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Making Tagliatelle with Ragu with Anna – an Emilia Romagna Recipe

Serving up the ragu! Anna, on the left.

Serving up the ragu. Anna, on the left.

One thing  that I learned on my recent trip to Emilia Romagna is that every recipe and every dish is personal. Passion exudes from every pore, and never more than when the topic of food or the particulars of a recipe are under discussion. People in Emilia Romagna are very animated over lunch, and they are mainly discussing the food that they are eating, and just that. I love that.

People get particularly excited about homemade tagliatelle with ragu. It originates there, and Emilia has one way, Romagna another. Within those regions different families have their own approach. Bologna has a meaty dense ragu of its own (hence, Bolognese sauce). The personal differences are glorious. I had so many different ragus in trattorias all over the region. Some dense with meat and assertive, one cooked in lard and layered with white pepper (my favourite, I think), some rich and fruity with tomato with the meat appearing to surf it.

Romagnola ragu, ready to dish up.

Romagnola ragu, ready to dish up.

I cooked ragu with two people in Emilia Romagna. The first was Anna, a wonderful lady based in Savignano sul Rubicone in Emilia Romagna. Romagna, to be precise, so the ragu here is different to Bologna, which is in Emilia. Anna learned from her mother, a recipe that has been passed down the generations. Anna’s ragu is a rich sauce made from a mixture of minced beef, pork and (Italian) sausage, with soffrito, red wine and passata. The second was Walter, from Lazio, but we cooked in Bologna style. I will share that another time.

Hand rolling the pasta in Anna's kitchen. now my new favourite thing!

Hand rolling the pasta in Anna’s kitchen. now my new favourite thing!

Today I am going to share Anna’s ragu recipe with you. She is extraordinarily generous, and gave me her time, as well as her family recipe. She is a joy to watch and to learn from, cooking with love and care, and her ragu is incredibly frugal (as I think a lot of Italian food is).

It will feed 10 people, which is quite striking when you see how little meat is involved. You probably aren’t feeding 10 people, but you know, it tastes great the next day. I love all the little extra steps in Anna’s recipe. Set aside an afternoon and make it, and think of that lovely lady Anna, who took the time to share it with me, so that I could share it with you.

Do make the effort with the homemade pasta, if you can. It makes a huge difference. It is so rewarding, too. There is a link to and Emilia Romagna homemade pasta recipe and instructions in the method below.

Thank you, Anna!

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Spelt & Almond Waffles with Lemon Ricotta & Maple Syrup

Spelt and Almond Waffles with Lemon Ricotta and Maple Syrup

Spelt and Almond Waffles with Lemon Ricotta and Maple Syrup

Well, that was a mouthful wasn’t it? But a very tasty one, so I am ok with that. Welcome to the good ship waffle, folks. I am obsessed. I cannot get enough of them and instead of the usual 3 recipe tests, I find myself doing 5 or 6.

It is my 800th post today. That is 800 times over the last 6.5 years where I have sat down and written a missive, where I have planned a meal around it, photographed it, tried to find the best light in the room, wandered outside with my lunch and photographed it in the winter cold in the garden, rushed back in to eat it still warm, travelled to another country to write about it, hunted down something random in London because I needed it or because I needed you to try it. 800 moments of distraction, and joy. I am so happy that I decided to start this blog of mine, and that you like to read it makes me happier still. Every time.

Getting a recipe right is very important for me. When someone reads something here, and decides to make it at home, I want the experience to be joyful and perfect, and the resulting bite to be glorious. Whether that is a waffle or a big hunk of pork, a stew or a cake. I would hate to think that someone would go out and buy ingredients and then be upset with the results. So, I test everything, and try to explain everything as directly and simply as I can. These waffles went through six versions, not just because I wanted to eat them (and they were good at version 1), but I thought that I could improve on them each time. I love this recipe, the waffles are grounded and nutty, yet light. The citrus fluffy ricotta and the sweet rich maple syrup are a perfect play of sweet, sour and luxurious on top.

