Tuesday 24 April 2018

Try a taste of Italy…

Rachel Roddy's Potatoes and greens

Potatoes and Greens from Two Kitchens by Rachel Roddy, published by Headline Home 2017.
Potatoes and Greens from Two Kitchens by Rachel Roddy, published by Headline Home 2017.

I am a fan of greens, particularly slightly bitter ones, cooked twice: first boiled and then sautéed in olive oil with garlic and chilli. In Rome this process is called ripassata (re-passed), or strascinata (dragged), which is a good description, reminding you that the greens really do need to be dragged around the pan so as to catch lots of flavour.

In Sicily I started adding chopped boiled potatoes, maybe a little oregano, to the greens and it has become a favourite. I like a combination of greens and the different textures and levels of bitterness: spinach, chard, radish leaves, sorrel, watercress. In Sicily we picked some cavoliceddi, a wild cousin of the mustard family whose intensely bitter flavour was stunning with the potatoes. This is no time for parsimony: everything should glisten with olive oil. Some lemon juice makes it even more sharply appetising. Serve alone, or with salty cheese, hard-boiled eggs, lamb chops or roast chicken.

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 large potatoes (about 800g)

300g mixed greens, such as spinach, radish leaves, chard, rocket, watercress or sorrel

2 garlic cloves

1 small dried red chilli or a pinch of red chilli flakes

6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Method

Scrub, but don't peel, the potatoes. In a large pan, cover the potatoes with cold water, add salt, bring to the boil, then cook at a lively simmer until tender to the point of a knife. Lift from the water with a slotted spoon and leave to cool in a colander.

Once they are cool enough to handle, peel and chop them into large chunks. Wash the greens thoroughly, then boil them for a few minutes in the potato water or another large pan of salted boiling water. Drain well.

Meanwhile, crush the garlic cloves with the back of a knife so that they split but remain whole.

Chop the greens roughly.

In a frying pan over a low heat, sauté the garlic and chilli in the olive oil until it is just turning golden and fragrant. Remove the garlic.

Add the greens and cook for a few minutes, stirring so each leaf is coated with oil. Add the potatoes, season with salt and pepper, stir and serve.

Panelle di Fabrizia (Fabrizia's chickpea fritters)

For the 25th anniversary of my friend Fabrizia Lanza's cooking school, hot plates warming great bowls of olive oil were set up in the courtyard, and Giovanni and Enza stood frying batch after batch of panelle to be passed around. Fabrizia is happy to share the secrets of her panelle, perhaps because she knows hers will always be the most delicious. She has a particular whisk, which has just a few straight prongs, each with balls on the end. (A balloon whisk works well too.) She also has a dozen or so plastic plates with ridged edges, and it is these that give her panelle, which are cut into triangles rather than squares, their distinctive form, with thin, fluted edges that rupture into crispness: the best bit.

The procedure may sound bizarre or difficult, but it is neither. You smear the thick mixture onto several of your plates (this way, you can see which one works best), imagining that you are plastering something circular. You wait for it to set a bit, then peel it off; it looks like a curious Japanese face mask. This soft, floppy disc can then be cut into slim wedges and fried in hot oil until it is crisp. Now you need to move fast: sprinkle them with salt and cut wedges of lemon while someone opens the wine or the beer, and eat. Ideally the first one should be so hot that it sizzles in your mouth.

Serves 6-8 as antipasti

Ingredients

1 litre cold water

300g chickpea flour

Olive oil, for frying

Lemon wedges, to serve

Salt

Method

In a large pan, whisk together 1 litre cold water and the chickpea flour until it forms a smooth batter with no lumps. Tip the batter into a large, heavy-based pan over a medium-low heat and whisk steadily. After 10 minutes or so, the batter will start thickening, and now you really need to whisk to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom. Once the mixture is coming away cleanly from the sides of the pan, it is ready.

Now, moving swiftly, use a spatula to smear the batter onto a clean marble surface, a large flat tin, or plates. The layer should be 3-5mm thick. Let the mixture cool completely. If you have spread it onto a work surface or tin, it can be cut into squares where it is. If you have smeared it onto plates, peel off the layer of batter carefully and cut each one into slim wedges.

In a pan or deep frying pan, heat the oil to frying temperature (180°C, or when a cube of bread dances on the surface of the oil and turns golden after 20 seconds). Fry the panelle in small batches until crisp and golden. Lift from the oil with a slotted spoon onto kitchen paper to drain briefly, then transfer to a serving plate. Sprinkle with salt and serve straight away, with lemon wedges.

Queen of puddings

My enjoyment of my own culinary history has been enriched by moving away. I believe it was Sicilian breadcrumbs that helped me better appreciate English ones, one kitchen strengthening another; a ricotta, lemon and breadcrumb cake reminding me of queen of puddings.

A bottom of lemony set custard, thickened with soft breadcrumbs, topped with a layer of raspberry jam and finished with a meringue hat is quite simply one of the best puddings ever. It feels fitting then that we are finishing here, with an English pudding scented with lemon, so suggestive both of home and somewhere else, both here and there.

Serves 6

Ingredients

150g soft white breadcrumbs

Grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon (or 2 if you really like lemon)

125g caster sugar, plus 2 tsp for the crumbs and extra for sprinkling

550ml whole milk

40g butter

5 eggs

3-5 tbsp raspberry jam

Method

Preheat the oven to 160°C (140°C fan)/ 320°F/gas mark 3 and grease a deep 25cm-diameter ovenproof dish with butter. Put the crumbs, lemon zest and 2 tsp sugar in a bowl and rub together with your fingertips so that the lemon zest really flavours the crumbs.

Warm the milk and butter over a low heat until the butter melts and the milk is hot but not boiling. Pour the milk over the crumbs and leave to steep for 10 minutes. Once the 10 minutes are up, separate the eggs and beat in the egg yolks (reserving the whites in a large, clean bowl).

Pour the custard mixture into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 20-30 minutes (depending on the depth of the dish), or until the custard is set on top but runny underneath. Remove it from the oven and let it sit for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm the jam with 1 tbsp water until runny, then pour or spread it over the surface of the custard.

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks, then fold in the sugar with a metal spoon.

Cover the pudding with meringue, then bake for another 20 minutes until the meringue is firm and the peaks golden and crisp.

 

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