Local = KmØ

5 (1) (169x300) IMG_0265 (300x271)Who can read KMØ? I make it easier – Km-Zero.

‘Local’ has been a term to confuse as much as please – much other clichés like ‘authentic’, ‘fresh’, ‘natural’, ‘home made’ that fall like snake oil from the copywriter’s pen nib. What started out as real enough became hijacked by brand owners looking for a quick fix in the fierce world of grocery marketing.

A  UK supermarket director once gave me his definition of ‘local’ as being ‘any food sourced within the British Isles’. The man was playing to the crowd – his audience that day included many of British farming’s political elite. As crass as was the answer, now we know where we stand when supermarkets play folksy as a lure to bring the unsuspecting through their doors.

IMG_0542 (266x300)Another shop hangs an image of muddy boots on its walls to demonstrate its commitment to British farming. The boots are Le Chameau, but that top hole French brand from Normandy’s logo has been air-brushed off the boots.

If I am right, the original definition of ‘local’ for a farmer’s market was set in New York – I think it was 50 miles radius of the actual market – and it brought most times genuine small-holders from upstate New York down into the heart of Manhattan. Friends in food tell me exciting tales of many more flourishing green markets now across the city – and indeed in most US cities – where quality and variety continue to thrill the shopper.

Union Square Farmer’s Market stays with me for where else would I have got to taste a fiddlehead fern? So were strawberry farmers one summer in Sweden who were encouraged to set up stall in a supermarket’s car park in a town near where we were staying with a dairy farmer with pure bred Welsh Mountain ponies as a hobby and whose woods offered us up daily caches of chanterelles – some of the easiest foraging ever, except for the day a full size male elk came too close for comfortIMG_0262 (300x225).

This side of the water, farmer’s markets like farm gate shops seem all too often to stretch the rules. As for quality, I have never once found my Avalon at a London farmer’s market where the rules insist sellers must grow, rear and make their foods within 100 miles of the M25. Is this local? Birmingham and Bristol fit this arc from London.

Whilst on London farmer’s markets, why must plastic be so prevalent – it is outlawed, by choice, in Italy. Even supermarkets are trying to cut down on plastic and yet most stall holders in our local farmer’s market not only offer plastic bags, but some use plastic for their pre-packs.

None I’ve visited in Europe measures up to Italy’s ‘Zero Kilometres’ – KMØ – the symbol adopted by those who are genuine about local. Remember this is about making a point, not about the literal.

IMG_0223 (300x225)IMG_9863 (225x300)One morning in September I passed through the Castelli Romani en-route home from the tomato harvest three hours south of Rome in Campana and Puglia.

Saturday started in Grottaferrata’s modernist open market – Mercato Coperto di Grottaferrata – some locally love to joke that it’s really a flying saucer that’s landed in the town car park. I saw it as a small but well stocked local market – with meat and fish as well as produce and run by sellers who all knew their customers, most by first names.

IMG_0231 (225x300)I got talking to stall-holders like Irma and Elizabeth. Talk turns to food miles and I’m shown a box of produce which arrived from Rome’s wholesale market that morning – cauliflowers from England. We laugh over local – again.

Prickly Pears grow wild across the Italian south. There they are called Fichi India – Indian figs – worth hunting some down in London’s Turkish and Lebanese grocers. Late summer / early autumn is the time.  Do ensure the prickles have been removed or a shock is in the offing. Fresh Ricotta and a little sugar would be my suggestion. IMG_0217 (198x300)

Next stop is a new farmer’s market – called Mercato Contadino – on the Parco dello Sporting Club (info@mercatocontadino.org) to meet Eva Castrucci (also the head of the Slow Food Praesidium of Albano) and Elisa di Gennaro, the powerhouse behind the farmer’s markets through the Castelli region. They just celebrate their third year.6 (1) (300x169)

What makes these markets different is that everyone with a stall is selling product they’ve themselves grown or made. No middlemen here, just artisans with soil under their nails. A contadino is more a peasant / small-holder than it is a Range Rover driving gentleman farmer – in Ambridge-speak, Tony & Pat Archer not Brian Aldridge.

