The Daily Spud

...there's both eatin' and drinkin' in it

We Have Ways Of Making You Eat

I think that my name is on a list somewhere. Some Italian food mafia list.

And make no mistake, they are out to feed me.

First, Milano’s invite me to come and taste their new Francesco Mazzei range. All of it. Two starters, a pasta dish and three pizzas. In one sitting.

Let me tell you that the word full doesn’t remotely cover it.

Milano's Francesco Mazzei Pizzas

Milano's Francesco Mazzei Pizzas:
Calabrese (sweet, chili-hot and sausagey, the crowd favourite), Mia Sofia (a thin-based pizza blanca that is all about the mushrooms) and Rustichella (which, let's face it, people will love for the pancetta)

Then, when I had finished digesting that, they sent their guys around with dough balls and pizza from the new Milano At Home range (eh, don’t mind if I do, grazie mille). Perhaps they’re out to change my spudly ways (after all, with the noble exception of gnocchi, Italians don’t seem to go in much for the whole potatoes thing). Or maybe they wondered if I had opinions to share, which, when it comes to food, I generally do.

Let me start by saying that the dishes by Francesco Mazzei – chef proprietor of L’Anima in London – seemed to me to be about simplicity and quality of ingredients. It was good to see that his choice of lovely Calabrian olive oil and oregano are now being used, not just with his own dishes, but throughout the Milano’s range. The corollary, of course, is that, without good quality ingredients, Francesco’s dishes do not have a whole lot to hide behind.

And that was the one niggle in an otherwise enjoyable meal.

Tomato And Mozzarella Salad

The Insalata Semplice

The Insalata Semplice – a classic tomato and mozzarella salad – was, for me, let down by a lack of flavour in some of the tomatoes used. Now, it’s fair to say that we in Ireland are no strangers to poor quality tomatoes – goodness knows, those sold in supermarkets here don’t often taste of anything – but neither should we be too surprised that tomatoes lack flavour when they are not anywhere near being in season here. In fact, I expect that it is difficult, or at least expensive, to source large quantities of really good quality, flavoursome tomatoes here at this time of year.

The real question is, why bother?

Do we really want to eat fresh tomato salad (a) when the season dictates that tomatoes are unlikely to be anywhere near their best and (b) when it’s still freezing outside ? (yes, winter is proving very hard to shake this year)

The word seasonality has been bandied about much of late, but how many of us still expect to be able to order a fresh tomato salad year-round and would be perturbed if we couldn’t?

And before you ask, I will own up to the fact that I am as guilty as anyone of buying, and expecting to be able to buy, fresh tomatoes year-round. And there is (I am sure) a lot of effort involved in devising seasonally sensitive menus, particularly when you are trying to roll them out across a restaurant chain like Milano’s.

It goes to show, I suppose, that we have a long way to go when it comes to this whole eating seasonally and locally lark. I’ll shut up now before someone reminds me gently to just, er, fuhgeddaboudit

Minestrone

Minestrone

Given the continued low temperatures outside, I am inclined much more towards soup than salad these days, and minestrone is Italian for just the kind of hearty soup I fancy in this weather.

Minestrone is also all about what you have to hand, so adjust to suit your own stash of vegetables. This version has got the the olive oil, mushroom and oregano that featured strongly in the Francesco Mazzei Milano’s menu. It’s also tomatoey, but thanks to good quality tinned tomatoes, which are a better choice at this time of year.

As for the pasta, use whatever dried pasta you have to hand, breaking larger pieces up into whatever size pieces you’d like to find in your soup.

You’ll need:
  • 1 tblsp olive oil
  • 1 tblsp butter
  • 200g onion (1 large), finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 100g chestnut mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 125g carrot (2 small carrots), finely diced
  • 125g celery (2 large sticks), finely diced
  • 1 x 400g tin of tomatoes, chopped
  • 50ml red wine (one you’d consider drinking yourself)
  • 600ml water or light vegetable or chicken stock
  • 150g dried pasta (break large pasta into smaller pieces)
  • 1 tsp fine salt or to taste
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • shavings of parmesan to serve
The Steps:
  • Place a large, heavy saucepan over a medium heat and, when hot, add the olive oil and butter.
  • When the butter has melted, add the onion and garlic. Stir and fry over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook for about another 5 minutes or until just starting to release some liquid.
  • Now add the carrot and celery and stir and fry for another 7-8 minutes.
  • Add the chopped tinned tomatoes, wine, water or stock, oregano, salt and black pepper. Stir to mix, bring to the boil, then cover, lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the carrots start to become tender.
  • Stir in the dried pasta and simmer until al dente – depending on the pasta, this should take somewhere around 7-10 minutes. The soup should be thick and chunky, though you can thin it with additional boiling water if you like.
  • Ladle into bowls and scatter with some shavings of parmesan.
The Variations:
  • Have a look in your fridge or vegetable basket and include a bit of whatever looks good – minestrone’s a bit like that. You can also throw in some cannellini or other beans if that takes your fancy.
The Results:
  • Makes about 4 decent helpings

19 Comments

  1. How ever, great post.
    Text, photos and recipes are amazing!
    Bookmarked!!!

  2. Yeah, I’m guilty as charged on the tomatoes. Although I do typically purchase more canned tomatoes in the winter than fresh, but who can go that long without a fresh tomato?!! Even if they’re nowhere near as flavorful, I still break down. Your minestrone recipe looks delish!

    Cheers!