Spelt & Almond Waffles

Spelt & Almond Waffles

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Chicken Soup with Garlic Butter Toasts
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Chicken Soup to Soothe all Ills with Garlic Butter Toasts

Good Monday morning, folks. Where was that storm they promised us? I only wanted something small, that wouldn’t cause too much damage or hurt anyone, but that would clear the air and bring on Autumn properly. Those unseasonal 18 degree C days last week were a bit odd, weren’t they? I didn’t like them at all and could never seem to dress appropriately. My red wool coat and knee high boots were like lead weights and I felt miserable. This morning, as I peered out the window, I saw only a tree with a few less leaves and a slight limp drizzle. It felt more like an Irish summer than a storm to end all days. (We can get some grim ones).

I still remember the tail of Hurricane Charley as it swept through Ireland in my childhood. Terrifying and magical, as it came in, we were rounded up and brought indoors. I remember looking for my 5 year old brother as the winds continued to rise and the rain pelted down. The wind was starting to howl and I remember skirts flowing in the wind and running back in home once we found him. This was a time in rural Ireland when children could leave the house in the morning and not come back until mealtimes without anyone worrying. The storm came. It was frightening and amazing.

The next morning when it had moved on we could still see it in the distance. Ribbon lightning rolling across the sky, and retreating before releasing some more, punctuated by thunder drones, with only seconds between in the distant sky, pink and blue and bright and spooky, but we were no longer afraid. Thankfully no one was hurt and every house was intact. Some trees had fallen, and the countryside had been cleansed of debris, only to have it redistributed in a haphazard nonsensical way. (I do understand that storms elsewhere are an unwelcome thing but ours are rarely this dangerous, and I promise I am not being flippant about those).

Never mind that this one never seemed to come, in my corner of London at least. I had stocked up and was ready anyway. One thing I had was some leftover roast chicken and a big pot of chicken stock that I had made over the weekend. Chicken Soup is archetypal nourishing goodness. I can’t bear limp lifeless ones and so I like to make them at home with love and care, using every last bit of a chicken. This time I did something different. I had roasted a chicken but had neglected to eat a leg and wing, and had even left the skin on them too (which is very unusual). I removed all of the skin that I could find, every last bit, and blitzed it in my blender with a little oil. I then fried it until starting to crisp a little, before adding it to the broth. The intensity of flavour without the slipperiness of large swathes of skin was wonderful, and it gave the soup some lovely body, as well as the delicious fats and flavour in and just under the skin.

Below is my recipe for my homemade chicken soup. The quantities are flexible, you just work with what you have, for this is all about leftovers, isn’t it? I served this one with garlic butter toasts, as homemade chicken soup, being Jewish penicillin, is bolstered further by the garlic, and it is just delicious, isn’t it? I like sourdough for texture and flavour but use whatever you have at home.

Enjoy and do let me know if your homemade soup has any quirks or if there is anything you do which would be useful for people at home.

Recipe: Homemade Chicken Soup with Garlic Toasts

Ingredients (for two)

1 litre homemade chicken stock (see below)
3 medium carrots, topped and tailed and finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely sliced
2 banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 bay leaf
as much leftover chicken as you can gather from the carcass, torn to small pieces with your fingers
all leftover skin (from underneath and on top)
(or – a few chicken legs roasted until crisp with all meat and skin removed from those)
any chicken fat and juices that you were able to rescue from the roasted chicken

homemade chicken stock – I prefer to use raw carcasses, but will also use the leftover carcass from a roast. If using raw carcasses, I roast them first, then boil, just covered with water, with carrots, celery, shallots, bay leaves, peppercorns and whole crushed cloves for a few hours until the stock is rich and flavourful. Strain through a sieve and store in the fridge or freezer. It will keep for a few days in the fridge.

garlic butter toasts – 2 finely chopped cloves of garlic (for 4 slices of toast) pounded with some salt and then combined with butter. Toast the bread on one side, and then toast on the second side with the garlic butter on, to cook the garlic through a little bit

Method

If you have managed to rescue a little chicken fat, sauté the celery, shallots and carrots in that for up to 10 minutes over a low to medium heat until tender but not browned. Otherwise use a light oil. Add the garlic for a minute, then add the stock, chicken meat (not skin) and bay leaf. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to low, allowing it to simmer gentle.

Blitz the skin in a blender with a little oil, then sauté in a frying pan until starting to brown and crisp. Add to the soup and let it simmer further.

