This week I was wondering what to make for lunch and a quick look in the fridge revealed a cauliflower, chicken thighs and some caciocavallo cheese: Caciocavallo meaning ‘cheese on horseback’ is a sheep or cow’s milk cheese that is good for melting. I’m not keen on it melted on toast, I still prefer a mature Cheddar, but it’s good melted on pizza or as I’m about to find out, on cauliflower. I set the iPod to play and Poly Styrene’s album Translucence starts to play, the opening bars of Essence give me an idea so I grab a little packet of Moroccan spices I got a few months back and my mind starts to go into creation mode.
First I separate the cauliflower florets and pop them into boiling water to blanch for 5 minutes. Next the chicken breasts are placed into an oven-proof dish and have a dusting of black pepper, cinnamon, Himalayan salt and garlic salt followed by a drizzle of olive oil. Next I make a spiced paste for the cauliflower. To a bowl I add a tablespoon of honey, 3 teaspoons of the Moroccan spice, 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds and the juice of half a lemon.
The oven is set at 180 (fan) and the chicken breasts are covered with tin foil and popped inside. The cauliflower is drained and covered in the spice mix and then placed into an oven-proof dish and placed inside the oven to roast alongside the chicken. After 20 minutes I remove the chicken and drain off any juices and put these aside to freeze for a tasty base for a brodo, soup or risotto.
The chicken needs just 7 minutes cooking uncovered to crisp up the skin, so I slice some of the cheese and place it on top of the cauliflower and return it to the oven.
After resting the chicken for a couple of minutes the cheese has melted into the cauliflower so the final job is just plating up, sitting down and eating it. It made a great midweek lunch with enough cauliflower left over to freeze or to have the following day.
Last week here in middle Italy there’s been somewhat of an Asian influence.
First I spent a day making some spicy chapattis. As around these parts it can get difficult to find wholemeal flour let alone authentic chapatti flour, I make mine with a mix of Italian tipo oo and semolina flour. I first tossed some black mustard, coriander and cumin seeds along with a couple of chillies into a dry pan and heated them until the spices began to dance in the pan and perfume the kitchen air. I then ground them and added them to my flour mix before making the chapatti in the traditional way, even if they are often not perfectly circular.
The following day I received an email telling me that a local bar was staging an evening of Indian food. Locally there’s been several of these events and despite people’s negativity they have proven quite popular with the younger population.
I open my fridge on this particular day and realise I have still got an aubergine that I haven’t used yet, so in keeping with the Indian theme I chop an onion and several garlic cloves and make a couple of jars of Brindjal chutney, which is a perfect snack accompaniment to a warm spicy chapatti.
The Asian theme continues on throughout the week with my making a hot Thai green curry, obviously there’s a few ingredients that you can’t find in rural Italy, but with a can of coconut milk from inside the kitchen cupboard, some pureed ginger, a couple of cubes of frozen spinach and my imagination it all came together splendidly.
The following morning, with the kitchen clinging to the Asian aromas still, I turned on the iPod and the first song to shuffle was, Crazy Kiya Re from the Bollywood movie Dhoom2.
This week it’s felt like Abruzzo has been twinned with Delhi and heve we felt the better for this?… You bet we do.
With autumn dressing the trees in various shades of brown and gold, I removed the tired tomato plants from the side of the house that has been our makeshift orto. From the four plants, we have had a a good crop and had to purchase no tomatoes until a week or so ago. There was still a glut of green un-ripened fruits hanging from the trusses, so I picked them and left them in a bowl on the kitchen counter until I decided what to do with them. A few evenings ago we were given a bag of fruit from our friends up at the Olive House, as they have an abundance of apples in their orchard. So yesterday I decided to make some green tomato chutney.
I’ve never made chutney before. I do make homemade sweet chilli sauce and I did once make jam in school. So chutney being mid-way between chilli sauce and jam, shouldn’t be too hard a task. I started by peeling the strongest onions this side of the fires in Hell, and like a teen who’s favourite boy-band had just announced their slit, I chopped them as tears poured from my eyes. I measured out the apple vinegar and weighed the tomatoes and apples. I grabbed a few spices and an opened bag of sultanas from the kitchen cupboard, chopped a couple of chillies and I was ready to make chutney.
As the iPod played the Tobi Legend, Northern Soul classic, Time Will Pass You By, I rubbed my eyes and forgetting that I’d chopped chillies, I instantly went blind. Idiot. With cold water splashed onto my face my vision began to restore itself as the music shuffled and the Pointer Sisters sang, Slow Hand. I chopped the two and a half kilo’s of green tomatoes and the kilo of tiny Italian apples and decided on the spot that if I had to change careers, I’d never choose commis chef. Once all the ingredients were assembled it was a case of fill the largest saucepan I owned and put a light under it. As soon as it came to the boil I turned down and just let it bubble away for a couple of hours.
Towards the end of the cooking process, three-hours in I turned up the heat to allow it to thicken and reduce the remaining liquid. I set about washing jars in boiling water and popped them into the oven to dry. As soon as the jars had been sterilised in the oven we filled them which was no mean feat, hot jars and hot chutney pose their own handling problems. But with two large jars and a standard sized one filled, I had a self-satisfied smile as the iPod shuffled and my jars of chutney were serenaded by Sinead O’Connor singing Troy (Live in London).
I barbecued some thick steaks tonight and had them with the chutney, it tasted amazing. Maybe I’ll look into this making chutney malarkey in more detail