Italian Food, by Elizabeth David

Elizabeth David started writing about food in the 1950’s, inspired to learn about and describe the food she tasted first as a student at the Sorbonne in Paris, and then when she lived in countries around the Mediterranean. Her books are not like most recipe books. The food is described in context, aimed at an audience for whom this was exotic and new. The recipes recall the regions where they come from, the fresh ingredients at the heart of the cuisine, and the places she first tasted them.

The recipes sometimes lack exactitude,  but they also offer the options for easing the recipe to account for the ingredients to hand. They teach you to cook and to taste, and to learn about food. There are few illustrations, mostly sketches of implements, and the recipes are very many. This is a book that remains influential in the development of post-war cookery in the United Kingdom, such is its ability to explain and inspire. 

I have many recipe books, but if I am stuck for something new, if I have an ingredient I want to test, I will often pull this book off the shelf, and find myself leafing through the pages. I commend it to you. 

It is available from many online book sellers. I like the review on the Waterstone’s website (click to link to the book page)

Lamb with vegetables, oranges and white wine.

This is an Italian recipe from Elizabeth David’s classic, ‘Italian Food’. It is delicious even if not cooked perfectly. I was very lucky and bought some really good quality hogget from West Gerinish, very tender, very tasty. I also used the mystery herbs – called ‘herbs for meat’ or ‘Italian seasoning’, possibly. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • About 900g to 1kg lamb cut in one piece from the leg.
  • A couple of carrots, chopped
  • A stick of celery, chopped
  • an onion, chopped
  • Chopped turnip, about the same volume as the carrot
  • Rind of 1 sweet orange
  • Juice of half the orange
  • 1 tsp coriander seed
  • 1 tbsp mystery herbs, or use oregano or marjoram
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 can of chopped tomato
  • 2 glasses sweet white wine (or one of table wine, one of marsala)
  • olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A splash of balsamic vinegar
  • About 200ml stock (vegetable, chicken or lamb)

METHOD:

  • Chop a clove of garlic finely, and rub it into the meat along with a handful of the mystery herbs, salt and pepper. 
  • Brown the meat in a little oil in a casserole dish, and then set aside.
  • In the same pan, fry the chopped onion slowly in the onion, and then add the garlic, and the rest of the chopped vegetables, garlic, coriander and orange rind, and cook until softened. 
  • Add the tomatoes, bring to a simmer then add the meat and white wine, and salt and pepper, and 200ml of stock. The meat should cook on a bed of vegetable stew, slowly roasting in the steam. 
  • Cover and simmer gently for two hours. This works better in a low oven. Keep an eye on the stew to make sure it doesn’t boil dry. 
  • At the end of cooking, squeeze the juice of half an orange over the meat and let it settle before serving. 

 

Potato Gnocchi with mushrooms cheese and parsley

Shows Potato gnocchi with mushrooms and cheese
Potato gnocchi with mushrooms and cheese

Malcolm came back from a trip to the mainland with some gnocchi, a cauliflower, and some mushrooms. I vetoed the cauliflower, so we had this dish. This served two. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 200g Gnocchi
  • Parsley, finely chopped
  • 50g grated hard cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • A punnet of mushrooms, chopped
  • a shallot 
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Butter
  • Herbs e.g. sage or thyme
  • Salt and pepper

METHOD:

  • Chop the onion and garlic finely, and fry in butter until soft
  • Add the mushrooms and herbs, and continue to fry until the mushrooms are soft. 
  • Meanwhile boil the gnocchi according to the instructions. 
  • Mix the mushrooms, cheese, and gnocchi together, and add enough butter to ensure that the gnocchi are coated. Adjust seasoning. 
  • Serve garnished with parsley

I have seen versions that include blue cheese or spinach. 

Polenta and Mushroom bake

I think I have persuaded Malcolm that polenta is delicious. This is a dish from Elizabeth David’s book, Italian Food. I’ve recorded what I did, rather than what is in the book. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 250g polenta
  • 1 litre of water
  • salt and pepper
  • Optional 200g fontina or talegio cheese
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tbsps flour
  • 600 ml milk
  • 1 bayleaf
  • a grate or two of nutmeg
  • 40g grated cheese
  • 500g mushrooms
  • another 25g butter
  • 25g grated parmesan

METHOD:

  • Start by cooking the polenta. Set the water to boil, and when it starts to bubble, swirl it and pour in the polenta flour in a thin stream, stirring the mixture as you pour to mix it well with the water. As it becomes like the caldera in a volcano, season with salt and pepper, and cook for around 8 minutes.
  • Pour the polenta into a large dish and let it cool. If you are adding Talegio or Fontina cheese, melt this into the polenta before pouring it out. 
  • Make a white cheese sauce. Melt 50g butter in a pan, and then add the flour. 
  • When the flour is beginning to brown, and the butter is foaming, add the milk, pouring in steadily and mixing to make a smooth white sauce. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and add the bayleaf, and simmer for 15 minutes, before adding the grated cheese. 
  • Next, slice the mushrooms and fry in butter for 5 minutes. Elizabeth David suggests using white truffles, which are in short supply in South Uist. 
  • Slice the polenta. In the bottom of a buttered lasagne dish or similar, layer 1/3 of the polenta, then 1/3 of the bechamel and 1/2 of the mushrooms. Then 1/3 polenta, 1/3 sauce, 1/2 mushrooms, then 1/3 polenta, 1/3 bechamel, topped with parmesan. 
  • Bake in a hot oven, 180C, for 30 minutes. 

