Posts Tagged ‘mozzarella’

An Italian feast – the vegetarian version

I must apologise in advance as I forgot to take photos of the antipasti before we dug in and devoured it all… Oops!

After my last post about food, which was posted to Facebook, a friend I haven’t seen in a while read it and jokingly asked to come to dinner in a “You-can-invite-me-to-dinner-anytime,” kind of way. Spotting an opportunity to prepare another feast, I responded with a genuine invitation. Another friend was invited and the date was fixed. I had a day off so scheduled my day around preparing the food.

We decided to go vegetarian as one of the party doesn’t eat meat and I couldn’t be bothered to do two sets of food.

And so the fun began.

I started by making the tiramisu slightly wrong by whisking the sugar with the egg whites instead of the yolks. I just kind of put it all together and fridged it and hoped it would taste fine. Then I made little things called Esse biscuits, which are quite specific to Venice, although why a biscuit shaped like an S should be Venetian is beyond me.

Then I ploughed on through the grissini, the music paper, the pesto, the gnocchi, the soup, the lentil dish and some salads. It was 3.30pm, two and a half hours before my guests would arrive. So I did what any reasonable person would do at that point. I had a nap.

I woke up about 5pm and dived back into the kitchen, spearing mozzarella and basil, toasting (burning) bread and taking the truffle butter out of the fridge.

After a little help with directions, my friends arrived, one of them taking charge of toasting new bread as I couldn’t seem to stop burning things.

So the antipasti was grissini, music paper, truffle butter, pesto, bruscette with ricotta, broad bean and mint, more bruscette with roasted grape and thyme, roasted walnuts, and goat’s cheese. O, and a white bean houmous-type thing, which was unexpectedly delicious. I just used some tinned cannellini beans and heated them gently in a pan with a bit of water, an onion, some bay leaves and a bit of olive oil. Then I removed a few beans, whizzed what was left and left it on a low heat to thicken. I put it in a bowl once finished and put the beans I had removed back on top with a little lemon and white truffle oil.

As mentioned earlier, I only afterward remembered to get a photograph of the antipasti. Here it is.

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Yep. That’s all that was left to photograph by the time I remembered…..

Next up was the mains.

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A panzanella, which was well received. In case you are unfamiliar with a panzanella, it’s a bread and tomato salad, basically. It’s one of those things that I’ve had a few times and it’s been pretty average. A nice homemade panzanella, though, is well worth the effort.

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Here we have; bottom left, a chickpea, fennel and leek soup; above that, the white bean houmous; front right, gnocchi in a cavolo nero sauce; top middle, a zucchini, basil and rocket salad.

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There was also this vegetable lentil dish dressed with basil oil and mozzarella.

Once we’d eaten all that, we were stuffed and couldn’t even think about dessert. No, honestly! I can’t fit a single thing in! I’m so full. I need a while to let it all go down. What’s that? You’re getting the dessert out? Just to look at? Ok. O… Well, maybe I’ll just have a little try….

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Baked figs on the left and tiramisu in the glasses on the right. We obviously scoffed them. I admitted my sugar-in-the-egg-whites mistake but it was generally agreed that we couldn’t tell. 

Next we had coffee and the Esse biscuits.

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A discussion about the film version of Roald Dahl’s The Witches then took up the remainder of the evening and I went to bed dreaming of being turned into a mouse….

The big 200 and an Italian feast

So it’s my 200th post! Very exciting. I haven’t been swimming in a little while as I’ve had a cold so I’m going to try, from next week, to swim 200 lengths in honour of it. Not all at once. I’ll try a bit each day. I need to do 30 each day, right? Wish me luck!

I’ve got lots of birthdays and excitement this week so am going to give it til Monday to start the challenge. Thanks for staying with me or joining me along the way. It has been lots and lots of fun. To celebrate this milestone and to embrace my recent trip to Italy and in honour of seeing a friend for the first time in ages, I prepared an Italian feast!

I got a beautiful cookbook the other day. The most beautiful cookbook I’ve ever seen.

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It’s full of Venetian recipes and the antipasti section is amazing. In an effort to impress, I insisted on making one of everything!

I finished work at 3pm and had timetabled in when to start everything so that I’d be ready by 7pm. I suddenly realised, at 3.35pm, that I didn’t have almonds for the cantuccini biscuits. I set my white wine and white wine vinegar and juniper berries to boil (for the pickled chicory) then I quickly grabbed my purse and ran down to the shop. I got the almonds and ran back to the house…. When I said ‘I quickly grabbed my purse’, that’s exactly what happened. I grabbed my purse AND NOTHING ELSE! I was locked out. There was no-one else with keys who would be back before 6pm. We had taken the spare key from the next door neighbour because it didn’t work anymore, it was always getting stuck. We kept meaning to get another cut, but didn’t. O no! The next door neighbour walked by and I explained my predicament. We went in her garden to see if I could climb over her fence into my garden and try and figure a way to get in. It’s not really a climb-over-able fence so I was stuck outside, pan boiling inside, on a tight schedule for preparing dinner, with no way into the house.

We eventually got in but another neighbour played a very risky game of almost falling through a roof to do so and it all took about an hour. I was VERY behind schedule.

When I was back in the kitchen, I pickled my chicory, made my duck stock, grilled my aubergines and dressed my rocket. I was back on track. As I was whizzing the almonds in my food processor for the cantuccini, it popped and stopped working! This was NOT on my schedule! It wouldn’t have been a very big deal had I not needed to whizz the duck breast fillets for my duck and porcini mushroom meatballs. My only option was my handheld whizzer thing. You know the type that you stick in a pot of soup to whizz all the lumps out?

