A Very Special Dish: Amatriciana di mare

Article first published as A Very Special Dish: Amatriciana di mare on Blogcritics.

Today, I would like to talk about a spectacular dish I had on my last two trips to Rome. This creation is a “fishy” modification of the classic Amatriciana sauce, typical of the Lazio region in Italy. Let me explain what is meant by “fishy”.

First of all, amatriciana is a very rustic and “earthy” pasta sauce, which originates from the town of Amatrice, near Rieti in Italy. It is a tomato sauce containing olive oil, onions (at least in Roman cuisine) and guanciale, which is bacon obtained from the pork’s cheeks. Very simple, very tasty.
As I said, it’s a very simple recipe: you start by chopping a big onion in half-inch bits and heat it in some olive oil in a skillet or frying pan. When golden, you add the guanciale, also cut in thin bits and allow to get the fat transparent. At this point, I usually add some red wine and, once absorbed, I put in plenty of tomato sauce (at least half a liter). Let simmer for at least an hour at low heat.
Now put a big pot full of water on the fire, cook your pasta (bucatini are the one Chosen ones) up to “just before al dente”. Drain and add to the sauce, so that the last minute of cooking is done with all suce juices. Cover with pecorino and enjoy.
OK. So we have now set up the basis for this recipe I’m going to describe now. As I said, I have been traveling to Rome recently and in both trips, I went for lunch at Pierluigi, which is known as one of the best fish restaurants in town (and was recently featured on the SAS in-flight magazine). Anyway, this restaurant has used its reputation to modify the classic Amatarciana by adding mollusks and cephalopoda to the mix to make an “amatriciana from the seas” combination.
While at the beginning the idea does not sound very bright, it becomes love at first bite. It is just awesome. Thus, it has been my mission to replicate the dish at home, one way or the other.
It recently happened that my fishmonger had cockles, mussels, octopus, calamari and venus-clams, all at the same time. Could not let that occasion go 🙂 Bought the whole lot with the only aim to make this dish. So here’s how I did it.
Ingredients:
– 500 g rigatoni
– 200 g bacon (I know, hard to find guanciale in Denmark)
– 1 big onion
– 1 calamaro
– 1 octopus
– 1 kg mussels
– 500 g cockles
– 1 kg venus-clams
– 1 litre tomato sauce

First of all, I made sure that ALL shell animals were alive. I quickly tapped each of them on the kitchen counter and dropped them in shell-speciifc water buckets with some salt.

The ones that would close their shells would be kept, the ones that would not give any sign of movement would be discarded (better safe than sorry). Once I was sure about the health of my creatures, I steam them all (beast by beast) in my big pasta pot. Once cooked, I would filter and keep the resulting water aside. So, cooked were the clams, the cockles and the venus-clams.

Aside the water (all mixed together), aside the cooked beasts. I did remove most of them from their shells, keeping a few shelled for decoration.

At this point, get the amatriciana sauce on the fire (see above) using the bacon, onion and tomato.

Now, need to clean the calamaro and the octopus. Well, the octopus was cleaned already, so just had to cut it into bits and stripes. To clean the calamaro, just follow my previous article and no need to keep the ink 🙂 Now, cut the calamaro into small bits and put aside.

Add a tiny bit of olive oil to a frying pan and, when nicely hot, add some chilli flakes (if you want), the octopus and the calamaro. Stir a lot and cook it for a few minutes, trying to avoid overcooking, or they’ll be very chewy.

Finally, the pasta!!!! Here’s where the shells’ water comes in. In a big pot, mix the mollusk cooking water with some fresh water and bring to the boil with enough salt to taste. When boiling, cook the pasta al dente. When ready, drain it and start assembling your portions. this is what I did:

I put some pasta, amatriciana, shelled mollsusks, octopus and calamari in a frying pan with some olive oil and stirred the whole thing together in medium-high heat, until everything is nice and homogeneous. I then put that into a plate and decorated with beast-in-the-shell and served.  Had no cheese, though.. my misatke.

