Stock: The Cook’s Best Friend

I’ve just put two tubs of homemade chicken stock inside the freezer as it’s the best thing to have in the kitchen. It’s great for risotto, polenta and soups and much nicer than the powdered stocks with chemicals and added salt. It’s simple to make and currently in my freezer there’s beef stock, chicken stock and roast duck stock. It’s so simple to make, it’s literally just the bones, bits of leftover meat and the meat juices added to a pan of water, bring to the boil and simmer for about 40 minutes. Strain through a sieve, let it cool and freeze it – job done.

IMG_1424

One thing I’ve learned is homemade stock is good for is gravy. Here in Italy no one makes gravy, occasionally a red wine jus but for us Northern English people, gravy is the ambrosia of the gods.

IMG_1419

I’ve been on the earth for numerous years now and in this last month I’m been proud to say I have learned the art of making good gravy. This is all down to the acclaimed chef Paul Ainsworth. I’ve attempted gravy in the past and it’s always been a horrid brown mess, but Mr Ainsworth was on the TV in December showing how to make the perfect Christmas gravy. I took his advice and since then there’s been no stopping me.

Last evening we had roast chicken, with red cabbage and potatoes and my chicken/garlic gravy. To make the gravy I used: 1 pot of chicken stock from the freezer about 450 ml, some frozen sofritto ( cubed onion, carrot and celery) 4 garlic cloves the meat juices from the roasted chicken and a splash of white wine.

IMG_1414

Add all the ingredients into a saucepan and simmer for 10 minutes, I take the wings off the bird and add them into the pan too. Season with white pepper and let it simmer for a further 5 minutes then pass through a sieve. Add the liquid back into the pan and add a spoonful of flour to thicken it, stir until there’s no lumps and that’s it, all done, chicken and  garlic gravy.

IMG_1423

The next day I just add the bones and left-over meat to water; after picking a few titbits off for the dogs and simmered, sieved and stored in two trays until it’s needed next time.

It’s not Rocket Science

I was watching a British chef on television this week enthusing about risotto; in fact he was making so much noise about it’s preparation that you’d think he was solving complex equations rather than making a simple Italian rice dish. I turned off the TV and went shopping for some ingredients to make my own and so here’s my recipe for pancetta and asparagus risotto with none of the bells and whistles. For this recipe which serves 4 people, you’ll need:

1 red onion. 500g Arborio rice*. 500g asparagus. 100g soft cheese. 100g cubed pancetta. 400 ml vegetable stock and 2 garlic cloves. You’ll need salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon to season. A glass of white wine and my special asparagus stock.

To make my asparagus stock for extra flavour, Snap off the bottom inch or so of the asparagus using your fingers; the stems will naturally break where the tough woody part ends and the tender stem begins, then cut the green tip from the woody stem and add to 600 ml of boiling water. Let the asparagus cook until the water has reduced by half and the stems are so soft they can be crushed between a finger and thumb. Add to a blender and whizz up into a green liquid.

DSCF1406

Now you’re ready to make the risotto. Chop the onion roughly, no need to create equal sided cubes as years ago I was told by an Italian restaurant owner that risotto should be rustic and comforting. Flash fry the onion and pancetta in a little olive oil (not extra virgin) for 3 or 4 minutes and then put to one side. To the pan add some olive oil and when hot add the rice and the 2 whole garlic cloves, stir the rice until it’s got a coating of oil then add the white wine and stir again before removing and discarding the garlic cloves as we just want a hint of its flavour. Add the pancetta and onion followed by the 300 ml of asparagus broth; don’t go in for all of this a ladle full at a time nonsense, just pour it in and keep the rice moving as it starts to cook.

DSCF1395

When the rice has absorbed the liquid turn the pan on the hob 180 degrees; this stops the rice sticking and burning in one spot of the pan. Add half of the vegetable stock and continue stirring, add salt and pepper to season and repeat when the liquid has been once more absorbed. Once the rice is cooked and the liquid absorbed take it off the heat and add the soft cheese and place a lid or a plate over the pan as it melts into the rice.

