A slow cooked sensation from our latest book…

Photo by Helen Cathcart

 
Our recently published book ‘Rome – Centuries in an Italian Kitchen‘ has been flying off the shelves and this is one of my favourite winter recipes from the book. We forget sometimes that the Roman empire extended far into Northern Europe, right up to North Northumberland in Britain’s case, so many of their dishes have been influenced by the produce available in both cold and warm climates. This is what I’d call a ‘rib-sticker’ the ultimate winter fuel.
Coda alla Vaccinara
Oxtail Stew
Beef stew in all its forms is essential to the average Roman kitchen. It gives nourishment, comfort and that sense of security that comes from a ritual that you perform so regularly you can’t imagine life without it. Even ragu, or meat sauce, that is made all over Italy is a form of stewed beef. Whether the meat is whole or ground, that marriage of beef and tomatoes cooked for a very long time together is hard to beat.
In Rome the Jewish have ‘stracotto’ meaning ‘overcooked’, born from a time when only the cheaper cuts were available to them. It was traditionally cooked on the ashes of a fire on a Friday so that it was still warm on the Sabbath when cooking was prohibited. Out of the many beef stew recipes, we have chosen to include Garofolato di Manzo made with a whole piece of meat pierced with spices, and Coda alla Vaccinara, which uses oxtail. You can usually order this from your butcher. It has a wonderfully rich, almost gamey flavour that after long, slow cooking produces meat that simply falls away from the bone. It is a good idea to do this dish a day before you want to eat it as the fat comes to the surface overnight and can be removed.
 
Serves 6
1.2 kg (2 lb 10 oz) oxtail
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
200 ml (7 oz) white wine
2 ´ 400 g (14 oz) tins tomatoes
1 heaped tablespoon tomato purée (paste)
1 small cinnamon stick
500 ml (17 fl oz) meat or vegetable stock, as necessary
 
For the soffritto
6 celery sticks with leaves, coarsely chopped into 5 mm (1/4 in) cubes
2 medium white onions, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 teaspoons fine salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 bay leaves
 
Fill a large saucepan three quarters full with water and bring to the boil. Add the oxtail and bring the water back to the boil, then remove the oxtail from the water. Pour the water and any scum away. Boling the oxtail like this will clean it and get rid of some of the fat.
Make the soffritto in a large saucepan; gently fry the vegetables in the olive oil with the seasoning and bay leaves for around 5–10 minutes over a medium heat until tender.
Heat the sunflower oil in a large frying pan over a medium–high heat and brown the meat all over. Transfer the oxtail to the soffritto and then pour over the wine. Allow it to reduce for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes, purée and cinnamon, and bring to the boil with a little water to wash out the tins. Turn down to simmer and leave to cook, covered, over a low heat for 5 hours or until the meat falls from the bones. You can also do this long cooking time in the oven: heat the oven to 160°C (320°F/Gas 4) and cook the stew in a casserole dish. During the cooking, turn the oxtails from time to time to make sure they do not stick and top up with a little stock or water, if necessary, so that they are always covered. Serve with mashed potato, soft polenta or potato gnocchi.
For more recipes from the Roman kitchen you can purchase signed copies of ‘Rome – Centuries in a Roman Kitchen’ here.

A Feast Fit for a Caesar…

We’ve been holding some very special Roman themed dinners at Caldesi in Campagna and Caffe Caldesi to coincide with the launch of our latest book ‘Rome – Centuries in an Italian Kitchen’. Our menu for the evenings was designed to showcase some of the dishes that we discovered in our many months of research and to take our guests on a culinary journey through Rome.
The evenings kicked off with the serving of a cheeky little cocktail we’d named the ‘Wonky Madonna’ after a portrait of the Madonna which hangs askew behind a bar at the Trastevere in Rome (see below for the recipe) and to go with this we served a selection of antipasti. First Suppli al telefono – named because the melting mozzarella inside these crispy rice fritters resembles the wires between telegraph poles as you break them in half to enjoy them.
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Next up was Lagana, a Roman flat bread that dates back to the days of Julius Caesar. It is eaten with ricotta and a relish made from sardines, celery, basil, parsley, honey and black pepper.
lagne and fish pickle
Next was a Carpaccio di Manzo – lemon and vinegar marinated raw thinly sliced beef fillet and then onto Gnocchi alla Romana.
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Making the Gnocchi all Romana – You need a strong chef such as Marco to make sure there are no lumps.

 
These are a very traditional Roman gnocchi made with semolina, milk, cheese and lots of butter.
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The finished dish.

