Quick and Easy Ribs

Last week I posted a photo on Facebook of some stick ribs I’d made for dinner. A friend back in the UK said to me that he loved ribs but couldn’t be bothered with all the effort to make them, I said there’s not much effort in ribs really. He talked about hours of marinating and then a long slow cooking time, not to mention the problem of cleaning the burnt bits off the baking tray. I laughed and told him my ribs take about 35-40 minutes from start to finish. He suggested I write about it here and share the recipe for him to try.

So this is my version of sticky ribs and the ingredients used, however as I make it by eye there’s no exact measurements.

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First thing I do is put the ribs into a saucepan of water with 3 or 4 star anise and bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 to 25 minutes while the sauce is made. The sauce is as follows: 1 teaspoon of English mustard, a good slosh of tomato ketchup, a few dashes of balsamic vinegar, a squirt of lemon, a hearty drizzle of honey. To this add black pepper, a teaspoon of ground cumin, a glug of chilli oil, (I use my own Olio Santo) if you don’t have chilli oil then dried chilli will do. I then add some ground star anise and a splash of red wine. Mix all of this together to make a loose paste.

Remove the ribs from the pan and dry them on kitchen paper then line a baking tray with baking parchment; you’ll see why later.

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Place the tray on a top shelf in a pre-heated oven, 200 degrees (180 for fan-assisted) and bake them for 15 minutes. Once the ribs are cooked remove from the oven and remove from the baking parchment. You’ll see that they come away easily and retain most of the sauce that usually sticks to the metal tray.

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Dispose of the parchment and you have a tray that needs just a quick wash: no scrubbing away welded on sauce. The only thing left to do is enjoy eating the ribs which are great with a cold beer.

Green Pies

Before moving to Italy a pie for me had either steak and kidney or chicken and mushrooms inside. I was never a fan of the British meat and potato pie, it just seemed odd to have a vegetable like the humble potato inside a pastry case and to be honest it felt like a reason to use less meat. But here in Italy they make pies filled with no meat at all and so far I’ve been lucky to have sampled some delicious ones. One of my favourites is artichoke pie (torta carciofo) and the best one I have ever tasted was made by Bruna and served during family lunch with friends in Lanciano.

Before moving from the UK I used to host what I called al fresco day, and I’d invite around thirty friends over and cook for them. During one of these days I did once make Antonio Carluccio’s torta verde (green pie) but my English friends eyed it with suspicion before turning their collective backs upon it. Sad really as it tasted fabulous.

So yesterday I was rifling through the freezer and grabbed some veg and shop bought pastry and  the result was my take on a green pie.

The ingredients were:

600g of frozen spinach

200g of blanched cime di rapa

2 broccoli florets that were rattling around at the bottom of the freezer drawer.

a handful of breadcrumbs

100g grated Italian cheese*

2 eggs

salt and pepper

Sorry that I can’t be precise on ingredients, but I just go by sight.

Cook the greens in a pan of boiling water, then rinse with cold water to retain the colour. Once cold squeeze the living daylights out of it to get rid of all the water. Add to a bowl with cheese, breadcrumbs and 2 eggs, season with salt and pepper and stir the mix together.

Filling

Next take a pack of pre-prepared shop bought pastry (100g) unroll it and line a baking dish that’s been lightly oiled. Don’t worry too much about neatness, as it’s all about taste not presentation. It’s a pie, It doesn’t have to look pretty.

Pastry

Once lined add the mix and pat down so there’s no pockets of air.

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Fold over the edges of the pastry, try to cover as much of the pie as you can, but don’t worry too much if there’s a few gaps, a rustic tart can be just as nice as prissy pie. Give it an egg wash then put it into your oven for about 25 minutes until the top is golden brown. I have a temperamental oven so the actual temperature is a mystery to me.

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Once cooked turn it out and let it cool. I know it’s tempting to dive right in but best not as hot pie can play havoc with the soft tissue of your mouth’s interior.

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Once cool, slice and eat at your leisure. It doesn’t last very long in this house to be honest as slices seem to disappear at an alarming rate.

Don’t be tempted to us a good quality parmesan cheese, it’s all about tasting the veggies so a shop bought generic Italian cheese mix will suffice. Other fillings that work really well like artichokes are, asparagus and broccoli, spinach and pine nuts and a mix of cime di rapa, cicoria and radichio which makes a lovely bitter tasting tart best served cold with antipasti.

Passata Preparation

In Italy the humble tomato is king.

Almost every home has a plot of land where tomatoes are grown in rows. Even people with no land have pots on balconies where they have a few plants. In the summer it’s not unusual to stumble across great patches of land that host hundreds of plants, all standing proud with fat red fruits hanging from them.

101_0400 With the lighter nights now, the countryside is alive with people getting ready for summer. Tractors, strimmers and all manner of machines buzz, whirr and squeal; the tranquillity of nature is given over to chaos for a few weeks. So thoughts turn to seed sowing.

My tomato seedlings; started in an electric propagator have been doing well and are spending their days outside in the sunshine before being brought back inside in the evening.

This year I have around 125 young plants which will be divided between my orto and friends. I’ll keep around 30-35 plants for myself and although some of the plump red tomatoes will end up in salads over the summer, most will be turned into passata and stored for use throughout the year.

101_0401There’s lots of recipes out there for passata di pomodoro and if you have a passapomodoro machine or  spremipomodoro as they’re sometimes called it’s easy to make.

The Italian way is to make the rich red sauce: a staple of Italian cooking and store it in glass jars, and it’s not unusual for families to be eating sauce made several summer’s before.

I’m not good with trusting my ability to seal the jars sufficiently no matter how long I boil them for once packed, so I freeze my stash. Now, there’s nothing worse than the freezer being so full you can’t find what you want. So we come to the point of this blog post, which is to share with you a handy little tip for storing your passata and using freezer space effectively. (Works well for soups and other liquids).

DSCF7218I start to save empty tetra packs like the milk one pictured around about this time of year. It is best to only use the same carton, the reason will become evident as you read on.

Take a sharp knife or scissors and cut the carton into half .

Discard the top half and toss it into your recycling box.DSCF7219

 

With the bottom half, wash it, dry it and store it. Keep cutting and saving until you have around 10 of them at hand, ready to use in late summer when the passata making starts with the tomato glut.

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Once you’ve harvested and made your sauce, line the cartons with clear polythene freezer bags and fill with sauce and tie the tops. Remember to leave space for the liquid to expand a little as it freezes.

Once the liquid is frozen remove the blocks from the cartons and because you only used one type of carton they’re all the same size, meaning you can now stack them to save freezer space.

Wash and retain the cartons and reuse the cartons for your next batch. Once the tomato harvest as finished toss the cartons into the recycling until you repeat the process the following year.