IMG_0257 (300x225)On the roadside close by the market, a man is selling the first of the year’s fresh porcini. He also has chanterelles. For me these are my two most favourite wild mushrooms – I rarely take any others when I’m out foraging. Before I even say a word, he apologetically tells me the funghi have been sent over from Bulgaria  the day before, as local foragers haven’t yet got lucky in the woods of the Castelli.

IMG_0264 (225x300)He was happy to slice a couple through lengthways to show there were no invading bugs. As with buying truffles, never buy from a trader who is not prepared to do this act of honesty. Belgium’s Truffle King taught me that. I paid my €10 and was allowed to take my pick. When the local porcini arrive they will be twice that price and maybe more depending on supplies and plenty.

4 (1) (169x300)In the Mercato Contadino, ice-cream maker Dario Rossi summed it up perfectly. His ice cream recipes are only ever now made from ingredients sourced from other stall holders.

Buono, Genuino e Naturale‘ says the poster for the Mercato Contadino which now run in Albano, Ariccia, Frascati, Pavona and Rocca di Papa (www.mercatocontadino.org).

We joked about his gelati company being called Gelateria Greed (www.gelateriagreed.com). It got lost in translation – sorry, but greed for me equates with ‘foodie’. Having only weeks before re-read Ann Barr and Paul Levy’s tongue-firmly-in-the-cheek, The Official Food Handbook, I am at a loss to know why anyone is proud to sport the title. As an aside, the Foodie Handbook was first published in 1984 – surely not a  coincidence?

IMG_0271 (300x225)Dario began making gelato when he was bought an ice cream machine by his mother when he was 12. Now his gelati are honoured in Gambero Rosso. Flavours like Panzanella Romana tasted of just that – tomato, olive oil, bread – and yet was a dessert flavour. I told him how only two evenings before in Salerno (Naples), we had been served three separate gelati made with three different tomato varieties. They were as distinct as Cox’s Orange apples would be from William pears.

IMG_0288 (225x300)The butter ice cream was made with butter from a local artisan creamery. A beer flavour – Birra Ariccia – was made from a modernist local brew which is only ever made with cereals grown in the Castelli. Such craft beers are fast becoming fashion in parts of Italy – but as Martin Luther famously said ‘Beer is made by man; wine is from God’.

Other flavours to excite were Cacio e Pepe, Almond Pesto (like the Pesto di Mandorle – echoes here of the Sicilian Trapani recipe only made with the fresh, new season nuts), Virgin Olive Oil and Pistacchio – made with the Bronte variety. Every flavour had its story.

IMG_0292 (225x300)As I toured through the market, conscious of my ticking clock as my flight check-in was only hours off, I chose between what I’d like to buy and what I could seriously fit in my bag without incurring penalties.

IMG_0303 (225x300)IMG_0302 (225x300)Tomatoes, long and round, large and small, tiny and huge were in peak season.

IMG_0306 (300x225)Lemons, early apples, green figs, tomatoes, aubergine, peppers, the last of the zucchini flowers (all in peak condition having been snipped for market just hours before), IMG_0298 (225x300)Misticanza (wild salad gathered that morning from pesticide-free fields and hedgerows), breads, biscuits, salume e prosciutto and table grapes, sold with fresh leaves for wrapping around tiny game birds or whatever is your choice.

IMG_0300 (294x300)Perhaps most surprising of all to anyone with a sense of fun was a carbon bread – the ticket at the end of this article tells the story.

9 (147x300)I still found time to walk a few dozen metres along the original stones of the Via Sacra which joins the Via Appia into central Rome – this was the start of Ancient Rome’s main street, as famous for ritual and festive celebration known as Feraie Latinae – and also prostitutes. Too sad to almost report, morose looking Eastern European girls were working the Via Appia as we drove back into Rome. Plus ça change; rien à changer, etc.

It seems there has been a market on the Via Sacra / Via delle Cerquette site since Ancient Rome was at the centre of the world and by then home to over 1,000,000 people. The farmer’s market is just three years old.

IMG_0327 - CopyOne more stop before lunching on panini’s filled with warm Porchetta. Another remarkable location – the Azienda Agricola Iacchelli. Here is a working farm and agriturismo (B&B) that was started after WW2 by a family who moved to the Castelli from the Marche (www.iachelli.com).

