Finally, I am equipped with a proper kitchen! The best part of it is that it is full of natural light. I have electric plates also for top stove cooking and the oven is a smallish, electric one, which I prefer to traditional gas ones (traditional in Italy, of course). I managed to clean it just a couple of days ago, and have used it only for cooking the occasional squash or finishing off some busy week dinner. I promise some proper baking is coming back soon. I have been really missing it. Of course here it has been less of a pain than it would have been in the UK, as when I want a decent slice of cake, the difficult part is choosing between the dozens on offer in a cafe'; and bread is fantastic, as I told you. Nevertheless I use the oven a lot for many little finishes to dishes, for grating a pasta or rice dish, or as a healthy alternative for frying. My family has missed my homemade granola as well: I’ll have to source a good health food shop for nuts and seeds and the likes, and then it will be back.
In the meanwhile, one of the first things I did was trying this recipe. My mother, from whom I learned how to cook, and one of the best chefs I’ve ever met, uses stock cubes in almost any dish. They do add a layer of flavour, but when I started to cook on my own, I started to be kind of disturbed by their presence. I think they lack subtlety and complexity and they add a layer of taste that is too homogeneous and almost chemical. Of course they don’t come anywhere near real stock as their final effect, and with time I started to use them less and less. I prefer to taste the ‘honest’ flavours in a dish if I don’t have real stock at hand. This is especially true on risotti: doing them with real stock makes the difference, but I prefer to taste rice and onion and parmesan instead of tasting stock cubes if I don’t have stock. Besides, my man is very sensitive to glutamate and the smallest quantities will make his head hurt. It is probably a psychological effect, but who am I to disregard psychology?
So I ditched stock cubes, or ‘dadi’, for good. There are occasions though where you do need stock, especially for soups, and I did miss those handy cubes. Pressure cooker is a great help to obtain an a vegetable bouillon in 10 minutes, but sometimes you don’t really need all that stock, just a little bit, and sometimes you don’t want to have an extra pot to wash.
Well, this is the solution. You will get a pot of vegetable bouillon that will last you a month, with ingredients that for sure you have in your pantry, in less than ten minutes. The resulting pot will happily sit in your freezer, and given the high salt content, it won’t freeze, so you don’t have to bother with portions! Just spoon out as much or as little as you need. It is so handy I don’t think I’ll ever want to be without. I won’t claim it can take the place of real stock, especially of meat stock if you are not a vegetarian. But it is perfect elsewhere. I don’t know how it does work, because the vegetables are raw, but it does work. You can obtain a perfectly acceptable pot of vegetable stock in less than two minutes, and you know what is in it exactly. So the idea is this: you chop whatever vegetables you have in your pantry, in equal proportions for a balanced flavour, or to taste; you blitz it with a food processor, if you have one, or with a hand blender, if you are me and a little masochistic; you add a fourth of the vegetable’s weight of salt (use good quality salt, please!) ; you store it in a pot or two in the freezer. When you need it, you take how much you need- more or less it works like normal stock cubes, a tablespoon containing as much salt and flavour as a stock cube. You can add a little to soffritti without water for extra flavour, or you can dissolve it in boiling water for instant stock.
Home made bouillon – or, Italian name, ‘dado’
Ingredients: makes two 250ml pots
125 good quality salt (I used Sale di Cervia)
mixed vegetables – about 500 gr
150 g celeriac
150 g carrot
150 g leek
2 small shallots
2 small onion
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 bunch of parsley
1 one-cm stick of ginger, not peeled (the peel is full of flavour)
1 tablespoon dried paprika flakes, for added smoky flavour
6-8 dried tomatoes
Cut the vegetables and put them in a large bowl. Start whizzing them with the food processor, a few pieces at a time. The celeriac is very hard so you’d better mix it with something softer and juicier- carrot for example. When you have a uniform paste, add the salt, mix well. Can be stored in freezer for quite a long time, or in the fridge for at least a week.