Friday, July 10, 2015

Pinzimonio di Ceci

Some outstanding new cookbooks hit our bookstore shelves in June 2015. Little Brown published The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook by Chris Fischer. Fischer worked in some prestigious kitchens, such as Babbo in New York and St. John Bread and The River Café in London, before running his family’s farm on Martha’s Vineyard. The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook features direct, simple dishes made with local ingredients: Beet Salad with Green Tomatoes and Radishes; Baby Leek, Asparagus and Pea Green Soup; Slow-Roasted Lamb Shanks with Parsnips; and Strawberry Shortcake. Fischer (with Catherine Young) penned a very fine work.

Across the pond Mitchell Beazley released Mamushka: Recipes from Ukraine & Beyond by Olia Hercules. Because Armenia is one of the book’s “Beyonds”, Mamushka intrigued me and I’m extremely happy I bought this cookbook. Hercules’s chapters covering fermented pickles and preserves, desserts and drinks stand out as among the best.  And speaking of dessert, here’s a shot of Hercules’s Osyne gnizdo (Wasp Nest Buns). Really good.

And now, let’s move on to the star of this post: Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome by Rachel Roddy and published by England’s Saltyard Book Company. Even though I write a food blog, I don’t really read other cooking blogs…expect Roddy’s. Many of my favorite everyday recipes come from her cooking site, Rachel Eats. I understand that a US version of Five Quarters arrives in February 2016, but I couldn’t wait that long. I ordered my copy from overseas and it just arrived. I highly recommend this outstanding cookbook to anyone interested in simple, mostly Italian food.

Roddy lives in Rome’s Testaccio quarter. She writes that “Quinto quarto (the fifth quarter) is the name of the distinctive style of cooking created by the workers of the Testaccio slaughterhouse during the 1890s. Partially paid in kind with offal—which makes up a quarter of the animal’s weight, hence ‘fifth quarter’—the workers (or their wives) found clever ways of transforming their wages into nourishing and tasty meals.”

If offal puts you off, fear not! Roddy’s work isn’t entirely comprised of nose-to-tail dishes. Rather, her book celebrates simple, straightforward food that pretty much anyone can make without a whole bunch of fuss. Roddy culls excellent recipes and advice from locals in Rome, Italian friends and families, and talented food writers, such as Oretta Zanini De Vita, Fergus Henderson, Elizabeth David, Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers.

Five Quarters contains so many excellent recipes that it’s hard to know where to begin cooking. Stand outs include: Fettuccine con Burro e Alici (Fettuccine with Butter and Anchovies) that I remember cooking from a Rachael Eats post; Pasta e Lenticchie (Pasta and Lentil Soup), and Pinzimonio di Ceci (Chickpeas with Greens).

Let me quickly lament that some of my all-time favorite recipes from Roddy’s blog did not make it into her book. So I’ll just have to continue to visit Rachel Eats to find the recipe for Spaghetti with Anchovy Bread Crumbs and Eleonore’s Polpette, an AMAZINGLY delicious dish of small breaded meatballs fried and then finished with white wine.

If forced to pick my favorite recipe from Five Quarters, I choose Pinzimonio di Ceci or Chickpeas with Greens. I make some variation of this dish a handful of times every month. The original recipe comes from The River Café Cook Book (entitled Rogers Grey Italian Country Cookbook (1995) here in the States). Roddy writes that her copy of The River Café Cook Book “falls open at page 172” where you’ll find this recipe. She continues: “[t]he combination of the soft greens,…sweet and tender nubs of carrots and onion, heat from the chilli and depth from the wine and tomato is a full and delicious one.” Hear, hear! The dish serves 6.

600 g greens, preferably Swiss chard
1 red onion
2 carrots
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
1 dried chilli, crumbled
250 ml white wine
2 tablespoons tomato passata, or 1 tablespoon concentrate
400g cooked chickpeas
a generous handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
juice of ½ lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pan of well-salted water to a fast boil, add the greens and blanch them briefly. The timing will depend on the greens; spring greens take 3-5 minutes. Taste them to check. Drain them well, and once they are cool enough to handle, chop them coarsely and set aside.

Chop the onion and carrots. Warm the oil in a heavy-based sauté pan, add the onion, carrots and a pinch of salt and cook them slowly for 15 minutes, or until tender. Season with a little more salt and pepper and add the crumbled chilli. Add the wine to the pan and allow it to bubble away until it has almost completely reduced. Add the tomato passata or concentrate, greens and chickpeas, stir and cook, stirring every couple of minutes for 10 minutes.

Add three-quarters of the chopped parsley and the lemon juice, stir, remove from the heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Transfer to a large platter or serving plate, sprinkle with the remaining parsley and a little more extra-virgin olive oil, and serve.

Some notes and observations. Roddy writes that the dish is a meal in itself (and it is), but she will add some ricotta on the side or even an egg on top (which is a brilliant idea). I typically serve these chickpeas and greens over couscous or Japanese semi-brown rice. I’ve tried the dish using Swiss chard, kale, spinach, collard greens, beet greens and even stinging nettles. I like the spinach version best because of its soft, melting texture. I usually add celery to the onion and carrot battuto. I sometimes use chicken stock in place of the wine (and skip the lemon juice). In short, play with this recipe and adjust it to suit your taste.

I know that ordering a heavy cookbook from overseas costs a lot, but in the case of Five Quarters, I believe this fine book warrants the outlay. So far 2015 looks like a great year for cookbooks: first, Pasta by Hand (here); now Five Quarters; and on the horizon, This is Camino by Russell Moore.