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ragu-bowl-cu

Happy New Year, Lemur readers! Soon, I’m going to be all about lighter and more colourful food to brighten up the dark days of January and look forward to a healthy Spring…but right now I’m still in hearty December mode. After my trip to Italy, I wanted a proper ragú to warm me up on these dreary English nights. Ragú is one of those things that most everyone makes but that it’s easy to take short cuts with. I don’t actually cook it all that often, but when I do, I’m all about the slow simmering of meats. I firmly believe that a good ragú needs both pork and veal. Often, I’ll spend contemplative time chopping the meat by hand but sadly, the supermarket only had minced veal, so this actually a rather easier version of a traditionally laborious process. Using pork cheeks means you can cook them whole and then pull the meat apart later. It gives a lovely unctuousness to the ragú, along with the rich flavour offered by the veal. You can’t really get easier than a ragú, where all the magic is worked by slow cooking rather than by any effort on the part of the cook. Later today, I’ll be cooking New Year’s fava bean soup, another slow-cooked Italian wonder. Happy 2013! Read the rest of this entry »

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tortelli-zucco

I just got back from a work trip to Ferrara, the beautiful medieval town in Emilia-Romagna. I know, sometimes life is tough. In my defence, I did have to sit through a conference that was almost entirely in Italian, so it was actually quite challenging. Still, it was no chore to meet lots of lovely people and be taken out for a series of delicious meals. Ferrara is famous for its tortelli alla zucca, or pasta stuffed with pumpkin and served with either a meat ragú or a butter sage sauce, and I ate this delicious combination at most every opportunity.

Ferrara-duomo

The city is just lovely, and with almost no tourists in December, it’s actually a rather nice time to visit Italy. I spent a pleasant spare afternoon checking out the duomo (disappointing on the inside, but with an impressive facade) and wandering the pretty old streets around the central piazza. The Christmas lights made it all especially magical.

Ferrara-piazza

But from the moment I arrived, food was a major focus. On my way into the conference, I grabbed a quick lunch with Lemur friend JD. He has a nose for good eateries in Italy, the kind of down-home place you can find in every town but only if you know where to look. As soon as we arrived, he sniffed out a cafe whose lunch specials were served on plastic plates – but with delicious food and neighbourhood-style friendly service. We shared a serving of melted scamorza cheese with grilled radicchio that was simplicity itself and yet so very nommable. (By the way, they split the plates. This is just my half!)

scamorza-lunch

Another JD find was Trattoria Il Sorpasso. We meant to go to Il Cucco for lunch, as it had been recommended in an Italian restaurant guide we looked up in the bookstore, but it was closed. Concerned that lunch service was over everywhere (yes, we get concerned about such things), we looked around for a local alternative. I didn’t necessarily think the outside of Il Sorpasso across the road was promising, but JD has the nose and in we went. It turned out to be the best meal we had in Ferrara.

sorpassa-ext

We started with a cavolo nero soup, which was hearty with long-simmered greens, tiny white beans and crispy garlicky croutons.

cavolo-nero-soup

For a secondo, I chose salsiccia con castagne, or sausage with chestnuts. I had expected a whole sausage but what came was more like sausage meat broken up like you would for a pasta sauce, with little nuggets of chestnut mixed into a rich ragú. It was at once sweet from the chestnuts, salty from the sausage and deeply umami and savoury from the sauce. It was insanely good.

salsiccia-castagne

As we digested our completely unnecessary but shockingly good desserts (tiramisu, chocolate cake and ricotta cream), one of the cooks came out to start making pasta dough for dinner. This is where the magic happens!

pasta-making

We did get to Il Cucco eventually, but I’ll leave that story for the next post…

Image by Etruscan places.

Another post from the Lemurs’ recent travels in Italy. We drove around Lake Bracciano to Cerveteri, a very nice little town near the coast in Lazio, but one primarily known for its Etruscan necropolis. The necropolis was actually amazing, a vast city of the dead with long streets full of beautiful buildings you can just walk into and explore. If this place were in the UK or the US, there would be guards, cordoned-off walkways, and no way to experience the spaces in an unmediated fashion. But in Italy, there’s a hacked off dude in a portacabin who gives you an illegibly-photocopied map and off you go into what feels like a your very own discovery of an ancient civilisation. Granted, we were mildly worried that small children might fall into an unmarked pit but hey, we didn’t have any small children so all was well.

But you need a good appetite to explore ancient Etruscan sites, and we stopped off in Cerveteri to eat at Antica Locanda le Ginestre. The restaurant is located in the main square and boasts a gorgeous garden for those willing to brave the heat and eat outside. Read the rest of this entry »

The lemurs are on a much needed vacation in Italy, kicking off with a weekend in Rome. We've been here 24 hours and so far, my stand out food experience has been cheese. This probably elicits a 'no shit' response from many people but normally I'm not a cheese whore. It's probably the Asian mouth thing – I often find cheese to be a bit much, alarmingly fatty or just unpleasant in texture. I know, it's odd, but anyway, point is, it takes a lot to make me love cheese. And in Rome, the pecorino is transcendent: a generous, excessive, almost pornographic blanketing of sheer happiness on pasta. Read the rest of this entry »

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