Here are some photos I took during the prep…

Venus-clams

This one is alive

Cooked cockles and venus-clams

Amatriciana base: onion, smoked bacon  (should be guanciale, but can’t really find that here in Denmark) and olive oil.

Calamaro (before cleaning) and the calamaro/octpus base

Seafood assembly for each portion. Add the pasta and toss in the sauce pan with the amatriciana. That what it looks like.


Risotto al nero di seppia

Article first published as “Risotto al nero di seppia” on Blogcritics.

I went to my fishmonger the other day and he was having the most fabulous squid on display. Fresh, non-cleaned, the whole beast. I could not let that opportunity go and purchased it immediately. When asked whether I wanted it cleaned, I declined the offer, as I had something special in mind. I needed the ink-sack for my dish, so I didn’t want anybody to mess with the squid’s offal.

So, what’s so special about this dish? This is a typical dish from the north-eastern part of Italy (Veneto) and does require a bit of work to prepare. Still, the tastes and aromas it gives are just wonderful, so nobody should mind the extra work. I am talking about “risotto al nero di seppia” or, translated into English, “Squid black risotto”.

So, let’s get started. For this you’ll need (let’s say 3/4 people):

  • an medium sized onion
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • olive oil
  • a whole squid
  • Arborio rice (about 350-400g / 13-14USOz)
  • white wine
  • stock

First of all, we need to clean the squid and retrieve the ink sack intact. Work carefully, especially if this is the first time you do this. Use a big apron, latex gloves and do the job in the sink. If ink starts getting out, you get covered in black. That thing is very “stainful” and even a tiny drop will keep you cleaning for a long time. OK, now that you are ready and covered, put your calamari on a cutting board, flat and extended. Grab the head (or tube) with one hand and gently pull the tentacles/eyes/guts unit with the other. It should give some resistance at the beginning but will easily slide off afterwards. Set the tube aside and let’s collect the ink. The ink sack looks like a little bag just above the eyes and below the stomach. Work on top of a bowl (in case you break it) and cut it out, gently. Set it aside and dispose of the guts and entrails of the animal. I have found this video that could help some of you (it is not me in there).
Cleaned calamaro

At this point, it becomes easy again 🙂 Cut the tentacles from the rest, just below the eyes. Get rid of the beak (the mouth/teeth) and wash the whole thing carefully under cold water and cut it into small bits.

At this point, we can prepare the risotto. Chop and mince your onion and garlic and toss them in a cooking pot (I usually use my Le Creuset Dutch oven) where they will gently golden in a table spoon of olive oil.

When nicely golden, add the chopped cephalopod in the pot and let cook for a couple of minutes at medium-high heat while stirring it. Reduce heat and add a couple of glasses of white wine. Simmer in wine for about 5 minutes and add the ink. Properly stir, making sure that the ink has been diluted properly and is distributed well in the pot.

You can now add the rice in. Carefully mix the rice and the calamaro stew and add stock to cover, while you are still on low heat. Remember to regularly stir the rice and to add stock when it gets dry. Keep stirring and adding stock until the rice is cooked to your taste. Add some salt, if you wish, and you are done. You can now enjoy this great dish, sipping some Chardonnay, Chablis or even a Chenin blanc.

Prost and buon appetito!

 

PS: you can naturally do exactly the same with cuttlefish!

Tiramisu reloaded

Just realised I never made photos of my tiramisu’ recipe. Well here we go. Here are some photos I took at my last attempt. Hope you enjoy. I also copyandpaste what I wrote years ago in this blog regarding the various steps.

 

“I like to make this dessert whenever I am asked “bring a dessert”, as it really takes 5 minutes to make and even a caveman could do it (hope I won’t get sued for this one). Anyway, here we.

Ingredients:

– 4 eggs

– 500g mascarpone (for you americans, that’s 2 pots of the standard one you find in Shaws)

– Ladyfingers (as many as you can use)

– Coffee (as much as you need)

– 100g sugar (that should be close to 3 ounces?)