    Kristy
    (formerly of Refrigerator Soup)

  3. I’ll take all 3 of those Francesco Mazzei pizzas, please! Perhaps you could get my name on to that mafia food list?LOL
    Your minestrone recipe looks delicious and oh so comforting. I had to google “chestnut mushrooms” because I’d never heard of them before (they seem similar to the criminis we have in the US). And I was also guilty of buying tomatoes year round until I moved to New Jersey (a Jersey tomato in season is a beautiful thing).

  4. That soup looks delicious – especially the big chunks of shaved parmesan – yum!!

  5. I’d eat tomatoes in and out of season. I just love them so.

    Those pizza looks sooo good. I want to be on that list, too. hahaha…

  6. You didn’t have any gnocchi (made with potatoes)? Next time.

  7. Gorgeous photos, and I love the Mickey Blue Eyes clip! The fortune cookie scene makes me bust up laughing every time! You’re right – a caprese salad just doesn’t work with winter tomatoes.

  8. Ah I can have a good bitch about tomatoes too. Not so fussed about when it’s in or out of season, just hate getting some really fat glossy ones that taste of nothing but water. I don’t get it. They look really good but how can they taste of nothing? Oh well. Recently, the tomatoes I’ve been getting are much better. But I went thru months last year of not buying tomatoes because i just couldn’t taste anything.

    Lovely minestrone. It’s weird. I’ve just bought ingredients to make a chorizo, mushroom and orzo pasta minestrone! x

  9. Daily Spud

    Thursday, March 11, 2010 at 12:35 am

    Reinaldo: obrigada once again!

    the wicked noodle: I know, I give in to that urge for fresh tomatoes in winter too, even though I ought to know better

    Phyllis: I’ll see what I can do about getting your name on the list :D And, yes, I reckon chestnut mushrooms are pretty similar to crimini.

    Valley Writer: gotta have those parmesan shavings :)

    jenn: a queue seems to be developing for inclusion on that list, lol

    Joie de Vivre: they didn’t have gnocchi on the menu we were tasting (shame) – so I’ll just have to go and make some myself instead :)

    Phoo-D: Love that scene too! And a tomato salad in winter is often a very pale imitation of a tomato salad in summer…

    diva: I know – it’s such a disappointment when you get something that looks gloriously tasty and turns out to be insipid and watery instead

  10. The minestrone looks so comforting and amazing with mushroom and oregano!

  11. The pizzas looked delicious. You take great photos.
    I love minestrone soup. It’s definately a winter favourite. I like to finish the soup off with some home-made pesto, made in the summer from our abundant basil and then frozen in ice cube trays.Yum!

  12. Soup sounds DEElightful, DS!

    I wish I could say I feel sorry for you about your Italian gorging fest, but I think jealous would be more the word;)

    I find it a little odd that they were pushing a dish w/fresh tomatoes, too. Especially because Italy, home of the slow food movement, is all about eating local and seasonally. I’m with you on that one, lady!

  13. The pizzas look so tasty & lovely,….mjam mjam mjam!

    Your minestron is something that I would like to eat right now,….:.)

  14. I thought it was “Ve have Vays to make you veat”…you know a little Vla-cula accent to the title, okay silly me…always wonderful food and information over here!

  15. Daily Spud

    Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 1:58 am

    5 Star Foodie: thanks – it was very comforting indeed :)

    Lynda: ooh, yes, a bit of homemade pesto on top would be a lovely way to finish off the minestrone – it’s so nice to be able to experience even a little bit of summer’s bounty when it’s still wintry out

    Jenni: Yeah, I didn’t think I’d get too much sympathy on that one! And you are, of course, quite right about Italy and its slow foodiness – something obviously got a little bit lost in translation.

    Sophie: I could go for either pizza or minestrone right now myself :)

    Chef E: now that could just be the lead off for a whole ‘nother post, lol

  16. What a feast, but however did you survive? I should have been there to help . . . On occasion, I’ve come across a decent tomato or two at the grocery store in the dead of winter – rare gems indeed. But for the most part, I’ll make use of tinned tomatoes during these snowy months and wait impatiently and expectantly for our homegrown ‘fruits of the vine’. We’ve grown heirlooms that tasted almost like mangoes (well, at least to me).

    Speaking of snowy, most of it is melting by way of rainy, dreary weather, so the sight of this minestrone soup is warming!

  17. hehe, it looks like quite a few of us blogging types have been invited to taste the above-named pizzas;)(I’ve just posted my impressions – the little dolcetti at the end of the meal impressed me a great deal more than all the pizza-throwing activities – I appreciate the concept.)

    totally agree about your tomato-bashing comments – Mediterranean these days means red, bright and juicy all year round, never mind the fact that the Mediterrane(a?:) itself is not seeing sun 365 days of the year. talking of neat packaging and commodification of food…

  18. Daily Spud

    Monday, March 15, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Tangled Noodle: Oh you should have been there, would have been delighted to have you help out! And I love the sound of those mangoey heirloom tomatoes – roll on summer…

    Katrina: …they didn’t let us throw any pizzas about, we just had to eat them :D As for the tomatoes, everyone likes the idea of a fabulous mediterranean tomato and who, on the marketing side of things, is going to admit to the fact that, really, you can’t necessarily have that all year ’round

  19. Chef E: now that could just be the lead off for a whole ‘nother post, lol

    Spudsy is that like ‘blood sausage’ and tators, or ‘vlood bangers and mash’, or ‘vleesy vlators vlagratin’, oh I could go on…

    a little heads up I am making the ‘real’ St Paddy’s day parade dish now with some Irish cheese I got hold of, sorry it just did not work out for me!

    Okay word verification is ‘gouda’ now how creepy is that Vludsy, oh ha ah ah ah ah ah ah ha! *evil laughing from New Jersey*

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