Weekend Cooking: Italian Cookbooks

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads. It’s open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.  For more information, see the welcome post.

I love Italian food. I have a few books such as Jamie’s Italy, the two River Cafe Cookbooks by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers and Perfect Pasta by Anne Willan, but my favourite books to look at with longing are The Love of Italian Cooking by Mary Reynolds and The Heritage of Italian Cooking by Lorenza De’Medici.

The Love of Italian Cooking, now out of print was a birthday present from my son:

What I like, apart from the recipes and colour photos is the description of the various regions of Italy, highlighting their traditions and specialities, from Sicily and Sardinia moving north through the country to Piemonte in the north-west corner.

One of my favourite recipes in this book is Minestrone Alla Casalinga in the chapter on Lombardy, a large region that includes most of the Italian lakes. It stretches from the Alps in the north to the valley of the River Po in the south. It takes hours to make, plus the time overnight to soak the haricot beans and is very filling. If you click on the photo below you may be able to see the recipe, but if not here are the ingredients – haricot beans, onion, garlic, bacon rashers,  tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, turnip, celery, cabbage, macaroni pieces or small pasta (shells, stars etc), fresh marjoram and parsley, pepper and water.

Minestrone Alla Casalinga

Saute the onions, garlic and bacon for a few minutes, add water, tomatoes (skinned, seeded and chopped) and marjoram and parsley and simmer for 2 hours uncovered. Add the other ingredients – carrots (diced) first for 10 minutes then everything else sliced, diced or shredded and cook until tender. Stir in grated parmesan to taste.

I’ve made it without the bacon and with different vegetables, according to what I have at the time – I suppose then you could call it Minestrone Alla Margherita or Margaret’s Minestrone.

The Heritage of Italian Cooking is also out of print, but used copies are available. It is a most beautiful book, lavishly illustrated with not only photos of fantastic food, but also Italian Renaissance paintings of banquets, illuminated manuscripts, still-life, harvest-time and rural scenes. There are recipes from Renaissance menus, old diaries and Italian cookbooks  – traditional and modern recipes. It really is a sumptuous display of Italian food. A lovely book just to look at and read and also to inspire me to cook.

It’s arranged by type of dish, including chapters ranging from Antipasti and Pasta to Desserts, Breads and Menus. Here are a few photos from the book:

What am I cooking today? Even after looking at all this Italian food, I have to admit that later I’ll be cooking British roast beef with yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes and sprouts.

Weekend Cooking: Soup

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads. It’s open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs.  For more information, see the welcome post.

One of my favourite cookery books is The Soup Bible and I’ve made, or adapted several of the recipes in it over the last few years. The book has sections on Light and Refreshing Soups, Rich and Creamy Soups, Winter Warming Soups, Hearty Lunch & supper Soups, On-Pot-Meal Soups and Special Occasion Soups. There are recipes from all round the world.

This week I had some asparagus in the fridge that had been there a few days – still within the use by date  – so I thought I’d do something different with it. It seemed a shame to chop asparagus up and make soup with it but as it was a few days old I did just that. And it was absolutely delicious.

To make it I chose the Asparagus Soup with Crab recipe in the Special Occasion Soups section of The Soup Bible and made it without the crab meat. It was really easy and kept the pure taste of the asparagus! This is my adaptation:

Serves 6 – 8

  • 1.5 kg of fresh asparagus
  • 25 g butter
  • 1.5 litres of chicken stock
  • 2 tbs flour
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

  • Trim the woody ends from the bottom of the asparagus spears and cut into 2.5cm pieces.
  • Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over a medium-high heat, add the asparagus and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently until it is bright green, not browned.
  • Add the flour and stir. Then add the stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for a few minutes until the asparagus is tender, but still crisp.
  • Season and cook for about 15 minutes until the asparagus is tender.
  • Puree in a blender or food processor.
  • Add the asparagus tips and serve with crusty bread.

If you want to do it like the recipe you need to thicken it with cornflour mixed with a little water (not the plain flour I used) after it has simmered and add half a cup of whipping cream and 6 -7 oz of white crab meat. I didn’t have the cream or the crab and it delicious without them.

Hot!

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Now that summer is here (in the northern hemisphere, anyway), what is the most ‘Summery’ book you can think of? The one that captures the essence of summer for you?

(I’m not asking for you to list your ideal ‘beach reading,’ you understand, but the book that you can read at any time of year but that evokes ‘summer.’)

It’s hot here, but not as hot as other parts of the world – but too hot for me anyway. Actually, this morning it’s dull but the forecast is for sun later on. Nothing came to mind when I read this question – no book leaped up to remind me of “the essence of summer” . Maybe it would be the books I read on holiday, but this question is not about “beach reading”. 

Then my husband came up with a perfect answer (why didn’t  I think of it?) – Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson. This is a beautiful book full of recipes that you can eat all year round reminding you of summer even in the darker days of winter. I love Nigella’s books as much for her writing as for her recipes:

Summer then, is an idea, a memory, a hopeful projection. Sometimes when it’s grey outside and cold within, we need to conjure up the sun, some light, a lazy feeling of having all the wide-skied time in the world to sit back and eat warmly with friends. I’m not talking about creating some overblown idyll of perpetual Provencal summer, but of extending that purring sense of sunny expansiveness.

