Italian Lamb Stew

Oh, this is so delicious, I would cook it every week if I had enough local lamb. I got the basic recipe from ‘Dear Francesca‘ but adapted it to use some ingredients that I already had. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 to 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 onions, finely sliced
  • 1 kg (+) gigot chops (or other chops) or lamb shoulder – trim the chops of fat, 
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 pinches of dried thyme, or 1 tsp of Italian dried herbs
  • 1 tbsp red pepper paste
  • 200ml stock or water
  • 8 small new potatoes, or 4 large potatoes peeled and cut into chunks. 

METHOD:

  • In a large casserole dish, heat the olive oil, and fry the garlic and onion over a low low heat for ten minutes. 
  • Set the onions aside, and fry the meat in the olive oil to seal it. 
  • Return the onions and garlic to the pan, and add the tinned tomatoes, pepper paste and herbs. Bring to a simmer. 
  • Cook in the oven at 180C for 30 minutes. At this stage, the stew can be frozen or kept in the fridge to finish cooking alter. 
  • Add the potatoes to the pan, and the extra stock if required, and cook on the stove top until the potatoes are cooked (about half an hour or so) 

And you’re done! The book suggests chicken or beef versions of the same stew, but with lamb it is just glorious. We served it with a green side salad. 

Tomato and butter sauce for penne or gnocci

This is a very easy recipe from ‘Dear Francesca‘ – it feels very indulgent adding all that butter, but the sauce is unbelievably tasty. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • One tin of tomatoes (I used chopped tinned tomatoes)
  • A small shallot, peeled but not chopped
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp caster sugar
  • A pinch of dried rosemary (a sprig of fresh rosemary is better if it is available)
  • salt
  • Penne pasta or gnocci – allow 60 to 75g per person
  • freshly grated pecorino cheese

METHOD:

  • Put the tomatoes through a mouli or sieve to get rid of the seeds. It is easier if you blend them in a liquidiser first. 
  • Put the sieved tomatoes in a small saucepan with the shallot, sugar and butter, and bring to a slow simmer. Put a wooden spoon in the pan and then put the lid on, so it is propped open a little. Keep simmering and stirring to reduce the sauce. Cook for 30 minutes
  • When the sauce is cooked, take out the shallot, add the rosemary and season with salt. 
  • Cook the penne or gnocchi, and drain, pour over enough sauce and then add freshly grated pecorino cheese

Pastone – Italian Ham and Egg Pasty

I am so glad I got round to making this at last, one of the recipes from ‘Dear Francesca‘ – although I did need a couple of tweaks to suit my kitchen. It is a delicious highlight for a summer supper, or a packed picnic lunch. The ingredients are mostly available in the co-op, and also available from Valvona and Crolla in Edinburgh. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 500g flaky pastry or puff pastry
  • 4 eggs
  • 250g ricotta
  • 50g pecorino, grated
  • salt and pepper
  • 75g smoked pancetta, diced, or smoked streaky bacon if you can’t get pancetta
  • 75g fonteluna sausage, diced
  • 2 fresh bayleaves

METHOD:

  • Heat the oven to 220C
  • Beat the eggs lightly together with the ricotta, and cream until well combined. Season with salt and pepper and mix in the grated pecorino
  • Grease an oblong dish, around 30 by 20 by 3 cm, or a round tin around 23cm across. 
  • Roll out around half of the pastry to line the dish, and fill with half of the egg mixture. 
  • Add the chopped pancetta and diced sausage, and add torn-up bayleaves. 
  • Cover with the rest of the egg mixture. The recipe calls for a couple of egg yolks to be added at this stage, but I prefer without. 
  • Roll out the rest of the pastry to fit over the top. Use milk or beaten egg to dampen the edge of the pastry and crimp to seal. Glaze the top of the pasty with milk or beaten egg, and score a pattern on top. Make a few holes to let out steam. 
  • Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until browned. Take it out, and when it is cool enough, remove from the tin, flip it over and return to the oven for another 15 minutes to cook the pastry at the bottom.

