Monday, March 29, 2010

An Italian classic

This is my battered 35-year-old copy of Ada Boni's classic Italian cookbook, The Talisman. It was first published in 1928, and was a huge success. By the time it had reached its fifteenth edition, it ran to 866 pages and had 2000 recipes, but half of them weren't of Italian origin. When Matilde La Rosa did the English translation in 1950, she kept only the genuine Italian recipes. In 1975 it came out in paperback. I was living in London and bought it there. It was my first introduction to real Italian cooking - until then I'd only produced the vaguest of imitations, like scone-dough pizza and spaghetti bolognese made with a packet of oxtail soup.

Tonight my niece Jenny and her friend Mark were arriving back from a tramp up Mt Holdsworth, so I knew they'd be wanting solid comfort food. At lunchtime I put the slow cooker on and made an old favourite, Stufatino Alla Romana - Roman beef stew. I hadn't made it in the slow cooker before, but it worked very well indeed. We had it with mashed potato and a parsnip and carrot mash. Although I put in 700 grams of gravy beef, there wasn't much stew left over.

The original page with this recipe is well-stained and eaten through with little bookworm trails. (The creatures that ate it aren't really called bookworms, but I don't know their correct name.) Here's my version, slightly adapted over the years:

Ada Boni's Stufatino Alla Romana
(To serve four people)

1 onion, chopped into small but not tiny pieces
2-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
50 grams bacon, chopped into small pieces (the best kind is that solid lump of bacon you can buy from some specialty suppliers such as Moore Wilson in Wellington, but ordinary leanish bacon is fine)
700 grams cross-cut blade or gravy beef, cut into smallish cubes
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon (approx.) chopped fresh oregano
250 ml (a third of a bottle) robust red wine (not pinot noir)
1 tablespoon tomato paste (the translation says puree, but I'm sure that's wrong, it's too feeble)

If you plan to cook this either on the hob or in the oven, use a shallow casserole with a lid that you can put directly on the heat. If you want to use the slow cooker, use a frypan and transfer everything to the cooker for the long cooking part.
If using the oven, set it to 180C. If using the slow cooker, set it to high.
Saute the onion and garlic gently in the oil until slightly brown. Add bacon, fry briefly. Add meat, salt, pepper, oregano, and let meat brown gently. Pour wine over and cook until liquid is reduced by half. Add tomato paste and only just enough hot water to cover meat. (If you're using the slow cooker, put everything in it at this point and add more water only if it really looks too dry - you won't need much.)
Cover and cook for at least 2 hours, either on a very low heat on the hob (you will need a simmer mat for gas) or in the oven. Check halfway through to see if it's getting too thick and sticky, and add a little water if necessary. In the slow cooker it takes about 5 hours on high.
"The sauce should be dark and very savoury" says Ada. She recommends serving it with braised celery, but I prefer smoothly mashed potato and whatever other vegetable you fancy.


Rachel McAlpine said...

I'm so glad to have finally found your yummy food blog. Looking at this photo is almost as good as eating the Stufatino Alla Romana. I often look at my own meals-for-one and admire their look before drooling over the taste. Now I may deduce I am writing a food blog vicariously: thanks for doing a very good thing.

Kenmure,s said...

Hi Anne,
Great to see you have started a food blog the Italian food looks delicious,I shall have to have a go at making it,as I am a Aucklander I will have to wait until the weather is suitably cold.
Your tomatoes look great mine are just coming to the end.