Calamari and potato stew

img_20200421_193210_2
Working with home is busier than expected, not the long days with leisurely lunches I had imagined. I go from online meeting to spreadsheets to next online meeting, and often it is my husband doing the cooking on weekdays. But this time I stepped up. Our veg box arrived from L’Alveare, along with eggs, rabbit and calamari, and the next day I dug out a wine-stained recipe for Ligurian stew with seppie (cuttlefish) and potatoes. This is very simple, but needs a bit of time, so it is perfect to assemble and leave simmering while you have a Zoom drink with a friend.

Getting a five kilo veg box is interesting, and so far it has been fun to work out what to cook. It’s all from within 50-70 km of Rome. We had fresh fava beans, carrots, salad, green tomatoes, and lots of fennel. We made pickled fennel and fennel pasta bake with lemony breadcrumbs, both which were delicious. Now we have cicoria, brocoletti and spinach jostling for space in the veg drawer, along with Roman zucchini, so maybe a green spring risotto will appear in the next days. Maybe also zucchine a scapece, fried zucchini slices dressed in oil, vinegar, garlic and mint? So many possibilities! It’s a little overwhelming after four years in Ghana with more limited vegetable options. It’s also so nice to have access to all my cookbooks. Like old T-shirts: if I do not use them now, I never will, so it’s time to use them or pass them on.

img_20200426_170030_7

The original recipe calls for seppie, but I used calamari, with more potatoes, and it was lovely. This is for two people, with a little left for lunch the next day.

Calamari and potato stew

500 gr calamari, cleaned
500 gr potatoes, peeled
4 tbs olive oil
3 cloves garlic
parsley
generous pinch of dried chili flakes
small glass of dry white wine
1/2 tsp salt

If you have a cast iron pot, use that — something with a heavy lid is best, or a very tight-fitting lid. Heat the oil, and gently fry garlic and chili flakes (or chopped fresh chili , if you have it).  Slice calamari into strips and add to pan with parsley (dry, or fresh chopped). Pour in white wine, cook on low heat for 25 min or so. I enjoyed more of the white wine on a call with a friend in Chicago.  Now, chop the peeled potatoes and add them to the pot, keeping the heavy lid on – you do not want the steam to escape. Relax while the stew continues to simmer with lid on for another 20-25 minutes or so, until the potatoes are cooked but not falling apart. You might need a little stock or wine if it looks dry, this did not need extra liquid. Salt and serve.

img_20200426_190837_9

Not quite a seaside lunch at Fiumicino, but it was really good! I really appreciate being safe in Rome, and hope that phase 2 of our lockdown here goes well.  There may be a second wave of infections following the partial lifting of restrictions. There have definitely been a lot more people out since Easter but most Romans have been incredibly disciplined. We have no family here, and cannot see friends yet, so thank goodness for good Internet. It’s a tough time for many small businesses, and we do not know what the summer will bring. I am crossing fingers for continued calm and safe days for all.

Creole potato-topped aubergine bake

IMG_20180501_174624.jpg

A friend is traveling back to Accra tonight, and sent a picture what she is bringing back: asparagus, cauliflower, greens, Ryvita and red wine. Yes, we travel with vegetables! Accra does have vegetables, but sometimes limited options, and anything imported is SO expensive. I am thus always happy to read blogs with ingredients I can actually buy here (affordably), so I bookmarked Vegetarian Dad’s  Bombay Potato Stuffed Aubergines a few months ago. He has some excellent recipes.  I did intend to follow his recipe, but with  eeny-weeny baby brinjals rather than big aubergines, and a movie night waiting, this as what we made instead, which was rather a detour: sliced aubergines, gently cooked, then baked in a creole-spiced tomato sauce until quite silky, with a potato topping and a smattering of cheese. Those Bombay Potato Stuffed Aubergines are still on my to-make list, though, as they look amazing.

 

Creole potato-topped aubergine bake  (not pretty, but tasty)

12 small or 3 large aubergines (I used about 400 grammes)
40 ml sunflower oil
3 large onions, sliced
400 grammes potato, peeled and diced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tbs creole seasoning  (salt, red pepper, black pepper, chili, garlic)
2 tsp Hungarian paprika
400g tin of chopped tomatoes

Optional: handful of cheese  (use a vegetarian cheese if you have it)

Slice the small aubergines into 3mm or thick slices, and batch fry them on both sides in a little oil.  If you have big aubergines, halve them before slicing them (mainly as this was destined for one-bowl eating in a sofa, with a fork. You may be a civilized person who eats dinner at a table  and even uses a knife – then the slice dimensions are entirely up to you.)  If you have olive oil, that is probably better. Do not crowd the aubergine slices. Fry until the aubergine is soft and starting to brown lightly. Take out the aubergine and put it in a baking dish (here, a square Pyrex).

