Ciao Bella

Last week I got together with friends to cook Italian food.  Unfortunately, our hosts had received some horribly upsetting news just a few days prior to our get together — they’d lost a very dear friend in dreadful circumstances!  I had met that friend on several occasions and I remember her very fondly, so I would like to dedicate this post to Vivian Hart.

Our menu was as follows:

  • Cheese stuffed roasted mini peppers
  • Caponata
  • Rosemary and olive oil focaccia
  • Spinach and ricotta gnocchi
  • Chicken with agrodolce sauce

If the list of dishes sounds ambitious, we did have a few things to nibble on while we were cooking!  And although it sounds like a lot of work, there were five pairs of hands to do the preparing and cooking, and I find that Italian food is not as labour intensive as say North African cuisines — that is apart from home made pasta!

The cheese stuffed roasted mini peppers were very straightforward to prepare.  The trimmed whole peppers were roasted until soft and starting to brown.

Once they were cool enough, a slit was cut into the side of each pepper, and they were stuffed with a mixture of goat’s cheese, mozzarella and basil.  Here they are, ready to go into the oven again:

We served the peppers with a few spears of cooked asparagus, which had been drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan shavings.

Together with a campari spritz (campari, prosecco, sparkling water, slice of orange) this was a perfect appetizer!!

The recipe for the caponata came from Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book – if you don’t have your own copy already, I would warmly recommend that you buy that book – it’s absolutely packed with good recipes AND good writing!

I have previously written about making caponata — you can find my recipe via this link.

Essentially, caponata is a stew made with onions, aubergines (eggplant), celery, tomatoes, olives and capers.  The results will vary, depending on the recipe and method you use — there are many, many variations of the recipe out there!

We served the caponata with home made rosemary and olive oil focaccia — a typical Italian flatbread.  Here is the dough, already shaped and after it had risen a second time:

Here is the dough with the “dimples”, which are simply made by pressing the fingertips into the dough, and with the rosemary olive oil drizzled over:

… and 20 minutes later, fresh from the oven: 🙂

The fresh focaccia was delicious in combination with the caponata:

The recipe for the spinach and ricotta gnocchi involved a fair bit of chopping, but once that was done the dough was fairly quick and straightforward to prepare.

The dough was shaped into walnut-sized balls which were refrigerated for 30 minutes or more before being boiled.

The finished gnocchi were delicious!  A regular portion consists of 8-9 gnocchi.  I knew that we still had our main course to eat, so I held back a little! 🙂

The recipe for chicken with agrodolce sauce came from the olive magazine website, as did the focaccia recipe.  Once all the ingredients had been prepared, the cooking was very quick!

The chicken escalopes were dipped in flour and browned on both sides:

Next, the vegetables (onion, celery and tomatoes) were stir fried:

After the vinegar and sugar had been added to the vegetables, the escalopes were returned to the pan and cooked for a few minutes together with the vegetables:

The whole cooking process took no more than 15 minutes and the resulting main course was scrumptious!

We finished our meal with some fresh cherries and strawberries, and more reminiscences of our dear departed friend.

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Buonissimo – Italian food

The theme for our most recent “cooking with friends” get-together was Italian food and our hosts were the owners of La Petite Pepiniere in Caunes Minervois.

For our menu the following had been decided:

The recipe for the pimientos came from Italian Food by Elizabeth David.  As with many of her recipes the instructions leave some room for interpretation. 🙂  The peppers are grilled and peeled, and left to marinate in olive oil with a very little lemon juice.  After they have marinated for about half an hour they are cut into strips lengthwise.  On each strip is put a chopped anchovy fillet and some chopped capers.  Each pepper strip is then rolled up to form a sausage shape.

When the peppers were all done that way, they were arranged on a platter and garnished with some chopped parsley.

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The next course was a very refreshing salad made with fennel, cucumber and radishes, all thinly sliced and dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and a little salt and pepper.

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No self-respecting Italian meal would be complete without its pasta course.  Our pasta course consisted of mushroom ravioli, with a white wine and tarragon cream sauce.  Below are the ingredients we used (note, we didn’t use the chicken breast specified in the recipe):

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First the pasta dough was made, as that needed to rest for a good half hour before being rolled out.  While the dough was resting, the filling was cooked:  the onions were finely chopped (in the food processor) and slowly cooked with some olive oil, garlic and thyme.  The finely chopped mushrooms (again done in the food processor) were added, and the whole cooked until the mushrooms were tender and had “dried out” somewhat.

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Next came the fun part – rolling out the pasta dough!!  With he help of a pasta machine it was easy and great fun!  We ended up with three long strips.

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We deviated from the recipe in that we put the filling all down one side of each sheet and then folded it over to make our ravioli – doing it that way worked very well for us!

Here are the finished ravioli, before being cooked:

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The spinach was supposed to be cooked separately and the ravioli served arranged on top of it, but we decided to give the spinach a miss.  The sauce was simple to prepare:  onions and shallots were cooked over gentle heat until golden, white wine was added and cooked a few minutes to allow the alcohol to evaporate, then the cream and tarragon were added and heated through.  Very delicious!!

