Monday, 4 April 2011

An Italian job

It is one of those strange things that I find myself thinking of whole cuisines in terms of the season. Mediterranean food is, of course, not for the colder months.

Now okay, on that basis, I knew little of Spanish food until our first visit, around six years ago and at a time of year that was pleasantly warm, but I’ve been eating pasta since God was on the verge of getting the keys to the front door, without any sense of that being only for sunny days.

But with the weather lightening and my body demanding different food, Saturday morning brought with it an urge to pull A Taste of Italy down off the shelf and dip in.

The first idea came from beyond those pages – from memories of Venice, indeed: lamb chops, grilled and served with lemon.

For some reason, I’d never really thought about that as pairing, but since having lamb chops served that way, I love it.

So the big question was what to serve with it?

Browsing through the aforementioned book, I noticed something I’d not spotted before: Arancini di riso. In essence, balls of saffron risotto, breadcrumbed and deep fried.

‘Interesting,’ I thought. And The Other Half seemed to react in the same way when the book was shoved under his nose to solicit an opinion.

So that was all decided. I also intended to do artichoke hearts in a viniagrette as a first course – very Italian – but not veg from the olive stall. I tried preparing artichokes a couple of years ago – and ended up with nothing.

The risotto was easy enough to make: the usual base, with thyme and saffron added. And obviously you need to make it pretty thick and gloopy. Then it sits for a while to cool.

It’s a messy business shaping the risotto mixture into balls and then rolling in breadcrumbs, but not particularly difficult. I popped the plate into the fridge then to let them firm up a bit.

Then it’s simply a question of heating oil and giving them around four minutes to cook before decanting onto greaseproof paper and serving as quickly as possible.

The chops were simply grilled until the fat was beautifully crisp.

By the time I’d seen just how many of the Arancini di riso there were, I decided to forget the artichokes.

The chops were lovely – and so were the little risotto balls. Crisp on the outside and lovely and soft inside. Traditionally, when you’re rolling the rice into a ball, you poke your finger into it to make a little hole, before filling that with a piece of cheese and covering over with more rice (which reminds me of a German potato dish where you stuff a crouton inside a potato dumpling before cooking it).

But I did without this since The Other Half doesn’t do cheese – and, whenever challenged by people about this idiosyncrasy, points out, at length, that it’s milk that’s gone off and why would you eat that.

Later, it was a question simply of serving some fruit with more of the previous evening’s white chocolate mousse and caramel sauce.

Yesterday, since he was leaving in mid-afternoon for a conference in Liverpool, I’d planned to use more of the pastry that I’d made on Friday for another tart. I’d already got some finely chopped shallot, leek and tenderstem broccoli cooking gently when he announced that, with time having simply rushed past, he’d have a quick bacon butty.

I finished the tart after he’d gone, with eggs and milk and seasoning and – after the realisation that this was mine, all mine! – some Stilton.

Around 40 minutes later, it came out of the oven, all lovely a golden and smelling gorgeous. And there was a double delight too, as it dawned on me that whatever was left over would do for a packed lunch today – thus my great problem was solved (at least for one day), with only the addition this morning of a few anchovy-stuffed olives.

And the Italian theme will continue tonight – but that’s another experiment and another story!

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