Enter Stage Left, ‘The Marocchino’

IMG_9074 (300x400)A well made coffee – meaning espresso or better said a caffè with a rich crema top that can support a spoon of sugar for a few seconds – is a rare treat outside of Italy. A chance meeting with Doctor Espresso in London’s Bar Italia confirmed as much.

“I can give three barista’s the same fully re-conditioned hand-pumped Gaggia and for sure I will see three different espresso’s in the cup,” says Vinnie Muco, the soft spoken Irishman man with Roman roots behind the Doctor Espresso moniker.

IMG_9068 (400x300)The Doctor and his team were in Bar Italia to swop over the two classic, vintage Gaggia’s – one red and the other green. They run 24/7 so need care from the engineers to keep them in service. No push buttons and digital wizardry in Bar Italia – just fine ground, house roasted coffee and plenty short burst muscle power to pull down the levers.

Only yesterday my son, working in a local bar for the summer, called to ask me what is a ‘double ristretto‘?

Essentially there is no such thing.  A double ristretto is a short espresso followed by a nod to the barista to make another short espresso should the first one have not done the trick.  American coffee shops have done much to set the cause of real coffee backwards – the ‘double espresso’ included.

IMG_3982 (200x193)Another anathema is ending a meal in a restaurant with a cappuccino. Italians visibly wince when tourists ask for same. Coffee etiquette in Italy is that no milk is added to coffee after 11h00 – to Italians, coffee with milk is a meal not a drink.

That maybe one rigid step too far, so what about espressino? In France, called a ‘noisette‘ and in Spain, a ‘cortado‘? For those with a delicate liver, a little hot milk – not just froth as in the muddy macchiato – softens the blow of good coffee. So one espresso in the small cup with a little hot milk gains favour.IMG_3983 (150x200) Another essential to a good espresso is sugar – white granulated cane sugar that dissolves before the coffee has lost too much heat. This habit came to the Italian south with the Arabs and Turks  who for sure know about sweetening their coffee.

Cappuccino sprinkled with bitter cocoa powder – another tricky one to navigate. Most say the trend began outside Italy and certainly no barista would automatically top a coffee with chocolate unless asked. Some bars will have a cocoa powder on the counter, much as they will small jugs of hot milk and powdered cinnamon. The choice is the drinkers, not the barista’s.

IMG_7776IMG_7775 (400x300)Earlier this year in Frascati’s famously crazy mirrored Bar degli Specchi on Via Cesare Battista, with conversation around much of the above, I was introduced to the ‘Marocchino‘. I suspected from the name we were in non-PC territory when I asked one of the Fortunato brothers,  “why Marocchino” meaning surely ‘of Morocco’? French pattissiers have long been mindful of labelling the chocolate filled and coated meringue ‘heads’ as ‘Têtes de Nègres‘ – yet Lenôtre’s ‘Desserts and Pastries published in 1977 still listed them as such.

The ‘Marocchino‘ is like a small ‘Esprescino‘ but made up as follows: cocao powder in the bottom of a small glass cup, then hot frothy milk added, next a single espresso and finally more dark cocoa powder in top.  Eco, a Marocchino .

IMG_4749 (239x350)Early mornings for labourers facing the cold and later in the day for those wanting a lift, has barista’s being asked for caffè corretto (literally ‘corrected’ coffee) or more graphic again, the mad caffé called ‘ammazzacaffè (Pussacaffè in French influence Piedmont). Here a small shot of grappa is splashed into the coffee. Normandy has theirs with Calvados – where one asks for a ‘pousse caffè‘ – literally ‘to push to coffee down’.

Waiting for an early train from Valencia’s main station one cold January morning back in the 1970′s, I smiled when I spied a hand-written note above the bar – ‘Sin Carajillo Acqui’ – words to the effect ‘No Carajillo Served Here’. The ‘Carajillo‘ at its simplest is a small strong coffee topped with a shot of Spanish brandy. When questionned, the barman said he was happy to oblige by serving a coffee and brandy separately for the client to mix as wished.

In London’s historic Smithfield Market the early morning heart-starter was sweet tea and whisky, but alas I can’t remember what they ordered in the bars at 04h00.


IMG_7590 (500x390)NOTE: More on Doctor Espresso Ltd to come when we explore the magical world of restored vintage Italian espresso machine makers like Gaggia, Faema, Brasilia, Pavoni, Cimbali, Cima and more fine names lost through time.




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The Cheek of the Lotte

In France from north to south les joues de lotte – monkfish cheeks – are making it to special menu’s. What was seen in the market and in restaurants in Nice was also featured in one of Normandy’s fine fish places, Le Saint Louis in Le Tréport*.IMG_8936 (600x536)

Even in France where there are braver shoppers than in other countries, the monkfish – also called lotte or baudroie – are most times displayed for sale headless, so scary are the huge jaws and sharp jagged teeth that have one thinking of a deep sea relation to the American pit bull.