IMG_0308 (300x225)IMG_0307 (225x300)This was like Whole Foods in overdrive – actually what America’s Whole Foods would really like to be should it ever grow up and leave Kensington, London.

IMG_0322 (300x225)Tables were piled high with fresh produce and families picked their way through making their informed choices as they discussed dishes to be made that day with radicchio,

IMG_0324 (300x225)zucchini flowers, haricots, borlotti beans, escarole, potatoes (rarer than you think that far south), peaches, plums, apples and – if we need proof positive of freshness – celery ends that are evidence of same.

IMG_0321 (300x225)Tell me truthfully when you last bought celery with ends are clean as this. Through the summer families drive over to the azienda to buy fresh food and picnic under the trees there.

IMG_0316 (300x225)“As children we’d always have a fresh raw hen’s egg when we came to market. Just crack it open and down it goes,” shared my guide. Funny thing is, I was just reading of how eggs were enjoyed like this in Ancient Rome where a specially pointed tool was provided to pierce and not break the shells.

Two final calls of the morning – the Antica Norcineria Lattanzi (www.antica-norceria.com) and Frascati’s oldest vineyard at Colonna, the Principe Pallavicini (www.principepallavicini.com).

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Here we meet Michelle Smith, one of those remarkable self-taught, follow-their-nose-and-instinct people: “Frascati excites me for the same reasons as it did the Romans – it’s green, has clean air, great views, history, it’s near lakes and sea, has quaint neighbouring towns and it is near Rome”.

A few warehouses on the roadside defy the unknowing passer-by. The Norcineria put all previous salumeria’s I have ever visited to shame. The root of the word is Norcia – a place famous through Italy for cured meats – and Norcineria has become another way of saying  fine butchery.

IMG_0084 (225x300)The place was remarkable. Anyone serious to follow my journey will find it off the Via Casilina in Montecompatri. This is a pork heaven – farmyard and wild. Just as the ceiling is hung with cured meats, so the air hangs heavy with porchetta warm and fresh from their ovens out back. Chic glass doors slide silently and effortlessly open and shut as customers come and go.IMG_0097 (300x300)

The clock kept ticking and time was pressured – this time at least. Frascati and the Castelli are my new adopted home. I may be cooking there in good company someday very soon.

IMG_0114 (225x300)So, we move onto the land of the region’s oldest vineyard which legend says was sited by Bacchus himself. This is no small enterprise, producing around  600,000 bottles a year. Principe Pallavicini is a place of calm and serenity – a place at one with Nature herself.pasolina olive (300x300) (2)

I am told of how the estate has invested heavily this year in the very latest GPS technology to tell, from space, when the grapes are ripe for harvest. This news is quickly softened by confirming that the older, wiser men at the winery then take samples and taste – just as they’ve done for centuries across the Castelli.

 

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IMG_0121 (225x300)We go below ground to the bottle storage – it is the original cistern for an aqueduct which fed fresh water into central Rome – its terminus being close to the Trevi fountain. The cistern was cool and my body shook in pleasure at knowing where I was standing as the story was put my way – bless you, www.principepallavicini.com

IMG_0049 (300x225)Frascati pre-dates Rome. It was home to two Medieval Popes and on the Grand Tour.  Wine making was in place before the Ancient Romans and the name Frascati is said to derive from the ancient custom of putting branches over the doors of wine cellars to tell everyone that the new wine had arrived. Some even say that the town’s name was first Frescati before becoming Frascati.

20140905_111839 (300x169)History rocks this place. I am rocked by this place. It’s now where I have my hair cut, as if to lock me in further. Talk turns to Leonardo’s home town of Trapani and the famous Sicilian Couscous Sagra on the beach. Another story for another time.

IMG_0043 (300x225)Having come up from Naples to Frascati, it seemed only right I went to see Pulcinella. Imagine my delight at being taken backstage during the explosive performance of this 17th century Neapolitan classic.

Pulcinella knew a thing or two about telling tales – next time someone tells you some food is local, ask some questions – nicely, but firmly. Whilst at it, always walk by when freshness and quality is below par. Never compromise. That’s not the way of Blue Collar Gastronomy©.

