Eating Out: La Campagnuola, Bristol

I haven’t eaten at La Campagnuola for about 15 years. Mr Greedy, although he too has lived in the neighbourhood for around that length of time, has never eaten here. It has to be said that my meal, 15 years ago – what I can remember of it anyway – was not all that special. It was a boyfriend’s work Christmas party. I didn’t have a great time so maybe it was me that was off, rather than them. Still, that’s a long time to avoid a place.

Anyway, a friend of mine went here fairly recently and she liked it so when looking for somewhere local, it had been on my ‘italian places to try in Bristol’ list for a little while now. I guess I don’t tend to eat at Italian restaurants very often – there are a couple of exceptional italian restaurants in Bristol as well as a few grotty chains – but decent neighbourhood trattorias seem fairly thin on the ground. And that’s all we wanted really – a good plate of pasta, a bottle of wine and an informal atmosphere. And La Campagnuola perfectly fits that bill.

The greeting was very friendly and welcoming and the restaurant fuller than we expected for a Sunday evening. The music was predictably Italian Trattoria …’HEY MamBO! Mambo Italiano!..” but no worse for that, really. I wouldn’t know what music to pick, if I had my own place – I think I’d end up settling for silence – that or Radio4. Which probably means I’d be a bad choice to run a restaurant. I’d like Edith Piaf, but I feel that would only be a spot on choice in a french bistro, a dark one. Anyway, welcome fine, music fine, atmosphere fine. In a bit of an error of our part we found ourselves sitting opposite a group of what I originally mistook for language students. Noisy ones. But we can’t blame anyone but ourselves for that.

The menu is absolutely standard Italian Trattoria.This makes a restaurant extremely easy to review, as actually I don’t believe that decent Prosicutto, or a decent plate of lasagne are all that subjective. Starters, which included Mozzarella in Carrozza, Funghi Ripieni, Melon & Proscuitto and Antipasto were inexpensive, beginning at £3.50 and finishing at £6.  I had breaded calamari with garlic mayo and the Mr. had Mozzarella in Carrozza. They were fine. Nothing groundbreaking but well cooked and the spicy tomato sauce that came with the Mozzarella, was fantastic. I moved onto Spaghetti Carbonara and Mr took the seafood stew. They were great – the Carbonara sauce was great – clingy and unctuous, with perfectly cooked pasta and the stew was also lovely, very saffron-y with lovely seafood. We chose well, undoubtedly, but ever time I saw or smelt a pizza go by, I did feel a pang of envy. I know I would never have finished a whole pizza by myself, but that’s what the doggy bag is for, no? Again, the mains were well priced and fairly Italian standard – pizzas, pastas fish and meat, good value again, starting at roughly £6 and topping out at £13 I think, with Mr’s stew being the most expensive thing I noticed. The wine was pretty cheap – which we took good advantage of.

Mr didn’t have any room for dessert, but I had a bit of room left for Tiramisu. It felt and tasted homemade, but for me it wasn’t a complete triumph, maybe a touch soggy.Or maybe my eyes were just a bit too big for my belly, and I wouldn’t have appreciated anything a  great deal by then. But still, average Tiramisu usually is better than no Tiramisu in my eyes. We had a couple of Irish Coffees, which were ok. As usual, the staff seemed to get a collective case of waiter’s eye, when it came to getting us the bill, not noticing us then forgetting us. But they were great, really, very charming so completely easy to forgive.

I’m looking forward to going back soon and trying one of their pizzas – which I’m sure will be a pleasure to review, even if just to myself – and I think I’ll take my son next time as it will be lovely for him and completely the right place to take kids – somewhere adult but friendly, with plenty of quiet corners and very kid friendly food. I just need to lose..a .. few…pounds first.

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Chicken Thighs Stuffed with Parma Ham, Mozzarella, Pesto & Olives

Waitrose keep sending me chicken thighs. This is not some altruistic move on their part – they are not suddenly overcome by thoughts of my welfare and wishing to feed me up, neither is it one of those lovely PR treats that bloggers get sent (I got sent a chocolate fountain and a box of coco-pops squares once by a lovely man at Kelloggs, and some fancy tea – sadly I had nothing to say about either thing and forgot about them. I kept meaning to ebay the chocolate fountain, and then I dropped it on the way to storing it above a cupboard). No, nothing as exciting as this. Simply, it’s what happens when the person doing your shopping in store in preparation for home delivery notices that your chosen cut of poultry or game is out of stock and doesn’t have the imagination to replace with something else. This has happened three weeks in a row now, a kilo of thighs each time. I’ll be doing my own shopping next week.

Anyway, I’ve started to run out of ideas and enthusiasm for these things. Let me introduce you to recipe 29#, which was actually very nice. Feel free to vary the stuffing – if you don’t like any of the ingredients, you can simply omit them. On a better day, I would have made a tomato, wine and garlic sauce to braise these in (it wasn’t a good day. At All.) and I think they would be nicest served with sauté potatoes or a simple risotto.

  • 4 skin on chicken thighs, either boneless or you will need to remove the bone yourself. This is an easy enough job, and it will give you a sense of achievement to do it , but it does need a small sharp knife. This is a great little clip to show you how.
  • 4 slices parma ham
  • 1 ball italian mozzarella, sliced
  • pitted black olives – 8, slice in half
  • pesto. A jar will do or 100g from a deli or make your own
  • sprinkle of parmesan (optional)
  • toothpicks or string to hold thighs together

Firstly, you will need to flatten your thighs. Get a meat mallet or rolling-pin and some good clingfilm. Put the thigh on a chopping board, skin side up and cover with the film. Then bash, firmly and consistently until the thigh is flat and longer/wider. Turn the thigh upside down so the flesh side is facing you and pile on the ingredients in the following order: Pesto, approx two teaspoons, spread all over the thigh, parma ham, mozzarella slices, olive halves and a sprinkle of parmesan and season with salt and pepper.

