The Italian Job

Heading east we cross the border into Italy.

Many centuries ago (about 1295), it is said that Marco Polo travelled from the opposite direction, returning from Asia and was about to launch noodles a al pasta onto the Romans inflicting a legacy that would change the shape of Italian cuisine forever. Well, sorry to be a party pooper but its all falsehoods.

There are ancient manuscripts detailing the existence of pasta before Polo returned to Venice. In fact, Sicilian woodcutters leveled forests (where were the Greens when you need them?) during Ancient Roman times and replaced them with wheat crops. The Romans of Sicily made pasta from the excess wheat.

Which brings us to Spaghetti alla Carbonara …

… a slight tweaking and it becomes Pappardelle alla Carbonara (Pappardelle with Egg-Pancetta Sauce).

Why Pappardelle? It’s always fun hand-ripping large sheets of fresh egg pasta.

A  fresh pasta recipe is fairly straight forward. 100 grams of strong flour, one large egg, salt and a little olive oil. Just increase the recipe per the number of clientele, approximately 125 grams of pasta per person. You can make the pasta by hand or use a food processor.

I presented two versions of Carbonara to the family … the Classic Italian and the not so classic Aussie version.

I sourced the recipe for the Classic Italian version from Giuliano Bugialli’s book, The Fine Art of Italian Cooking. Black and white photographs with authentic Italian recipes. You will not see any bacon or cream in Signor Bugialli’s recipe.

Grab some pancetta, garlic and hot pepper flakes and cook in a saucepan with some olive oil on a low heat for 12 – 15 minutes. This is to render the fat from the pancetta. Meanwhile beat 2 eggs with 1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano (or Parmesan) cheese. Have a large quantity of boiling salted water ready for cooking the pasta. 1/2 kilogram of pasta is good. Once the pasta is al dente, drain and place in a serving bowl. Quickly spoon the pancetta mix over the pasta and add the egg and Parmesan mix. Toss and serve immediately. It’s delicious.

Carbonara no 2, the Aussie version, was the bacon, cream and onion arrangement –it didn’t deserve fresh pasta so I got the supermarket version.

No matter how much I tried to dumb it down, the Aussie style Carbonara proved more popular with the young-uns. Sorry Signor Bugialli.

Isobel’s Journey: France

So we have left Great Britain and ‘chunnelled’ our way to France, the next step on Isobel’s culinary journey. And who better to introduce oneself to the fine art of French Cuisine than the great man himself George Auguste Escoffier. I will never tire of paying tribute to this man who, apart from being a masterful chef and prolific author, was also a visionary who was determined on improving the working conditions of chefs.

So after checking if mushrooms would be okay for my anti-fungi daughter, (they were given the green light), we commenced preparation for Poulet Sauté Chasseur, recipe number 3198 from Escoffier’s The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery.

Using a whole free range chicken deboned and portioned (keep the carcase for stock), heat a large frying pan and sauté the seasoned portions of chicken in butter and olive oil. When the chicken is golden brown arrange in a braising pan and cover. In the same pan as the chicken was coloured, quickly cook mushrooms and shallots, add white wine, reduce and then add some brown chicken or beef stock. Reduce some more and then add some chopped tarragon to the pan. Pour over chicken and cook in a 170C oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Finish off with some coarsely chopped parsley.

This was accompanied with “Pommes Lyonnaise”. Lyon is a place in France that is famous for the onion and Paul Bocuse – one of the founders of Nouvelle Cuisine. Bocuse received a Commandeur de la Legion d’Honneur and the onion didn’t. Saute some slices of par cooked potatoes (Kestrels are okay) in  olive oil and butter until golden brown. Place on oven tray, then repeat with half the amount of sliced brown onion. When golden brown add to the potatoes and cook in the oven for 15 – 20 mins then add more coarsely chopped parsley to finish. I did notice after the meal, which was heartily devoured by the way, Isobel had put her mushrooms to the side of the plate …a fungi too far I suppose.

Dessert … Crème caramel of course. A lovely golden toffee poured into some ramekins. Seven eggs and 200 grams of sugar whisked together. Heat 1/2 litre of milk and 1/2 litre of cream with a little bit of grated fresh ginger (secret ingredient). Strain the liquid over the egg mixture, whisk and then pour into the ramekins. Sit ramekins in a water bath and cook at 170C for 35 mins then leave in fridge for at least 3 hours before serving.

Next stop … Italy.


Isobel’s journey: Britain

Let’s start this food blog with a journey – not mine but my young daughter, Isobel.

Later this year she is off on her maiden overseas journey. Okay it’s only a Contiki tour but for her a first introduction to the joys of travel: England, France, Monaco, Italy, Greece, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Lichtenstein. So before she heads off to Europe we decided to do a main and of course dessert from each country.

First cab, or we could say London cab off the the rank is of course Britain, famous for a cuisine born from hard times, a soil fond of producing carrots, onions and turnips and an obsession to give food odd names that will eventually provide half the laughs in Carry On films. Spotted dick, toad in the hole, bangers and mash, pig in a blanket and more tarts than Sidney James could poke a stick at.

For our mains we went back to industrial age, where we could find the beginnings of Lancashire Hotpot. Though we didn’t need to spend 16 hours in the cotton mills to recreate the experience – but this is slow cooking at its best. Put on before going to the factory and ready when you get home. Followed by Bread and Butter Pudding for dessert.

Take some lamb shoulder chop, go for lamb Osso Bucco style cut from the shanks. Lamb kidney was also used but the younger generation are a bit offal aversive. Saute off onion, carrots, rosemary and lay along the bottom of a good braising dish. Place sealed and seasoned meats on top and cover with beef stock (this is where the quality of stock will decide the flavour of the end product). Then peel and slice enough potatoes to cover over the lamb in a scallop style pattern. Drizzle some butter over the potatoes, season and bake for 2-2 1/2 hours on 160C. Potatoes will cook in stock and should finish with a golden brown finish. Serve and eat with great chunks of sour dough.

And you know bread and butter pudding is quite similar. Replace veg/meat with buttered old bread, replace stock with 1/2 milk, 1/2 cream, whole egg, vanilla and bake in a water bath in a 170C oven until custard is set and exposed bread is golden brown.

Next, France.