Weekend food with Darina Allen:  Comforting recipes for a food-loving friend

I’M JUST back from Slow Food Terra Madre Salone Del Gusto 2018, the biggest international event dedicated to food — 1.2m people attended in 2016. 

Every two years a most intriguing mix of farmers, fishermen, artisan food producers, transhumant shepherds, food scientists, chefs, food writers, activists, university professors, seeds savers, migrants and indigenous people descend on Turin, a beautiful small city in Piedmont. They come from all four corners of the earth to attend a massive five-day artisan food fair and a variety of seminars on how to change our current fractured food system.

Carlo Petrini, the messianic president of Slow Food International, who was named “one of the 50 people who could save the planet” by The Guardian, gave an impassioned speech about Food For Change — a global campaign aimed at educating all of us on the effect of our food choices have on climate change. Slow Food is committed to a food system that not only provides good, clean and fair food for all but is also sustainable and positive for the planet, www.slowfood.com.

Each of us can and must make a difference by choosing food that doesn’t harm the environment though its production, its transportation or its disposal.

It comes as a shock to realise that we could reverse climate change by changing our diet. I attended a variety of intriguing sessions; one on natural ferments, the panel included one of my food heroes Sandor Katz, the king of fermentation, and Venetia Villani, director of Cucina Naturale. In a session on pesticides entitled ‘The Poison in The Pot’ Miryam Kurganoff de Gorban from Argentina showed a heart-rending video on the effect of glyphosate on Argentine farm workers. On a more positive note Earth markets are changing communities from Krakow to San Diego, Uganda to Turkey.

A session on soil, ‘The Future Is Under Our Feet’ included Arwyn Jones from the EU Soil Research Centre in Milan — he and his fellow speakers painted a grim picture of the effect of intensive chemical farming on soil and suggested many ways to rebuild the diminishing fertility.

Ireland was represented by the raw milk cheese producers — Italians were intrigued to taste Young Buck Mike Thompson. Long-time Slow Food member Sally Barnes of Woodcock Smokery in West Cork gave an engaging session to a packed audience on Ireland’s smokehouses and also demonstrated kedgeree and ceviche.

Feeding thousands of people every day is quite the mission but there are many options. The street food area offered many intriguing dishes as did the “smoke food over fire” and several others including Terra Madre Kitchen.

The Slow Food Youth area was buzzing with passionate people from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo, www.unisg.it, determined to make a difference. Slow Seeds, Slow Fish, Slow Insects, Slow Meat, and Slow Cheese offered back to back sessions. Slow Chickens were determined to put an end to caged birds.

Slow Food Terra Madre is quite simply a life-changing event, thousands of inspirational people all helping to change, or wanting to change the fast-food culture that has enveloped our lives and make a difference to the planet with how they spend their food euro.

Just by coincidence Joe Trivelli of the River Cafe in London’s new book The Modern Italian Cook has just arrived.... now this is a book I’ve been eagerly anticipating. Joe is the much-loved co-head chef at River Cafe and has worked there since 2001 but this book is packed with recipes for the food Joe likes to cook at home for his lovely wife and two children and his fortunate friends, just the sort of comforting food I too love....

Here are a few recipes to tempt you — could be a delicious Christmas present for a food-loving friend.

Joe Trivelli’s Focaccia from Recco Focaccia Di Recco

Recco is a town on the Ligurian coast between Genova and Portofino. If you go there you can eat this on the street or at a focacceria, where it is treated more like a pizza. If you’d like to make a large one, it’s easier to do it with another pair of hands, stretching the dough very gently between you. The stretching of this dough requires a lightness of touch and a minimum of pulling. If you’ve never had this before I think you should opt for the plain version, but you can also ‘pizzerise’ with a tomato and herb topping and a little oil before baking, if you like.

Serves 2

250g (9oz) organic ‘oo’ flour

125m1 (4fl oz) whole milk

200g (7oz) stracchino or crescenza cheese

Sea salt

Extra virgin olive oil

Mix the flour and milk together until you have a dough, then transfer to a clean work surface for kneading. Lightly flour the bench if the dough is tacky. Knead it constantly, rotating it all the while, and flouring the worktop where necessary, for about 4 minutes or longer if your batch is bigger. It quickly feels very smooth on the outside and will bounce back when pressed with your fingertip.