Before the heads are discarded and still out at sea, the fishermen remove the cheeks – much as they would with large deep sea cod. On land they’ve become a speciality much favoured by chefs.

Fish cheeks, from any species large enough to sport a cheek the size of a coin, are sought after. In Alicante they serve lubina (sea bass) cheeks ‘al Pil Pil’ – here the cook must gently and repeatedly move his pan of olive oil and creamed garlic back and forth for 10-15 minutes or more until a naturally emulsified, rich sauce emerges.

The origins are Basque where salt cod (bacalau) is the favoured fish – and in a piece as salt cod cheeks are as rare as hen’s teeth, the heads being removed before the salting and drying far away in Norway. The Basquaise cooks would generally add tiny hot chilli peppers (guindillas) into the sauce built up from the oil in which the fish had already been fried.  Down south in Alicante, the bass or cod cheeks are then dropped into the rich sauce and cooked on for a few minutes before serving immediately to lucky diners who have spotted the speciality on the daily menu. Best be warned, this is a tricky technique although one can be first time lucky with patience applied.

Most times in France, the monkfish cheeks are quickly pan fried (poêlé) to then be served hot or warm (tiède). Warm means in a salad with infused olive oil – mint, dill or tarragon are all individually used. Hot means preparations with black olives and chorizo from the prized black Ibèrico pig of Extremadura, or turned through fresh pasta dressed with saffron cream – another dish is pan fried cheeks (les joues) served with home-made ravioli of mushroom, all napped with a fresh mushroom sauce. Pinky white Paris mushrooms, originally named as they were cultivated in the city’s damp and dark catacombs, would be the mushroom of choice.

I once saw ‘skate knobs’ for sale in Grimsby market. Best leave it there.


IMG_8942 (300x400)IMG_8945 (375x500)IMG_8948 (400x400)*Restaurant Le Saint Louis – 43 Quai François 1, 76470 Le Tréport (France) – tel: + 33 2 35 86 20 70IMG_8941 (300x400)IMG_8937 (225x300)





Posted in Food travel, French Markets, French Regional Foods, Salt Cod, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Stuffing Style with Baroque Origins

This article was first published on the ‘In Search of TASTE’ website – please visit www.insearchoftaste.com

When ‘Superwoman’ herself,  Shirley Conran, made headlines with her sound bite ‘life’s too short to stuff a mushroom’, one must only imagine ripieni left her cold or hadn’t come her way. DSC_0133 (250x166)

Chefs and cooks have made all manner of stuffings to enhance and extend foods for centuries. Ripieni, a most special of Italian preparations, takes its tone from the orchestra. In Baroque music, ripieno was the name given to the main body of instruments and musicians who would not be soloists. Also meaning stuffing or padding in Italian, either way points us to celebrating vegetables and turning a vegetable from function to feast. All we know is that Italians get misty eyed at mention of ripieni.

DSC_0145 (250x166)‘Pound a Bowl’ fruit and vegetables are a way of life in London’s old street markets like Lewisham and Deptford. Be there on the right day – which is most days except Sunday – and the shopper comes home with good fresh produce costing a fraction of the pre-packs sold by mainstream retailers. ‘Pays yur money, takes yur choice’. I go for the noise and cheeky exchanges every time – be I in London, Genoa, Paris or wherever cooking takes me.

With five squeaky fresh courgettes (zucchini), what’s to do but stuff them and stuff ‘em good with all the respect they deserve after their long journey by road from Murcia.

First make a rich sugo of canned chopped tomatoes, cooked off with olive oil and garlic – tinned Italian is best and should cost no more than £1 a can, unless a genuine DOP San Marzano. Into the pan goes one or two cans, a Pollock of olive oil on top and a couple of cracked garlic cloves (these we’ll be taking out once the sugo is cooked). I like to cook for 20 minutes – but longer is fine too. Wash the courgettes – in Italian and American, zucchini – and take the tiniest trim of the ends. In Wales we’d call that ‘tidy’ and that can’t be improved on in a good kitchen.

Only buy courgettes when the skins squeak when touched. White courgettes are another treat – mostly found in Turkish or Lebanese shops – that are up for ripieni. Cut the courgette in half from top to bottom.

DSC_0117 (250x166)DSC_0110 (166x250)With a teaspoon and a steady handy, pull the spoon down the centre to remove all the seeds in one action. This furrow is now ready for its stuffing.

Spoon in the sugo (separated from the garlic) being sure to under rather than over fill.

DSC_0105 (146x220)Sprinkle with fresh grated Pecorino or Parmesan – my first choice is an aged Pecorino Sardo for extra depth and saltiness.

