I spent the weekend with my lovely friend, Italian cookery writer Anna del Conte and, just as happens every time I stay with her, I was left speechless by how wonderful the simplest of food can taste in the right hands.
For lunch on Saturday, for which we had guests, we had boiled meat with three boiled vegetables…. Not steamed, not sautéed, not sauced, not fused – just boiled. Boiled tongue accompanied by boiled potatoes, carrots and onions. Far from tasting dull or boring, the flavours were quite delicious – fresh, direct, ‘real’. The tongue was meltingly tender, given texture by the new potatoes, baby carrots and just one onion each. It would have been perfect just like that (and, be it noted, perfect also for anyone with any of the normal range of food allergies…) but perfection was heaped on perfection for me by the discovery of Mostarda di Cremona.
Now, it may be that I am deeply ignorant but I had never met this bizarre but delightful condiment which consists of pieces of fruits (cherries, pears, kiwis, papaya etc) preserved in sugar syrup with a mustard flavouring. Yes, I know, it sounds not only weird but disgusting – but trust me – it is actually wonderful! And especially with ‘boiled meats’, which is exactly what the Italians eat it with!
My other great discovery of the weekend was how to cook tortellini. I had bought some delicious artichoke stuffed spinach tortellini to take to Anna in my excellent Italian deli (Giacobazzi in South End Green). Many though the charms of rural Dorset may be, they do not include a good Italian deli and I know that there are a few delicacies after which Anna pines. I had also bought some yummy looking tomato sauce to go with them but, after only a moment’s consideration, Anna said, ‘No – we will have them “in brodo” – the sauce would be much too strong.’
‘In brodo’ means that instead of cooking the tortellini in water and them dressing them with a sauce, you cook them in stock (in our case some common or garden powdered stock mix from Marigold Health Foods) and then serve them in the broth sprinkled with grated Parmesan. This was somewhat of a revelation to me as I have always found tortellini served with the usual sauce rather stodgy and have always struggled to actually taste their stuffing. But served in a simple stock, not only does the, in this case, very delicate flavour of the artichoke stuffing come through clearly but far from being stodgy, they were pleasantly light and tender.
Re-inspired on the subject of tortellini (and feeling fairly knackered after a long day of freefrom-food-awards-shortlist-press-releasing), last night I took out one of the remaining samples from the freezer, the DS gluten-free tortellini with ham and cream – one, indeed, of the shortlisted products I had been press-releasing. Although they were not cooked ‘in brodo’ but in a cream sauce, they were actually very nice and certainly filled the bill last night. However, I was shocked when I came to wash the container before recycling it, to find the ingredients, as you can see, printed on the back in no less than eight languages in what cannot be more than 3, or at maximum, 4 point print. In the UK the minimum size print allowed on packaging is 6 point which is just about readable in good light; this particular product was made in Italy where obviously such regulations do not apply. However, it makes a complete nonsense of ‘allowing the consumer to make an informed choice’ if the consumer needs a strong magnifying glass and a spotlight to read the ingredients!!