Five quarters: recipes and notes from a kitchen in Rome by Rachel Roddy. Hachette UK, 2015.
The book I have chosen to start with, is not in fact a book I own, but one I borrowed from the library. Why if I have mumble, mumble books on my own shelves, am I borrowing another one from the library? That is a very good question, to which I have an equally good answer. I don’t yet own this book and I would very much like to. When we first arrived in Bologna, I started reading Rachel Roddy’s Guardian column, a Kitchen in Rome. One of the first meals I made in our Italian kitchen was Rachel’s recipe for sausages with red onion and grapes. Some of you will have eaten this meal at my table or perhaps I have cooked it at your house. A few weeks later, I read her column on Bolognese rice cake and the following Saturday I encountered said rice cake on our Bologna Food Tour. I have since made this at home and it has been a great success.
I have been very keen to read Rachel’s books and started to search them out as soon as I returned to Wellington. They were none to be found in Unity, so I went to the library, where I discovered “Five quarters”. This is the best kind of cooking book. One you can read as well as cook from. In fact, you will enjoy reading this book even if you never make a single recipe. And the stories and recipes remind me of shopping and cooking in Italy even though Roman cooking is very different to Bolognese.
The first recipe that caught my attention was cipolline in agrodolce, sweet and sour onions. This is a dish of baby pickling onions which you could serve as a side dish with almost any meal. This dish is already a regular at my table and has been very popular with visitors. As I have already said, I am not very good at following the recipe and my version is adapted from Rachel’s recipe, with input from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking and Elizabeth David’s Italian Food. Rachel’s recipe says to soak the peeled onions in cold water for four hours. Both Marcella and Elizabeth David suggest boiling the unpeeled onions for either eight seconds or ten minutes. I compromised and boiled them gently for eight minutes. Once the onions have cooled, peel them and put the onions into a heavy-based sauté pan in which they will fit snugly, with some olive oil and a little butter. Add enough water to come halfway up the pan. I used the water in which I’d boiled the onions which I imagined already had some delicious onion flavour. Simmer the onions in the water for about 20 minutes then add a tbsp sugar, a sprinkling of salt and about 2 tbsp red wine vinegar. Now cook the onions really slowly, covered for 1-2 hours. Turn them occasionally and top up the water as required. They are done when the onions are very soft and the sauce is reduced to a sticky deliciousness. Make more than you think you will need because they will be very popular.
Pasta e patate, pasta and potato soup is one of my favourites. It’s one of those classic minestre I wrote about in Bologna only more simple – soffritto, potatoes, pasta. No garlic, no chilli. Add some pancetta to the soffritto if you like and top with grated Parmigiana to serve. Comfort food perfection.
I had some ricotta left over from the tortelloni I had made in the weekend. I looked to page 137, spaghetti con ricotta e pepe nero for inspiration. Spaghetti, ricotta, Parmigiana, black pepper. I didn’t actually have 200g of ricotta left and mine was mixed with parsley, cheese and nutmeg for the tortelloni filling. But the idea was right. I sautéed some pancetta and added some frozen peas and roasted red capsicum from a jar. I heated a little cream in the pan then stirred through cooked penne rigatoni and the ricotta mix. Added some pasta water to make a silky sauce and topped with Parmgiana. I will go back and make Rachel’s simpler dish.
My favourite dish to date from this book, is spinaci con pinoli e uvetta, spinach with pine nuts and raisins. I didn’t have raisins so used currants, which I love for the sharp sweetness they bring to the dish. When cooking with spinach most recipes tell you to cook until tender, drain and squeeze out the liquid, then add to your dish. I never do that. I just coarsely chop the washed, raw spinach and wilt it into the dish at the end. Does anyone know why I should cook it first? It always seems like too much work. I soaked 2 tbsp currants/ raisins in warm water for 10 minutes. Then lightly toasted 2 tbsp pine nuts in garlic infused oil and a little butter. Lots of Italian recipes tell you to cook a clove of garlic in olive oil until it is golden then remove it. I tend to burn it, so I use a good quality local garlic-infused oil. And add butter, because spinach loves butter. Once the pine nuts are golden, add the spinach and a pinch of salt. When the spinach has wilted, 1-2 minutes, add the drained currants. Serve with a wedge of lemon. I have made it three times now and just keep returning to this wonderful plate of food.
I keep turning to this book when I need inspiration. Straccetti di manzo con rughetta e Parmigiano. This is thinly sliced beef, stir fried in olive oil and served on a bed of rocket and shaved Parmesan, then dressed with the pan juices. Drizzle over more oil and serve with a wedge of lemon. Bill from Gipps St Butcher sliced our beef thinner than I could manage at home. Another keeper dish.
Salsicce con fagioli, beans with sausage, and sage. The perfect combination. Home cooked cannellini beans warmed in a pan of garlic infused oil and gently sautéed sage leaves. Mash a third of the beans in some of their cooking water and return to the pan to make the beans a little creamy. Season and serve topped with sliced grilled sausages.
It’s possible this is the only cooking book I need. I have already renewed it three times and am hoping to have it permanently on my shelves soon. I realise this blog was intended to be about downsizing the collection. Maybe some other book will need to find a new home to make room.
After I wrote this post but before I posted it, I was given another of Rachel’s books, Two Kitchens. I have returned Five Quarters to the library and I will let you know how I go with the new one. I am not sure where on the shelves to go next. Any guesses on how many books on there to date?