DSC_0100 (166x250)Some coarse home-baked bread crumbs ensure an authentic flavour. Set in a pan, another light Pollock of olive oil over the top and into a pre-heated 180ºC for 20-25 minutes – less time for smaller courgettes. Check whether done to your liking – I like mine when the courgette is just slightly resistent to the knife. Allow to cool and serve as an aperitif or first plate anti-pasti.

DSC_0097 (146x220)Next to prepare  the best aubergine (melanzane) yet found in the market – not pumped up Dutch, but long slim Italian.

DSC_0120 (166x250)Ripieni works for any fresh produce that can be scooped free of its seeds – round or white courgettes when you can find them, outdoor tomatoes, peppers. Squid too and mushrooms if you must, although I’d take some convincing that Superwoman wasn’t right all along. Champignons à la Grecque of every 1960′s London bistro menu stay with me. Who reading this remembers Le Bistingo?

Posted in Aubergine, Blue Collar Gastronomy, Bread, Eggplant, Kitchen Tips, melanzane, Real Italy, Southern Italy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Saluti ‘Bob’ Freson, Arrivedeci Roma, Ciao Gene’

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Gareth Jones Now Goes In Search of TASTE

North of 500,000 words across +380 articles I am doing as pledged to myself. With this piece I am putting www.garethjonesfood.com into what I can best describe as a digital hibernation as I move on to focus on ‘In Search of TASTE‘ magazine.

It was with such thoughts in mind, travelling through Italy just recently, I was specially taken with re-visiting ‘Savouring Italy’, the Robert Freson 1992 work which followed ‘The Taste of France’. 

DSC_4390 (269x350)This remarkable photo-journalist is but one of several souls who have thrown their weight, gravitas and encouragement behind ‘In Search of TASTE’ - www.insearchoftaste.com - an independent food & wine title, free of invasive advertising and set to offer witty, passionate, experienced and fired up writing from around the world. The guest blogs on our website already are samplers of just that promise.

As you have liked what you have read here these past three years, then what’s to come will continue the journey – another promise. Very soon now our subscription channel will open – £48 pa for the four quarterly issues – with paper and on-line versions there for the asking. We are still slightly short equity take up, so I would be wasting a trick to not suggest at £1,500 per 1% over three years, it’s a snip – more from keith@insearchoftaste.com

IMG_7944 (188x250)Invited back to my beloved Italy, I recently made the 5½ hour journey by Trenitalia from Rome’s Termini station through to Genoa – that’s like London to Glasgow or Plymouth. I chose to take the regular train rather than the new high speed inter-city express which sat purring and beckoning in Rome station.

All the way it was like I was surrounded by friends – and on the journey up Italy’s west coast I chose memories, including many of Freson’s Italian images as my compass.

The Lazio stretch takes the traveller from Rome up the coast to Civitavecchia – a name one always associates with the scene in blessed ‘Tosca‘. Travel tip – a reserved seat in a compartment, long since committed to history in England, is civilised. But, the compartments are on the ‘wrong side’ for the journey north.

IMG_7949 (300x225)When in Rome, etc, I joined others and stood in the narrow al mare corridor, as people moved up and down the train whispering ‘Permesso‘ every few minutes. There were even tiny drop down seats along the corridor. We spied down into back gardens, looked across a silvery blue Mare Tirreno and got to imaging life around small train stations in little towns along the long way north through Lazio, Tuscany and Liguria.

With a head spinning with recent memories of 72 hours in Frascati and Rome, hanging with writers Jo Wennerholm and Rachel Roddy, I tried to focus on Pesto and why I was here. It’s hard to think green when all around you’re seeing blue.

IMG_7591 (250x188)Travellers unwrap home-made parcels of panini with assorted fillings. The young Chinese couple in the carriage had rice and chop sticks – and why not as the girl was heavily pregnant much to the delight of others in the compartment. Bottles of water and wine came out too. I realised my morning had been fuelled by just two sweet caffès and one last Marroquina with a small croissant all crema in Termini. Marroquina will have to wait for ‘In Search of TASTE’ to explain – it’s a close relation to the ‘Espressino’.

IMG_7872 (300x225)Italian trains and stations have great coffee and snack foods – I’d travelled on two just  months ago from Parma to Bologna and again from Bologna to Faenza. This is why I felt no need to come aboard with supplies for my 5½ hour journey to Genoa.

Permesso‘ I now said as I moved slowly up the corridor from car to car. I reached the front and First Class – no bar and a locked door. The engine was behind that door.

I retraced my steps the longer way to the rear car. No bar. I met the guard, thinking a bar might be attached along the way much as they used to add and de-couple the dining car on the Paris-Milan wagons-lits.

“No bar,” said the guard. I thought of hopping off and on at a next stop – I timed the first one and this train was in the station and off again in less than 5 minutes. No time to find a  station bar, order and pay, then wait to be served. I settled back into another 4+ hours without water and food.