NOTE: Frascati is 14 minutes for a €1 train ride from Rome Ciampino airport. The Mercato Contadino is 08h30-14h00 every Friday on the Via di Grotta Portella (12). As they say ‘Buono, Genuino a Naturale’. 

All fresh produce pictures for this article were shot on an iPhone4 and none were edited for colour or contrast. The produce sings loudly in the Castelli Romani. The customers would expect no less. 

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www.easyfrascati.com

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So Far From The Madding Crowd

By Vicky Hayward – the independent food writer who chooses to live and work in Madrid 

Today please welcome a new departure for garethjonesfood as we celebrate the true meaning of independence in our food culture. Here is a timely article about independence  and Blue Collar Gastronomy written by one who is a much admired independent. It is the first of a clutch from guest writers to come these next weeks.

01_IMG_0113 (400x243)“My grandfather Teodomiro thought roasting wasn’t a job for women,” says Irene Ochando.  Dressed in urban black, petite, she wears her long blonde hair in a ponytail for work.

03_IMG_0051 (400x300)It is Sunday morning, her busiest day of the week, and she is seasoning meat for roasting.

“It’s a stressful, hard physical job,” she says. “But I love the peace and quiet by the ovens.”

Irene cuts an unusual figure among Castile’s master-roasters. Botín, at the heart of Madrid’s old town and reputed to have one of the world’s oldest working ovens, is Spain’s most famous roasting restaurant or asador. Here you can watch the broad-backed male roasters adeptly move around their dishes of baby lamb and roast suckling pig with a wooden paddle. But many of today’s asadors are modern, a response to the rise in demand as meat has become everyday food in recent decades. Such asadors, often fitted with gas ovens, require less heavy work. Yes, they rarely employ professional women roasters.

Irene’s mother learned to roast as her father’s assistant in the 1940s. Back then meat was a luxury and to find the work they travelled around the sierra to village fiestas and weddings. Later, Irene’s father, Vicente who was a stone mason, built today’s restaurant. It is a squat granite house in the centre of La Cabrera, the family’s home town, which sits on the south-facing slopes of the sierras to the north of Madrid. On the ground floor, behind the dining room, bar and kitchen, is the roasting house. Upstairs are the family’s quarters, shared by Irene, her Galician husband Sabi and their two children.

“Nobody comments on me being a woman,” says Irene, “as few would expect it. The main question everyone asks now is why does your meat taste so different?”

lacabrera10 (400x400)Terroir would be the comfortable quick answer, but unpack that and in reality you find the necessities of earlier rural poverty. The name of the town – La Cabrera – means a female goatherd or goatherd’s wife and was inspired by the shaggy black goats which once grazed here. They were the only livestock that survived happily on mountain scrub so the goats’ male offspring, kid or cabrito, became the local fiesta dish. Teodomiro bought his kids for roasting, one by one, from his friends who were goatherds. But none survive locally in today’s more affluent times.

“It is not so easy for me to source the kids. Butchered, they need to weigh around 5½ kilos, never less,” explains Irene. “That way you get the right balance of meat to bone for this kind of roasting.”

08_IMG_0025 (450x338)The grass-fed kid on sale in Madrid’s markets today, reared under denomination quality rules, weigh in at half to three quarters less than the larger old-fashioned kids that Irene needs. So instead she buys like her grandfather, one by one, on a private grapevine, though now from trusted butchers, farmers and distributors.

05_IMG_0122 (1) (400x300)The slopes behind the town still provide her second key ingredient, the rockrose or cistus for firing the oven.  Now the slopes are treeless, but in Teodomiro’s day wood was reserved for sale to the cities. Local people cooked and heated their homes with brush or scrub instead. In La Cabrera that meant fragrant rockrose, which still covers swathes of the sierra’s south-facing slopes.

Sabi is one of a few in La Cabrera who still harvests it for two months each year. His backbreaking work is also valuable for the town, for as he digs up strips of plants individually by the root so the rockrose can reseed and grow back the following Spring, he creates firebreaks.

06_IMG_0015 (313x400)In the oven, the dry brushy plants burst quickly into leaping flames, give high heat and fragrant clouds of smoke and embers that glow for several hours.

