the sound of elevator music.

Pascales' Tartiflette recipe
Serves 6
2 kg waxy potatoes diced into 1cm cubes
600g Smoked Pancetta (bacon) diced into 1cm cubes
2 large onions, sliced thinly
2 Reblochon cheese
salt & pepper
6 eggs (Optional, for a totally hedonistic experience)
a large oven proof dish (30x40cm)

Preheat the oven to 250c degrees
In a large frying pan over a medium- high heat sauté the smoked pancetta cubes until brown and crisp, around 10 minutes. Transfer the pancetta cubes to the large oven proof dish.
Sauté the onion slices pan with the remaining fat until soft and slightly golden.
Transfer the onion cubes to the baking dish.
Toss the potato cubes with salt and pepper and sauté until soft and crisp on the edges.
(By this point an irresistible smell will have filled the kitchen)
Mix together the potato cubes, onion and pancetta, and add seasoning if needed (remembering the pancetta is already salted).
Slice open the Reblochon cheese width wise, so that you end up with 4 thinner cylinders.
Place the circles on top of the mixture, with the rind facing up.

Bake for 15 minutes until bubbling and golden.
Leave to cool (if you can resist) for 5 minutes.
Serve with the green salad.
Optional: and a fried egg on top of each serving

A green salad on the side
Serves 6

100g washed rocket leaves
2 balls Mozzarella di Bufala
10 paper thin Speck slices
1 ripe pear
a handful of hazelnuts

For the dressing
2 Tbs Olive oil
2 Tbs Balsamic vinegar
salt & Pepper
any dried herbs- sage, Thyme, Oregano

Lightly roast the hazelnuts in a pan over medium heat. Once cooled chop the nuts and set aside.
For the dressing: mix all the ingredients in a small jar and set aside.

Wash and dry the Rocket leave. Tear the mozzarella balls the Speck strips into bite size pieces and add to the salad bowl.
These steps can be done in advance, and stored covered in the fridge.

Just as you are about to start eating peel the pear, core and cut to thin slices. Add the pear pieces and the seasoning to the salad, toss well and sprinkle the chopped nuts.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Parmigiano Reggiano Deconstructed

This is the log of a two day venture into the production world of Parmigiano reggiano, following the process from which cow milk is essentially dried in a cylindrical form for a duration period between 18 to 30 months.
These are the chronicles of the topping on my Pasta:
The poetics of the aged production process filters to all the various phases; Milk from the previous days' milking is left overnight, separating the cream from the milk. The cream is collected and sold off to produce butter, while the remaining skimmed milk is mixed in copper vats with milk from the first milking of the day, rennet and whey (Also from the previous day) causing the milk to coagulate within minutes and begin a fermentation process. (It should be noted that the remaining whey from the milking is fed to the Parma pigs that are used to produce the well known and much talked about on this blog, Prosciutto di Parma- the two local industries are strongly linked with the area and each other). An hour later the cheese is collected from the vats and is placed in moulds. Initially, the wheels are placed for a period of time inside a brine solution, followed by a maturation period on a shelf for a minimum of 12 months, and the 'turning the cheese over' and 'dusting the rind' process/ ritual begins...
Put simply, in order to preserve milk, an organic system had developed in the area, resulting in the production ritual that is carried out on a daily basis to this day, in which every step is carried out with meticulous accuracy, ensuring the end products' quality, while minimizing any material wastage and utilizing centuries old acquired knowledge.
So much for edible architecture…
After three hours at the dairy farm, my boots and socks were soaking wet, thus my feet had found themselves icy cold and wet. I reached my pain threshold after two hours thus missing a large portion of explanations in the farm. Turns out that when feet are cold and wet, concentration span is short and mainly focused on pain management.
By lunchtime I was in a dry pair of shoes and sock, and life was beautiful once again. I should mention that lunch, besides an aperitivo consisting of 50 different things that HAD to be sampled, was Gnocchi, risotto, and pasta (freshly made pasta leaves with pumpkin Amaretti filling and béchamel and tomato sauce, the local specialty). ie carb, carb and carb, accompanied by the ever present and always welcome, Lambrusko. Fresh veggies were nowhere to be seen, and frankly, after the whole wet shoes saga, one was glad for some comfort food. There was also a meeting with the consortium, a visit to a cheese storage facility as well as a packing factory. The latter housing a variety of machines dedicated to the cutting, wrapping and packaging of Parmigiano Reggiano to halves, quarters, eights, segments, wedges, chunks, meal, cubes and cylinders. It seemed as if a mad engineer's vision had been realized, and he got his way with the cheese.
The aesthetics, poetics and integrity of this process is the topping on my pasta.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Texture of Ice Cream