It reminded me of a camping trip, as it happened to precisely where I was passing – the rounded peninsular called Ortobello. I would never travel with food supplies from home, always insisting on buying locally. These were times pre-ATM and Euro, so getting cash involved queuing in the right bank with Travellers’ Cheques. I hadn’t figured on a bank holiday and had only a few French Francs (as useful as Roubles in rural Italy). I did have two eggs and bread from the previous night up on the French border. Hungry, I fried the first egg for my partner on the one ring burner. Then I cracked my egg into the pan knowing it was the last chance of food until tomorrow when the banks re-opened. Somehow, and how I’ll never know, the unstable ring slipped over and, as if in slow motion, my half-cooked egg slid onto the mud outside the tent – despair followed as options shut down.

My thirsty train journey had me reliving that moment – as well as dreaming of the smallIMG_7937 (188x250) portion of nervetti left on the serving plate in Testaccio the night before.

Now we were into Grosseto and more memories. It was near here, on another Italian holiday, that I spent a disproportionate chunk of holiday budget – remember please, not only no ATM’s back then, but also a UK Government strictly enforced ‘Foreign Travel Allowance’ of £50 stamped into your passport.

In Grosseto market I came across a stall selling porcini – the first I’d ever seen fresh picked as against dried in London. Excited at my find, I talked with the stall holder in that funny language we would speak when abroad. That’s the one which employs charades and all the ‘foreign’ words we can muster spoken with an accent to suit the circumstance – in others words passable French spoken in faux Italian. Our man convinced me I could slice and sun dry the funghi in the three days left before heading for home. The meteo was good, he assured me. I sliced my 3 kilo’s of fresh porcini, laid them on newspaper and proudly sat guard during all the sunshine hours that shone on Tuscany that week in 1972.

IMG_7583 (300x225)I returned home happy with three cardboard sugar boxes filched from the local bar full to the brim with dried porcini.  Hence Grosseto means porcini-to-dry to me. With Elba offshore, it meant other things to the French.

IMG_7948 (250x188)Gazing again out of the window it was obvious we’re into Tuscany’s hillyt  verdant landscape with snow capped mountains behind. Cattle and sheep graze, vineyards have been pruned and spring flowers are out everywhere.IMG_8304 (217x250)

The shipyards of Livorno look busy and affluent. Pisa is next stop – not the Pisa of leaning towers and pink stoned baptistries, but a workaday Pisa of train station. Viareggio and soon views across to the marble quarries of Carrara – where Michelangelo shopped for stone, stopping as they tell you in tiny Colonnata, to eat Lardo as had been done since the Romans.

In Roman times runners would bring the pig backs from Parma across the mountains to be cured in Colonnata. 2,000 years on, Lardo di Colonnata was awarded IGP status just 10 years ago after much lobbying by Slow Food.

IMG_8320 (300x251)One year we travelled home with a well known budget airline with vac-packs of lardo, a large mortar and length of polished marble from Colonnata as our hand luggage. A life in food has us doing some extreme things on occasion and long may it last.

IMG_8322 (226x250)Bringing that Carrara marble mortar back to London was perhaps an omen of times to come – and why I was on the train from Rome to Genoa with around 2 thirsty hours to go. I have been called many things in my life and now I am officially introduced in Genoa as the London Ambassador for Pesto alla Genovese al Mortaio – it’s an unpaid role, but one I enjoy.

Back in the train corridor, I strike up conversation with a doctor from Rapallo returning home from a conference in Rome. He is excited about my journeying to Genoa, his family home town. We talk of making pesto and cooking, then inevitably to Camogli and Portofino – as with so many Ligurians I know, it’s as if Rapallo was second best. I am yet to meet a soul who doesn’t go watery eyed with mention of the pearl that is Camogli.

IMG_8307 (188x250)We pass by Recco and Nervi – places given mention by Fred Plotkin in his master-work ‘Recipes from Paradise’ – and a man who chooses to live in Camogli for part of his year following the opera seasons as ‘The Operavore’ - http://www.garethjonesfood.com/7931/liguria-plotkins-paradise-panizzas-pesto/

IMG_6114 (190x300)Finally with thoughts of water and coffee coming back to front of mind, the train slows to cross Genoa’s outskirts with typical grand villa’s and apartment blocks set into the steep hill sides and busy port below. Then on time to the minute, we draw into Genova Principe. I make straight to the kiosk by the taxi rank to drink down two bottles of water and take a caffè like a man possessed. The owner laughs when I tell him my pledge to never again travel without supplies.

IMG_7964 (300x225) (2)IMG_7969 (225x300)I eat a slice of warm onion foccacia with a local dust clearing Vermentino and get excited about seeing old friends and my role as judge again the following day at the World Championships of Pesto alla Genovese al Mortaio - http://www.garethjonesfood.com/10794/nonna-87-wins-pesto-glory-in-genoa/

Landing up in Genoa, a city I love, and eating what will stay with me as one of the best meals ever, I ask didn’t Laurie Lee once write an essay about not enjoying water until one has been truly thirsty – and not appreciating food until being hungry in the real sense of meaning. He wasn’t writing of the horrors of famine, he was talking about being really hungry and thirsty like me that afternoon in Genoa.