For our main course our hosts had choosen Osso Bucco Milanese – stewed shin of veal.  Since this is a dish which requires long and slow simmering, it was already cooking when we arrived.  The recipe again came from Elizabeth David’s Italian Food.

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To round off this meal, we baked an Italian almond cheesecake:

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It was one of the first dishes we prepared that afternoon, as it required a fair amount of cooking and cooling time.  Here’s what it looked like fresh from the oven:

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Once all our dishes were pretty much finished we had a little break.  I took the opportunity to wander about the beautiful show garden at La Petite Pepiniere, and took a few pictures for you.  The flowers are all different varieties of cistus, a native plant to the Languedoc region.

Soon it was time to sit down to our feast:

Pimientos stuffed with anchovies and capers

Pimientos stuffed with anchovies and capers

Fennel, cucumber and radish salad

Fennel, cucumber and radish salad

Mushroom ravioli with a white wine, cream and tarragon sauce

Mushroom ravioli with a white wine, cream and tarragon sauce

Osso bucco milanese, served with plain risotto

Osso bucco milanese, served with plain risotto

Italian almond cheesecake

Italian almond cheesecake

And what a feast it was!!  A big thank you to our hosts for choosing such wonderful dishes!

 

Bring it on – a collection of recent cook club food

It’s been a few months since I last shared the exploits of our cookery group with you.  So it’s time to catch you up on what we’ve been cooking AND eating! 🙂  A note before I start – I don’t have the recipes for all of the dishes we cooked.  Where possible I have included the links to the relevant recipes.

Early in the summer, my friend in Narbonne hosted our get together with an Italian theme.  It was prime peach season, so we started our session with Bellini cocktails – peach juice and sparkling wine – way to go!!

For the starter we cooked stuffed round courgettes, which were accompanied by home-made foccacia bread.

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Our main course was vitello tonnato, thinly sliced cold veal (poached the day before), covered with a tuna fish mayonnaise sauce, and decorated with anchovy fillets.  With the vitello tonnato we had a beautifully crunchy salad of green beans and radishes.

For dessert we prepared peach amaretto mess – a take on Eaton mess.  For those of you not familiar with this dessert, it is generally made with whopped cream, meringues and crushed strawberries. You can see how decadent it looked, and it tasted very, very good!

A month later I hosted a Mexican themed session – I adore Mexican food, and perhaps I got a little carried away in my menu planning.  We had a lot to cook and eat!!  Here are the Mojitos we started with:

Some years ago visitors from Texas brought me a cast-iron tortilla press (THANK YOU, Susan and Alan!!), and I decided we could make use of that, to make our own corn tortillas.  For the first course we prepared Ham and chesese quesadillas with mango salsa:

This was followed by a Ceviche of scallops with avocado:

 

Our main course was Meat in tasty broth in the fashion of Guadalajara.  It really was very tasty, and a meal in itself, accompanied by beans and grilled spring onions.

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We also had a Spinach salad with amaranth seeds with our main course!  We were starting to feel rather full at this point!!  So full in fact, that we decided to forego the dessert we had prepared (bunuelos, a kind of doughnut, served with an anise flavoured syrup), and the Mexican hot chocolate!!  🙂  We had a great time with all that lovely food though!

An afternoon of Caribbean food was hosted by my friends in Caunes-Minervois. I was put in charge of preparing the Simple Coconut and bean soup.  It was pretty simple and incredibly delicious!!

Jerk chicken kebabs with mango salsa were our main course, but we all agreed that the jerk seasoning mixture was too spicy and lacking depth of flavour.

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With the chicken kebabs we had exotic avocado salad, made prettier with the addition of pomegranate seeds. 🙂

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Our dessert that day was spiced glazed pineapple with cinnamon fromage frais – quite a mouthful, that recipe name, but a delicious ending to a wonderful meal!

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Our most recent get-together was held in La Caunette, and it had a vegetarian theme.  I have to admit that I was too distracted with the cooking, to be able to take many photographs.  The recipes we used were all taken from Simon Hope’s book “Entertaining with Friends”.

Our first course was a delicious salad topped with a goat’s cheese crouton:

The grilled tomatoes were for a sauce to accompany the corn fritters, which got eaten so quickly that I did not get a chance to take a picture 😦

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The parsnip croquettes were delicious too!

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I was in charge of making the wild mushroom filo parcels – a delicious, if somewhat involved recipe.

I managed to slightly overcook the filo parcels – they were nicely crisp, but a little too brown to be photogenic!! 🙂  No, they weren’t burnt to cinders, how could you??

For dessert we had kiwi compote, which I enjoyed more than my fellow cooks did.

So here you have it, four very different cookery sessions, with very different foods.  What all the sessions have in common though, is that they were all highly enjoyable and that we would probably not have tried to cook the food we prepared on our own.  If you enjoy cooking and food, why not start your own cookery group with some of your friends??  You’ll have fun, I promise!!