When smooth to the touch, cover well and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 220°C/400°F/Mark 6 and oil a light, large non-stick baking tray.

Cut the dough into two roughly equal amounts, but make one slightly bigger than the other. Use the bigger one for the base. Roll it out into a rectangle as thinly as possible, to about 2mm. Keep the tray you are going to use beside you to help you gauge the size and begin to work with your hands. The aim is to make something thinner than regular pasta, almost as thin as filo. The under sheet can be slightly thicker than the top but make sure that it doesn’t have any holes in it. The second will have holes made in it, so it’s not as much of a problem.

Work with your hands together as if you were praying but with the dough sheet draped over. Carefully move your hands apart, but do this very gently, almost as though trying not to stretch the dough. It will, however, do so. Hop the dough on your hands so that it turns around by 45 degrees at first and repeat. Pay particular attention to the edges of the dough, not the centre, which will naturally be pulled by the weight of the dough. Stretch the parts that are thicker and avoid those that look too thin.

When large enough to fit, place on the baking tray and dot with pieces of stracchino cheese. Stretch out a second piece of dough, ideally slightly thinner. Place on top of the cheese and cut around the edges with a knife. Crimp the border together and tear a few holes in the top. Lightly sprinkle with olive oil and salt before baking.

Bake for 8 minutes until golden and slightly bubbling through the holes. Eat immediately and make another straight away.

Barny Haughton’s Bucatini all’ Amatriciana

The sauce for this deeply delicious and simple dish has four basic ingredients: tomatoes, shallots, chilli and bacon. But there are some rules about the ingredients: You really need to get the right bacon; the deep flavour of a good Amatriciana comes from the rendered-down fat. The best bacon cut is guanciale (pork cheek) but a good fatty unsmoked pancetta will do fine as well.

Bucatini (like thick spaghetti) is best for the pasta but rigatoni or penne will also do well - but don’t use fresh pasta. And finally: use pecorino not parmesan. The difference may not seem a big deal but what you get from pecorino (made from sheeps milk) is a sharpness which works brilliantly with the rich Amatriciana sauce. Parmesan (made from cows milk) is sweeter and less defined in its flavour.

Serves 4 people

400g (14oz) guanciale or a piece of fatty pancetta

1 teaspoon chilli flakes

3 shallots very finely sliced

600g (1¼lb) ripe tomatoes – or a 380g tin of good quality chopped tomatoes

2 bay leaves

salt and pepper

80g (3¼ oz) aged pecorino, grated

400g (14oz) bucatini

Olive oil

You are going to make a passata out of the tomatoes. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Mark 4. Place the tomatoes on a roasting tray, toss them in a little olive oil and salt and bake them for about 45 minutes. Leave to cool for a few minutes and then pass through a mouli or sieve, leaving behind only the dry skin and seeds. Note: if you have lots and lots of ripe tomatoes, say, five kilos, you could do as above, then reheat the passata to simmering and transfer to sterilised jars, screw the lids on tight and keep in a cool place for up to three months until needed.

Slice the guanciale into thickish rashers and then into lardons about 1cm wide. Put a splash of olive oil in the bottom of a deep solid bottomed sauté or frying pan, bring to a medium heat and put the lardon in the pan. Once they have started to fry, turn the heat down and continue to fry gently. As the fat renders down, pour it off into a bowl. Continue doing this until the lardons become crispy. Drain the remaining fat off into the bowl, put the lardons to one side. In the same pan, fry the sliced shallots until they are soft but not brown. Add the chilli flakes, fry a little longer, then add the passata, bay leaves and a few twists of black pepper. Simmer gently for 25 minutes and keep warm.

Cook the pasta in the normal way but make sure you cook it to just before it’s al dente. This is because you are going to finish it in the sauce for a further 30 seconds or so. Drain, toss in olive oil and put to one side.