Gene’ is what the locals sometimes call Genoa (Genova in Italian). Who knows that this gave us the word ‘jeans’, just as Nimes gave us the name of the fabric ‘denim’ (de Nîmes). Napoleon named his newly annexed department Gênes during the short French occupation between 1805-1814. The blue dye used for mariner’s clothes was known as ‘Bleu de Gênes’ and so ‘jeans’ entered the language.  The city has just rebranded itself – Genova ‘More Than This’.  I like the earlier descriptor of ‘La Superba’ – ‘the proud one’ where the Cross of St George has flown as the true flag of honour for 1,000+ years.

IMG_8306 (225x300)Robert Freson wrote to me that he’d liked me as travelling companion when shooting ‘Savouring Italy’ in the early 1990′s. Let this journey be a sampler Bob.

Always, aren’t we in search of taste? Now it comes in magazine format – www.insearchoftaste.com

Follow us, ‘Like’ us on Facebook and on Twitter @insearchoftaste. Sign up for the newsletter. Maybe then subscribe to this independent title that’s a work of life and love.

Blue Collar Gastronomy stays my mantra. BFN.

TOP TIPS: Asked where to eat in Genoa, I’m always quick to say ‘Il Genovese’ on the Via Galata – owned and run by the Panizza brothers, Roberto and Sergio. www.ilgenovese.itIMG_8225 (250x188)IMG_8137 (250x219) (2)

IMG_8220 (250x188)Now I also offer ‘La Locanda degli Stelli’ – Lungomare Lombardo set beside the sea below at 27, Corso Italia – Boccadasse (literally ‘the donkey’s mouth’). www.lalocandadeglistelli.itIMG_8219 (300x225)





Robert Freson lives in Maine. His humour is evident. 013-DSC_1754 (250x166)

CREDITS: Bookplates from ‘Savouring Italy’ shot with permission from Robert Freson©

Posted in Basil, Blue Collar Gastronomy, DOP Basilico Genovese, Genoa, Il Genovese Restaurant, Ligurian, Mercato Orientale, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pesto alla Genovese, Pesto alla Genovese, Real Italy, Veal, Vitellone, Wild Funghi | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nonna, 87, Wins Pesto Glory in Genoa


IMG_8051 (225x300)Alfonsina Trucco, the forever smiling, laughing and all time relaxed 87 year old nonna walked away with the winner’s 22 carat gold embossed pestle after her sterling performance in the 5th World Pesto Championships. This event is about culture and local pride.

IMG_7959 (188x250)The hand  crafted olive wood pestle is said to be worth around €2000, but is that not unimportant? This lady had competed in all five World Championships since they began.

100 finalists, from all over the world, came together on March 29th in Genoa’s historic Palazzo Ducale to show their skills with pestle and mortar. Each had identical ingredients and the rules set by the Palatafini Association state that contestants could bring their family’s pestle and mortar should they wish.

IMG_8037 (225x300)World champion Alfonsina Trucco’s 150 year old mortar had been passed down through five generations of her family. She worked it with a handsome, large and heavy double headed pestle like this one – one end for savoury, the other for sweet preparations.

Alfonsina still makes the fresh Pesto alla Genovese most days at her family’s restaurant cum 10 room hotel, the Antico Trattoria Rosin Tre Fontane, in Montoggio (Genoa) – www.anticatrattoriarosin.com

IMG_8050 (225x300)This lady was so effete that one could have blindfolded her, then strapped one arm behind her back and the result would most likely have been the same. I asked her son how many pesto’s did he think she had made – we together calculated 1000′s.

Roberto Panizza founded the Championship event with a group of Genovese friends as a celebration of what is now the world’s most popular sauce after tomato ketchup and mayonaise.  All the ingredients are important for a Pesto, but the ‘competenza‘  (know how) and experience handed down from generation to generation is equally essential.

IMG_8022 (188x250)“There is no recipe for pesto, it’s all about the technique. This was an observation by my English friend*, a culinary expert. And I think he’s right,” Panizza told the Italian press in 2012.

“Pesto may be one of the most popular sauces in the world,  but almost everyone forgets where it was born, namely in Genoa. After all, if globalisation leads 73% Americans to say that pizza was invented in the US, do you expect an Australian to recognise pesto as coming from Genoa?”

True pesto is always best prepared with a mortar and pestle, an ancient system that offers better results than the modern systems have ever been able to obtain.

IMG_7975 (208x250)“Working with a mortar and pestle is like climbing up a rock wall with your bare hands, or piloting Leonardo da Vinci’s ancient flying machine. It’s an early machine that has stood the test of time,” says the man who is known throughout Italy and on some shores beyond as The King of Pesto.

