Not the snappiest of titles eh? I’m thinking that I’ve got all this blogging lark completely wrong. All the sites I visit which appeal to my interests, tend to be single subject areas. You know what you get when you visit (Norwich) ‘City ’til I Die’ and ‘View from the Terrace’ etc – solid postings about specific (or general) interests in football. ‘Alex’s Cool Music’ site is all about the music scene of course. I rather like a site called ‘I am the Lost Girl’ because it’s got bang up to date info and rich comment on what’s happening in the entertainment world. ‘The Huffington Post’ is all about politics and the news and opinion around them yet pretty lively for all that. But you come to my site and it’s all over the place in terms of subject matter. In the last few postings I’ve rambled on about US politics, the strange but beautiful hoopoe bird, the Premiership managerial merry-go-round, even holidays where strange women have been rescued from the sea by clutching my swimming shorts and their contents. It’s hardly a common thread is it?
And it’s hardly very smart of me. I get some very nice comments from women occasionally, who perhaps are interested in some of the postings about life in Italy or, more often than not, when I write something touching about my grandkids. But they check into the next posting only to find me ranting on in hard core Anglo-Saxon about some f*ckwit called McClaren and his sad quiff. They aren’t very likely to call the girls in Ladies Rotary to let them know about this charming little blog from Pasta Paulie are they?. Equally I’m aware of quite a few blokes who come on to the site probably tracking a debate on some football issue, and possibly thinking this is no-nonsense stuff and worth tuning into regularly. They wouldn’t get much respect if they encouraged their mates to check out this in-your-face PP opinion on football matters only for them to find me talking about the beautiful sunsets over Servigliano or odd names for cars or a dinky little new cooking utensil.
But who cares eh? And what’s more, all this has just served as a mouche bouche intro to tonight’s simple but brilliant starter; the toasta bag! (hey come on, stick with it; who else is going to give you this breadth of subject matter? Huffington Post – it’s narrow man). So picture the scene, you’re leaving the UK for a new life in, oh where… how about Italy! The removals lorry and the family car are just about full and there’s a small pile of stuff still to pack and there’s an interesting discussion taking place about do we/don’t we really need it. Of course C wins and the Breville toasted sandwich maker gets consigned to the leave-it-behind pile. Grrr. If I’d called it a panini machine it would have made it in the very first box. Ah well its arriverderci to toastied cheese, ham, branston pickle with tomato combo sarnies.
But wait a minute, after a short spell in the new country my brilliant wife C only goes and announces that the morning’s post has delivered her order from Lakeland, the home of creative kitchenware (so they say). Am I bothered? C passes me two brown plasticy sort of bags. And? These are your new toasted sandwich makers she tells me. Eh? But get this, these things are made from a material (no doubt developed from some Nasa research programme) which doesn’t burn but allows heat to transfer through it. So you can pop in a cheese, ham, branston etc combo sandwich, stick it in your electric toaster and 2 minutes later up pops your beautifully toasted sarnie. They are brilliant. I think they cost around £6 for a pair and they last ages. If I had shares in Breville I might be calling my broker this morning. Ah shares, I remember when….
Anyways. I’m on a bit of a cooking theme today in praise of my wife C. A couple of dishes C’s come up with recently are really worth trying. Firstly a pasta dish (CC was asking about this in on a recent comment on cfmwddc). I have to admit that I never used to eat pasta – I always found it too bland, dry or too chewy/rubbery. But once we sampled the pastas here I was hooked. They cook them with a lot less added sauce or ingredients and the pasta is allowed to absorb flavours rather than being drowned in some heavy sauce, which is the English style I guess. And the pasta’s always moist, yet al dente (still just firm) and flavoursome. The fact is I haven’t mastered how they do it yet, so C tends to prepare almost all the pasta dishes we have. And the other day she did a dish with gnocchi which I’ve always found to be the least appealing of the pastas. But this is good, trust me.
First off, pour a glass of chilled wine/cool beer – if you’re ever going to get into this cooking lark, you need to enjoy the whole experience. As well as some gnocchi you’re going to need some cheeses (that’s my mate jp disinterested) – a tub of mascarpone and a medium-flavoured soft cheese like brie or possibly italian dolcelatte (which is a blue and maybe a bit strong for some tastes). Plus you’ll need some spring onions and some fresh baby spinach. More turn-offs? I guess you could use cut-up asparagas or small caulifower/broccoli florettes as an alternative. Plus you’ll need some streaky bacon, over here we used speck which is just great fried up.
Ok put some water on to boil for the gnocchi. You can add a touch of sea salt if you prefer it. Meantime in a frying pan add a tiny splash of olive oil and fry off the speck/bacon pieces and then add the sliced up spring onions. Set aside the speck/bacon for now and add a tub of mascarpone, stirring in the onions then add the brie and allow to melt. You need enough brie (prob around 100g) to flavour the mix. Tip the gnocchi into the boiling water and allow to cook for about 2-3 minutes. Absolutely no more. The gnocchi wil rise to the surface and tell you they’re ready! Have a slurp.
Quickly wash the spinach (if you’re using a firmer green like asparagas or the broccoli/cauliflower florettes fry them off with the spring onions and set aside with the bacon. Now you can add the spinach, a biggish handful, into the cheese mix and stir in until it just wilts. If you’ve used another green add them now and put in some of the fried up speck/bacon pieces. Drain the gnocchi from the pan and add to the mix, stirring in well. Put into a heated serving dish and lay/sprinkle over the remaining bacon pieces. Optionally, sprinkle over some ground pepper and serve as part of a larger meal (possibly a great mixed salad) with some focaccia or ciabatta bread.
Well done fellahs, have a slurp. Easy peasy eh? Finally, here’s another great and simple idea C discovered which works really well as a different sort of vegetable dish; roasted fennel wedges. Come on bear with me. I often cut up a fresh fennel and add it to a mixed salad. It’s adds a sharpish taste and firm crunch to the mix. So I sometimes drizzle over some lime juice to create a little softness and added piquancy. But this is cooked fennel and it tones the taste down a notch or two and adds a little sweetness. Take a fennel or two, trim off the bits, wash and chop into wedges. Add to a roasting tray, drizzle over some good olive oil (members of the Pasta Paulie olio club will already know what’s good!) ensuring the fennel wedges are turned and fully-coated. Cook in a hottish oven for some where between 45-55 mins. The fennel will have softened and turned crispy brown. Add to a warmed serving dish as part of a really great meat, chicken or fish meal.
Final slurp. Maybe refill that glass and tuck in. Enjoy