Wednesday, June 11, 2008

tertius. carthage and cannelloni

greetings all rome weekers! today we see the fall of Carthage and some vegetarian delights. hhmmm... which first? well you've sat through the history first so far, so let's eat!

when my father visited for dinner the other night i made vegetarian cannelloni. very simple, but tasty and doing better on the health stakes than my previous history week posts.

First up get yourself a bunch of spinach and set it in a sink of cool water to get clean. meanwhile finely chop an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic and fry them off in a little oil.

remove the spinach from the water, remove the ends of the stems and then finely slice the spinach. add to the pan with, putting the sliced stalks in first and then the leaves. there should be enough water on the leaves that it will steam the spinach for you.
once the spinach is cooked bring it off the heat and allow to cool before crumbling about 500g of ricotta cheese into it and seasoning.

and mixing it all together well. this is the filling for your cannelloni. simple fill a piping bag, but leave out the tip and pipe this filling into the pasta tubes.

lay the filled pasta tubes in a baking tray and cover with a sauce made by frying some garlic and then adding pureed tinned tomatoes that have been reduced to a thick sauce. then top with a bechamel, just like a lasagna. to make bechamel melt a large knob of butter in a saucepan. add enough plain flour to make a thick paste. cook this until it becomes a deep golden colour (this makes sure that the flour is fully cooked). then add warm milk and thicken to make the quantity/thickness of the sauce you desire. you may need to whisk it a bit to get rid of lumps. then melt in some grated parmesan cheese.

so you have filled pasta shells, covered by tomato sauce, covered by white sauce. cover with tin foil and cook in a 180 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until the pasta is cooked through. remove the foil and return to the oven for about 10 minutes to brown.

i was going to take some pictures of the left overs the next day when the light was better. but we ate it all!!!

has all that talk whetted your appetite for some history? good 'o. let's talk about Carthage.

As you’d expect the history of Carthage is a long and involved one – the histories of cities normally are. Carthage has an almost mystical feel to it. It rose, it fell, it rose, it fell. Its general rode an elephant. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

The North African city was originally founded by the Phoenicians, probably sometime in the ninth century BC. For many centuries Carthage was a successful, oligarchic city. Its religion, as was usual at the time, was a polytheic one, with a mix of Phoenician, Greek, Roman and Egyptian deities.

Slowly Carthage expanded, and at one point or another, its empire included parts of the north African coastline, Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia and bits of southern Spain. Needless to say this caused a few barnies with the locals, and wannabe rulers. Squabbles with the Greeks and the Sicilians were fairly much common place, but 264 BC marked the first of the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. There were three Punic Wars all up, most widely known for the general Hannibal who crossed over the Alps to Italy using elephants during the second Punic War. You’ll all be amazed to know that elephants didn't do so well in the Swiss Alps, and this slowed the Carthaginians down a tad and by the time the army made it to Italy they must have been a bit despondent. However they did put up a good fight and Hannibal’s cunning and bravery are known from this period. Unfortunately Hannibal eventually came off very much second best and was recalled to Carthage. He faced Scipio Africanus is the third, and last Punic War, which saw Carthage raised to the ground.

However the city, always a survivor, managed to re-group and enjoyed prosperity, and invasion, on and off over the years, including the Vandals and the Arabs. Today the city, which has been well excavated, is almost part of the suburbs of Tunis, in Tunisia. I would very much like to go there one day! Hannibal was eventually sent into exile, and fought against the Romans with the Phoenicians and other Levantine nations. The Romans hunted him down, eager to do away with their nemesis. Rather than suffer the ignominy of capture, Hannibal took his own life by swallowing poison.

come back tomorrow, when it's roman baths and saltimbocca (it'll be tastier than poison)

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