The end of 2011 – Rome, Amalfi Coast and Istanbul

In Italy today is the first working day after Christmas but many people take the ponte, or bridge, and go on celebrating until after the New Year; the really decadent stretch the holiday to include the 6th January which is known as the Befana . Originally it was the day when the witch-like old woman gave good children presents and naughty children a mere lump of charcoal, but for today’s children the whole period seems to be a never-ending trail of presents. I prefer to think of January 6th as ‘Twelfth Night’ with its images of Shakespearean dress, 12 lords a leaping and T:S:Eliot’s ‘Journey of the Magi – ‘A cold coming we had of it—-‘

I had ‘flu over Christmas so I had a very quiet time but my appetite was not affected. Traditionally fish is eaten for the elaborate Christmas Eve dinner but I felt the need for comfort food and so I stole some of the pastry I had made for mince pies and cooked the artichoke and cuttlefish soup with the pastry lids. I substituted calamari (squid) because no seppie were to be found. I am giving you the recipe for this and the lamb cacciatora I enjoyed on Christmas Day.

It is a crisp, sunny day and I am doing some work on my February gourmet adventure in India. There are still some places available for the May Istanbul magic so do look at my web site and allow yourself to succumb to temptation. Each year Istanbul gets a little more European and the shopping is paradise but come now while my website description still holds true.
“this magical city stirs the imagination and the narrow streets seem to echo with the footsteps of janissaries and crusaders. In the tiled courtyards we hear the whisper of silken girls bringing sherbet and the splashing fountains suggest the plaintive sounds of the tanbur, or lute. Come and be enchanted.”

Rome is always lovely and this Christmas the cooking school round window framed the city’s great Christmas tree and a lovely simple Nativity scene. I sat with a glass of wine on the window seat watching the cars zooming out of the city for the holidays. I am looking forward to the January lessons because every month brings new produce to the local food markets and there is a chance to cook the hearty dishes not to be thought of in the warmer months. I have special weekend classes in January and February when Rome is not as busy and by the time I get back from India spring will be well on its way.
I have not run the Amalfi Coast school for several years because I got distracted by adventures outside of Italy. Several people have asked me to put it back in April or September. Let me know if you would be interested.

Here are the recipes :

­Cuttlefish and Artichoke Soup
(Zuppa di seppie e carciofi)

Liguria makes good use of an interesting combination of cuttlefish and artichokes. Various versions exist but my favourite entails serving the stew in individual ovenproof bowls which are topped with a crisp pastry lid. Just before the first delicious spoonful a smart tap to the crust sends
crisp flakes into the rich, fragrant liquid. By increasing the quantities this recipe can make a good
main course.

6 artichokes
6 medium sized cuttlefish
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
chopped parsley
100 ml. dry white wine
30 ml. olive oil
1 litre vegetable stock made from carrot, onion, celery
and bay leaf, plus some artichoke if available
salt black pepper

Optional – 300 g flour and 150 g butter or margarine for the pastry lids

Clean the artichokes, removing the tough outer leaves and the stringy tops of the leaves. Cut the artichokes into six segments and remove the ‘choke’. The cut artichokes must be rubbed with lemon and placed in a bowl of water and flour or lemon juice to prevent them changing colour.

If you have time make a vegetable stock with some discarded artichoke leaves added to the stock vegetables. Add the garlic to the heated oil and when it begins to change colour add the rinsed and dried artichokes, a few segments at a time. Fry gently for a few minutes then remove with a slotted spoon and keep aside. Brown the sliced cuttlefish in the same oil and then simmer for about 30 minutes in the sieved vegetable stock. Season to taste, add the artichoke slices and simmer for another 10 minutes. If you want to make the pastry lids spoon into ovenproof bowls and seal a pastry crust over the top. Brown in a hot oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Lamb, hunter style (Abbacchio alla cacciatora)

There are many, many variations of “cacciatora” recipes, and no one has ever explained the origin of this dish to my satisfaction.
Most recipes contain vinegar and it has been said this was to preserve the meat so that the hunters could take it with them when they set out to hunt. I find this strange since it would seem more normal for the hunters to hunt for their food, and barbecue it on the spot !

1 k leg of lamb, chopped into pieces weighing about 45 g.
If you prefer to use meat off the bone add some pieces of the bone in the initial cooking which you can later discard.
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 T fresh rosemary needles, chopped
1 T flour
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup dry white wine, or water
4 T olive oil
salt and black pepper

Heat 3 T oil and quickly brown the seasoned lamb on all sides. Sprinkle over the garlic and herbs and stir around the pan. Sprinkle the flour over the lamb, stir round the pan then pour in the vinegar. Stir for a few minutes, add 1 cup of water, cover and simmer. Add more water or white wine slowly if it becomes too dry.
When the lamb is tender remove with a slotted spoon. The thick, dark sauce should be sieved, seasoning checked, then poured over the meat.

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