In this book are recipes for pasta dishes, salads, Spanish, Italian, Eastern Mediterranean recipes and so on – wonderful desserts, ice creams and summer drinks. Imagine The Ultimate Greek Salad, Red Mullet with Sweet and Sour Shredded Salad, followed by Figs for a Thousand and One Nights, Slut-Red Raspberries in Chardonnay Jelly, Arabian Pancakes with Orange -Flower Syrup, or Margarita Ice Cream!

grk-salad

 red-mullet

margarita-ice-cream

Weekly Geeks – What’s Cookin’?

weekly-geeksWhat shall we cook today? It seems that for most of us, a bit of our book obsession would carry over to the cookbook genre, so this week for Weekly Geeks, let’s talk cookbooks!

I’ve been collecting cookbooks for many years now.  I have all sorts – Italian, Chinese, Thai, Indian, French, Vegetarian, Diet, Low Fat, Freezer, and Microwave cookbooks to name but a few. These days I try to be selective and only buy books that look as though there are some new recipes that I haven’t tried.

I’m only going to write about three books in this post and these are the cookery books that were my mother’s. She loved cooking and was a very good cook.  Compared to me she had so few books! There is her Recipe Index – inside she wrote the date she bought it – March 25 1938, containing some of her handwritten recipes mainly for cakes and biscuits. It’s divided into sections such as Soups, Fish, Meat Game and Poultry etc. There’s one section called “Entrees” which she has crossed out and renamed it Jams. I can’t imagine we ever knew what entrees were! Some of the recipes are wartime ones as they include dried egg. The book is now looking well-worn and is a bit fragile.

mums-jam-recipes001

Then there is The Radiation Cookery Book – such a scary title, which actually is a recipe book for use with the Radiation “New World” Regulo-Controlled Gas Cookers – my mum had one – very modern in 1938. Just opening it at random I find recipes for such things as Rabbit Broth, Hodge-Podge (made with shin of beef or scrag end of the neck of mutton), Bath Buns, Stewed Eel (in the Invalid Cookery section), Linseed Tea – none of which we ever ate. My father loved food such as Roll Mop Herrings, Tripe and Onions and Pigs Trotters – my sister and I hated them. Then there are the old favourites – Parkin, Treacle Tart, Queen of Puddings, Apple Charlotte and Bread and Butter Pudding.

new-world-cooker002

Finally there is my favourite – The Good Housekeeping’s Cookery Compendium, which she bought in 1956. I used to love looking through this as a child. It has nearly 2000 wonderful photos and 1500 recipes with step-by-step pictures. It covers everything – how to boil an egg, buying and choosing meat, making hors d’oeuvre, how to make pickles, preserves and chutneys and the most comprehensive section on cake-making with full instructions on making and decorating the most elaborate wedding cakes.

gh-cookery-compendium001

Sunday Salon

Sunday SalonReading today so far has been Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled. I’m only at the beginning of this and this morning I read about metre: “Poetry is organised.” I am comforted by Stephen’s words in his chapter How To Read This Book – the three Golden Rules are (and I paraphrase) read poems as slowly as you can because poems are not like novels; they are not to be swigged but are to be sipped like a “precious malt whisky” – I don’t like whisky, malt or otherwise, but I know what he means. Poems are to be read out loud – awkward when in public, but in those circumstances you can read out loud inside yourself whilst moving your lips. Mmmm, people already think I’m a bit odd when I mention I read at all, they’ll know I am if I read out loud or look as though I’m talking to myself, but I will try it, maybe.

The second rule is never worry about meaning – that suits me fine as I remember sitting in class at school beating my brains whilst the teacher was waiting for an answer to what does this poem mean. And don’t be shy or cross – be confident. You don’t have to make any response or judgment. The third rule is very simple – buy a notebook and pencil (doesn’t have to be a pencil, just not a computer) and doodle with words. Great, next week I might blog my word doodles – or not.

This morning I am sad to say that I have finished reading Cider With Rosie. Sad because it is such a delicious book, full of wonderful word pictures of life in a remote Cotswold village at the beginning of the twentieth century. Laurie Lee was also a poet and this book reads like a prose poem throughout. The village is Slad in Gloucestershire, the home of Laurie Lee, a beautiful place today (I went there last year). But the village of Laurie Lee’s childhood is no more:

The last days of my childhood were also the last days of the village. I belonged to that generation which saw, by chance, the end of a thousand years’ life. The change came late to our Cotswold valley, didn’t really show itself till the late 1920s; I was twelve by then, but during that handful of years I witnessed the whole thing happen.

and as he grew older he found that

Time squared itself, and the village shrank, and distances crept nearer. The sun and moon, which once rose from our hill, rose from London, now in the east. One’s body was no longer a punching ball, to be thrown against trees and banks, but a telescoping totem crying strange demands few of which we could yet supply.