Add a bit more oil, and gently fry saute the onions, garlic, diced potatoes and spices on a low heat for ten minutes. Add the tomatoes, and simmer for a further five minutes. The potatoes will still be a bit crunchy, but they are going into the oven next. (Note: I had planned to use cajun spices but was distracted and took the wrong tin…. so Creole potatoes it is! It was a rather old Creole spice mix, with black pepper, red pepper, garlic, salt – I use one tbs and did not add more salt and pepper, and you might need less spices, depending how spicy you like it. )

Heat the oven to 200C. Tip the spicy tomato-potato mix on top of the aubergine, and pop the baking dish on middle rack of the oven. I added a handful of leftover brie lurking in the fridge. The brie had been frozen and crumbled nicely. Of course, that is not generally a kind way to treat brie, but in a tropical country where cheese is expensive, freezing cheese is a tactical decision.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or so, until the tomato sauce bubbles up and the potato layer is cooked through (just past al dente) but not dry.

Optional: enjoy from a bowl in your lap, while watching “The Greatest Showman”.

……I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum…..
This is really not a pretty dish, and not what was planned, but it was actually very satisfying. The flavors and textures worked well, and the base layer of aubergines was really excellent. I’ll try some more variations of this.

IMG_20180501_185933.jpg

Potato and leek risotto

Leek for risotto

I had three long leeks stuffed into the fridge, waving their green ends every time the door was opened. Potato and leek soup, I thought, to counterbalance the maltempo (bad weather) expected in Rome over the weekend. Predictions were dire. But Saturday was sunny, the laundry backlog from December was finally cleared, and even Sunday was not bad. We went to the Bar dei Cesaroni, just up the hill, and had coffee, sitting in the pizza next to their grey parrot who’ll say”Ciao!” if in the right mood. A soap opera is based there, so you get grizzled locals there, mixed with Italians posing in front of the bar. Very good spot for a drink or a Sunday morming cappuccino.

image

The coffee is good, and the bar is also a shrine to Roma. And the leeks? Well, one ended up in this risotto last night.

Potato and leek risotto

50 grammes chopped guanciale (optional)
1 leek
3 potatoes
t tbs parsley
300 grammes risotto rice (I like Carnaroli)
1.5 litres boiling stock (I use vegetable stock cubes)
salt, pepper
60 grammes grated Parmesan

Fry off your guanciale slightly, if you are using it. (If skipping guanciale, heat 1 tsp of olive oil in pot before adding leek.) Wash and chop your leek, and dice the potatoes. Add these to the pot. No need to peel them if they are thin skinned. After a couple minutes, add the risotto rice, and stir so it absorbs some flavour from the guanciale fat and leek (the potato impact is probably minimal tastewise at this stage.)

In the interim, you’ll have pot number two ready with slightly boiling stock. This you ladle in, little by little, only adding a new ladle of hot broth when the previous broth has been almost absorbed. Keep stirring, so the rice releases starch and the risotto becomes creamier. It will keep absorbing liquid after it stops cooking, but it is helpful to taste the rice and feel it going from slightly hard to a bit al dente, to know when enough is enough. You might not need all the broth, or you might need a splash more water (a little white wine is always nice in risotto as well.) When it looks almost ready, take it off the heat and stir in the grated cheese.

Leek potato risotto

Making risotto is really not hard, and you can add what you like. Over the holidays we had some lovely risotto in Varese: taleggio and orange peel, and saffron and culatello. This was less exotic, but good winter food. This is 4-6 portions, as this is great as leftovers the next day. Risotto is great for making rice fritters as well.

We are having neighbours over for dinner this week, and I am debating what to cook. They are Italian, which means we will serve something foreign. Cooking anything Italian would be rather intimidating when people are so knowledgable and specific on how things should be done. I am thinking Norwegian salmon loin, with red rice and leek. Maybe not with miso this time, hmmmmm….. And sticky toffee pudding was the plan for dessert, but one guest is diabetic so a pavlova might be safer, with just fruit for him. Or a nice orange salad for everyone? Suggestions appreciated!