Saturday, 12 December 2015

Cucina Povera

About this time of the year I like to use up as much as I can from the freezer, defrost and clean it out. We have been been having quite a bit of 'cucina povera' as I work my way through the freezer and pantry. It sounds so much better in Italian and is probably best translated as budget or peasant food. The concepts of no waste, making do with what is available or on hand and seasonal underpin this style of cooking and are really just commonsense.

This gnocchi is a good example of using up the excess sauce from some braised lamb shanks. The sauce was rich and flavoursome and still had plenty of olives and vegetables and was just too yummy not to use. Gnocchi, either homemade like this ricotta gnocchi or commercial go well with this type of sauce. I added some finely chopped chorizo to the sauce as it was reheating.

The original lamb shanks with polenta. 

Pasta seems to feature in my approach. Here, some frozen peas, cooked in the microwave and tossed with some thinly sliced asparagus. When I use aparagus I trim the woody ends from the spears then cut all the asparagus to the same length. The section in between the tip and the trimmed ends is then thinly sliced and used in pasta. Add some Parmesan and a little butter/oil/cream and crushed garlic made a quick, delicious and easy sauce and top with a little more parmesan.

This version combined pasta and a combination of odds and ends of cheese, a little cream and some breadcrumbs to become a type of pasta bake. Add some fresh tomato sauce and serve with a green salad.

The basket of turnips and leeks given to me by vegetable growing friends became fritters.

The turnips were peeled, steamed and roughly mashed. Thinly sliced leek, an egg and enough flour added to make a thick batter. Spoonfuls of the batter dropped into hot oil and deep fried until crispy and golden brown. 

More from a friend's garden. Frank's apricots became jam and an apricot sauce that had some dumplings added. A similar concept to Golden Syrup Dumplings but not as sweet.  The sauce is made by cutting up some apricots, in this case about half a kilo and stewing them until mushy, adding some sugar to taste and more water until you have a sauce consistency. You can get the recipe for the dumplings here

The apricot sauce thickens as the dumplings cook. A squirt of Maple syrup added to each bowl provided some sweetness.

Braised Lamb Shanks
6 lamb shanks
2 onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
1 large can diced tomatoes
1 bottle tomato puree/Passata sauce
1 cup sherry
A generous pinch of dried chilli flakes.
Freshly ground black pepper
Additional wine/stock /water

4 sticks celery, diced
3 carrots, diced
1 cup pitted black olives or more

Heat oil in a large pan, add lamb shanks and brown all over. Add diced onions, garlic, stirring to prevent the onions and garlic from burning.
Add sherry, tomato puree, chopped tomatoes and bay leaf and some black pepper.  I like to have the shanks at least half covered with the liquid and then turn them over during the cooking process. Add water or stock if necessary. Cover and cook on a low heat or in 150 deg C oven for a couple of hours or until meat is tender but not falling off the bones.  Check during cooking and add more water or stock as needed.
Remove shanks from the pan and keep warm. Add diced vegetables and continue cooking until tender and the sauce has reduced and thickened. Taste and adjust flavour with freshly ground black pepper.

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