Sunday, 14 February 2016

SCA Experiments

Dear patient readers, 

I've been rather distracted this last month, between getting the fix for the ill health that was plaguing me for most of last year (for which I seem to now be on the mend), doing a little soul searching towards taking on commissions again (for which I've decided to go for it), and getting my event year off to a start by doing something scary (which is the topic of this post). 

Four years ago, I returned to the SCA events by attending Champions of the Court of Love. What better event then, to challenge myself to do something new and, for me, terribly scary: I volunteered to cook lunch. For all that I love baking, I do very little savoury cooking, and it mostly occupies the part of my mind dedicated to "things I have to do so I can craft". But last year, when a friend visited briefly on her way to the airport, I cooked a meal for her and she planted the seed of the idea, which I could not shake loose (I'm looking at you Chantelle). So with advice and help from many friends I planned the following menu: 
To start, stracciatella; an egg drop soup common in Italy, served with bread, though it seems to have analogues in nearly every country in Europe. Moving on to mushroom risotto, a dish common in Northern Italy, served with roast chicken and green salad, and hard white bisket to finish. 

For the stracciatella, I used a beef broth recipe from The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy by Odile Redon, Francoise Sabban & Silvano Serventi. A also made up a small portion of vegetable stock for the vegetarian attendees to the event. Using this as my base, I followed the directions in Martino's The Art of Cooking for a similar recipe, zanzarelli, for which I combined eggs, bread crumbs (I used gluten free bread on the day) and Parmesan cheese, which was beaten into the soup at the boil to create the whisps of egg that the recipe gets its name for. 

For the risotto, my preliminary research showed that not only was this dish common, but that nearly every town in Italy had it's own variant. The recipes of the Veneto region seemed to lean towards fish risottos, which not being terribly fond of myself, I decided to make up a mushroom version instead, by my own method. Several people have asked for the recipe for this, so here it is: 

Mushroom Risotto a Cassandra
Arborio risotto rice, rinsed with cold water
Shiitake mushrooms, sliced
Onion, chopped finely
Garlic, chopped finely
Vegetable stock, hot
Egg yolks, beaten ( I use one per person in smaller batches)

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed I've not included quantities in my above ingredients list. I have made this dish for myself, for 10 and for 40 at the event just gone, and a lot comes down to personal preference in how much you want to include. I find it a forgiving dish if too much or too little of your flavour ingredients are added. 

Allow butter to melt in a hot. Add the garlic and onions and fry until softened. Add the mushrooms, and fry until beginning to soften and well coated in butter. Add the rice and continue to stir until the rice has begun to toast. This is often easier to determine if you have some experience in toasted risotto rice without anything else present. You should be able to hear little "pops" from the rice as it toasts. When the rice is toasted to your liking, usually this just needs 2-3 minutes, add enough stock so the rice is moving freely in the liquid and reduce the heat so the pot is at a gentle simmer. Stir gently and frequently, and add more stock as the liquid is absorbed. Adding the stock in stages like this is what allows the rice to develop a creamy and smooth consistency. The finished rice should have a slight al dente bite. The risotto can be served at this stage, but I am very fond of adding an egg yolk after it is taken off the heat, which increases the richness and creaminess of the dish. 

Because my risotto only called for egg yolk, to use up the remaining egg whites I decided to try my hand at hard white bisket, a recipe which appears in a book manuscript written by Lady Elinor Fettiplace in 1604. Alas, bisket's were neither hard nor white, but flavoured with just a touch of star anise, were very tasty none the less. My food was enjoyed, as I was treated to applause when I finally worked up the nerve to leave the kitchen, and there were very little leftovers. 

In all, I received several gifts and tokens for my meal.... roses from the Event Steward, a string of pearls from the head cook, a crocheted heart from one of my minions... even a proposal of marriage with a hand made ring! I think it all went very well indeed.