The third element of the taste of Irene’s roasts comes from family tradition. Back in the 1930s, when Teodomiro began travelling around by mule with his cooking ladles, clay dishes, lard and garlic stuffed into esparto saddle bags, he developed his skills. The kids for roasting trotted behind him. At his destination he would slaughter, roast and serve the kid, and even sing at the fiesta. Nothing went to waste. The kids’ blood was baked with onion, the pluck cooked in white wine. Teodomiro took home the feet for the family pot and bartered the kids’ skins for olive oil or sugar. Back in La Cabrera, he perfected roasting with rock-rose. Today his skills, passed down through the family, are a matter of pride.10_IMG_0031 (400x300)

“Listen to that…”, says Irene, beckoning me over to the oven.

Inside half a dozen halved and seasoned kid and lamb are roasting in clay dishes next to a big pile of embers. “I know the temperature is right when the oven sings,” says Irene.

09_IMG_0065I press my ear to the open oven door and note the odd percussive snap breaks a soothing hiss. She bangs the door shut.

The temperature is over 300˚C. But at no point does she add water to the meat.  “It wouldn´t be a roast then,” she explains. “That was one of Teodomiro’s golden rules.”

04_IMG_0099 (400x300)Five hours after Irene started work the kid emerges, mahogany brown, its juices swirling in the dish. One can see how the elements of taste add up: the balance of meat to bone, the blast of dry heat, the clay dishes that prevent scorching, the aroma of rockrose. “For me this roasted meat smells of the countryside,” says Irene.

16_IMG_0104 (400x350)Irene and Sabi achieve such quality through commitment. They work a 7-day week. In the summer they keep going in furnace-like heat by dipping their arms in a big bucket of cold water. Exposure to such heat encourages eye diseases like glaucoma, suffered by Irene’s parents in later life. Add to that the economic recession which has bankrupted so many restaurants and the challenges widen.

But, says Irene, the recession has brought good things. For example, she buys the crinkly lettuces they serve from an unemployed friend turned kitchen-gardener.

There have been other changes. The sierra’s shaggy Guadarrama goats are enjoying a comeback though not yet in La Cabrera. Irene is no longer the town’s only woman roaster.

At Bar Machaco, 32 year old Eva Abramo has learned to roast with modern techniques. There is a sense of the beginning of a female tradition. And there is a new generation of Polish, Romanian and Moroccan clients who settled here during the economic boom years. “They’re all great lamb connoisseurs,” says Irene admiringly.

She is undecided about the future. Her son Julen, not yet a teenager, wants to be a cook. He is not yet allowed to fire the oven but he sits fiddling with the seasonings as we talk. “You know,” says Irene, when he’s out of ear shot, “I’m not a businesswoman or a chef, but maybe he will be.”

lacabrera13 (450x352)It is a sharp-eyed observation. Spanish women cooks like Irene are slowly revealing a remarkable legacy. They have inspired world-class chefs among their sons who have grown up with their culinary values and commitment.  Juan Mari Arzak, the Roca brothers and Andoni Aduriz are three names which come quickly to mind.

Irene first rests her roast kid, then carves it on the bone with kitchen scissors. She gives me a tutored tasting: first a sweetbread, “the roaster’s treat” as she calls it, then a square of the papery dry mahogany skin. Next a few skirt ribs with chewy textures and, finally, a forkful of the juicy lean meat. Simple as it may look – one dish with many shades of brown – eating it gives a tasting experience as richly diverse as any deconstructed avant-garde meal.

NOTES & CREDITS:

El Asador de Teodomiro, C Carlos Ruiz 3, La Cabrera. (Quarter of a kid, serves 2-3, to order

Botín, Cuchilleros 17, Madrid. (Suckling pig, the speciality,  €23.45)

Photography by Leila Garfield –  www.leilagarfield.com

Read more  of author Vicky Hayward – www.vickyhayward.com

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Posted in Blue Collar Gastronomy, Cazuela, Food travel, Foraging, Lamb & Mutton, Spanish Cooking, Terroir | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fox Tail’s the Family Favourite

Not beating around the bush, but Junior once asked for a special meal of fox tails. We’d been pheasant shooting all day on the edge of the New Forest and also taken two foxes. He’d been fascinated to see one of the guns remove the tail bone and take away the brushes to preserve – and so, putting two and two together, he figured ox-tail was fox tail – or is that vice-versa? Moving on a few years we’re back with the oxtail request for another special day.

