Time for some Italian food

It has been nearly ten years since I visited a branch of Carluccio’s.

I do like Italian food, but I’ve not really had the inclination to visit Carluccio’s in that time. Their menu always looks interesting, but for quick lunches it was always on the pricey side.

So staying over in London and needing somewhere close and not too expensive, finding and reading the set menu online for Carluccio’s which was a few minutes walk away, I thought, well why not. It might be nice.

This branch of Carluccio’s was very close to Spitalfield Market and inside was dark and atmospheric. There was limited lighting, complemented with candles on the tables. I felt that it spoke of mystery and intrigue, so different to brightly lit restaurants.

I had a lovely warm welcome from the waiting staff and I was allowed to choose my own table. I do like being able to choose my own table, I realise when it’s busy that may not be possible, but when the place is quiet (as it was when I got there) it’s really nice to have a choice, and not been placed somewhere because it makes life easier for the waiting staff.

As it was dark, it was challenging to read the menu, I am glad I read it online before I had gone out.

The set menu I was choosing from had four choices for each course. I went for the Antipasto Misto. This was
pane carasau with gorgonzola dolce & 14 month aged prosciutto, caperberries, olives, finocchiona salami, baby pepper with pesto, marinated green beans, caponata.

Antipasto Misto. This was  pane carasau with gorgonzola dolce & 14 month aged prosciutto, caperberries, olives, finocchiona salami, baby pepper with pesto, marinated green beans, caponata.

I’ve not had pane carasau before, it is a traditional flatbread from Sardinia. It is very thin and crisp. It is made by taking baked flat bread, then separating it into two sheets which are baked again. It was interesting, but I think I would have preferred some ciabatta or focaccia instead.

There was very little gorgonzola dolce, reflecting on this when writing this, I initially thought there hadn’t been any on the plate, but then remembered there was a small piece. The prosciutto and finocchiona salami were nice, and I enjoyed the caponata, but I think it would have gone better with some bread (and not the flatbread).

My main course I chose was the Risotto ai Funghi. This was a risotto made with porcini, chestnut, oyster, shiitaki, shimenji, baby king oyster, closed cup mushrooms and garlic.

Risotto ai Funghi. This was a risotto made with porcini, chestnut, oyster, shiitaki, shimenji, baby king oyster, closed cup mushrooms and garlic.

You could certainly taste the mushrooms in this risotto dish, and the risotto rice was al dente and creamy. I thought it was slightly salty for my taste.

I had intended to go with the cheeses for a third course, this was three Italian cheeses, truffle honey, pickled walnuts and ciappe crispbread. However I was feeling somewhat full, so didn’t.

When I was presented with the bill, they had added a 12.5% service charge which was “optional”. When I have had good service I do tip, however adding the tip to the bill always strikes me as presumptive and I find it insulting. It appears to be saying we don’t trust you to leave a tip, so we are going to add a service charge to the bill to make you feel bad. I also wonder how much of that “service charge” goes to the actual staff? As I didn’t have any loose change on me, I left the charge on the bill and paid. I know waiting staff are poorly paid for what is a busy and can be stressful job (I have done it myself), so I think tipping for good service is a good thing. If I receive poor service then I don’t tip.

Overall I did enjoy the food, the service was attentive and quick. The environment was nice and did not feel crowded, nor was I rushed. Would I go again, probably.

UCISA Conference Dinner

I have found conference dinners can be a bit hit and miss. Sometimes you get something really special, other times you get something that, well you ask yourself why did I bother!

I remember one conference dinner in Sheffield Town Hall which was really quite awful. It comprised an over-cooked chicken breast wrapped in a rasher of bacon, served with soggy tasteless vegetables.

Whereas the ALT-C 2008 Conference dinner at Leeds at the Edgbaston Cricket Club was out of this world. This was cooked by students from the local college. The main course comprised lamb cooked three ways and we had homemade chocolates.

The venue can also be a critical aspect of the conference dinner. Hotel conference dining rooms may be convenient, but often lack character or personality. mLearn 2008 had two conference dinners, one was at the Ironbridge Museum amongst the tools and engines of the Industrial Revolution. The second was at RAF Cosford under the wings of a Comet jet airliner. The food was pretty good at those dinners too.

The UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities Conference dinner was a pretty good one. The venue was the Birmingham Museum & Gallery which was very atmospheric, well apart from the freaky statue, don’t blink!

Freaky statue at the Birmingham Museum & Gallery

We had a chance to explore the museum and see some of the exhibits. The tables were set in part of the museum and was well lit. It was really nice to sit amongst the exhibits in the Industrial Gallery, housing the Decorative Arts collection. The Industrial Gallery is a brilliant example of Victorian architecture, boasting steel work, a glass ceiling and colourful tiled floor.

UCISA Conference Dinner at the Birmingham Museum & Gallery

The food was really nice and beautifully cooked and consisted of three courses, coffee and chocolates. The starter consisted of an olive salad with parma ham, a tomato pie and a risotto rissole.

n olive salad with parma ham, a tomato pie and a risotto rissole

The rissole was full of flavour and the crumb coating had a nice crunch. The olive salad was tasty and I really enjoyed the tomato pie.

The main course was chargrilled chicken stuffed with safe, served with potato dauphinoise, shoestring vegetables and gravy!

chargrilled chicken stuffed with safe, served with potato dauphinoise, shoestring vegetables

This was nice, not outstanding, the chicken was tender, but I felt it was a little overcooked, or more likely had been standing around for a little too long. The shoestring vegetables was tasty and clever.