Now, roll your chicken up, like a swiss roll. Try and keep some tension in the flesh if you can, to stop the ingredients going everywhere and to ensure a fairly tightly rolled thigh. Inevitably some of the stuffing will attempt to escape, and inevitably you will need to stop mid-course and regather something, but it is not a highly technical operation. Secure with toothpick or string, or in my shameful case, a wooden skewer and stuff any bits that have fallen out, back in. When you’ve done all four, put them in a suitable roasting tin and either pop them in the fridge if you’re cooking in advance, or alternatively preheat your oven to gas 6.

Cook for approximately 30- 35 minutes.  There will be a lovely gravy in the pan, which you should pour on top of the thighs when you serve them.

Spaghetti Vongole Bianco

Or spaghetti with clams (as opposed to a clams in a red sauce, which is made with tomatoes).

This is quick and it is easy, but my fresh clams were not particularly cheap. Recipe to serve 2 greedies.

vongole

  • 1 kilo fresh clams (I got palourde clams, but if you have the luxury of choice, the smaller the better)
  • 300g spaghetti
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 small red chilli, finely chopped
  • handful of parsley, very, very finely chopped
  • 1/2 glass of white wine
  • olive oil

An hour at least before cooking, you have to purge your clams in cold salted water, apparently to get the sand out and  immediately discard any cracked ones, or ones that are open and won’t close.

Ok, so, the trick is to time this so your pasta and clams are cooked at the same time. For this purpose, I am assuming your pasta cooks in ten minutes. So get the pasta on as per the instructions on the packet and heat the oil in a wide, lidded pan. When the olive oil is warm, add your chilli, garlic and half the parsley. Cook for about a minute over a medium – low heat. The garlic must not brown. Add your white wine and bring to a hard simmer and cook for 3 or 4 minutes and then put in your clams and put the lid on the pot. Cook for around 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to encourage the clams to open. As soon as the clams are all open, remove the lid. The pasta should be cooked by now, so drain it off. Stir in the remainder of your parsley into the clams, and pour the clams and the sauce over the pasta, mixing well. Pick out any clams that didn’t open and discard them. Scoff.

Tagliatelle with Aubergine, Tomato and Mozzarella

Sometimes, only a big plate of pasta will do. You could omit the chilli or the capers if you wanted to. But I wouldn’t. I never used to eat aubergine, imagining I didn’t like it. But I really do.

Serves 2 greedy people.

  • small aubergine (about 300-400g), diced into roughly into half inch cubes -don’t get a ruler out or anything, just not big chunks.
  • olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small red chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp capers, finely chopped
  • small glass white wine
  • 75g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 pint passata (although, at a push, a tin of chopped tomatoes will be ok)
  • 1 tbsp torn basil leaves thats about 6 or 7
  • 100g buffalo mozzarella, chopped
  • 25g parmesan cheese, grated plus some for sprinkling
  • salt & pepper
  • 250g tagliatelle.

This is delicious.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6. Put the aubergine in a large roasting tin, and sprinkle over a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a generous amount of salt and freshly milled pepper. Cook in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Heat a large frying pan, and put in another couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Put in the chilli and garlic and stir, for a moment or so. Put in the cherry tomatoes, passata, capers, basil and wine. Simmer this gently for ten minutes – don’t worry if the sauce reduces down a touch. In the meantime, cook your pasta – mine took 7 minutes. When the pasta is cooked, put the aubergines and cheeses into the tomato sauce and stir until the cheese is melted (although I wouldn’t want the mozzarella to melt completely) and the sauce has returned to simmering point. Drain the pasta and serve onto a wam plate with the sauce on top.

Italian Cod with Chilli, Capers & Garlic

This recipe is from a book called Valentina’s Italian Regional Cookery, by the brilliant Valentina Harris, where the dish has the slightly more romantic title of Filetti di Merluzzo all ‘Istriana . Sadly the book is out of print now but you can still get it second hand from Amazon Marketplace, dirt cheap. This makes a very flavourful meal, just looking for some vegetables or new potatoes to go with it. Serves 4. Would work with haddock. This may not be the most glamourous looking dinner I’ve ever served up but it was great.

italian cod

  • 4 cod fillets, weighing around 500g in total
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 handful of fresh flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp capers, rinsed and dried. Chopped very finely.
  • 2 canned sardines, but get the ones in oil – olive oil for preference, chopped
  • 1 smallish potato, peeled & grated
  • 60 ml of stock, veg or chicken
  • 1 dried chilli
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt & pepper

Put the cod in a large heavy bottomed pan and on top, add the onion, garlic,  parsley and oil. You might think either the cod , the onions or garlic are not going to cook properly – they will. Cook over a low heat for about 12 minutes, but please watch the fish doesn’t overcook. Especially if the fillets are very thin. Remove the fish from the pan carefully, with a spatula or slice and place on a warmed plate or serving platter. Keep it warm while..

Add the chopped capers to the oil remaining in the pan and stir. (A confession: While I was making this, the fish skin stuck a bit, so I just put the original pan in the wash and started the sauce again in a new one – hardly matters) Stir in the sardines, grated potato, stock & chilli. Stir and simmer for about 7-10 minutes, or until the potato is cooked. I must tell you that there were  times making the sauce that I thought, ‘Hm, this looks like fishy wallpaper paste’, but persevere because it was delicious. Put the cod carefully back on top of the sauce and heat through again for about 2 or 3 minutes. Remove the chilli and serve, sprinkling with the lemon juice.