Meatballs for spaghetti

I have no reason to think that mine are anything other than average, but this is what I do….


  • 1.5kg mince, I like a combination of beef, pork and veal, if available.
  • c. 5 slices white bread, no crusts, soaked in milk and squeezed to remove excess moisture
  • finely chopped onion
  • finely chopped garlic
  • finely chopped lemon rind (no white)
  • a little Worcestershire sauce
  • a few drops of Tabasco
  • freshly ground pepper
  • parsley finely chopped, if available

Mix all these together thoroughly. Hands does the best job. Now divide up into small meatballs. Roll in seasoned flour, or shake in a bag of seasoned flour.

There are probably various ways you can proceed next, depending on whether you want a clean or dirty sauce. I want dirty.

Heat a large deep frying pan and add a generous amount of ghee. You are using ghee because it has a high burning point. A bit before it starts smoking, gently place the meatballs into the fat. Don’t crowd the pan. One reason you made the meatballs small is because you want a lot of surface area relative to meat as this will make the taste of them better as they interact with both fat, and later, sauce.  I’m happy for these to get a caramelised, burnt aspect to them, this is what makes the sauce dirty and dirty tastes good. Really…good. Gently turn them at some point. You don’t need them to cook right through, this will come later. So, take the first lot off with a slotted spoon, add more ghee, do the next lot and so on.

Don’t wash the pan, you are going to use it for the sauce.


  • 5 tins tomatoes pureed
  • 1 or 2 cups of white wine
  • finely chopped onion and garlic

I like the sauce for this to be smooth, hence I puree the tomatoes. If there is a lot of ghee left in the pan, drain it off, but don’t clean the pan! Add a generous amount of olive oil, heat gently until it is able to sizzle and add finely chopped onion and garlic. Fry on LOW heat for a minute or two and then add quite a lot of dry white wine, maybe a cup or two. Raise heat to high now, bring to the boil, and while it is reducing to practically nothing, deglaze the pan. Dirty and yummy. Add the pureed tomato and stir, bring to the boil and then down to a simmer for maybe one hour. Then gently add the meatballs and simmer for at least another thirty minutes.

Not surprisingly, best prepared the day before and left to sit in the fridge overnight.


Next day, prepare the spaghetti, reheat the sauce, grate lots of parmesan and this is what will happen. A table of people who had been making a lot of noise go quiet. There is a particular sort of quiet, I think, that you only find at the dinner table and it signifies blissful contentment.

Spaghetti with chicken liver V2

Rough notes:

I chopped the livers up smaller than usual.

Sauce: fried shallot in butter, added garlic, and then a couple of large sloshes of white wine. Burnt that off and added a heaped teasp of tomato paste and some water from the cooking spaghetti. Added the chicken liver when the spaghetti had about 5 minutes to go.

I’m sure there is lots one could do with this basic recipe.

Kale pesto: the good and the bad news

We happened to pick up some organic kale straight from a garden on our way home a few days ago. A couple of options stood out for using it, one being pesto.

I just did pretty much the same as I do with ordinary pesto except the green is kale. I did take out the stalks and ribs first.

It tasted FABULOUS. Which is obviously good….

But maybe bad? I love things being seasonal. To me one of the joys of summer is basil and that means pesto. The idea that I can have pesto out of season is one I’m going to have to chew over, but I’m afraid it’s going to be hard to swallow.

Signed: confused.

Pasta with broccoli and salmon (II)

I had one idea here a few years ago. Here is take two.


  • smoked salmon, wild
  • broccoli, washed and chopped into smallish pieces
  • pouring cream
  • garlic, chopped
  • shallots chopped
  • vodka


While the pasta is cooking, heat the cream to a simmer, add the garlic and shallots. Bring to the boil, add a large splash or two of vodka and burn that off. Next throw in the broccoli and cook at a lively simmer – you can add more cream or some of the pasta’s cooking water if necessary.

When the pasta is almost al dente, drain but not thoroughly, add it and the salmon to the sauce, stir thoroughly for a minute or two, while the pasta finishes cooking by soaking up the sauce. The thing is you don’t want to overcook the salmon, you are just heating it through.

That’s it. Bung it on plates, offer lashings of freshly ground pepper.


Pasta with sardines, pine nuts and prunes

If that’s not alliterative for you, change to ‘Pescatorial pasta with pine nuts and prunes’

We used to buy a lot of tinned tuna here in Geneva because it’s so much cheaper than fresh fish. We’d get the posh tins from Globus. But I wondered recently why sardines might not be at least as good and a whole lot cheaper. Tinned, that is. The kind of recipe that follows is normally prescribed for fresh sardines but they are expensive here too.