The pudding, which I forgot to capture, was a lime desert. This was fresh and sharp and helped clear the palate.

Overall it was a tasty conference dinner, in a beautiful environment and with excellent company.

Leek and Lemon Risotto

Leek and Lemon Risotto

I seem to have been making paella a lot recently, so for a change I decided to make a risotto. As with paella, having the right kind of rice is critical to get that creamy risotto texture. I have used arborio, though this time I used carnaroli.

In a large frying pan, I put some olive oil and some butter, to which I added the zest of a lemon and some chopped garlic. I then added onion, red pepper and leeks.

These were cooked off in the pan until they were soft. I then added the carnaroli rice, this I coated in the oil, butter, onions and leeks. You can tell how far to go before adding the stock, the rice should be at what is called the “popping stage”. Now if you have some white wine, this would be an ideal time to add some, otherwise add some stock.

Don’t add all the stock, the key to success with a risotto, is adding stock a little at a time and lots of stirring.

After twenty minutes and just before serving, first check the rice is cooked, I then added the juice of a lemon and some parmesan cheese. You could add some rocket if you wanted, this adds flavour and colour. Freshly chopped parsley would be another nice idea.

I served the risotto garnished with lemon slices.

Making Risotto

I have been making risotto much more often now, as you might expect, the more you cook it, the easier it is and also becomes less daunting. What I like about risotto is how easy it is to add different flavours and make something different each time. The key of course is to use the right kind of rice; I have started to experiment with different kinds of risotto rice. As well as the usual suspect, arborio, I have also been using carnaroli. The end results are very similar, the creamy consistency is what makes a risotto a risotto.

The process I use is as follows.

In a large frying pan, place some olive oil. Then add some finely chopped onion.

Soften the onions.

Bring up the heat.

Add the risotto rice and ensure that the rice is coated in the oil
and mixed in with the onion.

Now add some stock. I either use chicken stock or vegetable stock. If it’s in the fridge I also occassionally use some white wine.

Keep topping up with stock to ensure that the rice doesn’t dry out.

Stir on a regular basis. This will help create a creamy texture.

Once the rice is virtually cooked, add a large handful of grated parmesan and some freshly ground black pepper.

Serve.

For flavours I will either add the ingredients in with the onions, or cook them separately. With some ingredients such as mushrooms I may do both!

Simple Risotto

Yesterday I made a very simple risotto.

In a large frying pan, place some olive oil. Then add some finely chopped onion.

Soften the onions.

Bring up the heat.

Add the risotto rice and ensure that the rice is coated in the oil and mixed in with the onion.

Now add some chicken stock.

Keep topping up with stock to ensure that the rice doesn’t dry out.

Stir on a regular basis. This will help create a creamy texture.

Once the rice is virtually cooked, add a large handful of grated parmesan and some freshly ground black pepper.

Serve.

Vegetable Risotto

I do like risotto and have in the past made a very nice lemon and rocket risotto.

Sainsburys do sell plain risotto rice, but they also sell a Mediterranean Style Vegetable Risotto Kit. At £2.99 I didn’t think it was value for money, however I did find it on offer recently for just £1.49, so I thought I would give it a try. It comprises arborio rice and dried vegetables.

It’s very simple to cook, virtually no preparation and then cook in the pan with stock.

It wasn’t that bad, quick and easy to cook and quite tasty.

However if it was £2.99 then no I wouldn’t buy it, for that sort of money I would prefer to buy the raw ingredients and make it from scratch. The preparation saved isn’t huge and fresh vegetables would certainly make a difference to flavour and the final dish.

I served mine with some grilled chicken.

Risotto

I normally make a lemon and rocket risotto, however when I made this risotto I had no lemons or rocket! So I made this variation which was very tasty and went down well.

In a large frying pan, place some olive oil and butter. Then add some finely chopped onion. I also added some diced pancetta.

Soften the onions.

Bring up the heat.

Add the risotto rice and ensure that the rice is coated in the oil and butter. The key I have found to a good risotto is using good risotto rice.

Not having any chicken stock, I added some beef stock and some dried Italian herbs.

Keep topping up with stock to ensure that the rice doesn’t dry out.

Once the rice is virtually cooked I added a large handful of grated parmesan and some freshly ground black pepper.

Risotto

Risotto

In a large frying pan, place some olive oil and butter. Then add some finely chopped onion, red pepper, courgette and pancetta.

Soften the onions.

Bring up the heat.

Add the risotto rice and ensure that the rice is coated in the oil and butter.

Add a splash of white wine.

Now add some chicken stock.

Keep topping up with stock to ensure that the rice doesn’t dry out.

Once the rice is virtually cooked, add a large handful of grated parmesan, some chopped parsley and some freshly ground black pepper.

Serve, garnish with a few slices of lemon.

Lemon and Rocket Risotto

I am going through a risotto phase at the moment.

This is my original lemon risotto recipe.

Lemon and Rocket Risotto

In a large frying pan, place some olive oil and butter. Then add some finely chopped onion and the zest of two lemons.

Soften the onions.

Bring up the heat.

Add the risotto rice and ensure that the rice is coated in the oil and butter.

Add a splash of white wine.

Now add some chicken stock.

Keep topping up with stock to ensure that the rice doesn’t dry out.

Once the rice is virtually cooked, add the juice of the lemons, a large handful of grated parmesan, some roughly chopped rocket and some freshly ground black pepper.

Serve, garnish with a few slices of lemon.