Mars and Venus and the chicken sandwich

Every now and then I poach a chicken. 
It´s very easy: salt it when you get back home, let it sit for a while as you put the shopping away and after, put it in a pressure cooker with a few aromatics and water to
come up to just below the breast. 20 minutes under pressure, 15 for it to come down and there you are. Chicken meat, tender and juicy and delicate, plus a bucketful of jellied broth. No particular purpose in mind, something´s bound to come up that will make good use of it. And if it doesn´t, freeze in pint bags, some chicken and some broth. You´ll be glad to have that on hand.

The first thing we make are usually chicken sandwiches, which can be taken anywhere you like, and made into pop psychology, even.

José makes a chicken version of the classic Cuban sandwich, called habanero in Madrid and bocadito in Cuba. Chicken, ham, cheese, pickles, mustard, white bread, and let the panini press work its magic. Manly.

I tend towards the ladylike in mine. Breast meat, with a little bit of the jelly still on it. Mayonaise, from a jar, with plenty of lemon juice. A few slices of avocado. A suggestion of black pepper. Chopped celery leaves, chives, and parsley. Lightly toasted white bread, or very fresh brown. Green and fresh,  it feels light, although who are we kidding?

Some crisps/chips, for crunch. And if it´s cold, have a cup of the broth, well salted and spiked with Sherry.


Gnocchi di ricotta

One thing that immediately strikes one on arriving in Italy is that everyone is beautiful. And nobody is fat. How is this possible, in the land of gnocchi (not to mention dried pasta, and pizza, and ice cream, and every other damn thing)?
Well, the answer, as you might expect, is that, A/ they eat small portions of pasta as a primo, and B/They take a lot of excercise, much of it in the shape of dodging Vespas and waving their hands.
This quantity makes a starter for four. You don´t want to gorge on gnocchi, just to have a small bowlful and then go on to something else. Just make sure that the something else is wonderful, because these babies are a pretty hard act to follow.

As taught by Fabrizia at the Anna Tasca Lanza school, they seem a little bit intimidating. For starters, the day begins with a morning trip to see the ricotta being made. A sheep farm on a hillside, bees buzzing, almond trees in bloom, sheep and lambs milling about, and, once inside, the shepherd, in pristine white,  stirring a cauldron of whey and milk. Milked that very morning.
A spoonful of that stuff will quickly convince you that nothing you have ever had before is ricotta, if this thing is ricotta. And these gnocchi are mostly ricotta, so it seems a no go.

Well, despair not. I have made these with the so-called sad supermarket ricotta available in Aberdeen, and I can assure you, they are beautiful. 
You can also try them with requesón, as made with this recipe. It´s not ricotta, but it´s a fresh  cheese that everyone is calling ricotta, so why not?

So anyway, the way to make them is to mix 250 gr. of ricotta with an egg, two tablespoonfuls of grated Parmiggiano and 3 tablespoonfuls of plain flour. This makes a paste that looks delicious but you doubt will ever hold any shape. But it will. I am very clumsy, and my sous chef is three years old, and yet we make very passable gnocchi.

Now put a big pan of water to boil.

The thing to do is sprinkle your work surface with flour, and put a spoonful of the mixture on it. Roll it to make a long shape, then cut it into gnocchi. Lay them aside on a floured clean kitchen towel, and work quickly to make the rest. 
Then put them gently into the boiling water and wait for them to start floating up. When you can fish them out from the surface, they´re cooked.
Douse with herbed butter, or tomato sauce, and eat straight away.

If it seems to you that I have been a bit cavalier in my explanation, let me point you towards Nicky and Oliver´s blog. They have photos, and you can see the whole process very well. Or, take a look at Béa´s. Not that her food is ever less than spectacularly pretty, but it might help.

I promise, it´s very easy and much quicker than you´d think.


Just to say, I will be posting a new recipe soon. It´s been a week of work, and play, and some sunshine and some snow, a new box of pastels and another of charcoal bars, and there were expeditions to buy rabbit and snails for paella, and for a beautiful new desk for the kids. Blogging fell by the wayside but it will be back.


What I have learnt (a bit, anyway)

A friend asked me the other day, so, how was Sicily? And I was happily babbling about the place and the landscape and the weather and the food and the wine, when she interrupted me and said, ok, but what have you learnt? It was a course, right? You must have learnt something?

I was a bit nonplussed at that, because "what have you learnt?" is one of those questions, like "are you happy?" that aren´t as simple to answer as they are to ask.

I don´t count recipes. Recipes can be picked up from a cookbook or a website, but watching someone cook, and hanging out in their kitchen, and peeking into the spice cupboard to see how it´s organized, and noting what small utensils make it into the all-important top drawer, that´s where you learn the useful stuff, the things that you take with you into your every day cooking.

So here, in no particular order, are a few of the tips, factoids and tricks recently incorporated into the messy space at the back of my brain.

1- Sicilian cooking uses very little garlic. Remember that scene in Goodfellas? That´s New Jersey, not Sicily.

2- Vegetable oil for deep frying is perfectly ok, no, it´s better than olive oil. Less strong, doesn´t burn easily. Not that I fry, myself, but it´s good to hear it said out loud without all the establishment raising a hue and cry.

3-Starting dishes with chopped onions in cold oil. The onion scent seeps into the oil, and the onions cook later, with all the rest of the stuff.

4- Meyer lemons are not all they´re cracked up to be.

5- Anything going by the name of ricotta is but a sad, sorry travesty of the heavenly stuff we consumed in great quantities at Case Vecchie.

6- Valentina of Chez Munita showed me the sound a loaf of bread makes when it´s ready. This is beyond my writing ability to reproduce, but she assures me the internal temperature should be 100ºC., and now that I´ve heard the noise, I will have no more stodgy, unfinished loaves.

7- And since we´re on noises, a perfectly finished, ready sponge cake makes a squidgy, irresistible sort of noise when you squeeze it. 

8- To poach eggs, crack them into a ladle, and then into the water. It´s tricky to balance the ladle at first, but then much easier to slide them into the hot water.

9- The Italian word for lizard is lucertola. To me it sounds more like a mezzosoprano with lots of pearls, but that´s Italian for you. I learnt this after many a sun-drenched siesta in a spot much favoured by lizards.

10- It is possible to have eight people cooking at once, each a different dish, and have the outcome be a balanced, beautiful menu.

That´s it, for. I´m having another gnocchi session on Sunday, and by then I hope to have practiced well enough to write the recipe here. Until then, Happy Easter. You can while away the wait by having some torrijas, which are very like French toast, and typical at this time of year. Just deep fry the bread after soaking, and dust with cinammon and white sugar.