Pickled beetroot

Yesterday afternoon, we heard a megaphone outside. A demonstration! We have not had that for a while in the neighbourhood. Unions and housing associations, I think: “Economia pubblica, occupazione stabile, casa e reddito per tutti”: Public economy, stable employment, housing and income for all.

We are preparing for a Christmas in Rome, where life suprisingly seems almost normal. Yes, we have lots of masks, and never leave the house without them. Yes, the bars and restaurants close at 6PM, and we have a curfew 10PM-5AM. But shops are open, we can still meet friends for an outdoor lunch on sunny days, and the only lines for food shopping are at the fresh pasta shop, baker and butcher. With all the travel restrictions it made sense to stay here for the holidays, and though it was hard to accept that, we are really grateful that friends and family are healthy and safe. Touch wood!

On the weekends I’ve doing small-batch pickling and preserving. Bread and butter pickles, this Christmas apple and date chutney, and several batches of pickled beetroot. Even anchovies for Christmas, which have not exploded yet…. we shall see if they are edible. The new market up the hill (near Regionale Lazio, if you know the area) is a great place to get vegetables, cheese, meat, nuts, a tablecloth, a haircut, or some roast porchetta. Very nice. The Puglian stand has amazing red onion taralli. I bought beetroot yesterday, and made another batch.

Pickled beetroot

1 kg fresh beetroot
2 tsp salt

300 ml white wine vinegar
300 ml water
400 ml sugar
1/2 tbs caraway
1/2 tbs yellow mustard seeds

Wash and brush beetroot, cut the stems and leaves off but do not peel them. Do not cut off root or stem base before cooking, or they will bleed red juice into cooking water and be paler later. Cook in salted water 30 minutes or so until almost tender when pierced. Rinse in cold water. Now cut off root and stem base, the remaining peel will come off by rubbing them gently. Slice the cooked beetroot.

In the interim you’ll have boiled up the brine: vinegar, water, sugar, spices. Also, sterilize your glass jars by boiling them with lids for 5-10 minutes. Fill the jars with sliced beetroot, and carefully ladle over the boiling hot brine, to fill the jars. Wipe off any residue, and let them cool upside down. These should keep for a few months, refrigerate once opened.

Rowan-berry jelly with apples

RognebærThese are rowan berries, (rognebær). Rowan trees are also known as mountain ash, and their red-orange berries are tart and very bitter. Rowan jelly is used like lingonberry jam, with roast meat and especially game. It has a particular taste, but I thought it might be nice to try making some to have with strong cheese. Rome is still hot and sticky, and I long for autumn and cool weather, for crisp leaves underfoot and being able to bake without overheating in the kitchen. In the interim, a spot of jelly making.

Rowan berries and apples
Rowan-berry jelly with apples
1200 grammes rowan berries
800 grammes green apples
600 ml water
After straining: 450 grammes of granulated sugar per 600 ml of juice

For this, I mixed rowan berries and apples, in a 3:2 weight ratio. Both to help set the jelly, and to take the bitter edge off. Wash the apples, core them and quarter them, but do not peel. Wash the berries, removing any damaged ones, and remove all twigs. It takes a while…… Pop it all in a large pot, with just enough water to cover, and simmer until the apples are soft and the berries are releasing juice. Half an hour or so? I had a big batch, and I confess, turned it off while we had lunch and watched an old episode of Motive.
Sile saft
Now, put a couple saucers in the fridge so you can test the setting point later. Strain the juice through a muslin cloth. If you have jelly strainer contraption, they are very handy. Strain for 30-40 minutes, then discard the berry-apple mixture. (That is good for compost. Not that I could fit a compost bin on our small balcony, but one can dream…)

Bring the juice back to the boil, stirring occasionally. Skim any foam or scum off. Add the sugar, and bring it back to the boil quickly, for the last time. Add in peeled lemon and some cloves wrapped up in some muslin or thin cloth. Boil rapidly. Test for the setting point: put a spoonful on one of the cold saucer: does the jelly wrinkle once it is cold? If not, boil a bit longer. Or cheat and add pectin, if it looks very dismal. Mine set fine, for once! So I ladled it into small clean sterilized jars and left them upside down to set.