Ingredients for two

  • can of sardines in olive oil
  • a couple of shallots peeled and chopped
  • some fresh fennel bulb: discard outer coarse layer and very finely shave what’s left
  • some garlic peeled and chopped
  • 1 chilli washed and chopped
  • a handful of pine nuts toasted in a dry pan
  • some soft prunes – those packets last for ages in the fridge – chopped
  • parsley off the stem and chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste


While the pasta is cooking, drain the olive oil from the sardines and heat. Gently fry the shallots, fennel, garlic and chilli until shallots are softened. Stir in the sardines and chopped prunes, breaking up the sardines as you do so.

Let that sit on low heat until the pasta is cooked. Drain it and toss it through the sauce, adding most of the parsley and pine nuts. Mix thoroughly.

Serve on plates and top with the last of the parsley and pine nuts.

For next time: I like to try the basic idea before getting fancy. Next time I would add more fennel, it was too subtle today. White wine may add some good depth of flavour that would contrast well with the fish.

Some people add saffron to this dish, but that’s if it’s made with fresh sardines. Tinned, they are too strong for this subtle flavouring. Save the saffron for something else.

I don’t see cheese, grated or even shaved adding to this dish.

White bean and spinach pasta sauce

One of our favourite spaghetti sauces is a tarted up white bean puree. You can see it here.

It got me thinking, recently, as spinach season comes upon us here in Geneva…

This is a three ingredient dish. Rinse and drain a can of white beans. Put them in a saucepan. Add some washed spinach – I did a few large handfuls. Enough water to make sure it all cooks without sticking. When spinach is done enough for you, you might want to take some of the water out, I did, though I saved it to add later if required – or it can be added to vegetable stock. Puree. Add salt and pepper.

I suggest letting this sit overnight in the fridge, it’ll taste better the next day.

When spaghetti is still a bit too al dente, drain but not carefully, you want a little water still in the pot, put spaghetti back in the pot and add the sauce to taste. Start with a few big spoonfuls, you can add more later. Keep stirring over low heat while the spaghetti absorbs some liquid so that the sauce isn’t watery. Last moment add maybe 100g of grated mature cheddar and mix thoroughly.

Serve. I think this is enough for four.

Value for effort? Tops.

I love sauces which are cheap, easy to make, and if you can freeze them (which I assume I will be able to do with this one), so much the better.

Update: we have since tried this thus:

  • with a little pesto stirred in at the table: parsley, pinenuts, garlic, a little cheese, heavy on the olive oil.
  • bacon chopped and fried and added at the end
  • parmesan cheese at the table

Last time I made it, I started with an onion chopped and fried in a little ghee before adding the beans and spinach.

Hard to see what you can do wrong with this dish.

Two things you need to know about Swiss Chard before you die

1)  It gives wonderful depth of colour ranging from a delightful pink tinge to spaghetti sauce or something more polished to stock.

2) The stalks taste lovely raw. If they are too ropey, finely chop and add to stock.

Things I’ve done with it lately:

  • Started off with plain chicken stock made from wings (of course). I keep that in the freezer. Defrosted, added fairly finely chopped vegetables: some ordinary cabbage, peas, a bit of broccoli, parsley – to taste and according to what you have to hand. I included all the chopped stalks of a bunch of chard, having used the leaves for other things. Just before serving, I added a bag of tortellini, spinach and cheese which serves two. A few minutes later, serve. You might want to put parmesan on the table, but I don’t think this needs it.
  • risotto with prunes and pinenuts and lots of the leaves finely chopped. My base is olive oil, shallots, and white wine. Love the colour of this.
  • spaghetti sauce consisting of tin of tuna, finely chopped leaves, garlic, shallots, olive oil, served with parmesan.

Osso Bucco

Stephanie Alexander’s recipe goes something like this:


  • 4- 8 pieces of veal from the meaty end of the shin (there can be a large variation in size)
  • salt pepper plain flour mixed together in a plastic bag
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tblesps olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 250g tomatoes roughly chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic roughly chopped
  • veal or chicken stock, or water

To adorn when serving: Gremolata (2 cloves of garlic very finely chopped, 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley, grated zest of 2 lemons (I peel the zest carefully, no white, with a potato peeler and then cut very finely). Mix.