At the early hours of Saturday morning, long before sunrise, or maybe after, (one cant tell since Colorno was devoured by a giant white cloud several days ago), Katie and myself headed to the coastal town of Rimini, to the annual, international ice cream, pastry, confectionary and bakery industry fair, sigep.
It turns out that ALL of Italy was devoured by the giant cloud's family because throughout the entire journey we could only see 20 meters ahead.
A coffee break in Bologna turned into an unplanned exploratory tour of a local supermarket, and after a scan through the fresh goods in the fish stand, the bakery, the pork extravaganza and the countless types of cheese on offer we headed to the coast.
The exhibition occupied a huge convention complex, showing everything and anything involved in having ice cream; the machinery, equipment, tools, decorations, packaging, and what not. Yes, there were deals being closed, professional competitions, chocolate sculptures, international bread makers and pastry shows, but the best part by far, were the ice cream stands, free of charge, any flavour, all time…
I, however, was missing two things, or better yet, two senses, to make this really enjoyable: Taste and smell.
I had managed to breed and nurture a cold to reach peak congestion on the day. I could smell and taste NOTHING.
the only thing I could do was to experience ice cream as texture.
Note to self (the abridged version): the texture of ice cream is rather pleasing!

Monday, 12 January 2009

Cheese Tasting

I have been officially introduced to the wonderful world of cheese tasting.
I say wonderful but I mean intense. Literally.
I had tasted a lot of cheeses in the space of 24 hours. 13, to be exact. my experience is that cheese tasting is equivalent to having your brain cut open and than messed about with. I shall explain.
Beyond the variety of sulphurus, rotten egg, mouldy smells of cheese we all know and love, there is a world of aromas, tastes, textures and sensations to be experienced and identified. A process requiring a state of deep concentration, enabling the brain to isolate and separate each smell, aroma, taste and sensation, which than needs to be identified. Things like, and I quote: '' a lot a lot of boiled potatoes'', and ''animal sweat''…what did I file this aroma under in my brain??
And than there's the tricky part of getting it right, too…

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Chocolate Banana Pandoro Bread Pudding

It's January. This means:
1. Its cold
2. The post Xmas sale is on.

The only shopping I can do in a radius of a good few kilometers is food shopping. How exciting is a supermarket sale, you ask? Very! All Pandoros and Panettones are going for practically free which works just fine with my budget!
I bought a Pandoro; a tall, festive 'golden bread', encapsulating the smell of butter, cream and yeast. The Panettone and Pandoro are sold in gift boxes, making the purchase of one feel like I am buying myself a really nice gift, and although it goes great with coffee, I wanted to celebrate an entire cake, not just the slice.
So lets do the math; its cold, and I have a Pandoro. If I add the winning combination of chocolate & banana to the equation the answer is crispy clear.
A Chocolate Banana Pandoro Bread pudding, made from layers of buttered Pandoro bite size cubes, laced with golden banana medallions and sizeable chunks of dark chocolate, topped with crushed amaretti cookies for that fresh crunchy almond note. Now you see it, now you don't...
It came in contact with the atmosphere for approximately 5 minutes before it disappeared into the wonderful world of digestion...definitely one for the book.
If you want to give it a go the recipe is attached.