DSCF1400

I use stracchino, a young cow’s milk cheese also know as crescenza, if you don’t want to add cheese simply substitute it for 50g of unsalted butter. Once it’s melted I give the pot one final stir and a squeeze of lemon juice and it’s ready to serve up.

I had one lonely slice of ham languishing in my fridge so I ripped it up and tossed this into the pot alongside the onion and pancetta rather than waste it. If you have a few left-over mushrooms you could add these if you like, in fact anything can be added to a risotto to save waste.

DSCF1401

* If you prefer your risotto made with either Roma or Carnaroli rice this is okay, I use Arborio as that’s my personal preference.

There you have it, una ricetta semplice (a simple recipe) for risotto without all the fussing and faffing of a television chef.

The Saucepan and OCD

There’s a saying that goes something like, never judge a book by its cover. Now,  before anyone thinks, is this another blog posting about writing, let me say right now that it’s actually got bog all about writing. Well that is if we pass over the fact that I used a cliché in the opening paragraph and that age old question, are clichés bad? Well, come to think about it, yes they are, very bad indeed – now for those interested in the mechanics of writing, go discuss, for those interested in mindless waffle from a Potteries bloke living in Italy, continue on.

The reason I say you should never judge is because you can fall foul of finding out just what an arse you are and in my case it’s all down to a saucepan. I’ve been coming to Italy since 1988, my first visit was on September 8, now is it OCD or autism, that the date is cemented into my memory, a friend once told me that because I have the ability to retain numbers easily, I could be on the autistic spectrum. You see I remember things like phone numbers, car registrations and UK postcodes: Don’t get me started, you give me a postcode anywhere in the United Kingdom, and I’ll tell you to where in the country it belongs. But I digress, so let’s back to the saucepan. 100_6040

In all the hardware shops, market stalls and department stores, they sell what I’ve always referred to as cheap pans; I use the phrase cheap not because they are comparatively inexpensive but as a derogatory term. They always seemed to be a cheaply fashioned piece of aluminium, that I imagined wouldn’t be very serviceable and easily damaged. Oh, how wrong was I, I purchased one two weeks ago for the princely sum of €3,50 and haven’t stopped using it yet. It conducts heat so much better than my thick bottomed expensive ones purchased in the UK, it cleans easier and don’t ask me how, but the handles don’t get hot. Now I realise that all those years of sneering at saucepans was wasted. No wonder the Italian’s use them, they’re brilliant. I can boil a pan of pasta in half the time and it cuts down on risotto time enough to enable the cook to squeeze in another glass of wine with the guests.

So what has this saucepan got to do with my OCD? Well not much, in fact in the scheme of things this will be possibly the most tenuous link you’ll ever see. The other day I put the saucepan in the washing up bowl and went outside onto the patio: how pretentious am I; patio – it’s a flat bit of concreted land out front. Anyway out front was a line of washing drying in the early evening sunshine. I looked at it and instantly knew that something was wrong with it. Look at the picture below and can you see what’s wrong?

Washing 1

Obviously, the towels shouldn’t be mixed with the T shirt, but it’s the flagrant misuse of pegs. Two to each item equals an uneconomical usage of pegs. Also this leads to spaces between the clothing making optimum wind for drying is wasted. Now if you share the pegs between items the gaps are reduced making the washing flap in the breeze more effectively leading to a shorter drying time. Also if you group the slower drying things together, then you spend less time repositioning items as you remove the dry ones from their section of the washing line.

Washing 2

Now for those of you who think there’s more to life than worrying about washing on a line, let me say I agree. And for those who say I have too much time on my hands, I also say, I agree. But then again, I do have OCD, so for me it’s perfectly natural to think about these things. It could be worse, I could check the doors locked twenty times before I go out, or wash my hands fifty times after touching fish or obsess over which brand of pencil to write with. Come to think about it, the pencil thing is true…

…maybe it’s time to lie down in a darkened room.