IMG_7961 (300x221)Every two years, 100 finalists have 40 minutes to prepare their pesto in front of judges and an invited crowd. This is staged in the historic Salone del Maggior Consiglio in the Palazzo Ducale, formerly the Council Chamber and seat of the Doge when Genoa ruled the Mediterranean as an independent republic – and for opera lovers, the setting for an act in Verdi’s 1857 work set in Genoa, ‘Simon Boccanegra’.

“This is a celebration, not a festival or a show, where there is no food and nothing is sold. It is a moment of pride for those who participate and for those who attend.

IMG_7985 (188x250)“The Pesto World Championship, now in its 5th staging, is succeeding in highlighting Pesto’s roots outside Italy.  Of the 100 participants in 2014, 30% came to Genoa from abroad. We organised a eliminating rounds in New York, Cape Town, Bergen, Lyon, London and Belfast.

“It is as simple as it is complicated. The best pesto, prepared according to the most authentic tradition, will win,” explains Panizza.

As for the ingredients, the championship’s organisers – Palatifini – provide each contestant with: fresh picked DOP Genovese basil from Celle Ligure, Ligurian Riviera extra virgin olive oil, Vessalico garlic, Tuscan pine nuts, 24 month aged Parmigiano-Reggiano and DOP Fiore Sardo (a ewes’ milk Sardinian pecorino matured 6 months).

IMG_7980 (196x250)Most of all, Palatifini insist that the sauce should be crushed in the mortar, and not easily blended in mixers that heat and oxidise the basil. Heat is the enemy of basil as much as oxygen will destroy good wine.

Pesto should be used to dress food and never be heated in the pan. When judging pesto, this eventual use must be front of mind.

There are some 60 varieties of basil around the globe, but only one is the regionally protected Basilico Genovese DOP. I have never succeeded in making a good pesto with English grown basil – as good as the leaves may be for tearing over dishes or adding to a tomato sugo.

IMG_8031 (194x250)For a classic Pesto alla Genovese, as taught by Pesto Master Panizza, the pestle & mortar method is:

  • Clean the basil leaves in cold water and dry them on a kitchen cloth without rubbing them.
  • Crush a garlic clove and the pine nuts inside a marble mortar using a wood pestle. Once you have obtained a cream, add a few grains of salt and sufficient basil leaves so as to fill up the cavity.
  • Crush the basil with a soft, round movement of the pestle around the walls of the mortar, turning the mortar with its four ‘ears’ as you work.
  • Repeat the procedure. When the basil begins to release its bright green liquid, add freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino in equal measure to taste.
  • Gradually pour the extra virgin olive oil.

In Springtime, the classic dish in Liguria is Pesto with Trofie or Trenette pasta, new potatoes and French beans – the last two cut in small pieces and traditionally cooked with the pasta.

One moment before draining the pasta, add a ladle of cooking water to the pesto. Once the cooking is completed, drain and mix with the pesto.

Other ways with Pesto are gnocchi, baccalà (salt cod), white fish, potatoes and as a dressing for new season vegetables like courgettes, asparagus, fava beans and peas.

IMG_8215 (300x278)Pesto must be honoured. Industrial pesto must be shunned. I am the English friend* referred to by Roberto Panizza in the quote above about technique ruling over recipe. This is a man with a passion that even his crash helmet for his handsome BMW motorbike carries his brand name, Rossi.

Arrivederci Roberto and ciao Genoa, the city just rebranded this week with the tag line ‘Genova – More Than This’. In Italy, Genoa also carries the tag ‘La Superba‘. Superb you are old Gene’ (pronounced ‘Jen’).

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NOTE: 2016 World Pesto Championships kick off in Paris on April 12, 2014.

VENUE:Le Purgatoire, 54 rue de Paradis, 75010 Paris

TIME: 10h00-18h00

CONTACT: pesto@italieparis.net

Posted in Basil, DOP, DOP Basilico Genovese, Ligurian, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pesto alla Genovese, Real Italy, Salt Cod | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Thrushes and Offals

Pâté des Grives we know. Hunting of thrushes continues across mainland Europe and across on the island of Cyprus. Conversation with a Turkish-Cypriot friend called Eddie, brought back happy memories of London’s own BoHo district that was Camden Town of the late 1960′s – soon after I first arrived in London. We would chew the fat in original Andy’s, sitting at the table nearest the open kitchen. Back then, Andy and his Welsh girlfriend, Pam, owned the taverna – then one of London’s best. The last I heard of Andy, he’d returned to Cyprus after the 1974 troubles ended. I have not been back these 40 years.

As a treat we were sometimes offered ‘poulia‘ (full name Ambelopoulia) with our wine – they were pickled song birds hunted across Cyprus and served as the special delicacy which never made it onto the menu. I have on a few occasions enjoyed little birds like thrushes and larks in homes in France and I am sure that preparations of Pâté des Grives continue to be sold quite openly. For those interested, visit www.chasse-grives.fr – the website of the Association de Défense des Chasses Traditionelles à la Grive.