After about 25 minutes, make your toast as above, then serve on the side of the soup, which should be eaten immediately and piping hot.

Homemade gnocchi (another phone photo - my camera was stolen a few weeks ago so bear with me!)
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Recipe: Homemade Potato Gnocchi

Homemade gnocchi (another phone photo - my camera was stolen a few weeks ago so bear with me!)

Homemade gnocchi (another phone photo – my camera was stolen a few weeks ago so bear with me!)

Gnocchi were a mystery to me until I went to Italy. The ones that I had tried before (this was before I moved to London before you roar), were leaden and rubbery and I could never see what the appeal was. I mean, everyone else must be wrong, right?

Wrong. I was just eating crap processed gnocchi.

The joys of gnocchi were revealed to me for the first time at the tender age of 22 on a trip to Naples to stay with a friend, her Neapolitan boyfriend and his family. Andrea’s Dad (the Neapolitan), ex military and the most wonderful and tender home cook, cooked for us every day. 3 courses for lunch with wine, an aperitif, and then us Irish girls had to go to bed for a bit because we were not used to this at all. Lunch in Ireland before then had been one course at lunchtime with no alcohol and back to business.

Everyday, Andrea’s Dad got up early in the morning to head to the shop to get buffalo mozzarella, straight from Campania and fresh every day. The shop owner would depart at 4am to get the best and the freshest and we would have it for lunch, cut thick like steaks and weeping sweet milk. I was in food heaven. Andrea and Shelley said, this is nothing, wait until you try his pumpkin gnocchi. And I did.

The pumpkin gnocchi were tiny, tender and divine. Light as sweet puffs of air, they were so delicate and beautiful to eat. I was determined to make them at home and quickly discovered that these were tricky and took practice (my recipe for them is in Comfort & Spice).

I have since experimented lots, with potato gnocchi, sweet potato gnocchi, and all sort of others. The pumpkin and the potato are traditional and best. Such frugal offerings, 4 potatoes, a little flour and an egg will offer sustenance for days or for lots of people. My sister thought that she didn’t like gnocchi but I made these for her, and she proclaimed them better than those she had in Italy, which is very high praise (or lies). I am going for praise.

The trick here is in the technique. Imagine that you are making the finest pastry and use the lightest hands. Work quickly while the potatoes are still hot. Use floury potatoes only (I am in Ireland and used Golden Wonders which worked very well), and make sure you have a mouli or potato ricer to pass the potatoes through. A potato ricer will cost about £12 and will render the stubborn potato fluffy and soft. For best results pass it through a few times, I passed mine through 3 times, working as quickly as I could. The heat is important.

When cooking the potatoes, be careful not to push them too far. Floury potatoes are guzzlers and once soft, will take in as much water as they can, rendering them a sorry soggy mess. Cook them until you can pierce them with a fork and they still resist a touch without being too hard. Peel immediately, if you don’t have asbestos paws like me use a tea towel.

How to eat them? However you want. Make a gratin with cream and blue cheese and cover with a good melting cheese. Perfect winter fare. Or make a tomato sauce and serve simply with the gnocchi and some parmesan on top. I did this today, making a sauce which started with a sauté of very finely chopped rosemary, garlic and red chilli, then a tin of good chopped tomatoes, a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of sugar. I cooked it for a couple of hours adding water when it got too thick every now and then. The secret to good tomato sauce is good tomatoes, flavour enhancer (chilli and garlic), balance (vinegar and sugar), time, and a good sprinkle of sea salt.

They are worth the effort and don’t be dismayed if you don’t get them right the first time. Once you crack them, you will be thrilled with yourself, and so will your family and friends.

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Rhubarb Cordial
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Recipe: Homemade Rhubarb Cordial

Homemade Rhubarb Cordial

Homemade Rhubarb Cordial

There is a lot to be said for the sunshine and a big bright sky. It brings cheer after a long harsh winter – and I know I haven’t experienced most of it – but London has become a dour place, and it seems as though as a city, it has been suffering from a severe Seasonal Affective Disorder.

So, what joy the sun brought with its big sky and warm sunshine. Everyone was cheerful and the parks were full. I was inspired to cook something bright and joyful. I wanted fruit and I wanted a refreshing non alcoholic drink. My mind turned to rhubarb cordial.