IMG_0363 (608x800)This time we celebrate the Roman way and make the famous Coda alla Vaccinara – oxtail ‘in the slaughterman’s way’ and I doff my beret to two writers, Jo Wennerholm and Rachel Roddy – neither strangers to these pages – who took me to taste the dish near to source.

The true root of the preparation for a Roman Coda is in Testaccio – the Eternal City’s old abattoir district where animals were being despatched for their meat six days a week up until the 1970’s. The buildings still stand like the lairage shown here – art not beasts are now hung there and bio-food is currency too.IMG_7812 (338x400)

My first taste of oxtail prepared the Roman way was with my two food writer friends, one from Frascati and the other who has lived in Testaccio for nigh on 10 years. Their writing can be found at the addresses at the end of this piece – but back to sticky, rich, dark and unctious oxtail stew. I am a lover of oxtail, but this way is special again. In Rome they can shop for choice – there are tails from beef cattle,  veal calves and vitellone from the animals mid way between one and the other. Given choice, vitellone would be my purchase every time – but in London no such choice exists except by special order from less butchers than I have fingers on my left hand.

Many say that Testaccio is one of most Roman of Roman neighbourhoods. It has largely held onto its blue collar roots even into the 21st century. Most of the families living in my friend’s apartment block were born there and have roots in the abattoir.

Earlier this year, we were in Trattoria Agustarello – a family restaurant that’s mercifully off the visitor trail and famed for offal – also known as ‘quinto quarto’ or fifth quarter. After slaughter an animal is split in two down the spine – the sides are then cut again into forequarters and rears. The ‘fifth’ quarter is the offal. The term goes straight into the Blue Collar Gastronomy dictionary of terms.

Agustarello is fifth quarter central – we ordered tasting plates of tripe, sweetbreads, nervetti and, of course the Coda alla Vaccinara. It’s whispered to me that Sandro, the owner, is cagey about sharing his family’s recipe and why not. Diners asking for recipes is a faux pas like with enthusing to an author that you so enjoyed reading their latest book, then adding, ‘I took it out from the library’. Let’s be clear, instinctive cooks will figure the recipe by tasting – it may take a couple of goes,  but they will persevere, like musicians who are gifted to play by ear.

At table, I learned how work was often so short in the abattoir that more than one man did the same job, but each for 2-3 days a week. This early job sharing was rewarded with an oxtail in lieu of cash wages – at least they got to feed their families. With today’s price for the tails, we might say it was a well paid job. Such thoughts aside, the Coda alla Vaccinara is an historic dish where any left over sauce is used as a rich, red ragù for tomorrow’s pasta.

IMG_0366 (2) (600x800)Take two oxtails for 4-6 people. Nothing will be wasted. Once home, wash the tails and cut into sections – there are natural guides for your knife as each piece is a vertabrae.

Wash the pieces and in a large pan bring them to a simmer for 15′ – all the while deftly skimming away the cook-off (it’s protein, like egg whites, and known as ‘exudate’). Drain, wash off any trace of the exudate, dry well and leave to cool.

IMG_0371 (600x800)Next, peel and dice celery, carrot and onion  – then in olive oil, gently soften the base together with sliced guanciale or smoked pancetta and a fist of parsley stalks. I prefer the lid on / lid off method – just be careful to not cook too fast and catch the onion and carrot (both rich in sugar). You want soften but not colour. Another tip is to add a few pieces of fresh pork rind (cotiche) – a good traditional butcher will oblige. This adds depth and richesse to the final sauce.

IMG_0379 (2)Now brown each of the oxtail pieces in a heavy skillet – again in olive oil but without seasoning or anything else. No flour needed as many Northern European recipes may propose.