I realised reading this book that although a few years younger than Laurie Lee my parents too grew up in that world, which was changed for ever after the First World War. They both lived in small villages and went to village schools and Sunday School each week as Lee did. Cider with Rosie brings their childhood to life for me in a way I never thought was possible. There’s so much more to say about this book, but that will be in a separate post.

Back to the modern world another book I’ve dipped into today is Jamie Oliver’s Jamie At Home because today we’re having roast lamb. I loved his TV series and bought the book. Like his programmes it’s full of Jamie’s enthusiasm for food and cooking and of course, recipes. It’s not just recipes but details of how to grow a huge variety of vegetables, salad leaves and herbs, plus facts about the shock of battery farming and so much more.

I’ve cooked his “Incredible roasted shoulder of lamb” before and it is simply delicious.

Chocolate Please!

 I first thought of writing about Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat when I joined the Soup’s On! Challenge as it’s one of her books that I have used a lot. It’s a long book – over 500 pages, nearly all covered in words, with just a few pages of photos. I love just dipping into it and reading for pleasure even if I don’t cook from it that day. 

But today I want to write about another one of her books – Nigella Bites. Sharon has already written about it – see here – but she has not written about the recipe that I made at the weekend.

On our recent visit to Suffolk we stayed near Peasenhall, which is where you can find the most wonderful shop – Emmett’s, which has been trading since 1840. You can order on-line too. They specialise in Suffolk ham and bacon but there are also other delicious goodies for sale – Spanish Charcuterie, a fantastic selection of British cheeses, honey, dried fruit and Greek olives, the best olives I’ve ever tasted in England. The aroma is simply stunning as you enter the shop and most enticing of all for me was the display of chocolate – plain, milk and white chocolate, chocolate with almonds or hazelnuts dried apricots coated in chocolate, crystalised ginger in chocolate, orange and lemon peel strips in chocolate – simply divine handmade Spanish chocolate. I bought some, ate some and brought some home.

Nigella Bites has some unusual recipes, such as Ham in Coca-Cola, Elvis Presley’s Fried Peanut-Butter and Banana Sandwich and Deep-Fried Bounties with Pineapple, none of which I’ve tried. There are more traditional recipes, including mashed potato and rice pudding, Sunday lunch and Sticky Toffee Pudding.

But the recipe for me is her Chocolate Pots, which is so easy to make and tastes out of this world (sorry about all the cliches). You use 175g of the best quality chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids (Emmett’s sells this and the 80% as well!), double cream (150ml), milk (100ml), 1 egg, real vanilla extract (half a teaspoon) and allspice (half a teaspoon).

Nigella writes – “Crush the chocolate to smithereens in a food processor ” – this is a satisfying if noisy process. Then you heat the milk and cream add the vanilla and allspice to the chocolate and wait 30 seconds then whizz up for 30 seconds, add the egg and process again for 45 seconds. Pour into little pots (Nigella says it makes 8 little pots of approximately 60ml, but I used 4!) and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. Take them out about 20 minutes before eating.

After Work Cookbook

After Work, by W H Smith, published by Octopus Publishing Group Ltd 1999.

I’™ve had this book a few years and have made several of the recipes. As the title suggests all the recipes are for making quick meals from fresh ingredients plus some storecupboard items. Each recipe is illustrated with a photograph. Some dishes need more preparation than others, but none of them are difficult to make ‘“ just what you need at the end of a busy day.

There’™s a good mix of recipes divided into sections:

· ‘˜light bites’™ ‘“ sandwiches, salads and soups
· ‘˜international flavours’™ ‘“ a selection from around the world ‘“ pasta, stir-fry, curry, chow mein etc
· ‘˜quick fish dishes’™ ‘“ fish cakes, fish casserole etc
· ‘˜’™meat and poultry for dinner’™ ‘“ family meals and special occasions
· ‘˜sweet endings’™ ‘“ using fruit and chocolate eg double chocolate brownies

Today I made Two-Tomato Mozzarella Salad, one of my favourite recipes from this book. Really all you do is put it all together and eat it. It only takes a few minutes to prepare.

two tomato mozzarella
For 4 people you need:

· 500g fresh plum tomatoes sliced ‘“ or as many as you like
· chopped oregano
· 375g mozzarella cheese sliced ‘“ or use as much or you like – buffalo mozzarella is the nicest
· 12 sun-dried tomatoes preserved in oil and cut into strips. I don’™t cut them up unless they are very large ‘“ again you can use as many as you want
· fresh basil leaves
· salt and pepper ‘“ I use rock or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing, whisk the following ingredients together in a small bowl or put in a screw top jar and shake well to combine:

· 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
· 3 tablespoons oil from the sun-dried tomatoes
· 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
· ¼ garlic clove crushed – I usually use a whole clove
· pinch of sugar

1. Arrange the plum tomato slices in a single layer on a large plate and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste together with the oregano.
2. Arrange the slices of mozzarella on top of the sliced tomatoes and tuck in the sun-dried tomatoes between them.
3. Scatter the basil leaves over the top and drizzle on the dressing.

Sometimes we just have this with maybe some crusty bread. Today we added some Parma ham, pasta shells with green pesto and asparagus tips ‘“ simply delicious.

Also posted on Soup’s On! blog.