This is delicious, and very filling. We had 2 servings each and there is loads left. We had a side dish of steamed kale with pepper. 

Italian Sausage Casserole

In the freezer I had a large Italian pork sausage, flavoured with fennel. I made this stew, which could be made with any good quality coarse pork sausage, for example a Cumberland sausage. The stew is very easy to make, and we served it with creamed potato and celeriac mash, and sea kale florets. 

INGREDIENTS;

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 coarse Italian pork sausages (around 400g) or similar
  • 1 large onion, finely sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder, or other chilli powder
  • 1 tsp date syrup, or treacle
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 300ml stock
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs (I used the mystery herbs from Italy)
  • salt and pepper

METHOD:

  • Fry the sausages in the oil in a large frying pan for around 8 minutes, until they are browned. Transfer to a casserole dish. 
  • Fry the onions in the same pan over a medium heat, for around 5 minutes, until they are beginning to brown.
  • Add the crushed garlic and chilli, and cook, stirring for another couple of minutes
  • Add the stock, tomatoes, puree and herbs, and bring to a simmer.
  • Pour over the sausages in the casserole dish, and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. 

This tastes better if it is not boiling hot, let it sit for a few minutes whilst preparing the mash and vegetables. 

Tagliatelle with ham and cheese

This is a quick recipe from Elizabeth David’s ‘Italian Food’. This is a classic recipe book, lots of recipes, along with descriptions of context and history of individual dishes. It was first published in Britain in 1954.

I had some ham that I purchased from the reduced section in the co-op, and it was a work night tonight, so something quick and easy was required.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 50g tagliatelle per person
  • 50g cooked ham per person, cut into strips
  • 25g freshly grated parmesan per person
  • Butter
  • Black pepper

METHOD:

  • Cook the pasta in boiling water for around 8 minutes, or until done.
  • Meanwhile, melt the butter and cook the ham for around 3 minutes, until warm through.
  • When the pasta is done, drain it and add all of the butter and ham and half of the parmesan, stir together and serve with the rest of the parmesan and black pepper for seasoning.

Bolognese Meat Loaf

Also known as polpettone. The mixture can also be used to make meatballs. Part of the knack of making this is to keep the mixture quite dry, and to chill the mixture after preparation. The flavour develops well if you give it time.

INGREDIENTS: 

  • 500g minced beef
  • 3 tbsp grated parmesan
  • a pinch of cinnamon
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 tbsp white breadcrumbs (I used panko)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Grated rind of half a lemon
  • Around 5 tbsp milk
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 tbsp butter

METHOD:

  • In a large bowl, mid the meat with the parmesan, cinnamon, salt and pepper, breadcrumbs, eggs, lemon juice and lemon rind. Add enough milk to make the mixture moist but not sloppy or sticky.
  • Kneed it well, shape it into a fat sausage shape, coat with more breadcrumbs, cover and chill in the fridge.
  • Heat the oven to 200C
  • Fry the onion in the butter until caramelised, and put it into the base of a tin, or other oven-safe dish of a suitable shape.
  • Put the mince mixture on top of the onions, and bake for around 35 minutes in a hot oven.

Slice and serve hot, with a tomato sauce, or cold, with a salad.

Risotto with Beef and Tomato Ragu

You can make this with any left-over bolognese Ragu, or do as I did – make the ragu from scratch. I made double, ate some for tea with pasta, froze some, and made the risotto with the rest. This is from Risotto Risotto.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 stick of celery, diced
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 slices of unsmoked bacon, chopped
  • 250g minced beef
  • 1 glass of red wine
  • 400g can of tomatoes, pureed in the tin
  • 1 bayleaf
  • salt and pepper
  • 500g risotto rice
  • 1.5 litres of stock
  • 25g butter
  • 50g grated parmesan

METHOD:

  • Make the ragu sauce first, preferably the day before. Fry all the chopped vegetables and bacon in the oil until the vegetables are soft.
  • Add the mince and the wine, and fry until the meat is brown and the alcohol has boiled away.
  • Add the pureed tomatoes, bayleaf, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and leave to simmer for 2 hours until rich and dense. Check frequently to ensure that it is not ‘sticking’.
  • Next, add the rice to the ragu, and stir at a simmer until the mixture looks dry.
  • Keep the stock on the boil, and add a ladleful at a time, stirring constantly and allowing the liquid to be absorbed before the next ladleful is added.
  • Continue in this way for around 20 minutes; the rice will be firm and cooked through, and the risotto will be creamy. Take the risotto off the heat, remove the bayleaf, and stir in the butter and parmesan cheese.
  • Cover and leave to rest for a few minutes, before transferring to a warmed platter and serving.