Fresh tomato sauce with ricotta and pecorino – to serve with spaghettini

I’ve just read ‘Dear Francesca’ from cover to cover. The recipes use a relatively small range of ingredients to create wonderful food. This is one of the first recipes I tried, using a tray of cherry tomatoes that had ended up in my fridge, along with some of the staples from the book: ricotta and pecorino. 

I didn’t have spaghettini, so I used spaghetti, which is very slightly thicker. It was fine, I had no complaints. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 tbsp good extra-virgin olive oil
  • A punnet of cherry tomatoes, or a couple of good handfuls, quartered
  • a clove of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 180g spaghettini (or enough pasta for 2 people, whatever your usual measure is, I allow 60 to 75g per person)
  • salt and black pepper, freshly ground
  • 2 tbsp ricotta cheese
  • two good pinches of dried oregano
  • freshly grated pecorino

METHOD:

  • Heat the oil in a pan, and add the tomatoes and garlic. Turn the heat down low and let them cook for ten minutes. There will be a bit of sizzling. 
  • Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling water, according to the instructions. 
  • When the tomatoes are completely softened, add the oregano and the ricotta cheese, and mix well. Check for taste and add salt if required. 
  • When the spaghettini is cooked, drain it, return to the pan and add the sauce, pecorino and a grating of good black pepper. 

 

Dear Francesca

I bought this book, ‘Dear Francesca‘  for myself for Christmas, along with a bag of cooking essentials from Valvona and Crolla, an Italian shop in Leith Walk in Edinburgh. Valvona and Crolla has been an institution in Edinburgh since 1934, and when I was a student there in the 1980s, no picnic was acceptably provisioned until we bought something there. The shop is fabulous, long and with high ceilings, hung with hams and with shelves loaded with carefully chosen produce. 

I was delighted when they opened a small cafe at the back, and delighted again when they started selling their stock online. I’m now delighted a third time with this book. 

Written by Mary Contini, from one of the many Scottish Italian families in Edinburgh, this book tells the stories of the families that came from impoverished areas of rural Italy, from the countryside near Rome. They bought with them a direct knowledge of the ingredients they had produced from the land, and the recipes that can be made from them. They changed the food culture in Scotland. 

There are ice-cream parlours, fish and chip shops, delicatessens and restaurants, linked together from that period. A special treat when we went to visit my grandparents, was to call at Luca’s ice-cream shop in Musselburgh. All round Scotland, Italian families brought their values – use fresh local ingredients, waste nothing, honour tradition and quality, cook with style. 

The book is not a classical recipe book, more of a history and demonstration of regional food. Mary Contini successfully weaves together the family stories, the history of Italians in Edinburgh, the food and the recipes. Many of the ingredients called for in the book are in the Valvona and Crolla store cupboard hamper. 

I’ve tried out several recipes from the book, divine, simple and authentic. Her descriptive language for cooking techniques has taught me more than most. A good gift to myself and a good gift to others. 

 

Italian stewed lentils

This recipe is a classic side dish, to be served with Cotechino or Zampone. I often add a side serving of mashed potato and cabbage as well. I have also made it with tinned brown lentils when I was in a hurry and it was still grand. 

INGREDIENTS:

  • Approx. 300g brown lentils, such as Puy lentils
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • A sprig of fresh mint
  • A clove of garlic
  • 2-3 tbsp good olive oil 
  • Salt and pepper

METHOD:

  • Rinse the lentils in cold water. 
  • In a medium pan, heat the olive oil and then over a very low heat, cook the chopped onions, around 10 minutes, so they are soft. 
  • Add the lentils and then add a litre of hot water, and bring to a simmer
  • Add the mint and the whole clove of garlic, cover and cook on a low heat for around an hour and a half. Keep checking that the pan to make sure it isn’t burning. You can keep the lentils at a simmer in the oven as well. 
  • Once the lentils are tender, season with salt and pepper, and a drizzle of very good olive oil. 

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.