Chocolate & Banana Pandoro Bread Pudding
Serves 8
3/4 Stale Pandoro 3cm cubes
50g Butter cut to small cubes
2 Ripe Bananas sliced
150g Dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
275ml Milk
65ml Cream
3 Large eggs at room temperature
1Tsp Vanilla
50g Caster sugar
1/2tsp Nutmeg
1Tsp Cinnamon
15 Amaretti cookies roughly grounded
Lightly buttered 20x30cm baking dish 4 cm high
Preheat the oven to 180C. Fill a large shallow pan with hot water and place at the bottom of the oven. This helps to create a humid environment in the oven, preventing the pandoro from drying out, burning, or curdling.
Form the base layer by placing half of the cubes on a slightly buttered dish, skin side down. Scatter half of the butter chunks evenly on the Pandoro cubes, followed by the banana slices and dark chocolate. Arrange the remaining squares of pandoro cubes, skin side up, overlapping slightly.
Scatter the remaining butter chunks evenly on the Pandoro cubes.
Whisk the milk, cream, eggs, caster sugar and Vanilla together and pour the mixture all over the pudding.
Press the bread down into the custard very lightly and sprinkle the nutmeg and cinnamon. Place on a high shelf and bake for 40 minutes, until the surface is golden and crunchy. You may want to cover loosely with foil half way through to prevent the top rust from charring.
Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Sprinkle with the crushed Amaretti.
Can be served warm, cold, alone or with a dollop of (coconut) ice cream, or (coconut) whipped cream.
Variation: I also tried this recipe replacing the chocolate and bananas with Guava paste and dulce de lece, and toasted almonds instead of the amaretti.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Very Italian

I bought peeled chestnuts
to cook them with lentil soup
they turned out dry figs

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Sabbioneta and Surrealism

It’s a bone chilling crisp sunny Sunday. Fede and I decide to make the most of this icy sunny day and head to Sabbioneta, a medieval village built based on the ideas of ancient Rome and Greece as to the ideal city. Clearly this never happened. It’s a short 15 minute drive, and by the time we had arrived the sunny skies are all but a distant memory.
The fortified village is held captive inside a cloud, and not a soul in sight.
We head towards what seems like an open antiquarian shop. Within seconds we are in a courtyard surrounded by antiques. An old man wearing a bowler hat hands me his card. He is a count. The last count. An Aristocrat. This place is his home. or a museum. Or both. He urges us to see his kitchen. We are lead to a well, stopping on the way to see the dozens photographs of him, the count, with the bowler hat, taken with various Italian politicians, artists, & musicians.

He shows us photographs of reflections of people looking through gilded mirrors in the house. We are instructed to be photographed throwing a penny into the well and to make a wish. We are than lead upstairs, occasionally stopping to photograph various objects as instructed (angle included). We have our joint and individual photos taken reflected through mirrors, naturally.
Another group of people has arrived and we have a quick look around before the lot of us are gathered, and lead to a local restaurant. We cease this opportunity to break free. What jut happened??? lets recap this:
A (very nice) eccentric aristocrat living in the tiniest of villages encapsulated within an ever- present cloud is on a mission; to photograph peoples' reflections through mirrors. His mansion is a townhouse crammed with antiques and mirrors reflecting each other, there is a wishing well, an old gramophone and an industrial meat slicer in the kitchen, and lest us forget the two frozen pigeons that lay symetrically by the road.
I am struggling to decipher this...

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Comfort & Comfortable

After all of the running around Europe eating fiasco has come to an end, I am now happily grounded to my chair, staring at the computer screen while enjoying the sub zero outdoors from my slightly over heated quarters. This has been going on for a few days now, and so today I decided to treat myself to several hours of quality time in the kitchen.
I baked cinnamon roll muffins adding mini chocolate chips to the mixture and toasted coconuts to the cinnamon sugar topping.

Roger, over & out.