IMG_7660 (151x250)There my story ended, or so I thought, until I was invited to Lazio. Mamma Agnese came to dinner bearing gifts. I was to cook the two large trout she’d ‘caught’ – actually she meant ‘bought’ that morning. Then came the treat, as out of her basket she produced a package in tin foil and handed it to me with a knowing smile.

IMG_7665 (300x300)Mamma had been briefed by her daughter who was my host. I opened the package to find ‘Tordi’ – song thrushes already prepared, each one tightly wrapped in pancetta held firm with a tooth-pick. These were mine to not only eat, but also to help cook – so a first for me to be cooking my own little birds.

I am in the Frascati kitchen already well known to followers of Jo Wennerholm’s www.myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com

IMG_7698 (250x188)The trout was cleaned and dredged in flour – guanciale was gently melted down in the pan, heat turned up and the trout cooked in the rich, Roman fat from the jowl of the pig. La Vignarola was another dish on the table.

IMG_7680 (300x300)Also too a soupy pasta dish of fresh vongole and cannelini with short rigatoni.

IMG_7686 (188x250)




Later would be the salad of wild leaves, some gathered from the hedgerows and meadows around Frascati. This they call rather magically a ‘Misticanza‘.IMG_7675 (250x228)



IMG_7670 (300x300)So, to the stove to cook the ‘tordi’ with Mamma at my side guiding my every move. The tiny packages were first sautéed off in olive oil and a little butter, turning as they browned.

IMG_7671 (250x234)Then they were flambéed – I would have used gin or grappa, but Mamma insisted we use a malt whisky.

Gin and juniper have an symbiotic relationship with game birds – and, when in Rome, etc, grappa seemed to liquor of choice. I went with the whisky and was cheered by the result.

IMG_7703 (300x176)We ate the birds with knife and fork for a moment or two before settling in with fingers to suck off every morsel of the deliciously gamey little carcases. As one of the four cooks ‘on duty’ that evening, we were each up and down from table as the meal developed – conversation was noisy, enquiring and excited.

The thrushes were as pure as they were delightful. Then came another treat brought over from Bari the day before – and another first in my pan.

IMG_7695 (225x300)I was presented with the sweetest of lambs’ sweetbreads – ‘animelle‘ in Italian – prepared as I’d written only a few weeks before. Each was tightly wrapped in small intestine and ready for the pan. Behold, I was cooking Gnumuriedd – the speciality of the butcher’s shops with wood ovens found across Basilicata and adjoining parts of Puglia.

It was only seeming that the next day had me visiting Rome’s huge old abattoir site in Testaccio – the quartier of the city that was home to artisans from butchers and bakers, to builders, carpenters and all others who carried a trade. I was in a blue collar heaven and later to feed on ‘Coda’, ‘Trippa‘ and ‘Nervetti‘ – oxtail, tripe and ‘nervetti‘ being the shiny, opaque tendons from the calf’s shins (already a favourite from the Veneto).

Slaughtermen from the old abattoir would be paid in hard times not in money but with an oxtail per man. My guide around Testaccio told me that by far the majority of people living in her apartment block had been born and raised in the same building.

IMG_7676 (174x250)Soon she will publish a book about her time in the Testaccio sestiere – her name is Rachel Roddy. Right now you find her on www.racheleats.wordpress.com

Linking these writers together is their contributions to ‘In Search of TASTE’ magazine - www.insearchoftaste.com - and soon this site will hibernate as I devote all my forays, jottings, scribblings and sharings to that independent new title as its Food Editor.

Grazie mille Jo and Rachel for opening doors and sharing too.





Posted in Blue Collar Gastronomy, DOP, Farmers Markets, Food of the Ancients, Game, Negroni, Nonna's Cooking, Origins of our food, Puglia, Puglia / Apulia, Pugliese, Real Italy, Salad, Southern Italy, Wild Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Rome’s Spring Trinity

Frascati 001 (225x300)Cheek by jowl, but minutes by foot from Frascati’s faded but magical Villa Aldobrandini’s private gardens, we shell peas and beans, trim artichokes and chatter. We’d also visited the gardens by pulling family ties in old Frascati, so passing over the BBC’s commentary on the site being closed to all but Monty Don and crew.

Frascati 002 (219x300) - CopyBack home with guests for dinner we were to make Vignarola and were likely to be just one kitchen of thousands across Lazio making this dish that evening.

Vignarola celebrates and typifies all that is Spring in Rome. My host assures me, Lazio is a region to watch for food and cooking.  Across Italy they celebrate with Primavera dishes made with new vegetables, all telling us that winter is behind and summer in front.