Now bring the tail pieces back into the pan with the vegetables, pour in 2-3 glasses of dry white wine (red is fine too, but it will also colour which I do not like as it leans towards the crude once the dish is cooked). IMG_0383 (600x800)Remember again, only use wine in cooking that is good enough to drink – no slopping in yesterday’s bottle ends (use them for vinegar). Simmer for 10-15′ to cook off the alcohol.

IMG_0385 (600x800)Now add 3-4 cans of plum tomatoes. These are best from the Italian south where we know the tomatoes have been harvested at peak ripeness and canned within hours of leaving the sun drenched fields. As you pour the contents of each can over the oxtails, just close your eyes and dream of being back in Campana and Puglia. Dream over, wake up, enjoy a sip of wine and get back to cooking.

Taste the tomatoes – take out any ends displaying a stray calix. If you like – and I usually do – add a teaspoon or two of cane sugar. If the oxtails are not entirely covered by wine and tomatoes, top up with water and cook on gently for 3+ hours. After 2 hours  begin checking for the degree of softening of the meat – it must be cooked well, but not yet falling from the bones.IMG_0386 (2) (600x800)

The Romans cook their Coda on the stove top. I like to cook mine in the oven with a parchment cartouche to ensure a good seal of lid to pan. At No 19, we do the same when we long cook the large monthly Ragù – some of which is eaten the following day (all long cooked dishes benefit from a rest) and the rest frozen in double portions for evenings when time may be tight to scratch cook.

IMG_7712Tradition at No 19 has it that fox tail must (note ‘must’)  be served with large pieces of big carrots and waxy potato, both first steamed and then finished in the pan with the meat. If the liquid has gone below the meat, then top up with tomato purée let down with a little hot water – never straight from tube or can please.

IMG_7720 (600x800)Birthdays are special, so to go with the fox tails, Junior’s mind veers north and the starch is to be spaetzle – this artisan pasta is delightfully  named after the phrase ‘little sparrows’. Lucky for us, we can buy fresh spaetzle from a German man in the local market. Romans will mop up the sauce with ‘little boots’ – fare la scarpetta – of good bread.

Friends from Puglia who were raised in very poor homes tell me of a sugo sometimes being made with no more than tomato purée, salt and water to dress their pasta. We have tried this and, typical of the cucina povera of the Italian southlands, it makes a good meal – much like using turnip tops or cima di rape stirred through the pasta.

IMG_7708 (600x800)Back to the main dish – the oxtails cooked in the manner of the slaughterman (Coda alla Vaccinara) – now for the finish. Some grate in nutmeg, others add peperoncino. I like to enrich to already rich sauce with grated bitter chocolate – much as one does with a sauce for game.

Good also is to soak currants (only ever currants) in warm water or white wine. Then toast off pine nuts (their price will determine quantity as the best Italian pinoli are now +€50 p/kg). They say a better harvest in 2014 may bring the price back down to affordable levels.

IMG_7733 (659x800)Take the currants and pine nuts (please only ever use Italian, or none at all – the rest are the runt relation), add them to a ladle of the sauce and warm through in a separate pan.

The dish starts off with knife and fork, but  soon we set cutlery aside and go about eating with fingers, enjoying rich glutinous meat and cartilage as we suck from the bones. Good bread soaks up every last drop of sauce on the plate. A big red wine – one from grapes ripened under the relentless southern sun. It makes sense to choose from Lazio – so try sourcing an Aglianico or Cesanese.

IMG_7761 (435x800)Next comes tomorrow. If there is sufficient meat and sauce left over, then pick the meat off the bones and tear into bite-size pieces. Similarly roughly cut up the carrot and potato. Heat through gently and serve as a deep and rich flavoured ragù to dress pasta – first choice would be old fashioned long, hollow ziti snapped into knuckle sized pieces – as with the Ragù alla Napolina.

Nothing is wasted in the real Italian kitchen. Nothing is wasted at No 19.

NOTES: 1) Agustarello – via Branca Giovanni 98/100, Rome 153 (+39 06 574 6585 – booking recommended for dinner)

2) www.myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com

3) www.racheleats.wordpress.com 

 

 

 

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Posted in Alcohol, Blue Collar Gastronomy, Lazio, Memories, Offal, Origins of our food, Puglia, Southern Italy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments