Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tiramisu - ish

Everybody loves Tiramisu - the rich dark heady combination of tastes and textures was surely sent by God to finish every great meal.  I used to make a lot of it but to be honest, in the summer it was a bit too heavy for me. So I decided to see if I could invent a summer version.  

I started off going back to basics and the whole 'pick me up' mix of coffee and alcohol.  I reckon that todays version is vodka and redbull.  So I made a tiramisu with the savoiardi biscuits soaked in a heady mix of Absolut and Red Bull.  It truly was as hideous as it sounds.  But mainly because Red Bull tastes like cheap chewing gum - the vodka hit the spot.  

So I tried vodka and blueberries and that did the trick.  Make the Tiramisu as normal but instead of soaking the biscuits in coffee and brandy, soak them in a 50 / 50 mix of vodka and white wine.  Then put a layer of blueberries over the biscuits before you add the mascarpone mix layer.  If this doesn't pick you up then baby you cannot be picked !

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Oh my God.............

I bought a tin of capers recently.  Can't see the name catching on in Ireland.

Monday, February 20, 2012

My Favourite Toy

A number of years ago I learned how to to make pasta in a family run restaurant in Barga, a small town in the north of Tuscany.  A woman called Gionetti ran the place with her sister and every afternoon Gionetti would make pasta for the evening.  On afternoon she let me help / watch !!

I won't bore you with the recipe for pasta (6 eggs to one Kilo flour) but what was impressive was the ease with which she operated the bog standard Imperia pasta maker. She rolled the pasta to the perfect width flipped it into the machine and cranked it through.  She made the rollers thinner and started again and in no time she had thin flexible sheets of shiny yellow pasta ready to be cut into any shape.  She let me do some rolling and hey, it turns out I was a natural.

Imagine my surprise when I got back to Ireland, bolted my new machine to the table and cranked out the stodgiest, gluey pasta the world has seen.  So, I worked hard at it and after a large number of attempts, I managed to make reasonable quality pasta.  But it wasn't great and it took about an hour to make a kilo.  I never achieved the results that looked so simple in Barga.

But there are many ways to skin a cat and I am not one to give up easily so, after much research, I bought a Lillo Due pasta machine from Italy.  This is a tough little machine that kneads the pasta and then extrudes it through a variety of different dies.  I have dies for spaghetti, tagliatelli, rigatoni, fuesilli and lasagne but there are many other dies available too.  I can make about 3kg an hour and the quality is second to none.  Well, maybe second only to Gionetti's in the beautiful town of Barga.

The end result.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Folks Who Live On The Hill

 The town of Montepulciano in southern Tuscany reeks of affluence stronger than the garlic coming from its many little restaurants.  There is wine everywhere.  Long caves going deep into the hill selling the local Super Tuscan, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  And with this Vino Nobile begins the story of the Irish Embassy to the Holy See.

The name of the Nobile wine comes from the family who ruled Montepulciano and had their Roman residence on the highest hill within the old walls of the city.  The Villa Spada. 

Supporters of the Catholic wave across Europe, the Nobiles welcomed O’Neill and O’Donnell after the Flight of the Earls and the two Irishmen are buried further up the Janiculum hill at the Church of San Pietro.

For ten days in June of 1849 the Villa Spada became the centre of world attention as Garibaldi and his red shirts made their last ditch, heroic stance against the French as he fought, rather ironically, against the rule of the Vatican.   

Nearly 100 years later in June 1946 the Villa Spada came up for sale, right at the time the Irish Government was looking for a new Embassy to the Vatican.  The Villa Spada was perfect except it was well over budget. Still, De Valera wanted it and with the assistance of some U.S fundraising the Villa Spada was purchased in New York in February 1947.

Combining this historical significance, the huge Catholic influence over the Irish Government and the ‘great listening post’ arguments we have heard recently, one can see how important a role the embassy has played.  And yet, these really are historic, almost sentimental arguments.  There have been few greater steps towards secularism than Enda Kenny’s decision to close the embassy to the Vatican.  And surely that move is a good thing.

But there is one great loss and that is the loss of an embassy to a higher ideal.  We had an embassy to a spiritual code, an embassy to a belief system if you like.  At a time where our country is rapidly turning from a community into an economy, it is a shame to ditch that without replacing it with something else.  We need an embassy to a higher value. We need an embassy to the arts, to culture, to the intellect.  We need Ambassador Heaney to move to the Villa Spada.  And we need it now.

And then, when the IMF threatens us with further humiliation we will write them a poem.  The bonfire of the bond holders will be a huge tapestry by Louis Le Brocquy.  The grey suits in one corner will be balanced by a startlingly yellow Basil Blackshaw in the far corner.

Villa Spada can lead us back to a time when a new poem by Derek Mahon was more important than anything Angela Merkal has said.  Ever.

So let’s close the fridge door on cold cheap German beer and let a bottle of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano breathe a bit.  Enjoy the colour and the nose and the rich complexities of its flavours.  Take a long drink and drift away to the Villa Spada.  Van Morrison is tuning up out in the warm evening sun on the veranda.  It would be a shame to miss him.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Runny Marmalde

Nicely runny

When I was a child my mother would always make marmalade at this time of the year.  It was such a bonus for us to get  such a glut of fruit in the middle of the winter.  

My mothers goal was to make well behaved marmalade that set properly.  She rarely achieved this goal.  Each year there were new tips and pieces of advice played around with.  Put all the pips in a muslin bag and steep this in the marmalade.  Next year, include a chopped up grapefuit - they are full of pectin.  Next year, include a chopped up lemon - they are full of pectin.  But nothing seemed to work.

So, till this day, homemade marmalade, in my opinion, should be quite runny.  This is my frame of reference.  This is what I know.

I presume nobody needs a recipe for marmalade but for the record I like to put a slosh of gin in at the end - this adds a lovely zing to the marmalade and helps make sure it doesn't set too much!

Don't add the hooch too early or all the alcohol will evaporate.  You need a bit of a kick to it.

Serving suggestion - serve on some lightly buttered, fairly well burnt toast.