I love homemade cordials, I have one in my book and make many at home all the time. I finish them off with sparkling water and ice and sip as I work. After work, they sometimes end up in a cocktail.

The cordial I made is a fresh version to be consumed within the week. If you want to preserve it so that it lasts a few months, use citrate (also called citric acid) in place of the lemon (1 teaspoon for the recipe quantity below). Citrate is available in pharmacies generally although no longer in the UK, you can however order it online.

I used bright English rhubarb, not forced rhubarb but normal stuff. It was a lovely bright pink, if broader and tougher than its slender cousin. After a brief period of cooking, the cordial mixture is allowed to strain gently through a fine mesh sieve (or some muslin), releasing the bright pink cordial and leaving the darker fruit fibre behind. This incidentally, is great mixed in with yogurt for breakfast.

This recipe also works really well when you combine it with blood orange or rose extract when you are cooking the rhubarb. I make both, and adore them.

Enjoy! This is so easy and is really so delicious. The vibrant flavour and colour are something that you don’t get in the shop bought stuff, unless you are buying an artisanal one (which is also homemade, just not in your home :)

RECIPE: Rhubarb Cordial
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Bajan Pepper Sauce
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Recipe: Bajan Pepper Sauce

Denise with our finished pepper sauce

Denise with our finished pepper sauce

Greetings from London, I am back. The first day of Spring (really?!), in Ireland, Earrach (Ar-ock) and the 1st is St Brigid’s Day, where we traditionally made the St Brigid’s crosses. I wonder if kids still do that now?

Everyone was secretly hoping I would be miserable, I think (you were!) but, I love London, and the weather doesn’t really bother me, mainly as I have been away from it for a bit. Plus it is not long until I go away again so I want to soak London up. There is so much to write about Barbados though, and there are those recipes too, so it will live on here for a few more days at least.

The first thing I will share is the recipe for Denise’s Pepper Sauce. For the uninitiated, Bajan pepper sauce is delicious and is served with everything. Recipes and preferences vary but, generally, it is quite spicy (for the UK palate at least) but some are very hot and some a bit cooler. I like mine in the middle somewhere. This one, that I am sharing now, is HOT but, really delicious.

The interesting thing for me is how much turmeric went in it. I love fresh tumreric and use it over dried a lot. It requires prep though so I sometimes opt for powder when pressed for time. Bright yellow, a rhizome like ginger, it stains fiercely, be warned. I have had yellow hands that looked like I was an incredibly clumsy smoker for days after using it the first time. I now use gloves. It is worth seeking out as it is quite different to dried, with beautiful aromas, almost floral. Turmeric is terrifically healthy with anti inflammatory and anti oxidant properties too, it is also said to help prevent cancer and recent studies indicate it may help with lipid metabolism and weight loss.

Denise, a chef at The Club in Barbados where I stayed, shared her mother Thelma’s recipe with me, which I am so grateful for. This is the one I am sharing her with you now. Her mother passed away 2 years ago, and her recipes were her legacy to Denise. She still makes her Bajan seasonings, pepper sauce etc. Her pepper sauce recipe is traditional, and basically is composed of turmeric for colour (it also adds a lovely aromatic quality), chillies for heat, onions for consistency, vinegar thins it out and preserves it, mustard gives it an extra bass note and helps with the consistency too. A pinch of brown sugar balances it.

I took notes as we went, Denise adds as she goes and knows what she is looking for. It is a terrific and quite hot sauce. If you want it milder, add more vinegar and mustard (they use a mild American style mustard), or stretch it with some conrnflour & water. This is what they do for commercial pepper sauces. Personally, I think it takes from the flavour but if you want to reduce the heat, this is one approach you can use.

I have some recipes coming up that use this as an ingredients. Both Bajan recipes, and recipes of my own that use it as an ingredient, including a twist on Sunday roast chicken, which I am very excited about.

Whole turmeric

Whole turmeric

Peeled and chopped turmeric

Peeled and chopped turmeric

Note on the recipe: fresh turmeric is widely available in London in Asian shops and Chinese shops. It looks like skinny small ginger. Fiddly but worth it. I have also seen it in Asda too, so keep an eye out for it. If you can’t get it, don’t worry. I will be publishing my own recipe soon once I have played around a bit, and I will make a version without fresh turmeric.

