I’m in Florida, it’s hot on Longboat Quay – over 27 degrees centigrade – even though it’s late afternoon. The long white sandy beach is almost deserted, there’s a pleasant breeze which the locals tell me is the tail end of hurricane Isaac. It’s whipping up little waves on the warm sea, a few people are bathing but I’m lying back enjoying the cormorants and pelicans diving for supper. Every now and then there’s a terrific racket obviously a shoal of tiny fish under the water. Along the shore are sandpipers, terns, allies, oystercatchers and avocets all lined up in the same direction like gentlemen in tuxedos. Two white egrets are hopping along the water’s edge snaffling up sand hoppers. The birds are so tame one can walk up close to them and they scarcely move.
I’m here in Florida to keep a long overdue promise I made almost a decade ago to Marcella Hazan the doyenne of Italian food and her husband Victor before they left Italy to spend their retirement in Florida. Years can pass quickly full of good resolutions, life intervenes but real promises can haunt you until they are fulfilled, so here I am and what a joy to find Marcella and Victor a little older of course but just as beautiful as ever. Marcella has been a huge influence on my life. I went to her cooking classes in Bologna in the late seventies before I opened Ballymaloe Cookery School and later brought back a TV crew to film Simply Delicious in Italy at her apartment in Venice. Her books Classic Italian Cookbook and The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking are the yardstick by which others are measured.
Last night we met for supper in a local restaurant overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, we chatted and reminisced and today Marcella cooks me lunch in her apartment overlooking the beach on the Gulf of Mexico. Marcella is in the kitchen when I arrive –frying tiny quartered artichoke hearts slowly in extra virgin olive oil, there’s a bowl of shelled and deveined white Gulf shrimps close to the cooker. When the artichokes are tender they are spread on the base of a gratin dish, next a layer of white shrimps, then slices of mozzarella and little dabs of butter. The little crispy bits of artichokes scraped from the pan are sprinkled over the top, “all flavour” – Marcella speaks despairingly of those who fail to see the flavour in sediment juices and crispy bits. I see glimpses of the grumpy teacher with the twinkle in her eye that we all so loved. Of course it’s super delicious and followed by strawberries dressed at the table with a little 25 year old Aceito Balsamico and I remember, it was Marcella who over 30 years ago introduced me to balsamic vinegar and its magical powers to transform something mundane into something altogether exquisite.
Florida was not high on my list of must see places but I’m so glad I eventually made it to Longboat Quay to see the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico and to keep my promise to two of the most inspirational people with whom my path has crossed in life.
Marcella Hazan’s Chicken Roast with Two Lemons
This is the simplest most delicious roast chicken recipe I know – no fat, no basting, no stuffing.
1 x 3-4 lb (1.35-1.8kg) free range chicken
freshly ground black pepper
2 small lemons
Trussing needle and string
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/regulo 4.
Wash the chicken thoroughly with cold water. Remove any bits of fat from around the vent end. Drain the chicken well and dry thoroughly with a tea towel or kitchen paper.
Rub the salt and freshly ground black pepper with your fingers over all the body and into the cavity. Wash the lemons well and dry them with a tea towel, roll on the counter and prick each of the lemons in at least 20 places with a cocktail stick or skewer.
Put both lemons in the cavity. Close up the opening with cocktail sticks or with a trussing needle and string. Don’t make it absolutely airtight or the chicken may burst!
Put the chicken into a roasting pan, breast side down. Do not add cooking fat of any kind. This bird is self-basting, so don’t worry it won’t stick to the pan. Place it in the upper third of the preheated oven. After 30 minutes, turn the chicken breast side up. Be careful not to puncture the skin.
Cook for another 30-35 minutes then increase the heat to 200C/400F/regulo 6, and cook for a further additional 20 minutes. Calculate between 20-25 minutes total cooking time for each 1 lb (500g). There is no need to turn the chicken again.
Bring the chicken to the table whole, garnished with sprigs flat parsley and leave the lemons inside until it is carved. The juices that run out are perfectly delicious, so be sure to spoon them over the chicken slices. The lemons will have shrivelled up but they still contain some juice; do not squeeze, they may squirt.
Marcella Hazan’s Penne with Cauliflower, Garlic and Oil
One of the basic mother sauces for pasta is aglio e oilio, garlic and oil. From it has been spawned a multitudinous brood of sauce where we find most varieties of vegetables. An example is this one, featuring cauliflower.
In this family of sauces additional flavourings such as parsley, hot pepper, and anchovies may be used, although not all need to be present. They are almost invariably sughi in bianco, ‘white’ sauces – that is, without tomato. They are supposed to be served without grated cheese, and that is how I prefer them. But one may do as one pleases, and choose to have either pecorino or Parmesan cheese, depending upon whether one wants the sauce more or less sharp.
