Slowly fried

Soffritto means gently-fried, I am told. And so is this post, I guess…. Ten months in the cooking. Whoops. It’s not that things have not been cooked (they have), just that they have not made it onto the camera or the page.

Both the radio silence and the sudden resumption can be explained by the fact that I started maternity leave yesterday. Baby’s due in 10 days, and now I don’t have to schlep to work every day (and then slump on the sofa in a pregnancy coma of an evening, before failing to sleep a wink all night), I can get down to business. 10 days to nap as much as possible, and fill the freezer with meals, so that (when the naps are no longer possible, and cooking is beyond me) we can defrost some deliciousness, and not rely too much on the local takeaway scene.

One day of batch cooking down, and there’s already 20 meals in the freezer (we never knowingly undercater in this family) – 14 portions of Bolognese ragù, and 6 of timpana, plus a pot of soup to get me through the next few days without resorting to the Beef Monster Munch (just kidding – nothing can keep me away from the Beef Monster Munch!).

All these are based on the aromatic loveliness that is a soffritto. Finely chopped celery, carrot and onion, fried slowly and gently in olive oil until they soften and the flavours all mix up gloriously. They impart depth of flavour and sweetness, and can be used as a base for all kinds of meals.

Basic Soffritto

6 celery sticks, finely chopped
5 fat carrots, finely chopped
4 large white onions, finely chopped
Generous glug of olive oil
Sea salt

In a big cast iron pot over a medium flame, gently heat the oil. Add the vegetables and the salt, and stir to cover them all in the oil. Cook slowly and gently, stirring regularly, until the vegetables are all softened, but not yet brown. Turn the heat down if you need to to stop them catching, but the volume of veg (and the high water content) should help them to steam-soften, rather than fry brown.

Soffritto of onion, celery and carrot

 

Bacon and Barley Soup

4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons cooked soffritto
2 small potatoes, peeled and in 1cm cubes
2tsp tomato paste
1L chicken stock
150g pearl barley
Oil, salt and pepper

Fry the bacon in a bit of oil, until just brown. Add the cooked soffritto, and mix well so the vegetables are all coated in the bacon fat. Add the potato, and cook gently for 5 minutes or so, until just starting to soften, but not brown. Add the paste, stir and cook another 2-3 minutes.

Add the stock, and bring to the boil. Once boiling, add the barley and turn down a touch to simmer for 30-40 minutes, when the barley should be cooked and the soup thickened a bit. Season to taste, and serve with grated parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.

Bacon and barley soup

 

My Bolognese Sauce (apologies to the people of Bologna for lack of authenticity!)

Makes about 20 very generous portions

One portion of soffritto (as above)
200g chopped pancetta
2kg minced meat (I used half pork, a quarter veal and a quarter beef)
Parmesan rind
5 bay leaves
Milk, oil, butter, salt and pepper
400 ml passata
1 tube tomato paste
1 glass white wine

Remove the soffritto from the pan, and add the pancetta and another glug of oil. Cook slowly so the bacon fat softens and starts to brown. Add the mince and the bay leaves, breaking the meat up thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring regularly, until brown. This will take a while as all the water will need to evaporate first – maybe even half an hour or so. Get it to brown without burning.

Once the meat is brown, return the soffritto to the pan, along with the parmesan rind and the tube of tomato paste. Stir well, add a couple of knobs of butter, and cook it out gently for five more minutes. Add the wine, stir again, and wait til it’s mostly cooked off, before adding the passata and a pint of milk. Bring it up to the boil, and then turn it down to a very low bubble. Simmer for 3-4 hours, until all the flavours are melded together, and it’s thick and delicious. If it dries out too much at any point, top up with a bit of milk or water. Finish it off my mixing in a final 50g butter.

Bolognese

Timpana (sort of… actually, baked macaroni, or Imqarrun il-forn)

Serves 6 as main meal, 10-12 as a starter

1L Bolognese
600g dried macaroni, freshly cooked and drained
2 eggs, beaten
2 hardboiled eggs, chopped
Salt and pepper
100g grated parmesan
100g grated cheddar

Gently mix together all the ingredients except the cheddar. Pour them into a greased pyrex dish or tin, and sprinkle the cheddar over the top. Bake in an oven at 180 for around an hour, until the eggs are set and the cheese melted and golden.

It’s better reheated on the second day, so plan to make it ahead.

For actual timpana, instead of baked macaroni, replace the cheddar with a sheet of puff pastry, and an egg wash.

Timpana, or baked macaroni