Snow and Stew

As most of Europe is currently under attack from Arctic blasts and ‘thundersnow’ we didn’t escape it here in Abruzzo. The snow is finally thawing following a seven-day period of deep deposits. It all looked very pretty, but it was so deep in places that villages were cut off, not to mention water pipes frozen and electricity lines going down.

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So trapped at home until the lane can be cleared I turned to passing the time getting used to induction cooking. We don’t have mains gas in our lane and have used a gas bottle cooker for the past few years, it was sufficient for our needs until in autumn a field mouse took up residence in the back and chewed through the pipe to the oven. Now I have a nice fan-assisted electric oven I thought it may be a good idea to go all electric to remove the need to buy and store gas bottles. I was helping a friend prepare lunch using her induction hob and was so impressed I went out and got myself one. I then spoke with another friend who had a double hob for sale, and so now I am learning to use them and thus far I’ve been impressed with the speed of cooking and the control of the heat.

So I decided this week to use the hob for something more challenging than an omelette or boiling pasta and set to making a stew, as everyone knows snow and comfort food go together really well. So here’s my recipe for a veal stew. (serves 4)

The ingredients are:

400g veal. 2 small onions. 300 ml passata. 160 g mushrooms. 200g carrots. 2 tablespoons of tomato puree. 500 ml home made veg base.

In the late 1970’s people became outraged to discover the veal they were eating was produced by keeping calves in the dark inside boxes to restrict movement. This led to a rapid decline in the UK for veal consumption, even now very few butcher’s shops openly sell it. However here in Italy I purchase what we now call rose veal, its male calves that have been raised until they are 8 months old rather than being culled at birth. It’s not a pale as milk fed veal but tastes very good. If veal still isn’t your thing substitute it for pork in this recipe.

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Cut the meat into bite size pieces and brown it off in small quantities and add to the stew pot.

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Chop the onions and sweat them off in a frying pan for a minute or so, then add the tomato puree and cook it off.This sweetens the onions and helps to pick up the pieces of veal that have caramelised in the pan earlier.

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Chop the carrots: I chop alternate sections diagonally as you get an interesting shape that also has a larger surface area so cooks quicker and evenly.

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Add to the pot a liberal amount of garlic powder, black pepper and a good pinch of chilli flakes. Following this add the passata; shop bought is okay or make your own, it’s so easy. My recipe is here. Following this add 500ml of stock or home made veg base.

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As I hate waste, what I do is add what left over veg I have to a pan of water and boil it all together. This one was made from a couple of cabbage leaves, a carrot, half an onion and a few celery sticks. Boil it all together then blend it and bag it and store in the freezer until you’re making a stew or soup. Much better for you than shop bought stock, full of chemicals and salt.

Bring the pot to the boil and then turn the heat down and let it simmer until the carrots are softening; this took just 15 minutes on the induction hob. Then add a splash of white wine followed by the mushrooms and continue to simmer until everything is cooked through and the carrots still have a little bite. serve with mashed potato and sit beside the log burner watching the snow fall as you eat this comforting stew.

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One other thing – this is also amazing if reheated the following day. Buona cena a tutti.

Storm Chasing

Today’s title may evoke images of being inside a jeep hurtling towards a raging tornado or the eye of a hurricane, maybe even being trapped inside a Kansas farmhouse as it rides a twister to, The Merry Old Land of Oz., but actually, the title is misleading, as it’s not so much storm chasing as being chased by a storm.

We were having a pleasant mid-morning in Lanciano, when we decided to have lunch at Il Chiostro. It’s a an informal yet pleasant restaurant a few paces from the church of St. Francis, that houses the Eucharist miracle. The interior has a rustic feel to it with big wooden seating bays that easily accommodate up to eight people per table. The menu options change daily and for a mere twelve euro per person, you can have a substantial lunch. We collected our cutlery and tray, heaved a great slab of bread onto it and stopped at the options for primo piatto. I opted for an unusual yet tasty bacon and cauliflower pasta while the OH had a pasta bake laced with enough garlic to keep the entire inhabitants of Transylvania at bay. Secondo Piatto was either roast pork or stuffed veal, we both opted for the veal, which was served in a rich tomato sauce, with grilled vegetables and potatoes. We decided two courses was sufficient and declined the sweet course before grabbing a bottle of aqua frizzante and becoming ensconced behind the huge wooden table.

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Stuffed and satiated we decided to walk off lunch and took a leisurely stroll through the medieval part of the town. We meandered through narrow alleyways taking refuge from the afternoon heat. Windows were open and the lives of the inhabitants spilled out. A conversation motored down a narrow vinco, an argument burst through closed shutters and babies squealed with joy from within the dark recesses of a skinny house. We took some time out sitting on a bench near the park before heading back to the bank to do some business there.

Our business concluded we walked back to the car, as we set off on our journey home, the sky suddenly changed; the blue became grey and an ominous black cloud sailed overhead. Now I have before alluded to Italian thunderstorms being epic, and was once sat in stationary traffic on the motorway outside Rimini as great threads of lightning bounced around the cars. So I was apprehensive about being up so high and away from the relative safety of our valley. As we reached the edge of Castle Frentano I stopped the car and looked back, the skies were filled by an angry cancerous cloud, giving the illusion of us being trapped inside a Hollywood action movie.

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I climb back into the car and start the descent down the winding, serpent like road, I look in the rear view mirror and the black cloud seems to be following me. I slow as I navigate a hairpin bend and the cloud sends out spikes of yellow, flashing behind me. I can accelerate through a relatively straight piece of road and the cloud moves sideways. This time it’s almost peering in the side window, mocking me. It grumbles and more flashes follow. Eventually we reach the bottom and the rain starts, great gobs of water splatter the windscreen. We wind our way up our little lane just as a huge snap fills the air, I stop the car and make the fifty yard dash to the front door. Sods law takes over, I drop the keys, giving me those few extra seconds of drenching. With the door now closed I look outside and the cloud moves away towards Archi, up on the mountain top. I’m changing into dry clothes as it laughs  at me with a final electricity charged crackle and the sun bathes my house once more. I’m then reminded of the song by Sparks, Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth.

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