Today is a public holiday in Italy. The children wait to see if the Befana – that judgmental old lady – will dole out presents or a lump of charcoal, and the Church celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings – Caspar, Balthazar and Melchior.
I am including here a link to T.S. Eliot reading one of my favourite poems ‘The Journey of the Magi’
November was very busy and Christmas jumped up on me before I was really ready. The food and wine were ordered and collected (you note my priorities) but I was still struggling with the Christmas tree when Jamie, the first grandson to arrive, came to take over. This year I was happy to abdicate some of the responsibility to the boys. Daughters come home to relax and be cosseted but grandsons demonstrate their ability and dreams of world domination. I cooked on the 23rd and 24th while they took over the drinks and clearing up, but on Christmas Day Alex and Max cooked a full English breakfast and then banished me from the kitchen as they produced a magnificent, festive meal served with panache at 6pm. Jamie was persuaded (I thought it wise not to ask for method) to act as skivvy. He seemed to enjoy it all as he shared in the glory, but he could be heard muttering that he wished he had been born first.
After Christmas we flew to Marrakech to celebrate the end of the year and we had a wonderful time eating at my favourite places discovered on my ‘gourmet tours’, and shopping for extra presents. The sellers in the souks have learned to step back and allow you to look before they start their sales talk and it is so much more relaxing. I think they have learned people buy more when they are left alone. I am offering Marrakech for a few days after the Andalusia adventure in April and both Spain and Morocco can be booked separately. Full details on my web site and I will be sending out a programme for this year’s adventures later this week.
For those of you who missed it before I am attaching the recipe for the very light Moroccasn breakfast pancakes. They are so light and easy I often serve them in the evening instead of blinis with smoked salmon and sour cream.
The weather here in Rome and Ferentino is glorious. Every morning it is sunny and warm enough to have a quick breakfast on the terrace. I think the local families, with the shutters firmly closed because it is winter, are now used to the mad, eccentric ‘Signora Inglese’ and nobody bothers to peek at me enjoying the sun in my pyjamas. Once the sun goes in it gets very cold and time to turn up the heating and light a fire in the bedroom.
This year I am going to spend more time writing and travelling but I will be running some 3 day classes in Rome. Details will be on my web site. In April there will be an exciting gourmet adventure in Andalusia and/or Marrakech and in May there is the Don Alfonso Experience on the Amalfi Coast and Sicily. There is still some space if you move quickly.
Of course there will be Greece in September and Budapest in October. I have been asked to do a trip for the olive harvest in Tuscany or Sicily, let me know if you are interested.
These pancakes are only cooked on one side so do not cook on too high a heat. The top should be full of bubbles.
125 g flour
150 g fine semolina
2 t baking powder
½ t sugar
1 t salt
15g fresh yeast or equivalent active dry yeast
250 ml warm water
250 ml milk
Put the water, yeast and sugar in your blender and let stand for at least 5 minutes.
Add milk, egg baking powder and salt and blend until smooth.
Cover and leave to stand for about half an hour.
Wipe the bottom of a small, non.stick pan with a kitchen towel and a few drops of olive oil. Blend the mixture for a few seconds then add a small quantity of batter to make a thin pancake. Cook the first pancake in a cold pan. After a few minutes remove and put on a cloth. Do not stack until they have cooled or they will stick together. Blend the mixture every so often to keep it fluffy. When all the pancakes have cooled they can be stacked. In Morocco they are served with some honey stirred into melted butter and a few drops of orange flower water can be added.
Roast veal shank (Stinco al forno)
Versions of this can be found in many regions in Italy, using pork as well as veal. It needs slow cooking, but it is quite effortless if you can persuade your butcher to supply the shank.
1 or 2 veal shanks weighing about 2.5 k (the bone is weighty)
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1 cup chopped onion
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup virgin olive oil
flour for dusting
Dust the “stinco” with flour and put in a roasting pan with the oil, wine and vegetables. Season well and cook in a pre-heated oven 180 C. for 2 hours. When the meat is cooked, purée the vegetables and cooking liquid, and serve very hot, in thin slices with the sauce on the side.