Saturday, July 3, 2010

Italian Cuisine – Mamma Mia!

I decided it would be interesting for the blog and for Simon’s and my dinners to focus on a particular country’s food each fortnight. Simon’s favourite food is Italian so we thought that would be a good place to start. I sourced all my recipes online at BBC Good Food since I don’t have an Italian cookbook and I looked through a recipe book at the shop to see if it had anything more interesting – it didn’t. So was Italian cuisine the start of a great love affair?

A few things to bear in mind here are that:
1. I can’t eat wheat so pasta, pizza, gnocchi and apparently most typical Italian food is out for me. 2. I’ve been on holiday to Italy twice and both times have been entirely disappointed with Italian food. In Tuscany back in 2001, most places I went served pre-prepared and microwaved dishes. In the ‘proper’ restaurants I went to I didn’t realise everything had to be ordered separately so ended up one night with a plate of chicken and nothing else! Last year in Venice (for our honeymoon) we can safely say we had no outstanding meals at all – we got the impression that since everything has to be floated into Venice that it’s all frozen and then defrosted for cooking. In fact, our best meal in Venice was in a little Chinese restaurant we found in a back street!
3. When I eat in an Italian restaurant here I generally have fish with vegetables – yes it’s an Italian restaurant, but does that make it an Italian dish?

Our first meal was Italian Chicken with Ham, Basil and Beans. The recipe called for chicken thighs wrapped in prosciutto with 2 tubs of halved cherry tomatoes scattered around them in the roasting tin and a large glass of white wine poured over it all. It then had to cook for 40 minutes, add the beans and cook for another 30 minutes. Now, cherry tomatoes are quite juicy and when they get hot what happens to the juice? Yes, it all oozes out so after an hour in the oven I had a mush of tomatoes surrounding the chicken wrapped with extremely dried out prosciutto. Maybe if there hadn’t been so much wine in the dish then it wouldn’t have had such a tomato puree consistency. Simon thought it tasted alright – I forced myself to eat it.

Since I’d exactly followed the recipe the night before and come to no good, the next night I thought the Italian Beef Stew seemed very bland so I ‘improved’ it by adding some red wine to the mix. I don’t believe it was the red wine that ruined the dish, I think it would have been just as bland, thin and un-hearty without that bit of help. Beef, onion, a can of chopped tomatoes and a yellow pepper just don’t make the sort of stew that I am used to.

The third night of Italian cuisine was an improvement on the first two nights: Smoked Salmon and Lemon Risotto. I’ve never cooked risotto rice (when I make ‘risotto’ I just use normal brown rice and cook it with veg and wine) and could not believe that 1.5 litres of water was absorbed into just 350g of rice. The mascarpone, smoked salmon and lemon were stirred in and hey presto. I can’t eat high-starch foods (hence no wheat) but what I didn’t realise is that risotto rice is extremely starchy. I knew I was eating rice, but it tasted like pasta! As I used to find with pasta dishes (in the days when I ate them), after a few mouthfuls I wouldn’t be able to face eating any more but would still be hungry – too rich and creamy. Same with risotto. It did taste very nice, but only in small amounts and my stomach did not react well to it later!!

Finally, with my parents coming over for dinner, I chose to make Roasted Fish – Italian Style. Italian style seems to mean simply lots of tomatoes, olives and basil. With my last roasted tomatoes fiasco in mind, this dish only needed to be in the oven for 15 minutes so I thought it should come out fine. Simon and I don’t like olives but since Mum and Dad do and the recipe called for them to be included I scattered them over the dish. Sadly, the smell and taste of whatever brine the olives had been in inside the jar permeated through the fish and everyone thought the fish was off (which it wasn’t since there was no smell when I opened them and nobody was ill afterwards). Another really successful Italian meal!

One very nice Italian dish I made was the Mozarella Peppers (bell peppers stuffed with tomato, basil and mozzarella). Really juicy and delicious – a great take on the traditional caprese salad. So at least one thing I cooked last week turned out well. I was meant to cook Italian for two weeks but I’ve knocked that firmly on the head and moved on to my favourite food for this week…French. Will let you know how that goes.

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