Thursday, 9 June 2011

Honeymoon Special - Artichoke Soufflé and Pecorino Cream

After the wedding and the cake, we set off for honeymoon – 10 days in Italy, working our way from Venice down to Sorrento with three days in the middle in the Villa Cicolina near Montepulciano in Tuscany, also known as “the best place I’ve ever stayed in my life”. I’m serious – they managed to mislay our booking and had to move us to a different room after one night, and it was STILL the most magical holiday experience I’ve ever had. Need a visual? Here.

As well as lounging by the pool, we decided to do a wine tasting and a cookery course at the villa. I'm not going to show you pictures of the wine tasting because to be honest, they get blurry very quickly. Some sort of side effect of a bottle of prosecco with lunch, another as an aperitif, two whites, two reds and some vin santo.... but you can see us at the start of the process below (pre-blurriness). 

The cookery course, on the other hand, is prime Dine at Mine material, and it was great! Over a couple of hours one afternoon we learnt some skills for married life and cooked the meal which was served to all the other guests at the hotel (as well as us) that evening. At time of writing, no food poisoning has been reported. So the next few posts will be a Dine at Mine / Greedy Gusto Special Edition. I know! I'm excited too. To get you in the mood, here is a photo of our instructor for the course, the hotel chef, Mimo. Ciao, Mimo!

Mimo non parla Inglese, and the member of staff who was meant to translate wasn't particularly hot on English either. As a result, we relied on our (very ropy) shreds of Italian, as learnt in a fit of pre-honeymoon eagerness from a CD from the library. Now, Michel Thomas’s Basic Italian course didn’t precisely cover the minutiae of all this food-related vocabulario but I think we managed to get the gist and anyway, this is la cucina rustica, it's authentic to improvise.

So! For our antipasto, an artichoke soufflé with pecorino cream (or according to Mimo, sformatino di carciofi con crema di pecorino). First step, enjoy the free bottle of wine included in the class. Yummy.

Sorry, no, I mean: first step, prepare your artichokes. We had never prepared artichokes before (isn’t that why they sell them in jars and cans?) and to be honest, I’m sure you could use the prepared ones just as well, but this was a proper cooking course in the depths of the Tuscan countryside and we did things the slow way. So pull off the outer leaves until you’re left with a light green, tender looking bud. Cut off the end of the stalk and peel the rest of it with your knife. Cut the point off the artichoke and chuck it away, cut the remaining artichoke into three or four bits and ta-da! You’ve done it. Now repeat ad infinitum. Yawn.

You then cook them with potatoes, garlic and oil, whiz to a puree, add cheese and egg and transfer into buttered, breadcrumbed moulds. Easy!

Because this was a restaurant kitchen, albeit a tiny one for about 10 people, they had this incredibly cool SPRAY BUTTER (I have never come across such a thing before) for preparing the moulds. Spray butter! Think how much quicker your morning toast could be! 

And just so you know we really did make them, here we are enjoying them over dinner. With, ahem, some more of that yummy local wine. We were on holiday!

Coming up next - extremely authentic home made and hand-rolled Tuscan pasta with tomato and garlic sauce, and cute little individual apple pies with crema. I hope that noise I can hear is your stomach rumbling.

Artichoke Souffle with Pecorino Cream
Serves 4

- 4 prepared artichokes (see note above)
- 4 potatoes, peeled and halved
- good splash of olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
- salt
- 1 egg
- breadcrumbs, a couple of good handfuls
- a tablespoonful of grated parmesan or pecorino
- butter - either spray or boring normal kind

Cook the prepared artichokes on the hob, covered, with the potatoes, garlic (it’s all getting whizzed up so don’t bother to chop), salt and oil.
After about half an hour to 45 minutes, when it's all soft and mushy, whiz it to a smooth puree in a food processor. Mix in an egg, a good handful of the breadcrumbs, a spoonful of parmesan, and leave to cool slightly.

Prepare some ramekins with butter and the remaining breadcrumbs - either use the amazingly cool spray butter as above, or (in the normal world), just wipe a ramekin with butter then cover in breadcrumbs. Spoon in your puree, bake for 20 minutes in a low oven (say 150C) and they're done!

Mimo served this with a pecorino (or you could use parmesan) cream.  

Crema di Pecorino

- 250ml of milk
- 25g flour mixed with a bit of water and whisked
- a few handfuls of pecorino, grated

Simply heat the milk until boiling, add the flour/water mix, and then add in the pecorino while it's all hot and beat until smooth and thick. I dare you not to lick out the bowl.

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