Turmeric

Turmeric

Adding the peppers. PHWOAR!

Adding the peppers. PHWOAR!

Pepper sauce before vinegar and mustard

Pepper sauce before vinegar, sugar and mustard

Finished pepper sauce

Finished pepper sauce

Recipe: Bajan Pepper Sauce
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Sweetcorn fritters with tomato and avocado salsa

Sweetcorn fritters with tomato and avocado salsa

I went to a friends yesterday for dinner and she made the most beautiful sweetcorn and roast red pepper fritters with salsa. I had to try and recreate something similar tonight and I am very happy with the results, so unusually, I am happy to blog immediately and encourage you to try them.

Sweetcorn fritters remind me fondly of a holiday in Australia a couple of years ago when I had them for breakfast and had one of those – why haven’t I had these for brekfast before! – revelations. They also remind me of my vegetarian years, when, not a fan of meat substitutes, I instead indulged in sweetcorn fingers and fritters and the like. The texture is wonderful, and each piece of sweetcorn is just bursting with flavour. With a side of avocado and tomato salsa, I challenge anyone to dislike this quick and nutritious evening staple.

I kept these simple, the fritter batter contains only sweetcorn, shallots and fresh coriander with a vibrant and flavoursome salsa of heirloom tomatoes and hass avocado on the side. I used frozen sweetcorn as this was really last minute and I didn’t have time to seek out fresh, but fresh sweetcorn would be wonderful in this recipe, if you have it. I used a wonderful heirloom tomato for the salsa but you can substitute with a beef tomato, 2 plum tomatoes, or some cherry tomatoes. I used shallots but you could substitiute spring onions or red onion. Can’t have dairy? Substitute soya milk or coconut milk – both work really well. If adding the coconut milk, I’d add some green chilli to the batter too and maybe some lime. I sverved some extra heirloom tomato on the side, it was too good not to!

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Fish pie for the soul

Fish pie

This month has been one for comfort foods, certainly not one for diets, not that I’ve ever gone beyond thinking that it might be a good idea to cut out x or y (usually x = crisps & y = cheese) and planning how I should successfully do so, usually to fall at the first hurdle, whichever shop crosses my path that sells the finest of either. I am not unhappy about that, I’ve never approached diets or the thought of them too seriously, moderation is best in all things (with the occasional lapse of course). Life is for living, might aswell just get on with it and make the most of it, eh? Especially when food gives such pleasure.

Once in school, we made a dish called fish crisp, a baked mackerel dish topped with irish tayto crisps (I kid you not). I was 13 or so, and hated fish at the time. When my mother would grill fish I would leave the house in protest and not return until I had deemed the smell gone. I virtually fainted when I had to skin the mackerel and had to be taken outside for some air but was brought back inside to complete it, much to my horror. I adored crisps but hated fish, how was I to eat the crisps without having even a scent of mackerel from them? It wasn’t to be, there was no way of rescuing them, and save the few crumbs from the bottom of the bag, I had to abandon them. I have no memory of what happened to that fish crisp after, but I do remember the build up in excruciating detail.

I’ve been thinking of that dish lately, along with quite a few others that we made in school, including one white pudding tart that I loved and would love to make again if only I had the recipe. It was one of our teacher’s own so wasn’t in the book but I do recall some carrot, white pudding and some shortcrust, but, that’s about it. I have a few ideas for potential white pudding tarts that could work, but that’s a project for the weekend.

For tonight, I had settled on fish pie – something of the calibre of that comforting and tasty tart. It had been a while since I had eaten fish so I made up for it with 3 types – salmon, prawns and smoked haddock in a smokey and fragrant bechamel with some velvety mash on top. I poached the fish first in some milk, with some peppercorns, coarsely chopped carrots, celery and onion, adding the prawns about half way through as they cook quicker. I then used the poaching milk for the sauce and it was lovely, it had some of the flavour of the veg and the peppercorns and the smokiness of the smoked haddock – very delicate and light. It would be perfect served with greens or peas, I had neither and was too lazy to leave my flat! I split the mixture into two pie dishes about 6 * 3 inches, but really there was so much fish I could have made three. You can also make one big one, of course. Serves 4.

Here’s the recipe in more detail.

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