So there I was, with a handheld whizzer thing, trying to whizz duck breasts. I got it done in the end but it wasn’t easy and bits of mashed up raw duck kept flying about and sticking to my face and arms.

I threw together an apparently Italian drink, minus the alcohol – elderflower cordial with mint, lemon and ice, then topped up with ginger beer.

I was nervous about attempting the Carta di Musica (music paper) as it needed to be rolled really really thin. It’s basically a paper thin cracker made with semolina. It went surprisingly well. I had some rocket and walnut pesto I had made that morning and after grilling some aubergines with parmesan, mozzarella and basil then rolling them up, I was almost ready to go. I just wrapped the end of a few grissini sticks in salami and pickled chicory and stuck them in a glass, put some dressed rocket into the braesola and rolled it up and put some truffle butter in a dish and we sat down and dug in. (Yes, you heard me right, truffle butter! I finally got some! And it was totally worth it.)

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At this point, I noticed that the caster sugar was on the side, unopened and realised that in my panic over the food processor breaking while I was making cantuccini, I had forgotten to put the sugar in! What I had was a savory almond dough! I whipped the biscuits out of the oven and binned them then mixed some sugar into my remaining dough. It didn’t really mix in very well though. I just wrapped the dough in clingfilm, fridged it and hoped for the best.

Next was the main course. We had a parmigiana, a roast tomato risotto, a duck and porcini meatball in a duck stock and tomato sauce, and scallops and pancetta on a bed of minty pea stuff.

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The parmigiana looks quite large and intimidating, I didn’t realise that when I cut it!

After eating everything and having a bit of chitchat and sneaking another meatball or two, it was time to address the cantuccini disaster. I cut my dough into six pieces and put it in the oven. It did not go well. Because there wasn’t enough dry stuff in the mixture, it didn’t bake hard enough. It also wasn’t sweet enough. I made us espressos in a percolator, which were really strong, and we dipped our biscuits in.

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I felt a bit feeble, with my savory, slightly soft almond thingys. So I implemented a back up plan. There was ice cream in the freezer! Mascapone, cherry and pistachio. Score! The dinner was rescued and we tucked in.

All in all, a success, I think.

Happy 200th post to me! What a fabulous way to celebrate.

Theatres, baths and lunch on the Tiber

The last day of the trip was my favourite. That is possibly something to do with the fact that I started it by eating tiramisu. Maybe. We packed our bags ready to leave and left them in the apartment til later.

We started out with coffee, obviously. I was doing a great job at attempting to develop a coffee habit. Their cappuccinos don’t come hot, which confused me. I think it could be to do with the fact that coffee is very functional there. People don’t walk around with huge coffees in takeaway cups. You have a small cup standing at a bar or sitting in a cafe and you drink it quickly before going to work in the morning, hence it comes lukewarm, instead of hot. Anyone know anything about how Italians drink coffee who can prove or disprove my theory?

Anyway, after coffee and tiramisu, we headed around the Colossuem to the Palatine Hill, where all the rich people and emperors lived.

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The weather was beautiful and I think the area surrounding it is still quite upmarket. Something about it felt different, nicer. There was a sports ground near the ruins on Palatine Hill where tanned older gentlemen ran around the track in pairs, looking like retired film stars.

We went to the Baths of Caracalla, the ruins of the world’s largest leisure centre. It is so immense, you can’t quite take in what you are seeing.

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The entire thing was for bathing. It had all those cold rooms and hot rooms and parts where you swim and parts where you plunge before going into a different room, etc. The complex was on two floors and also had shops and other things in the building.

Entire sections of the mosaic floor are still in place and there are huge chunks of mosaics from the second floor dotted around from when the upstairs sections collapsed.

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After this, we kept following the Palatine Hill down to the Circus Maximus, where the chariot races used to take place. It was the world’s largest arena. (There are lots of ‘world’s largest’ things in Rome.)

Both ends have building work going on, which looks a bit like reconstruction work on the ruins of the seating area but we couldn’t see for definite. This is what the chariot race scene in Ben Hur is based on, if any of you have seen it.

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After this, we headed through Roman Holiday territory, past the Mouth of Truth that Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn go to, and to the Teatro Di Marcellus. This might have been the thing that I liked the most, in terms of old and new Rome meeting. The two thousand year old building has a new section built on top if it, two floors of apartments.

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I really REALLY want to live there. How amazing would that be?

Once we had spent a while wandering around the old porticos, we were in what had once been decreed a Jewish Ghetto and the Jewish people who lived there had all their rights as citizens taken away from them. There didn’t seem to be a reason apart from that the emperor at that time had decided it.

We were right next to the Tiber by this point so we stopped for a quick espresso and ice cream break. I had tiramisu flavoured ice cream. Danda had an ice cream who’s flavour we couldn’t read on the label and that he loved. He said it was the best ice cream he had ever tasted.

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We headed to Tiber Island next, which has always had a connection with medicine. Even now, it still has a hospital run by nuns. On the other side of the river is Trastevere, where we had lunch. Friends had recommended the restaurants in this part of town so we stopped in the first place we saw, Ristorante “la Cornucopia”.

We shared a tomato and mozzarella salad then had a sea bass dish, which looked a bit normal but tasted phenomenal.

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There we were, the sun was shining, we were surrounded by greenery, street musicians were serenading the diners and my lunch was amazing. That was probably my favourite moment of the trip. I was just revelling in the luxury of being able to do nothing for a while.

Soon after this, we had to think about making our way to the airport so we walked back to the apartment to get our bags and headed to the tube station next to the Colossuem.