– cognac (or any other booze, as much as you like)

– bitter chocolate powder

Start by separating the eggs into classical reds and whites. Mix the reds with the sugar and whisk it to a nice cream. Add the booze and keep mixing (I usually put a lid-full of cognac Longrow 10yo). Then add the mascarpone and keep mixing. When the whole thing is nicely mixed and creamy, take the egg whites and beat them until nice and fluffy and snowy and whatever you call that when you make a foam with the whites :). Gently mix them with the the mascarpone cream and let it rest for a wee while.

Now, make your coffee. I usually make two stovetop 3-cuppers and let them cool down to room temperature, or your ladyfingers will turn into baby food in a matter of nanoseconds. Now, coffee seleccion is also important. The coffee will give your tiramisu a specific taste and if you use crap quality material, your tiramisu’ will suffer. I usually tend to go for the “standard” Bustelo which is cheap, fair trade (I’ll talk about this in another post) and decent quality. If I really want to splunge and feel happy, I’ll use my stash of Oragnic Black Silk form Equal Exchange. Now that I am on this side of the pod, forget about Bustelo and Equal-exchange, so I have to (poor me) use Illy.

Anyway, too much rambling about coffee here. So, we now have our cream and our coffee. The ladyfinger are there on the side. Let’s start then. Take a tray, or whatever container in which you want to assemble your tiramisu and start making the first layer of ladyfingers. Take a cookie, quickly dip it in the coffee (just roll it once in the black juice) and cover the tray with them. Now, take the creamy cream and cover the fingers with it. Add a second layer of ladyfingers, cover them with the cream and so on. At the end, you’ll have a final layer of cream, which you will cover with the chocolate powder. for this, I usually use a small sieve and a tea spoon.

Your tiramisu is ready. Cover the whole film with plastic wrap or a cloth and store it in the fridge overnight.”

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My Bar… My precious…

Hi all yall,

finally got some time to write again. Hurray! Today, I want to talk about my little corner of joy, ie my bar. I am slowly starting to collect a decent amount of good booze and want to share my babies with you. I hope I will have time, in the near future, to describe my impressions and share my tasting notes with you, for most of these bottles. Hope to continue this post later on… now the kids woke up from their nap… see youses!

So, here we go. We have

Classic “commercial” bottles:

– Lagavulin 16 yo (43%)

– Laphroaig 10 yo (40%)

– Longrow 10 yo (46%)

– Glengoyne 17 yo (42%)

– The Glenlivet 12 yo (40%)

Independently bottled malts, unfiltered, single cask, cask strength from Cadenhead’s:

– Bruichladdich 15 yo (55.5%)

– Mortlach 16 yo (54,2%)

– Tormore 20 yo (60.4%)

– Allt-a-Bhainne 17 yo (can’t remember, it’s gone… booooohhhh!!!!!)

Cognac

– DuPont VSOP

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When in Rome…

Article first published as When in Rome…. on Blogcritics.

I took a special trip to Rome last May, for a very particular purpose: I had to initiate a couple of friends, who have been living in Rome for almost 10 years, to the real, unique and exceptional rustic Roman food. Why this urge? Well, these friends are co-founders of our “gastronauts society” and are foodoholics like me. Considering that they are soon to leave Rome, I could not accept the fact that they had never tasted our fantastic delicacies.

So, what am I talking about? Simple: “pajata”, “coda alla vaccinara”, “animele”, “coratella” and similar things. These items would be described by a vast majority of the earth’s population as “offal”. Let’s take these one by one:
Pajata
What is pajata? Looking at Wikipedia’s entry can be scary
“[…] Pajata is the term for the intestines of an “un-weaned” calf, i.e., only fed on its mother’s milk. The intestines are cleaned and skinned, but the Chyme is left inside. Then the intestine is cut in pieces 20 – 25 cm long, which are bond together with white thread, forming rings. When cooked, the combination of heat and the enzyme rennet in the intestines coagulates the chyme and creates a sort of thick, creamy, cheese-like sauce […]”. I can assure you that it is DELICIOUS!!!

Considering the whole issue with cows and veals and mad-cow disease, real “pajata” has been banned since the early 90s. Instead of calves, Romans have now switched to un-weaned lambs. Anyway, according to the timeless tradition, we had the delicacy served in a tomato sauce with pecorino and rigatoni (see photo).

Next, my guests had another CLASSIC Roman dish:
Coda alla vaccinara 
This is a more common animal part and less “yucky” for many people. It’s a stew of ox-tail, celery, tomato, ham, bacon and many herbs. The dish is cooked for hours, until all the meat is tender and falling off the tail bones. A typical menu would consist of preparing such a stew and, once ready, use part of the tomato sauce to season a “primo” of pasta and use the rest a the meat “secondo”. Sorry, I have no picture of this dish.

While my friends were inhaling their ox-tail, I was inhaling my own plate of roman “delicacies”. The restaurant had its own name for it, but I can clearly say that it was a mix of
Animelle and Coratella
What are these? Sit down, take a breath and get ready. Look at the picture. See anything familiar? Not, unless you took anatomy in college. This dish consists of grilled offal: hearts, kidneys, livers, lungs, pajata. Not for the faint hearted. Hard-core stuff, but sooooo tastylicious. As someone once said, “ya cannae not die stoopid”… got taste it all, then decide 🙂

So that was the evening. My friends were very positively impressed and gave the “foodgasm!” stamp to the dinner. And the wine: we washed the whole thing down with a couple of bottles of this guy (see photo). Very nice, very nice indeed.

[…]

Buon appetito!

Spaghetti cozze, seppia, bottarga e pomodorini

I haven’t written in a while and I do feel guilty about it. That’s how it goes when the writing follows a great food experience. I wish I could do that more frequently. Anyway, I hope you’ll enjoy this dish I cooked last weekend. Here’s what happened.

I went to the supermarket to do the usual weekly shopping and decided it was time I passed by the fishmonger as well. Weather is nice, full spring, for sure, some good stuff must be coming out of the sea. I get there and what do I see? Fresh squid. But not the wee ones. The real ones. 2-3 pounders. “mmmhhhh” was my first thought. My brain went immediately into “assembly” mode:

  • What can I do with that?
  • How should I cook it?
  • What other goodies should I add to?

At first, I thought about a stew but then I saw the mussels on the side, there, just sitting quietly in their box, trying to avoid eye contact. “Too late, pals!”. There it was. Illumination. Pasta with mussels and squid. Now we were getting somewhere. Think about it: fuming spaghetti, with bits of squid and fresh tomato, all topped with splendid mussels in their shells. Still, I felt that something was missing. Think. Think. Think. Then I remembered that mussels go splendidly with strong, salty tastes, like pecorino. Have no pecorino. Have bottarga. Jackpot!

You might wonder: what is bottarga? It’s very simple, it’s roe. Caviar of the poor. There are two kinds sold in Italy: tuna and grey mullet roe. Tuna is more expensive, yet tastier and more sought for. I do have both, but my tuna one is fresh, thus I need to use it before it gets destroyed.

Anyway, we now have a dish in the planning and we can start cooking. First, we need to clean the squid and the mussels. Mussels are simple. First of all check that they are alive. To do that, see that they are closed when taking them off the bag. If they are open, “bang” them against the table and make sure that they “react” by closing the valves. If that doesn’t happen a few bangs, throw that shell away. Once they are closed, remove the “beard” by pulling it off the beast.

Squids are a bit more difficult. I asked my fishmonger to clean mine, but he didn’t a proper job and I had ink all over my kitchen. So make sure that everything is removed properly and keep the tentacles!

Start boiling the water for the pasta.

OK, now: prepare a base for the mussels. I used a big deep pot where I added some olive oil, to finely chopped sticks of celery, to chopped leeks, 2 cloves of garlic and 2 glassesand let it all blend and golden up. When that was the case (about 10 minutes), I added 2 glasses of chardonnay (or any white wine you have around) and threw in the mussles. Close the lid and cook slowly for about 15 minutes or until you think they are cooked. The lid is important, as it allows for a proper “sterilisation” of the mussel shells, by entrapping the high temperature steam in the pot.

Next, let’s prepare the squid. First of all, take the squid and chop it into small pieces (like 1×0.5 cm for example), including tentacles. Wash it all nicely under a lot of water. Now, in a wide and tallish pan, crush 2 cloves of garlic, add 2-3 tbsp of olive oil and warm it up. Cut a few thin slices of the bottarga, chop into as finely as you can and add it to the oil/garlic mix. Stir for 5 minutes and then add the squid and half a glass of white wine.

Cook at high temp for 5 minutes, turn down the heat and wait until the next step is ready. In the meantime, get some tomatoes and chop them finely.

Now, it gets “complicated” 🙂 At this point, the water should be boiling, thus throw the pasta in. Take the mussels off their broth and toss them in the frying pan. Pass the broth through a sieve and put the liquid back in the pot. When the pasta is half cooked (let’s say 5 minutes) take it off that water and finish cooking it in the mussels broth. Just before it’s ready, drain it, put it back in the pan, add the fish together with the finely diced tomatoes.

Ready. Crack open another bottle of white (I love Chablis or Greco di Tufo with these dishes) and enjoy. I loved it!!! Foodgasmic!!!!

Here’s the “precise” list of ingredients:

– Olive oil

– 4 cloves of garlic

– 500 grams of spaghetti

– 1.5 kg of fresh mussels

– 1kg of fresh squid

– 5 tomatoes

– 3 slices of tuna bottarga

– 2 sticks of celery

– 2 leeks

– half a bottle of white wine

– a lot of hunger

– a love for good food

Article first published as Pasta With Squid, Mussels, Tuna Roe And Fresh Tomato on Blogcritics.

Eat Bananas!

I love food. I love my work. I HATE people eating in the office. I just cannot stand the noise. That crunching, munching, grinding, sipping, swallowing, unwrapping, cracking sound of food. Most of all, I can not stand apples and carrots any longer. My two co-workers spend their day eating those two food items.

Just imagine the situation: silent office. All concentrated on our work. Suddenly you hear it: the plastic bag opens, and CRUNCHmunchmunchmunchmunchCRUNCHmunchmunchmunchmunchCRUNCH! for hours. Then comes the carrots bag: STACKcrunchcrunchcrunchSTACKcunch and so on.

Can you feel it? That shiver down your spine? The hatred? Can you hear Palpatine inviting you to the dark side? Can you feel your ears exploding because of the continuous destruction caused by extremely loud, yet useless, music in your headphones?

So, only two words for you noisy eaters: EAT BANANAS!

There, I said it!

Article first published as Eat Bananas! on Blogcritics.
Read more: http://blogcritics.org/tastes/article/eat-bananas/#ixzz1IjGQwaPd

 

Hurray!

I’ll be now writing for a “real” internet magazine! How exciting. Keep checking this corner for more updates soon!

Am I becoming a whisky snob?

I remember the good’ole days, when just the idea of whisky would make me sick. I just could not drink that stuff. Horrible liquid. I have to confess that at those times, whisky to me meant J&B, Ballantines, Chivas Regal, Cutty Sark… ie crap that was easily available at home or at friend’s places.

Then, over the winter break in 1994 or 95, I went ot visit me dad in Namibia and my “step brother” from Tennessee was there. He talked so much about Jack Daniels and blah and blih and bluh, that I finally tried it and it was for sure different and better than the above-mentioned crap. So, I slowly got used to the idea of whiskEy (bourbon) being somewhat drinkable.

Come September 1996 and I move to Glasgow to finish my studies. Made the mistake once and never asked for Jack Daniels again in my whole life. I still remember the scene. Was in a big whisky bar/pub at the intersection between Sauchiehall street and Kelvin Way (now there’s a steakhouse called the Butchershop). I asked for a JandD and the bartender, with a very thick local accent, replied “not in me fecking lifetime”. He turned around and showed me his scotch selection. 20×2 metres of different bottles. My Glaswegian friend explained “the situation” and I survived. Still, the barman made a point in teaching me a “single malt” lesson and started pouring a few different things, to “show me”. Could hear them angels singing (no, I was not drunk).

After 4 years in that paradisiac town, I became familiar with a few standard/conventional distilleries and I was happy. Lagavulin, Oban, Talisker, Bunnahabhain, Aardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Jura, Craganmore, Glenmorangie, etc… I was happy with this and felt “good” about the fact that I now knew about the classical good Scotches available. As  for many other people, Lagavulin was unbeatable and the others are very good as well. Won’t touch no Irish stuff and bourbons are shite.

That was until a few months ago, when I moved to the next level. Hate you Alan! Hate you Angus! As you can see from one of my previous posts, we had a wee tasting session at a local whisky store, where I had the chance of discovering the fantastic world of independently bottled whisky. Other planet. Other experience. Other dimension. After that, I see no point in purchasing any of the “standard” bottles. I would actually feel “dirty” and here are a few reasons why:

– Whisky in the bottle is EXACTLY the same stuff coming out of the cask/barrel. No filtering, no coloring, no nothing. What you distil is what you get.

– What you get this year might not be the same as last year or next year. Contrary to “commercially” sold bottles, here the bottlers don;t try to get the same taste over and over. It’s all an “inshallah” process.

– What you get is of the best possible quality: the whisky you get is still coming from the “normal” distillers. The independent bottler purchases barrels from them, so what you get in a Macallan is the same stuff you would get in a commercially available Macallan bottle.

– The whisky selection (from producer to shop) goes through 3 decision processes: Bottler choses 10 barrels from 40 available (blind tasting). Store owners blind taste these 10 and chose 2. Selected customers of one shop will blind taste these and a unanimous decision has to be taken about which barrel will be “bottled” ie: both, one or none (am I right Angus? is this how the process works?).

– Because of the previous point, you always get the best of the best.

– Cask strength is your friend. End of discussion.

Anyway, now I can really differentiate between different products and am learning how to “describe” the differences. Still, I would love to take some tasting lessons or do some reading about all various aromas, tastes, finishes, colors that you can get and how to describe them. Have also decided to get a new bottle every second month, if I manage (still 70-100 euros a pop). Right now my bar is very small. Have a “standard” Lagavulin 16yo (that was a present), a 10yo Longrow and a 15yo Bruichladdich. Next one will be chosen between a Cragganmore 15yo, Springbank 12yo or Allt-A-Bhainne 16yo.

In conclusion, I think that if I had to chose between a wine and a whisky, I would go for the Scotch 🙂

Cheers,

Fred

PS: btw, I even changed my mind regarding bourbon. The one we had was awesome.

Mini-Gastronauts: February 4th, Rome

I admit it! Alan and I had a wee, mini gastronauts meeting in Rome last month. I was in town for the rugby 6Nations game between Italy and Ireland, and crashed at Alan’s flat. Since we only had a few hours to commit our gastro-crimes (I arrived latish in Rome on friday afternoon, Alan was leaving at 05:00 for teh US), we chose a very simple, yet tasty menu.

First, I got a small 30g can of “entry level” sturgeon caviar from Prunier at the airport in CPH. While on my way from Fiumicino airport, I got a bottle of Greco di Tufo at a petrol station on the raccordo, while Alan was preparing a quick puttanesca. So, as I arrived home, we immediately started with the caviar, washed down with a quite mellow chardonnay and we followed suit with the pasta, wetted by a jar of nebbiolo.

As a secondo, Alan had gotten some straccetti (litteraly translated to little rags) and some fresh rughetta (arugula, for you non romans). Straccetti are very thing and small strips of beef. It was my duty to cook them. So here’s how I made them:

 

In a large frying pan (or skillet), I did put quite an amount of olive oil. I’m Italian, I can’t quantify how much oil I used as if I were in the lab. I just know how much is right 🙂 Anyway, I bring the oil the very high temp and throw in and 3 cloves of garlic and let tem get golden. Once that is ready, I bring down the heat and throw the meat in the pan (carful!) and quickly stir the whole thing.When the meat is almost ready, I salt it and add balsamic vinegar until the while dish is covered with a think and brownie sauce. Turn off the heat, serve the straccetti on large plates, covered with fresh rughetta and some slices of parmigiano. Enjoyed with the remaining nebbiolo and the greco di tufo.

Mmmmhhhh! Shame was that Alan’s butcher cut the meat too thick. Bollocks to him.