Jars of rowan jelly Cooling jars: we had some on toast the next morning, and it was bitter-sweet but nice. Now, I must remember to label these….. And look for some cheese, now that the temperature is finally dropping a bit here. There is thunder rumbling across town, so maybe autumn is coming with all the rain due tomorrow? Might I need a jumper? We have some lovely pecorino ubriaco, matured in red wine, which might just be a weekend treat. I had better revive my sourdough starter too, it has been abandoned in the fridge for a month now. It is usually robust, but we shall see……

Cherry-apple jam for cheese, with chilli and black pepper

cherries Summer has suddenly arrived in Rome, after a cool wet spring. Where did May go? I’ve finally excavated my open-toed sandals, and have been eyeing the new summer produce every afternoon while walking home. Little melons, that already smell sweet. Piles of fresh apricots, the first nectarines, tangles of cherries, and the oh-so tempting strawberries – no, most of those are already on their way out. So I bought cherries last night. Last year I made cherry-apple jam with Campari, and it was delicious. However, this time I had in mind a small batch of spicy cherry jam to go with pecorino cheese from Pienza: a jam not too sweet, with a bite, and not too runny.

I’m studying for a French exam, and suspect this jam-making may be part of my procrastination strategy, along with a sudden need to iron, fold linen, scrub sinks….. anything to avoid facing French verbs. At least I am translating in my head while cooking: “J’ai fait la confiture de cerises avec des pommes, du piment et de poivre noir, à manger avec du fromage de la brebis.” 

Cherry-apple jam for cheese, with chilli and black pepper

600g pitted cherries
400g apples (3 medium apples, cored but not peeled)
400g sugar
45g pectin powder
1 1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
1/2 tsp black pepper

Start by sterilizing the jars you’ll use. I just boil clean jars and lids for five minutes or so in a saucepan, and leave them there until needed. Not proper canning, but it works for me. two cherries Rinse and pit the cherries. Have a wide pot ready for the fruit. For the apples (I used three red): core and quarter them but leave peel on. Grate the apple wedges; if there are stubborn strips of peel, just chop those and toss them in the pot. Heat gently for five minutes, and you will see the cherries softening and giving off liquid. Add chill flakes and black pepper: half a teaspoon at a time, please taste your way to adjust the heat, less chilli might suit your tastes. This is medium spicy, but not as hot as my Chilli pepper apple jam. Optional step: with a hand blender, liquidize half of the cherries, it will make the jam more homogenous and red.

Add the pectin and boil two more minutes. Add the sugar and boil five minutes. Remove from the heat, and pour into warm, sterilised jars. Seal. I let mine cool upside down, as that is what my mother does – must ask her why! Label, and store in a cool place. (Or store in your hot Roman kitchen, hoping nothing explodes in the summer heat…. so far, so good.) cherry jam cooling Notes: The pectin/sugar ratio will differ, based on the type you have. See what your pectin packet recommends, the ratios are key here. This is a lot less sugar than was recommended, but these cherries are quite sweet. You might use lemon juice as well, but I used pectin and apples to firm it up a bit.  testing cherry jam
See: not even cool yet, and it is holding its shape well! No danger of this lazily dripping off a piece of cheese. The chilli and pepper flavour does intensify, so use you may want to use less, unless you want cheese jam with quite a kick.
bread with cheddar and cheery jamI tried the jam this morning with freshly baked bread and smoked cheddar (yes, from London) and really enjoyed it. With half a bowl of cherries left, I think this means clafoutis next……

But first, a little more French grammar avoidance: I will watch/listen to “Haute Cuisine”  (Les Saveurs du palais) while ironing. Lovely film, based on the true story of the French president’s first female chef. We need to have vocabulary ready to speak about hobbies at the exam, so what better film to help? Any other suggestions for French culinary films to watch?