For four to six
1 head cauliflower (about 680g (1 ½ lb)
8 tablespoons olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine
6 flat anchovy fillets, chopped
¼ teaspoon chopped red pepper
450g (1lb) penne or other macaroni
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Strip the cauliflower of all its leaves except for a few of the very tender inner ones. Rinse it in cold water, and cut it in two.
Bring 4 – 5 litres (7 to 8 ¾ pints) water to the boil, and then put in the cauliflower. Cook until tender, but compact – about 25 to 30 minutes. Test it with a fork to know when it’s done. Drain and set aside.
Put the oil, garlic and chopped anchovies into a medium-sized sauté pan. Turn on the heat to medium, and sauté until the garlic becomes a golden brown colour. Stir from time to with a wooden spoon, mashing the anchovies.
Put in the boiled cauliflower, and break it up quickly with a fork, crumbling it into pieces no bigger than a peanut. Turn it thoroughly in the oil, mashing part of it to a pulp.
Add the hot pepper and a liberal amount of salt. Turn up the heat, and cook for a few minutes more, stirring frequently. Then turn off the heat.
Bring 4 – 5 litres (7 – 8 ¾ pints) water to the boil, add a liberal amount of salt, and as soon as the water returns to the boil, put in the pasta. When cooked al dente, tender but firm to the bite, drain it well and transfer it to a warm serving bowl.
Very briefly re-heat the cauliflower and pour all the contents of the pan over the pasta. Toss thoroughly. Add the chopped parsley. Toss again, and serve at once.
Italian Apple Fritters
3 apples of any firm but not sour, cooking variety
50g (2oz) caster sugar
2 tablespoons rum
the peel of 1 lemon grated without digging into the white pith beneath
250ml (8fl oz)
75g (2 ½ oz) plain flour
Peel and core the apples, and cut them into slices about 1cm/ (3/8 in) in thick.
Put the caster sugar, rum and grated lemon peel into a bowl together with the apple slices. Turn the slices once or twice and let steep for at least 1 hour.
Use the flour and water to make a pastella batter. Put 250ml (8fl oz) water into a soup plate and gradually add the flour, shaking it through a strainer and with a fork constantly beating the mixture that forms. When all the flour has been mixed with water the batter should have the consistency of sour cream. If it is thinner add a little more flour, if it thicker, a little more water.
Pour enough oil into a skillet to come 1cm (1/3 in) up the sides and turn the heat to high.
Take the apple slices out of the bowl and pat them dry with kitchen paper. When the oil is very hot, dip them in the batter and slip as many of them into the skillet as will fit loosely. Fry them to a golden brown on one side, then turn them and do the other side. Transfer them to a cooling rack to drain or to a platter lined with kitchen paper. Repeat the procedure until all the remaining slices are done. Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve while hot.
Marcella Hazan’s Strawberries in Balsamic Vinegar
Marcella Hazan first introduced me to this unlikely sounding combination, it takes a certain amount of courage to try it but believe me it makes strawberries taste exquisitely intense. Aceito Balsamico the aristocrat of Italian vinegars varies enormously, it is precious and expensive, buy the best one you can find and use it sparingly.
2 lbs (900g) strawberries
3-5 tablespoon castor sugar
1-2 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar (Aceito Balsamico)
Shortly before serving, remove the hulls from the berries and cut in half lengthways. Sprinkle with sugar and toss gently. Just before serving add the balsamic vinegar and toss again. Serve immediately.
N.B. this recipe is not successful with wine or malt vinegars.
Great salads – everyone seems to be talking about the delicious Middle Eastern style salads at Jack Crotty aka Rocket Man’s stall Mahon Point Farmers Market. Also yummy takeaway breakfasts – granola and fruit salad with sumac, honey and thyme yoghurt, all homemade – how about that.
Slow Food Event – Artisan Millers Leonie and Andrew Workman from Dunany Farm, County Louth will tell the story of their organic flour milling and heritage wheat varieties. There is also a short cookery demonstration using spelt flour. At Ballymaloe Cookery School on Tuesday 9th October 7pm. Slow Food Members €6.00 Non Slow Food Members €8.00. Booking Essential 021 4646785 or E: firstname.lastname@example.org- All Proceeds to support the East Cork Slow Food Educational Project. www.slowfoodireland.com
Dates for your Diary
Wild & Slow 2012, a unique Slow Food festival that celebrates everything that is good about Irish food: fresh, local, traditional and wild. It’s a yearlong event – follow this on their website – culminating in November at Brooklodge, Macreddin Village, Co Wicklow 11- 12th November 2012. http://wildandslow.com/
Savour Kilkenny Festival of Food – Save the days – 25th – 29th October 2012 – lots of interesting and exciting events planned http://savourkilkenny.com/