In a large warmed frying pan:

Take the veal which you have shaken in the salt/pepper/flour and then brown in the butter/olive oil.

Lay in the pan, marrow-side up. Turn up the heat, add the wine and allow to boil intensely for a moment to burn off the alcohol. Then add the other ingredients BAR the Gremolata, of course. You want the stock to cover the meat, but only just, don’t drown it. Bring back to the boil and then turn down as low as you possibly can. All this can be done in a flame-proof casserole dish and then put in the oven at maybe 160C, but I’m happy with it on top as long as you can keep that heat down.

It’s going to cook for about one and a half hours, check it now and then. The sauce by the end will be reduced to a thick state, but if not, you can remove the meat and turn up the heat to reduce it appropriately. Scatter when serving with the Gremolata.

Frankly I wouldn’t bother with anybody who won’t eat the best part of this, the marrow. Stop cooking for them altogether. Toss as to which of you will leave home.

The traditional way to serve this is with Milanese risotto, of course (see section on rice dishes for this). But there are options. Risoni, perhaps tossed with butter, garlic and parmesan. Or even mash.

Lemon Risotto

Lemon Risotto


one lemon unwaxed
1.5 litres chicken stock
300 ml dry white wine
120g butter
1 small onion, very finely chopped
600g carnaroli rice
90g parmesan cheese, freshly grated
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley


Carefully take the finest layer of skin off the lemon with a potato peeler and very very finely chop. Then extract the juice from the lemon.

Heat stock and wine in a saucepan. In a heavy-based frying pan melt half the butter over gently heat and saute onion until softened and translucent. Add rice and raise heat to moderate. Stir to coat the rice with the butter – make sure you don’t burn the rise, I find that takes about 7 minutes, but be sensible and careful. Add 1 cup of stock. Simmer, stirring all the time, and keep adding stock as it disappears, one cup at a time. The rice should always be just covered. After 15-20 minutes taste. When it is perfectly cooked, add cheese, remaining butter, parsley and lemon zest and juice. Cook for another two minutes, then serve.

Divine…I do keep saying that, don’t I?

recipe from Stephanie Alexander The Cook’s Companion

Chicken with tomato and rosemary sauce Pollo in Potacchio

Chicken with tomato and rosemary sauce Pollo in Potacchio


1 chicken cut into pieces. You can also buy pieces if you prefer, to avoid those breasts.
half a lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
60g butter
150ml white wine
1 onion finely chopped
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper

For the potacchio sauce

1 small onion or 3 shallots
half a dozen rosemary sprigs each 5” long or so
rind of an unwaxed lemon: use a potato peeler to take the rind off, taking care to avoid the white pith
perhaps 1 dried chilli
3 tbsp olive oil
450g fresh tomatoes peeled* and coarsely chopped or a couple of cans drained and coarsely chopped

*peeling fresh tomatoes is a cinch. Boil a pan of water, drop them in for maybe half a minute, run under cold water, the skin should come off easily. DON’T use fresh tomatoes on principle, use them because they are good tomatoes. Mostly fresh tomatoes are still of a mind-bogglingly bad quality and using canned will be much better. But there are bad canned tomatoes too.


Wash and dry the chicken pieces and rub with the lemon half. Heat the oil and butter in a large frying pan. When the butter foam begins to subside put in the chicken pieces and fry on all sides until they are nicely browned. Add the wine, bring to the boil and boil for one minute. Turn the heat down and throw in the onion and the garlic. Season with salt and pepper, then cover the pan and cook for 20 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the sauce. Chop very finely together the onion or shallots, rosemary needles, the rind of the lemon and the chilli. Put the oil in a frying pan and when it is hot add the chopped ingredients. Saute gently for 5 minutes or so and then add the tomatoes and a little salt. Cook over lively heat for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

Now that the potacchio is done, scoop it into the saute pan with the chicken and mix it with all the lovely cooking juices at the bottom of the pan. Let the whole thing cook together for at least another quarter of an hour so that the chicken will insaporire – take on the flavour of the sauce. How long to continue cooking for, depends on how you like your chicken; I prefer it to be close to falling off the bone.

 * * * * * *

This is from Anna del Conte’s The Classic Food of Northern Italy I imagine it is one of those cookbooks nobody buys because it’s written by a middle-aged woman and has few pictures. What a shame. It is a splendid book, as you will see from my recipes here which are scattered with her thoughts.

Accompany it with mashed potato or lemon risotto.