I got to cook! I was a bit worried, as you can imagine, when I heard my dear husband breezily invite his newly discovered family over to our flat for dinner on our last night in Milan. What could I make them? Clearly not pasta, my usual holiday standby. It was going to have to be that classic Asian dish, chicken with cashew nuts. And for extra show off points, peanut brittle for dessert.
The local PAM supermarket doesn’t really cater for the international eater. Most of its aisles are devoted to flour in all its forms, bread, dried bread, pasta, biscuits, pasta, a tiny selection of breakfast cereals, pasta. There is rice, mostly for risotto, but I found some basmati. Also a tiny bottle of actual Kikkoman soy sauce. They sold fresh ginger in 200 gram lots, which was odd because ginger is not a flavour that features heavily in Italian cooking. Neither, it appears, is chilli, at least in the north. I also picked up a pack of baby spinach in lieu of bok choy and a pack of soup mix vegetables, for the onion and celery. And found some tiny packets of cashew nuts, a rather essential ingredient. Also got some sugar and peanuts, all one needs for peanut brittle.
I prepared the chicken in the morning, as in the afternoon we were fulfilling a dream of my husband’s to go see AC Milan play at San Siro. I hacked up the one and a half kilos of breast fillet with the tiny IKEA knife supplied by the apartment and placed it in a glass dish. Have a look at what I found in a box in the cupboard.
Dodgy knives, no toaster, no kettle, but this little beauty is an essential in the Italian kitchen for the preparation of Parmesan. We also had a little stovetop Bialetti for the mandatory morning coffee, the one you have before you leave your apartment for your cafe normale. Bung a few chunks of ginger in the Moulinex and it’s minced like nobody’s business, ditto a small onion. That goes on the chicken, along with olive oil and copious soy. Ideally I would also like some rice wine vinegar and plum sauce, but dream on. A lemon would have worked, but you could only buy them by the half dozen at the shop, so no. I have used plum jam in an emergency for this dish, but all I had was some rather terrific apricot jam made by Isabella’s mother. It was a very deep coloured rich jam, almost like quince, so a few tablespoons of that went in too. I squished all of that into the chicken, covered it with foil, then made some peanut brittle.
You know how to do that, it’s easy. It was a bit frustrating, I have all of my fabulous recipes with me on the iPad, but no oven! No oven, so no pie, no tart, no biscuits. Having had a fairly close look at the sweet selection in the PAM, I thought toffee would be a bit of a novelty. Take two coffee mugs of sugar, place them in a saucepan with half a mug of water. Bring to the boil, stirring to get all the sugar around the edge. Boil in a lively manner until the mixture starts to colour, then you starting doing the crack test. Drop a bit into water and if it goes crunchy after it cools down, it’s done. Bring off the heat, stir in about two tablespoons of delicious white Italian butter and a coffee mug full of salted peanuts. Fling onto a sheet of baking paper you’ve providentially put on the bench.
Leave to cool while you go to the soccer.
When you get back, put on the rice. I put three mugs of rice in a big pot with five mugs of water and the tops of the celery for a bit of flavour. Bring to the boil, simmer covered for ten minutes, then let it sit. Meanwhile I kind of stir fried the chicken in two frying pans, transferring it to the rice pot when it was done. Then I stir fried in a little olive oil a couple of handfuls of broccoli with some very poorly chopped carrot and celery and the cashews, then put them in the pot too. Then I got out another pot because that one was too full to stir about, transferred some to that, then put the baby spinach in at the top and stirred it in.
Strangely enough, it was fine. They loved it, hadn’t had anything like it before and all had seconds. I’d probably gone a bit heavy on the ginger, but whatever. I did have to explain that it was an all in one meal, we don’t have a pasta course then a meat course. The peanut brittle also went down a treat. The relief was stupendous. There would be sadness at parting, but I didn’t want it to be from sore tummies.