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Our secondo included a choice of the famous Ossobuco all Romana – even though the Milanese claim that Ossobuco is their dish the Roman’s passionately claim it is theirs.
Osso Buco
There was also a choice of Guinea Fowl alla Cacciatora cooked with rosemary and vinegar in the ‘style of the hunter’ and Orata in Crosta d’erbe – sea bream in a herbed crust.
Such was the fun and enjoyment of the evening (and perhaps the free flowing Roman wines helped) I forgot to take pictures of the rest of the meal but we finished off with a Torta Bianca – a cheesecake that dates as far back as the middle ages when ‘white food’ was seen a decadent and contained expensive spices, in this case ginger. The evening was completed with the traditional espresso and much satisfied groaning as we pulled ourselves up from our chairs to wish our guests a pleasant journey home. Our night of Roman excess was an all round success.

The Wonky Madonna

Just right for a Christmas party cup it contains all those warming spices you associate with the festive season, this is a sweet, innocent-tasting drink with a hidden kick of chilli and alcohol. To make a non-alcoholic version, remove the Grand Marnier from the recipe, add a little sugar for sweetness and top up with tonic or soda water instead of prosecco. The spiced orange juice needs to be made the day before you want to serve the cocktail, to allow the flavours to infuse. If you buy the juice make sure it is only juice and doesn’t contain any other flavours or additives.
Makes 8–10 cocktails
For the spiced orange juice
300 ml (10 fl oz) freshly squeezed blood orange juice (either from fruits or a chilled carton)
200 ml (7 fl oz) water
3 ´ 8 cm (3 in) strips of orange zest (use a potato peeler to peel off the strips)
5 tablespoons Grand Marnier, Cointreau or brandy
1 small dried red chilli or 1/2 fresh chilli
1 ´ 5 cm (2 in) cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
 
To serve
1 bottle prosecco
Slices of orange to serve (optional)
Star anise to serve (optional)
Small cinnamon sticks to serve (optional)
To make the spiced orange juice, put all of the ingredients into a medium saucepan and bring to the boil. Cook for a couple of minutes and crush the spices gently with a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover and chill in the fridge overnight (or at least a few hours) to infuse the flavours.
Pour the syrup through a sieve into a jug and chill. When you are ready to serve, pour 50 ml (2 fl oz) of the Spiced Orange Juice into each champagne glass over a couple of ice cubes and top with prosecco. Decorate the glass with orange slices, star anise and cinnamon sticks if you like.
You can buy signed copies of our latest book ‘Rome – Centuries in an Italian Kitchen’ here.
 

A simply sublime dessert…

Whipped Ricotta with Rum and Fresh Berry Compote
Ricotta Montata con Rum e Composta di Bacche
 This glorious marriage of flavours has been around for centuries in Italy. It soothes with its cuddle of creamy sweetened ricotta. Add crushed Amaretti and preserved cherries; our favourite are the amarena cherries made by Fabbri and sold in pretty blue and white patterned jars. If you can’t find those, raspberries and strawberries when in season are also a suitable companion.
 S e r v e s 6–12
350 g (12 oz) ricotta
150 g (5 oz) whipping
cream
80 g (3 oz/ 2/3 cup) icing
(confectioners’) sugar
50 ml (2 fl oz) dark rum
 
To serve (optional)
1 jar preserved cherries
or other soft fruit
handful of Amaretti
biscuits
 
METHOD: Put all of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk
together by hand or with a hand-held blender until smooth. Adjust
the sugar and rum to your taste. Serve chilled in either 6 wine
glasses or 12 shot glasses on its own or with a few cherries and
some crushed Amaretti biscuits.
To order signed copies of ‘Rome – Centuries in an Italian Kitchen’ see here.
Photography: Helen Cathcart

Seabass Saltimbocca

This is one of our friend Stefania’s ‘supper in three ingredients’ recipes. She likes to have everything ready
around her, including a side dish of potatoes or Green Beans with Lemon, as it is a quick dish to cook.
Sea Bass with Parma Ham and Sage Leaves
Saltimbocca di Spigola
SeabassSaltimbocca web version
Serves 4
8 small skin-on sea bass
or sea bream fillets
(approx. 180 g/6 oz each)
salt and freshly ground
black pepper
4 slices prosciutto
8 large sage leaves
plain (all-purpose) or
‘00’ flour for dusting
2 tablespoons olive oil
50 ml (2 fl oz) white wine
30 g (1 oz) salted butter
 
METHOD: Season both sides of the fish. Cut the prosciutto in
half widthways so you have 8 slices. Lay a slice of prosciutto and
a sage leaf on top of the skinless side of the fish and fix them
into place with a toothpick. Repeat this for each fillet. Put some
flour into a bowl and dust each piece of fish in flour; shake off the
excess and put them on a plate.
 
Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan. Fry the fish prosciuttoside
down for 2 minutes and then turn over when just browned.
Fry skin-side down for another 2–3 minutes or until the fish is
cooked through. Add the wine and allow to evaporate. Stir in the
butter to thicken the sauce. Remove from the heat and serve the
fish straight away drizzled with the sauce.
For more recipes from ‘Rome – Centuries in an Italian Kitchen’ buy signed copies of the book here.