On January 25th 1759 Robert “Rabbie” Burns”, recently re-voted by his own people as the greatest Scot of them all, was born. Every year since his death there has been a special Burns evening to commemorate this extraordinary poet who not only was a precursor of the Romantic Movement but was also a figurehead for Scottish nationalism and a pioneer socialist to boot.
Late yesterday afternoon it dawned upon me that this was indeed Burns’ birthday. Although neither of us are Scots (although my dad’s mum came from Wales so there is a good quarter of Celtic blood in me somewhere) we love things Scottish, delight in its country, walked its moors, climbed its mountains, navigated its lochs and have celebrated its Burns night in our own little way.
I looked in the fridge to see if there was anything I could dig up to make a Burns supper. There wasn’t very much there at all and it was getting too dark to even go hunting for a haggis. What misery!
However, there was still a chance that something might be rustled up. On Sunday evening the only shop that’s open for miles around here in Bagni di Lucca is the Penny Market at Borgo a Mozzano. What would I be able to find there?
After my supermarket shop I did find two products that were genuinely from Scotland: salmon and whisky. Other items I bought because I thought I could make up an ersatz equivalent.
In true Italian style I started off with an antipasto. This was Scottish salmon served with a sprig of thyme and a squeeze of lemon which wonderfully turned out to be one from our very own lemon tree which, despite being under wraps to protect it from winter frosts, still manages to produce the most delicious fruits.
This was my Burns supper menu:
- Scottish Salmon
- Put salmon on plate at room temperature
- Squeeze lemon on top
- Eat with a rusk (failing oatmeal biscuits)
The cock- a-leekie soup became a quail-a leekie soup as I had a couple of quails remaining in the deep-freeze. The leeks were gigantic and very odorous and I had some prunes as well, which are an additional ingredient a volontà. With an original recipe dating back to 1598 this was my variation on Cock-a-Leekie:
- 2 quails
- 2,5 litres water
- 1 sliced onion
- 50 gms of pearl barley
- 275 ml chicken stock cubes
- 3 very large leeks sliced
- 2 celery stalks, cut
- A little thyme
- 1 handful of parsley
- Half teaspoonful of salt
- Teaspoon of ground black pepper
- Defrost the quails and fry them gently until lightly brown.
- In a large saucepan put in the quails, water, onion and pearl barley. Cook until boiling. Then lower the flame and simmer for one hour.
- Remove the quails from the soup and debone them. Cut the quail meat into little pieces and replace in the saucepan.
- Add the leeks, celery, thyme, parsley, salt and pepper. Boil and simmer for another half-an-hour until the leeks are nicely tender.
PS The addition of prunes is also advised by some cooks.
The haggis presented a real challenge. As the fish and chips festival in Barga ingredients have to be flown in so why not the haggis? It’s not something one normally finds on Italian supermarket shelves! I wonder why not? All sorts of other sausages can be found here from German to French and Spanish. Bad marketing? Having said this, if one wanted to taste the real stuff one could have gone to a Burns’ night dinner at Da Riccardo’s at Barga’s Fosso last Wednesday. But then it wasn’t the official date…
I couldn’t even find the sheep’s unmentionable bits that go with the haggis. So this is how I concocted my ersatz version:
Haggis à la Longoio
- 50 gms spelt (local grain) (instead of oatmeal which I didn’t have.
- Teaspoon ground black pepper.
- Two slice onions
- Pinch of salt
- Meat stock
- Defrost the mincemeat and then fry gently in a frying pan until grey.
- In a saucepan place the mincemeat with the spelt, onions, rosemary, meat stock and salt and bring to the boil. Then simmer for around an hour.
- In the event of not finding sausage tubes drain off the saucepan and compact the remaining mixture into a pudding-like shape.
(I also served Sharwood’s mango chutney as it goes very well with the “haggis”)
The classic Burns night sweet is, of course, the cranachan which is made up of oats, cream, whiskey, honey and raspberries. I opted for my own creation which owes a little to the clootie pudding.
Longoio Burns Pudding
- Steam pudding
- Mascarpone cheese
- Steam the pudding.
- Serve on plate with dollop of mascarpone cheese on top and surround with four canestrelli biscuits.
- Drizzle with whisky
No pipers were available so the haggis was flageollated to the table using one of my tin whistles (or flageolet).
I didn’t include tatties (potatoes) and neeps (Swedish turnips or swedes) with the haggis as after all that soup and the haggis my stomach was getting a little bloated. But these, traditionally, should be included.
Of course, the whisky has to be chosen with care. Instead of the usual 5 euro bottle of the water of life I upgraded to the 7 euro one which was guaranteed to have been aged for not less than five years. It really was very good and had a nice smoke-peaty taste in which I detected parts of the landscape of Islay (or was I slightly inebriated at this stage?).
I didn’t add soda to the whisky but, instead, found that a bottle of fizzy gassosa went very well with it.
Naturally, Burn’s famous address to Haggis was also read. In case you forgot it or your Scottish was a little rusty here is the first verse together with an explanation of some of the words.
Ah well, at least it was a try in this remote Apennine village. Next year I’m promised an invite to a real Burns night supper prepared by a genuine Scottish lady. Looking forwards to that!