Meanwhile, add the rendered fat to the tomato sauce and have the crispy lardons ready in a warm place.

Now add the pasta and lardons to the sauce in the frying pan, simmer for 30 seconds and serve immediately with lots of grated pecorino.

Joe Trivelli’s Rigatoni with Figs Al Fichi

This sounds like an unusual pairing but actually the faintly spicy figs with the rich cured meat is a delicious combination.

Serves 4

400g (14oz) rigatoni

150g (5oz) guanciale or pancetta, sliced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

6 fresh figs, washed and sliced into three

100g (3½oz) grated mature pecorino, plus extra to serve

Sea salt and black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Put a large pan of salted water on to heat. You can start cooking the pasta as soon as it boils as the sauce is that quick to make.

Fry the guanciale or pancetta in a large pan with a tablespoon of olive oil. When it is nice and crispy, and most of the fat has melted, add the thyme and figs and toss quickly.

Drain the pasta, reserving a cup of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the other pan and toss everything together, adding the cheese and using the cooking water to emulsify the sauce as necessary. Add a good grind of pepper and salt to taste. Serve with more cheese for grating at the table.

- From Joe Trivelli’s The Modern Italian Cook published by Seven Dials

Joe Trivelli’s Ricotta Ice Cream Gelato Alla Ricotta

Super-easy, super-creamy, with figs, hazelnuts and chocolate, I’ve thrown all the good stuff at this.

Serves 6

100g (3½oz) dried figs

Juice of 1 lemon

140g (4¼ oz) caster sugar

500g (18oz) ricotta

6 egg yolks

300g (10½oz) double cream

200ml (7fl oz) whole milk

70g (3oz) roasted hazelnuts, chopped into small pieces

80g (3¼ oz) dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces

Take the tips off the figs and cut into pieces. Put the lemon juice in a pan with log of the sugar and the figs. Bring to the boil then turn off the heat and leave to soften.

Pass the ricotta through a sieve and then do it again to make it creamy. Whisk the egg yolks with the rest of the sugar until pale then add the cream, milk and ricotta.

Churn in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Towards the end, stir through the nuts, chocolate and figs. Best eaten as soon as it’s scoopable, after about 3 hours in the freezer, but this ice cream will keep for a week.

Remove from the freezer well ahead of serving to soften once frozen solid.

- From Joe Trivelli’s The Modern Italian Cook published by Seven Dials

Hot tips

Con Traas of the Apple Farm in Cahir, Co Tipperary, has an abundance of delicious apples, both dessert and cookers. They will deliver to your door in the Munster area. One can also bring your own windfall apples to be pressed into apple juice. For details www.theapplefarm.com and 052 7441459.

If you are in the Shanagarry area this weekend don’t forget you can bring your windfall apples to The Ballymaloe Cookery School. We’ll have our apple press setup so you can make your own juice and then pop in for a Saturday pizza, noon to 4pm.

Home Butchery, Charcuterie and Sausage Making with Philip Dennhardt. Fancy making your own sausages? This one-day course will be of interest to anyone who likes pork in all its delicious forms. Philip comes from a long line of German butchers and will demonstrate how to butcher a side of pork like a professional. He will then transform every scrap from nose to tail into a full range of hams, succulent sausages and charcuterie. Full instructions will be given for the making of air dried ham, brine cured hams, brawn, bacon and sausages, chorizos, salamis as well as some recipes for country pâtés and terrines. This is a perfect opportunity to pick up plenty of tips and hints on cooking and preserving pork. The course starts at 2pm on November 9 and finishes at 6pm. At the end of the day, guests will be able to taste a variety of mouth-watering pork products and all the dishes made during the day. Booking esssential www.cookingisfun.ie or 021 4646785.

Thinking of setting up your own food business? Blathnaid Bergin is returning to The Ballymaloe Cookery School from November 12-23 to deliver her intensive 10 day programme on The Business of Food. We have had a fantastic response to this course which provides the vital information needed to set up a viable and successful food business. Skillnet funding is available for residents of the Republic of Ireland, www.cookingisfun.ie

www.instagram.com/darina_allen 

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