The classic Vignarola is based around the three vegetables said to be found come March and April in the ‘vigna‘ (vineyard) – peas, broad beans and artichokes. That’s not to be questioned, as romantic as is the notion. The dish has writer David D Downie telling me: “Vignarola is the most divine of all vegetable dishes – and that is a huge, outlandish claim.

“There are many varieties on the theme, but the vignarola combines some of my favourites – peas, fava beans, tiny white onions, artichoke hearts, spring onions, baby new potatoes – into something resembling a slow cooked stew of vegetables which brings out the natural sugars in each item, rendering them meltingly tender and irrestistible.

IMG_0673 (250x188)Sometimes I add guanciale following one very old Roman tradition.”

Cooking the Roman Way was written by Downie during his years living and writing in the Eternal City.

Genoa Produce 036 - Copy (240x300)In Frascati and days later at No 19, we start with produce so fresh and good, it is also the custom to eat them raw – look for hand-written signs saying ‘mangiare crudo’  through the markets and delight in being offered tastes by jolly, noisy stall holders vying for your trade. Smiles are exchanged long before money.

For the Vignarola shell a kilo each of peas and broad beans (in Italian, fava).

IMG_0543 (225x300)Then comes trimming and preparing the artichokes. Even this early in the season they come in 3-4 sizes in the Italian markets, some already cut back and rubbed with fresh lemon to arrest discolouring.

IMG_0671 (250x188)Best avoid putting them in water with slices of lemon and they become near impossible to dry.

In one pan we cook the peas and beans in water and a good dousing of olive oil – some add a pinch of sugar, but I prefer not.IMG_0593 (188x250)

In a second pan, we heat oil and handsome pieces of guanciale (cured pig’s jowl) or pancetta (cured and smoked pork belly). Pancetta is ubiquitous and, in England, mostly all one can find outside of our dwindling number of genuine Italian salumeria’s.

IMG_0666 (164x250) Of the two, Guanciale would be my first choice and so worth hunting down. ‘Goletta‘ is perhaps one better again – found here in Rome’s special butcher, Liberati. The goletta is cut from the back of the neck of the pig, whereas guanciale is the jowl. Roberto Liberati we’ll come back to for his shop is a special place.

This very Roman of unctious cured meats makes the final dish more substantial, although many prefer to stay pure and meat-less – in keeping perhaps with their Lenten promise.

IMG_7823 (225x300)The trimmed artichokes, quartered or smaller and rid of any wisp of hairy ‘choke, are gently sautéed. After a few minutes or when tender to your taste, add spring onion cut roughly to the same lengths as the artichokes. Splash in a glass of white wine to soften if you so desire.

IMG_0600 (300x225)Asparagus, now flooding the mainland European markets in a delight of white, green, purple, violet tipped and ‘selvaggio’ - meaning the thin wild stems gathered in the woods and hedgerows.

Vignarola is no place for elegant white asparagus – the more robust green or purple work best. Purists tell me asparagus shouldn’t be there at all – but in Spring don’t we have rights. The thin stemmed wild varieties are again too delicate and are better served with soft scrambled eggs or forked through pasta dressed with butter and oil as for a pasta bianco, or simply served as a salad.

Taste all the while – each item will cook according to size and freshness. This could be 3-4 minutes or a short while more. Let taste be your guide. To over-cook a Vignarola should be punishable  by law.

IMG_0618 (300x225)When all the elements are good to the tooth, bring them together in one pan over a low heat. Here one can also stir through soft lettuce leaves moments before taking off the heat. I confess to having added waxy new potatoes (Anabelle or Charlotte) and cauliflower.

As with most good dishes, a Vignarola tastes best when cooled, or ‘scienza‘ as they say in Italy.

IMG_0621 (300x225)Some would serve the Vignarola to be pushed onto the fork with bread rubbed with some garlic and oil before making into a bruschetta. Others may grate over some ewes’ milk Pecorino Romano cheese.  I’m told that Frascati-born Roman chef Arcangelo Dandini (L’Arcangelo – Castel St Angelo) serves his Vignarola very agreeably on a large slice of bread. I prefer a sprinkle of coarse salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Should there be any left-over Vignarola, it will be even better the following day as a first plate or stirred into pasta.

IMG_0607 (250x188)I brought beans, peas, artichokes and asparagus too back to No 19 from Genoa’s Mercado Orientale – from market to kitchen was no more than 6-7 hours. The freshness sang – so did the lady that sold them to me.

Freshness makes the dish. Please never think of attempting it with frozen peas and broad beans, any more than one would with processed artichoke hearts or tinned asparagus tips.

My thanks for my first Vignarola’s go to three who write like angels on food: Jo Wennerholm, Rachel Roddy and David Downie. You might call them a Roman trinity too.






Posted in Asparagus, Food of the Ancients, Genoa, Left Overs, Lenten traditions, Mercato Orientale, Real Italy, Risotto, Simple Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments